After a long day of clearing brush and cleaning gravestones, Ron McCoy takes a moment to stand before the towering statue of Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield, which sits atop the famous feudist’s resting place. This interesting and deeply moving moment was captured without, at the time, Ron’s knowledge. What ran through Ron’s head as he stood there is anyone’s guess, however, such a compelling moment had an undeniable impact on me, so I snapped the photo.
Ron, along with descendant Bob Scott (Hatfield), had been spending the week in their ancestral home of Pikeville-Pike County, Kentucky assisting Pike County Tourism CVB staff and volunteers in cleaning and preparing the gravesites of the feudists for tourist season. Thousands of feud descendants, as well as history buffs from all over the world visit Pikeville-Pike County each year to tour the sites of the world’s most famous feud, and to these descendants, the gravesites’ condition are of utmost importance. To see the descendants of these famous feudists cleaning the gravestones of their family’s ancestral enemy is a powerful image of forgiveness, and truly shows the humble heart these people have developed despite a legacy of hatred and bloodshed.
Ron, along with descendant Bob Scott (Hatfield), had been spending the week in their ancestral home of Pikeville-Pike County, Kentucky assisting Pike County Tourism CVB staff in cleaning and preparing the gravesites of the feudists for tourist season. Thousands of feud descendants, as well as history buffs from all over the world visit Pikeville-Pike County each year to tour the sites of the world’s most famous feud, and to these descendants, the gravesites’ condition is of utmost importance.
As marketing director of Pike County Tourism CVB, I have, for years, sought to not only promote the Pike County Hatfield & McCoy Feud Sites as a historic destination, but also to tell the story of the feud from interesting and unique points of view. I find the perspective of the direct descendants to be particularly interesting, as their relationship with the history is so intriguing. Given that there are great many Hatfield and McCoy descendants around today, with a great variety of perspectives on feud history, we tend to reach out to the descendants that were involved in signing the Peace Treaty when creating our content, namely Ron McCoy, Bo McCoy and Reo Hatfield. William Keith Hatfield and Jack Hatfield, who are William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield’s descendants, are also two resources that we commonly reach out to, as they have worked over the years to create and enhance our Hatfield McCoy events, namely Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days which takes place each year in September in Pikeville/Pike County, Kentucky.
The Hatfield – McCoy Feud: From Retribution to Reconciliation
Recently, we called upon some of these descendants to assist us in creating a video detailing their story as it relates to the Hatfield and McCoy Feud; to tell the story of how the two families went from retribution to reconciliation. The following video was filmed in the Preacher Anse Hatfield Hog Trial Cabin, and features descendants Ron McCoy, Reo Hatfield and William Keith Hatfield.
Photo of feudist descendants Reo Hatfield and Ron McCoy.
The views expressed in this article do not reflect the views of all Hatfield/McCoy descendants, or all feud historians, but are the specific views of those being quoted.
The feuding Hatfields and McCoys have enthralled America with stories of violence, forbidden love, family strife, politics and legal battles since gaining worldwide notoriety over 120 years ago. The product of “yellow journalism”, or sensationalized news coverage, the Hatfield McCoy feud story has been told and retold in movies, news stories, books and theatre shows ever since the two families ceased hostilities in the late 1800’s.
PBS’s American Experience is the latest program to cover the legendary story, exploring the impact that the post-civil war industrial boom had on the Hatfields, McCoys and the Appalachian region. The documentary focuses on the economic disparity between the two feuding families, the Hatfields being “the haves”, and the McCoys being the “have nots”. And while other elements of the feud story were featured, they were presented in a seemingly abbreviated way in comparison.
So what do the descendants of the feuding Hatfields and McCoys think about PBS’s American Experience: “The Feud”? Let’s ask them.
Bob Scott, Hatfield descendant and owner of the McCoy homeplace in Hardy, Kentucky, felt like the show focused more on the West Virginia perspective than the Pike County, Kentucky perspective. “The show didn’t elaborate on many key storylines within feud history, ” Scott said. “Stories such as Johnse and RoseAnna’s out-of-wedlock affair and Ellison “Cotton Top” Mounts’ hanging in Pikeville are missing altogether.” According to Scott, the hostilities between the two families had less to do with economics and industry, and more to do with escalating tensions brought on by the behaviors (or misbehaviors) of both families. “I’m not convinced that the railroad or coal mining industries had that much of an impact on the feud itself, but rather the stealing, killing and unrelenting thirst for vengeance between the two families,” Scott said. “However, I do appreciate PBS sharing another perspective on the feud, and keeping the conversation going. We should always be open to dialogue, but just remember, no feudin’, and no fussin’.”
Reo Hatfield, feud descendant and one of the three authors of the truce that officially ended the feud, felt the show missed a crucial opportunity to acknowledge the hard fought peace between the two families. “We wrote and signed the truce to promote a message of unity, to bring together the American people and to show that even the famous Hatfields and McCoys can come together to oppose anyone wanting to harm America. That was lost in the show” Hatfield said. The signing of the truce, which took place in Pikeville, Kentucky in June of 2003, was in response to the 9-11 attacks. “Together, the Hatfields and McCoys call on America to remember 9-11, and to come together as we did, as one family, encompassed by God” Hatfield said.
Hatfield also expressed his frustration that the peaceful outcome of the feud has been omitted from most every Hatfield and McCoy program that media has produced. “The Hatfields and McCoys need to be remembered primarily for their efforts to overcome the past and enhance the future,” Hatfield said. “We are as one family, and we have lived up to that commitment since 2003.” Hatfield expresses the amazing turnaround the two families have experienced since laying down their arms over 120 years ago. “The world renown Templeton Group recognized the signing of the truce between the Hatfields and the McCoys in Pikeville as being one of the top ten greatest acts of forgiveness in world history. That, to me, is an honor that our unified family is proud of and should be known for. Not acts of violence but acts of love and forgiveness.”
Ron McCoy, descendant of Randolph McCoy and feud truce author also expresses his desire to see the story of reconciliation be included. “For more than a century, historians have been struggling to determine the causes of the Hatfield-McCoy feud,” Ron McCoy said. “Some have suggested that external forces like the Civil War, industrialization, timbering and the introduction of the railroad were the reasons for the conflict. Others have argued that the origins of the feud were more personal, the result of long-held animosities between the families. In looking to explain the conflict, however, most historians have overlooked the fact that, at its heart, the feud is really a story about people.” Ron McCoy goes on to reiterate the Hatfields comments, that the whole story should be told. “130 years after the end of the feud, the descendants of Anderson Hatfield and Randolph McCoy get together every year to promote unity between the families. The causes of the feud may not be so important as the peaceful end result.”
Ron McCoy was also taken back by the program’s emphasis on industry and capitalism’s influence on the feud. “Given that the feud was essentially over by the time that coal mining and the railroad was introduced to the region, I fail to understand how either had anything at all to do with the feud. It was an element of the documentary that seemed out of place.” Ron McCoy goes on to comment on the feud’s socioeconomic narrative. “The whole idea that the McCoys were unsuccessful business people, and were jealous of the Hatfield’s success, is all news to us,” Ron McCoy said. “Randolph McCoy was a prosperous farmer, owning over 300 acres of land, and did pretty well. Overall, I felt that the true components of the feud, the stories between these real people, and the horrible things they did to one another was minimalized in exchange for a commentary on economics and the evils of industry that has always been absent from the discussion as far back as the feud days itself.”
Eddie McCoy, triple great grandson of Randall McCoy, also doubts that the Industrial Revolution played a role in the feud. “I’ve never agreed with the idea that the Industrial Revolution was a major reason for the feud,” said Eddie McCoy. “To me, the Waller book completely rewrote an accepted story about the feud which stood for 100 years, and now it’s always referenced as an absolute, instead of a theory, which is exactly what it is. These were just ordinary people who got on each other’s nerve during the Civil War, and the problems continued afterwards. How could and area such as the Tug Valley not be affected by the war? These were border states that were torn apart.”
Eddie McCoy also questions the show’s characterization of Randolph. “To say Randall was angry and jealous of the Hatfields about the timber business is pure conjecture. His father was sued by John Lawson who had nothing to do with the Hatfields. Why wasn’t there a Lawson-McCoy feud?” Eddie McCoy did agree with the show’s portrayal of lawyer Perry Cline, however. “No doubt Perry Cline was a big player in the feud, so I was glad to see him featured, though I don’t fault him for taking the actions he did after getting swindled out of 5,000 acres of land. I also do not blame him for sucking the McCoys into his own personal feud with Anse. Perry was closely tied to the McCoys in many levels and it’s been really egregious to show him portrayed as he was in the Costner movie.”
Eddie McCoy also notes the absence of major characters from feud lore, such as RoseAnna McCoy, Johnse Hatfield and Jim Vance. “There were crucial parts of the story that was left out, most importantly the Romeo and Juliet part of the story, involving the love affair between Johnse and Roseanna” Eddie McCoy said. “Jim Vance wasn’t even mentioned by name, which also caught my eye. I spoke in my interview (with the producers of the show) about how my family always was so proud of how my great great grandfather Jim McCoy stood up in defiance to Devil Anse. That the story was passed down through each generation and yet the only mention of that event was how Tolbert was humiliated by being made to kneel.”
Eddie McCoy did concede that the documentary’s time restriction may have prevented a deeper exploration of the story. “In fairness, 50 minutes is hardly enough time to really sink your teeth into the feud storyline. Given perhaps 90 minutes, it would have allowed expansion into all the possibilities without sticking to one theory.”
As with the other descendants, Eddie McCoy also expressed his desire to include the Hatfields and McCoys’ reconciliation story. “The perfect bookend to the show would have certainly been the annual reunions and truce between the families,” Eddie McCoy said. “One of the proudest moments of my life was sitting in the place of my great-great grandfather Jim, to reenact a photo he had made with the Hatfields. The Hatfields were represented in the re-enactment by Anse’s great grandson Billy (Hatfield). Ron (McCoy), Clifford (New) and Tony (Tackett) took part in that photo as well. I’m not sure anyone who doesn’t share direct Hatfield or McCoy blood could ever understand just how special that moment was.”
McCoy concludes by admitting the details of the feud story will never truly be discovered. “Unfortunately no one will ever know the absolute truth about what and why the feud happened because everyone who played a part in it is long dead. Sometimes we have to believe what has been passed down to us. Maybe our ancestors got it right?”
American Experience, a show that focuses on the individuals and events that have shaped American society, both past and present, will be turning its’ attention to the Feuding Hatfields and McCoys. Premiering on PBS September 10, 2019, The Feud will explore not only the famed feudists, but the impact that the feud had on the region. According to the previews, topics (in addition to the feud story itself) reviewed by the program include the Civil War’s role in the feud, the feud’s role in creating the “hillbilly” stereotype, and the effects industry had on the region’s way of life, among many others.
The Feud will feature historians and experts, as well as feud descendants providing commentary and perspective on Pike County and the Tug Valley’s most interesting, and challenging historical narrative.
To view the American Experience: The Feud preview page, click here.
KET: Tuesday, September 10, 2019 at 9:00 PM ET
KET2: Wednesday, September 11, 2019 at 1:00 AM ET
KET2: Thursday, September 12, 2019 at 4:00 AM ET
KET2: Thursday, September 12, 2019 at 9:00 PM ET
KET2: Friday, September 13, 2019 at 2:00 AM ET
KET2: Saturday, September 14, 2019 at 3:30 AM ET
The Feud Driving Tour
Thousands of history buffs and feud enthusiasts explore the Feud country for themselves by going on the Hatfields and McCoys Historic Feud Tour. This self-guided tour begins in the Pike County Visitors Center, located in the bottom floor of the Hampton Inn of Downtown Pikeville, Kentucky. A free brochure that provides step-by-step instructions (and GPS coordinates) is provided the visitor, with an audio tour CD also available ($20).
The Hatfields and McCoys Historic Feud Tour includes the following attractions:
Gravesites of Randolph McCoy, Sally McCoy, Roseanna, William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield (featuring a stone statue of the feudist), Johnse Hatfield, Perry Cline and many more.
The McCoy Well property, featuring a hand-carved statue of Randolph McCoy and the original well that the family drew water from.
The Hog Trial Cabin, also known as Anderson “Preacher Anse” Hatfield’s cabin.
The PawPaw Trees, site of the execution of the McCoy boys.
Cotton Top Mount’s hanging site.
The courtroom where the Hatfields were put on trial for the attack on the McCoy Cabin.
The Big Sandy Heritage Museum, featuring the largest collection of authentic Hatfield and McCoy artifacts.
The Matewan Train Depot, and many other interesting locales.
Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days is an annual homecoming for Hatfield and McCoy descendants that is open to the public. Visitors can expect to enjoy a great Farmer’s Market event with the descendants, live entertainment at Main Street Live!, storytelling from the Hatfields and McCoys, the Sally McCoy Theatre Show at the App, a half marathon run and so much more! Located in Downtown Pikeville, September 20, 21 and 22, 2019.
Distilled by Pike County’s Pauley Hollow Distillery, Fuel of the Feud moonshine is made from water drawn from the McCoy well, which is located on the property where, on New Years Eve, 1888, the Hatfields attacked the McCoy homeplace, burning it to the ground. This product will become available in July, 2019, and is one of many projects planned that involves the McCoy Well property.
McCoy Well owner, and Hatfield descendant Bob Scott, along with his wife Rita, worked tirelessly over the course of the past few years, to make this product a reality.
“This product not only tastes great, but it also gives locals and visitors an opportunity to own an artifact from Hatfield McCoy Feud Country,” said Scott, who is also a Pike County Tourism CVB board member. “This is more than a drink, this is a keepsake for those who love the history, and it is something that further enhances Pike County’s tourism offerings.”
“Products are more meaningful to our visitors when they have a story attached to them,” said Jay Shepherd, Pike County Tourism CVB Marketing Director. “This is a product with a story. A Hatfield designed it using water from Randolph McCoy’s well, and a Pike County distillery distilled it.”
“Moonshine has long been part of the heritage of Appalachia and
the Hatfields and McCoys,” said Ron McCoy, direct descendant of Randolph McCoy.
“Like so many aspects of feud history, moonshine has its negative connotations.
However, using the water from the McCoy well is a truly unique way to produce
an authentic product distilled by a local business, one that promotes the unity
between the families and is respectful of our mutual heritage.”
“Keeping with the tradition of the feud, Fuel of the Feud is made from a mashbill of West Virginia corn and Kentucky rye along with malted barley and cane sugar,” said Josh Martin, owner of Pauley Hollow Distillery. “It is distilled in a copper pot still in small batches. This 100 proof moonshine has an initial sweet corn flavor with a spicy rye finish.”
Pauley Hollow Distillery’s Fuel of the Feud will be available this July, and can be purchased in Liquor stores across Kentucky.
Thousands of people from all around the world have visited Pike County, Kentucky to immerse themselves into some of America’s richest historical locales. Pike County is home to most of the significant Hatfield and McCoy feud sites, and as a result of the recent spike in the feud’s popularity, Pikeville/Pike County offers a self-guided tour of these interesting historic locales.
The Hatfield and McCoy Driving Tour is a self-guided tour that includes all historic sites, both in Kentucky and West Virginia, of the feud. Visitors are provided a Hatfield and McCoy Driving Tour brochure for free, which features step-by-step instructions for finding each feud site that is open to the public. An optional Hatfield and McCoy Driving Tour CD is available for purchase below. Both items can be found in our visitors’ center store, located in the Hampton Inn on 831 Hambley Blvd, Pikeville. The audio CD serves as a tour guide for the feud sites, and offers professional voice talent and music, which spices up the already wonderful tour.