Home | News | Open season on McCoys after cash bounty on Hatfields

Open season on McCoys after cash bounty on Hatfields

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JOHNathan CAPPS
Ellis County Press
Continuing with our account of the Hatfield-McCoy feud, we learned numerous indignities were suffered by each side following provocations by the other. The feud grew in magnitude and took on a life of its own with continuing acts of retaliation.

At the time of the feud, there was no workable system between West Virginia and Kentucky to extradite an accused offender. As a matter of practice, it was the informal policy of each state to take care of its own citizens; So if you committed a crime in the another state, your home state effectively served as a refuge.

On the other hand, many officials of the local courts were considered corrupt and self serving. Some historians emphasize that during the Hatfield-McCoy feud there were many fugitives from a kind of pseudo-justice sponsored by the other side.

Many people at that time and place actually preferred to fight their own battles and leave the law out of their 'private' matters.

The mountain people were versatile, capable, and proudly self reliant. One would never summon assistance to do a repair if you could do it yourself, nor would you summon the law if you could handle the matter yourself. If you needed a posse, your own family and friends were available and willing.

However, if someone had the sanction of the law behind him, it added credibility to his efforts. So when the State of Kentucky processed approximately 20 murder indictments against the Hatfields and their supporters, one individual stepped forward to demonstrate his unbridled willingness to apprehend - or execute - the Hatfields.

His name was Frank Phillips. Phillips, of the Pikeville area of Kentucky, was a bit of a local legend. He had a reputation as a braggart, yet he proved time and again he could live up to his words. Phillips claimed he could shoot straighter, drink more corn whisky, and court more pretty women than any other man.

Those who knew him preferred to stay clear. Few people toyed with Frank Phillips.

Phillips, as Sheriff of Pikeville and with full knowledge of Governor Buckner of Kentucky, undertook a series of raids into West Virginia, hoping to collect rewards - or cash bounties - for killing or apprehending a Hatfield. Soon, a number of Hatfield supporters were missing, presumedly dead or captured.

As one might expect, the Hatfields increased their own 'posse' raids into Kentucky in search of McCoys.

At about this time, Governor Buckner issued an ultimatum to West Virginia Governor Wilson: Either deliver those Hatfields under indictment to Kentucky, or Kentucky would put an army on the border.

Wilson refused to back down and countered with a military threat of his own. The feud was now dangerously close to bringing war between Kentucky and West Virginia. 

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