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Disease Underlies Hatfield-McCoy Feud

Some say the feud dates to Civil War days, when some members of the families took opposite sides. It grew into disputes over timber rights and land in the 1870s, and gained more notoriety in 1878, when Randolph or "Old Randal" McCoy accused a Hatfield of stealing one of his pigs. The hostilities left at least a dozen dead.

"The McCoy temperament is legendary. Whether or not we can blame it on genes, I don't know," said Ron McCoy, 43, of Durham, N.C., one of the organizers of the annual Hatfield-McCoy reunion. "There are a lot of underpinnings that are probably a more legitimate source of conflict."

"There was a lot of inter-marrying" that could have played havoc with the gene pool, he conceded.

Another relative, Bo McCoy, of Waverly, Ohio, said he had never heard talk of the disease although he has been diagnosed with a different adrenal gland problem _ Cushing's syndrome.

Even Reo Hatfield, who drafted the "truce" the two families famously signed in 2003 to officially end hostilities, doubted the role of the McCoys' disease in the feud.

"I would be shocked" if doctors blamed it on illness, he said.

Altina Waller, a professor of history at the University of Connecticut and author of a book about the feud, agreed.

"Medical folks like to find these kinds of explanations. Like the Salem witchcraft thing. That book came out about how that was caused by wheat that was grown that had this parasite or mold or fungus or something that caused everybody in Salem to go nuts," she said.

"How does it explain the other dozen or so feuds that I've looked at in other places?" she asked, citing disputes over coal and other issues. "The rage and violence as such was not confined to McCoys."

She acknowledges that an argument could be made for seeing the McCoys as the more aggressive of the clans.

"One of the reasons the McCoys don't like me as much in the Tug Valley as the Hatfields do is that I seem to suggest that Randal McCoy, the patriarch of the family, was sort of irrational and flamboyant and did jump to, into wanting violence more than, say, Anderson Hatfield," Waller said.

These days, the "feud" has taken a far more civil tone and all but disappeared, members of both families say. The last time it surfaced was in January 2003. McCoy descendants sued Hatfield descendants over visitation rights to a small cemetery on an Appalachian hillside in eastern Kentucky. It holds the remains of six McCoys, some allegedly killed by the Hatfields.


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© 2007 The Associated Press