Appalachia, Bill Staten, Bob Hatfield, Cap Hatfield, crime, Devil Anse Hatfield, Ellison Hatfield, feuds, genealogy, Hatfield-McCoy Feud, history, Howard Alley, Island Creek, Kentucky, Logan, Logan Banner, Logan County, Mingo County, Nancy Hatfield, Paris McCoy, Pike County, Randolph McCoy, Sam McCoy, Tolbert McCoy, true crime, West Virginia
From the Logan Banner of Logan, WV, comes this story by Howard Alley titled “The Hatfield-McCoy Feud” and dated May 10, 1937:
The Hatfield-McCoy Feud…
“Aunt Nancy” Hatfield, Widow of “Cap” Hatfield, Relates That Historic Feud Actually Started Over An Election Argument When “Uncle” Ellison Was Killed Following Argument With a McCoy
Much has been said and many volumes have been written about the historic Hatfield-McCoy feud which took place in Logan and Mingo counties in the latter part of the last century. Lecturers have said the feud started over a razor-backed hog, and novelists have written that it began when a McCoy married a Hatfield lass and deserted her after he learned that she was to bear him a child. Both theories have their foundation in tradition, but neither Hatfield nor McCoy close to the feud has been quoted as saying either was right. Yesterday the mystery was cleared up. Because it seemed so utterly preposterous that two solid, level-headed mountain families with the solidity of the English for a background could wage a ten-year killing spree over a razor-backed sow when the woods were full of the animals, and because it was equally as improbable that the feud started over unhappy marital relationships when it is an established fact that mountaineers let their offspring take care of their own home life, we decided yesterday afternoon to find out what event was the spark which actually set off the powder magazine of mountain passion which rocked the hills of this section for nearly a decade.
And in the warm sunshine of a late spring Sunday afternoon we sat on the porch of the late William A. (Cap) Hatfield’s rambling frame home on the upper stretches of Main Island Creek and talked to “Cap’s” wife, the last survivor of those who were closest to the Hatfield clan in the feud.
“Aunt Nancy”, who has survived seventy winters and admits that she is “young and has the ‘hang’ of it,” but “don’t think I can do it again”, gazed reminiscently out over the newly-turned acres of her husband’s creek bottom estate, and her eyes grew misty as she told us of the closing years of the last century when Hatfield and McCoy alike expected death at every bend of the creek.
“That feud didn’t start over no ‘hog lawsuit’ and it didn’t start over a Hatfield-McCoy marriage,” Mrs. Hatfield said in a tone that showed plainly her disgust for those writers who had written of the feud and by twisting the facts had capitalized on it. “I’ve got a red-backed book two inches thick here that one of my sons brought to me and said: “Read this, Ma, and you’ll find out why we fought the McCoys.’ I read it–two pages of it–and it’s layin’ in there now with dust on its backs. Not a word o’ truth in it.”
She grew repentant.
“But they have to make their livin’, I guess. You want to know how it started? I’ll tell you. The Hatfields was always a political family, and it was their politics which got ’em into this fight. If they hadn’t gone to that election in Pike county in August of 1882, ‘Uncle’ Ellison would never have been killed and Ellison’s brother, ‘Devil’ Anse would never have been drawn into it. But I’m gettin’ ahead of my story. The way it was, ‘Uncle’ Ellison Hatfield was an officer in Logan county in 1882 and was sent out to arrest Sam and Paris McCoy who was supposed to have killed Bill Staten, ‘Uncle’ Ellison’s brother-in-law. These boys warn’t sons of Randall McCoy, ringleader of the McCoys. They were just cousins. He got the two boys and brought them to Logan county jail in Logan and afterwards testified agin’ them in a trial. The McCoys were ‘sent up’ for the killin’. Then in August ‘Uncle’ Ellison went to Pike county to ‘work’ at the polls, and it was so ordered that he was working for a man that the McCoys were agin’. Well, the only thing that could happen did happen. One of Randall McCoy’s sons, just a little twenty-one-year-old shaver, started a argument with ‘Uncle’ Ellison, and Ellison, who was always too high tempered for his own good, slapped him down. The little feller bounced up, and Ellison slapped him down agin’. But this time he jumped on top of him, and ’bout the time he drawed back his fist, aimin’ to end the fight, a shot rung out and ‘Uncle’ Ellison toppled over. He weren’t dead though. He told his friends to call ‘Devil’ Anse, who come a runnin’, and the McCoys ‘cleared out.’ ‘Devil’ Anse took his brother home and he lived from that Saturday until the next Wednesday. Just before he died, he said to Anse: ‘Anse, I want you to give the McCoys the ‘law’.’ And that’s what ‘Devil’ Anse did. He gave ’em the ‘law’ as he knowed it–and that was just about the only law in them days–and lived to see the justice handed out. And, well, you know as much about what happened after ‘Uncle’ Ellison died as I do. I don’t want to add any more tales to the list.”
We took the hint, and willingly began to talk about the celebration of “Aunt Nancy’s” birthday last September when she fell off her back porch and was told by one of her sons that “she shouldn’t have been trying to turn handsprings at her age.”
“I wasn’t hurt bad enough to keep me from cuttin’ my birthday cake. And I gave Bob the smallest piece because he was so smart about me fallin’.”