12 Messed-Up Memorial Day HATFIELDS & MCCOYS Premiere Facts

No other folk do blood feuds like Mason-Dixon Line Americans. Wedged between the Smoky Mountains and the Mississippi is enough pure meanness to power New York City from now until the Mayan Doomsday. They may pronounce themselves zealots for the religion of “turn the other cheek,” but hillbillies make Sicilian mobsters look laid back.

Of all the famed conflicts between Jayhawks and Bushwackers, State Line mobsters and small-town Sheriffs, moonshiners and claim jumpers, one stands out in the annals of American history: The Hatfield-McCoy feud. If American vengeance had a brand, it would be Hatfield-McCoy.

Nobody did eye-for-an-eye like these good old boys. And yet nobody knows much about them. The grit of their conflict has been washed under a sugary tide of commercialism, relegating their deep human suffering to the stuff of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, dinner theater.

Until now. Until here, loyal reader. Because in honor of what looks to be a righteously bad-ass three-part, six-hour miniseries premiering on the History Channel Memorial Day, Hatfields & McCoys, we’re giving you the Big Sandy River dirt.

Here are 12 seriously messed-up facts about the Hatfield-McCoy feud, one for each corpse resulting from the conflict:

1. The Civil War Was Behind It

The Hatfields and McCoys had grounds to hate each other even before they collided. They fought on opposite sides of the Civil War.

The division makes it easy to remember: McCoys were Kentucky soldiers for the Union. Hatfields were draft-ducking outlaws for the Confederacy.

2. The Hatfields Started It

Despite what people believe about both sides being wrong, the Hatfields threw down first. William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield was likely at the reins when this whole situation went hellbent.

“Devil Anse” was truly a red-blooded son of a bitch. He didn’t get his nickname on account of the logging operation he ran. He dodged duty in the Confederate Army, then turned around and formed a band of “irregulars”  – read, back-stabbing outlaws – named after his hometown. If this sounds just like the career path of the covetous, murderous fat-ass in Cold Mountain, it is. Devil Anse robbed, pillaged and killed other civilians using the Stars & Bars as an excuse.

All this culminated in him and some other family members – many of who were from his mother’s side, the Vances – waylaying a McCoy who was coming home after the Civil War. They drove Asa McCoy into a cave and gunned him down.

Devil Anse went on to orchestrate much of the brutality during the feud. His eternal reward, at least in this world, is a grave topped by a statue of himself in Logan, West Virginia.

3. A Pig Helped Start It

Asa getting plugged in a cave wasn’t what sparked off the worst of the feud. That began thirteen years later, and was inspired by a hog.

The McCoy patriarch, Randolph “Old Ran’l” McCoy, let his pig wander onto Hatfield land. Apparently holding to an idea of property rights that predated ancient Sumerian law, the Hatfields claimed that made the hog theirs.

The whole case went to court. In the tried-and-true tradition of Southern Justice, the presiding judge was a Hatfield. You can guess who won the case. The Hatfields made away with the hog.

The McCoys decided to score a moral victory, however. Sam and Paris McCoy got into a scrap with the relative who testified on the Hatfields’ behalf, Bill Staton, and killed him. They were acquitted on the basis of self-defense.

4. The Feud Site Is Now Poisonous

All this fussin’ and feudin’ went down in a region known as the Big Sandy River, a borderline feature to east Kentucky and West Virginia. A lovely stretch of water, the river used to live up to its name. Not so much anymore, up in Martin County by the Tug Fork where the feud took place.

In 2000, a coal sludge impoundment owned by Massey Energy broke and disgorged into the Big Sandy River. The toxic mire contained heavy metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic, copper, and chromium.

Nasty, for sure – but how much sludge could a little coal impoundment hold? Well, about 30 times as much toxic goo as the freaking Exxon Valdez spill that rocked the news cycle a couple decades ago. We’re talking hundreds of millions of gallons. It was the one of the worst environmental disasters ever…that you probably never heard of.

5. East Kentucky’s Top Sports Team Shares The Hatfield Name

If you’ve ever been within spitting distance of Kentucky, you know what’s meant by “Wildcats.” University of Kentucky athletics, the Wildcats, are the soul of that region, as much as horse breeding and hot browns. It just also happens to be the name of the Hatfield butchers who tormented and slaughtered east Kentucky from across the West Virginia border: The Logan Wildcats.

6. A Hatfield Dumped His Pregnant McCoy Bride…for Another McCoy

Here’s where the feud officially qualifies itself as a Southern blood feud by becoming both way off the chain and utterly moronic.

As if the pig-related homicide wasn’t bad enough, one of the Hatfield boys got a McCoy girl “in a family way.” Johnson “Johnse” (are we seeing a trend here?) Hatfield, Devil Anse’s son, bedded down with Roseanna McCoy and got her knocked up. The McCoys didn’t take kindly to this, and arrested Johnse on the pretext of some outstanding warrants for bootlegging liquor.

Devil Anse was no stranger to working his will outside the law, though, and got a pile of kin together. He besieged the McCoy farm where Johnse was stowed away and hauled him back home.

Johnse, recognizing the error of inseminating hated rivals, took up with a cousin. Just kidding – he took up with a McCoy cousin, Nancy McCoy, leaving Roseanna in the lurch while making McCoy family cookouts even more awkward.

7. The Hatfield Execution Site Already Stunk of Corpses

By “awkward,” I mean “seething with murderous intent,” because the next blow struck in the Hatfield-McCoy feud was on Roseanna’s behalf. Three of her brothers cornered Ellison Hatfield, Devil Anse’s brother, a year later in 1882. Words were exchanged, then blows, then 26 stab wounds and a bullet – all delivered to Ellison.

Devil Anse hit the trail to beat constables in reaching the McCoy boys. He snagged them and dragged them back to West Virginia. Ellison, to the credit of Hatfield toughness, had hung in there to see his killers arrive. He then croaked and Devil Anse arranged it for the three McCoys to follow him: He tied them to bushes and had his whole family blow them away.

Those bushes were pawpaw bushes, named after the papaya that they resembled. Similarity to pleasant tropical fruit stopped there. Pawpaw reeks like rotting meat in order to attract pollinating insects.

In this case, the corpse stink attracted three bullet-riddled teens and ignited the worst of this notorious feud.

8. Mostly Kids Got Killed

You know how they got Ole Ran’l McCoy? They didn’t. And you know what brought down ornery Devil Anse Hatfield? Frigging pneumonia. At the age of 81.

No, the casualties of the conflict weren’t the patriarchs who stoked it. It was the kids who were fiery with it. The usual pattern was that Devil Anse would do something savage, the McCoy boys would fly off half-cocked, and the young would pay in blood.

They couldn’t even nail old Randolph six years after they shot his sons tied to the stinky trees. Devil Anse and two fistfuls of kin surrounded Randolph’s house on New Year’s, lit it on fire and laid into everyone who came out. They beat his wife near to death and killed two of his kids, but Randolph had already snuck off, free and clear.

9.  The McCoys Lost

It’s hard to score a blood feud like a hockey game, but the numbers just don’t lie in this case – the McCoys got beat in this one. Chalk it up to them being more law abiding, or less tactical, or just plain unlucky enough to fight West Virginians, but the McCoys suffered far more casualties than the Hatfields.

All in all, 7 McCoys perished in the feud. Only 1 Hatfield died. The McCoys got their licks in, but it was usually against families related to the Hatfields, not the fire-headed Hatfields themselves.

Even the last three losses on the Hatfield side were taken out by the State of Kentucky or by Frank Phillips, a local roughneck and posse leader.

10. The Hatfields Kept Winning Into the 20th Century

After a handful of Hatfields were sentenced to life imprisonment for the whole “butchering women and children on New Year’s” thing, the conflict simmered down. Anse got back to his logging, Randolph to his grieving, and life moved on. Until, that is, Family Feud.

Yes, that Family Feud – the hit game show of the ’70s. In 1979, a special episode of Family Feud pitted Hatfield descendants against McCoy descendants.

After an early lead, the Hatfields prevailed.

The prize? A pig, of course.

11. The Hatfields Won Until 2002

The McCoys came out ahead in the end. Their scuffle over Hatfield turf culminated in a fight to win their ancestors’ bodies back. Graves of six planted McCoys, five murdered during the feud, were on Hatfield land, owned by John Vance. Out of a sense of tradition, I guess, Vance denied the McCoys the land, their bodies of their kin, and access to the plots.

The court didn’t take a shine to these antics and awarded the McCoys access to the cemetery. Vance still won’t open it to the public, though.

12. 9/11 Changed Everything

In 2003, the Hatfields and McCoys set aside their differences, picked up a pen and signed an “official truce.” It was time to join forces, they said.

The stated cause for this alliance was the September 11 attacks.

Seems they had a bigger blood feud to focus on.

But then, we all know how that one’s turned out. Happy Memorial Day.


  1. Devil Anse was not a draft dodger. He did side with the Confederacy under the Partisan Ranger Act issued by the Confederacy due to the many regional depredations by outlaw bands with union affiliations or no affiliations at all. In this region as with many areas in the border states, groups were formed on both sides to “protect” the citizenry from outlawry which often had no ties to the war, but was personal vendettas.

  2. Uh, pawpaws do not resemble papayas and were not named after them.  They also don’t smell like rotting meat.  Apocryphally, the blossoms have a fetid odor; in all the years I’ve grown them, I’ve never been able to detect any smell.

  3. Not to mention defend citizenry from similar groups. Bad scene all around. All my sources suggested he was a deserter. I see that his unit was officially recognized under the Partisan Ranger Act, though. Got a good source with a clearer picture on the matter?

  4. Uh, I’m pretty sure the name origin is commonly accepted as a corruption of “papaya,” whether you think they resemble them or not. If you have another published opinion on where the name came from, toss it my way. 

  5. Way to rehash the lamest sarcastic tone since, “Yeah, right.”

  6. Sorry this is long, but as a Hatfield I wanted to address your points:
     1.   “Devil” Anse got his nickname when he was a young boy, for being a prankster, or a “devilish child”.  He fought in the Confederate army for 2 years, then  left when WVA seceded from VA.  He and other family members formed the Logan Wildcats to patrol the Tug River, of whose actions I have seen varying accounts. Most have said they were trying to protect their homeland from thieves and the Union, but I have a read a few that say otherwise.  With Jim Vance as one of the leaders, I do not doubt that there was some thieving happening.  Both Anse Hatfield and Randal McCoy were prominent farmers in the area. 2.  The pig incident did not bring about the worst of the feud. A combination of events led up to that.  Harmon McCoy was killed in 1865 by Jim Vance for fighting as a Union soldier, the pig incident was in 1873, and the final straw, as they was, was the killing of Ellison Hatfield in 1882 and the retaliation of the Hatfields.  (btw, as shown in the movie, it is recorded that Devil Anse did say that if Ellison lived the boys would be turned over to the law, he just said it to the Reverend, and when the youngest begged to be let go, Anse was going to release him, so Jim Vance shot him.  Not saying the killing was justified, none of it was in my opinion, just trying to show you that Anse was not just the mean SOB you’re trying to portray.  There is a lot of depth to both families involved).  

    3.  Not sure what the Massey spill has to do with the actual feud, other than a fact about the river, and you’re right about it not being recognized.  I have a vague recollection of hearing about it, but it’s not a topic that comes up when you hear about the big spills.   Hate when these spills destroy our precious lands.

    4.  Interesting that you would tie the Kentucky Wildcats into the Hatfields.  Never really thought about it.  I know they are named that after someone said the football team “fought like wildcats”, and the name stuck (man, that had to have been a while ago, huh?  That cannot be said about the football team now, unfortunately.)

    5..  There are several different versions of the Johnse/Roseanna story.  This is what I know:  Johnse was 18 and Roseanna was somewhere around 21 when they headed for the bushes that election day.  She did get left behind by her brothers and moved in with the Hatfields, although Anse disapproved.  Her sisters came to retrieve her from the Hatfield’s, then she moved in with her aunt.  The 2 resumed their affair there, but when her brothers found out, they got Johnse, supposedly to take him to the Pikeville prison (which of course was not their intentions).  That’s when Roseanna rode to the Hatfield home.  After that, Johnse stayed away from her, probably for fear of getting killed.  Their baby lived for about 8 months, and both parents are listed on her tombstone.  The records I have say that Johnse married Nancy about 4 months after the baby’s death, but other reports say different.  All I can chalk that situation up to is being young and stupid on all accounts.

    6.  Don’t have anything to say here, except that in Australia the papaya is also called the pawpaw, so there ya go.  Hey, I was already sitting here, so may as well look it up, right?

    7.  You’re right about it being mostly kids/young adults.  I have shed tears while reading about the deaths on both sides, including Ellison Mounts, who was mentally-disabled and many, if not most, believe was wrongly charged with murder and hanged.  

    8.  The McCoys had more deaths, true, but I’d say both sides lost on this one.  It’s sad that things got so out of control from families that were once friends, worked together, and married.  

    9. While I have yet to attend a Hatfield/McCoy reunion, my mom and her best friend, a McCoy, have an over 40 year friendship, and have attended several reunions, including the peace treaty signing.  I would like to be able to go, and take my kids.  They sound like a lot of fun.

    Your information seems quite one-sided, which makes me curious about your sources.  Even most articles found online are more middle-grounded.  My source of knowledge on this is based on family history, visits to the area, and books written on the subject, presenting both sides of the story.   While no one will ever know the whole every-word-spoken-play-by-play, there is a wealth of information out there, and you need to be able to take it all in, not just what you want to present.  Thank you for taking the time to read all this, and maybe someday I will see you at the reunion.  😉  

  7. excuse the typos;  I was typing fast and overlooked them.  

  8. RRR, I  am trying to find the European roots for the Hatfields and for the McCoys. Any help from you or anyone who knows would be appreciated.Thanks

  9.  Expand RRR, I  am trying to find the European roots for the Hatfields and for the McCoys. Any help from you or anyone who knows would be appreciated.Thanks

  10.  Expand  I  am trying to find the European roots for the Hatfields and for the McCoys. Any help from  anyone who knows would be greatly appreciated.Thanks

  11. My mom and her friend have done extensive research on both sides of the family.  Let me see what she says when she gets back from Eastern KY.

  12. I’d heard that! It was mighty weird. I’m not a McCoy, but I do suffer from rage issues. Thanks for the link! 

    As for the role of tumors and what not, it brings to mind Charlie Whitman, who flipped out and gunned down all those folks in Texas back in the day. People blamed it on the tumor, then on his upbringing, then just on genetics. It’s tough to say. But it is an intriguing notion, I’ll give you that.

  13. Thanks for helping her out, RHH. I very much look forward to reading your comment above.

  14. Outstanding commentary! I always like to hear from sources even more involved than myself.

    1. Very cool to learn of the origin of Devil Anse’s name. As a side note, I always enjoyed their style of shortening the moniker, like “Anse” and “Johnse.” That should come back in style.

    2. Yeah, it would be more accurate to say that the pig incident ignited the feud outside the immediate context of the war.

    3. Massey spill has little to do with the actual feud, just with the condition of the Big Sandy’s stretch. I wanted to call attention to it, as it seemed weird enough and relevant given the location. 

    4. As with the Massey spill, I just found the connection to be intriguing. And as a Wildcat fan, I thought it bore mentioning. I reckon it the team name has a whole lot more to do with the local lore about fauna than it does about the feud, but there you go.

    5. Thanks for the fresh slant on the Johnse/Roseanna story. Your final sentence sums up my opinion best. Heck, that was the cause of much of the feud.

    6. Yep, that’s about what I know too.

    7. Mounts’ demise is, I feel, a fitting final tragedy – really representing that things had got to about as low as they could get, morally. Sad all around.

    8. I’d agree that they both lost. It’s petty to keep a tally in something like this. Then again, I was looking to stir it up.

    9. What fun! Keep me posted if another comes down the pike.

    As for my tone, I was going for provocative. “12 Objective Facts about the Feud” just wouldn’t have played as well. That isn’t to say I have the courage of my convictions: I certainly never claimed to be the last word on the subject, but I did do my research beyond a mere Google search. I’ve been fascinated by the feud for years and was thrilled to see it back on the cultural radar. 

    I was aiming to continue the dialogue and I’m glad I hit the mark enough to get folks like you into the comment thread.

  15. Thank you. I will keep checking this page for any information you can forward on. Again Thanks

  16. Haven’t been able to talk to my mom yet or access her records (she’d kill me if I got into them without permission! lol)  My great great grandmother was Parthena Hatfield, whose father was John Wesley Hatfield.  When I tried to research John Hatfield (J.W.’s father), I couldn’t find anything.  I’m going to call her again tonight and see if I can get any more info on the Hatfield side.

  17. I figured you weren’t necessarily trying to say the spill or the Wildcats had anything directly to do with the feud, just found it interesting.  Didn’t know you were a Wildcat fan!!  GO CATS!!!   I also could tell you did more than a google search, but thought maybe whichever source you used was one-sided.  As for the reunions, they are held every year in June.  There is a marathon for adults and kids, tours of the sites, and several other things.  One of these days I’ll make it up there.  You might find it interesting that people from both families quit watching the movie because they thought it portrayed their family poorly.  Just thought that was kind of funny after all the jokes that have been made over the years.  I thought the movie was pretty well made.    So how should we shorten Matthew (which, btw, is my son’s name too.  Good name.)?

  18. Great article! I agree with 95% of what you wrote. I am not going to complain about the 5% because most of the media that writes about the feud is the other way around.

    I am a McCoy and laughed when I read this. Finally somebody that see’s Devil Anse Hatfield for who he was. A coward who takes advantage of innocent woman and children and runs behind the pack and lets others do his dirty work.

    I also knew that it wouldn’t take long for some Hatfield’s to let you have it. They are fine with publicity until it’s not in their favor.

    By the way if any McCoy’s come on here and bad mouth you it’s probably Hatfield’s posting as McCoy’s.

    Some of them are still a bunch of wimps. Instead of hiding behind trees they hide behind keyboards.

    Keep writing with courage and tell it like you see it.

    I am going to address the lies of RHH later. He fed you a bunch of bull. The Hatfield authors tell one side and the media adds their touch to it and that’s why the facts of the feud are so one sided.

  19. Brenda,

    Did you even think that the Hatfield’s could have this too since the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s have intermarried since the 1700’s.
    Trivia for you.
    Q. Which direct family member of the feud from the Hatfield’s or McCoy’s died of a brain tumor?
    A. Cap Hatfield.
    It’s in his sons book, Coleman C. Hatfield.
    Brenda, anybody in your family ever had a temper or tumors? If you look hard enough you will find that tumors and cancer are not just a McCoy problem.
    Again Mathew, that’s why McCoy’s don’t talk because just to many lies over the years to fool with. Be prepared for more they hate people seeing them for what they are.
    90% of the Hatfield’s TODAY are good people. then you have those 10% that are from the Devil Anse family that are complete idiots.
    Who else would brag for over 100 years about killing law abiding citizens and beating up a 62 year old grandmother?

  20. RHH,
    I just read your posts and you seem to be fair in some of your comments. The one thing that McCoy’s don’t want to hear is when Hatfield’s try to make Devil Anse out to be a hero. Sorry he wasn’t no more of a hero than Sadaam Hussein was to the Iraqi’s. The same feeling that those who lost family at the hands of Osama Bin Laden in the World Trade Centers are the same feeling’s Randolph McCoy had. Maybe not on that big of a scale. I don’t think you’ll ever see Americans looking at Osama as a hero and neither will the McCoy’s look at the Devil Anse that way. He was the master mind behind a lot of pain to the Randolph McCoy family who I am related too. Hatfield’s need to realize that and quit gloating over the seven McCoy’s that died during the feud. I won’t go into detail how they beat up a 62 year old grandmother and killed her daughter.
    The Hatfield’s of them days were a bunch of murdering hillbillies. The McCoy’s were a family that never got justice and very seldom do in the media today. Then when someone like Matthew comes along’s writes an article that doesn’t favor the Hatfield’s here you go again defending a murderer.

  21. Sorry but he told more truth than most Hatfields know and or would ever admitt. He only told a small percentage of how rotten Devil Anse and his allies actually were. Hatfields could never hide the guilt although it has been tryed for several years. You would be amazed how intelligent Cotton Top actually was if you would take the tie to read his testimony. He forgot or misunderstands that Hatfields and McCoys each had allies when he did the count on how many were killed on each side. It was not only Hatfields and McCoys although most people thinks it was and measures and weights the feud that way. There is 2 sides to the story but there is only one truth which has began to be revealed. If McCoys had anything to be guilty of they would have writen many books to try and cover up such false acusations such as the Hatfields have been doing for centuries. I think the time will shortly come and the world will get to see the McCoy version of the feud in a TV movie such as the Hatfield version previously aired on the 3 day mini series. Asa Harmon McCoy’s death was NOT civil war related. Devil Anse comitted many murders prior to the death of Asa Harmon McCoy. The Asa Harmon McCoy you have read about is a Hatfield ally story. Truda Williams McCoy’s forefathers sided with the Hatfields. Don’t forget that Asa Harmon McCoy married Perry Cline sister and that Perry Cline was a child of 13-14 when the Devil stole his property which was another childess act of The Ole Devil. Bet you never heard of the story of Devil Anse killing and BBQing a McCoy ally’s COW prior to Asa Harmon McCoy’s death and how that the murderring of Asa left a family of orphans including Nancy, Mary, Jeff and Larkin. Bet you never knew that Larkin McCoy killed ole Jim Vance and that Bad Frank Phillips got the credit such as most government officers do today. Frank made a vow as a child that he would kill the man that killed his father Asa Harmon McCoy/The Only Real McCoy families because Ole Randolf and Devil Hatfield were the betrayers that left there Northern civil war families in Blackberry Ky and joined the confederacy in Wv. Over 95 % of Hatfields and McCoys fought for the union and lived in Kentucky. If you think not read the civil war rosters other than all these false profit book writers opinions.

  22. So…are you a McCoy relative or something? Becuase this is the most one sided “article” ever. I us that term loosely, as articles are written by writers…Not virgins wearing mirrored sunglasses to make $40 a week to supplement welfare checks. Obviously you can’t afford a mirror or you war what you do. And the facial hair? Wow…is it that you just GIVEN UP ever trying to get laid?

  23. Yes…”all your sources”…of which you provided NONE. Because, like all “journalists” you like to spew bullshit without linking to any actual proof.

    I can say with 100% certainty that NO child has ever said “When I grow up, I will write for boomtron!”

  24. So seriously…your life is just that you make shit up, and then when people call you on your bluff you say “Yes it is!”

    So basically…you still have the mind of a 5 year old. No WONDER your mom is ashamed she carried your full term. She has always considered you her biggest failure in life.

  25. LOVE this. I love when peopel jsut post one side as fact. Shows that you are not interested in the least bit about being taken seriously as an adult.

  26. Come on Lakawak . . . Don’t you have anything better to do than troll the web?

    I see you’re one of those anti-journalist/anti-media types.

    Nevertheless . . . Facts are facts. Your opposition does not change that.

  27. Um, wrong. The McCoys won the Family Feud in 1979. And your link seems to be mistyped. Here it is:


    Odd thing about history, you can never really know what happened since every account is some degree removed from reality.

    “History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren’t there.”
    – George Santayana

  28. Oh, my mistake. The Family Feud episodes that aired between the two families involved a number of days of play. My apologies. Sidenote: It’s kind of off-putting the way the host repeatedly gropes and kisses a number of the women on the mouth. But then again it was the 1970s? Weird and creepy to me LoL. Equally off-putting is the manner in which both families parody their ancestors with such blatantly unfunny attempts at humour at the beginning (staged by the producers of the show no doubt). Or is it merely an innocent gag? Anyhow, it rubbed me the wrong way. Then again, all of these things could be due to a cultural disconnect as I was not part of THAT generation.

    Thanks for all the other info on these families and pointing me to the episode.

  29. Funny you should call the Hatfield’s of those days, murdering hillbillies. What would you call the McCoy boys who murdered a Hatfield?

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