A wooded hillside overlooking the Tug Valley has gone from being a gruesome murder scene to a tourist attraction that draws people from around the world.
It was here that three young brothers were gunned down by a group of men set on revenge for the stabbing death of one of their own kin.
This tiny spot in the Appalachians would have been forgotten long ago had the combatants not been named Hatfield and McCoy. But because these are the nation's most notorious feuding families, the scattered places where they fought and died are being preserved in the interest of history — and commerce.
Congress has appropriated nearly $500,000 to build walkways to accommodate foot traffic and make some of the bloodiest feud sites more tourist-friendly. Local leaders are hoping for a sizable return in tourism dollars for a struggling mountain economy.
Kevin Gilliam, a Pikeville architect working to restore some of the feuding grounds, said he has been amazed by the level of interest in the feud from outside Kentucky, even outside the United States.
"People already come from all over to visit these places," he said. "From Canada, from Japan. It's unreal the people who are showing up."
Fight over a Pig
The feud between the McCoys of Kentucky and the Hatfields of West Virginia — believed to have stemmed from a dispute over a pig — brought national attention to the region. A court battle over timber rights escalated the tension in the early 1870s. By 1888, at least 12 lives were lost as a result of the feud that received widespread publicity in national newspapers and magazines at the time.
Already, the Dils Cemetery in Pikeville — where patriarch Randolph McCoy, his wife, Sara, and daughter Roseanna are buried — has been landscaped and stairs have been added to allow easy access for visitors. Improvements are now under way or soon will be at six other landmarks connected to the infamous feud. Some, like the cabin site where a trial was held to settle the pig dispute, are overgrown with vegetation after years of neglect.
Gilliam said he expects a replica of that cabin to be built and open to tourists by next year.
Along with the congressional appropriation, the Pike County Fiscal Court has contributed $25,000 for the feud project, and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet $100,000.
Tourism officials have added historical markers with explanations of the landmarks at seven sites. One is the place where three McCoys — Tolbert, Pharmer and Randolph McCoy Jr. — were tied to pawpaw trees and shot to death in 1882 by an unofficial posse organized by Devil Anse Hatfield, patriarch of the Hatfield family.
The McCoy boys were wanted for killing Ellison Hatfield in an Election Day fight on Aug. 7, 1882.
Feud Fuels Local Economy
Pike County Tourism Commission chief Phyllis Hunt said promoting the feud sites is good for the local economy. She said she expects visitation to skyrocket once all the improvements are completed.
"We have visitors throughout the year who come to see the feud sites," she said. "We give them directions and a map, and they're always so excited to see where it actually happened."
Visitors flood the feud sites during the annual Hillbilly Days Festival each April and the Hatfield-McCoy Reunion Festival each June in Pikeville.
Betty Howard, who traces her ancestry to both the Hatfields and McCoys, said people from outside the region often are more interested in the feud than are local residents.
Some in the Tug Valley would rather forget what they see as an ugly chapter in the history of the region, Howard said. That, she said, is why is has taken so many years to open the feud sites to tourists. Howard said people should be proud of their heritage, and the Hatfield-McCoy feud, though many wish it had never happened, is a part of that heritage.
"Some people may want the history of the feud to go away," Howard said. "But it's not going away."
If You Go…
PIKEVILLE-PIKE COUNTY TOURISM: Visit www.tourpikecounty.com or call (800) 844-7453. HILLBILLY DAYS FESTIVAL: April 15-17, downtown Pikeville, Ky. HATFIELD-McCOY REUNION FESTIVAL: June 10-13, downtown Pikeville, Ky. HATFIELD-McCOY FEUD SITES: Look for roadside markers for these rural sites. Dils Cemetery, where Randolph and Sara McCoy are buried, along with daughter Roseanna and son Sam. Location: Chloe Road in Pikeville. Place where Ellison Mounts was hanged. He was convicted of murder for a raid on McCoy home in which two people were killed. Location: Kentucky Avenue in Pikeville. Site of hog trial, which escalated the feud between the families. Location: Route 319 in McCarr, Ky. Site of the murder of Asa Harman McCoy, the first person killed in the feud. He was a Union Army veteran and brother of Randolph McCoy. Location: Route 1056 in Blackberry, Ky. Old courthouse and jail, where murder trials were held and where combatants were incarcerated. Location: Main Street in Pikeville.
Site of grave of baby daughter of Roseanna McCoy and Johnse Hatfield. They were lovers from the feuding families. Location: Route 292 in Burnwell, Ky. Site of "PawPaw Incident," where three McCoy boys were tied to trees and shot. Location: Route 1056 at Buskirk, Ky.