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Preacher Anse predicted bloodshed

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Ellis County Press

Continuing with our account of the Hatfield-McCoy feud, we learned Ellison Hatfield died in August of 1882, two days after suffering numerous knife injuries during a brawl with three McCoy brothers on the election grounds near Blackberry Creek in Kentucky.

Before Ellison's death, Devil Anse Hatfield said he didn't need the law if Ellison died, but would handle his business with the three McCoys, now held in his custody, without any help.

As the feud escalates the heart of the story is at hand, but let us slow down and consider some of the main figures in this epic drama.

One Hatfield in particular, Preacher Anse, made a noble effort to settle matters peacefully, correctly predicting the dispute would get out of control if it reached the level of a blood feud.

The Reverend Anderson C. Hatfield, known as Preacher Anse, was a cousin of William Anderson Hatfield, better known as Devil Anse. Preacher Anse was a pioneer preacher at the Old Regular Baptist Church near Blackberry Creek, and the election grounds were near his log home.

The name ‘Anse' may at first appear curious, but the early mountain people often shortened first names for informal use. Just as Johnson Hatfield became ‘Johnse,' the two Hatfield cousins named Anderson became ‘Anse.' William Anderson Hatfield took on the epithet ‘Devil Anse' when he used the term to describe himself as a ‘devil of a hunter' as a boastful young man.

After the election day fracas, Preacher Anse believed he was in a position to influence both sides and tried to talk sense as tensions built. He was equal to any in his resolve to encourage forgiveness and peace to both the McCoys and his Hatfield relatives.

Preacher Anse demonstrated peace makers can have a little grit themselves. After the McCoy boys were seized by Devil Anse, he rode across the Tug River with an indomitable tenacity and demanded he not be interrupted until he talked to his cousin about releasing the McCoys. 

Together with several friends, Preacher Anse approached Devil Anse and begged him to return the McCoy boys to Pikeville to be tried as required by law.

Still enraged by the attack on his brother, Devil Anse was equally stubborn. He refused.

After Ellison Hatfield died, the three captive McCoys were taken to the Kentucky side of the river, where they were tied to pawpaw bushes and shot until dead. There were no eye witnesses who were willing to testify to the killing, so all participants escaped punishment by the law.

It is believed the three McCoy boys were ordered to kneel and pray before they were executed. One of the boys was quite young, and it is reported Devil Anse responded to his pleading and wished to spare his life, but one of the party shot him anyway, saying 'A dead man tells no tales.'

Naturally, when word of the execution reached Randolf McCoy, father of the three boys, he grieved in anger and promised to do all he could to exterminate the Hatfields.

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