Many have heard of the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud, but there's a part of the story that's not often told.
Shortly after the Civil War and up until about the turn of the century, the mountains along the West Virginia-Kentucky border were home to the most famous feuding family of all times-- the Hatfields and McCoys.
Devil Anse Hatfield, the leader of the Hatfield clan, was the great-great-great uncle of CBN News Senior Reporter Wendy Griffith. Click play to watch her report, as she visited her home state of West Virginia to learn more about this unique heritage.
Although many books have been written on the feud, Jimmy Wolford, a local singing legend and the great nephew of Randolph McCoy--the patriarch of the McCoy clan, was the first to write an entire album of songs on the feud. His colorful lyrics include lines such as, "They were men, who matched the mountains, they were Hatfields and McCoys. They were men, who matched the mountains.they were men, when they were boys."
He told CBN News how William Anderson Hatfield, the leader of the Hatfield clan, got his nickname "Devil Anse."
"They said when he was a kid, he was devilish, you know, liked to carry on and play pretty rough at times," Wolford recalled. "Then others say that during the Civil War he had a nickname. because he was a pretty tough character."
Devil Anse Hatfield was born in a log cabin in 1839, one of 11 children. His playground was the rugged Appalachian Mountains of southern West Virginia. He loved to hunt and was known as one of the best horseman and marksman in the valley. Although he often hunted black bear, in later years, he also kept some as pets.
Despite being illiterate, Devil Anse owned considerable land and ran a successful timber business. He and his wife, Levicy, were busy raising 13 children. Life was good.
Until one day in the fall of 1878, Randolph McCoy, who lived on the Kentucky side of the Tug Fork River, accused Floyd Hatfield, a cousin of Devil Anse, of stealing some of his hogs. The case went to trial and a jury of six Hatfields and six McCoys found Floyd Hatfield innocent.
"They gave the pig back to the Hatfields and all hell broke lose," Wolford explained.
A Love Story Unfolds
Not long after the pig trial, a McCoy shot to death the juror who had sided with the Hatfields. After that, tensions remained high among the two families, but not for Johnse Hatfield and Roseanne McCoy.
Despite their family feud, the oldest son of Devil Anse and the daughter of Randolf Mccoy fell in love. Roseanne, too afraid to go home, moved in with the Hatfields and became pregnant. But their father's would not allow them to wed.
So, Roseanne moved in with her aunt and gave birth to a baby girl who later died of measles. To make matter's worse, only months later, Johnse married Roseanne's 16-year-old cousin, Nancy McCoy. And although it wasn't a bullet that killed her, Roseanne died of a broken heart just the same, while still in her 20s.
Two years later, the fighting escalated into one of the bloodiest battles the families had ever seen.
Revenge Turns Deadly
It was a hot summer day in August of 1882 and it was Election Day on Blackberry Creek. Unfortunately, the festivities turned tragic when Ellison Hatfield, Devil Anse's brother, and three McCoy brothers got into a heated argument.
Armed with knives, the McCoys stabbed Ellison more than 20 times and shot him. They brought him back to an old log cabin bleeding profusely, but still alive.
Sarah McCoy begged for the life of her three sons, but Devil Anse had already made a promise: "If Ellison dies I'm going to kill the McCoy boys."
Two days after Ellison died, Devil Anse and his posse tied the three McCoy brothers to some paw-paw bushes, blindfolded them, asked if they had any final words and then shot them in retaliation for his brother's death.
There were several more battles, and as many as 15 lives lost in the feud, including five McCoy children. Some say Randolph McCoy, who spent his later years as a ferry boat captain, never quite recovered from the loss of so many children and died in 1914 at age 88.
But for Devil Anse something dramatic was about to happen that would change his life and perhaps the lives of many generations to come.
A Change for Generations
At the advice of his friend and preacher Dyke Garrett, then 72-year-old Devil Anse went forward at a revival meeting and received Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior. Afterwards, he was baptized in the waters of Island Creek near his homes in Logan.
Wolford recounted the day in song:
"Island Creek was cold when Devil Anse went under, but when that bearded man came to the top, he was shouting and a singing, the rifle fire stopped ringing and the water in Island Creek turned boiling hot."
A photo from September 1911 shows him on the banks of the river that day surrounded by witnesses. For Garrett, it was a baptism he'd been waiting his whole life to perform.
"Around these parts, they called him Uncle Dyke.they say for the rest of his life after that baptism, he had a little bit of bragging rights, and he would tell people that he was the man who baptized the devil," feud expert and author Keith Davis said.
He believes the baptism of Devil Anse not only helped officially end the feud, but has impacted generations of Hatfields and other families throughout the region.
"I know many Hatfields that are in church that are committed to Christ and I think that something happened in 1910-1911, that is still going on today," Davis said.
According to friends and neighbors, Devil Anse spent the last ten years of his life in peace, knowing that he was forgiven, his sins washed away in the cool mountain stream.
His death from pneumonia in Jan. 1921 at the age of 81 got strong media attention, including an article in the New York Times, and his funeral was the largest ever held in Logan county, drawing several thousand people.
They say some of the mourners even bore the name McCoy.
*Originally aired March 20, 2009