In the story, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Huck meets and lives with a family, the Grangerfords, who have a feud with another family, the Shepherdsons. Mark Twain may have purposely designed the Grangerford and Shepherdson families after the Hatfield and McCoy families, from the West Virginia-Kentucky border had been engaged in a feud for twenty years, 1871-1891.
There is no real explanation for how the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys began, but after several years of feuding, not even the two families knew why and how the feud started. It could have begun when Johnse Hatfield romanced Roseanna McCoy and brought her home, much to Devil Anse Hatfield’s despair. Later on, Johnse and Roseanna attempted to elope, but both families disagreed with the marriage. The two families forcefully separated Johnse and pregnant Roseanna. The McCoy men followed Johnse and Roseanna, taking Johnse prisoner in order to find a place to kill Johnse. Roseanna rode a horse to where the McCoys held Johnse and rescued him. “Johnse never again risked returning to her side” (Lugar, 1996). Johnse fell out of love with Roseanna after she had a miscarriage and lost their baby. “On May 14, 1881, Johnse married Roseanna’s cousin Nancy McCoy” (Lugar, 1996).
On August 7, 1882, Election Day, three of the McCoy brothers – Tolbert, Phamer, and Randolph Jr — shot and stabbed Ellison Hatfield. On the way to the local prison, Devil Anse Hatfield – Ellison’s father – kidnapped the three McCoys from the prison and tied them to trees in Matewan. Ellison died two days later from “26 stab wounds and gashes, plus his gunshot wound” (Donnelly, 1957). Devil Anse executed them three days later and “riddled them with bullets, despite their mother’s cries for mercy” (Lugar, 1996).
In 1887, the Kentucky government ordered Officer Frank Phillips to investigate and arrest the McCoy brothers’ murderers. In order to eliminate all of the evidence, the Hatfields burnt the McCoy family home to the ground. The West Virginia government put forth a lawsuit against the Kentucky government stating that the Kentucky government had no right to arrest nine natives West Virginians. Both sides took this lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court in order to end it. The case resulted in the nine West Virginians returning to Kentucky for death sentences.
Only five family members survived the feud — Johnse Hatfield, Roseanna McCoy, Devil Anse Hatfield, Nancy McCoy, and Randolph McCoy survived the feud. The Kentucky government did not convict Johnse Hatfield for the murders of the McCoy brothers. Instead, Johnse received a pardon because he saved Lt. Gov. William Pryor Thomas when an “inmate attacked the lieutenant governor” (Lugar, 1996). Nancy McCoy divorced Johnse in order to marry Frank Phillips and died at the young age of 36. No one knows exactly when Roseanna McCoy died, but most assume she died between the years 1960 and 1970. Today, her body “lies in Dils Cemetery at Pikeville” (Lugar, 1996).
Devil Anse Hatfield and Randolph McCoy did not receive any harm, except Randolph “died of burns on March 28, 1914” (Lugar, 1996). Ironically enough, Devil Anse became a “born again Christian in 1911” (Lugar, 1996) after all of that fighting and feuding. He died at the age of 80 on January 6, 1921 in Logan County, West Virginia. Logan County had never seen a funeral as large as Devil Anse Hatfield’s funeral. Today, his grave has become a national monument.
The Grangerford-Shepherdson feud has similarities to the Hatfield-McCoy feud. No one participating in the feud has an inkling of the reason for why and how the feud actually started thirty years ago. According to Buck Grangerford, the feud started when “there was trouble ’bout something, and then a lawsuit to settle it; the suit went again one of the men, and so he up and shot the man that won the suit” (Twain, 86). After thirty years of feuding, the feud had become an “established mode of behavior” (Bloom, 36). They no longer need a reason after a feud has gone on for that long.
One day when Buck and Huck had gone hunting, a Shepherdson boy named Harny McCoy “came galloping down the road” (Twain, 85). Stupidly, Buck fired his gun and shot Harny’s hat. Harny rode his horse after them, but Huck and Buck got away and ran to Buck’s house.
After hearing this news, Colonel Grangerford seemed jubilant that Buck had almost killed Harney. Not all of the Grangerfords enjoy this feud as with the members of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. Sophia Grangerford for one cares for Harney and wants to elope with him, as the two families later find out. When Sophia hears the news, her face “turned pale” (Twain, 86), and then the “color come back when she found the man warn’t hurt” (Twain, 86).
The Shepherdson and Grangerford families share many similarities — much wealth, sharing a steamboat landing, lives of aristocracy, and act like hypocrites. They go to church each Sunday and take their guns, keeping them close at hand. They all listen to the same minister preaching about “brotherly love” (Twain, 87) and afterwards they all talk about the “faith, and good works, and free grace, and preforeordestination” (Twain, 87); yet neither family wants to end the thirty-year feud.
After seeing Jim, Huck makes his way to the log store and finds Buck and his cousin, Joe Grangerford, in a scuffle with several men, who have the advantage of riding their horses. Each side fires at the other. Buck tells Huck that the Shepherdsons killed his father and his two brothers, while two of the Shepherdsons had been killed. Huck sees the men kill Buck and Joe while they attempt to retreat past the river. Huck now feels guilty for not telling Colonel Grangerford about “that paper and the curious way Miss Sophia acted” (Twain, 91).
In both feuds – the Hatfield-McCoy Feud and the Grangerford-Shepherdson Feuds – pride and rage overcome the families causing tragic endings both times. Very few family members on each side survived the feud. Love becomes the resulting trigger, as the families cannot see past their own selfishness to realize that their sons and daughters love each other’s. Much like wars, these feuds resulted out of petty arguments. Unfortunately, also in war, these feuds wound up hurting each family; they paid the ultimate price in death just because of a pig, a lawsuit, and a murder. Feuds cannot end unless both sides give up, sign a treaty or all of the members of the feud died.
Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Interpretations: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Lugar, Normal. Roseanna: Juliet of the Mountains. Blue Ridge Country
Shirley, Donnelly. Hatfield-McCoy Feud 75 Years Old Today. West Virginia Archives and History.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Grolier Online. Hatfield-McCoy FeudGrolier Multimedia Encyclopedia.Grolier Online. Hatfield-McCoy Feud. Encyclopedia Americana.