Kentucky's fatal family feud 0
PIKEVILLE, Ky. -- Twenty wooden steps down from the two-lane backroad takes you to a little copse of tall sycamore trees beside the Tug River. The sun hardly penetrates and that's somehow fitting, for this is one of the saddest places in all Kentucky.
The sycamores are latecomers. In 1882 some paw paw trees stood here. On Aug. 9 that year their bright purple flowers were stained deep red from the blood of three young men who were tied to the trees and slain, execution style.
Their last name was McCoy and the "executioners" were led by a man called Anderson ("Devil Anse") Hatfield. It was the most notorious incident in what has come to be known as the Hatfield-McCoy Feud, a virtual war between two families in this area and across the Tug River in western West Virginia.
At least a dozen people, men and women, died in the 12 years the feud lasted. It's back in the public notice again this year following the screening, in the spring, of the mini-series Hatfields & McCoys on the History Channel in the United States and on History Television here. Viewers have a chance to see it again with the release of the series -- starring Kevin Costner as Devil Anse Hatfield and Bill Paxton as rival leader Randolph ("Old Ran'l") McCoy -- on DVD on July 31.
Jesse Bowling, tourism director for Pikeville, says the mini-series has sparked tremendous interest in the sites associated with the feud.
"We've had visitors here from 44 states, that I know about, and from Canada, since the series aired," he says.
To aid the visitors, the city and Pike County have produced a brochure outlining the feud and pointing out sites. And there's a CD, with an accompanying self-drive map, which I found invaluable in explaining the significance of the stops.
The feud began with a dispute over a hog in 1878, but the families had been enemies since 1865 when Asa Harmon McCoy was slain by Devil Anse's uncle, Jim Vance (who was never charged). Asa had fought for the Union in the Civil War and the Hatfields were Confederates.
Distrust simmered for years and came to a head in the fall of 1878 when a dispute between the families over the ownership of a pig resulted in what has been called the Hog Trial. A McCoy clansman, Bill Staton, testified for the Hatfields; he was branded a traitor and killed by two of Old Ran'l's sons.
A reproduction of the log cabin where the trial was held stands on Route 319. In this same area is the place where the feud's Romeo and Juliet story began, when Roseanna McCoy met and fell in love with Johnse Hatfield. She lived with the Hatfields for a time but their parents' disapproval split the lovers, even though she was pregnant (the baby died in infancy; the grave is on the tour).
A few kilometres north on Route 319 is the site of another atrocity. On New Year's Day 1888 the Hatfields surrounded Ran'l McCoy's house and set fire to it. As daughter Alifair McCoy, 28, ran to the well for water to douse the flames, she was shot dead.
The well is there today and a wall of loose stones marks the site of the McCoy house. And, as most everywhere along the trail, a brown historical marker tells the story.
Other sites along the Hatfield-McCoy trail include:
-- Dils Cemetery, where Old Ran'l and other McCoys are buried; also two Hatfields.
-- The Old Courthouse in Pikeville, where a number of Hatfields (but not Devil Anse) were convicted of murder in 1889.
-- A grassy knoll on Kentucky Avenue, Pikeville, where Ellison ("Cottontop") Mounts, whose mother was a Hatfield, was hanged in 1890 for the murder of Alifair McCoy. He was the only person given the death penalty and his hanging effectively marked the end of the feud.
-- A restaurant on Pikeville's Main St. is the house to which Ran'l McCoy and his family moved after they were burned out of their home.
-- The Big Sandy Heritage Center museum in Pikeville's old railway station has an exhibit on the feud.
The Hatfields and the McCoys have been at peace for 122 years, but their names have gone into folklore as a metaphor for family honour and vengeance. And it appears the legend stretches into the 23rd century, for Dr. Leonard McCoy of the cult TV series Star Trek (played by actor DeForest Kelley) is said to be a descendant of Old Ran'l.
NEED TO KNOW
For more information, check the websites pikevillecity.com and tourpikecounty.com. Hatfield & McCoy guided tours are run by Adam Warren, whose parents own the land where Ran'l McCoy's house stood (email@example.com or 606-369-4026). The CD and driving tour map ($20 US) are available from the county tourist office at 831 Hambley Rd. in Pikeville, phone 606-432-5063 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.