Although tensions existed prior to the Civil War, the first recorded outbreak of violence between the two families occurred in January of 1865, when returning Union soldier Asa Harmon McCoy was murdered.
Members of each family had been active participants in the Civil War, but Asa Harmon McCoy opted to fight for Union forces.
Devil Anse, on the other hand, was a strong Southern sympathizer, even leading a band of local guerrilla fighters known as the “Logan Wildcats.” When Harmon returned home from the war due to a broken leg, he received numerous threats from the Wildcats.
Heeding the warnings, he sought refugee in a nearby cave; despite receiving daily food and aid from his former slave, he was eventually discovered and murdered. Devil Anse, infirm at the time of the murder, was never charged with anything. No one was.
Other incidents later followed. In 1878, the Hatfields and McCoys went to the justice of the peace over a debate about a pig; the Hatfields believed it belonged to them since it was on their land, while the McCoys claimed original ownership.
The matter was settled when Bill Staton, who was related to both families, gave testimony favoring the Hatfields, who later won the case. Staton, however, wasn’t so lucky; two years later, he would be killed by Sam and Paris McCoy, who claimed self-defense in the matter. West Virginia courts agreed and the two were released.
Around the same time, a McCoy daughter named Roseanna became involved with Devil Anse’s son, Johnson, even living with him for a time. She became pregnant, but returned to her family, abandoned by Johnson, who would go on to marry her cousin just a few months later.
After the Roseanne-Johnson debacle, tensions between the families reached new, more violent heights.
Ellison Hatfield was killed by three of Roseanna’s brothers, who stabbed him 26 times during an election day fight that got out of hand.
Devil Anse & Co. returned the favor, viciously shooting three McCoy brothers after Ellison passed away.
The violence culminated in 1888 with the so-called “New Years Night Massacre,” when several members of the Hatfield family drove the McCoy family from their home with fire and attacked those who fled. Two children of Randolph and Sarah were shot to death and Sarah was left for dead after she had been beaten in the head with a rifle by Johnse Hatfield.
At this time, given state-border issues, the U.S. Supreme Court became involved in what had been a local issue. Newspapers across the nation were splashed with lurid details about the matter and people were transfixed by the feud.
Nine men were eventually brought to trial in Kentucky and convicted; eight received life sentences, while Ellison Mounts was sentenced to hang. Thousands attended the hanging.
In 1891, the families unofficially agree to stop fighting and many members moved away.
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