Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out



									  The Hatfield and McCoy Feud

Justin Heltzel, Sean Mullen, Brandon, Billy

                ENG 112

             Professor Buse`


         The Hatfield and McCoy family feud was much more than a few verbal arguments and

couple of family fist fights. The feud was deadly and claimed the lives of more than a dozen

family members on either side. The Hatfield and McCoy feud lasted from 1863-1891 and

involved not only immediate family members but also distant family members and descendants

on both sides of either family tree. In the beginning, arguments spurred over simple things but as

time went on arguments escalated based on where a hog was seen and even over love. Modern

researchers speculate the intensity of the Hatfield and McCoy feud was fueled by a medical

condition that caused both sides to maintain their hatred for each other as well as the violence

that made this feud legendary. This paper discusses the events that took place during the

Hatfield and McCoy feud and possible reasons for the cause of the feud that lasted almost thirty


         Back in the late 1800’s West Virginia and Kentucky were rural and family ties were

strong. Doctors were scarce and the only support that angry people had were others who were

also angry. This lack of support created an environment where feuds could easily erupt and the

smallest of disagreements could escalate, as in the case of a hog in the Hatfield and McCoy feud.

Some researchers believe the feud originally started when one of the members of the McCoy

family was murdered. They believe the murder occurred because of the side the member chose

to fight on in the civil war. Since the McCoy family supported the Union during the civil war, it

was only a matter of time before the Hatfield family started to criticize them given their support

of the Confederate campaign.

         Other possible reasons exist as to why the Hatfield and McCoy feud started and lasted for

so many years. These reasons include a marriage outside the clan, the ownership of a pig,

murder, arson, political ties, and land. One of the most intriguing theories is the one that

describes an inherited medical condition the McCoys are now known to have had. The Hatfield

and McCoy feud may have been avoided if there had been proper physical and mental health

support for individuals with this condition. Although the McCoy family is believed to have

possessed this medical condition that made them more aggressive and more prone to physical

symptoms that caused irritability, the Hatfield family maintained their part in the feud as well.

The condition believed to be partly to blame was called pheochromocytoma. This condition

involves having a tumor on the adrenal gland and can cause pounding headaches, nausea,

vomiting, heart palpitations, and facial flushing. If the McCoys all suffered with these symptoms

it may have provoked their aggression much more than normal. In addition, the rural nature of

the feud’s setting and the mentality of the times may have contributed to the continuation of this

dispute much longer than expected.

The Families

       Both families lived in the Tug Fork Valley, with the McCoys living on the Kentucky side

of the Tug Fork River and the Hatfields on the West Virginia side. The McCoy clan leader was

Randolph “Ole Ran’l” McCoy and William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield leading his family.

The Hatfield clan was more affluent because they owned a timber operation. This allowed the

Hatfields to have more political connections. Devil Anse even employed some of the McCoys

(A&E, 2005).

First Violence

       The first incident of the feud occurred in 1863 during the Civil War. The McCoys, living

on the Kentucky side of the river, fought for the Union Army while the Hatfields fought for the

Confederacy. During the war, Asa Harmon McCoy broke his leg and was sent home. When he

returned, a group named “The Logan Wildcats,” led by Jim Vance, tracked him down to a cave

and killed him. This was the first in a long line of murders in the feud.

       The next incident involved a dispute over the ownership of a hog. Pigs were allowed to

roam free during the day. Owners kept track of their pigs by putting notches on the pig’s ears. In

1878, Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield of stealing a pig saying that the pig had “McCoy

Notches”. The case was taken to the local courts and the judge presiding over the case was

Anderson “Preacher Anse” Hatfield. The testimony of Bill Staton resulted in the McCoy’s

losing the case. In 1880 Bill Staton was killed by brothers Sam and Paris McCoy. The two

brothers were later acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. That was the second casualty of the

Hatfield-McCoy Feud.


       After the pig incident Johnse Hatfield, the son of Devil Anse, began a relationship with

Roseanna McCoy. Roseanna left her family to live with the Hatfields, but eventually returned

home. The couple tried to resume their affair, but the McCoys had Johnse Hatfield arrested on a

Kentucky bootlegging warrant. When Roseanna found out, she rode a horse through the night to

give Devil Anse the news. Devil Anse then assembled a team to go rescue his son from the

McCoys. The Hatfields were able to get Johnse back from the McCoys before they could take

him to jail. In a strange twist, Johnse left Roseanna in 1881 while she was pregnant to marry her

cousin Nancy McCoy.

       In 1882 there was an election being held in Kentucky. Elections at the time were big

events where men gathered to socialize. The men were drinking heavily and old grudges started

to come up. Tolbert McCoy asked Lias Hatfield for $1.75 that he said was owed to him from a

fiddle sale. Two of Tolbert’s brothers, Phamer and Randall Jr. joined in on the bickering. About

the same time, Ellison Hatfield stumbled up to the argument. After some words were exchanged,

a fight broke out and Ellison was stabbed twenty-six times and shot once. Ellison died two days

later from his wounds. The three McCoy brothers were then arrested, but once again, Devil

Anse organized a large party and took the brothers from the jailhouse. The brothers were then

taken to a field, tied to pawpaw bushes, and shot to death.

New Years Massacre

       The peak of the feud occurred on New Years Night 1888. Members of the Hatfield clan

surrounded the cabin of the McCoy’s. While the family was asleep inside, the Hatfields opened

fire on the cabin. The Hatfields then set the house on fire to try and drive Randall McCoy out.

Randall was able to escape but his two children and wife weren’t as lucky. The children were

struck by bullets and the wife was beaten to death. Wall Hatfield along with seven others were

subsequently arrested for the murders and brought to Kentucky to stand trial. But because the

extradition was illegal, the United States Supreme Court became involved. The Supreme Court

ruled in favor of Kentucky and seven of the eight men were given life sentences. The eighth

man, Ellison Mounts, was hanged to death.

End of the Feud

       As bloody and action-packed as the feud was for so long, it had a rather plain ending. By

1891 most of the original members of the feud were either dead, natural or not, or too old to keep

fighting. As a result, the two families just agreed to stop fighting. In the 1970’s the families

joined together on the game show Family Feud. In 2003, descendants of the two families signed

a peace treaty to show that Americans can get along after the 9/11 attacks, formally putting the

feud to an end.

Cause and Effect

        So was the Hatfield and McCoy feud due to a medical condition or was it simply a result

of political, emotional, and environmental factors? The evidence proposed by researchers

supports the theory of a genetic disorder being partly to blame for the escalation and intensity of

the feud. Descendents of the McCoy family are now known to possess an inherited genetic

mutation that predisposes them to bad tempers produced by an excess of a chemical called

adrenaline. Adrenaline is responsible for increasing the heart rate, an explosive temper, panic

and rage attacks, and heart failure (Wikipedia, 2009). Back in the late 1800’s there was no

information available to diagnose or treat the disorder, which has been traced through four

generations of McCoys (CBS, 2007).

        In tracing back the events of this notorious feud, the aggression seemed to have been

instigated by both families. The hog incident and the incident about a debt of $1.75 stand out as

examples of McCoy antagonism. Whether or not the McCoys truly suffered from a disease that

ultimately caused the feud to continue for so long is debatable. Other possible causes for the

feud may be the era, the culture, and the geographic location where the families resided


        The Hatfield-McCoy feud shows the darker side of the Appalachian culture. Vendettas

and revenge killings instead of trials and jail time was how things were handled in the rural

areas. The few times people were arrested, most didn’t stick because of political connections

allowing people to be kidnapped right out of jail and killed. Although these acts are heinous,

they can also be used as examples of how close knit the families were in this region at that


       Modern science does offer insight into organic causes of the Hatfield-McCoy feud but it

does not definitively explain how and why this feud lasted for as long as it did. Many family

members had personalities that were not conducive to neighborly relationships. Families in

this era experienced stress as a result of the drive for the acquisition of land, political

affiliations, and poor economic conditions. The combination of dissonant personalities and

theses common stressors, as well as an unknown medical condition, ultimately fueled a war

between two families that persisted for almost three decades.


Associated Press. (2007). Inherited disease may have fueled Hatfield-McCoy feud. Retrieved

       April 12, 2009 from the world wide web at:


CBS. (2007). Disease partly to explains Hatfield-McCoy feud. Retrieved April 21, 2009 from

       the world wide web at:

Peyton, Dave. (1982). Hatfield-McCoy Feud. Huntington Herald Dispatch. Retrieved April 13,

       2009 from the world wide web at:

Wikipedia. (2009). Hatfield-McCoy Feud. Retrieved from the world wide web April 12, 2009


Hatfields and McCoys: An American Feud. DVD. Release date 2005. Published by A&E Home



To top