American Times: KENTUCKY - Writs, Not Bullets, Fly in Revival of Ancient Vendetta

Article excerpt

THE TUG-FORK river cuts a southward swath through the woods of eastern Kentucky - both a natural border with West Virginia and site of one of America's most famous feuds.

The Hatfields and McCoys are now the thing of legend. Songs are written about these battling families, poems recited, films made about the murderous and deadly dispute that ran for 12 years in the late 19th century in this unspoilt corner of the Appalachian mountains.

But the feud that has lain buried for more than a century may have reappeared. This time, at least for now, war is being waged with writs, not guns.

At issue is access to a cemetery where three members of the McCoy family were buried after notoriously being tied to pawpaw trees and executed by the Hatfields in 1882. The McCoys and others say a Hatfield descendant, John Vance, is refusing to allow people to cross his property to visit the cemetery.

"For the McCoys, this cemetery is hallowed ground," said Ron McCoy of Durham, North Carolina, an organiser of an annual Hatfield- McCoy festival in Pikeville, Kentucky. "Thousands of people come to Pike County every year to visit feud sites, and this is one that must be opened."

Legend tells that Tolbert, Pharmer and Randolph McCoy were killed in the pawpaw patch during the lengthy and bloody feud that erupted from this little-known piece of wilderness and on to the front pages of end- of-the-century newspaper across America.

The families had much in common. Both clans were part of the first wave of pioneers to settle the Tug Valley. Both were established by big, brooding patriarchs. William Anderson ("Devil Anse") Hatfield was a huge, shaggy- haired man - "six feet of devil and one hundred eighty pounds of hell," as one of his contemporaries described him. …