If you go: Pikeville, Ky.
There’s been a resurgence of interest in the Hatfields and McCoys since the History Channel premiered a miniseries starring Kevin Costner last year and a reality show tracking the lives of the families’ descendants in August. Tourism officials in West Virginia and Kentucky have scrambled to capitalize on the public interest, but the feud is still viewed through a different lens on each side of the Tug River, which separates the two states.
The Hatfield Family Cemetery is next to a crumbling abandoned church on a forlorn section of Route 44 in Sarah Ann, W.Va. There’s an imposing iron sign and three tall wooden crosses staked up on a tree-covered hill, but the place is mostly overgrown and neglected. As I climbed the unpaved path to the old hilltop cemetery, I passed a handwritten sign that warned, “Smile! You are now being videoed due to theft!”
When William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield died of pneumonia at 81, his heirs sent photos of him to a craftsman in Italy, who constructed an impressive marble statue with his likeness. The statue towers over all the other memorials in the derelict cemetery.
We were the only visitors on a Friday afternoon. Many of the plots are uncared for; some are buried beneath shrubbery, while others can be reached only after a walk down narrow footpaths. The cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places, but it’s unclear who owns the land, so a plan to refurbish the place in the hope of luring tourists hasn’t gotten off the ground.
We crossed the Tug River, and steps across the Kentucky state line, we met two off-duty firemen who were guzzling beer from 16-ounce cans at the site of the Pawpaw Massacre. In 1882, members of the Hatfield clan tied three sons of Randall McCoy, the leader of the McCoy clan, to pawpaw trees and executed them in retaliation for a stabbing incident at an Election Day party.
A few miles to the west, next to the McCarr post office, we got out to have a look at a reconstructed log cabin at the so-called Hog Trial Site. Although some historians trace the feud’s origins to a killing in 1865, others say the feud really got rolling in 1878 when Randall McCoy took Floyd Hatfield to court for allegedly stealing his pig — and lost. Two years after the verdict, members of the McCoy clan killed the man who had testified that the animal belonged to Floyd Hatfield, sparking a cycle of violence that didn’t abate until 1890, when Ellison “Cottontop” Mounts was hanged for the murder of Alifair McCoy. (Some historians say that the final feud killing took place in 1947, when Allen Hatfield, the chief of police of Matewan, W.Va., raided a brothel and exchanged gunfire with an angry patron, a McCoy, who died in the incident.)