The Hatfield–McCoy feud, or the McCoy-Hatfield feud or the Hatfield–McCoy war as some papers at the time called it, involved two rural families of the West Virginia–Kentucky area along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River in the years 1863–1891. The Hatfields of West Virginia were led by William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield while the McCoys of Kentucky were under the leadership of Randolph "Ole Ran'l" McCoy.
Those involved in the feud were descended from Ephraim Hatfield (born c. 1765) and William McCoy (born c. 1750). The feud has entered the American folklore lexicon as a metonym for any bitterly feuding rival parties. More than a century later, the feud has become synonymous with the perils of family honor, justice, and revenge.
William McCoy, the patriarch of the McCoys, was born in Ireland around 1750 and many of his ancestors hailed from Scotland. The family, led by grandson Randolph McCoy, lived mostly on the Kentucky side of Tug Fork (a tributary of the Big Sandy River). The Hatfields, led by William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield, son of Ephraim and Nancy (Vance) Hatfield, lived mostly on the West Virginia side. The majority of the Hatfields, although living in Mingo County (then part of Logan County), West Virginia, fought on the Confederate side in the American Civil War; most McCoys, living in Pike County, Kentucky, also fought for the Confederacy; with the exception of Asa Harmon McCoy, who fought for the Union.
The first real violence in the feud was the death of Asa Harmon McCoy as he returned from the war, murdered by a group of Confederate Home Guards called the Logan Wildcats. Devil Anse Hatfield was a suspect at first, but was later confirmed to have been sick at home at the time of the murder. It was widely believed that his uncle, Jim Vance, a member of the Wildcats, committed the murder.
The Hatfields were more affluent than the McCoys and were well-connected politically. Devil Anse Hatfield's timbering operation was a source of wealth for his family, while the McCoys were more of a lower-middle-class family. Ole Ran'l owned a 300-acre farm. Both families have also been involved in the manufacturing and selling of illegal moonshine. Before and during the feud, the two families had intermarried and sometimes even switched family loyalties once the feud began.
The 19th century rivalry between two West Virginia clans has become the most famous family feud in American history. Correspondent Rita Braver spoke with descendants from both sides to help navigate the historic battle's countless myths and tall tales to find the truth.