America's Biggest Feud Hatfields and McCoys Part 4

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


Now, with fresh anger, each side awaited its chance. The McCoys began the action. It was well known that the grand jury of Pike County had returned an indictment against Devil Anse's oldest son, Johnson, called Johnse, for selling moonshine whiskey in Kentucky. Tolbert McCoy, son of Randolph, got himself deputized and, with the aid of his brothers, Jim and Phamer, captured Johnse and headed with him for the jail at Pikeville. En route, Devil Anse, apprised of what was happening, overtook them and, supported by some of his clansmen, freed the prisoner.

Johnse now got his revenge in a manner that was surprising to both sides. Elections were great occasions in the mountains. Those in eastern Kentucky were especially exciting because they were attended by the Hatfields, even though many of them, as West Virginia residents, could not vote. These gatherings gave families an opportunity to escape their loneliness, so they made the most of it. Baskets of food and jugs of moonshine were in ample evidence. Votes frequently were swayed by the quantity of mountain dew poured.

At one of these gatherings in 1880, Johnse, the dandy of the neighborhood, watched a McCoy ride up on a horse with a teenage, black-haired girl behind him. He learned her name was Rose Anne, or Roseanna to the mountaineers, and that she was Randolph's daughter. He soon was in conversation with her, and in time led her away from the election party.

The day was surprisingly free of angry spats, fistfights, and shootings. But there appeared to be no doubt of a renewal of hostilities when it was learned that Johnse had taken Roseanna home to live with him--not as his wife by marriage, for Devil Anse refused to permit such a tie, maintaining he wanted none of the blood of his archenemy, Randolph McCoy, mixed with his family. The McCoys sulked, swelled with increasing hate.

Roseanna eventually returned to her home, but her father's nagging, coupled with the circumstances that caused her to be shut off from Johnse, induced her to slip away to the home of an aunt at Stringtown. There she often was joined by Johnse, and there one night he was surprised and captured by the McCoys. They let it be known that they planned to take their prisoner to Pikeville, where they would turn him over to the law to answer the many indictments against him.

As they departed, Roseanna did a thing that endeared her to the Hatfields. She ran to a neighbor's home, borrowed a horse, and rode bareback to tell Johnse's family what was happening.

Devil Anse sat that night with his brother, Elias, whose son, Henry D., one day would become governor of West Virginia and later a U.S. senator. Though Elias was a serious-minded man, a lover of peace, the family ties were stronger. He went reluctantly with Anse and other clansmen by a shortcut through the mountains to overtake the McCoys. Again the side with the most guns triumphed. Johnse not only was released, but the leader of the Hatfields prankishly made the McCoys get down on their knees and pray.

The feud reached a peak on Aug. 7, 1882. That day a special election was held in Kentucky, to vote for county and state officers and an increase in the school tax. Hatfields and McCoys showed up early at the polls along Blackberry Creek, and it was soon evident that some of them carried grudges. Whiskey jugs scarcely had been tilted before Tolbert McCoy picked a fight with Preacher Anse's brother, "Bad 'lias," who he claimed owed him money for a fiddle. It was the preacher who intervened and quieted the ruckus.

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