Pikeville is a small town, tucked into the rolling hills of Kentucky coal country. But 134 years ago, it was the center stage on which played out the most famous family feud ever, between the Hatfields and the McCoys.
Legend claims hundreds were murdered. Experts say 12 people from the two families died, all because of a fierce family devotion.
The Hatfields and McCoys initially fought in court over who owned a prize hog. The Hatfields won, touching off years of trouble that led to the election day massacre, when three McCoy brothers were tied to trees and shot to death for killing a Hatfield. The three McCoys were buried on land now owned by a Hatfield, John Hatfield.
"This is McCoy country," Hatfield says of the land. "I have several McCoys that are friends. I have a Hatfield that lives across the road from me. Many Hatfields live in the same area. So, we all get along today."
Maybe, but some McCoys want to make sure it stays that way. Bo McCoy is the great, great, great, great grandson of Randolph McCoy, who first fought the Hatfields. Bo McCoy is organizing a "friendly" year 2000 reunion between the formerly "unfriendly" Hatfields and McCoys.
The McCoys even have a Web site, where people can make plans for the reunion. Bo's cousin Ron lives in Durham; he is second in command of the reunion effort.
The two McCoys and some Hatfields practiced their protocol at a mini-reunion recently in the Pikeville town square.
"Even though we're laughing you can feel an undertone," Bo McCoy says. "There still needs to be a national event to put all this to bed, and there hasn't been one, so there will be."
Paul Hatfield, four generations removed from the feud, represented his clan at the mini-reunion. "I think they're doing a fine thing. There's nothing wrong with it," Hatfield said.
Ron McCoy believes the families' fates are inseparable. "It's a common heritage. You can't have one without the other," McCoy says. "You always hear Hatfields and McCoys as one phrase, and the families basically, over the decades, are one. We're joined forever."
While in Kentucky, the McCoys visited the Pikeville Cemetery. They found standing above the graves of their relatives for the first time an emotional experience.
"To actually be here and walk the same hills that they walked and be on the same ground that they lived on is quite something," Ron McCoy said.
"It's hard to talk," Bo McCoy says. "[I've] been listening to the legends all of my life, and now I guess it's real."
Some third- and fourth-generation McCoys are buried in Durham's Woodlawn Cemetery.
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