Last updated: July 12. 2014 11:07PM - 7821 Views
By Dwight Williamson For Civitas Media

Photo courtesy Janice WilliamsonDue to a court ruling, the McCoy Cemetery is open to the public twice a year.
Photo courtesy Janice WilliamsonDue to a court ruling, the McCoy Cemetery is open to the public twice a year.
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The Hatfield Cemetery of Logan County has been the topic for discussion for quite some time, originally because of the condition of the final resting places for many of the Devil Anse Hatfield family and others, and because of a cable which had been placed across the bridge leading to the sacred site prior to the beginning of the Hatfield-McCoy Reunion which concluded Sunday, June

With those issues now being resolved thru the help of two of the Hatfield’s oldest living descendants and the Logan County Commission, which supplied the manpower to clear the cemetery, and a suitable explanation given for the placing of the cable, perhaps more history concerning the cemetery at Sarah Ann and a McCoy cemetery in Kentucky may be of interest to readers.

While vendors endured thunderstorms that struck the Matewan area on the festival’s first day doing considerable damage to the various tents and other coverings, Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce Director Natalie Young said those in attendance at the three day event enjoyed the festivities, which included narrated tours of the various feud sites scattered across the region. This summer marked the fifteenth year for the reunion that has annually brought visitors to the region from all parts of the country and beyond.

There is one feud site near Hardy, Ky. which few visitors, if any, got to visit. Across from the site where Randolph McCoy’s home was raided and burned by the Hatfield’s on New Year’s Day, 1888, there is a cemetery located upon a hill where three McCoy boys are buried after they were executed by the Hatfield’s six years earlier. Tolbert, Pharmer and Randolph (Jr.) were tied to pawpaw trees and shot to death in 1882. Two other sons, Alifair and Calvin McCoy, were killed in the New Year’s Day attack and also are buried there. Randolph and the remainder of his clan moved to Pikeville, Kentucky, and are buried there.

While most of the actual tombstones are small and crude and could be hauled off as souvenirs by thieves, one monument there tells the story. On the monument is inscripted the following:

“Six of the sixteen children of Randolph and Sarah McCoy lie buried here, having suffered untimely death. Three died bound to pawpaw trees at the mouth of Blackberry Creek in August, 1882. One is believed to have died of grief because his brother had been shot in his stead. Two perished when their home was burned in January, 1888. The homesite is visible across the valley above the place.”

The marker was presented to the Preservation Council of Pike County by the McCoy family in 1975.

Oddly, McCoy Cemetery has been owned by Hatfield descendants, John and Barbara Vance, for many years. Vance, a descendant of “Bad” Jim Vance who fought with the Hatfield’s as a relative in the world famous feud, inherited the property and has placed a sign at the bottom of the hill leading to the cemetery that says the cemetery “is closed to the public.” Words on the sign clarify that “those related to the McCoy children buried in the McCoy Cemetery may visit on Memorial Day weekend and the third weekend of September each year.” No tours are allowed and the Vance’s reserve the right to ask for proof of descendancy and time to verify it. The sign says “this is written within the court’s rulings concerning private cemetery visitation.” The sign concludes with “trespassers may be prosecuted.”

Two McCoy descendants, in 2002, rekindled the old feud by filing a suit in Pikeville to get access to the cemetery. In a story printed in The Florida Times Union, Bo McCoy of Waycross, Ga., and one of the organizers of the Hatfield-McCoy Reunion, said:

“We’ve been put in this position where, as family members, we have been told we cannot have access to the cemetery. We had no choice but to file suit. We regret that it was necessary.”

He was joined in the suit by his cousin, Ron McCoy, of Durham, N.C. The two claimed the road leading to the cemetery to be a public road, while the Vance’s claimed the road to be a private driveway. Vance said he feared liability problems in regards to potential injuries on the property.

“I question their right to force their way through my property,” Vance explained.

Both families claimed victory after a Pike County Judge’s ruling which led to the placing of the sign at the cemetery now described as a “hallowed site” because it contains the bodies of five of those slain in the feud. By 1888, at least twelve people had been killed as a result of the Appalachian feuding.

Lucy Thomas, herself a descendant of Bad Jim Vance, lives close to the Hatfield Cemetery and has lived all of her life in the Sarah Ann area. Thomas said she believes John Vance just “doesn’t want to be bothered by people” at the McCoy Cemetery. However, many years ago, after a photograph of the graves in the cemetery appeared in a popular magazine, the then owner of the property reportedly became angry because the reporter had trespassed without gaining permission to visit the cemetery. Access to the graveyard has been difficult ever since that time.

There is an interesting story which relates to the Hatfield Cemetery. It seems one Abner Vance, who was Devil Anse’s grandfather on his mother’s side, was a Baptist preacher and a good reason why the name Vance is plentiful in the coal fields of Appalachia. Vance, who came to Logan County as a fugitive from the law, produced fourteen children before he was hanged in 1819 at the age of 59. One of his seven daughters was named Nancy and she married Ephraim Hatfield, Devil Anse’s father. Another daughter, Elizabeth, was the reason her father was hanged. Here’s the version that’s been handed down through generations:

Abner Vance and his young wife Susannah migrated to the Clinch River Valley of Russell, KY., about 1790. He preached, trapped and did some surveying to support his rapidly growing family. His daughter Elizabeth is said to have “ran off” with a man named Lewis Horton. Several months later on September 17, 1817, Horton returned with the girl and dropped her off at her parents’ house. Apparently, in those days, the actions of Mr. Horton proved insulting to both the mother and father of Elizabeth as they begged him to marry the girl. After a “bad” remark was made by Horton in regard to the Vances’ daughter, he mounted his horse and started to ride away. Vance went into the house and returned with his gun and shot Horton from about 100 yards away while Horton’s horse was drinking water from the nearby stream.

Abner Vance left Kentucky that night and traveled along the Tug and Guyandotte Rivers into the remote and wooded area of Logan County where he remained a fugitive for two years. At the urging of his family, he returned to Kentucky to stand trial since it was thought he would be “freed” due to his reputation as a preacher, and by the idea that by his killing of Horton he was only defending his family’s honor. However, upon his arrival to Russell County, he was jailed and held without bail until his first trial which resulted in a hung jury. A second trial resulted in a conviction and he was sentenced to hang. Petitions were circulated and the case was taken to the court of appeals where the lower court’s decision was upheld. He was hanged July 16, 1819 in Abington, Va. It is said that a short time later a courier arrived with a pardon from the Governor. His wife, Susannah, left Kentucky and migrated into the valleys of the Tug, Big Sandy and Guyandotte Rivers where all the children later scattered and produced siblings of their own. It has been written that Elizabeth went on to produce several illegitimate children.

There are several interesting stories which surround the legends of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s, including the influence of moonshine which led to the death of Randolph McCoy and the intentional burning of Devil Anse’s home place by one of his own sons.

All will be told in due time.

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