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Unlike previous accounts, King's begins in the mid-nineteenth century, when the Hatfields and McCoys lived side-by-side in relative harmony. Theirs was a hardscrabble life of farming and hunting, timbering and moonshining-and raising large and boisterous families-in the rugged hollows and hills of Virginia and Kentucky. Cut off from much of the outside world, these descendants of Scots-Irish and English pioneers spoke a language many Americans would find hard to understand. Yet contrary to popular belief, the Hatfields and McCoys were established and influential landowners who had intermarried and worked together for decades.
When the Civil War came, and the outside world crashed into their lives, family members were forced to choose sides. After the war, the lines that had been drawn remained-and the violence not only lived on but became personal. By the time the fury finally subsided, a dozen family members would be in the grave. The hostilities grew to be a national spectacle, and the cycle of killing, kidnapping, stalking by bounty hunters, and skirmishing between governors spawned a legal battle that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court and still influences us today.
Filled with bitter quarrels, reckless affairs, treacherous betrayals, relentless mercenaries, and courageous detectives, THE FEUDis the riveting story of two frontier families struggling for survival within the narrow confines of an unforgiving land. It is a formative American tale, and in it, we see the reflection of our own family bonds and the lengths to which we might go in order to defend our honor, our loyalties, and our livelihood.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-03-04
- Reviewer: Staff
The late 19th-century feud between two families in southern Appalachia has taken on near-mythic proportions—it’s spawned numerous TV shows and films, it’s been immortalized in song by Waylon Jennings, and the phrase “fighting like the Hatfields and McCoys” has become common. In this fast-paced tale, journalist King (Skeletons on the Zahara) draws on previously unseen materials to recreate the fascinating and lurid tale (“squirrel meat and white lightning” are traded at least once for sex) of the star-crossed families and their colorful patriarchs, Devil Anse Hatfield, who kept bears as pets, and Randall McCoy. Antebellum relations between the clans were harmonious, but the declaration of Civil War loyalties set the scythe swinging. King points out that many factors likely contributed to the feud, among them a Hatfield killing young Harmon McCoy near the war’s end, the accusation of hog theft leveled at a Hatfield by Randall, and Devil Anse’s son Johnse’s romance with Roseanna McCoy. Ultimately, the dispute would claim a dozen lives—the last a result of a Supreme Court decision that led to the execution of Ellison “Cotton Top” Mounts for his role in the murder of Alifair McCoy several years prior. King’s entertaining chronicle sheds new light on a legendary chapter in American history. 20 b&w photos, 1 map. Agent: Jody Rein, Jody Rein Books. (May)
The final word on the Hatfields and McCoys
“What!” you gasp with mouth agape. “Another Hatfield-McCoy saga?” Yes, but The Feud attempts to tie up all the loose ends—a monumental task, indeed, since so much of the convoluted story had to be gleaned from second-, third- and fourth-hand accounts (many wreathed in family biases), wildly inaccurate newspaper reports and incomplete public records.
To bring some semblance of order to this conflict that began at the end of the Civil War and concluded at the turn of the 20th century, author Dean King provides a series of Hatfield and McCoy family-tree charts, each with the relevant names X-ed out as the feud proceeds. These charts serve as graphic representations of how much more effective at assassination the West Virginia-based Hatfields were than their Kentucky-dwelling adversaries. They also kept better records.
As King points out, there was no single flashpoint that set off the feud. Nor did it continue at a steady and unrelenting pace. To be sure, some of the animosity stemmed from the fact that the Hatfields fought for the Confederacy and the McCoys for the Union. But there were substantial clashes as well over the ownership of livestock, the conduct of elections and real or perceived personal insults. Whatever the latest affront, both sides were consumed with the concept of getting even. The most romanticized element of the conflict—the relatively brief love affair between Johnse Hatfield and Roseanna McCoy—was, according to King, a fairly inconsequential episode in the overall scheme of things.
King also sets this story in a broader historical context. Besides chronicling the feud proper, he describes the emergence of the West Virginia-Kentucky border region as a lumber and coal center and demonstrates how New York newspapers, embroiled in their own rivalry, turned the vendetta into a circulation bonanza.
Because it involves dozens of combatants, sympathizers and innocent bystanders over a period of four decades, the story King tells in The Feud is sometimes hard to follow. But from start to finish, the dominant and most distinct figure is—as in previous retellings—the charismatic Devil Anse Hatfield, guerrilla fighter, moonshiner, squirrel hunter, timber baron and fecund patriarch. He persisted relatively unscathed while family and foes were falling all around him and died peacefully of natural causes at the age of 82, long after the smoke had cleared.