Thursday 31 May 2012

Hatfield's vs McCoy's

Photo of Hatfield clan circa 1890's courtesy

The Hatfield-McCoy feud, involving two pistol-toting, tobacco-chewing, moonshine-making, brawl-inciting families from the Appalachians, lasted roughly from 1865 to the 1901.  Here are 10 things you may not know about this feud.

1.  This was a two-state feud.  The Tug Fork, a tributary of the Big Sandy River, divided the Hatfield property in West Virginia, from the McCoy land in Kentucky.

2.  Most of the Hatfield's fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War while most of the McCoy's fought for the Union.  The first dispute between the two families resulted from the death of returning Civil War veteran Asa McCoy who was killed by ex-Confederate Homeguards.  Jim Vance, a Hatfield and a member of the Homeguards, was the suspected murderer.

3.  Hollywood loves them.  Books, songs and films have been written about the two families.  In 1950 Bugs Bunny was caught between the Hatfield's and the McCoy's in an episode called "Hillbilly Hare".  In 1952, Abbot and Costello did a feature on them.  "The Flintstones" episode called "The Bedrock Hillbillies a.k.a. The Hatrocks" (1960's) was based on the two clans.  A 2012 TV series called "The Hatfield's and The McCoy's" is also loosely based on the two families.

4.  The game show "Family Feud" was inspired by the Appalachian feud.  In 1979, descendants of both families appeared on the show.  The Hatfield's won, claiming a monetary prize as well as a pig, supposedly one of the catalysts of the original feud.

5.  "Life" magazine (May 1944) featured an article about how the families were living in peace by World War II, the conflict helping to unite them as it did many families.  Descendants Shirley Hatfield and Frankie McCoy (see photo below) had their photo snapped outside of a local military uniform factory where they worked side by side.

6.  The Supreme Court of the United States got involved in the feud when some Hatfield's were arrested for the murders of Randall McCoy's two children.  The Court ruled that the suspects would be extradited from West Virginia to Kentucky to stand trial.  They were charged and seven men served life sentences while one (Ellison "Cotton Top" Mounts) was executed for the murders.

7.  A 2007 medical study of dozens of McCoy descendants proved that they are prone to the Von Hippel-Lindau disease, an illness which causes tumors of the ears, eyes, pancreas and adrenal glands.  They are prone to high blood pressure, racing heartbeats and high levels of the fight or flight stress hormones, which might explain their combattive behaviour.

8.  A May 19, 1920 clash led to more bloodshed in the area.  Detectives from the anti-union Baldwin-Felts Agency evicted families of workers trying to unionize the Stone Wall Mountain Coal Company Miners in Matewan, West Virginia.  Sid Hatfield intervened on behalf of the miners, resulting in a violent clash :  seven detectives and four local men were left dead.  Sid became famous for defending the miners and was assassinated a year later, purportedly by Baldwin-Felts agents.  This clash spawned the 1987 film "Matewan".

9.  There are thousands of descendants of the Hatfield-McCoy clan including:  Henry D. Hatfield, a newphew of the patriarch William "Devil Anse" Hatfield, who became governor of West Virginia; 1930's jazz Musician Clyde McCoy is also one; and basketball coach Mike D'Antoni belongs in this category.  Leonard "Bones" McCoy, from the original "Star Trek" TV series, is a fictional descendant.

10.  Bo McCoy and his cousin, Ron McCoy, organized "The Reunion of the Millenium" (2000) between the Hatfield's and the McCoy's.  Five thousand descendants attended the event.


For more information, read The Coffin Quilt by Ann Rinaldi. 

"Life" magazine photo of Shirley Hatfield and Frankie McCoy courtesy

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