Hatfield-McCoy feud may predate American history
by By WILLIAM WRIGHT Lifestyles Editor
Aug 26, 2012 | 7284 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CAROLYN RIDDLE and her daughter Joy Benson, left, belong to the famous Hatfield clan whose world-famous feud with the McCoys has been turned into everything from movies and music to novels and tour trails. Riddle, the daughter of Elizabeth Hatfield, whose grandfather was a fourth cousin to “Devil Anse” Hatfield, said the family traced their roots back to England.
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The Hatfields and McCoys’ bitter feud made a lasting impression on American folklore and history, but there remains another side to the story that deserves more attention, according to Carolyn Riddle, the 75-year-old daughter of Elizabeth Hatfield.

Riddle and her daughter, Joy Benson, residents of Georgetown, pulled back another layer of the Hatfield history and shared where they stand on the Hatfield-McCoy legacy today.

Riddle, who was born in Chattanooga, said she recently discovered through a relative researching the Hatfield ancestry that the family bloodline can be traced back to Hatfield, England.

“My second cousin has been tracing back the Hatfields and he has gone back to 1120 (A.D.),” Riddle said. “They came from East Hatfield, England. The first one was Be Be. He was called Be Be of Hatfield. Back then you may not have had a last name. You were just of a certain town. Then down through the years Hatfield became the last name when we started to immigrate. That’s as far back as our family has gone so far.”

This discovery supports the possibility that the bad blood between the Hatfields and McCoys may have started during the English Revolution when the McCoys (of Scottish origin) supported King Charles I and the Hatfields took the side of Oliver Cromwell, an English military commander and political leader, during the 17th century English Civil War.

Riddle presented a 34-year-old article written in a Texas newspaper — The Odessa American — about her mother, Elizabeth Hatfield Johnston, whose grandfather was the fourth cousin to the Hatfield clan’s leader, William Anderson Hatfield, better known as “Devil Anse.” The article stated, “Some say the feud began in England when the Hatfields supported Cromwell and the McCoys supported the monarchy.”

“Mother is gone now, but they lived in Odessa, Texas, when this piece was done,” Riddle said. “This tells the story of how it happened and what happened.”

If proof of such a link can be established, the Hatfield-McCoy feud may predate American history as the longest running family feud to ever cross continents.

“Our family tree now covers an entire wall from top to bottom, and it is not even complete with the last two generations,” Riddle said. According to Riddle, Julius Hatfield, her mother’s cousin from Soddy-Daisy, went to Kentucky and West Virginia researching the history of the Hatfields. Riddle shared what she discovered and the interview her mother had with The Odessa American, which ran Nov. 19, 1978, and was written by staff writer Jim Watts.

“You hear all kinds of stories that it was over this and it was over that — actually, it was over politics,” Riddle insist. “The Hatfields were wealthier. One of them was a judge. They were into politics and you know how politics is. Yes, I’ve heard stories about the stolen hog and there may have been one because they notched the ears and numbered them, then they let them run wild. I’m not saying somebody did not have someone else’s hog.

“But what it actually comes down to more than anything else was politics. In other words, back in those days, on election day the women would make gingerbread and the men would bring moonshine. That’s how they got your vote. If that was not your voting district, you had no business there eating the gingerbread and taking the moonshine. But some people would. Some people would cross the Tug River from Kentucky to West Virginia and spend the day there with all the frivolity going on with the gingerbread and the liquor — getting drunk. They may even cast a vote. It was politics.”

Riddle refers to the The Odessa American article which states, “The Hatfields were notorious for coming across the Tug into West Virginia where they would eat the gingerbread prepared by all the candidates’ supporters, in violation of the unspoken law that one only ate the gingerbread of a man whom one supported, and the Hatfields could not vote in Kentucky.”

The article went on to say, “Ellison Hatfield, Devil Anse’s brother, had come across the tug to watch the elections and sample the gingerbread and whiskey when a McCoy took offense at one of his jests. Ellison was jumped by three of the McCoys, who didn’t get off until Hatfield had been cut 26 times and shot once.”

His death set the stage for one of the bloodiest episodes in the Hatfield-McCoy legacy — a legendary family feud that spanned decades and nearly launched a war between Kentucky and West Virginia. It also launched a recent three-part miniseries starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton on the History Channel that recaptured the bitter violence and sparked new interest in the feud.

“It’s just such a great story that’s been told throughout the years,” Riddle said. “It’s always interesting and fascinating to think of what happened in the past. People all over the world know about it. Right now there’s a fad going around since that movie came out.”

Benson said she thought the History Channel miniseries about their families was well done and mostly accurate, but understood “some things were changed to make it interesting for TV.”

Although some believe it all began on the West Virginia-Kentucky border, in the wake of the Civil War, where Asa Harmon McCoy had sided with the Union and most in that area — including “Devil Anse” and Randall “Ole Ran” McCoy — had fought for the Confederacy. While Asa McCoy may have been viewed as serving on the “wrong side” of the Civil War, some historians claim his death on Jan. 7, 1865, was not viewed as starting the feud, though it may have kindled animosities.

In 1878, the conflict escalated when Randolph McCoy’s cousin Perry Cline lost 5,000 acres to Devil Anse Hatfield in the Cline-Hatfield timber court case in which both men held title to the land. Hatfield brought a civil suit against Cline and won in what was seen by the McCoys as a Hatfield-friendly court. A few months after the verdict, Randall McCoy accused Devil Anse’s cousin, Floyd Hatfield, of stealing his hog. Favorable testimony by Bill Staton — a McCoy married to a Hatfield — cleared Floyd. The ruling further inflamed the feud.

Then in June 1880, Sam and Paris McCoy killed Staton, claiming self-defense, and were acquitted in the murder trial. That same year, Johnse Hatfield, son of Devil Anse, started courting Roseanna McCoy, daughter of Randolph. She moved in with the Hatfields, but Johnse dumped his pregnant girlfriend and married her cousin, Nancy McCoy, creating even more bad blood.

Some historians who documented the Hatfield-McCoy feud believe the hostilities were never about just one incident, but rather were the product of escalating grievances that included politics, land disputes, pig theft, broken romances and murder. To this day, no one can say for certain exactly how many deaths resulted from the family feud. Estimates range from 13 to 200, although fewer than 20 can be verified through records. Those involved in the feud were descended from Ephraim Hatfield (born c. 1765) and William McCoy (born c. 1750).

Historians say descendants of both men went on to honor their states and nation as governors, educators and physicians. Although they ended the feud in 1891 and shook hands in 1976, it was June 14, 2003, that marked the official end to the Hatfields and McCoys’ feud when the families signed a truce, in an event broadcast by the The Saturday Early Show. Reo Hatfield of Waynesboro, Va., is credited with the official idea of creating a truce for the Hatfields and McCoys.

He and Bo McCoy drafted a treaty that proclaimed the families “do hereby and formally declare an official end to all hostilities, implied, inferred and real, between the families, now and forevermore.”

Riddle read from the 1978 Odessa American article regarding the 1976 truce, adding, “This was two days before my mother’s 70th birthday when this came out. But it says, ‘A ceremony two years ago on the battleground border area of Kentucky and West Virginia officially buried the feud, a ceremony Mrs. Johnston’ — that was my mother — ‘wanted to attend but couldn’t.’

“‘I wouldn’t let her,’ Mr. Johnston said. I was looking for a massacre, but it went over peacefully.’”

Riddle started laughing. “I could just see Daddy saying that,” she said. “He didn’t know what might happen when they actually got together to bury the hatchet. But just like it says here (in the article), ‘Despite fighting, children of two sides fell in love,’ — and love will conquer all.”

When asked how they personally felt about the McCoys, Riddle, who is related to the Hatfields of Mingo County, W. Va., said, “Anything that has ever happened in any way — I don’t care if it was a McCoy or whoever it was — to me it has been forgiven.”

Benson added, “We have no hard feelings towards anyone. I use to work with a McCoy and we got along fine.”

Riddle said she and her daughter are in agreement with the words of Ephesians 4:31-32, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

“Mother was born on Mowbray Mountain out from Soddy-Daisy,” Riddle said. “Her dad, William Brown Hatfield, was a coal miner and a Pentecostal minister. He was educated at a boys’ academy over in Sequatchie County. We were taught to love, not hate. In fact, we just had a Hatfield reunion the first Sunday of August.”