This past summer I ran across an article that I had to keep. The headline read "Hatfields and McCoys to gather for reunion." My first reaction was one of disbelief. The feud between the Hatfield family and the McCoy family is legend in our country. I knew they weren't killing each other in the mountains on the border separating West Virginia and Kentucky anymore, but I didn't think they were on friendly terms either.
For those who don't have the passion for history that I do, here's a little background that was compiled and published by Ron McCoy of Durham, North Carolina. The patriarchs of each family, William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield and Randolph "Ol' Randall" McCoy and their wives had about thirteen children each. Randolph was fifteen years older than Devil Anse (who got his nickname by declaring he was ready to take on the devil himself after surviving a three-day encounter with a bear while hunting as a youth).
The story goes that the feud began around the time of the Civil War. Both men heeded the call to war and fought for the Confederacy. West Virginia seceded from Virginia and Kentucky remained neutral. Randolph's brother, Asa McCoy, was a slave owner but because he could see the war wasn't going well for the Confederacy, he enlisted in the Union Army in 1864. Within months he suffered a broken leg and was discharged on Christmas Eve 1864.
The folks back home weren't too happy to see him. He expected some animosity from his neighbors, but he wasn't prepared for the chilly reception his own family gave him. When Jim Vance, Devil Anse Hatfield's uncle, threatened him with a visit from the home guard known as the Logan Wildcats, the McCoys didn't offer Asa any support. After someone fired gunshots at Asa while he was drawing water, he headed for the hills. He took refuge in a cave where his wife and a slave named Pete brought him food and supplies. But it was winter and the Logan Wildcats followed Pete's footprints in the snow. On the night of January 7, 1865, Asa Harmon McCoy was shot and killed. The feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys chalked up its first killing.
Both families continued their hatred of each other, but the next major incident didn't arise until 1878. As was the practice of the times, those who owned livestock marked their property, then let them roam freely on the mountainside to forage for food during the spring and summer. When fall came, the livestock was rounded up for slaughter for winter food.
One day Randall McCoy stopped by Floyd Hatfield's place and looked over the pen of razorback hogs. He began yelling and accusing Hatfield of stealing one of his hogs. Then Randall marched down to the justice of the peace, who happened to be a Hatfield, and placed charges against Floyd. Justice Hatfield swore in six McCoys and six Hatfield's on the jury. Two of the McCoy clan voted with the Hatfields, thus acquitting Floyd. Randall was furious and vowed vengeance.
Over the next couple of decades McCoys killed Hatfields and Hatfields killed McCoys. Six of Randall McCoy's children died because of the feud. After the Hatfields burned down his double-logged cabin on New Years Day 1888, Randall and what was left of his family moved twenty-five miles away to Pikeville. He spent his remaining years operating a ferry crossing.
Devil Anse Hatfield prospered in business, finally made his peace with God, and was baptized in the waters of Island Creek.
Most of us have heard of the famous feud. Parts of the story are true and parts are myth. But one thing we know. The two families still make the news. Only this time they're newsworthy because they want to make peace with each other.
The Associated Press article said that approximately 2,000 descendants, including the governors of West Virginia and Kentucky, were expected to arrive in Pikeville, Kentucky last June for the first reunion of the two families. The goal of the reunion? To learn about their shared history.
That made me think about our shared history and how much we have to be thankful for. The modern Hatfields and McCoys are showing us we can change. Just because one generation thinks or feels one way, we don't have to. The families show us that we can grow, learn, evolve, and move on. God gave us free will. We can make our own choices and decisions about issues, about people, about life. As we grow and open our minds, we learn. As we learn, we explore possibilities by asking, "What if?"
Before we realize it, we evolve into our own person. We make our own decisions and, therefore, are responsible and accountable for them. Some things we do and think will be wonderful and positive, others won't. Either way, we move on.
We move on just like the Hatfields and the McCoys. Those that lived over a hundred years ago went one direction. Those that live today are going another. They show us we can forgive. They show us we can live our own lives.
Finally the Hatfields and the McCoys of today teach us we don't have to give up or deny our stories, our history, or our identity in order to move on. We can appreciate what's happened in the past. We can even keep the legacy going through the generations. But we don't have to do what's always been done. We are our own persons. We can make the wrongs right. We can be free.
My wish for you this holiday season is that the light of love be with you every day and that you wish the best for everyone you meet along the way.
Sharron Stockhausen is an author, consultant, educator, and speaker. If you'd like to share things you're thankful for, you may contact Sharron on her company's website at www.stockink.com
or write P.O. Box 679, Anoka, MN 55303 or call (763) 755-I-WON (4966) or (877) 755-I-WON (4966) toll free.
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