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.
All of the fables posing as “Feud history,” from the 1888 newspaper reporters to the novelists writing after Kevin Costner’s movie begin with a few basic premises. Chief among these is the claim that the Tug Valley in the 1870’s-‘80’s was a lawless place, devoid of law enforcement and functioning courts. Upon returning to New York from his 1888 visit, T.C. Crawford told his New York World readers that he had been “away in Murderland.”
The court records for Pike and Logan Counties refute this contention entirely. The Order Books for those two decades show that even the most minor offenses were charged and, where possible, tried. There are several cases where middle-aged housewives were charged with offenses such as breach of the peace and assault and battery. Many civil suits were filed over things like slander and making too much noise outside someone’s house.
There were personal injury suits filed by victims of shootings and knifings, and some were even filed by losers of fist-fights. Several of these cases involved names we see in the feud story, and will be covered in detail in future posts.
We are told in the feud yarns that the Pike County officers were so frightened by Devil Anse that they did not even try to bring him to justice for killing the three McCoy boys in 1882. They do not tell us, however, that the same Devil Anse was sued multiple times in Pike County, and that he crossed the river and faced the music each time. In some of those civil cases (to be discussed in future posts), Devil Anse was sued by Perry Cline and members of Asa Harmon McCoy’s family, at a time when we are told that such disputes were always settled with guns.
The claims that there was no justice for Hatfields in Kentucky or for McCoys in West Virginia are in direct conflict with the actual record. Sam and Paris McCoy stood trial in West Virginia for the 1880 killing of Bill Staton. This case is used by most feud writers as proof that there was a blood-feud enmity between the families at that time. The fact that a Logan County Court acquitted both the McCoy brothers for killing the brother-in-law of Ellison Hatfield means nothing to the feud writers.
That eight McCoy relatives of Sam and Paris were witnesses against the two McCoy defendants is glossed over by all the writers, except for Altina Waller, who covers the cases in depth on pages 65 and 66 of her book, “Feud: Hatfields and McCoys and Social Change in Appalachia, 1860-1900.”
Just as McCoys received fair trials in West Virginia at a time when the feud story says that a blood feud existed, Hatfields could expect the same in Kentucky.
In October, 1880, Johnse Hatfield, eldest son of Devil Anse, was arrested by Tolbert and Bud McCoy, on a charge of carrying a concealed deadly weapon.
The record shows that Devil Anse rode to Johnse’s rescue, freeing him from Tolbert’s custody. (Commonwealth vs Andrew Hatfield et. al., November26, 1880, KDLA.) A very important point that is not made by the feud story-tellers is that Devil Anse didn’t shoot anyone when he took Johnse from the outnumbered and outgunned McCoys in the wilds of Pike County.
Devil Anse’s forcing the release of his son from the McCoys was not to allow Johnse to escape the consequences of his actions. On October 14, 1880, Johnse Hatfield stood trial on that charge, and was convicted, fined and sentenced to ten days in jail.
The record starts at the bottom of one page in the Order Book, and continues at the top of the following page:
A year after Johnse was tried and convicted, his cousin, Floyd Hatfield, stood trial in Pikeville for his alleged participation in the gang that freed Johnse from the McCoys. As the record shows, a jury of Pike County Kentuckians found the West Virginia Hatfield not guilty of the charges.
Floyd’s acquittal, along with the conviction of Johnse and the acquittals of Sam and Paris McCoy a year earlier, are stark evidence of the falsity of the claims that the courts were not functioning and that defendants could not expect fair trials on both sides of the Tug, their surnames notwithstanding.
The record shows that even minor offenses were charged in both Logan and Pike Counties, and that the outcome of trials was not predictable on the basis of the surname of the defendant. The tales of lawless Hatfields and McCoys running rough-shod over the law are proven to be fiction by the actual records.