#122: The Coyfields & the McHats


122.1  I recently (finally) watched the History Channel’s miniseries on the Hatfields and McCoys. There are several interesting genealogical aspects I’d like to touch on…but first, the burning question…

122.2  …which you should ask yourself anytime you’re watching a “bio-pic”…Is this really the way it happened? It’s a fact of life that there has to be some degree of “poetic license” in the telling a factual tale…from a historian’s point of view, this can many times be described as “extreme,” and the miniseries in question falls into that category.

122.3  One problem is when several real-life individuals are combined into one…what they call a “composite.” The judge at the “Hog Trial” was not Uncle Wall Hatfield, but rather Devil Anse’s father’s half-1st cousin, also named Anderson Hatfield, and known as “Preacher Anse” (sometimes called “Deacon Anse,” confusing him with his brother Basil “Deacon” Hatfield.) Preacher Anse lived on the Kentucky side of the Tug River, the McCoy side, and was trusted by the McCoy clan. He demonstrated his impartially by impanelling 6 Hatfield jurors and 6 McCoys. The fact that Selkirk McCoy voted against his kin and in favor of the Hatfields is testament to how intertwined these 2 families were…he and several other McCoys worked for the Hatfields in their timber business.


122.4  Further, the judge at the trial of Paris and Sam McCoy for the killing of Bill Staton was indeed Valentine “Uncle Wall” Hatfield…but this was not Devil Anse’s older brother Valentine, who was one of the 9 convicted for the “Paw Paw Tree Incident.” The judge’s full name was Valentine Wallace Hatfield…thus Uncle Wall not Uncle Val…and he was named after his Uncle Valentine, Ephraim’s father and Devil Anse’s grandfather…following all this!? The sundry Valentines are summarized in Chart 429. And despite what it says on the official marker, Uncle Wall was not Devil Anse’s uncle…he was a 1st cousin once removed, being the 1st cousin and not brother of Devil Anse’s father Ephraim.

chart 429

122.5  Another change: lawyer Perry Cline did not have designs on marrying Roseanna Hatfield…he was already married at the time and had a son, the first of his 8 children. And one thing they left out: at the time of the New Year’s Eve Raid, Ellison “Cotton Top” Mounts was himself married, altho it is believed he and his wife had no children. And did you wonder why they’d even risk taking a “mentally challenged” individual out on such a mission? The fact is, while it was widely acknowledged that there was something “not right” with him, historians today don’t rightly know what. There is evidence that while he was in custody, attempts were made to have him declared insane….as opposed to “feeble-minded.”

122.6  And other stuff…despite what is often written, there is no historical evidence that Devil Anse and Randall served together in the Civil War. In fact, in a 1944 article, LIFE  magazine claimed it was Devil Anse, not Uncle Bill, who killed Asa Harmon McCoy…and not after the war, but in a battle during the war. Bounty hunter Bad Frank Phillips was appointed as a special officer by the Governor of Kentucky…not hired by Randall McCoy and lawyer Cline. And as the miniseries progressed, the the variances from fact increased substantially. But that’s show biz, I suppose…

122.7  Then there is the typical condensation of the time-line. The dispute over the hog occurred 13 years after the death of Asa Harmon McCoy…13 years!  Ellison Hatfield was killed 4 years after that…and  another 8 years passed before the trial of the Hatfield Nine, and the hanging of Cotton Top as the scapegoat of the affair.

122.8  And of course, there are areas where historians still can’t agree on exactly what happened…like whether Devil Anse actually knew about the New Year’s Eve Raid at all, let alone organized it and planned to lead it. The miniseries chose one side of that debate and ran with it. And that’s just scratching the surface of the many mysteries, controversies, and theories as to the true chain of events. You could spend a lifetime sorting it all out…and trust me, people have!

122.9  On the genealogical side, there is first the issue of just how big these families were. Devil Anse’ came from a family of at least 12 children…some say as many as 18…and he himself had 13. Randolph McCoy…called Randall or “Ole Ran’l”…came from a family nearly as big, and he fathered 16. Yes, the show had some little ones running about, but there were a ton more of them…and cousins by the dozens, literally. Which is why no matter how many relatives were killed, both sides seemed to have plenty more.

122.10  Uncle Jim’s surname was Vance, not Hatfield…so to be Devil Anse’s “uncle,” he either married one of Devil Anse’s parent’s sisters, or was a brother to Devil Anse’s mother. It turns out the latter was the case. But this brings up an interesting point…when families are so intermixed as the McCoys and Hatfields were…and with many other families besides…it is not always clear where one’s loyalties should lie. Life and circumstances often chose for you. Thus Uncle Jim was fiercely a Hatfield without actually being of Hatfield blood…yes, he was blood to Devil Anse, but thru the Vances, not the Hatfields. It harkens backs to the matrilineal kinship system…not seen in the Western world since the 7th century and Beowulf…where a man was typically more closely allied to his sister’s children than to his own. 

122.11 And to further muddy the waters, it is believed that Jim Vance and his sister, Devil Anse’s mother Nancy Vance, were Vances only thru their mother Elizabeth Vance, who had them out of wedlock….their father is unknown, altho rumored to have been a brother-in-law. Mind you, this Elizabeth Vance was a different Elizabeth Vance…by over half a century…from the one who was the wife of patriarch Joseph Hatfield, at the top of Chart 429. Uncle Wall also married a Vance…as did Preacher Anse’s Uncle Jeremiah, his father George’s brother…and John Hatfield, Devil Anse’s uncle and father of the alleged hog-napper Floyd Hatfield, married a Vance too.

122.12  Next…you may hear it said that Bill Staton, key witness at the Hog Trial, was kin to both the McCoys and the Hatfields. True to an extent…see Chart 430

chart 430

Bill Staton’s mother Nancy was Randall McCoy’s 1st cousin, making Bill his 1st cousin once removed, not nephew as is often said. But besides that, 2 of Bill’s sisters married Hatfield 1st cousins, one a brother of Devil Anse. Thus by blood Bill Staton was a McCoy…but his close friendship with his 2 brothers-in-law put him squarely in the Hatfield camp…bad luck for him, as it turned out. And there were many more ways the McCoys and Hatfields were linked by marriage, over and above that of Johnson “Johnse” Hatfield and Roseanna and Nancy McCoy.

122.13  For the record, I should mention that it is often said that Floyd Hatfield was the son of George Hatfield, who was Devil Anse’s grandfather Valentine’s half-brother (see Chart 429.) George did have a son named Floyd…but if that Floyd was the Hog Trial Floyd, he would have also been the brother of the man who presided over that trial, Preacher Anse Hatfield! And this clearly wasn’t the case…it is well documented that the Hog Trial Floyd was one of Bill Staton’s brothers-in-law, making him the wife of Esther Polly Staton, and the son of John Hatfield, Devil Anse’s father’s brother…for the record.

122.14  Another family with close ties to the Hatfields were the Chafins. Devil Anse’s wife Levisa…also called Levicy or Vicy…was a Chafin…and 3 of her sisters married Hatfields…Chart 431. Also, in real life it was Devil Anse’s 1st cousin once removed Bad Lias who got into the scuffle with Tolbert McCoy over payment for the fiddle, not Devil Anse’s brother Good Lias as portrayed in the miniseries. And because these big families were so spread out over time, Bad Lias was 5 years younger than Good Lias, altho Bad was Good’s father’s half-1st cousin.

chart 431

122.15  I mentioned lawyer Perry Cline…despite the miniseries’ portrayal of him as one of the major villains in the piece, history suggests otherwise. He was elected sheriff of Pike Country, Kentucky for 2 terms…also served in the state legislature, and as a school commissioner. In fact, a school was named after him, the Perry A. Cline High School…it taught black students from 1937 until integration came in 1966…and the building was declared a landmark in 2007. Ironic, since back in the day, his father was wealthy enough to own slaves. We must be careful tho, because he had a nephew also named Perry A. Cline…that middle initial has so far resisted all my attempts at deciphering. BTW, our  Perry was the youngest of 9 siblings…again, big families.

122.16  But the interesting thing is that kinship is generally imputed between Perry Cline and Randall McCoy…I’ve seen it described as cousin, 1st cousin, distant cousin, and cousin by marriage. None of these are true, as per Chart 432. Perry’s sister Martha “Patty” Cline was married to Asa Harmon McCoy…that would make Perry and Asa brothers-in-law…but is Perry a brother-in-law to Asa’s brother Randall?

chart 432

122.17  Randall is certainly Martha Cline’s brother-in-law, as the brother of her husband. But in my experience, your  brother-in-law doesn’t extend to your sister’s husband’s brother…altho families are free to do as they will. I love how Uncle Wiki puts it: “A brother-in-law is the brother of one’s spouse, the husband of one’s sibling, the husband of one’s spouse’s sibling (possibly), and perhaps the brother of one’s sibling’s spouse.”  Ah, that delicate balance between “possibly” and “perhaps”…and not for nothing, but is your brother’s husband your brother-in-law? Can we have a ruling…?


122.18  But here’s the kicker: some “experts” say that Perry Cline married Asa Harmon’s widow, Martha McCoy…which would be…um…lessee now…oops, his sister! No less than the History Channel itself, host of the miniseries in question, makes this claim on their website, shown above…compared to Martha Adkins Cline’s gravestone. My guess is they’re mixing up their Marthas. Dear friends, I have checked this 8 ways to Sunday, and Perry Cline did not marry his sister. $100 if you can prove he did, cash on the barrelhead. Sheesh…


122.19  Finally…we come to Ellison “Cotton Top” Mounts. Was he an albino? In the natural world, there are varying degrees of albinism…for example, an albino zebra can be white with pale brown stripes…or pure white with no discernible stripes at all. The consensus on Cotton Top, seen above with the bluesy Brothers Winter, is that he was, to some degree at any rate. As to his status as a bastard, that’s completely true…Ellison Hatfield was his father, and was not married to his mother…who was…wait for it…Harriet Hatfield! Yup, daughter of John Hatfield, sister of Floyd “Hog Trial” Hatfield…and of course Ellison’s 1st cousin…check back with Chart 430. Little Ellison was 3 years old when his mother married Daniel Mounts, thus he was named Mounts, not Hatfield. And he even had a younger brother, George…variously known as George Hatfield and George Mounts…also believed to be the son of Ellison.

chart 433

122.20  But before you jump to conclusions…the problem was that Ellison and Harriet weren’t married…not  that they were first cousins. After all, Randall McCoy and his wife Sally were themselves…1st cousins!…she being the daughter of Randall’s father Daniel’s brother Samuel. Then again…3 of Sally’s brothers married 3 Burress sisters…and one of them, Asa McCoy, was the father of Selkirk McCoy, the deciding vote at the Hog Trial…thus Selkirk was the nephew of Randall’s wife, as well as Randall’s own 1C 1R, making his “betrayal” especially galling. Another McCoy brother who married a Burress, William, had a daughter who married a Hatfield…and so it went…tangles within tangles. But this wasn’t  some hillbilly custom…it was the way everybody did it in those days…their ways weren’t our ways…

wicked ballsy


From last week…did you guess Marlo Thomas? From a 1st season episode of Dobie Gillis…altho at that time, she was still billed as Margaret Thomas, her birth name…Marlo was a childhood nickname. And do you notice somebody else soon-to-be-famous in the cast listing? According to Imdb, this was his very first appearance in movies or on TV.


Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


2 thoughts on “#122: The Coyfields & the McHats

  1. Can you please go over the Valentines of the Hatfield family again. Everyone names the son of Joseph as River Wall and I got a little confused 🙂 Are you saying the one they called “Uncle Wall” was not Devil Anse’s brother but in fact “River Wall”?? My family line runs into all of these Valentines and I am trying to sort it out. Thanks.

    • Sure thing…here’s what I believe to be true…

      (1) Devil Anse’s brother Valentine is sometimes referred to as “River Wall.” This is incorrect…he was called “Wall,” by kith, kin, and even in the newspapers. Was he ever called “Uncle Wall”? Surely by his nieces and nephews, yes. By Devil Anse himself, his own brother? No evidence of that has surfaced that I’ve seen.

      (2) The Pikeville sign says the trial of Sam and Paris McCoy was presided over by Devil Anse’s uncle, not his brother. So who was this uncle?

      (3) Valentine, the son of Joseph, nicknamed “River Wall,” was Devil Anse’s “uncle” in 2 ways: he was married to the sister of Devil Anse’s mother…and he was the 1st cousin of Devil Anse’s father. Now the brothers of Devil Anse’s father were Devil Anse’s “true” uncles…River Wall was Devil Anse’s 1st cousin once removed, the way our kinship calls it. In Spanish, he would have been Devil Anse’s “second uncle” or “tio segundo.”

      For these 3 reasons, I believe that the character played by Powers Boothe is Preacher Anse, River Wall, and Devil Anse’s brother Wall all rolled into one.

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