Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 4, 2012

Are we proud or just curious about feuding?


— The Hatfield-McCoy Feud in Pike County, Ky., without question is more famous than the Martin-Tolliver Feud in Rowan County, Ky., despite the fact that the latter dispute had a higher body count.

A college student recently asked me why that is true. I thought about it for a moment and then, trying to be clever or funny, I said it was because the Pike County folks must have had a better press agent.

She managed a faint smile, thanked me and went back to her tablet computer to initiate a Google search in hopes of finding a better answer.

Later, I realized that I should have mentioned the Underwood-Holbrook Feud in neighboring Carter County that reportedly claimed about 30 lives and is said to have wiped out all adult males of one of the clans.

Sadly, further research convinced me that deadly feuding here in the hills was not the national standard, despite the success of the Hatfield & McCoy mini-series on the History Channel earlier this year, thanks to the likes of Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton and Tom Berenger.

It almost injured my Eastern Kentucky pride to learn that earlier 19th century feuds in Arizona and Texas resulted in more than 50 deaths in at least two of their wars between families.

Curious folks unaccustomed to reading about feuds in high school or college history classes have cleared the shelves of books about “feudists” and their kin.

Why do men and women from the same culture want to kill each other over seemingly trivial disagreements?

You won’t be surprised to know that these so-called “blood feuds” stemmed from arguments over politics, crime, women, booze, gambling, land boundaries, other women, livestock and more women.

In fact, the reportedly stolen pig that legend says ignited the Hatfield & McCoy bloodletting no doubt has become the most famous porker in the history of the world.

Meanwhile, it falls to those of us who live in these hills to be firm in our conviction that when it comes to settling disputes, we should rely on reason, not a rifle.


Keith Kappes is a columnist for The Morehead (Ky.) News. Contact him at