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Prelude concludes: Feud to start next week

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Johnathan Capps
Ellis County Press
EDITOR'S NOTE - The Ellis County Press concludes background for the upcoming documentary of the Hatfield-McCoy feud:

The location of the McCoy-Hatfield feud was considered isolated by some observers. They were only partly right.

It's true the mountains of West Virginia were almost impassable. Modern day West Virginians claim their state would be larger than Texas if their mountains and valleys could be ‘ironed out'.

The Tug River Valley, home to both the Hatfield and McCoy families, is nestled in Appalachia, yet the river afforded access to the Ohio River and the bustling trade that built along that key waterway. Even so, the first settlers of Kentucky and the ‘New West' were not easily reached by the rest of America.

To illustrate the difficulty of commerce in that time, consider that the McCormick Reaper was first developed in Virginia and was in great demand in the new farming regions along the Ohio River.

Instead of bringing the machines directly west, it was necessary to take then to the coast of Virginia and load them on a ship which sailed around Florida to New Orleans. There they were loaded on a river boat and brought up the Mississippi to the Ohio River, then on to Cincinnati.

Those who lived in the area of the feud were often regarded with curiosity. Most of the Tug Valley residents didn't want to be observed or studied by anybody and preferred to simply be left alone. This is understandable, since many of the early news writers came all the way from New York or Philadelphia to describe the country people inaccurately. 

People living apart naturally develop their own characteristics, and this was commonplace across much of America. Most Americans lived in a rural environment, and many people lived their entire lives within a few miles of their birthplace. This was true not only in Kentucky, but in New England, New York, and Louisiana as well. 

The same was once true even in England. English writer Thomas Hardy wrote that mobility led to a breaking away from isolation, proving fatal to the preservation of folklore, close inter-social relations, and eccentric individuals.

The deep family connections of the feuding families was quite apparent. It was a small world with large families, and the Hatfields and McCoys shared numerous kinships. Early maps indicating the locations of these families show numerous home sites in both Kentucky and West Virginia.

The sheer numbers are impressive, and recording them all would be frustrating for a sincere genealogist. The Mounts family, notable in the Tug Valley area and intermarried with both the Hatfields and McCoy, illustrate the difficulty in tracing names.

David and Peggy Mounts had 11 children between 1809 and 1832. These children in turn averaged 9 children each, so there were 99 Mounts cousins by 1860. Ellison Mounts, siding with the Hatfields, would be the only person convicted and hanged for a crime during the lengthy feud.

The lands of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia held the ingredients for a violent feud, iron and gunpowder. The soil in many areas was rich in potassium-nitrate, or ‘petre-dirt', which was useful for making gun powder. 

Our background of the feud setting and the people of the mountains is complete. Let the feud begin.

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