The Coffin Quilt: The Feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys

The Coffin Quilt: The Feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys

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by Ann Rinaldi
     
 

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Fanny McCoy has lived in fear and anger ever since that day in 1878 when a dispute with the Hatfields over the ownership of a few pigs set her family on a path of hatred and revenge. From that day forward, along the ragged ridges of the West Virginia-Kentucky line, the Hatfields and the McCoys have operated not withing the law but within mountain codes of their own

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Overview

Fanny McCoy has lived in fear and anger ever since that day in 1878 when a dispute with the Hatfields over the ownership of a few pigs set her family on a path of hatred and revenge. From that day forward, along the ragged ridges of the West Virginia-Kentucky line, the Hatfields and the McCoys have operated not withing the law but within mountain codes of their own making. In 1882, when Fanny's sister Roseanna runs off with young Johnse Hatfield, the hatred between the two clans explodes.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Fanny McCoy, the protagonist and narrator of Rinaldi's (A Break with Charity; An Acquaintance with Darkness) tautly plotted historical novel about the infamous feuding families effectively portrays the clans' divided loyalties and cycle of violence. This colorful novel, an addition to the Great Episodes series, begins in 1889, when Fanny is 16, at a hanging, and flashes back to 1880 to describe the evolution of the quarrel Fanny claims would never have started "if not for my sister Roseanna. And I can say this, because I loved her best of all." Roseanna McCoy, "so purty that just being next to her is better than a piece of rock candy," ran off with Johnse Hatfield and ignited the tinder box of residual hatred still smoldering from "The War Amongst Us" (the Civil War). As Roseanna stitches the title quilt, she morbidly records the interwoven fates of the two families, and Fanny, watching her, gradually realizes that her sister courted destruction and "dragged so many of us with her." Through homespun language, folk remedies, superstition and a vivid picture of a vengeful religion (e.g., Mama McCoy constantly shifts the pebbles of those in her prayers between the saved and damned piles), Rinaldi skillfully paints the code of honor of Kentucky and West Virginia mountain families. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Ellen R. Braaf
When Roseanna McCoy runs away with Johnse Hatfield on Election Day 1880, the hate that's been festering between the Hatfields and the McCoys since the Civil War erupts into a bloody and tragic feud. Fanny, the youngest McCoy, chronicles the conflict that shatters her family. It's a tale of blame and retaliation, pride and misdirected loyalties, narrow mindedness and suffering, strength and survival. Set in the rugged mountains of the Kentucky-West Virginia border more than a century ago, it's a story about the devastating impact of violence. It's not difficult to find parallels in contemporary society. This fictional history is steeped in fact. Rich detail and superb storytelling make this a fascinating read, one that packs an emotional punch.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-Based on the legendary feud between the West Virginia Hatfields and the Kentucky McCoys and narrated by the youngest McCoy, Fanny, this story recounts the escalating bitter feelings and violence between the families. Their feud, simmering since the 1870s, originated in a dispute over a hog, although changing social and economic factors exacerbated animosities. Here, the catalyst that sparks the greatest violence is Roseanna McCoy's liaison with handsome, faithless Johnse Hatfield. The unwed couple lives together for several months until Roseanna returns to her family. An unfinished coffin quilt, a fabric record of Hatfield family births and deaths, and her unborn baby are her only legacy of her stay. Although Rinaldi has kept close to the actual sequence of events of the feud, she has introduced elements of her own creation in her endeavor to explain the "why" of the story. Her interpretation through Fanny that Roseanna "sought destruction of herself. And she'd dragged so many of us with her" is difficult to accept. In addition, it is hard to understand why, in a story that is replete with documented historical violence, the author added gratuitous cruelty in portraying elder sister Alifair's relationship with Fanny as abusive. This violence is unnecessary for either character or plot development, and with such a genuinely brutal story, it seems over the top to include it.-Patricia B. McGee, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547416243
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
04/01/2001
Series:
Great Episodes
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
117,531
Lexile:
590L (what's this?)
File size:
0 MB
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

1880

I asked my brother Tolbert about our sheep once, why they do like they do, being on the one hand so brave the way they spend weeks a-wanderin' in the mountains, and on the other hand so meek.

It was the time me and Tolbert were sent by Pa to fetch my sister Roseanna home, after she first run off. I was staying with Tolbert and Mary for a spell because my sister Alifair had tried to kill me again. For the third time. This time she held my head under the pump in the yard until I near drowned, because I'd left school without permission. Once before she spilled hot bacon fat on me, which she said was an accident. I had to wear a cut potato bound on my arm for a week. Another time she switched my legs until I couldn't walk. Both times for sassing her. Alifair is the oldest girl, and as such demands respect. And Ma and Pa turn a deaf ear when I say she's trying to kill me. But they know it to be true. Else why would they send me to live with Tolbert for a spell to get me away from her?

The why of it nobody has figured. Ma says Alifair has the light of holiness. Isn't she working at church with the healing group? She hasn't healed anybody yet, but she's darned near killed me. I think she has powers, all right. Evil. But the good part is I get to stay with Tolbert and Mary when Alifair's light of holiness gets too bright. Tolbert is my favorite brother, not only because he cusses a lot in public and gets fined a dollar a cuss for it, but because he likes to dance and sing, and fight, too. His pebble in Mama's prayer garden is always on the side of the damned. It never bothers Tolbert any.

In his house you can read Oliver Twist of a Sunday without Mama saying you'd burn in hellfire forever for violating the Sabbath. And Mary treats me like I was near grown. I know they want me to live with them regular-like. Tolbert asked Pa once if I could. They'd send me to school, teach me to observe God's laws, take me to Sunday Meeting, everything. Pa said no. He doesn't like to let go of what's his.

Anyways, we were riding over to West Virginia to fetch Ro home. Pa sent Tolbert because he's so level in the head, and Tolbert took me because I was close to Roseanna. In this family, being so many of us, the young 'uns sort of attach themselves to an older one. Trinvilla and Adelaide belong to Alifair. Bill follows Bud around like a coon pup.

"Why do our sheep just lie down and get ready to die when they're attacked?" I asked Tolbert. "Why don't they fight?"

"Got nuthin' to fight with," he said. "And they know it."

"It's not fair that God didn't give them anything to fight with," I said. "Most other creatures can defend themselves."

"Maybe God was tryin' to show us that there's two kinds of creatures in this world. Those that fight and those that don't," he said.

"You mean the sheep are like Mama? They'd rather pray?"

"Maybe," he said. "But that don't make 'em stupid. You think Ma's stupid?"

One thing Tolbert wouldn't hold with was my sassing Ma or Pa. Even though he knew they were both wrong about things sometimes. So I said no. Because I didn't ever want to earn myself the rough side of Tolbert's tongue.

"The sheep aren't stupid," he said. "Look how they know to come home after bein' out in the mountains for weeks."

Our sheep come home at least once a month. You open your eyes one morning and there they all just are, come for salt. Pa or one of the boys would give them some, and then they'd be gone again. All on their own.

I was kind of hoping that's the way it would be with Roseanna, that I'd just open my eyes one morning and she'd be there in the bed next to me. I missed her something powerful. "Do they come home only for the salt?"

"Pears to be so."

"For nothing else?"

He looked at me. Tolbert was the tallest and he was fair of hair and eyes, but it was what was in those eyes that held you. He didn't say much. But when he did, you listened. "What's goin' on in that head of yours, Fanny?"

"Well, I just thought maybe they come home because they know they belong here," I said. "And they want to make sure it'll all still be here for them. The house and us, I mean."

"They come home for the salt," he said. "But I like to think that all creatures want to come home sooner or later."

"Do you think Ro will come home, then?" I asked.

He didn't say anything for a minute. Just kept his eyes on the trail ahead, like he does sometimes. "Hope she's got the sense of our sheep," he said.

"Tolbert, why does Alifair hate me so?"

"She doesn't hate you, Fanny. She hates herself. Hates that she's lived twenty-two years and don't know what she's about. Hates that you're just a young 'un and still have the chance to find out. My guess is once she forgets about this healing business and pays mind to that young Will Bectal who wants to court her, she'll be a happier woman."

"Does she have the light of holiness? When she comes at me I want to kick her or bite her. But how can I if she's got it?"

"She's got the light of too much Ma. She should have got out from under Ma's shadow and been married years ago. Ma's a good woman, but she's trying to make Alifair into herself all over. She's got no light and no holiness, and the sooner she finds it out, the better we'll all be. So you kick and bite her all you want to defend yourself. Onliest reason I tell you this is because Alifair's been so hard on you. Not so you don't reverence Ma. You understand?"

I said yes. And since he was explaining things so good I thought I'd push further. "Why do Hatfields and McCoys hate each other?"

He grunted. "I hold it goes back to when Pa lost his sow and his pigs, two years ago. Ma says no, before that even. During The War Amongst Us, Pa's younger brother Harmon was murdered by bushwhackers. Everybody says it was old Devil Anse Hatfield and his Wildcats. You see, in 1863, Virginia's western counties broke away and became West Virginia. When men from that area got to come home on leave, they just didn't go back. They'd been fighting for their own ground, and now it was Union blue ground. So they formed their own Home Guard in West Virginia and stayed Confederate. Called themselves the Wildcats.

"And those were the people, headed up by Devil Anse, who shot and killed Pa's brother Harmon when he came home for a Christmas furlough. Shot him for coming out for the Union."

"So it started with the war?"

"Let's say the war just continued, only in a different way," Tolbert said.

"Ma always said it was the fortunes of war that made the men hereabouts so lawless and disorderly."

"Lawless and disorderly be danged. There's nothing lawless about wanting your own sow and pigs back," Tolbert muttered. Only he didn't say danged. "It's just in the McCoy blood to make right a wrong done to you or yourn. And to uphold the family honor while you're doing it. People around here, for the most part, are very serious about honor, though nobody more than the

McCoys. It goes back to our ancestors in Scotland, who were Highland Celts. That Celtic strain runs right through our blood."

I looked down at my hands holding the reins, at the tiny blue veins I could trace on their backs. I wondered what Celtic blood looked like and how it was different from other people's blood. I liked Tolbert's explanations. They made sense. Especially about Alifair. It was good to know she didn't have the light of holiness. Next time she started on me I'd kick and bite her good. Then let her heal herself and see how good she'd do.
Copyright ©2001 by Ann Rinaldi published by Harcourt, Inc. All rights reserved.

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