Hatfields & McCoys: America’s Most Well Known Family Feud


The History Channel recently aired a special miniseries on the biggest family feud in history.  The Hatfields and McCoys.  Spanning roughly 23 years (1865 – 1888), these two families couldn’t seem to stay on their own side of the Tug River!

William Anderson Hatfield (played by Kevin Costner in the miniseries) was known as “Devil Anse” and was the leader of the Hatfield family living in West Virginia.  Randall McCoy (played by Bill Paxton) was the leader of the the McCoys, across the river in Kentucky.  These two men started out as friends, fighting in the Confederate Army.  But life after the war was different for these men.  Devil Anse deserted the war effort, along with some of his family, and started up his own renegade militia known as the Logan Wildcats.

Some people believe that the feud started when Randall McCoy’s brother, Asa Harmon McCoy, was murdered.  Devil Anse’s Wildcats were said to have been involved.  But no one could prove anything and no charges were filed.

Hatfield and McCoy (gilmerfreepress.net)

In 1870, a land dispute arose between Randall McCoy’s cousin, Perry Cline, and Devil Anse.  Now, Devil Anse had investments in the railroad business and was using timber from the land for a profit.  You can imagine how a land dispute would be a big deal.  In the end, Devil Anse kept the land, but the McCoy family believed he used his political advancements to impact the ruling.

A few months later, Randall McCoy accused Devil Anse’s cousin, Floyd Hatfield, of stealing his hog!  The case was brought to jury whereby 6 Hatfields and 6 McCoys sat.  One of the McCoy boys voted with the Hatfields, and that case too was lost.  It is rumored the boy who voted with the Hatfields was employed by Anse in the timber crew and didn’t want to lose his job.

The Hatfield Clan (herald-dispatch.com)

From here on out, the tension grew.  Several instances of armed standoffs occurred.  Then in 1880, the battle of the Hatfields and McCoys turns into something out of a Shakespeare play.

Devil Anse’s son, Johnse, happened to meet and fall in love with Randall McCoy’s daughter, Roseanna.  After one day together, the two decide to get married, and for awhile, Roseanna lived with the Hatfield family.

But neither family was keen on this union, and eventually Roseanna went back home.  By that time, however, she was pregnant with child, and still unmarried.  Randall threw her out from his home and she moved in with her Aunt Betty.  Roseanna would give birth to a baby shortly after, but the infant died at only 8 months of age.  And Johnse, well, he went and married Roseanna’s cousin, Nancy McCoy.

Johnse Hatfield (civilwaralbum.com)


One of the most brutal occurrences between the two families happened when Devil Anse’s brother, Ellison, was stabbed 27 times and then shot in the back by some of the McCoy brothers after a heated election day.  Devil Anse said the boys could live if Ellison lived, but he died the next day.  Anse and his men gathered the McCoy brothers, tying them to several pawpaw trees and shot them to death.

The body count grew higher when after receiving some political allegiance with the new Kentucky Governor, Randall got a $500 reward placed for Devil Anse’s capture.  The Hatfields retaliated by setting the McCoy house on fire, where two more children were killed and his wife badly injured.

The fire is said to have ended the feud in 1888.  Several Hatfields were captured after the raid and sent to Kentucky for trial.  All were sentenced to life in prison, and Devil Anse made no move to get revenge on the conviction of his family members.

The History Channel’s miniseries on this family has been wonderful.  A short interview with Kevin Costner said, “You think you know the story, but you don’t.”  He also went on to comment that for an actor, it’s all about the details.  You can see for yourself how in depth the special effects and costume teams went.  The show is fabulous!

The Hatfields (history.com)

The McCoys (kentucky.com)

Oddly enough, my roommates and I were watching The History Channel’s Pawn Stars before the first episode aired, and a gentleman brought in an 1892 rifle said to have belonged to Devil Anse Hatfield!  Passed down from his grandfather, he had a framed collage of the Hatfield family photo, the rifle, and a note signed by his great-something grandfather.  They did bring in an expert to look over the rifle, and it was from the time period, however it’s not possible to authenticate now.  I wish the man the best of luck as he researches more and hope he can get the rifle authenticated; what a unique find!

Did you tune in to watch this History Channel special?  What do you think of the story of the Hatfields and McCoys?  Have you ever visited the area surrounding the Tug River?  

For more information on the Hatfield and McCoy family feud, I referenced the Hatfield McCoy County Historical site.

For more info on the tragic love story of Roseanna McCoy, check out the Blue Ridge County Archives.


15 responses

  1. Little known fact: The two families later merged into the McHatfields and started a national burger chain – but that is another tale altogether. *grins*

    There is no drama like a true one and the story of the Hatfields & McCoys is one of histories best. Awesome post, Jess 🙂

    1. Get out! You would know that they started a burger chain! Thinking the McHatfields would be a great designing from bones idea. Eh? Eh?

  2. I did not tune in and I’m beginning to regret it just a bit… hopefully we can catch it on rerun!

    1. I know my library will get it on dvd so watch there too! It was sooo good and interesting.

  3. I have it on DVR because I knew I wouldn’t be around to watch and really want to. Thanks for the info about it. Now I really want to find the time to sit down and watch it 🙂

    1. You are going to love it! Everyone at work was talking about it and we all thouht Johnse was cute. The history channel one, the real one seems a bit harsh. Lol.

  4. Except for a few leaders on each side, all the characters looked the same. That detracted from it for me. I wonder if the combined IQs of both families would add up to 100.

    Someone – I can’t remember which character – summed it all up when he said “Hatred breeds hatred.” That’s what it was all about.

    1. I loved the detail of the setting and the costumes, but sure it wasn’t always easy to discern who was who. The Kevin Costner history channel narrated special was really interesting too.

  5. Awesome, in a macabre and gruesome way. I’d never heard of this motley bunch. You’re right about the Shakespeare angle, but even the bard wasn’t quite that ruthless.


    1. Talk about “a plague on both your houses.” They were really vengeful. Wish I could hear the story from some of the women’s points of view.

  6. […] However, don’t think I was idly sitting by eating bon bons and channel surfing.  Oh no! Hatfields and McCoys is on! (image from […]

  7. I knew nothing about the feud except what I’d seen in cartoons. But if I ever run into Kevin Costner and he tries to tell me I don’t really know the story, I can tell him I do, thanks to this post. Thanks, Jess.

    1. You let me know when that happens, Charles.

  8. I went to highschool with a McCoy in about 1975. I didnt know much about the feud then but now I wish I could find my old friend and catch up. We lived near Louisville but I went to Williamson to visit in the 1970s.

    1. Oh how cool would it be to catch up?! So interesting.

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