Larry Webster: Once-hushed history now 'terrorism tourism'

Contributing columnistJune 10, 2012 

Hatfield McCoy Secret

William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield was the West Virginian who meddled in Kentucky politics long before the Citizens United decision.


In the goodle days, folks from Pike County and Mingo County were ashamed of the feud, correctly so, for it was an atrocity swap.

The McCoys got outswapped. The Hatfields did most of the atrocities. They just got out of sorts when it took half a day, rocks, knives and three McCoys to kill Ellison on the election grounds.

He was about the hardest person to kill that ever was in Pike County, where plenty have needed it and even more got it. Our murder rate has gone down, but that is because the mean people up here now kill themselves.

The Hatfields, from West Virginia, had no business in a Kentucky election, at least until Citizens United, so some of you will think it odd that people from one state will try to influence an election in another.

So it was a few years ago that somebody got the bright idea of terrorism tourism. They started a summer festival to celebrate perfidy. On both sides of the Tug, we shed our fig leaves of shame, went back to nekkid and invited people to our garden to listen to us brag about stuff the oldtimers who lived here when I came would hardly speak about. Right and wrong and shame were less abstract to the oldtimers.

So one hot festival day the Mule Band — which is about half women, even among the men — were in the park singing a politically incorrect old song called "It's a Shame to Whip Your Wife on Sunday" ('cause you got Monday, Tuessay, Wednesday etc.). Some large women, descended of either a Hatfield or a McCoy, who had come to town to celebrate murders her ancestors had committed, charged the stage raging and screaming at us because we were singing a song which insufficiently condemned domestic violence.

In some areas, the actual feud was even more interesting than the stuff made up. All that Civil War stuff was made up, but it was the Civil War that hardened and embittered Bad Jim Vance and his Logan Wildcats, marauders who were hunting Harmon McCoy after the war was over to kill him. Now this is what's interesting. Harmon McCoy was a Union soldier who owned a slave. When Harmon hid out in the hills in a cave the rebels found him by tracking the slave, who was bringing food to Harmon.

It is difficult to analyze a feud. When does one start? One killing doesn't make a feud and two is hardly enough.

So is it a feud after three killings, and the beginning is retroactive back to a pig, or to Harmon — both marked for slaughter?

You do have to say that Romania is pretty. If you put all the stream bottoms in the Tug Valley side-by-side they would not be as a wide as those vistas that Dances With Wolves and the guy with three wives rode through.

They couldn't find enough mountains that had not been blown up to shoot the film where it happened. The movie presence of saloons and brothels in our town inspired a lot of us to dream what might have been.

Actor Bill Paxton did come to Pike County a couple days and listen to people talk. Kevin Costner just imitated Robert Duvall.

The terrorism tourism people will take you to a cemetery overlooking downtown Pikeville and show you a grave where they will say Ran'l McCoy is buried.

Here is a tip. The oldtimers told me that is a fake grave and that Ran'l is really buried down on the Brushy Fork of John's Creek and nobody knows where so that his famous body is as irretrievable as bin Laden's.

Larry Webster is a Pikeville attorney. Reach him at

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