Hillbillies, Feuds and Family

There was an Associated Press article on Yahoo the other day about the Hatfield-McCoy Feud. The basis of the article was that the McCoy’s had a medical problem which may have played a role in the violence demonstrated during the feud. There was no mention or excuse for the behavior of the opposing family which must mean that Hatfield’s were just plain old ornery.

The Hatfield-McCoy Feud has been manipulated by myth and media to become the closest thing that America has to the Montagues and Capulets. The story of star-crossed lovers, Roseanna McCoy and Johnse Hatfield (Devil Anse’s son) and anything to do with a pig is just hogwash. The facts, as told to me by my great-grandmother, differ from the stories told by A & E Channel, the History Channel, Biography and numerous books and plays on the feud. The basis of the feud was greed and envy. Both the Hatfields and the McCoy were properous but the Hatfields were a bit more so. They had more land and more timber and the feud began over land dispute.
I received a good bit of information from my great grandmother Jane and I suppose she would have known at least some of the facts because she was a girl when all hell broke loose in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.

My great grandmother was Jane Ferrell Thompson but she was also the granddaughter of “Bad” Jim Vance. Vance was the uncle of “Devil” Anse Hatfield and the man who, it is believed, led the raid on the McCoy cabin on New Year’s Night 1888. An attack that burned the McCoy family home to the ground and killed two of Randolph McCoy’s children and severely injured his wife Sarah. Randolph escaped unharmed.

Bad Jim
(The photo above is the only picture of Jim Vance that I have ever been able to locate. L-R Ock Damron, Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield, James “Bad Jim” Vance, W.B. Borden)

Most accounts of the Hatfield-McCoy feud began with the death of Asa Harmon McCoy (Randall McCoy’s brother) on January 7, 1865 when Jim Vance and his “Wildcats”, who hated  Harmon McCoy because he had joined the Union army, killed him. (The Hatfields were involved in pro-Confederate guerrilla activity during the Civil War.)

Armed with warrants from the Kentucky governor, Pike County Deputy Sheriff Frank Phillips sneaked into West Virginia (WV) and bagged three of the Hatfields. Then Phillips came back into WV again, he surprised Cap Hatfield and Jim Vance on a mountainside. Cap escaped, but Vance stood his ground. His dying act was to try to put a bullet into Phillips.

The war between the legal authorities of Kentucky and the Hatfields of West Virginia had begun. Inside of ten days Phillips and his mounted posse were ambushed by a band of Hatfields. Their horses were shot from under them and they fled to a stone wall for cover, a gun battle that lasted for more than two hours ensued.  When the battle was over there were dead Hatfields, but no dead deputies. By now nine Hatfields were in the Pikeville (KY) jail awaiting trial.  A good many more Hatfields and McCoys were dead.

“The apple doesn’t fall from the tree” as my grandmother used to say and if that’s true then Jim was following in his own grandfather’s footsteps. Jim’s grandfather, Abner Vance, was tried and convicted of the murder of a man who had « disgraced » his daughter, (thought to be Elizabeth, Jim’s mother). The governor issued a pardon for Abner but they had already hanged him by the time the pardon arrived.

It’s an interesting family history and the story of “Bad” Jim is rarely told although he is always a major character in plays and movies about ‘The Feud’. When my Aunt Claudia is asked for medical history, she often replies that she can’t really give one because most family members didn’t die of natural causes, they were either hanged or shot. 🙂

The reason I am telling the story of Jim Vance is because Hillbilly Days is almost here again and the next couple of posts will be about life in Eastern Kentucky. 

Now here is the family history in a simplified form:

Abner Vance (father of Elizabeth)
Elizabeth Vance (mother of Jim, never married)
James “Bad Jim” Vance (father of Jane aka Jeannie Vance Ferrell)
Jeannie Vance Ferrell (mother of Jane Ferrell Thompson)
Jane Ferrell Thompson (my great grandmother)
Minnie L. Thompson Pinson (my grandmother)
Gloria F. Pinson Stumbo (my mother)
Yours truly 

*I found most of the family lineage in a genealogy compiled over many years by my mother’s first cousin, Freddie Thompson Jr. He spent years researching the family and using an antiquated word processor to place his work on paper. He gave each of us a spiral bound copy and if he is still among the living, I would like to personally thank him for his diligence and hard work.

PS posez le curseur sur les mots soulignés noir pour afficher la traduction.

The ComtesseComtesse

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