Sunday, June 3, 2012

Fussin' and Feudin'

It's the stuff legends (and History Channel miniseries) are made of, and it happened right here in my backyard.  Over 50 million people recently watched the three-part miniseries of the Hatfield and McCoy's starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, among others.  The History Channel's offering is not the first.  This is a story that has been told and retold many, many times.  The day after the first installment aired, many of us from this area where the feud actually took place (and who either are, or are connected with and to decendants of the actual folks depicted in the movie) gathered around water coolers at work or on facebook posts to discuss what we thought of this particular offering.  While I'm not a great fan of Kevin Costner, I found this offering less wooden than some of his other characters and in that way, it was tolerable.  What many of us noticed first, however, was the backdrop for the movie.  We who live in the heart of Hatfield McCoy country looked at each other and said, "That doesn't look a thing like here."  "Here", being the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky and Western West Virginia.  What the movie showed you was Romania.  Beautiful place, but not our Appalachia.  Here, the bottomland is scare and people farm on mountainsides, or at least they did back in the 1800's.  Here, those mountains where Devil Anse's crew were timbering would have been almost straight up and not how they were depicted on the movie.  Still, it was an admirable offering and only those who know Appalachian like we do would probably object to it being filmed in Romania instead of here on home soil.  

(I do not own this picture and am unsure who does, but all rights reserved for the original owner of this picture)

Now for the story itself.  It seems that each time a depiction is made, another take on the story is told. Which is the truth?  Well, truth can be such an illusive thing.  And everyone, apparently, has their version of it.  While much of what you saw was based in fact, some poetic license was taken, of course, to help move the story along and make it all fit more neatly.   One such license with the truth was that it was Jim Vance who assaulted Sarah McCoy on New Year's Day in the back of the head with the butt of his gun.  The movie showed bad Jim Vance doing the dasterdly deed.  That worked out well because by that time, none of us liked his character anyway and would not have expected any different from him.  Truth is, however, to my understanding, it was Johnsy, not Jim Vance, who assaulted Mrs. McCoy...the woman who, at one time, he wanted to be his mother-in-law.   I thought of that as Sarah's character lay there on the ground near her dead daughter Alafair. 

Also, Johnsy was made out to be a young man caught in the middle of a blood feud and kept from his one true love, Roseanna, who, according to the movie, he loved right up to the end.   Not much reality there either, although the star-crossed lover theme does play well to audiences.  Truth is, Johnsy married Nancy McCoy, Roseanna's cousin and that liason wasn't any easier to maintain than would his original McCoy liason would have been.  It was still a Hatfield McCoy liason.   And not the first, nor, I suspect, would it be the last.  

Still, with all the poetic license and non-authentic setting, it was a decent tale of an interesting, but grim, part of Appalachian history.  Some who I spoke to thought the characters and action too horrible.  I agree with that assessment, except, living here and having heard of the feud from older relatives long now gone, I would say that if anything, the depictions on the mini-series did not show the extent of the violence or the heinous acts that were perpetrated.

One of the stories that connects my own personal family with the infamous Hatfield clan is that of the murder of my great great grandfather, Bill France, (or William Francis) as he was also known.  Grandpa Bill was Justice of the Peace in Pike County, Kentucky, and a Union man, some say a Colonel (although I can find no proof of that) and some call him "Captn" which he may very well have been, and some say he was just a Union sympathizer.  At any rate, the fact that he was either neutral in the conflict between the states (as the state of Kentucky chose to be) or that he was Union (as many in Kentucky were) does not surprise me.  Although I identify myself as being southern  (we are below the Mason Dixon Line), not all my relatives fought for the Confederate cause.   Like many in border states, I have ancestors that were on both sides of the conflict.  

Devil Anse Hatfield was a member of a band of "confederates" known as the Logan wildcats. These may have been part of the "home guard" but also had a reputation of being rogues and bushwhackers.  And bushwhacking is what you would call what Devil Anse did to my grandfather at his cabin one night.   This was before the killing of Asa McCoy, who was also a Union soldier.  Asa and my grandfather no doubt knew each other as did my grandfather and Ol'Rannal McCoy, even though Rannal was also a Confederate.  Some say he even was along or knew about the raid of Devil Anse on my grandfather.  Some say Ol'Rannal was against the killing the of my grandfather and  held animosity for his death against Devil Anse same as he did the later killing of his brother, Asa McCoy.  There's no one left around who knows for sure, just stories that have been passed down.  But the fact of the matter is that whether Randolph McCoy agreed with it or not, Devil Anse killed my great, great grandfather, supposedly because he was Union.   At any rate, suffice it to say, that although the war ended on a certain date in the history books, for many families, such as those in border states like ours, the war never ended until the soldiers died.   This was true in the case of the Hatfields and many other southern sympathizers who never forgave a family for choosing an opposite side in the war between the states.

My father was from Peter Creek, Phelps Kentucky.  His name was Joe Francis (France) Jr.  His father was Joe Francis Sr.  His grandfather was William R. "Bud" Francis, and his great grandfather was William Francis or "Bill France" as he was also known.  This is the man that Devil Anse hunted down while he was in his own home and shot him dead...because he was a Union man. 

William Francis, aka, "Bill France"
Justice of the Peace, Pike County Kentucky
Union Army Sympathizer
Killed by Devil Anse Hatfield
(my great, great grandfather)

But lest you believe there to be any animosity or bad blood between me and mine and any Hatfield, let me point out, one of my cousin's (I have 51 first cousins on my mom's side alone) is married to a Hatfield from West Virginia.  Yes...a decendant of  "the" Hatfields.   Couldn't love her or her husband's family any more.  There are no good surnames or bad surnames.  There are only people and their choices.  The individual must answer for his or her own actions and I am not here to sit in judgment of any man's choices, past or present.   Let God be the Judge.   I am just sharing the story that my relatives passed down as it pertains to the recent resurgence of interest in the Hatfield and McCoy families.  

I think a historian I heard recently said it best...the two families who reportedly hated each other so much, in their quest for revenge, forever entwined themselves and their family names for immortality.  And it's true.  You can't speak the word Hatfield without automatically thinking McCoy.  This is true worldwide.

I think what the feud taught me is that violence only begats violence-and nothing good ever came from senseless hatred and violence - not even a mini-series.    Until next time, take care.  -Gen. 


  1. P.S. The picture above (the rights to which I do not own and reserve for the unknown owner), is of Randolph McCoy and his wife, (also his cousin) Sarah McCoy's final resting place in Dils Cemetery in Pike County, Kentucky.

  2. Thanks for posting this story. How wonderful that you know the real truth of the legend and that you are personally connected. Love the photos, too! :)

  3. Thanks, Carla Lee! : ) (I'm a "Lee" girl too by the way... unless that's your middle name) Lee is one of my genealogy surnames. : )

  4. I used to live close to Pike County, In Lawrence County outside of Louisa. It's amazing how many descendants of both families lived on both sides of the River ( Fort Gay W.Va.). I share your opinion regarding the scenery and the factual information, but it was entertaining.

    We raise sorghum molasses on what they called a "high bottom" and we lived very primitively. But it was the best time of my life!

  5. So, any idea how William 'Bill France' Francis, Jr, has evolved into an assassinated Union Colonel, or even a General, in some re-tellings of the tale?
    I'm an Englishman with a love of history, usually early modern British and Ancient Rome but occasionally the decades following the American Civil War attract my attention. After watching Deadwood I read a few books concerning the events and characters of the Gunslingers period and, after watching the excellent Hatfields and McCoys, I feel I must learn as much truth as I realistically can about this period.

    Although expertly made I doubt the reality of the Johnsy/Rosanna love story. She was dishonoured, made pregnant and then returned to her McCoy relatives.
    Could the Hatfields have simply been fighting the feud by other means?

  6. William "Bill" Francis is my GGG Uncle. Thanks for posting and your comments are very well said. My Grandmother is still living, my dad's mother. She is 101 years old as of last November. Bill Francis was her Great Uncle. Her mother was Parlina Elizabeth Francis Gibson. I may have spelled her 1at name wrong. My name is Patricia Ann Blevins King from Right Fork of Brushy Pike County KY. Current residence Michigan.

  7. How very nice to hear from you Patricia. I am now a resident of Pike County myself! Would love to share genealogy with you if you have any information on the Francis. My email is

  8. Good piece, I enjoyed reading. ;-)

  9. The reason my ggg grandfather William Francis, Jr. was called by Captain, or General is because he was the head of a Union militia. That's why they were raiding the farms and taking the livestock.