Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Hatfield-McCoy Feud: Our Hospitality

The Movie
In Buster Keaton's second movie, he mines the legendary Hatfield-McCoy family feud for comedic value, changing the names of the families to Canfield and McKay and leaving the backdrop as Appalachia in the 1800s.  It's a pretty quiet film by Buster Keaton standards, however, it's well-done and still carries the trademark humorous scenes.  This includes a bunch of gags involving the Stephenson's Rocket, an early version of the steam train, vintage 1829.
 Our Hospitality (directed by John Blystone and Buster Keaton, 1923) begins with two members of the rival families killing one another.  Buster Keaton's mother, left a widow, removes herself and her infant son to the rural outskirts of New York City , so that he can be free of the family history.   The story really picks up when Keaton's character, Willie McKay, now grown, moves back to Appalachia to take possession of his property...

The Feud:  A History
The fictional (top) and real Hatfields (bottom)
   The legendary Hatfield-McCoy family feud began with two families that lived near enough to one another to be called neighbors, but whose slight differences in geographical location and socioeconomic status was such that they were very different (does this remind you of any Congresses that you know?).  The Hatfields were higher in social class than the McCoys, and lived on the Kentucky side of the Tug Fork of the Sandy River, which was part of Confederacy territory during the Civil War.  The McCoys, lower in socioeconomic standing, lived on the West Virginia side of the Tug Fork and a few fought for the Union, although their sympathies were mainly with the South.  The leaders of the clans at the time right after the Civil War were 'Ole Ran'l' McCoy and Anderson 'Devil Anse' Hatfield.  (In a side note, 'Devil Anse' appears to have had this nickname to distinguish him from another Anderson Hatfield, known as 'Preacher Anse'.  The designator 'Devil' apparently came from an adventure where he kicked a hibernating bear to wakefulness then shot it for food.)

The Height of the Feud
  The first blood was shed with the killing of one of the McCoys, a returning Union soldier, by a local group of Confederates known as the Logan Wildcats.  Another killing by the McCoys some years later was directed at a judge, but began with a mini-feud between the two families over ownership of a pig.
Devil Anse Hatfield
   The real violence that was to catch the nation's attention began in 1880 with a tangled relationship between Rosanna McCoy and Johnse Hatfield, son of Devil Anse.  Roseanna left her family to live with the Hatfields, then returned.  When she tried to go back again, the McCoys arrested Johnse on bootlegging charges.  Roseanna, concerned that the bootlegging charges were a mere pretense for murder, alerted the Hatfields, who rescued Johnse.  In the next year, Johnse would abandon Roseanna, who was pregnant, and marry her cousin, Nancy McCoy.  Years later, Nancy McCoy would divorce Johnse Hatfield and marry the special officer sent in to end the feud and who would eventually bring Johnse to justice.
   The next year, in 1882, Devil Anse's brother Ellison was murdered by three McCoys on election day.  He was stabbed 26 times and shot, but did not die immediately.  The local force arrested the three McCoys, but they were intercepted by Devil Anse's crew.  When Ellison died, the three McCoys were taken out back and shot.
  In the Midnight Massacre of 1888, the McCoy cabin was shot at, set on fire, Randolph McCoy's wife was beaten and two of their children murdered.

Returning Calm to Pike County
   In all, over 12 people were killed and 10 wounded during the long period of violence between the families.  In 1888, following the showdown at the McCoy cabin, eight members and colleagues of the Hatfield clan were arrested; 7 were sent up for life terms, one was hanged. Following the New Year's massacre, the McCoys moved to Pikeville, West Virginia to escape the violence.  In 1883, the families agreed to stop fighting and in 1901, the last trial, that of Johnse Hatfield, was over.
   Interestingly, members of the McCoy family have been found to have Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, which can be characterized in part by tumors of the adrenal gland.  The adrenal gland releases hormones that govern the 'fight-or-flight' reactions that we experience in times of high stress, and it has been postulated that this may have accounted for their heightened reactions to some incidents.  There is no similar explanation for the Hatfield reaction.

Links and Sources:
Hatfield-McCoy feud, Wikipedia
Roseanna: Juliet of the Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountain News
Von-Hippel Linau Syndrome and the Feud, MSNBC
Von-Hippel Lindau Syndrome, US National Library of Medicine
The making of Our Hospitality,
Another great source (and yet another book I haven't fully read), appears to be 'The Hatfields and the McCoys' by Otis K Rice.  Excerpts from the book hint at the complex nature of the feud and how many factors may have played into its development.

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