‘Cottontop’ goes to gallows
By 02/01/2001 00:00:00
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.