WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The clash between the Hatfields and McCoys is the most well-known family feud in American history.
It’s a true tale: one of vengeance, courage and most importantly, family pride. The fight was between two families who lived along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River. The Hatfields were from West Virginia, the McCoys from Kentucky. Their relentless rivalry began in the late 1800’s and stretched for decades.
For many people, the Hatfields and McCoys are nothing more than a metaphor for any family feuding, but for Wilmingtonian Jason Hatfield, it’s the reality of his family’s heritage.
“The first time that they ask you if you’ve ever killed a McCoy, it’s pretty funny, but then after 30 years of it, it’s like ok I get the joke,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield’s great, great grandfather was Valentine Hatfield nicknamed “Uncle Wall”. He’s played by Powers Booth in the History Channel’s mini-series “Hatfields and McCoys”. Wall Hatfield was a revered judge, one who had the great task of executing the law justly while staying loyal to his family.
“Sometimes the politics from these sorts of conflicts get to be really ugly, but I think he was trying to be fair and obey the law, for the most part,” Hatfield said of his great, great grandfather.
The feud was marked by constant violence. Most notably was the New Year’s night massacre in 1888. Several Hatfields set fire to the McCoy cabin, killing two boys and a woman. Uncle Wall and several others were arrested for the crime. Although he maintained his innocence, he eventually died in prison from unknown causes.
“My family was always under the impression that he was put into a cell block with McCoy sympathizers and was killed,” Hatfield said. “Others say he died of a broken heart.”
As hostilities grew, even those outside of the two families join the fight, bringing Kentucky and West Virginia to the edge of another Civil War.
These days, the tensions have fizzled between the two families. Jason Hatfield says his family doesn’t talk too much about their history. He says all families can learn an important lesson from the Hatfields and McCoys.
“It shows the need to communicate better, instead of harboring animosity,” Hatfield said.