There he stood, the stern bearded figure, gazing out across the hills of West Virginia, that had been his home and refuge for years, and which he loved dearly. I didn't know much about the feud at that time, but I was fascinated that such a beautiful monument could be found in such a remote place. However, that was exactly the type of rugged terrain that had been his family's home territory for generations.
Hatfield was born in 1839 and died in 1921. When he was baptized late in life by Uncle Dyke Garrett in Logan, the crowd that showed up to witness the event numbered in the hundreds. And why not? This was Old Devil Anse, himself! Patriarch of the Mingo County West Virginia clan that went to war for nearly 20 years with the McCoy clan, who resided across the Tug River in neighboring Pike County, Kentucky.
Although there are numerous stories as to how the feud started (ie. a Romeo and Juliet like romance between a Hatfield boy and a McCoy girl, or a dispute over a pig) the roots of the feud included a combination of property disputes, romantic entanglements, electioneering, and family conflicts going all the way back to the Civil War. The dispute between the families of Hatfield and Randolph McCoy, eventually grew to the point that the Governors of West Virginia and Kentucky got involved.
A number of factors led up to the feud, but violence actually broke out after an election day fight in the border town of Matewan, WV in 1882. Tolbert McCoy (son of Randolph McCoy) and Ellison Hatfield. After a day of drinking and electioneering, three of the McCoy brothers (Pharmer, Tolbert, and Randolph, Jr) stabbed Ellison Hatfield to death. In retaliation, the Hatfield clan, soon captured the three McCoy brothers, tied them to a Paw Paw bush along the banks of Blackberry Creek, and proceeded to dispatch them into eternity via gunshots. A historical marker stands today to mark the spot, just down the road from my wife's old home place.
Although I am not related to either clan, our family (like many others from the coalfield counties of Mingo and Logan in West Virginia, and Pike in Kentucky) have connections to them. I remember meeting Willis Hatfield back in the 1960's. Willis was one of the youngest sons of Devil Anse, and in the 40's and 50's he was a foreman at the Dehue Coal Mine where my Dad worked for him. Mr. Hatfield died in 1978, but his daughter still resides in the Huntington, WV area. On the other side, my mother in law was related to the McCoy family. One of her cousins, Jimmy Woolford, became a noted historian of the feud, and has written books, articles, and produced recordings which disseminated much information about the hostilities.
I have seen that the History Channel will be presenting "The Hatfields and McCoys", a three part series starring Kevin Costner as Devil Anse, beginning May 28th. I look forward to viewing it. It is a fascinating episode here in the mountains. Hopefully the series will be historically accurate, and will acquaint many viewers with the details of a most interesting (and violent) segment of nearly forgotten American history.