FEUD: Hatfields, McCoys, and Social Change in Appalachia, 1860-1900 by Altina L. Waller

FEUD: Hatfields, McCoys, and Social Change in Appalachia, 1860-1900

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An original appraisal of the oft-told Appalachian tale of the feuding Hatfields and McCoys, placed in the context of the social and economic changes in that area in the latter half of the 19th century. Waller recounts the familiar story of these star-crossed families who lived on the banks of the Tug Fork bounding Kentucky and West Virginia--a region that was untouched by the forces of market capitalism sweeping the rest of the country. The details are amusing in retrospect and spiced with irony (the origins of the feud--a hogstealing--involved a trial by a jury of six Hatfields and six McCoys and ended with the defendant's--a Hatfield--acquittal thanks to a McCoy renegade vote; another trial--for murder--found a Hatfield judge presiding over a McCoy defendant, only to have the defendant acquitted; then there were cross-romances between the broods). Over a 12-year period, during which 12 of the members of the two families were killed, the feud started, stopped, restarted, and stopped again. Two major interpretations hold that (1) the feud was an anachronism in a modern society (Virgil Carrington Jones, The Hatfields and the McCoys, 1948), and (2) the feud was an act of ""irrational violence"" by mountaineers who felt a loss of control in the wake of the oncoming tide of dependency and poverty caused by the exploitation of industrialists (Gordon B. McKinney, Southern Mountain Republicans, 1978). But Waller argues that the feud predated the coming of the railroads to the area, so that industrialism is eliminated as a cause. The author, instead, points the finger at outsiders--state and national officials--who saw that by blowing the feud up out of all proportion to its actual dimensions they could effectively denigrate the mountaineers' ways and gain a foothold for modernism. Waller adopts a stance of ""mountaineer revisionism"" in tackling a legendary subject, and succeeds in demonstrating that appearances often mask strong currents of social and economic change. And, despite seeming to sometimes reach for originality, her book should become required reading for students of the feud.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1988
ISBN: 0807842168
Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina Press