Who Was Randall McCoy?
Randall McCoy began his bitter feud with the Hatfields in 1878 when he accused Floyd Hatfield of stealing one of his hogs. In 1882, three of McCoy's sons killed a Hatfield in a fight, and they, in turn, were shot to death by some Hatfields in revenge. McCoy nearly died in 1888 when a group of Hatfields attacked his home. In all, he lost five of his children in the feud. McCoy died in 1914.
Randolph "Randall" McCoy grew up in the Tug River Valley, which marked the boundary between Kentucky and West Virginia. He was born on the Kentucky side of the valley, one of 13 children. There he learned to hunt and farm, two main ways people living in this part of Appalachia supported themselves. McCoy grew up in poverty. His father, Daniel, had little interest in work, so his mother, Margaret, had to struggle to care for, feed and clothe the family.
In 1849, McCoy married his first cousin, Sarah "Sally" McCoy. Sally inherited land from her father a few years after they married. They settled on this 300-acre spread in Pike County, Kentucky, where they had 16 children together.
During the Civil War, McCoy served as a soldier for the Confederacy. He may have even been a part of the same local militia as his later nemesis, William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield. While most of the McCoys supported the Confederacy, his brother Asa Harmon McCoy fought for the Union side. When Asa returned home, he hid out in a cave for a time. But he could not avoid his Confederate neighbors forever. In 1865, he was shot and killed by someone who objected to his Union sympathies. It is believed by some that either Devil Anse Hatfield or his fellow Confederate leader Jim Vance murdered Asa.
Initially, some considered Asa Harmon McCoy's death as one of the causes of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. Others have ruled it out, saying that the McCoys were staunch Confederate supporters, too. They probably did not take kindly to Asa's Union activities. The bad blood between the two families did not develop until much later.
Stolen Hog Trial
In 1878, Randall McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield, a cousin of Devil Anse, of stealing one of his hogs. He took Floyd to court in Kentucky, seeking to recover his lost animal. The McCoys and the Hatfields were both large families in the area, and the local authority brought together a jury that equally represented both sides—made up of six Hatfields and six McCoys.
Despite these good efforts, the trial ended up creating tensions between the two families. One of McCoy's cousins, Bill Staton, testified in support of Hatfield, a move that was seen as a betrayal. Another family member, Selkirk McCoy, who served as a juror in the case, also sided with the Hatfields. The jury ruled in Floyd Hatfield's favor. This verdict did not sit well with McCoy and other members of his family.
This verdict probably only fed already fraught relations between the Hatfields and the McCoys, at least in Randall McCoy's mind. He reportedly loathed Devil Anse Hatfield, who had won a court battle against McCoy's friend and relative-by-marriage Perry Cline the previous year. Hatfield and Cline had been fighting over some timber that Cline had reportedly cut from lands belonging to Hatfield. The court ruled in Hatfield's favor, and Cline had to sign over some of his property as a result. Randall McCoy, who had a reputation for being a gossip and a complainer, also may have resented Devil Anse for his success in timber and real estate businesses.
Two of McCoy's nephews, Sam and Paris McCoy, had a deadly encounter with Staton in 1880. Staton saw the two McCoys while out hunting and shot Paris. Sam, in response, shot and killed Staton. Sam McCoy was tried in West Virginia and acquitted in the case.
Election Day Troubles
With his existing resentment of the Hatfields still simmering, McCoy found new reasons to hate Devil Anse and his kin in 1880. McCoy's daughter Roseanna met up with Johnse Hatfield, Devil Anse's son, at that year's Election Day celebration near Blackberry Creek, Kentucky. Election Day was treated as a holiday of sorts, with people gathering together to eat, drink and be merry. Much to Randall's dismay, his daughter Roseanna ran off with Johnse, living with him and his family for some time. She eventually realized that he wasn't going to marry her, and she went to live with an aunt in Kentucky. Roseanna had Johnse's child, but the baby died young.
Some of the McCoys caught Johnse and Roseanna together. They told Roseanna that they were going to take Johnse to jail for moonshine-related crimes, but she believed that they meant to kill him. She rode out to the Hatfields and told them of Johnse's capture. The Hatfields then confronted the McCoys and freed Johnse.
Two years later, tensions between the Hatfields and McCoys again boiled over. Many locals, including McCoys and Hatfields, gathered at the polling place in Pike County, Kentucky, on August 7, 1882. Unfortunately, the joyous festivities of this Election Day soon turned sour. A fight broke out between Randall McCoy's son Tolbert and Devil Anse Hatfield's brother Ellison. Tolbert stabbed Ellison several times, and he also received some help in the assault from two of his brothers, Pharmer and Randolph Jr. Ellison was also shot once in the back during the attack. The three McCoy brothers were arrested.
As they were on their way to jail, the McCoy brothers were taken from the lawmen by Devil Anse Hatfield and his supporters. Hatfield took the boys to West Virginia, where he waited for word about his brother Ellison. Randall's wife Sally traveled to the place where the boys were being held and begged for the lives of her sons, but she could not sway the Hatfields. After learning his brother had died, Devil Anse and his men tied the McCoy boys to some pawpaw bushes and shot them. An indictment was issued against Devil Anse and 19 others for these killings, but no one was willing to arrest the Hatfields and their kin for the crimes.
New Year's Day Shootout
Oddly enough, McCoy did not immediately strike back at the Hatfields in retaliation for his sons' deaths. It was his friend and relative by marriage Perry Cline who ignited another wave of violence in the Hatfield-McCoy feud. In 1887, Cline convinced the governor of Kentucky to issue a reward for the capture of Devil Anse and the others indicted in the McCoy murders. He brought in "Bad" Frank Phillips to assist in the capture of the fugitives, and Phillips led raids into West Virginia to get these men. He was able to capture several of them, including Devil Anse's brother Valentine.
Some of the Hatfields decided that the best way to end the indictments against him and his supporters was to get rid of the witnesses. Experts are divided on whether Devil Anse was the mastermind of this plot. On New Year's Day, 1888, Hatfield supporter Jim Vance led eight other men, including Johnse and Cap Hatfield, to Randall McCoy's home in Kentucky. Johnse accidentally fired at the house before they were ready to attack, giving Randall and his family a warning of what was to come. The two sides exchanged gunfire, and then Vance lit the house on fire. McCoy's daughter Alifair was shot to death as she tried to flee, and his wife Sally was badly injured when she attempted to comfort Alifair. McCoy's son Calvin was also killed, but Randall was able to escape the house and hide in a pigpen. Two of his daughters, Adelaide and Fanny, also survived the attack.
Reports of the attack made newspaper headlines across the country, and the Hatfield-McCoy feud became a subject of great interest to many. Reporters traveled to this remote region to get more on the story, and the press exaggerated the details of the conflict. They also followed the ensuing trials as some of the conspirators in the McCoy brothers' murders and the New Year's Day attack were brought to justice.
Ellison Mounts was sentenced to death by hanging for the murder of Alifair McCoy in 1889. Valentine Hatfield and eight others were tried that same year for the McCoy brothers' murders. They were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Randall McCoy was disappointed in the verdict. He reportedly tried to get a group together to enact some vigilante justice of his own, but he failed to garner enough support to pull it off.
Death and Legacy
After the trials, McCoy seemed to live a quiet life in Kentucky. He operated a ferry in Pikeville for some time. He died in 1914 from injuries he suffered after falling into a cooking fire. Once a leading player in one of history's most notorious family feuds, McCoy seemed to slip from this world without much notice. He was buried in the Dils Cemetery in Pikeville, Kentucky.
Since his death, however, McCoy has received some notoriety. The Hatfield-McCoy feud has been the subject of numerous books, documentaries, films and even a musical. Most recently, these two feuding families became the subject of a 2012 television miniseries, Hatfields & McCoys, with Bill Paxton as McCoy and Kevin Costner as Devil Anse Hatfield. Mare Winningham also appeared as Randall's wife Sally.
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