Hark Hatfield, 73, and his wife, who was Ollie McCoy, sit quietly in the sun

Life Magazine, May 22, 1944
The Hatfield-McCoy feud is celebrated in song and legend, but surprisingly few authentic facts have been written about it. The surviving Hatfields and McCoys are close-mouthed mountain folk who do not kill each other any more, but dislike talking to strangers. However, Miss Jean Thomas of Ashland, Ky. has lived among them for years, talked with some of the leading feudists, and checked the few legal records that exist. With her aid LIFE Photographer Walter Sanders recently visited the Hatfields and McCoys in their remote homes. He brought back pictorial evidence that their cruel and bloody feud was no myth, but an actual page of U.S. folk history.

[Note: Jean Thomas has written several articles about the feud. Some, including this one, contain information that has not been verified or proved.]

The Hatfields were, and still are, mountain farmers on the West Virginia side of Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River (see p.113). The McCoys were large landowners on the Kentucky side of the same stream. During the Civil War young Anderson ("Devil Anse") Hatfield, fighting with the Confederates, killed Harmon McCoy, a Union man, in battle. He came home a Confederate captain and quarreled again with Randall McCoy, Harmon's kin, over a stolen pig.

Then Devil Anse's oldest son, Jonse, brought Randall McCoy's pretty daughter Rosanna home from an Election Day picnic. His father wouldn't allow a marriage, but they lived together anyway. After that, it was open war. The McCoys caught Ellison Hatfield, Anse's brother and stabbed him fatally. Anse retaliated by tying three young McCoys to bushes beside the river and murdering them the moment he heard that Ellison was dead. One day Captain Hatfield and his clan rode boldly up to Randall McCoy's house in Kentucky, killed his 15-year-old daughter Allifair McCoy and burned the house down. A reward was offered for him, dead or alive. There were ambushes in the woods in which many men were killed, but Devil Anse lived safely behind a drawbridge in his mountain valley home. Only one feudist ("Cotton Top" Mounts, a Hatfield cousin) was ever hanged. Last killing was in 1896, but by that time Devil Anse had been converted, baptized and was living respectably on money from his coal lands (see below).

Captain "Devil Anse" Hatfield ordered this $3,000 marble statue of himself carved in Italy, and had it hauled up the mountainside by mules to a spot he picked because it was "nice and dry" for graves. He died in 1921, at the age of 83, with a clear and forgiving conscience. His great enemy, Randall McCoy, died before him, still full of bitterness. He once said that Anderson Hatfield was "six foot of devil and 180 pounds of hell." The man and boy looking at the statue are Devil Anse's son Joe, a former sheriff of Logan County, and grandson Willie Joe, aged 4.

Bud and Rhoda McCoy posed for the picture at left on the day they were married, Sept. 17, 1907. When Photographer Sanders visited them this spring they went outside and struck the same pose for the picture at right. Bud is the grandson of Harmon McCoy, killed in the Civil War, and a son of Lark McCoy, who played a leading part in the duel (see p. 108). He was too young to kill Hatfields during the family war and has no ill will toward them now. He works in a near-by coal mine and likes to play the banjo and sing hymns with his wife after supper.

Joe D. Hatfield holds up the shirt worn by his uncle Ellison on the day he was killed by three McCoys. There are 26 knife holes in it. The three McCoys were killed the same day; one of them, Little Randall, 15, was told to beg for his life but replied, "Go to hell," and was shot. L. Lawson Hatfield squats inside an old hollow tree which was long known as the "stink tree," where Hatfields were said to have stuffed dead bodies. (Usually they let them lie.) Devil Anse never repented his killings; he told Miss Thomas; "A man has a right to protect his family."

Devil Anse's home and hideout was in this little West Virginia valley, protected by mountains in rear and in front by Island Creek and a wooden drawbridge (now replaced by the flat bridge shown above). Once a detective got across the drawbridge, captured nothing but a free meal on the porch.
The Bud McCoys, whose wedding picture is printed on page 109, live in cottage beside Norfolk & Western R.R. tracks. Below, a quilting bee in the home of Frank McCoy, Bud's brother. Two large stars in the upper corners are inscribed to the memory of Devil Anse Hatfiled and Harmon McCoy.
Frank McCoy stands on the swinging bridge leading to his home on Peter Creek. He has a gun in his hand, but welcomes visitors. Frank married a girl named America Hatfield, is glad the "trouble" is over. "It ain't right to kill innocent women," he said.
"Dornick" gravestone of Cal McCoy, killed by Hatfields at the time of the "houseburning scrape." Dornicks are natural slabs of stone which are set up without aid of a professional stonecutter. This is only known grave of a McCoy victim in feud.

Tug Fork is a little stream which divides West Virginia (left) from Kentucky (right). Near this spot three McCoys - Tolbert, Phemar and Little Randall - were tied to pawpaw bushes and killed in cold blood to revenge the stabbing of Ellison Hatfield
Grapevine Creek now runs under a railroad culvert (above) before it flows into Tug Fork (background). On this exact spot Lark McCoy (see next page) and some of his friends ambushed about 40 members of the Hatfield clan one day, killed 14 of them.
Thacker Creek winds through a valley in the shadow of Thacker Mountain (background), now a coal-producing center. "Devil Anse" Hatfield and five of his men were ambushed here by a posse of 42. They shot 17 of them and drove the rest off.

Captain Anderson (Devil Anse) Hatfield had not killed a man for over 20 years when he sat for this portrait in 1911. He was then 74, rich, religious, and had been mentioned for State Legislature. He paid Artist Henry Craven $75 for the picture.
Lark McCoy and his wife Mary Elizabeth posed for this photograph in 1904. Lark's father, Harmon McCoy, was killed in the Civil War by Captain Hatfield, while fighting on opposite sides. Lark killed plenty of Hatfields, but died naturally in 1937.
Bud McCoy, uncle of the Bud McCoy shown on page 109, was wounded in Civil War but lived to take an active part in the great feud. One day he was waylaid by two cousins who had "gone over" to the Hatfields, and shot 16 times. That finished him.

Hatfields and McCoys now fight together in the Army, work together in mines and factories in their oldtime feuding territory. Above: Shirley Hatfield, 17 (left), and Mrs. Frankie McCoy Wellman, who make uniforms at a plant in Huntington, W.Va.
Hatfield kids (left) and McCoys (right) have a tug of war in yard of the Matewan school. Present-day Hatfields and McCoys are law-abiding, religious folk who rarely discuss feud. "The trouble is all past and forgot," they told Photographer Sanders.

The above photographs and text courtesy of Life Magazine


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