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What's the Real Story Behind the Hatfield-McCoy Feud?

The Hatfields and McCoys are the most famous familial feud in American history. The feud story spans across decades; from the Civil War to the 1890s and battles in both Kentucky and West Virginia. At one point, the U.S. Supreme Court had to get involved. It even spawned a miniseries on the History Channel starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton.

What Caused the Hatfield-McCoy Feud?

The feud all began in 1864 when Confederate soldiers William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield and Jim Vance, cousin of Devil Anse, murdered former Union soldier Asa Harmon McCoy because they believed McCoy was responsible for the shooting of a friend of his during the war. Asa McCoy's murder kicked off the Hatfield & McCoy feud, but it was far from the only or worst incident.

It all started with that one murder

Years after the initial murder, the bad blood continued when Randolph McCoy took the Hatfield family to court over the stealing of a hog, alleging that the hog owned by Floyd Hatfield was really his. The justice of the peace in the case, however, happened to be named Anderson Hatfield. The ruling, of course, did not go in the McCoys favor. This was in large part due to the testimony of Bill Staton, a distant member of both families. So, naturally, the McCoys then went and murdered Bill Staton.

Somehow, the McCoys were able to argue that the shooting was in self-defense and no one got in any trouble. That didn't please the Hatfield clan all that much. On the feuding went.

The Hatfields & McCoys family feud took a Romeo and Juliet sort of turn when Roseanna McCoy, the daughter of Randolph McCoy, fell in love with the womanizing Johnse Hatfield. The McCoys disowned Roseanna for her betrayal, but it wasn't long until Johnse Hatfield left Roseanna in the dust for other girls. Despite her being pregnant at the time, Johnse left Roseanna for her cousin Nancy McCoy. The McCoys took Johnse hostage as retribution but the Hatfields freed him by force.

A few years later, at an election day celebration in Pike County, Kentucky, three of Roseanna's brothers stabbed Ellison Hatfield 26 times. Ellison eventually died from his injuries and the McCoy brothers were murdered by a vengeful gang of Hatfields lead by Devil Anse. 

The Final Battle

The final battle between the Hatfields and McCoys was an epic and horrible one. On a night now called the New Year Massacre, Cap Hatfield and John Vance led a party to the McCoy family cabin and set it on fire. When the McCoys came running out they opened fire. Two children were killed in the incident, including Randall McCoy's daughter.

Later, the McCoys were hunting the Hatfields when they ran into a Hatfield ambush. A huge shootout started, and though initially ambushed, the McCoy family members soon gained the upper hand and won the battle. The Hatfields were then captured and tried for their crimes. Most of them got lengthy prison sentences and the illegitimate son of Ellison Hatfield was executed for killing one of the children.

That was the end of the feud, but its history is legend to this day.

This story was originally published on August 30, 2019.

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