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Wendy Griffith's Roots: The Hatfields and McCoys

By Wendy Griffith
CBN News for The 700 Club

CBN.comChances are you've heard of the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud. But there's a part of the story that's not often told. Wendy Griffith, who's a Hatfield descendant herself, traveled back to her home state of West Virginia for a unique look at one of the bloodiest family feuds in American history.

“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 my great, great, great uncle,” Wendy Griffith said. “And this is where our story begins.”

Wendy met with singer/song-writer Jimmy Wolford at his home in Kentucky. Although many books have been written on the feud, Wolford, a local legend and great nephew to Randolph McCoy, the patriarch of the McCoy clan, was the first to write an entire album of songs on the feud.

She asked him how her uncle, William Anderson Hatfield, got his nickname, "Devil Anse?"

"One, they said when he was a kid, he was 'devilish,' you know, liked to carry on and play pretty rough at times,” Jimmy Wolford answered. “Then others say that during the Civil War he had a  nickname 'Devil Anse' 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, as a photo shows, in later years he also kept some as pets. Although 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 loose," Wolford said.

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. Then, two years later, the fighting escalated into one of the bloodiest battles of the feud.

“It was a hot summer day in Aug. 1882 and it was Election Day here on Blackberry Creek,” Wendy said. “But unfortunately, the festivities turned tragic when Ellison Hatfield, my great, great grandfather and Devil Anse's brother and three McCoy brothers got into a heated argument. The McCoys armed with knives, stabbed Ellison more than 20 times and shot him. He was bleeding profusely, but still alive, when they brought him back to this Old Logan Cabin.”

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," Wolfson claimed Devil Anse said.

Two days after Ellison died, Devil Anse and his posse' tied the three McCoy brothers to some paw-paw bushes, blind-folded 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 with much bitterness at the age of 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. At the urging of his friend and preacher, Dyke Garrett, Devil Anse, at the age of 72, went forward at a revival meeting and received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Soon afterwards, he was baptized in the waters of Island Creek, near his homes in Logan.   

Jimmy Wolford recounts the day in song, "Island Creek was cold when DA went under, but when that bearded man came to the top, there was dancing and 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 quite a few witnesses.  For preacher Dyke Garrett, it was a baptism he'd been waiting his whole life to perform.

"He had a little bit of bragging rights, and he would tell people that he was the man who baptized the devil," commented Keith Davis, an author and feud expert.

“I spoke with Keith Davis at the Hatfield cemetery in Logan County, West Virginia, home to a life-size marble statue of feud leader,” Wendy 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.

According to friends and neighbors, Devil Anse spent the last 10 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 January 1921, at the age of 81, received much media attention including an article in the New York Times. 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.

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