The True Story Of The Devil Anse Hatfield And Ran'l McCoy Feud
Movies have been made, books have been written and countless versions of the story have been told. This is the true and unglamorous story told as accurately and honestly as history, family records and local knowledge allows.
The most notorious feud in American history began in the Tug River valley of Appalachia shortly after the Civil War. The feud lasted a decade, claimed 13 lives, destroyed two families and it all started over a hog.
William Anderson Hatfield, better known as Devil Anse, and his family lived on the newly formed West Virginia side of the Tug River in the rugged and isolated Appalachian Mountains. Devil Anse was a large, imposing man that acquired his nick name as a boy for being “mean as the devil”. He was illiterate, as most mountain people were in those days, but was prosperous from his timber business and considerable land holdings. He was well respected by his mountain neighbors and was touted as being the best horseman and marksman in the mountains that had never killed a man just for the pleasure of it.
On the Kentucky side of the river lived the patriarch Randolph (Randall) McCoy, better known as ole Ran'l. Ole Ran'l was a tall, broad shouldered man of property but was of a serious nature. He was married to his cousin Sarah and had nine sons and six daughters living in the home. One of his daughters, The ill fated Roseanna, would soon be ostracized for shaming herself and the family by “spending time” with one of Devil Anse sons, Johnse (Jon – See) Hatfield, and causing tension between the two families.
The first hard feelings between the two mountain families began during the Civil War when Harmon McCoy, brother to Ole Ran'l, joined the Union Army and went off to war. Two years later, Harmon broke his leg, and was released from the army and sent home. One evening a friend, or possibly a relative, visited Harmon and warned him that he should leave or go into hiding because the Logan Wildcats, a Confederate guerrilla group led by Devil Anse Hatfield, was planning to pay him a visit. Harmon knew of an old, natural cave way back in the mountains and went there to hide out and had his slave secretly bring him food and other supplies. One night after a snow, the Logan Wildcats were out searching for Harmon and came across tracks in the snow. They followed the tracks and found Harmon hiding in the cave and shot him to death.
The killing of Harmon McCoy by the Logan county boys and Devil Anse caused resentment by the McCoy family but little else. Ole Ran'l decided that Harmon had brought his troubles upon himself through his act of disloyalty and deserved what he got. Nothing more was done about the matter.
In A Pigs Eye
One afternoon in 1878 Ole Ran'l McCoy stopped by to visit his wife’s brother-in-law, Floyd Hatfield, up on Blackberry Creek. While they were talking on the porch Ole Ran'l saw, what he believed was, one of his hogs in Floyd's sty and accused Floyd of stealing his hogs. (Hogs roamed wild in the mountains and were rounded up each year by their owners. The owners identified their hogs by notches cut in the ears.) Ole Ran'l was furious and left convinced that Floyd was stealing from him.
Word spread and one thing led to another until a court was formed to decide the matter. The liquor filled court was presided over by the local Reverend and Justice of the Peace, Ans Hatfield, with a jury of six Hatfield's and six McCoy's. The final witness to take the stand was Staten McCoy who testified that the hog belonged to Floyd Hatfield and no thievery had taken place. When a verdict of innocent came in the McCoy's flew into a rage and stormed out swearing to take matters into their own hands. Just days after the trial, Staten McCoy was shot dead by Paris and Sam McCoy for his betrayal of the family.
By now the hatred between the two families were at a boiling point and needed only the smallest spark to set off an all out war. Devil Anse realized this and during the hearing of Sam and Paris McCoy for the murder of Staten McCoy he put out the word that the matter was settled and they should be acquitted. The two were acquitted and tensions eased, but the damage had been done and an underlying resentment remained between the families.
An Unholy Union
Roseanna McCoy met Johnse Hatfield one fine spring day at the election gathering of 1880. Election Day was the biggest social event of the year for the mountain folks of Appalachia. Menfolk came to tell jokes and swap stories, make trades, see old friends and distant relatives and to get drunk. The ladies turned out dressed in their finest to share gossip, recipes and to keep a watchful eye on their men.
18 year old Johnse met Roseanna late in the afternoon and they began to keep company (hang out). Roseanna's actual age is unknown but it was somewhere between 12 and 18. What is known about Roseanna McCoy is that, according to hearsay, she was a very lovely, desirable and much sought after young girl. Eventually, as the day wore on and evening approached, Johnse took Roseanna's hand and led her off into the bushes.
When they returned, several hours later, it was dark and Roseanna discovered that her brother, Tolbert, had left and gone on home without her. Roseanna realized that Tolbert had probably found that she was with Johnse, became angry and headed for home to tell her father. Frightened and abandoned, Roseanna's only option was, to go home with Johnse.
Devil Anse Hatfield was completely against the mixing of Hatfield and McCoy blood and, although he allowed Roseanna to stay in his home, she was treated as an outsider and never accepted. Even after it was discovered that she was pregnant and much pleading from Roseanna, Devil Anse, refused to allow them to marry.
In 1881, an unwed, pregnant girl who had shamed her father, Ole Ran'l McCoy, Roseanna moved in with her aunt, Betty McCoy at Stringtown, Kentucky, where she contracted measles, had a miscarriage and died, alone, estranged from her family and with a broken heart. A month later, Johnse Hatfield married Roseanna's 16 year old cousin, Nancy McCoy. (Johnse lived to be 60 years old and died in 1922. Nancy divorced Johnse and married a Phillips. She died in 1901 at age 36.)
All Hell Breaks Loose
The election of 1882 started out as a peaceful event and as usual the liquor was flowing freely. Things changed tragically around mid morning when a scuffle broke out between Ellison Hatfield and some of the McCoy boys. Ellison Hatfield, Devil Anse's brother, was a big man and more than able to take care of himself in a fight. So, when Tolbert, Pharmer and Bud McCoy attacked him he fought back fiercely. But the odds were against him, and after being stabbed 26 times and shot in the back, he finally went down. Ellison was taken to the home of Jerry Hatfield and placed on a bed. Outside on the porch, Devil Anse told his clan, “if my brother Ellison dies, I'll kill them McCoy's”.
The Devil's Revenge
Ellison hung on for three days and when he died Devil Anse made good his threat. The Hatfield's rode over and dragged the three boys out of the house in front of their pleading mother. They took them out into the woods, blindfolded them and executed them. The bodies of Tolbert, Pharmer and Bud McCoy were found tied to a Paw Paw bush riddled with bullets. Also killed in the Hatfield raids were Jeff McCoy, Alistair McCoy and Calvin McCoy. Others were whipped and had their homes burned.
Some semblance of justice came years later when the Kentucky Governor ordered an investigation into the McCoy murders. Eventually, seven of the Hatfield's went to prison. The only man hanged was a mentally retarded scape goat that most likely had nothing to do with the feud.
Devil Anse was never charged and went untouched for the crimes. He died of pneumonia at the age of 81 and was buried in Sarah Ann, West Virginia. It was the largest funeral ever held in Logan County West Virginia.
Ran'l McCoy also escaped any prosecution and died from burns at the age of 88.