Photos courtesy of Pike County KY Tourism Commission ("Devil Anse" Hatfield photo courtesy West Virginia State Archives)
Pictured from left to right: Randolph "Ole Ran'l" McCoy, Johnse Hatfield, Roseanna McCoy and Capt. William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield.
There are many things about the standard story of the New Year’s raid on the McCoy home that never rang true to me. Of course some of it, such as the claim in the Ellison Mounts “confession” that the raiders WALKED the thirteen-mile round trip, through ice and snow, across two ridges on a night so cold that women’s hair froze to the ground is so ludicrous that it can be dismissed out of hand. This is especially true when Mounts says that they began their trek by WADING Tug River!
Other parts of the story require much more thought. Chief among these is the time involved in the attack and the actions of the McCoys and their neighbors during and immediately following the attack.
The standard story has the attack lasting as long as two hours, with Ran’l McCoy retreating to a hog pen, where he spent the rest of the night, not returning to his womenfolk until the following morning. The first to reach the McCoy home is said to have been Aly Farley and his son, John B., some time after daylight the following day.
That is what Pricy Farley Scott told me, and she was eighteen years old at the time of the raid. I believe that Pricy really believed what she told, but I also believe that it was simply Farley family lore, which does not fit in any rational explanation of that night.
I have written previously that two of the sons of Preacher Anse, who were alive and remembered the night, told me that their father was awakened by his barking dogs when the Hatfield gang rode by on their way to the McCoy home. I believe that, simply because I know that every farmstead in those days had hounds, and most had geese. There is no way that a gang of nine to fourteen horsemen could ride past one of those homes at night without arousing a pack of hounds and/or a gaggle of honking geese, and there is no way they could have ridden to the McCoy home without passing several farms.
It is just not rational to believe that the neighbors of Ran’l McCoy were not awake when the attack occurred. I did a little experiment back in 1959 or 1960, which proved it to me. I passed the home of the girl who would later be my wife, on my way to my home on Blackberry Creek, while I was a student at the University of Kentucky. Her father, a very serious grouse hunter, was in the field below their house, shooting skeet. He was standing almost directly across Blackberry Fork from the old Ran’l McCoy home.
Hearing the twelve gauge fire as I drove past, I recalled the feud story, which caused me to wonder whether or not a gun battle lasting one to two hours could have occurred without the neighbors being awakened by it. I knew the names and proximate locations of the neighbors. The Farley farm was about half a mile above the McCoy home, with the Scott lands between them.
When I got to the foot of Blackberry Mountain, I stopped directly opposite the Farley home and got out of the car. Clifford Johnson’s twelve gauge was plainly audible to me. Therefore, I knew that, even if the dogs had not awakened the neighbors, the firing certainly did; especially the Scotts who lived much closer to the source of the firing than the spot where I was standing when I heard the shots of Clifford shooting his clay pigeons.
I believe that Jeff and Ransom Hatfield told me correctly that the time between the passing of the Hatfield gang on their way to the McCoy home and their return was only about one hour. Therefore I believe that the firing at the McCoy home was a matter of a few minutes, and NOT two hours, as reported in the feud stories.
The Scott land, occupied by three families of Scotts, was between the Farley home and the McCoy home. The Scotts were almost certainly the first to reach the McCoy home, and it almost surely happened shortly after the gang rode back by their house, after the raid.
I believe that the wounded Sally McCoy and her freezing family were taken to the neighboring Scott home immediately after the raid. And I believe that Ran’l McCoy was with his family when the Scotts arrived. Nothing else makes sense.