January 1, 1888: Hatfields Attack McCoy Cabin Killing Two

Jan 1, 2019

While the killings were appalling, the national newspapers further exaggerated events to portray Appalachia as a backward and barbaric place.
Credit e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

The night of January 1, 1888, marked the worst atrocity in the long-running troubles between the Hatfields of Logan County, West Virginia, and the McCoys of Pike County, Kentucky. That evening, New Year’s Day 1888, Hatfield patriarch “Devil Anse” Hatfield launched a scheme that he hoped would end the feud once and for all. It was led by his uncle, Jim Vance. Without Devil Anse himself being present, the Hatfields set fire to the cabin of Randolph McCoy, the head of the McCoy family. Although Randolph escaped, two of his grown children were killed. And the Hatfields bludgeoned his wife Sarah, leaving her for dead. The disgraceful attack helped to end the feud, but not in the way Devil Anse had intended. The incident put the Hatfields on the defensive. A posse soon killed Vance, and Devil Anse’s nephew was later hanged—the only legal execution of the feud.

While the killings were appalling, the national newspapers further exaggerated events to portray Appalachia as a backward and barbaric place. Unfortunately, the region has struggled to overcome this negative stereotype ever since.