Family Conflict: The Hatfields & McCoys

Family Conflict: The Hatfields & McCoys

by Bill High

Have you ever heard of the Hatfields and McCoys? If you think your family struggles with conflict, listen to their story.

Some might think of their names as a comical reference to hillbilly feuding families. But the Hatfields and McCoys is a real story.

The Story Begins

William Anderson Hatfield, known as “Devil Anse,” was a West Virginian mountain dweller. By the 1870s, he became a successful timber retailer. On the other side, Randolph McCoy owned land and livestock. Both families lived along the Big Sandy River, which ran between Kentucky and West Virginia.

In 1865, Randolph’s brother Asa McCoy was murdered by a local militia group. The Hatfields were members of that group.

Thirteen years later, Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield, a cousin of Devil, of stealing one of his pigs. Floyd was acquitted when the star witness, Bill Staton, a McCoy relative married to a Hatfield, testified in Floyd’s favor. Staton was later killed in a dispute with Sam and Paris McCoy, two nephews of Randolph.

In 1880, Johnse Hatfield, an 18-year-old son of Devil, romantically pursued Roseanna McCoy, Randolph’s daughter. Johnse later abandoned a pregnant Roseanna and in May 1881 he married Nancy McCoy, Roseanna’s cousin.

In 1882, three of Randolph’s sons ended up in a fight with two brothers of Devil. One of the McCoy brothers stabbed one of the Hatfields and shot him in the back. The Hatfields captured the three McCoy brothers and killed all three—their bodies riddled with more than 50 bullets.

By 1887, the media began to report on the ongoing feud.

That same year, a group of Hatfield men ambushed the McCoy home on New Year’s Day. Two of McCoy’s children were killed in the battle. A bounty hunter chased down the Hatfields and managed to kill one of them. In all, nine Hatfields were rounded up and held for trial—ultimately, the case with all of its legal maneuverings ended up in the United States Supreme Court. (“The Hatfield & McCoy Feud,”

In 1891, the family agreed to stop fighting. In 2003, the families signed an official truce.

By the feud’s end, there were 12 deaths between the two families.

A Lesson for Today

No one really remembers how the dispute started. Along the way, mounting incidents contributed to the fire, but few contributed to its dousing. That is, until time and tragedies wove their eventual end.

While the Hatfield McCoy feud became the stuff of legend, it holds lessons for families today. What are we doing to make peace? Are our actions contributing to the conflict or to the resolution?

Are you building an intentional family legacy? Take the Family Legacy Assessment to find out.


Photo by Dawn Gaddis on Unsplash.

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Published July 4, 2022

Topics: Family Legacy | Lessons with Bill

Family CommunicationFamily LegacyFamily StoriesMulti-Generational

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