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Old Ranel swears vengeance

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Ellis County Press

Continued from last issue

Continuing with our account of the Hatfield-McCoy feud, we learned three sons of ‘Old Ranel' McCoy were executed on the Kentucky side of the Tug Fork, ostensibly by the Hatfields in retaliation for the murder of Ellison Hatfield.

In his grief and anger, Old Ranel McCoy swore to exterminate all Hatfields. 

Randolph, or Randolf, McCoy is generally considered the head of the McCoy faction at the time of the feud. In recounting the primary figures involved in the feud, some historians treat ‘Old Ranel' better than others.

Old Ranel lived on the Kentucky side of the river in modest surroundings on property belonging to his wife Sally prior to their marriage. In truth, Old Ranel was an influential man, but much of his influence was based on family connections.

Some of Old Ranel's family and neighbors referred to him as a constant complainer, who whined unceasingly over the slightest injustice. Others saw him as an honorable man with a strong sense of righteousness who wouldn't let go until his interpretation of fairness prevailed.

The patriarchal feud leaders offer a lesson in contrasts. Ranel lived in near poverty most of his life, whereas Devil Anse Hatfield owned the most successful timber operation in the area and was considered prosperous by local standards.

The 1882 murders were not the first trouble between the families. Over the years, there had been numerous outrages and humiliations suffered by both sides.

In 1865, Asa Harmon McCoy, the brother of Ranel, was found dead in a cave after serving in the Union army and returning home. Legend attributes his shooting to Devil Anse Hatfield, who once headed a group of Confederate guerrillas known as the Logan Wildcats. Asa McCoy and other Union army veterans were not well regarded in the Tug River area, and his death was of little concern at the time.

But a dispute over timber in 1872 brought on a lasting bitterness between Devil Anse Hatfield and several neighbors, most notable Perry Cline, brother-in-law of Ranel McCoy. 

Devil Anse initiated a court action against Cline and accused him of cutting timber from his land. Eventually, the court awarded Devil Anse about 5,000 acres of land then belonging to Cline.

Cline vowed revenge, but bided his time. He relocated to Pikesville, Ky., where he studied law. Years later, he would deal the Hatfield's considerable misery while serving as Prosecuting Attorney for Pike County, Ky.

After the ‘execution' of the three sons of Ranel McCoy, much of McCoy's family rallied behind him in support. Gradually, anger and resentment fomented strategies for revenge.

Both sides prepared for trouble. Both established outriders, or scouts, to observe the actions of the other side. The Hatfields and McCoys shared innumerable kinships, and the taking of sides forced a difficult decision on many area families. Many stayed away from the issue, if they could.

The movements of almost every person in the area were known to both sides. Any stranger who happened into the feudal area could expect to be stopped by a intimidating mountaineer at gun point. After he was questioned for motive, he was usually sent away. 

After all the pieces were in place, each side began sending threatening letters, warning the opposition they would soon be killed.

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Nelson Propane

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