On Nov. 29, prior to the airing of all three parts of the 2012 miniseries “Hatfiends & McCoys,” a documentary from the same year aired. It’s called “America’s Greatest Feud,” and it examines the infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud from the 1800s. It’s a good outline that includes a timeline with dates, interviews with historians, and re-enactments of the feud that made national headlines and became a case seen by the Supreme Court of the United States.
It’s bizarre to think that a quarrel between two families, that may or may not have started over alleged hog theft, could result in raids, a dozen deaths, and may have lasted over a decade. If we accept the documentary’s explanation that the feud actually began in the 1860s, rather than with the hog theft case of 1878, this was a feud that spanned over two decades and just a few years shy of three decades.
What’s particularly noticeable is that the hog theft incident, where Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield of stealing a McCoy owned pig, was handled so seamlessly. The two went to court, no shots were fired, no one died, and the issue was settled by the authorities. But the violent crimes always seemed to be handled awfully.
Notably, Ellison Hatfield was stabbed over twenty times and then shot by three McCoy brothers. No police were able to prevent this, but the McCoy boys were soon arrested. Unfortunately, the Hatfields intercepted the constables while they were transporting the boys to another location to await trial. The Hatfields abducted the boys and eventually executed them by Hatfield vigilante firing squad. The list goes on and on where things went wrong with local law enforcement and the Hatfield-McCoy feud.
We live in a time where people feel very overpoliced, so watching a documentary where the police seem to always be on their lunch break or completely inefficient is an interesting experience. It was a time in this history of West Virginia and Kentucky when vigilante justice was often doled out in the wilderness of the mountains and not within close proximity of police. There were no telephones and certainly no cell phones. No one could radio for backup. Had the Hatfield and McCoy feud happened today, SWAT teams would have been involved during the deadly Hatfield raid on the home of Randolph McCoy’s home. Helicopters would have been circling the area within fifteen minutes and demanding everyone drop their weapons and put their hands up. As much as the police are heavily criticized in today’s world, sometimes the advanced powers and lethal effectiveness of the police can be an asset.