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

Feud: Hatfields, McCoys, and Social Change in Appalachia, 18601900. Altina L. Waller University of North Carolina Press. $32.50. It began with the charge of a stolen hog and caused a dozen deaths in as many years. The conflict between the Kentucky McCoys and the West Virginia Hatfields ended almost a century ago, but the names have survived, mythically miscast in folk song, comic strip, and the affected gait of Walter Brennan. But Waller says the feud's more serious and degrading imageAppalachian lawlessness, vigilantism, and ruthless violence-was largely the product of nineteenth-cenwry media hype. In her remarkably detailed analysis, Waller explains what legend does not: namely, that both Hatfields and McCoys devotedly sought legal redress, ultimately through the Supreme Court of the United States. But justice was never done.

Waller explains how passions were actually intensified by the intrusion of the state. The Hatfields and McCoys were tangled by marriage and many other common interests, not unlike the Montagues and the Capulets. They were separated only by the Tug river, which happened to serve as the state line, further complicating the legal logistics. When news of the feud began to circulate, the governor of Kentucky worried that the coal- and timber-rich mountains of his state would soon be seen as unsafe by outside investors. He sent an extradition request to the governor of West Virginia for the "troublemaker Hatfields," hired a special deputy, and offered rewards for their capture. Private detectives and bounty hunters flooded the region, ironically provoking more violence, which in turn led to more negative publicity.

Press coverage of this feud peaked in the summer of 1888, when nine Hatfields were brought to trial for murder in Pikeville, Kentucky. Eight received life sentences. The ninth was 25-year-old Ellison Mounts, the illegitimate, retarded son of Ellison Hatfield, who had no ftinds for legal fees. The only witness called was Sally McCoy, who told how her home had been burned that day and her daughter Alifair shot. She specifically accused a different Hatfield of the murder, but her testimony was ignored. The scapegoat Mounts was hanged, the feud ended, and the eastern capitalists rode triumphant into the Tug Valley on a new railroad.

Between the lines, Waller's study bears witness to the ongoing failure of our judicial system to address the powerful emotional and social components in any legal contestparticularly feuds among relatives, neighbors, lovers. Since history repeats itself, this book bears reading as both factual record and metaphor, with a jaundiced eye toward the present.
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Author:Eubanks, Georgann
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1988
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