A featured voice on the recent History Channel series Hatfields & McCoys offers a detailed and generally dispassionate account of America’s most notorious feud.
Popular historian King (Unbound: A True Story of War, Love, and Survival, 2010, etc.) obtained the cooperation of both extended families and maintains a disinterested stance throughout his account of the feud that raged from 1865 to 1890. The author begins with a snapshot of the 1890 hanging of Cotton Top Mounts, a Hatfield, then traces the conflict back to the 1850s and slowly guides us through the ensuing decades. Useful family trees show the intermarriages between the two Appalachian families, and King periodically reproduces the trees with names of the victims crossed out. Dominating the Hatfields throughout was “Devil” Anse Hatfield, who somehow managed to avoid death and prosecution throughout the decades and died an old man. The McCoys suffered more grievous losses and never really managed to exact on the Hatfields the pervasive revenge they sought. King shows that there were multiple causes of the conflict and describes the spreading ripples of the interstate bloodshed. Lawmen, lawmakers and bounty hunters on both sides of the border kept busy. King highlights two of the most celebrated/reviled (depending) of the private and public lawmen—Dan Cunningham and Bad Frank Phillips. The author describes in detail the ambushes, night attacks and horrors that these families visited upon one another. He quotes contemporary newspaper accounts, takes us inside jails, up into the hollows, and into the minds and hearts of the participants, bystanders and victims. Near the end, King tells us that the families—both huge—unite for an annual reunion.
An informed account—both reasoned and reasonable—of the irrational.