America's Biggest Feud Hatfields and McCoys Part 2

About the history of America's biggest feud between the Hatfield and the McCoys in the southern United States


The general area in which the feud occurred, some of the roughest terrain in the U.S., became of early interest to both the Union and Confederacy because of the forests and mineral wealth centered there. Troops were poured early into the Great Kanawha basin, where the resources were most highly concentrated, the Northerners coming in by way of the Ohio River and the Southerners across the mountains from the east. Along the Tug, the division of sentiment was strong. One resident foresaw the effect this would have upon the people, and he made an accurate prediction in a contemporary letter: "Border quarrels will always occur and reprisals will be made. That will lead to hostile incursions, and that to a border warfare, so that war in fact will exist, though no war be declared."

By 1863, the border warfare foreseen was in full swing. Guerrilla bands swarmed through the mountains. Prominent among them were the Hatfields and McCoys.

One of the most feared bands on the West Virginia side was led by Devil Anse. At the start of the war he had fought with the militia. The following year he enlisted in the Confederate Army and became a first lieutenant of Company A, 45th Virginia Infantry. In 1863, after reaching the rank of captain, he left the regular service and became engaged in the independent border warfare.

One victim of these independent activities was Harmon McCoy, brother of Randolph. The day his body was found in a cave near the Hatfield home, hostility between the two families and in the areas on each side of Tug Fork took on new meaning. His slayer was unidentified, but neighbors remembered that he once had been wounded in an exchange of shots with Devil Anse. His death, they knew, would not be ignored, for the end of the Civil War and the cessation of hostilities between the two opposing armies would have little effect on the hatred building up between the Hatfields and McCoys.

Though the years immediately following the war were free of shootings, the ill feeling continued to mount. Meanwhile, the family of Devil Anse, who had married less than a week after the war started, increased rapidly. During the same period, Randolph McCoy added two new faces to his large family. As the children grew, they absorbed the animosity felt by their parents toward their respective neighbors across Tug Fork, and, if anything, this hatred was magnified in the minds of the young. Often in later years it was said that Devil Anse's second son, named for the father but more commonly called "Cap," was the ringleader carrying on the feud. Another die-hard was Devil Anse's uncle, old Jim Vance, the most ruthless of all the feudists and suspected by some of his neighbors as being the killer of Harmon McCoy.

Both sides undoubtedly knew that the strained situation along the Tug could not go on forever and that in time there would be violence. No one, however, suspected that it would be triggered by a hog, of the lean, razorback variety which the various families permitted to roam free about the fields and woods. Ownership was usually indicated by oddly shaped marks in their ears.

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