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‘Cottontop’ goes to gallows

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JOHNathan CAPPS
Ellis County Press
Continuing with our account of the Hatfield-McCoy feud, we learned Ellison Mounts, or 'Cottontop' as he was affectionately known, was accused of participating in the killings at the McCoy cabin in 1888.

Nine members of the Hatfield faction were tried in Kentucky for murder. Eight were given life sentences. Ellison Mounts, despite his suspected mental impairment, was sentenced to be hanged.

The State of Kentucky prohibited public hanging, so a fence was erected around the gallows, ostensibly to block the view. But Pike County officials had the gallows built at the bottom of a tall hill. Many feud historians believe Pike County wanted to make an impression on the parties involved in the feud.

On Feb. 18, 1890, a crowd estimated between 4,000 and 8,000 gathered on the hill to watch the hanging of the ill-fated Ellison 'Cotton-top' Mounts.

One mother within the hushed assembly looked down upon the proceedings and whimpered - her throat tightening - her eyes tearing. 

The slow witted man-child was led to the gallows, demonstrating a rare aloofness that betrayed any inner fear as he approached his death. Possibly, Cottontop believed he would be rescued by Devil Anse Hatfield at the last minute.

Suddenly, the support beneath Cottontop's legs dropped away. The rope grew taut. His body fell, then yanked to a stop. His legs thrashed and jerked in spasms. Then he was still.

It was over quickly. Many who witnessed the ghastly event now looked away. The mother stared into the distance at nothing at all, then concealed her face.

The Pike County courts gave the life of Ellison Mounts in sacrifice so others might take warning. Perhaps it had its effect, for both McCoy and Hatfield factions quickly tempered their thirst for vengeance. Acts of violence attributed to the feud decreased immediately after the hanging, although the hatred lingered for years. 

Among the numerous participants of the Hatfield-McCoy conflict, Mounts was the only person legally executed in the entire duration of the feud.

Subscribe to comments feed Comments (62 posted)

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angela 02/11/2012 20:01:09
This man was my kin-folk.
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jim 05/31/2012 13:55:13
I hardly believe this man was your "kin-folk" as you put it.
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Taz 06/05/2012 20:57:20
I believe it, many people are related to the Hatfields. There's a handful of people who can be traced back to Ellison Mounts, especially since it is said that his Illegitimate father, Ellison Hatfield supposedly had 11 children.
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Addison 07/27/2013 19:45:36
Yeah, it's more than likely he was related to her. Most people are related to the Hatfields or McCoys, if not both. Their are few who are immediate family members, but others that are farther away aren't hard to trace back either. So, yeah, it's legit that he could be your kinfolk.
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05/31/2012 10:53:58
Really this was your kinfolk did this happen the way they said what mean is have you heard family stories about how it reall y happened
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angela 02/11/2012 20:02:41
This man was my kin-folk.
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05/30/2012 07:02:56
Im sorry that this happened.
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Bob 05/30/2012 18:21:59
Some where in all of this mess I married a Mounts and we had two son's.I know my Wife was born in Devon,WVA. it might be Interesting to do some research to see where it would end up???
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Jerry 05/30/2012 23:01:29
"They should not have hung someone that was handicap. I think both sides of the feud had many stupid people in their families. Its no wonder people that are stupid are call hicks from the sticks and rednecks. The deserve their reputations.
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mayberry 12/04/2013 10:23:01
You watch too much tv.. your comment is ignorant.
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betty 08/19/2012 05:53:58
Perhaps. But you should learn to spell.
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Deb 06/13/2012 23:46:33
Congrats Jerry you win the "Dumb-ass" award!!! And to think it was given to you by a hick, redneck with origins from NC!!! Wow huh? A hick who can SPELL and complete sentence structure accurately no less too.. Makes you look even more like a dumb-ass since your diction and spelling is worse than my 5 year old cousin. Think before you type in the future.
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Jim 05/28/2013 18:49:20
Good one Deb.....lol
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reva-lution 06/09/2012 19:42:12
I can see your initial reaction, but once you watch the epic w/Costner, at least 3x, you will realize that people are basically all alike--we do what we think is right even when it seems obviously not to onlookers.We all have 'blind spots' because we are humans with emotions, which is why we should surround ourselves with people who will tell us straight. We all make bad choices, some with worse consequences than others.....so let him who is without fault cast the first stone.
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mknghorn 06/06/2012 07:49:00
jerry,you mean like people who can't spell?or properly form sentences?little tip;before calling out people for being stupid,at least make sure you have typed everything correctly(uhh...spellcheck?)and the folks who read your post won't dismiss it as the work of an idiot.
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Megan McCoy 05/30/2012 23:22:32
A horrible shame.
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Nathan 05/31/2012 01:36:52
It was all just sad I mean really the mccoys started it all
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liv 08/19/2012 08:03:18
actually, hatfields started it to be technical. do some research
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Bakersdirtyduzn 04/21/2013 17:15:36
It takes 2
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Jimmy Sixpence 05/31/2012 13:47:03
may you have peace during your time of immense suffering...
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05/31/2012 16:16:02
I seen the movie and he was so sweet. I dont think that any where justice...just because he was differeNt
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Tricia 05/31/2012 16:30:07
I wonder how true to history was the portrayal of Cottentop's mental limitations in the History Channel account? It was a terrible shame if it was.
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crystal 08/30/2012 15:57:11
on the radio they said cotton top was not that slow and retarded as they made him to be
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Anonymous 07/28/2013 11:55:41
From reading multiple accounts, it sounds more like Josh Brolin's portrayal of Tom Chaney in the 2010 version of True Grit would have been spot on for the Cottontop character.
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Taz 06/05/2012 21:10:16
Otis Rice's book The Hatfields and McCoys said he was a 6ft rude, unrully country boy who was barely literate who was known for petty pilfering and multifarious persuits and although he wasn't as intellegent as the others, he was still sly enough to be a problem and he had Albinism ... I love the movie version to death, he was such a little sweet heart! They even left out his wife, Rebecca Justice. But like all historic movies, there's inaccuracies but perhaps for the good? Atleast they made a film is all I have to say, because many would have forgotten this rich history of their's!
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Izzzy 01/04/2014 13:36:13
There is no medical evidence that Cottontop was actually albino. In fact, he did have some darker hair and darker eyes. . Picture; http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=104268010 His main problem was his bad behavior. Most like his behavior was the result of learning disabilities, anger management and retardation. Most likely due to being born to first cousins.
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Tracy 08/11/2012 16:57:41
Taz, I'm just curious of what info you may have about Rebecca Justice. She was sister to my great-great grandfather and I can't find anything at all on her after their marriage in 1882. If you see this, you can email me at tdhunter79@yahoo.com. Thanks..
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Izzzy 01/04/2014 13:51:47
I tried to email you Tracy, but email addy was no good.
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wanetta 08/04/2013 14:54:38
Go to fb the real hatfield, real mccoy, real fued, real matewan page Tracy. Everyone will help you trace your history if you are related.
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Tracy 06/23/2014 09:38:21
Thank you for the info Wanetta. I will check it out. 83a3050c
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