Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Blood Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance

Blood Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance, by Lisa Alther, is a generally acceptable account of the famous feud - despite the embarrassing subtitle.  Having never read a narrative of this famous struggle, I found that this book, despite its title, spent little time on the actual feud, and more on the place and times which surrounded it.

Alther dispels many myths.  Not all Hatfields and McCoys participated in the feud.  Only a small branch of each family.  Often, Hatfields and McCoys testified against members of their extended family in court.  Other, non-family members were also involved.  Hatfields and McCoys fought on both sides of the Civil War, which in their area of West Virginia and Kentucky took on a brutal, neighbor vs. neighbor tone.  But we can’t pin the cause of the feud as an extension of the Civil War.

Alther seeks to show that the feud had no one cause, but many.  She convincingly shows that the people who settled in the feud area were descended from mix raced groups who fled into the mountains west of the original thirteen states to avoid racial classification (she credits a book called “Almost White” with much of this history). This created a culture of suspicion and insularity.  Yet even this explanation is not wholly sufficient, as very many people in the area never raised a hand against a neighbor in anger.

Much of the dispute came down to personalities with less than socially responsible impulses.  The other elements contributed somewhat to the conflict.

A good book, I am sure there are more comprehensive works on the Hatfield McCoy feud than this, somewhat light and glancing treatment.  

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