One of the pivotal events in the Hatfield-McCoy Feud occurred on August 8, 1882. Tensions between the two families had started rising a few days earlier, when Ellison Hatfield—the brother of Hatfield patriarch “Devil Anse”—was mortally wounded by three of Randolph McCoy’s sons in a drunken election-day brawl. Apparently, the fight occurred over a small debt owed on a fiddle.
After learning of the incident, “Devil Anse” Hatfield gathered up his wounded brother. His sons and other family members captured Tolbert, Pharmer, and Randolph McCoy Jr.
When Ellison died of his wounds, the Hatfields escorted the McCoys back into Kentucky—just across the Tug River from present-day Matewan—tied them to pawpaw bushes, lined up as a firing squad, and executed all three.
The two families had been at odds for years, but the election-day murder and subsequent execution took the feud to another level. The next few years were marked by sporadic revenge murders and legal battles in the courtrooms of West Virginia and Kentucky. The feud climaxed with the Hatfields’ deadly attack on Randolph McCoy’s cabin on New Year’s Day 1888.