According to most historical accounts, the real turning point in the Hatfield & McCoy feud, occurred on the local election day in August 1882.
Three of Randall McCoy’s sons—Tolbert, Pharmer, and Randall Jr.—ended up in a dispute with two brothers of Devil Anse. The Hatfield brothers, Elias (also known as “Bad Lias”) and Ellison, had gone to the election site to socialize.
Men on both sides were reported to have been drinking heavily. Tolbert McCoy confronted Bad Lias over a small amount of money he said Lias owed him for a fiddle.
The confrontation turned into a brawl—the three McCoy brothers and Lias and Ellison Hatfield ended up in a blood-soaked clash. The election-day fight snowballed into chaos as one of the McCoy brothers stabbed Ellison Hatfield multiple times and then shot him in the back. All three McCoy brothers ran from the scene.
The Hatfields rushed to try to save Ellison, who was taken on a makeshift stretcher to the home of a local man and then later back to Logan County.
Meanwhile, Kentucky authorities apprehended the McCoys. Devil Anse called together a group of supporters who found the McCoys and captured them from the guards. After reportedly threatening to kill the brothers if any of the other McCoys intervened, the Hatfields forced the brothers into a skiff and took them across the Tug River into West Virginia.
Sally (Sarah) McCoy, mother of the McCoy boys, arrived at the schoolhouse and begged the Hatfields for mercy. The Hatfields allowed her to see her sons, and she and her daughter-in-law Mary Butcher (Tolbert’s wife) sobbed and pleaded with the Hatfields for their release. Devil Anse Hatfield assured Sarah, that he would return her boys to Kentucky alive.
Shortly thereafter, the Hatfields received word that Ellison had succumbed to his wounds. Incensed and seeking revenge, the Hatfields transported the McCoy boys back to Kentucky, alive as promised, but then bound them to some pawpaw bushes near the river bank. Within minutes, they fired more than 50 shots, killing all three brothers.
Though the Hatfields might have felt their revenge was warranted, Judge George Brown of the Pike County Circuit Court on the Kentucky side of the river assembled a grand jury that returned indictments against 20 men, including Devil Anse Hatfield, two of his brothers, his sons Johnse and Cap, Selkirk McCoy (a Hatfield friend), and several other men.
Despite the charges, the Hatfields eluded arrest. They usually traveled in well-armed bands if and when they entered Kentucky. At the time, the authorities had little interest in over-stepping their jurisdiction to hunt down the Hatfields on their home turf.
Perry Cline, a Pikeville attorney, and Kentucky State Legislator, who was brother to Martha McCoy, the widow of Randall’s brother Asa Harmon, decided to pursue the case against the Hatfields in 1886 after the Hatfields killed his nephew Jeff McCoy. He was joined in his mission by Pike County Deputy Sheriff “Bad” Frank Phillips, a volatile local private detective who had a reputation for being a heavy drinker with a violent streak.
Using his political connections with Kentucky Gov. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Cline pursued the charges against the Hatfields; he announced rewards for the arrest of the Hatfields, including Devil Anse.
Meanwhile, West Virginia Gov. E. Willis Wilson wavered on whether to cooperate with Kentucky authorities and allow them to hunt down and arrest the Hatfields in West Virginia based on their original indictments.
He finally decided against allowing them to invade his state, claiming they did not have proper extradition papers, but by that time Phillips and other bounty hunters were even more determined to jail the Hatfields.
This angered the West Virginia Governor so much, some thought there was going to be a civil war between the two states, as both states called up their military to intervene.
Previous caches at this location - GC3FG9F "Pawpaw Tree Incident" which was generously archived by TugValleyAreaCachers for inclusion of the site in the Hatfield McCoy geotrail.
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