The Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys: The True Storyby Dean King
"Marvelous....THE FEUD is popular history as it ought to be written." ---Wall Street Journal
Nearly every American has heard of the Hatfields and the McCoys. The violent feud between these two families has become shorthand for fierce, unyielding, and even violent confrontation. Yet despite numerous articles, books, television shows,/strong>/em>… See more details below
"Marvelous....THE FEUD is popular history as it ought to be written." ---Wall Street Journal
Nearly every American has heard of the Hatfields and the McCoys. The violent feud between these two families has become shorthand for fierce, unyielding, and even violent confrontation. Yet despite numerous articles, books, television shows, and feature films, until THE FEUD nobody has ever told the true story of this legendary clash in the heart of Appalachia.
Drawing upon years of original research, including the discovery of previously lost and ignored evidence and interviews with surviving relatives of both families, Dean King has crafted a rip-roaring narrative packed with brutal murders, reckless affairs, mercenaries and detectives, and the long shadows of the Civil War. The result is an unvarnished and vastly entertaining work of history.
"A masterpiece. I knew The Feud would be well-written and exhaustively researched and reported-that's the kind of writer Dean King is-but I little suspected what a page-turner it would be. From its first few pages, when a young, unarmed Devil Anse Hatfield kicks a black bear up a tree, to its satisfying finale, I was spellbound. The last word on the daddy of American feuds."James Donovan, bestselling author of The Blood of Heroes and A Terrible Glory
"Well-written, superbly researched...an outstanding reexamination of a mythic...and savage story."Booklist
"Shakespeare had his Montagues and Capulets, but say the word "feud" to any American, and only one comes almost reflexively to mind: Hatfields versus McCoys. And yet hardly anyone knows what it was really all about. Dean King, an elegant and adventurous writer, has dug through the encrusted layers of lore and atmospherics to understand the rich context behind this tragic and fascinating clash of families. The result is a work of American history that spans state lines and generations-and resonates powerfully today."Hampton Sides, bestselling author of Blood and Thunder and Hellhound on His Trail
"Dean King has written a riveting and detailed account of the legendary blood feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. Put aside everything you thought you knew about these infamous folks. This expertly researched history provides a new and fresh chronicle of two families torn apart by war and betrayal. It will fascinate and surprise you."Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of Big Stone Gap and The Shoemaker's Wife
"With a master storyteller's talent for pacing, character and detail, Dean King transports us to the remote ridges and hollows of the West Virginia-Kentucky borderlands and into the lives of a people as rough-hewn as the landscape they inhabit, writing with such vividness you can smell the wood smoke and the gunpowder, the stink of the whiskey still, and the pungence of revenge."James Campbell, author of The Final Frontiersman and The Ghost Mountain Boys
"As a native West Virginian who was close to both families, grew up hearing the stories, and later read every book written on the subject, I am surprised and fascinated by the amount of in-depth original research and anecdotal information unearthed in The Feud. With a novelist's flair for telling a story, King reveals many new and pertinent insights into the characters, relationships and events of that turbulent time in American history. I am a huge fan of King's writing."Darrell Fetty, producer of the History Channel's "Hatfields & McCoys" miniseries and the documentary "America's Greatest Feud: The Hatfields & McCoys."
"A thriller-like, in-depth look at a darkly iconic slice of Americana. Highly recommended."Marc Leepson, author of Saving Monticello
"A riveting yet nuanced...Engrossing...Highly recommended."Claire Houck, Library Journal
"An informed account-both reasoned and reasonable-of the irrational."Kirkus Reviews
"Dean King has brought to life one of the great true-life adventure stories-a riveting tale of suffering and redemption.
author of In the Heart of the Sea and Sea of Glory
San Francisco Chronicle
"Dean King has brought to life one of the great true-life adventure stories-a riveting tale of suffering and redemption."
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The Hatfields and McCoys: The True Story
By Dean King
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2014 Dean King
All rights reserved.
War Comes to the Big Sandy
Prior to the Civil War, the Tug River Valley essentially ignored calendars and resisted progress. There were no roads, no rails, no schools, and no churches in the area. The transcontinental telegraph system, which crossed the nation in 1861, bypassed the region. Telegraph service would not arrive in the valley for three more decades. Barricaded as they were in mountainous cul-de-sacs, locals spoke a dialect barely recognizable to outsiders, a tongue more Elizabethan than modern Victorian, using yit for yet, mought for might, seche for such, and the word allow to mean "figure." They added es to form plurals like nestes. They afeared witches and haints. Questions from outsiders made them techeous (a state in which they were best avoided). The forest that enveloped them and, along with the hills, shaped their lives—a part of what the botanist-explorer William Bartram dubbed the sublime forest—was still dense, vast, and virginal.
One day in the fall of 1854, when he was fifteen, Anse Hatfield went out in the forest to bag some squirrels for the stew pot, something he had done many times before. Gangly, on his way to six feet, Anse, whose mother called him Ansie, was always on the move, slipping adroitly through the trees, already with the signature Hatfield slouch in his gait. His hawk-nosed intensity and nasal twang were cut by a penchant for practical jokes and a raucous and infectious laugh. Like his father, Big Eph (pronounced "Eef"), he liked to wrestle, but not more than he liked to hunt. Wearing a buckskin coat and carrying a rifle, powder, and balls, he set loose his pack of hounds, led by three trustworthies named Rounder, Fife, and Drum. No sooner had he let the dogs go than they scared up a large spike-horn deer.
The trio went tearing off after it. As the buck topped the ridge of Big Pigeon Mountain, Anse took into account the distance and the rise, leveled the barrel of his gun considerably above it, and squeezed the trigger. But his prey was too far away. It disappeared over the ridge with the dogs in hot pursuit. Anse was concerned. This buck had legs and might lead his dogs beyond return. There was plenty of trouble to get into among the intricate bends and folds of the woods here, almost no stretch of which was flat. Boulders, roots, and rocky streams hid beneath the leaf cover and behind rotting logs. In slicks, where lightning strikes and landslides had felled the trees, grew thick snarls of laurel, myrtle, huckleberry, and rhododendron that could trap a hell-bent hound like a steel cage. It was easy to get lost here, no matter how acute one's sense of smell or direction. Anse, worried yet confident in his mastery of the place, set off at a fast trot.
He raced through the undulating wilderness, past trees festooned in ghastly hues of old-man's beard. Here and there antler lichen clung tombstone-like to trunks living and dead. The Mingo chief Logan, like many of the Indian tribes that had once roamed the place, had welcomed white traders and settlers to his tribe's vast sacred hunting ground, until 1774, when they murdered his family. Then Logan had attacked white settlements with ferocity. "When the good soul had the ascendant, he was kind and humane," the chief later explained, "and when the bad soul ruled, he was perfectly savage and delighted in nothing but blood and carnage."
By 1824, the Indians were gone, and the Virginia General Assembly created Logan County, which would eventually form nearly half of the state of West Virginia. Within a year, the last known bison in the county (and, indeed, in all of Virginia) were killed. Still, young Anse stalked a stretch of the Great Forest where elk roamed and where wolves and wildcats—the latter called variously cougars, catamounts, pumas, panthers (pronounced "painters"), or mountain lions by the locals—prowled.
When Anse did not return home for supper, his mother, Nancy—the illegitimate daughter of the scandalized daughter of Abner Vance—began to worry. She told Big Eph that she was afraid that Anse was hurt. He told her not to worry: the boy was every bit as "stout as a bear." Big Eph, a six-foot-tall, dark-complected, blue-eyed, Bunyanesque man of 250 pounds who had once treed and killed a wildcat with a butcher knife he carried in a scabbard, was a shrewd judge of these things. He laughed when Nancy suggested that a bear might have attacked Anse. "If a bear even gets a glimpse of a man in the woods, then he goes the other way," he assured her. "Besides, Ansie has hunted so much, he's a dead shot." The boy was used to pursuing not only deer and squirrels but raccoons, possums, and groundhogs, along with grouse, wild turkeys, and ducks. He even knew how to shoot a swimming turtle in the head so that it would not sink. "No bear is going to get in speaking distance of him," Big Eph declared. And then he added, "Why, I seen him shoot a squirrel's eye out in the top of a tall hickory when I couldn't even see the squirrel before it fell." Anse, he knew, could do a man's work and could fend for himself.
But the next day, Nancy was even more worried that a bear might have gotten Anse, who, no matter how stout and sure of shot, was still just a boy. Nancy, like her son, was tall, strong, and smart. She was graced with her mother's features: a high forehead, a thin nose, and a square chin. Only ten of her eighteen children would survive childhood, but those who did were, like her, sturdy and intelligent. Able to read and write, she owned a medical book and served as the area's midwife, which yielded her a wide network of friends. Between her tutoring and the will of the family to improve its lot, eight of her grandchildren would go on to become doctors. Now Nancy decided something must be done to find her boy. Big Eph and their oldest son, seventeen-year-old Wall, rode over to Ben's Creek, to the east, where two Hatfield uncles lived, to see if Anse had stayed there or stopped by for a meal. He had not.
In fact, as the stag thrashed off through the woods, Anse had set out too fast, stumbling to his knees before he even made it up Big Pigeon. Cursing, he jumped up and moved his gear back in place as he made his next stride. But a breathtaking mile later, when he gained the top of the ridge, the buck had vanished. Stopping to consider his next move, Anse sensed that something was not right. He reached down to his shot pouch—it was too light. When he stumbled, he realized, the shot had all fallen out.
"There I was with my gun shot empty, bullets lost, and that spike buck aleadin' every dog I had clean out of the county," he would recall. He decided he could not afford to go back, for if he did, he might never see his hounds again. He had to stay on their heels.
Following the buck's and dogs' trail along the top of the ridge, Anse lost track of time. It might have been an hour or two later when he looked down and saw something that stopped him cold: about sixty yards below the ridge, curled up on a carpet of leaves, lay a colossal black bear. Anse's eyes grew big. This was a rare chance to bag a monster that would keep the family in bear steaks and grease for months to come. Then the truth of his predicament caught up with him: His bullets lay in the dirt several miles back. His pack of hounds was running wild after the spike-horn. He was standing before this incredible prize with no way to claim it.
Anse's frustration turned to rage. "The longer I stood," he later said, "the madder I got." He cursed the god who would do this to him and, after leaning his now worthless gun against a black pine, ran down the slope of the mountain yelling and waving his arms. The startled bear awoke and scrambled to its feet after a maniacal Anse planted a boot in its backside. The bear tore off down the slope, covering twenty paces to get to a chestnut oak large enough to climb. It shinnied up the tree, lodged in a fork thirty feet off the ground, and stared down at its pursuer. Breathing hard and still in a rage, Anse stared back. Then he stripped off his jacket and shirt and began flailing the tree with them, all the while shouting at the animal above.
The bear decided to wait it out aloft. Caught between his missing dogs and his spilled shot, Anse did the same below.
Two hours later, the dogs found him. They had given up on the buck and circled back. Now they got wind of the treed bear and started howling. Anse stood watch all night as the passing moon lit the woods around him.
He stayed in the same spot through the next day. He had nothing to eat and nothing to drink, and his mouth grew drier and drier, but he refused to stand down.
It was sometime after midnight on the second night when he looked up and saw on the ridge what he recognized as the light of a pine torch. He hooted like an owl, a Hatfield family signal. A hoot came in return. Hearing the call of their clan, the dogs began to bay. Soon Wall and a neighbor, Peter Brooks, stood next to Anse. When they asked him if he was hurt, he responded, "Hurt? The devil! The only one that got hurt here is a four-year-old bear. I kicked his behind so hard with my boot that he took to a tree."
They gave Anse a slab of venison that his mother had sent for him. He divided it among his hungry dogs, having decided that he would eat nothing until he took his prey. The only problem was that Wall and Brooks had brought neither guns nor shot. They tried to convince Anse to come back with them, but he refused. Realizing it was futile, Wall finally asked Brooks to go get bullets for Anse's gun. Before he could return, however, Big Eph and a gang of men showed up. They handed Anse a gourd full of water. He pulled out the corncob stopper, tilted his head back, and gulped it down. Then, taking the bullets they offered him, he loaded his gun, took aim, and bagged his first bear.
A short time later, after he returned home with a panther he had shot, Nancy declared her boy "not afeared of no kind of varmint nor of the devil hisself!" She called him Devil Anse after that. The nickname would prove apt to friend and foe.
A contemporary of Daniel Boone, who pushed through the Cumberland Gap in 1775, opening up the "West" to settlement, Devil Anse's great-great-grandfather Joseph Hatfield was considered one of the ablest scouts and woodsmen on the western frontier. The family had arrived in western Virginia from England by 1770, building forts for protection against the Indians and hunting bears in the Alleghenies. Intermarried with Dutch, French, and Germans, the Hatfields were a staunch blend, "tall and muscular, with a good share of brains and will-power," according to an observer in 1887. "They are a high-spirited family, but are kind, neighborly, and just to all who treat them just."
In 1776, some Hatfields, along with the Bromfield family, were living by the New River near Big Stony Creek. One night, unbeknownst to each other, a Bromfield and a Hatfield both went to the same salt lick. One—though it is not known which—took the other for a bear moving in the brush and shot him dead.
In the years to come, as neighbor turned against neighbor, not every killing would be so accidental.
Of the four sons of Joseph Hatfield's son Eph (known as "Eph of All"), three—Joseph, George, and Jeremiah—lived on the Kentucky side of the Tug, mostly in Pike County. Only one, Valentine, Devil Anse's grandfather, settled on the West Virginia side. Eph of All's four sons would sire more than fifty children, and brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins would move across the Tug with ease—on foot where it was shallow.
Likewise, the McCoys, who had reached Kentucky by 1804, lived on both sides of the Tug and came and went as they pleased. The families were on good terms with each other and were intermarried on both sides of the river. In fact, Tug Valley dwellers in general were so intertwined that in 1849 they petitioned to move the Virginia-Kentucky state line so that the entire valley would lie within Virginia. "The present line," they noted, "divides neighborhoods, friends and relations." Among the signers were more than a dozen McCoys and Hatfields, families linked together by business and politics, in addition to marriage.
This same year, Randall and Sarah McCoy fell in love and married. They were first cousins descended from William McCoy, who in 1804, having been awarded two hundred acres of land in Virginia (now part of Kentucky) for service in the Revolutionary War, had settled in the Tug Valley. Four of his ten sons eventually continued west, but the others and two daughters had planted the McCoy seed on both sides of the river. Like John Knox, the dogmatic founder of Scottish Presbyterianism, the Scots-Irish McCoys had strong traits. They were socially democratic, believing intensely in the equality of all men. They were austere, like their forebears, who had lived in turf huts in the Scottish Lowlands, hardened to discomfort, and adept at survival. While they might accept a friendly hand from a neighbor they could repay, they turned their backs on charity. They would starve before they would beg.
One thing you did not do lightly was cross a McCoy. The family had a fierce streak beyond most. "The McCoys had a reputation for being hospitable to strangers," Jim McCoy, a nephew of Randall, the family patriarch during the feud, would later say, "but a person better look out if he ever stole anything from them." As an example, Jim cited his cousin Leland, who had a prized plum tree in his backyard. "Once every day for a week, he found plums missing from that tree," Jim recounted. "Finally he decided he was gonna fix whoever it was who was taking those plums. So, he put poison on the tree." The fruit was never stolen again. The thief died.
By 1850, William's son Sam had become wealthy, owning 1,500 acres of prime land. Living outside Stringtown, Kentucky, he and his wife, Elizabeth, reared eighteen children, including Sarah, better known as Sally. Sam's younger brother Dan was less fortunate. Unsuccessful in business, he was considered quarrelsome and shiftless by his neighbors. He and his wife, Peggy, moved their children (there would be thirteen in all), including Randall, their fourth child, born in 1825, to Logan County, Virginia, when Randall was a boy. But Dan could not make a go of it there either. To help pay for their farm, Peggy raised and sold hogs; she also sold a snakebitten horse that she had rescued. When Dan lost the farm in a lawsuit after he had been timbering on their neighbor's property, she decided that she would be better off without him and took the then-unusual step of divorcing him.
Cousins Randall and Sally started out in Logan County but after a while moved across the river to Pike County, where they set out to build a life and a family on property given to them by her father.
Despite the generations of harmony, the warm feelings that united the two sides of the Tug evaporated in the spring of 1861 when Virginia seceded from the Union. The Big Sandy River and the Tug Fork became part of the Confederacy's western border and a fault line in the division among the states. On one bank was Kentucky, which stayed neutral but would go Union the next year. On the other was a portion of Virginia that would become part of West Virginia and a Union state in 1863, although many of its people would remain fiercely Confederate. Mixed sentiments persisted on both sides of the river, but it was a decisive border, cutting families like a saber. Almost all of the Hatfields and McCoys on the Virginia side of the river stood with the Confederacy, and almost all of the Hatfields and McCoys on the Kentucky side went with the Union. Randall McCoy was an exception. His Virginia ties ran deep. He chose the Confederacy.
By the fall of 1861, when Union colonel and future president James A. Garfield maneuvered his Eighteenth Brigade into the Kentucky side of the Tug Valley to secure strategic troves of salt, iron ore, timber, and coal, the larger conflict had rent the social fabric of this section of the Appalachians. Here, in the nation's oldest mountains, amid some of its most convoluted and confounding terrain, the war was personal and ignited rampant raiding and feuding. The families on either side knew the enemy, and more than any patriotic feeling, their own honor was at stake, because in these parts a man simply did not allow another man to tell him what to do or take anything from him. Here, where most people lived hand to mouth, his family's survival was at stake.
The men who lived in these mountains had learned to fight from the Indians and had honed their craft of wilderness warfare—defending, tracking, ambushing, killing—and used it against them, until they had secured the place for themselves. They had a shoot-first, ask-questions-later mentality. They wrestled and fought for fun. Now they turned their sights on each other, and they excelled at the bloodletting.
Excerpted from The Feud by Dean King. Copyright © 2014 Dean King. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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