Altina Waller, author of the book Feud, argues that the reason for the famous feud between the Hatfield’s and McCoys was an isolated reaction of a community going through social change. She summarily rejects the theories of the feud as an inherited family conflict and of the feud as a response to coal and railroad industries in particular (as opposed to industry in general). Waller states that prior to Devil Anse Hatfield and Old Ranel McCoy, previous generations had no existing grudges. Also, the families frequently intermarried, and at least one McCoy was on the side of the Hatfield’s during the feud. Thus, the feud could not be an inherited condition. Furthermore, the feud began ten years before the first railroad surveyors showed up in the Tug River Valley, so the rail and coal industry cannot be held responsible for the feud.
The first phase of the feud occurred due to a rise in the timber industry (led by Devil Anse) and the limited amount of arable land – which gave rise to a sub-class of discontented young men with reputations as brawlers and drinkers. Because of the timber industry, Devil Anse was able to acquire the land of Perry Cline, earning the enmity of Old Ranel, a friend of Cline’s. This in turn led to Ranel suing Floyd Hatfield, one of Anse’s timber crew for the theft of a hog. All the events thus far are the results of new industry on the Appalachian people. When Ranel lost the case, it was his nephews, Sam and Paris, who turned to violence. As background to this, Sam and Paris were the sons of farm laborer Samuel McCoy, and thus stood no chance of inheriting land – they were another example of the discontented sub-class mentioned above. The loss at the trial gave them something to fix their feelings of angst upon the Hatfields. Shortly thereafter, Sam and Paris murdered Bill Stanton, a relative of the McCoys who testified for Floyd Hatfield in the hog trial. This is a clear example of evidence corroborating Waller’s thesis. The next example of feud violence occurred on the infamous election day, when three of Ranel’s sons became involved in a fight with Ellison Hatfield, who died days later from the wounds he received. In retaliation, Devil Anse executed the three boys who had been involved in the brawl.
So far, all of the violence, with the exception of Anse’s one act, was committed by the disenchanted boys of the Tug River Valley who had no future and nothing better to do. The fact that the Hatfields were the target of the violence is due to the timber industry. Anse acquired land when Cline began trespassing for timber, and he became wealthy due to the acquisition of that. Had these things not occurred with the result of a much different out come.
The second phase of the feud, according to Waller, occurred because of intervention of outside forces. Perry Cline, still sore over the loss of his inheritance, used his status in Pikeville to revive the indictments against Devil Anse for the killing of the three McCoy boys. Due to the environment of the times, which boded several other feuds, one can guess they were caused by similar circumstances, the governor and stated officials were killing to listen to Cline’s arguments. A new railroad being built in the area was being held up due to the mountaineers, and if Anse could be made an example of, the rest might fall in line. Again, the ultimate source of the animosity can be traced back to the timber industry.
Altina Waller had no problem supporting her argument with much detail. I never expected there to be this much documentation on an event like this. So much time and research made this book reach out and pull the reader into whichever character’s life was being discussed. She added a few charts and pictures to the book which gave a better understanding of a few things: Devil Anse’s employees, and whether they were kin to the Hatfields or not, population changes in Pike and Logan counties, and what the feudist looked like. When I think of family feuds, I think about the same thing everyone else does. I picture men and women with guns killing anyone not of kin to them, children learning how to fight just after they have mastered walking, and the families getting revenge through death not through the courts. Waller proved that belief wrong. Sure, sometimes there were killings of revenge, but only a few compared to the high numbers that I always thought to be true. She showed us that these people did have a peaceful and lawful side to them.
This book introduced me to a new piece of American History during the post-Civil War years that I didn’t know about. I also see from this that any other isolated regions of the country, I’m sure, went through similar problems.