Hatfields and McCoys

(Disclaimer: This information was pulled together from the History Channel Hatfield  & McCoys Feud, combined with Libby Prestons Genealogy research. Additional research is not available as the webmaster is custodial of the website only)

Mere mention of their names stirs up visions of a lawless and unrelenting family feud. It evokes gun-toting vigilantes hell-bent on defending their kinfolk, igniting bitter grudges that would span generations.

Yet many people familiar with these surnames may know little about the faded history of these two families and the legends they inspired. Who were the Hatfields and McCoys, and what was the source of this vicious and violent clash between the families?

William Anderson Hatfield | Devil Anse

During the most heated years of the feud, each family was ruled by a well-known patriarch. William Anderson Hatfield, known as “Devil Anse,” had the appearance of a backwoods, rough-hewn mountain dweller. By the 1870s Devil Anse was an increasingly successful timber merchant who employed dozens of men, including some McCoys.

Randolph McCoy | Old Ranel

On the other side of the feud stood Randolph “Old Ranel” McCoy. Though not as prosperous as Devil Anse, Randolph owned some land and livestock. Both families lived along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River, which snaked along the boundary between Kentucky and West Virginia, and both families had complex kinship and social networks.

Family loyalty was often determined not only by blood but by employment and proximity. The families even intermarried and sometimes switched family loyalties, even once the feud had started.

How did Hatfield & McCoys Start?

The first event in the decades-long feud was the 1865 murder of Randolph’s brother, Asa Harmon McCoy, by the Logan Wildcats, a local militia group that counted Devil Anse and other Hatfields among its members. Many people even members of his own family regarded Asa Harmon, who had served in the Union Army during the American Civil War, as a traitor. While some have surmised that his murder set the stage for the feud, most historians now see this incident as a standalone event.

Hatfield & McCoys Relationship Develops

Relations between the two families continued to sour over the next decade before flaring again over a seemingly small matter: a dispute over a single hog. In 1878 Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield, a cousin of Devil Anse, of stealing one of his pigs, a valuable commodity in the poor region. Floyd Hatfields trial took place in McCoy territory but was presided over by a cousin of Devil Anse.

It hinged on the testimony of star witness Bill Staton, a McCoy relative married to a Hatfield. Staton testified in Floyd Hatfield’s favor, and the McCoys were infuriated when Floyd was cleared of the charges against him. Two years later, Staton was violently killed in a fracas with Sam and Paris McCoy, nephews of Randolph. Sam stood trial for the murder but was acquitted for self-defense reasons.

Within months of Staton’s murder, a heated affair of a different sort was set ablaze. At a local election day gathering in 1880, Johnse Hatfield, the 18-year-old son of Devil Anse, encountered Roseanna McCoy, Randolph’s daughter. According to accounts, Johnse and Roseanna hit it off, disappearing together for hours. Supposedly fearing retaliation from her family for mingling with the Hatfields, Roseanna stayed at the Hatfield residence for a period of time, drawing the ire of the McCoys.

Hatfield & McCoys Romance

Although they certainly shared a romance, it rapidly became clear that Johnse was not about to settle down with Roseanna. Several months later he abandoned the pregnant Roseanna and quickly moved on. In May 1881 he married Nancy McCoy, Roseanna’s cousin. According to the romanticized legend, Roseanna was heartbroken by these events and never recovered emotionally.

Hatfield & McCoys Escalates

The real turning point in the feud, according to most historical accounts, occurred on another local election day in August 1882. Three of Randolph McCoy’s sons ended up in a violent dispute with two brothers of Devil Anse. The fight soon snowballed into chaos as one of the McCoy brothers stabbed Ellison Hatfield multiple times and then shot him in the back. Authorities soon apprehended the McCoys, but the Hatfields interceded, spiriting the men to Hatfield territory. After receiving word that Ellison had died, they bound the McCoys to some pawpaw bushes. Within minutes, they fired more than 50 shots, killing all three brothers.

Though the Hatfields might have felt their revenge was warranted, the law felt otherwise, quickly returning indictments against 20 men, including Devil Anse and his sons. Despite the charges, the Hatfields eluded arrest, leaving the McCoys boiling with anger about the murders and outraged that the Hatfields walked free. Their cause was taken up by Perry Cline, an attorney who was married to Martha McCoy, the widow of Randolph’s brother Asa Harmon. Years earlier Cline had lost a lawsuit against Devil Anse over the deed for thousands of acres of land, and many historians believe this left him looking for his own form of revenge. Using his political connections, Cline had the charges against the Hatfields reinstated. He announced rewards for the arrest of the Hatfields, including Devil Anse.

Hatfield & McCoys Media Sensation

With the pressure cooker gathering steam, the media started to report on the feud in 1887. In their accounts, the Hatfields were often portrayed as violent backwoods hillbillies who roamed the mountains stirring up violence. The sensationalist coverage planted the seed for the rivalry to become cemented in the American imagination. What had been a local story was becoming a national legend.

The Hatfields may or may not have been paying attention to these stories, but they were certainly paying attention to the bounty on their heads. In an effort to end the commotion once and for all, a group of the Hatfields and their supporters hatched a plan to attack Randolph McCoy and his family. Led by Devil Anse’s son Cap and ally Jim Vance, a group of Hatfield men ambushed the McCoys’ home on New Year’s Day in 1888. Randolph fled, escaping into the woods. His son Calvin and daughter Alifair were killed in the crossfire; his wife Sarah was left badly beaten by the Hatfields, suffering a crushed skull.

A few days after what became known as the New Year’s massacre, bounty hunter Frank Phillips chased down Jim Vance and Cap Hatfield, killing Vance. Phillips rounded up nine Hatfield family members and supporters and hauled them off to jail. Years of legal permutations unfolded as a series of courts judged the legal merits of the Hatfield case. Eventually, the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided that the Hatfields being held in custody could be tried.

Hatfield & McCoys Trial

The trial began in 1889, and in the end, eight of the Hatfields and their supporters were sentenced to life in prison. Ellison Mounts, who was believed to be the son of Ellison Hatfield, was sentenced to death. Nicknamed Cottontop, Mounts was known to be mentally challenged, and many viewed him as a scapegoat even though he had confessed his guilt.

Although public executions were against the law in Kentucky, thousands of spectators gathered to witness the hanging of Ellison Mounts on February 18, 1890. Reports claim that his last words were: “They made me do it! The Hatfields made me do it!”

As the feud faded, both family leaders attempted to recede into relative obscurity. Randolph McCoy became a ferry operator. In 1914 he died at the age of 88 from burns suffered in an accidental fire. By all accounts, he continued to be haunted by the deaths of his children.

Devil Anse Hatfield, who had long proclaimed his skepticism about religion, was born again later in life when he was baptized for the first time at age 73. Although the conflict subsided generations ago, the names Hatfield and McCoy continue to loom large in the American imagination.

 

The Hatfield & McCoy story from the the family that lived it. Account from Libby Preston, as posted from the original website.  

I’ve encountered several difficulties researching my mother’s maternal grandfather. My mother’s mother was Norma Fletcher.  She married Edgar Preston on December 24, 1918.  Norma was only 14 years old.  Her parents were Joseph Robert Fletcher & Catherine Scott.  Joseph’s father was Joseph Robert/Robinson Fletcher.  This Joseph was born about 1838 in Pike Co., KY and married Mary “Polly” Preece.  Thanks to a fellow Fletcher descendant and researcher, I’ve found my Joseph’s line.  Imagine my surprise when I found out his father was John F. Fletcher and his mother was Sarah McCoy of the Hatfields & McCoys.  Sarah was the first cousin of Old Randolph McCoy whose sons killed Ellison Hatfield on a fateful day in 1882.  Sarah’s father was Joseph McCoy, Randolph’s uncle.  In doing additional research, I found another of my mother’s lines.  Her great grandfather was Andy H. Scott, father of Catherine Scott above. Andy’s grandmother was Elizabeth McCoy, a sister of Joseph McCoy.  Randolph’s father, Daniel, as well as Joseph and Elizabeth were children of “Old William”.  Be sure to click on the McCoy Hatfield Pics and McCoy Articles to see additional pictures and related newspaper articles of these families.

The Hatfield & McCoy Feud resulted in what is described as the perception of the hillbilly – they were depicted as barefoot, overall wearing country bumpkins.  What we’ve failed to remember is that these were real people who suffered real tragedy.  Their story is truly tragic. Men and women were killed and lives were forever changed due to the feud.

 

THE STORY

 

RANDOLPH “Old Randall” McCOY
BORN: OCTOBER 30, 1825DIED: March 28, 1914

WILLIAM ANDERSON “Devil Anse” HATFIELD
BORN: SEPTEMBER 9, 1839
DIED: JANUARY 6, 1921

 

 

The story of the Hatfield & McCoy feud is a combination of love, treachery, and – most of all – tragedy.  It took place in the mountain terrain of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.  At the head of the hostilities on the Hatfield side was William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield.  He was once described as “6 foot of devil and 180 pounds of hell.”  On the McCoy side was Randolph, who was known as “Old Randall” McCoy.  My family, the McCoys, lived on the Kentucky side of the Tug River and the Hatfields lived on the West Virginia side.  For several years these families crossed over the river and courted, married and were friends.  That is until the Civil War, and, as one individual put it–that “damnable pig!”  

Both families were pre-dominantly Southern sympathizers but both sides had Union soldiers as well.  Old Randalls younger brother, Asa Harmon McCoy was one of the Union soldiers.  Harmon waited two years after the war started to enlist in the Union Army where he served for twelve months.  After suffering a broken leg, he was discharged on December 24, 1864.  When he returned home he was warned by Devil Anse’s uncle, Jim Vance, that The Logan Wildcats (Confederate Raiders) would be “visiting him.”  One day while Harmon was at his well drawing water, he heard gunshots.  Harmon had instructed his slave, Pete, to hide food and water in a nearby cave in the event he had to hide from the raiders.  Harmon would become the first tragedy of the feud.   His tormentors tracked his slave Pete’s footprints in the snow and shot Harmon to death on January 8, 1865 while he hid in the cave.  Since Harmon’s military service was considered an act of disloyalty, even his family believed the man had brought his murder on himself.  No one was ever brought to trial but it was always felt that Jim Vance was involved.  It would be over a decade before the next major incident occurred.

Things remained pretty calm until the fall of 1878.  That’s when Old Randall thought he spotted one of his pigs being stolen by one of his wife’s Hatfield relatives, Floyd Hatfield. Old Randall was enraged and demanded Floyd be brought to trial. In the end, the final verdict hinged on the testimony of Old Randall’s nephew, Bill Staton.  Staton swore it was Floyd Hatfield’s pig.  The “jury of his peers” for Floyd’s trial was made up of 6 Hatfields and 6 McCoys.  Old Randall would lose the case. It seems one of the McCoy jurors, Selkirk McCoy, had bad feelings for the family and sided with the Hatfields. As a result, the Hatfields were acquitted of the crime with a 7-5 verdict in their favor.  

From that date on Bill Staton’s fate was sealed.  Within a few months Staton was shot to death by Paris and Sam McCoy. The pair were tried for Staton’s murder but they were acquitted with a plea of self-defense.  It was felt that in order to keep peace between the families, Devil Anse had arranged for the acquittal. Instead of being grateful, the McCoys were enraged that Sam and Paris were tried at all.

STAR CROSSED LOVERS

Roseanna McCoy – Picture courtesy of Buddy Dickens via Edward McCoy

Johnse Hatfield – Picture courtesy of Buddy Dickens from the book Tale of the Devil by Coleman C. Hatfield

As in any tragedy, there are usually star-crossed lovers.  This story is no different and it became the 19th century Americanized version of Romeo & Juliet. Old Randall had a daughter named Roseanna.  She was very pretty and in the spring of 1880 spied and immediately fell in love with Devil Anse’s son, Johnse Hatfield.  At 18, Johnse was already a well established bootlegger and womanizer. Roseanna slipped off into the bushes that night with Johnse and the rest is history. Instead of returning home, she went to live at Devil Anse’s house. Later, after Johnse refused to marry her, she went home at the pleading of her mother. Because of her affair with Johnse, life in the McCoy home for her was intolerable.  A little while later Roseanna left her parent’s home and went to stay with her aunt, Betty McCoy. This let the lovers continue to meet and rekindle their affair. One night as they lay in each other’s arms, Roseanna’s brothers surrounded them and took Johnse prisoner.  They said they were taking him to jail but Roseanna believed otherwise. She borrowed a neighbor’s horse and rode bareback, hatless, and coatless to tell Devil Anse.  Anse rallied his sons and neighbors and rescued his son without incident. Roseanna’s Johnse never returned to her bed, but the damage was already done.  She was pregnant. She went back to her father’s home even though she knew he felt she had committed an unpardonable sin. Some reports say she miscarried the child after having contracted measles.  Per Truda McCoy in The McCoy’s:  Their Story, Roseanna had a daughter named Sarah Elizabeth who died as an infant and was buried under a pine tree near Betty McCoy’s home. To add to her shame, Johnse married Roseanna’s 16 year old first cousin, Nancy McCoy.

ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE

In August, 1882, three of Old Randall’s sons, Randall, Jr. (Bud), Pharmer and Tolbert, attacked Devil Anse’s younger brother, Ellison Hatfield.  According to many accounts of the incident, the attack was apparently unprovoked.  They stabbed Ellison 26 times and then Pharmer McCoy shot him in the back.  The Hatfields ambushed the posse that was taking Pharmer, Tolbert and Bud to jail and held them in a school pending Ellison’s recovery or death. Devil Anse had said if his brother lived he would allow Pharmer, Tolbert and Bud to proceed to trial.  If he died he would seek retribution.  Ellison lived for 3 days after the attack.  After he died, the Hatfields dragged the three McCoy brothers across the Tug River, tied them to paw-paw bushes and shot them to death.  Devil Anse was the prime suspect until it was determined that he was at home in bed ill when the 3 McCoy brothers were killed.  

Soon after this incident, the Hatfields broke into the home of Mary McCoy Daniels and whipped Mary and her daughter with a cow’s tail.  Even though she was married to a Hatfield relation, they thought she was leaking information to the McCoys.  Her brother, Jeff McCoy, tried to seek revenge for the whippings. He was promptly shot to death on the banks of the Tug River.  

Things wouldn’t end there.  Before it was over 13 would die. It was quiet for almost five years. That’s when an enterprising lawyer who had lost some land dealings with Devil Anse Hatfield would convince the Kentucky Governor to reopen the case of the deaths of Tolbert, Bud and Pharmer McCoy and appointed “Bad” Frank Phillips to bring the Hatfields to justice.  

The Hatfields were eventually tired of being on the run and thought if they eliminated Old Randall McCoy, there wouldn’t be anyone to testify and bring them to trial.  In an attempt to eliminate Old Randall and any other witnesses, on January 1, 1888 the McCoy’s home was raided by the Hatfields. The raiding party consisted of Johnse Hatfield, Ellison “Cotton Top” Mounts (a suspected illegitimate son of Ellison Hatfield), Valentine “River Wall” Hatfield, Selkirk McCoy and several other Hatfield sympathizers. They set the McCoy cabin on fire and waited outside with rifles.

When the New Year’s Day raid was over, Old Randall’s son Calvin and daughter Alifair were dead and his wife, Sarah, had been savagely beaten. According to the newspaper articles of the time, Sarah’s bloody head had been frozen to the ground with her own blood. When help arrived the next morning, Old Randall’s daughter Adelaide was found sitting on the floor cradling her dead brother’s head in her arms.  On the bed was the body of her dead sister, Alifair, and her unconscious mother.  The February 16, 1888 article in the Ironton Register stated Adelaide had “gone stark raving mad.”

 

This is the well where Alifair was shot by the Hatfields while getting water to help put out the fire in the cabin.  Her mother was beaten trying to get to her after she heard her call out.The cemetery where six of the McCoy children are buried on Blackberry Fork of Pond Creek, Pike Co., KY is shown below. 

The Blackberry Fork Cemetery & McCoy well pictures are compliments of Terry Thacker who is also a McCoy descendant. They were taken in September, 2003.

 


 


This copy of the picture was found in the West Virginia Archives

Back row standing: 1. Rose Browning (daughter); 2. Troy; 3. Betty Caldwell; 4. Elias; 5. Tom Chafin (nephew); 6. Joe D; 7. Exer Damron (hired hand); 8. Shephard; 9. Coleman; 10. Levica Emma; 11. Bill Borden (store clerk).
Middle row seated:   12. Mary Hensely-Simpkins-Howes; 13. Vicie Simpkins; 14. Devil Anse; 15. Levicy; 16. Nancy Elizabeth; 17. Robert Elliott; 18. Louise; 19. Cap.   Seated in front: 20. Tennis; 21. Midge (Johnse’s daughter). 22. Willis; 23. Old Yellow
(Identification made by Willis Hatfield)

The picture above was taken in 1897.  The drawing of the picture shown on the right came from the Iowa State Press dated February 11, 1889. The headline read “In A Careless Moment Devil Anse Allowed It to Be Taken — The Hatfields Wrecked the Photographer’s Establishment.” 

It appears that after the picture was taken, Devil Anse had a change of heart.  The Hatfields went to the photographer’s establishment, took the photo plate and wrecked the establishment.  What they didn’t know was that the photographer had already printed a copy of the picture.  This is one of the few pictures of the Hatfield Clan ever taken. 

Notice that in the first picture above there are several more women and children as well as a dog that aren’t depicted in the drawing.  It appears there were two pictures.  The picture on the top right that was used by the newspaper for the drawing was shared by Buddy Dickens, a descendant of the Vance Family.

The article went on to say that there were 4 rifles and 4 shotguns showing in the picture and even more concealed weapons.  The Hatfields still remained this well armed nine years after the feud was over.

The original of the actual photograph on the right was found in the family Bible of Morris Clark of Spring Hill, Kanawha Co., WV and shared by Tina Holley.  The picture was given to her by a descendant of Green Ellis.  Green’s brother, French Babe Ellis, was said to have participated in the raid on the McCoy home which resulted in the deaths of Alifair and Calvin McCoy.

Shown in the picture at the right:

In The Doorway:  Levicy Hatfield (Devil Anse’s Wife) sitting.   Mary (Devil Anse’s Daughter) 
 
Back Row:  Ock Damron (hired hand), Elias Hatfield (son), Detroit or Troy Hatfield (son), Joe Hatfield (son), Cap Hatfield (son), Bill Borden (store clerk and friend that arranged for the photo)
 
Front Sitting:  Tennyson or Tennis Hatfield (son), Devil Anse Hatfield, Willis Hatfield (son)

This picture is courtesy of Tina Holley.
The original is in her possession and was found in the family Bible of
Morris Clark, of Spring Hill, WV. Used with permission.

 

In all 9 men were arrested and brought to trial for the killing of the McCoys.   Among them were Johnse Hatfield, Ellison “Cotton Top” Mounts (a suspected illegitimate son of Ellison Hatfield) and Selkirk McCoy.  The governors of Kentucky and West Virginia battled over extradition and other aspects of the case.  It was eventually resolved by the United States Supreme Court.  The men responsible for the deaths of the McCoys were convicted of their crimes. They were sentenced to death by hanging, (Ellison “Cotton Top” Mounts), or prison terms.  Some were later pardoned (Johnse Hatfield) and others, such as Valentine “River Wall” Hatfield, would later die in prison.

Roseanna’s old lover Johnse McCoy was convicted and sentenced to prison.  In a twist of fate, Johnse’s wife, Nancy McCoy, divorced him and married Frank Phillips, the special officer appointed by the Governor of Kentucky to arrest the Hatfields for the killing of the three McCoys who had killed Ellison Hatfield five years before.  Johnse would later be pardoned after he saved the life of the Lt. Governor, William Pryor Thorne.  Thorne was at the prison for an inspection and was attacked by an inmate.  Johnse slit the throat of the inmate thereby saving the Lt. Governor.

 

What was the fate of Old Randall and Devil Anse?  Old Randall died of burns from a fire in the home of his nephew on March 28, 1914.  He was 88.  Devil Anse would live another 7 years after Old Randall’s death.  He died on January 6, 1921 of pneumonia at the age of 80.  To this day his funeral ranks as the largest attended funeral in Logan County, West Virginia.  His grave at the right has now been dedicated as a National Monument. The picture below was taken of Old Randall McCoy in his coffin at the McCoy homestead.  This picture is compliments of Terry Thacker who also descends through the McCoy’s via Elizabeth McCoy & William Scott.

 

Devil Anse Hatfield’s Tombstone

The pictures of the Hatfield & McCoy Historical Marker & the tombstones of Old Randall, Sarah & their son Samuel & wife Martha Jackson were shared by  Howard Bohrn.  While not a McCoy or Hatfield descendant, he recently visited Pikeville, Pike Co., KY and the Dils Cemetery where Old Randall, Sarah & their son Samuel & his wife Martha Jackson are buried.Jean Hounshell Peppers shared the Hatfield Cemetery Marker

 

 


 

   What ever happened to the young and pretty Roseanna?
She died before the age of 30.  Some say of a broken heart.

The headstone below is that of Calvin McCoy.

Pictures are complements of Terry Thacker.

It was felt by many that young Randal “Bud” McCoy who was 17 at the time, hadn’t participated in the killing of Ellison Hatfield.  Some researchers feel he took responsibility for his younger brother William who was only 14.

The Hatfield & McCoy Feud resulted in what is today described as the perception of the hillbilly – they were depicted as barefoot, overall wearing country bumpkins.  What we’ve failed to remember is that these were real people who suffered real tragedy.  Their story is truly tragic. Men and women were killed and lives were forever changed due to the feud.

 

FEUD CASUALTIES/PARTICIPANTS

 

NAMERELATIONSHIP TO FAMILIESBORNDIEDCAUSE
Asa Harmon McCoyBrother of Old Randall McCoy18281-7-1865Shot to death in a cave probably by James Vance
Bill Staton
Nephew of Devil Anse. Testified that Floyd Hatfield owned the pig.
18526-18-1880Killed by Paris & Sam McCoy
Jeff McCoyNephew of Old Randall McCoy 1886
Killed by Cap Hatfield
Ellison HatfieldBrother of Devil Anse Hatfield18418-9-1882
Stabbed 26 times and shot in the back by Pharmer, Bud (Randolph, Jr.) & Tolbert McCoy
Pharmer McCoy
Randolph McCoy, Jr.
Tolbert McCoy
Sons of Old Randall McCoy1863
1864
1854
8-9-1882 

Killed on the banks of the Tug River by a vigilante party including Johnse Hatfield, Selkirk McCoy, Jim Vance & others

Alifair McCoyDaughter of Old Randall McCoy18581-1-1888
S
hot to death in the raid on the McCoy cabin
Calvin McCoySon of Old Randall McCoy18621-1-1888
Shot to death in the raid on the McCoy cabin
Asa H. McCoyNephew of Old Randall McCoy10-09-1862——-
Killed by Ples McCoy & Bill Dyer
Jim VanceUncle of Devil Anse Hatfield18321888Shot to death while evading capture. He was first shot by Asa Harmon McCoy’s son Asa Harmon McCoy, Jr.
Ellison “Cotton Top”
Mounts

Probable illegitimate son of Ellison Hatfield & was convicted as the killer of Alifair McCoy.  Some still believe Cap Hatfield actually shot Alifair, not Ellison.
 ——-2-18-1889Died by hanging
Valentine “River Wall” Hatfield
Brother of Devil Anse Hatfield
 1834——Died in prison after being convicted in the McCoy killings