“What!” you gasp with mouth agape. “Another Hatfield-McCoy saga?” Yes, but The Feud attempts to tie up all the loose ends—a monumental task, indeed, since so much of the convoluted story had to be gleaned from second-, third- and fourth-hand accounts (many wreathed in family biases), wildly inaccurate newspaper reports and incomplete public records.
To bring some semblance of order to this conflict that began at the end of the Civil War and concluded at the turn of the 20th century, author Dean King provides a series of Hatfield and McCoy family-tree charts, each with the relevant names X-ed out as the feud proceeds. These charts serve as graphic representations of how much more effective at assassination the West Virginia-based Hatfields were than their Kentucky-dwelling adversaries. They also kept better records.
As King points out, there was no single flashpoint that set off the feud. Nor did it continue at a steady and unrelenting pace. To be sure, some of the animosity stemmed from the fact that the Hatfields fought for the Confederacy and the McCoys for the Union. But there were substantial clashes as well over the ownership of livestock, the conduct of elections and real or perceived personal insults. Whatever the latest affront, both sides were consumed with the concept of getting even. The most romanticized element of the conflict—the relatively brief love affair between Johnse Hatfield and Roseanna McCoy—was, according to King, a fairly inconsequential episode in the overall scheme of things.
King also sets this story in a broader historical context. Besides chronicling the feud proper, he describes the emergence of the West Virginia-Kentucky border region as a lumber and coal center and demonstrates how New York newspapers, embroiled in their own rivalry, turned the vendetta into a circulation bonanza.
Because it involves dozens of combatants, sympathizers and innocent bystanders over a period of four decades, the story King tells in The Feud is sometimes hard to follow. But from start to finish, the dominant and most distinct figure is—as in previous retellings—the charismatic Devil Anse Hatfield, guerrilla fighter, moonshiner, squirrel hunter, timber baron and fecund patriarch. He persisted relatively unscathed while family and foes were falling all around him and died peacefully of natural causes at the age of 82, long after the smoke had cleared.