Pike County KY Tourism Commission
Hers is the classic story of a girl who loved too much. Young and starry-eyed, she blinded herself to clan hatreds, and one spring afternoon, claimed Johnse Hatfield as her lover and intended husband. Little did she know how completely her happiness was doomed. Nor that she would become fuel in America's most famous, brutal feud. Before she died of a broken heart eight years later, she would become a casualty in the mountain war that left her alone, pregnant, a family traitor, bereaved of five dead siblings and betrayed by lover, parent and, at last, her own mind and body.
She is the heroine of myth, music and movies.
Even today, more than a century later, her life and that of her kinsmen form the compelling center for books and films. It is one in a horde of retellings . . . from major movies and love songs to old texts, many with widely varying version of dates, names, times and what occurred.
Yet one fact remains:
Nothing like the Hatfield-McCoy feud has ever happened in American life. Nor could it happen today.
First, there are the people ... Giants with fierce pride and strange names like Devil Anse. Cotton Top. Bad 'Lias. And "Squirrel Hunting" Sam. Men bred from the rugged individuals who scorned the courtesies and restrictions of their native, stifling Virginia society and chose to strike out for open spaces to the west, a wilderness where they could be free.
Here in the mountain terrain among the wildest in eastern America, the twisting Tug Fork River sliced West Virginia's Logan (now Mingo) County with its Hatfields and Kentucky's Pike County with its McCoys into separate and independent-minded states. And never would that independence be more challenged than with the coming of the War Between the States, when Kentuckians and West Virginians fought and died for both the Union and the South's honor and cause.
Strangely, if not for the war and its divisions, the tragedy of the Hatfields, the McCoys and Roseanna might never have been.
Or perhaps, if there had not been that damnable pig...
The People on the Peaks
Peace was never natural along the Tug's banks. Especially not in the mid-19th century.
The men here doted on their skills at guns and fights, their spit-the-devil-in-the-eye fearlessness, their huge families, their freedom. For them, government barely existed. Courts were few and police protection almost nonexistent, with public servants dreading to venture into the hollows and backwoods near today's Matewan, W.Va. and Pikeville, Ky.
Rugged outdoorsmen, often intelligent and usually illiterate, they made whiskey, logged timber, fished and hunted. And they excelled at their crafts. Many were such uncanny marksmen that the story is told of a shy mountain boy who put a bullseye through a coin thrown into the air without any of those present having seen him even draw his gun. The stuff of legend? Likely, but indicative at least of the tenor of the time and region.
Still, before the Civil War, there was a certain quiet harmony in that uncompromising land.