Appalachian Loop, Part 4 (Hatfield and McCoy)

On April 6, 2016 · 4 Comments

I wondered what we might do during our brief Appalachian adventure beyond my stated purpose, collecting Virginia’s final counties. I would have been happy to drive the full distance without stopping although that wouldn’t have been fair to my passengers. However, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of traditional tourist attractions as I started plotting a possible route. The Twelve Mile Circle audience helped with my planning and I continued to examine and dig on my own until I cobbled together enough sites to make the trip worth their while. I noticed a productive path would take us through Mingo County, West Virginia and Pike County, Kentucky. Those were ancestral homes of the Hatfield and McCoy clans, extended families that famously fought each other during the latter part of the 19th Century. Perhaps we could focus some attention on Hatfield and McCoy country as we drove through.


West Virginia State Museum

I’d bet that nearly every 12MC reader, even those living far beyond the United States, had heard of the Hatfield and McCoy feud, right? I won’t bother to go into depth about every blow and counter-blow that happened — there were plenty of summaries available — merely outline a handful of historic spots we visited during a single Saturday afternoon in mid-March. A worthy visit would probably take two or three full days if one were to cover every site in detail, even with several sites located near each other. We simply didn’t have time.

The feud fizzled into benign family-friendly events like Pike County’s annual Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days ("The feud is over, let the fun begin!") and Williamson, West Virginia’s Hatfield McCoy Marathon ("No Feudin’, Just Running!"), a long time ago. However memories remained deeply rooted in local culture, important enough to earn a permanent exhibit at the West Virginia State Museum in Charleston. Our stop there set a context for some of the actual sites we would see later in the day.

Stereotype and Parody

Matewan Depot

The feud escalated in intensity just as American newspapers turned to stories from the heartland. Influential papers with large circulations controlled information in major industrial cities. They competed amongst themselves to attract readers and scoop their rivals, sometimes with lurid tales of "unsophisticated" outsiders who lived differently than the urban ideal. The Hatfields and McCoys fell into this dynamic quite by happenstance. City papers exaggerated and spun events into vicious hillbilly stereotypes that became permanent fixed in the collective national psyche. Appalachian residents spent their days swilling moonshine, marrying family members, chasing hogs and shooting each other for trivial reasons if news reports of the day were to be believed; crude exaggerations that carried into modern times.

The Matewan Museum displayed a fascinating set of Hatfield and McCoy whiskey bottles from the 1970’s, a reflection of misinformed public perceptions still held decades later.

Hatfield-McCoy Monument

Hatfield-McCoy Monument

It seemed fitting to begin our brief tour at the Hatfield-McCoy Monument (map), a commemoration erected in 2012 with a more balanced and nuanced view of events than a century earlier. Its crooked shape represented the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River, the boundary between West Virginia and Kentucky through these parts. William Anderson ("Devil Anse") Hatfield served as the patriarch of his family living primarily on the West Virginia side of the line. Randolph ("Randall") McCoy filled a similar role for his mostly Kentucky-based clan. Plaques placed along the top of the twisting wall described a feud as it progressed chronologically. Each plaque was divided however, written from a Hatfield perspective on the side representing West Virginia and McCoy on Kentucky (photo). One could walk along the length of the "river" to understand how events escalated from both points of view.

The Killings Begin

Killing of Asa Harmon McCoy

Up the road, maybe another mile, marked a point where the feud began to intensify (map). Animosities simmered between the families although they didn’t resort to bloodshed until 1865. Asa Harmon McCoy, brother of Randall, returned to Kentucky after being discharged from the Union army. The Logan Wildcats, a Confederate guerilla unit based in nearby West Virginia led by Devil Anse Hatfield, tracked Asa to this spot and killed him. Nobody was ever convicted. This would be the first of several deaths.

Hog Trial

Hog Trial

It might seem peculiar that a dispute over a hog could incite fierce hatreds, however hogs were particularly valuable to the self-reliant people of Appalachia. Randolph McCoy believed that Floyd Hatfield (Devil Anse’s cousin) stole one of his hogs in 1878 so he took him to court. Rev. Anderson Hatfield (another cousin) served as Justice of the Peace at the time and presided over the trial (map). The preacher hoped to remain impartial in spite of his surname so he appointed a jury of six Hatfields and six McCoys. William Staton, Floyd’s brother-in-law but also a McCoy cousin, testified that the pig belonged to Floyd. That was enough to convince a single McCoy to join six Hatfields and vote for acquittal. The McCoys viewed Staton’s testimony as a vicious betrayal, and a McCoy killed Staton a few months later. He was tried and acquitted.

Pawpaw Tree Incident

Pawpaw Tree Execution

Election time came in 1882 and Tolbert McCoy got into a drunken argument with Ellison Hatfield. Tolbert and his brothers Pharmer and Randolph Jr. then stabbed Ellison to death. In retaliation, the Hatfield clan seized the McCoy boys, tied them to pawpaw trees along the Kentucky bank of the Tug Fork (map) and shot them fifty times before slipping back into West Virginia.

Matewan Flood Wall

Matewan Flood Wall

Those events barely scratched the surface of important Hatfield and McCoy sites in Pike and Mingo Counties. There were other violent incidents of arson, betrayal, murder, and at least one star-crossed love affair. The feud didn’t start to dissipate until most of the primary participants either met a brutal fate or languished in prison.

The tourism potential was just starting to catch-on, fueled in large part by the 2012 Hatfields & McCoys television miniseries starring Kevin Costner. Still it surprised me that these sites weren’t better publicized. It took some fairly intense internet searching on my part to pull together a cohesive route. Maybe someday I’ll be return and finish the rest. Whatever embarrassment may have existed seemed to have vanished along the with the feud itself. References to Hatfield and McCoy appeared everywhere within the area, including decorative panels on the flood wall on the edge of town at the heart of the conflict, Matewan (map).

Matewan Hatfield/McCoy Intersection

Hatfield Meets McCoy

Matewan even renamed a couple of its streets, forming the intersection of Hatfield and McCoy (map). Naturally I had to find it. Twelve Mile Circle deserved no less. I wonder how they decided McCoy would come out on top of Hatfield?

Appalachian Loop articles:

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Adjacent Counties, Same Name, Different States

On May 16, 2010 · 9 Comments

We’ve had a lively interactive discussion within the comments section of the recent article, "For Aficionados of Counties." I’m not surprised. Many of my regular readers are indeed aficionados of counties. In fact I seem to have cornered a great deal of the market on geo-oddities at the tertiary level of US government, not that I have much competition.

Frequent reader "Craig" mentioned the peculiar situation of Kent County, Maryland and Kent County, Delaware. They are adjacent. They share a common name and a common border but they fall on different sides of a state boundary line. He wondered whether there were other instances of counties bordering their namesake in another state.

Here are the two Kents that launched an entire discussion:

Another loyal reader, "Mike Lowe" then mentioned Sabine Co., Texas bordering on Sabine Parish, Louisiana. Craig returned the favor by added Bristol Co. Massachusetts and Bristol Co., Rhode Island. I found a couple more examples and threw them onto the pile.

Then I got down to some serious searching. I determined that this topic isn’t very well known or understood on the Intertubes. It’s rare virgin territory and a grand opportunity for compiling a definitive list. I can’t promise that I found every instance of this phenomenon but I feel confident that it’s better than any other tally that exists publicly. It’s entirely possible that I overlooked something so please add them to the comments and we’ll make the list even better together.

I now present for your entertainment and amusement the (possibly) complete list of counties that border their namesakes in adjacent states.

  1. Big Horn Co., Montana/Wyoming
  2. Bristol Co., Massachusetts/Rhode Island
  3. Escambia Co., Alabama/Florida
  4. Kent Co., Delaware/Maryland
  5. Park Co., Montana/Wyoming
  6. Pike Co., Illinois/Missouri
  7. Sabine Co./Parish, Texas/Louisiana
  8. San Juan Co., New Mexico/Utah
  9. Teton Co., Idaho/Wyoming
  10. Union Co./Parish, Arkansas/Louisiana
  11. Vermil(l)ion Co., Illinois/Indiana

Note that I equate a Parish with a County which I think is proper, and I’ll explain momentarily why I believe the that spelling variation for the final entry still qualifies it for the list.

Big Horn Co., Montana/Wyoming: They are named after the Big Horn Mountains which run north-south through central Wyoming and extend up into Montana.

Bristol Co., Massachusetts/Rhode Island: This is convoluted so I’ll do my best to simplify it while trying to remain somewhat historically accurate. Think back to the settlement of the Plymouth Colony in the Seventeenth Century and recall that many of the early immigrants left from ports in southwestern England. Bristol, in England, lent its name to the Plymouth Colony town of Bristol, which in turn became the namesake and shire town (county seat) of Bristol County at its creation in 1685.

Forward another half-century and the Province of Massachusetts Bay arose from a conglomeration of various earlier colonies including Plymouth. Rhode Island was a separate colony and they disputed the border. Part of the disagreement involved Bristol County. They settled and both sides retained portions of Bristol County including its name, with the Town of Bristol falling within Rhode Island. I should note that Rhode Island doesn’t have functioning counties anymore. They exist primarily for national comparisons such as the Census which baselined at the county level long ago.

Escambia Co., Alabama/Florida: The name derives from the Escambia River. In Alabama the river is known as the Conecuh but the name changes to Escambia when it enters Florida. Nonetheless both counties call themselves Escambia. Conecuh had already been snagged by a neighboring Alabama county so the residents of the newly-formed county were left with second-best. The USGS says, "Although the name may be derived from the Spanish word ‘cambiar,’ meaning to exchange or barter, it more likely is from an Indian word of unknown meaning."

Kent Co., Delaware/Maryland: They are both named for the English county, Kent. Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore and 1st Proprietor Governor of Maryland, was born in Kent so I’m thinking that could be a connection. I couldn’t find a likely reason for Delaware’s Kent County other than a general English heritage. That means I didn’t stumble across an answer in the first thirty seconds on Google. Maybe one of our Delaware experts knows the answer. Don’t smirk. We do have Delaware experts who read this blog.

Park Co., Montana/Wyoming: Yellowstone, the first National Park in the world, encompasses land within both counties and serves as their namesake.

Pike Co., Illinois/Missouri: Zebulon Pike, noted early Nineteenth Century explorer and soldier, inspired the naming of many geographic features. Pike’s Peak in Colorado is probably the most famous example. He died in 1813 during a military expedition against British forces in Canada in the War of 1812 (which ran until 1814, or 1815 if you count the Battle of New Orleans and other post-treaty actions). Both counties formed in the years immediately following Pike’s heroic death and bear his name as a tribute.

Sabine Co./Parish, Texas/Louisiana: Both counties abut the Sabine River and that’s where they derive their common name. The Spanish word for cypress, a tree found commonly along lower portions of the river, provided the inspiration. This was the Rio Grande of its day: an international border between the United States and Mexico during much of the first half of the Nineteenth Century.

San Juan Co., New Mexico/Utah: Four states join together at a common point at the Four Corners. New Mexico and Utah are cattycornered here. Their respective San Juan Counties meet at a single point directly upon the Four Corners monument. There’s a perfectly logical explanation for this choice of county names: The San Juan River begins in southwestern Colorado dips into New Mexico, clips Colorado once again and enters Utah before flowing into the Colorado River. It touches both San Juan Counties.

Teton Co., Idaho/Wyoming: The Teton Mountains came first and the counties were named accordingly. Conventional wisdom associates Teton with a rather colorful French derivation. It certainly lends a bawdy edge to Grand Teton, the principal massif summit. I love this area and I’ve traveled here several times over the years, often hearing and believing that version of the supposed etymology. However it actually appears to derive from the Teton Indians that predated any frustrated French explorers who may have wandered through the area. You can find a better explanation on if you truly want to know more.

Union Co./Parish, Arkansas/Louisiana: Union is a very popular county name that’s found in 18 states. It’s not too remarkable then, that two happen to abut each other purely by coincidence. The Arkansas version came out of a citizen petition, in the spirit of Union and Unity. The Louisiana version supposedly came from a quote by Daniel Webster, "liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable." I found both explanations on Wikipedia so take that into consideration.

There is a fascinating stone monument sitting on the border between the two Union Counties erected in the 1930’s. Check out Groundspeak for some background information, photographs and the text from a recent newspaper article.

Vermil(l)ion Co., Illinois/Indiana: The purists might not count this one because of the spelling variation. Red bluffs provide a descriptive term for the Vermilion River which in turn lends a name to both counties. Illinois spells Vermilion just like the river. Indiana adds an extra "l," thus Vermillion. However they both refer to the river.

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