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Off the Beaten Path: Disease linked to historic feud open to debate

Contrary to what you would have thought from recent media reports, June Inman is not itching for a fight.

Not even if you came from the Hatfield gene pool.

But the pleasant Medford resident, who turns 87 next month, does question reports suggesting an inherited disease sparked rages in the McCoys, triggering the nation's most famous feud.

"I honestly think it was the Hatfields who were quick-tempered," says the McCoy descendant. "That 'Devil Anse' Hatfield, he taught all his boys to fight at the drop of a hat.

"My mother, who lived to be 93, she said he was real mean — she used to see him when she was young," she adds. "But I understand before he died he did turn Christian."

Inman, whose melted-honey accent reflects her eastern Kentucky roots, will tell you one of her mother's great uncles was Randolph "Ole Ran'l" McCoy, the clan leader when the feud started way back in 1865. The Hatfields were led by William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield who died of old age in 1921. Ole Ran also succumbed to old age in 1914.

But not before a dozen folks were killed in the feud, including her maternal grandfather, before it finally ended in the early 1890s.

"It's a sad thing they had to get in that fight," Inman says. "Our grandmother, she had to work after her husband got killed."

That would have been Jeff McCoy, observes her youngest brother, Frank Bolling, 69, of Sacramento. He attended McLoughlin Junior High School in the early 1950s while living in Medford with his sister who moved here in 1945.

"They did murder our grandfather," confirms Bolling, a retired mapmaker. "He was made to swim the Tug Fork River, then they shot him. The feud was a tragic thing."

Like his older sister, he also doubts reports that link an inherited disease to the feud.

"The Hatfields at that point in time were pretty murderous people," he says. "The McCoys tried to go by the law."

"Our mother said her great uncles were peace-loving," she says. "But if a Hatfield killed a McCoy, why, they would go kill a Hatfield."

Their mother was Maude McCoy, born in 1895. Their father was Walter Blaine Bolling, circa 1892.

Just what started the family feud is open to debate. Some say it was over a pig, although others snort at that explanation. Arguments over politics and land fueled the blaze, they say.

"It's true a McCoy pig got over on the Hatfield side," Inman says. "But our mom says that was just an excuse, that they already harbored bad thoughts on both sides."

The siblings agree the feuding fever rose when young Roseanna McCoy fell in love with Johnse Hatfield, Devil Anse's son. After the McCoys kidnapped her lover, she made a desperate ride to alert Devil Anse, who organized a rescue party.

Unfortunately, Johnse Hatfield would later abandon the then-pregnant Roseanna for her cousin.

"That turned out to be a sad love affair," Inman says. "When I was very little I remember my mother saying, 'There goes Roseanna on her horse.' I remember she had on white gloves and a riding habit. They rode side-saddle in those days."

Their father was a friend of Johnse Hatfield, says Inman, who was born in Phelps, Ky., nearly within a rifle shot of the West Virginia where the Hatfields made their home. Her youngest brother was born just across the state line in Hatfield country.

"Our dad was close to the Hatfields and the McCoys both," she says.

He was a constable during the 1920s, later becoming a coal mining engineer, her brother says.

"He married a McCoy and his half-brother married a Hatfield," he says. "He always said he was trying to end the feud through marriage."

Inman will tell you the Appalachian hill country where she was born was filled with decent folks, no matter what their surname.

"The people were so poor but they were good, God-fearing people," she says. "If a man ever loved a woman, our dad loved our mother. There was a lot of happiness in our family."

But some things like politics were taken very seriously, she acknowledges.

"Our parents were both Republicans," she says. "I can remember when I was young and did something wrong, our dad would say, 'You know you were acting like a Democrat.' "

" 'Democrat' is still a cuss word in our family," her brother says.

But never a shooting offense, he says.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at pfattig@mailtribune.com