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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.
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Courtesy of Barbara Vance Cherup
The American Beacon and Commercial Diary
The American Beacon and Commercial Diary Norfolk, Tuesday Morning June 18, 1818 mentioning the execution of Abner Vance
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Courtesy of Larry Hurley
The Kentucky side of the river.
This property is very near to the property once owned by Betty Vance.
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Courtesy of Larry Hurley
Another view of the Tug River from the old homeplace of Ephraim Hatfield and his wife Phoebe.
This is the view a young Devil Anse Hatfield would have had when he visited his grandmother Betty in Kentucky.
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Courtesy of Larry Hurley
Looking across the Tug River from the Kentucky side to the West Virginia side.
This area, now called Lover's Lane, was where Betty Vance and her children lived in the mid-1800s. This property was later owned by Betty's daughter Phoebe Easter Vance and her husband Ephraim Hatfield.
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The ford where Abner Vance shot Lewis Horton
This is a picture of the ford where Abner Vance shot Lewis Horton. This is standing on the Tazewell County side of the Clinch River looking across to the Russell County side of the river. Abner Vance's home sat a little to the right and up on the knoll behind the brick pump house in the picture. Abner Vance is suppose to be buried in the field to the left of the road coming up out of the river on the Russell County side.Try to envision how this looked in September of 1817. The small brick pump house wasn't there. There are railroad tracks running directly behind the pump house, they weren't there in 1817 either. The field to the left of the ford road wasn't grown up, it was part of Abner's farm, and was most likely still full of corn as it wasn't quite harvest time when Lewis was shot.
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This picture was also taken on the Tazewell County side of the Clinch River looking across to the Russell County side.This picture was taken on 22-Nov-2007 by Tim Vance
By Guest Contributor Ryan Hardesty, Creator of “The Real Hatfield, Real McCoy, Real Feud, Real Matewan Facebook Group”
EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IS PART 2 OF A 3-PART POST
Tall tales sometimes have a tenacity that defies the work of the historian. When it comes to feud tales, created over the years and polished into a glossy perfection, big-screen-ready, the task of deflating them, of correcting the record and restoring actual historical detail is definitely an uphill battle. The tales themselves have become a kind of raw material, like timber or coal, that outside interests can mine for profit. Many of these writers seem to feel, rightly or wrongly, that the truth is a kind of fool's gold, shiny enough but worthless, and only the manufactured feud tales can muscle their way into the marketplace and onto the top of the bestseller lists. So they ignore the evidence where they can and build better and better forgeries, souped-up feud tales that have a sophisticated surface of “research” and a massive advertising budget, but which are designed to deceive. Their mantra seems to be “never let the truth get in the way of telling a good story.”
That being said, let me tell you the true story (or at least as true as we can get at this point) of Abner Vance. This information comes from the actual documents - court records, letters, newspaper accounts - uncovered by Barbara Vance Cherep, an intrepid researcher who never lets a good story get in the way of finding (and promoting) the truth, and whose insistence on finding documentation before making claims puts her way up at the top of my list of favorite feud researchers. All of what follows derives from Barbara's work, which was freely available and easily accessible years before either Dean King or Lisa Alther started work on their books. Remember that five second Google search I mentioned in my previous post? If you go to Google and type in "Abner Vance Story", the top link that comes up is a link to some of Barbara's work, titled “Abner Vance: Two Sides To Every Story.” So it actually takes more work these days to find the untrue Abner Vance legend than the true Abner Vance story.
So here it is. On September 22, 1817 Abner Vance did in fact shoot Lewis Horton in the back as he crossed the Clinch River. Lewis did not drown, as Lisa Alther suggested was possible, but was taken home where he lingered for several days and finally died on September 27th. He managed to write his will before his death. At this point, Abner Vance was arrested. He did not flee to the Tug Valley but went to jail, where he remained for the entire two years until his execution. He was tried and found guilty on April 17, 1818 but appealed the case, claiming that he had not been able to argue insanity at his trial. One of his daughters (not Betty) was willing to testify that he was insane in the weeks leading up to the shooting, but since she had not seen him for several days before the shooting, she could not testify that he was insane at that moment. A judge granted Vance a second trial, and after some wrangling over where it would take place and whether or not the potential jury was prejudiced against him, he was tried again in May of 1819, found guilty again, and sentenced to death a second time. On Friday, July 16th, 1819, he was executed by hanging. It is apparently true, according to newspaper accounts at the time, that he addressed the crowd for over and hour and a half and exhibited a total contempt for death. There is no mention in the records of his singing a song.
As for his reasons for shooting Lewis Horton in 1817, there is no mention in the records. Tantalizing pieces of information suggest legal suits over land. He was involved in a Chancery suit with the Hortons, which Barbara Vance Cherep says often involved land title disputes and other non-criminal offenses, but there is no clear indication that this lead to the shooting of Horton. An interesting document from 1813 (transcribed here: http://files.usgwarchives.net/va/tazewell/court/horton01.txt) shows that local people considered Daniel Horton to be a man who used every legal means possible to get his hands on the land of his neighbors. It seems far more likely, to me, that Vance was involved in some sort of legal squabble with the Hortons over land ownership. There is no mention anywhere in the records of either Daniel Horton's elopement with Betty Vance, and, in fact, in 1817 Betty already had two daughters, Nancy and Sarah, and was quite possibly pregnant with a third. So while the actual cause of the animosity between Vance and the Hortons is not clear, an elopement with Abner's daughter Betty almost certainly doesn't play a role.
So Abner Vance never came into the Tug Valley. He never purchased land there. He never sent his children there to live. And Devil Anse never heard his grandmother Betty tell the story of how her father killed a man to save her honor. I have no idea whether or not any of them knew about the song.