- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

Fussing, feuding and suing?
Perhaps. The Hatfields and McCoys are ready to have at each other again, but with barristers, not double barrels.
It was a melancholy Ron McCoy who filed suit last Friday against one John Vance a Hatfield down in Pikeville, Ky. Mr. McCoy would like access to the small McCoy family cemetery that abuts Mr. Vance's property.
"Folks haven't been able to visit for 10 years. It's sad, and it's hallowed ground," Mr. McCoy said yesterday. "We've talked to the state about it. They're willing to put in a little paved road and circular parking lot. And a privacy fence, too."
Mr. Vance, however, is not ready to surrender his territory or his privacy to visitors and has posted "no trespassing" signs from tree to tree. He'd be liable if somebody fell down during a visit to the graves, he said.
Both men have a point.
It is a modest cemetery tucked up on a hill, with old-fashioned headstones rocks, really, Mr. McCoy said. The plot includes the graves of Tolbert, Pharmer and Randolph McCoy three lads gunned down in a Hatfield vengeance killing near the Tug River 119 years ago, tied to pa-paw bushes and riddled with 50 bullets.
A dozen people eventually died in the passionate altercations between the two families, stretched over two decades and rife with politics, pride, pigs, property, Confederate heartaches and true love. Such things are dear to a tourist's heart, however.
These days, the great state of Kentucky celebrates its hillbilly roots. There are official Hillbilly Days each spring with bluegrass music, home cooking, quilts and 130,000 visitors. A theater-in-the-round features several feud vignettes.
Meanwhile, the Hatfield and McCoy clans sponsor a big three-day reunion each June meant to show that their only remaining rivalry is on the softball field. There's a Web site (www.real-mccoys.com), a history book, a video, T-shirts, a cookbook and a special Hatfield-McCoys commemorative Coca-Cola bottle. But the clans still have spunk.
"Hey, Osama. You mess with me, you mess with my whole family," advises one slogan at the Web site.
"Now Randolph, he's my great, great, great grandfather," said Mr. McCoy. "And I believe we have a responsibility to carry on our name and our history. We went up to the cemetery to pay our respects about four years ago. We talked to Mr. Vance, but he's not one to come to the table."
Last October, Mr. McCoy hired lawyer Joseph Justice one of the Pikeville McCoys to send a letter to Mr. Vance asking for access to the cemetery. Mr. Vance would not budge, and said the 30-foot gravel road, which is the sole entrance to the site, is his private driveway.
After poring over old deeds and court records, Mr. McCoy determined that the road originally was deeded to the cemetery and filed papers in the local court last week.
But he insists the dust-up is no reinvention of the old Hatfield and McCoy feud, which started with the murder of Asa McCoy in 1865 and ended with a cabin shootout in 1888, a tale embellished over the years with hot gossip, desparate arguments, court battles and eventually a public hanging.
It is no wonder the families have fascinated America for decades.
"Listen, the real, genuine old Appalachian way was that neighbors weren't fighting their neighbors," Mr. McCoy said. "I still believe that's still true today."
But there is that burgeoning tourist industry. Pike County itself is investing $625,000 to restore landmarks and add historic markers to guide visitors through the hollows and dells of familial discord. In official parlance, they are "feud sites."
The situation has given the locals pause. Is it an exploitation of Appalachian stereotypes rather than an appreciative celebration of backwoods culture? Sporadic newspaper editorials and a few protests addressed the issue, including one man from Eastern Kentucky who saw fit to picket the remake movie of "The Beverly Hillbillies" a few years ago.
But it's mountain attitude that may prevail. "Hillbillies don't much care what others think of them," said one Pikeville resident who said he did not mind feud-based tourism.
A spokesman for Rep. Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican with an office in Pikeville, had no comment on the situation.
But Mr. McCoy remains unsettled as he awaits a court date.
"Our families are getting on so well now. And in a way, it's a symbol for the world two families united," he said. "The bottom line is I have faith in the American legal system. And I know this will work out fairly."


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