December 1, 2013

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Editor's Note: This story was originally published in the March/April 1996 issue of Blue Ridge Country.

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.


December 1, 2013

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Comments (15)

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Marriage of a McCoy, witnessed by a Hatfield

My Grandfather Joseph Franklin Smith, was married to a Hatfield, before he married my Grandmother, Frankie McCoy. I have probably known recorded document of a McCoy witnessed by a Hatfield!

Judy Reno 18 days ago


Most of this seems extremely accurate... I am related to the Hatfields by direct descent, there may be still some bad blood between the two unfortunately. But most of this seems exactly how my grandmothers family tells it, no matter how surreal this seems. It happened, and boy Shakespeare did he tell the future....

Ryleigh 76 days ago

Excellent synopsis

Excellent synopsis that answered a lot of questions.

Cindi 255 days ago

Article is wrong

Roseanna did not miscarry her baby. Baby Sarah lived less than a year.

Patricia 262 days ago


.....glad im not a dating a hatfield

Dirk Pitt 323 days ago

hatfield mc coy

How misunderstandings and imagined wrongs can go so astray.

melissa more than 1 years ago

Deep Rooted

Growing up I heard about the feud. But being young I always had the picture of shootings out of cabin windows. My little young couldn't have handled the cold heart truth of it all. How truly sinister their hate was. But their mountians were high and their valleys were low hidden from most. They learned to survive in a country so wild yet so beautiful- The place were tragedies are born.

Acey Young more than 1 years ago

Nor could it happen today

Nor could it happen today? I strongly disagree with that statement, what do you think gang violence is? People with too much pride and loyalty will always be causing problems.

Carter more than 1 years ago


This is most saddness thing ever. The families couldn't forgive each other and yet with all the violence two people managed to find love in it and yet never could be together. They are truly a Romeo and Juliet story. I feel terrible for these two and can't believe the families just couldn't let well enough be. This is most saddness and most violent feud and is forever imprinted into history.

Heart Broken more than 1 years ago


I am a McCoy so many died from both families and lawmen but at the same time I think that family pride is not a bad thing but can be pushed too far I am very proud of my family name and only life's lessons can teach us of deadly mistakes

Buddy McCoy more than 1 years ago


My Grandma was Maude McCoy. Born 1895. She told me that she looked up into a carrage that Hap Hatfield was in with his lady, and she had long lacy gloves on. True? I don't know
I believe that her Father may have been killed and an Uncle or Brother

Mark Stevens more than 1 years ago


I've read everything n saw mini series on this I Cryed thru the whole thing I feel for both sides of the feud the blood that was spilled between these families is heart braking I know some laws were broken but to have the two young lovers denied to love eachother was more heart braking who know what would of happen joining the two families but I'm glad now they have work thing out n can live together in peace I'd love to go there where it happen n pay my repects two both families n may they all rest in peace

angel stoll more than 1 years ago

The story

I never thought that two families could be so lost within their pride. My heart is so broken to hear such a sad feud between two families all I could do was cry and pray to God, WHY?? So many died because two men didn't know how to forgive. And they both were blinded by their pride that killed them all.
Why would Kentucky and W. Virginia celebrate or even brag on a tragedy that happen to so many. That should be history we want to learn from and make sure it never happens again. Out of many stories I have read or heard of this is among the saddest.

Roman more than 1 years ago


i am a mccoy .

hunter mccoy more than 1 years ago

Sad but True

It still lives in families today, maybe not with guns but with words and pulling families apart. Life is to short..........

Tom 347 days ago

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