The Hatfields and the McCoys had one of the most legendary feuds in American history. No one can think of the name “Hatfield” without also thinking of “McCoy.” The dispute between the Hatfields in West Virginia and the McCoys in Kentucky started during the American Civil War and lasted until 1901.

The feud escalated after Roseanna McCoy began a relationship with Johnson “Johnse” Hatfield. But what else happened during the famous feud?

Fighting during the Civil War

The famous feud was started in 1863 by family patriarchs William “Devil Anse” Hatfield and Randolph McCoy along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River separating Kentucky and West Virginia. During the Civil War, both men were Confederates, and they worked in a raid that killed Union General Bill France.

The raid traveled into Kentucky, and one of France’s men, Asa Harmon McCoy (Randall’s brother) was sent in to take down Hatfield.

He camped out in a rock house near Hatfield’s home in West Virginia. When Hatfield found out about the potential threat, he sent his Uncle Jim Vance and Jim Wheeler Wilson to kill Asa McCoy. Historians believe that one of the men succeeded in their mission. Of course, this ultimately led to more complications.

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The difference between the families

Since the beginning of the feud, there were clear differences between the Hatfields and the McCoys. The Hatfields were wealthier and more involved in politics. They depended on Devil Anse Hatfield’s timbering operation to provide for the family. On the other hand, the McCoys were a lower-middle-class family—owning a 300-acre family in rural Kentucky.

However, even though they had differences, the families still had a few similarities. They were both involved in the manufacturing and selling of illegal moonshine, a popular product of the late 1800s. Knowing their feuds, they probably didn’t enjoy the fact that they had this shared interest.

Going to court

Several court decisions further ignited the intense feud between the two families. In the late 1870s, Devil Anse Hatfield argued with Randolph McCoy’s cousin, Perry Cline, over their lands. Hatfield ultimately won and received Cline’s 5,000-acre plot.

A few months later, while McCoy was visiting Devil Anse’s cousin, Floyd Hatfield, he saw a hog on the property that he swore resembled his own hog. This resulted in another lengthy court case. Both families became involved and stood their own grounds. Floyd Hatfield ultimately won the case.

Several court decisions further ignited the intense feud between the two families

Later, on June 18, 1880, McCoy’s cousin, Bill Staton, was killed in a shootout with Paris and Sam McCoy, who were sent to jail for their crime.

Modern-day Romeo and Juliet

The feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys escalated in 1880 when Roseanna McCoy, Randolph’s daughter, entered a relationship with Devil Anse Hatfield’s son, Johnson “Johnse” Hatfield. They had an intense romance, but Randolph unsurprisingly didn’t approve of the relationship.

When Roseanna stayed with Johnse in West Virginia, her family rode to the cabin, took him prisoner, and sent him to the local jail. The couple tried to resume their relationship, but it proved to be too difficult. They remained apart, and Johnse married her cousin, Nancy McCoy. Despite the pain she felt, Roseanna gave birth to their daughter, Sarah Elizabeth McCoy, in 1881. The baby, unfortunately, died of measles a year later.

Ending the feud

Fighting continued between the families, resulting in many court trials and family members being sent to prison. This includes Valentine “Uncle Wall” Hatfield, Devil Anse’s older brother, Devil Anse himself, Doc D. Mahon (Valentine’s son-in-law), and Pliant Mahon (Valentine’s other son-in-law).

The rivals threatened to kill each other, which is considered too extreme in 2019.

Fighting and more trials continued for years until the 1901 trial of Johnse Hatfield, the last of the feud. Even though the fighting ending, descendants of the historic families remember their family history and will always feel a slight tension.

A deeper dive – Related reading from the 101:

The Hatfields and the McCoys may have had a famous dispute, but one of the most historic feuds was actually between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.

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