A Bloody and Fascinating History
© Becky Linhardt 2010
In the fall, the tree-covered hills of southeastern Kentucky’s Pike County blaze with golden yellows, burnished browns and reds as bloody as the Hatfield-McCoy feud. The volatile history of the two families made headlines for decades and permanently etched their stories into local and national history for all seasons.
Tourism boards in both Kentucky and West Virginia have developed Hatfield-McCoy driving tours that weave back and forth across the state lines, just as the story does. You can drive the self-guided tours. The Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce in West Virginia developed a colorful map with timelines and historic details connecting 10 locations on both sides of Tug Fork. Pike County Kentucky printed a brochure that includes maps and history for two areas, the Tug Fork Valley and Pikeville where the feud ended and Randolph McCoy and his family finally settled. Pike County enhanced the driving tour experience by releasing a CD Audio Driving Tour.
The Hatfield-McCoy story is good excuse to drive some beautiful, winding back roads. You will have an adventure; maybe even get a bit lost – but it’s great fun if you are prepared. Study your map before you start and make sure you have a full tank of gas. Average driving time, with some stops is about 2-3 hours. There are few commercial establishments along the way.
As I drove out of Pikeville towards the Tug Fork where it all started, I popped the Audio Driving Tour into the CD player. Knowing that the first track was almost 9 minutes long, I thought it would give me a good overview to start and it did. It was a thoughtful narration of the story and included snippets from songs, some recognized as historic and some that seem to have been created for the CD helped bring the sad tales to life.
When did the feud start? Some say it was during the Civil War, some say during it was a matter of stolen hog, but it is the tragic romance of Rosanna McCoy and Johnse cq Hatfield that seemed to escalate the feud to historic proportions by 1880 and bloodshed that lasted almost ten years.
Because the story is told chronologically, the map numbers and story are not perfectly matched and some locations seem to be important to multiple events. The site that correlates to tracks 2-3 and 6 is listed on the map as the Blackberry Post Office but sits next to a modern post office marked McCarr Post Office.
The old log cabin post office was the site of the infamous Hog Trial and the place where the fated lovers, Rosanna and Johnse meet at an Election Day celebration. At that location you can find a place to park, walk around, and read the marker. Some of the other locations only have a marker; some are located on narrow roads with no pull-off space to park.
You can think of it as a scavenger hunt. However, I eventually decided that it was more efficient to select a few locations using the map, places I though I really wanted to see and then listen to the narration as I drove along. When the CD mentioned that there were 120 steps up to the hilltop grave of Rosanna’s baby, I skipped that stop and headed to the Dils Cemetery instead. However, it felt as though there were almost that many steps up to view the gravestones of the many McCoy family members are buried. It was quiet there, with a beautiful view of the valley. No heated words of hatred there were they now rest in peace, it was a good place to end my tour.
Pikeville-Pike County Tourism Commission
781 Hambley Blvd., Pikeville, KY 41502
Information: 800-844-7453 during business hours; www.tourpikecounty.com
Local information and displays on the Hatfield-McCoy Feud:
Big Sandy Heritage Center
773 Hambley Blvd., Pikeville, KY
Additional activities and accommodation information;
Kentucky State Parks: 800-255-7275; www.parks.ky.gov
Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce: 304-235-5240