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.
From time to time someone will ask me, perhaps only half seriously, who won the Hatfield-McCoy feud. Given the way we think of feuds, as mighty struggles between two equal, or nearly equal, clans, it’s a legitimate question. Surely we can chart out, at least in some rough and unscientific way, who the winners and losers were in this particular struggle. So let’s have at it.
If we look at Randolph McCoy, I think it’s clear that he was not in any real sense the “winner.” After all, Randolph and his family were the victims of several terrible tragedies. Five of their children were killed, shot down in the prime of their lives. Sally herself was nearly beaten to death and sustained injuries from which she never recovered. The family had their home burned to the ground and were forced to move out of the Tug Valley, where both of them had been born and raised. While Randolph and Sally may have taken some consolation from the hanging of Ellison Mounts and from the death of Wall Hatfield in a Kentucky prison, I would bet a month’s salary that neither of them considered that any kind of a “victory.”
But what about Devil Anse Hatfield? If Randolph McCoy suffered a net loss, surely Devil Anse could be considered in some way the winner. While it is certainly true that Anse Hatfield and his wife Levicy did not suffer in the same way or to the same extent as the McCoys, I don’t think, when the dust finally settled, that they would have felt they had won anything either. Before the killing of the three McCoy brothers, Anse Hatfield was a rising entrepreneur. He had a growing timber business, large tracts of land along the Tug River, and a great deal of prestige that came from his being a local man competing with the outside money interests. By the end of the feud, he had lost the respect of his community (local people never forgave him for the attack on the McCoy home), he was forced to sell his Tug Valley land (including the Grapevine Creek land that had been the center of his dispute with Perry Cline) and move out of the community to Island Creek. He lost his brother Wall to prison and, it seems, his brother Elias to differences of opinion. His sons were continually on the run from the law and he himself spent many years in fear of bounty hunters and legal problems. He never attained the economic and political status locally that, for a time, seemed possible. Definitely not a win.
Perry Cline? He did not get back his Grapevine Creek lands (though his wife reclaimed a portion of them after his death). He lost his position as Pike County sheriff and died in 1891 from tuberculosis.
Jim Vance? He ended up dead, shot by Frank Phillips.
Frank Phillips? No, after his disastrous raids into West Virginia where he killed Jim Vance and Bill Dempsey, Frank spent his own time hiding out in the mountains and wasn’t even invited to the hanging of Ellison Mounts. He died young from gangrene from a gunshot wound.
So it’s clear that none of the major characters in the feud can be said to have won anything (unless historical notoriety counts). If you step back a little, however, I think it’s possible to identify a winner. So I would like to officially propose as the winner of the Hatfield McCoy feud, one Luther Kountze!
Luther Kounzte was an American banker of German ancestry who, along with his brothers Augustus and Herman, operated the Kountze Brothers Bank in Omaha, Nebraska from 1858 until 1862. In 1862 Luther went to Denver, Colorado and opened a Kountze Brothers bank there. Kountze is credited with saving the city of Denver after a fire in 1867 by loaning money to rebuild the town. In 1867 he moved to New York City and, in 1868, established the Kounzte Brothers Bank at 52 Wall Street. In 1881, the year before Ellison Hatfield was killed on Blackberry Creek, Luther moved to Morristown, New Jersey and began building an English-style estate, named Delbarton after his three children (DELancey, BARclay and LivingsTON). Luther Kountze was one of the founders of the Metropolitan Opera House Company. At Luther’s death in 1918, he left an estate valued at nearly 5 million dollars.
So how does that make him the winner of the feud?
Well, at his death, by far the largest portion of his 5 million dollars’ worth of net worth, $1,777,000 of it, came from his 24,000+ shares of United Thacker Coal Company. The United Thacker Coal Company owned much, if not all, of the Thacker Creek land formerly owned by Jim Vance. Eventually it, along with thousands of other acres of coal-rich land throughout the Tug Valley, wound up in the hands of Luther Kountze. The town of Delbarton, West Virginia, a coal company town, was named after Kountze’s New Jersey estate. As a final irony, in 1909 Kountze’s United Thacker Coal Company purchased the home place and property once owned by Ellison Hatfield from his widow, Jane. Their son, Valentine Hatfield, managed the land holdings of United Thacker Coal and aided in the purchase.
In 1918, when Luther Kountze passed away, he left to his widow and three children an estate worth nearly 2,000 times the value of the family property that Levicy Hatfield left to her children upon her death in 1930. It is likely that Luther Kountze’s fortune in 1918, founded primarily on the coal beneath the land, was greater than that of all the residents of the Tug Valley combined who lived on top of it and whose parents and grandparents had once owned it. The massive transference of the land from the local farmers to eastern industrialists and coal barons is the seldom-mentioned subtext of the feud.
So, although he never fired a shot and almost certainly had no hard feelings towards either Hatfield or McCoy, that’s how Luther Kountze won the Hatfield McCoy feud.