The Tug River area of the Appalachian Mountains was sparsely inhabited by a durable group of men and women. Their families lived for generations sometimes suffering the wrath of nature or the hardships of the difficult terrain. Yet it was a territory of lush green hills covered with perpetual thickets and narrow, almost hidden valleys. From one mountain pass to the next, one could travel for miles before seeing anything that resembled a hamlet, let alone a town.
If someone lived closer than a half mile from his neighbor, it was over population. It was a speck of humanity far removed from the grey billowing, smokestack factories of newly properous cities in the east. Apart from a few timber mills, the valley was an unspoiled landscape. It lay but a generation away from the coal-mining onslaught that would change it forever.
Cabins were a way of life, with one room for cooking, which typically centered on a stone fireplace and a second room for living quarters and sleeping. Men needed blood, sweat and muscle along with a large ax to chop huge logs that would become the framework for these rustic dwellings. Clapboards were laboriously hewn for the sides of the structure, with sticks, stones and mortar to fill any cracks.
To earn their living, Tug River men hunted, fished, cut timber and made moonshine whiskey. Women generally tended to the farming. This primarily involved growing corn, the staple of their family diet. The food cooked in cast iron kettles or pans on a large open fireplace, which doubled as a source of heat during the harsh winter months.
When neighbors becames friends, it was for a lifetime. People held loyalty in the highest regard. If a man betrayed a trust, it could be dangerous. It wasn’t often that a man in the hills got angry enough to take up arms against his neighbor. When an offense could not be settled with words or fists, the issue was resolved with the Winchester rifle.
There was a dearth of social gatherings or opportunities to meet with other people. One of the few, most festive occasions was a county election. Almost everyone on either side of the river would attend picnics at their precinct. Even people that didn’t vote would come from miles around, to get their fill of food, drink and the latest news.
During the warm spring of the year 1880, the local elections in Pike County were in full swing. Jeremiah Hatfield's house was where the Blackberry Creek Precinct was located. Related to the Kentucky side of the Hatfield clan, he was known as Jerry. The Kentucky Hatfields were more friendly with the McCoy family, than Hatfields living in West Virginia.
Jerry owned a centrally located cabin. It sat the middle of a thick, wooded hollow about three and a half miles from the Tug. Two smaller creeks broke off from the sizable river. They provided sparkling clear water only a stone’s throw from the house. His desirable land abounded with mammoth oak trees, which supplied welcome shade for the redwood table’s setup on Election Day.
Women were not allowed to vote because they were though to be emotional, high-strung creatures, certainly not capable of making crucial decisions. In spite of their lack of suffrage, the female contingent retained their fair share of influence on the male voting populace. They appealed to the intellect of their manly counterparts by bribing them with sweet breads, cherry pies and lemonade. These political flavors leveraged swaying votes for their preferred candidates.
In addition to the serious task of voting, the men tended to sit around the shade trees, discussing politics or events of the day. To assist them in the rational exchange of ideas, the voters often got sufficiently inebriated. Perspective candidates supplied the strong drink to woo their constituency. They too believed that a little refreshment might render the outcome they desired. However, some individuals didn’t handle their refreshments as well as others. This often resulted in a fistfight.
Though it was not their voting precinct, some of the West Virginia Hatfields decided to pay a visit to Blackberry Creek on Election Day. These self-reliant men possessed their own thoughts about the candidates running in Pike. A few of them appealed to their political sensibility, but mostly they favored ones related to their substantial family.
No matter where they tread, The Hatfields usually traveled in well-armed groups. Though agreeable people, they displayed little concern to humanity telling them where to go or what to do.
The head of the West Virginia clan was Anderson Hatfield, who was commonly known, as Devil Anse. This was an appellation he received during the Civil War, while fighting for the Confederacy. Towards the end of 1864, he had a disagreement with a troop of seasoned Federals. As the legend went, he sat up on a hilltop frequently changing positions while picking off scores of Union men. A Cavalry Captain, who observed the bodies of his soldiers, learned one rebel sharpshooter snuffed out his men. “If that was the work of one man, then he must be the devil himself,” said the officer.
Devil Anse carefully trotted his yellow mare across the shallow portion of Blackberry Creek. Sitting stoop shouldered in his well-worn saddle, he placed the balls of his boot covered feet in the stirrups of his mount. He slowly traversed the small body of water. His nearly eight-inch beard flowed in an airborne state, as he pivoted his six-foot, two-inch frame back towards his two sons. “I’m about ready to have my fill of pie and coffee when we get to Jerry’s place,” he said with a grin.
“I’m with you Pa,” responded his oldest son Johnse.
“You sure look pretty today brother; and you smell like a cathouse,” his younger brother Cap observed.
“What would you know about that youngster?” His father inquired.
“I heard things,” Cap nervously answered.
Devil Anse scowled. “Well don’t ever let your mother hear you talk like that.”
In tandem, the three Hatfield's rode the last few hundred yards of the trail up to the home of their kinsman. Devil Anse looked his firstborn up and down for a moment. “Cap is right son. You look like you’re ready for a shotgun wedding in them fancy duds. You must have peddled a substantial amount of distilled beverage to afford that catalogue suit.”
Johnse lightly stroked the sleeve of his new blue suit. “This old thing, I got this coat and britches nearly two months ago.”
Devil Anse glanced down at his oldest son’s footwear. “I see you also got yourself some shiny new brown shoes.”
“A man doesn’t spruce himself up with a nice suit of clothes and then put on an old pair of shoes.”
In addition to his taste for nice clothing, Johnse owned the looks that appealed to a sizable number of young women on either side of the Tug Fork. He decided to focus some attention on his brother. “Pa, you should be glad that one of us knows how to dress.”
For Election Day, Cap Hatfield chose to wear a yellow shirt with cutoff sleeves and pants from an old Confederate uniform. With an unusually large head, mature face and powerfully built physique, the sixteen-year-old appeared considerably older.
Cap smiled, pausing in thought before he responded to his brother. One of his steel cold, blue eyes was a dull pale. It was severely scarred from a childhood mishap, which caused his rifle to backfire into his left eye. “Lately, I haven’t been as prosperous as you.” He turned towards his father. “I’m told Johnse would never peddle a bottle of whiskey that he wouldn’t be happy to drink himself.”
Devil Anse grinned back. “Seeing as how you don’t share his fancy taste in duds, you don’t need the greenbacks to afford your britches.”
Cap turned his head to spit a wad of chewing tobacco on the ground. “Not by a damn sight.”
The three Hatfield's had arrived at Jerry’s place at one o’clock in the afternoon. They wasted no time joining the festivities. Devil Anse tied his mount to the hitching post in front of the makeshift polling place. He pointed his long index finger at his boys, “you best mind your manners. Don’t make a jackass out of me.”
“Don’t worry Pa, I just want to sample some of the grub,” Johnse said, turning to walk towards the food tables.
“Be sure that’s all you sample,” warned Devil Anse. He wasn’t sure that his last remark registered with his son. His long face had a look of concern as he watched his offspring strolling off. After a short deliberation, he shrugged his shoulders and walked over to greet his cousin Deacon Anse and his friend Selkirk McCoy.
The women hovered over the tables. They were covered with heaping quantities of cooked meats, fresh vegetables, various side dishes and baked goods. Johnsed rubbed his hands together. Flashing a wide grin, he motioned Cap to head towards the feast. “Don’t be shy you big pork chop, let’s go sample the wares.”
With Cap in tow, he went around to each table, delighting at all the food and flirtation that was being offered by the local ladies. His younger brother remained quiet and polite, while Johnse did all the talking. He adeptl flattered the baking talents of every girl present at Blackberry Creek.
While making the rounds, one particular young lady attracted Johnse’s attention. Her name was Roseanna and she was one of Randolph McCoy’s thirteen children. She had ventured to Blackberry Creek with her older brother Tolbert with the intention of helping some of her neighbors prepare refreshments.
After cooking her yam dish, Roseanna sought the refuge of a solitary oak tree. To relieve herself from the heat, she removed a yellow ribbon exposing her long, dark hair to the breeze coming from nearby Blackberry creek.
Johnse ate a piece of fried chicken while admiring the curves of Roseanna’s shapely frame. He imagined what she would look like without her sun dress while he scrutinized the delicate features of her pale face. She caught the attractive young man staring at her and calmly returned his glance.
Johnse eagerly nudged his brother’s protruding stomach with his bony elbow. “Cap, look at that sweet young thing sitting there by her lonesome.”
Cap seized an opportunity to tease his brother. “Yes, pretty lil’ turned up nose, just like a trembling jackrabbit. Those nice lips appear to be as red and delicious as Mama’s cherry pie; and take a gander at that silky hair, black as coal, dangling down to her hind end.” He paused and contrived a sigh. “She’s a bit pale for my liking, still her eyes look like they could melt ice cream on a cold day. Underneath that yellow dress, it appears she has a child bearing figure. I think I may go chat her up and down.”
Johnse slapped his brother’s shoulder. “You do and I’ll have your hide for breakfast.”
“Not on your best day boy.” Cap clutched his hands to his chest and swooned like a girl. “Oh my Lord, I think my brother’s been struck by cupid’s love arrow.”
Johnse ignored Cap, set down his plate and swaggered over to where Roseanna was fanning herself. “Pardon me for saying so, but you are the prettiest girl I’ve seen in a long while. If you please ma’am, my name is Johnse Hatfield,” He said tipping his hat.
Roseanna smiled politely, looking into his large green eyes. “I know who you are,” she replied.
Johnse had a cocky grin. “How’d you know?”
“Some of the other girls were talking about you when you rode up.”
Johnse bubbled with delight and took a seat underneath the shadowy oak. “I’ll bet they didn’t have anything good to say.”
The pretty mountain girl hesitated but took a seat next to her young suitor. “You might be surprised at what they did say. For instance, Jenny Hood said that you’ve made the rounds with a few girls. Annie Spencer said you were no better than a snake oil salesman.”
Johnse offered a look of mock indignation. “Did she?”
“Yes she did. She said that you could charm the Devil out of his red suit. In jest, Roseanna batted her eyes. “Could you do that?”
“Why don’t you find out for yourself,” he answered coyly.
Roseanna pursed her lips and seductively leaned in toward Johnse’s face. “Why don’t you go over and get me something cool to drink.”
As the afternoon progressed, most of the male voters got good and inebriated, taking naps under the shade trees. The women had the thankless task of cleaning up after them. Roseanna was not among them. She slipped off into the woods chatting with Johnse for several hours. With a mutual attraction quickly developing, they wandered along a mile to Peter’s Branch. On the way Johnse gathered up stones, tossing them into the creek while Rose Anna gossiped about one her cousins named Nancy.
Discovering a secluded stretch of a creek, the young man laid out his saddle blanket for the furtive duo to plop down under a maple tree. When he finally ran out of small talk, Johnse was nearly bewitched, intently looking into Roseanna’s pitch-dark eyes. He gently reached his hand up to touch her hair. “Damn, you are something,” he whispered.
Old Ranel’s daughter stretched out her arms underneath the stream of sunlight cutting through the tops of the surrounding trees. “It’s so peaceful and beautiful out here. And now that you stopped talking about yourself for a minute.”
“Yes,” Johnse quickly responded.
“You think you could use that mouth to kiss me with?”
“Yes ma’am that was my intention.” He leaned in, wrapped his arms around her small waist and softly kissed Roseanna’s generous lips. Giggling and kissing for several hours, the smitten couple forgot about their friends, family and time.
With the onset of the dusky evening, the infatuated girl abruptly broke out of her spooning trance. “Oh my lord, what time is it?”
Johnse pulled a timepiece from his trouser pocket. “Quarter passed six. We best be getting back before someone thinks we’re missing.”
By the time the pair returned to Blackberry creek, all the food tables were removed. Worse than that, all the Election Day attendees has cleared out. Nightfall had descended and Roseanna’s happy mood changed to a depressed one. She discovered that her brother Tolbert had left Blackberry Creek without her. “Oh my Daddy’s going kill me when I get back. What am I going to do?” Her voice had a tone of desperation.
Johnse became nervous when he contemplated the consequences of his actions. He managed to conceal those thoughts from his companion. “This calls for some serious thinking gal,” he said firmly. The spring had yielded a clear, crisp, moonlit evening and he deliberated on what to do. As he stood out in the middle of Jeremiah’s front yard, feelings of infatuation and responsibility surged through him. Suddenly, the solution became as clear as the evening sky. “You could come back to our place,” He said enthusiastically.
The young mountain girl was incredulous at his spontaneous idea. “Come back to your family’s place? Are you touched in the head? You know my daddy ain’t exactly too fond of your family right now.”
“That may be, but they’re going to be mad as wet hens already. You may as well come back with me and give your daddy the full volley.”
Near the point of a breaking down, the distressed young women rocked back and forth with her arms folded tight against her breasts.
Johnse pulled one of her hands away, caressing it softly. “Come on girl, it’s the only sensible thing to do; and it will give me time to think of something.” As the words left his lips, the young Hatfield man began to comprehend the ramifications of what he had proposed.
A steady stream of tears began to trickle out of Roseanna’s eyes. Feelings of remorse for her impetuous actions was not going to change the situation. “We best be on our way,” she said with resignation.
Johnse helped her climb on the back of his spotted mare, which his father had left tied up at the front of Jerry’s home. The tardy couple proceeded to ride the six miles to the home of Devil Anse and Levicy Hatfield.
Assisted by the light of a full moon, the trail was well lit. Johnse went by way of Peter Creek to the Poundmill run, crossing the Big Sandy River. With her arms wrapped tightly around his waist, he could feel his new sweetheart trembling. It was not from the cold but from the pessimistic thoughts running through her head. By mid evening, the tired sweethearts arrived at the Hatfield cabin. In spite of her fatigue, Roseanna experienced acute feelings of apprehension.
The day had been a long one for Devil Anse as he had stayed up wondering about his son's whereabouts. He and his other son left Jerry’s place at about six o’clock that evening. That was after Cap informed his father why his brother had wandered off from the festivities. He sat on his front porch, lit his pipe, poured a glass of bourbon and waited.
Levicy Hatfield was still awake, worried about what happened to her boy. She brushed her fine stranded hair while looking into a dull, cracked mirror hanging on the wall of her small bedroom. She and her husband had the only room partitioned off from the rest of the cabin. Her reflection showed a face that was round and plain; yet she possessed a self-contained, gentle quality that pleased her husband. After putting on her night clothes, she walked outside to the front porch and sat chatting with her man.
Levicy and Devil Anse talked for an hour before Johnse arrived home with his guest. They were less than pleased when they saw who he had with him. Her son barely dismounted his horse before his mother greeted him with a frown. “Boy, have you taken leave of your senses, what are folks gonna say?”
Johnse forced a smile. “I reckon they’ll say we’re friendly folk. Momma, Daddy, this is Roseanna; and she needs us to put her up for a spell,” he added.
Levicy stood, gaping at the young couple for a few moments. After the uncomfortable silence, she looked warmly into Roseanna’s face and smiled. “Of course we’d be happy to have you stay.” She grasped her hand tightly, leading her into the house, “come in child, I’ll make up a place for you to sleep.”
Johnse proceeded to follow the two women into the Hatfield home when Devil Anse spoke up. “Not you boy, you and I need to have a talk.”
The nervous young man anticipated hearing some well-chosen words from his father.
Leaning up against the splintered rail of his front porch, the older man spoke softly. “She’s a mighty pretty gal.”
“Yes, she surely is Pa.”
Devil Anse reached for his favorite pipe and began filling it with tobacco. “She’s Randolph McCoy’s little girl, ain’t she?” he inquired, while lighting his smoke.
“Yes daddy, she surely is.”
The older man looked upward towards the evening sky, pointing his forefinger at the largest star in the horizon. “Son, see that one big light up there?”
Johnse glanced up where his father pointing, squinting his eyes. “Yes, I see it. What about it?”
“That big globe up there in the heavens is the North Star. It gives off one pretty light don’t it?” he asked rhetorically. When I went to Ohio last year, I visited a museum where they had a big device they called a telescope. Just so that star gazers can get a closer look at the moon and such. They say there are millions of stars up there just as big as the North Star.
“That’s nice Pa but I’m not sure I follow you.”
“What I mean to say, is that you may think this McCoy girl is for you; but I’m telling you now that she ain’t. There are plenty of other gals that will make you happy and give you a lot less trouble than Old Ranel’s daughter.”
Johnse began to protest. “Now wait a minute.”
Devil Anse raised his hand to silence his son. “Now you’re going to hear me out. Ranel and I, we used to be friendly; but now we don’t exactly see eye to eye. He thinks I robbed one of his kin of some timberland a few years back. With you taking up with his daughter, now he’s going to accuse me of stealing his little girl. Don’t you see that?”
“Your business with Mister McCoy ain’t got nothing to do with Roseanna and me. I ain’t done nothing to the McCoys.”
“My business has got everything to do with it. You’re my blood kin and nothing’s going to change that. And you meddling with his little girl’s like rubbing dung in his face.
Turning away from his father, Johnse looked down without speaking for a moment. “Daddy, I don’t know what to say to that. I guess I wasn’t thinking about it today. When I first saw her, I didn’t care about nothing else. All I know is that she’s pretty, sweet and makes me laugh. I don’t know if I give a tinker’s damn about what her father wants.”
Devil Anse shrugged his shoulders. “Your hankering may get you killed. I say you get her back home tomorrow before someone gets hurt.
Johnse shook his head. “Nothing doing; I’m willing to take my chances with Old Ranel.”
Devil Anse stretched out his long arms and yawned. “Nothing we can do about it tonight, we’ll talk more tomorrow,” he said calmly. “Goodnight son, I believe your mother gave Roseanna your bed. You can sleep under the stars tonight.” The old mountain man cackled under his breath, turned around and went inside his cabin, leaving his son to ponder his actions.
Roseanna’s sense of apprehension diminished slightly after she entered the Hatfield home. She was impressed with the clean, organized condition of the place. The kitchen had a separate fireplace with a broad hearth, in addition to several organized hooks and cranes. Various cooking pots, alongside two large diameter kettles hung above the fire, with other accessories stacked neatly on a wrought iron utility shelf.
In the main room, two rosewood rocking chairs sat on a colorful woven rug, which lay upon a stained puncheon floor. Roseanna smiled at the sight of a sizable hound dog. He slept at the foot of the chairs, with his head resting atop an old blanket. On the far side of the cabin, was a row of oak beds where the family members slept. She noticed several of them doubled up with young children. Levicy put on clean linen on her son’s bed for their newly arrived guest.
After the initial surprise, the Hatfield’s enjoyed having the well-mannered Roseanna as their guest. As all her daughters were too young for mature discussions, Levicy thought it a blessing to talk to her during the day. She also enjoyed having someone to help her with tending to the children, the cooking, gardening and washing.
One afternoon. after a full day of chores and cooking, the two women sat down at the kitchen table for a short respite. Levicy served her company some fresh coffee with chicory.
“My husband and I have a rule about having guests. They’re welcome to stay as long as they like. I love having you here for selfish reasons child; but you’ve been here nearly two weeks,” Levicy said smiling. “You must miss being at home with your own family.”
Roseanna nodded politely.
Levicy paused, “You know, you’ll have to face them sometime.” She looked sympathetically at her young friend’s face. She was nearly overcome with maternal feelings as she observed the ghostly demeanor of this sad beauty.
Roseanna hung her head down for a moment. When she raised it again, Misses Hatfield noticed a tear welling up in her eye. “I’m plum out of my head thinking about that. They must look upon me as some kind of Jezebel.”
“I’m sure that’s the last thing they would say.”
“You don’t know my father. I’ve never been away from home before,” Roseanna said shaking her head.
Levicy knew she was probably right. She placed her rough hand on Roseanna’s and smiled sweetly. “Don’t fret child, you stay with us as long as you need.”
Roseanna began to weep. “Thank you Misses Hatfield. I never expected such hospitality.”
“Let’s cook us up a batch of cornbread for my little regiment,” Levicy suddenly suggested. “That’ll get your mind off worrisome things child.”
The young girl dried her eyes with her sleeve. “That sounds like a good idea Misses Hatfield.”
“For heaven sakes child, stop making me sound like an old woman. Call me Levicy.”
While Roseanna visited with Levicy, Johnse was in the company of his father, who wanted to do some fishing. When they arrived at the old man’s favorite watering hole, Devil Anse placed a wiggling night crawler on the end of his rusty hook and cast out his line. Johnse, who was less anxious, cut a notch into an old log, dug a hole in the ground and set his rig up so he didn’t have to hold on to it.
An hour went by before either man spoke a word. “Looks like the catfish ain’t biting today boy,” Devil Anse declared.
Johnse didn’t move an inch from his place on the edge of Grapevine Creek. With his sleepy eyes half open, a floppy felt hat partially covered his face. “Maybe this spot has played itself out.”
Devil Anse reached into his pocket to locate another fishhook. He pulled his line back in and quickly removed the old, rusted hook replacing it with the new one.
Johnse watched his father for a moment. “I’m sure the fish will know the difference.”
The old man sat down next to his son. “Maybe not boy; but your mother was counting on a fish dinner tonight.” He pulled out a small silver flask and took a swig. He put the cap on the container and offered it to his oldest boy.
Johnse quickly grabbed the whiskey and lifted a toast to his father. “Here’s to the catfish cooperating.” After taking a drink he handed it back.
Devil Anse quickly downed another swig. “I may have more luck shooting me a fish, than catching one today.” He tugged on his line a few times.
“Well you’ve always been a better shot than you were a fisherman,” Johnse answered, patting his father’s leg.
“Haw, you got that right boy.” The elder Hatfield copied his son’s procedure, resting his fishing pole up against the log. He yanked a long weed from the dry ground, placed it in his mouth and sat down next to Johnse. “You getting on good with Roseanna are you?” He inquired.
“Yes pa, she’s a real peach ain’t she?”
“She surely is.” Devil Anse momentarily hesitated. Son, you know I’ve never been a man to put much store in what other folks have to say about our family.”
Johnse lifte up into a sitting position. “Yes, I know.”
And, I would let Roseanna stay with us as long as she likes. But maybe its time to think about marrying her or sending her back to her family,” his father added.
“I know and I been giving it some thought.”
“That’s good son and what did you decide?”
The younger Hatfield noticed his fishing pole move slightly. “I ain’t decided on anything yet; but I’ll do some more thinking on it.”
“Best you to not think on it too long. You’re putting me between the rock and the hard place with Old Ranel,” Devil Anse responded.
Johnse’s fishing pole now bent down towards the creek and was nearly yanked out of the hole. He hopped up, firmly grasping his rig before whatever was on the other end pulled it into the water.
The old mountain man stood up in amazement when he saw his son had snagged something. “Son of a bitch. I can’t believe you ain’t held on to that all afternoon.”
Wading down into the creek, Johnse fought with the fish for a minute, and then slowly pulled in his line to find a sizable bass on the end. “Appears to be about a five or six pounder.”
“I changed my hook, used fresh night crawlers and I come up empty handed,” he said scratching his chin. “That boy does have a gift.”
Randolph McCoy was fit to be tied when his daughter had not returned home with his son Tolbert on Election Day. As the weeks passed into months, he became increasingly agitated about the situation.
The area around Blackberry Creek was far from densely populated. Most everyone who lived there knew each other. News of the illicit courtship between the Hatfield boy and Old Ranel’s daughter spread like a prairie fire. The neighbors delighted in the bits of choice gossip. Discussing the mountain Romeo and Juliet story became the local pastime.
If Johnse had done the right thing by marrying his daughter, Randolph might have forgiven the infraction against his family. This could have also helped abate the resentment the old man harbored against Devil Anse. Years after the war, he began to covet his sizable land holdings. Unfortunately, as more time passed, it became clear to McCoy that the Hatfield boy had nothing but bad intentions.
It was a sweltering, sticky June Morning when Randolph summoned three of his daughters together. Their names were Josephine, who was his oldest, Alifair, who was a year older than Roseanna and Adelaide who was thirteen. Inside the large McCoy cabin, they collectively wondered why their father had gathered them away from their daily chores. They all watched him intently as he sat in his favorite old chair, arms folded, with a face full of despair.
Randolph stared at his oldest child, evaluating her with his murky eyes. “Josephine, you ain’t much to look at but you’re a good girl with common sense.”
Alifair quickly responded. “Daddy,” she protested. She was pretty and impish. “That isn’t a very nice thing to say.”
He walked over and patted his plain looking daughter on her head. “Well she’s pretty near thirty years old and ain’t been married yet.” The old man realized he was digging himself a deeper hole. “I didn’t mean no harm by what I said. What I meant, is that she’s a smart girl.”
Josephine sighed, shaking off her frustration. “It’s all right, charm has never been your strong suit. What is it you want me to do?”
“I want you girls to pack some food and cross the river. Go talk some sense to that sister of yours,” Randolph instructed.
The girls were surprised and began to hang on their father’s every word. “You fetch her back home. Tell her that her I forgive her. Josephine, you’re the oldest and she respects you. Remind her that her place is here with us.”
“But what if she doesn’t want to come back daddy?” Josephine asked.
Randolph’s pale face turned crimson with anger. “I don’t care if she does or she don’t. I don’t care if you have to hog tie her and carry her back on a stake. You just bring her back, you hear.”
Josephine walked over to where her father sat, leaned down and kissed his cheek. “Daddy, please don’t work yourself into such a state. I’ll fetch her back.”
He looked up into his daughter’s face, attempting to hold back his tears. “I know you will honey.”
With the mission of retrieving their wayward sibling, the three McCoys girls left just after sunrise on the following day. It was a eight mile distance between the Hatfield and McCoy cabins. The trio packed themselves a basket full of bread, fruit and traded off toting an old army canteen that was heavy with water.
The two oldest girls walked at a robust pace, with Adelaide occasionally running out in front picking wildflowers that sprouted along the road. Light-skinned Alifair wrapped a scarf around her head, which offered some relief from the baking summer sun.
“Jo, do you think Roseanna is going to want to come back home today?” asked Alifair.
“Ally, do you remember when we were little, playing out by the old cemetery? You were toting a big stick you picked up off the ground; and you started poking around a hollowed out tree. Do you remember?” Josephine asked.
“Yes I remember; but I’d surely like to know what that has to do with anything.”
“I told you about the beehives but you kept on prodding them with your stick. When the bees came out stinging the daylights out of you, I ran away. I was so scared. Who was it who fetched you out of there when you couldn’t move?”
Her sister’s recollection brought a smile to her face. “It was Roseanna,” answered Alifair.
Josephine’s voice resonated with pride. “That little girl ran over, picked you up screaming off the ground, all the while being stung herself. Never making a peep, she brought you home to mother without complaining once. You know she was stung more than a dozen times?”
Alifair experienced a surge of emotion after being reminded of Roseanna’s selfless action. “She was so good and I was such a baby.”
“Now you asked me if I think we’re going to fetch our sister home today. When her mind is made up you can’t stop her. If she wanted to be home she would be home now, Josephine concluded.
Adelaide glanced at the canvas bag that carried the pistol their father had provided for protection. “Jo, can you hit anything with daddy’s gun?”
Josephine pointed her bony hand towards a distant cedar tree. “See that mosquito on the branch about fifty yards from here?”
Alifair and Adelaide both narrowed their eyes, straining to see what she was talking about.
With a deadpan face she stopped to look her sisters in the eye. “I could take his wings off with this here hog leg.”
The girls broke out laughing in unison.
Walking briskly after eating lunch, the McCoy daughters arrived at the Hatfield cabin by one o’clock in the afternoon. They found Roseanna picking vegetables in the garden with Misses Hatfield.
When she noticed the girls coming up the path to the cabin, Levicy quickly stood up and dusted off her white apron. “Roseanna, are those kin of yours?”
“Yes ma’am, those are my sisters.” Roseanna was completely taken by surprise at their arrival. It had been more than a month since she had seen them. “Jo, why have y’all come here?” She asked, embracing them one after another.
Roseanna turned to Levicy, who looked a little uncomfortable. “Misses Hatfield, these here are my sisters Josephine, Alifair and the little one here is Adelaide.” She grabbed her young sibling and hugged her tightly.
Levicy smiled and nodded politely. “I am pleased to make all your acquaintances.” She didn’t want to intrude on the family visit and excused herself. “Child, you take your sisters in the house for some refreshments. There are biscuits and lemonade in the kitchen; you know where to find them” she offered hospitably.
“That’s alright Misses McCoy, we just ate lunch but thank you,, Josephine answered. The other girls nodded in agreement.
“Well you all have a nice time,” Levicy said, as she turned to walk into the cabin.
Josephine stroked her sister’s black hair, and then kissed her slender cheek. “Are you alright?”
“Daddy is all worn out worrying about you little sister; when are you coming home?”
Roseanna nervously glanced down at the ground. “I can’t, I’m scared about what he’s going do if I come home now.”
“No need to be scared. Daddy says he forgives you” Josephine said softy.
“That’s awful big of him,” Roseanna answered sarcastically.
“But you’re shaming us if you stay here,” Adelaide quickly added.
Josephine flashed a look of anger. “This doesn’t concern you little girl; what do you know about such things?” She turned away from Adelaide and gently took Roseanna’s hand. “Don’t worry about that. You don’t know what we’re going through. Mama can’t sleep at night fretting about what might become of you. And we miss you too. We can leave right now and make it back before sundown.”
Roseanna interrupted her sister. “I can’t Jo.”
“Don’t you want to put a stop to all our worrying?” implored Josephine.
“I can’t come with you right now. I need to sort a few things out in my mind.”
“Is it the Hatfield boy? Is that what’s holding you here?” inquired Alifair. She put her slender arm around her sister’s shoulder. “You can tell us. Me and Jo won’t say nothing to daddy.”
Roseanna leaned into Alifair’s shoulder and began to sob. “That’s alright sweetie, let it out,” she said, wrapping her arms tightly around her distraught sister.
“You love this Hatfield boy?” asked Josephine.
“I know he has a reputation; but if you knew him like I do, you’d know he’s a good man,” Roseanna answered.
Josephine put her arms around her two sisters. “So you aren’t coming home are you?”
“I can’t come home until I’m a married woman.”
Josephine knew she had failed her mission. “Well then, it’ll be getting dark soon; best be on are way.” She embraced Roseanna again. “Don’t worry little girl, I’ll make it right with daddy.”
“I’ll pray for you every day,” Alifair said, and hugged her sister.
Adelaide ran over kissed and hugged her older sister. “I’m sorry Roseanna. I didn’t mean it.”
“That’s all right little one.” Roseanna brushed the hair from Adelaide’s tearful face.
With their goodbyes spoken, the three McCoy daughters quietly walked down the path from the Hatfield cabin. Their sister watched until she could see them no longer. She stood for alone for a few minutes and began to weep.
Randolph McCoy was angry when his girls returned home empty handed. Twice more, he had them go back to the Hatfield cabin; both times they would return without his other daughter.
During most of her stay with the Hatfield’s, Roseanna believed that Johnse intended to marry her. After she had been a guest for nearly four months, it became exceedingly clear that Johnse had no such intention. Without options, the wayward daughter now felt trapped in a terrible situation. Reluctanly, she left the Hatfield’s and went to live with her Aunt in Stringtown.
Aunt Betty Blankenship was a thirty-nine year old widow. She was fond of her pretty young niece. This left her disposed to take Roseanna in during her hour of need. She was acutely aware that shamed girl would face a firestorm of scorn if she returned to her father’s house.
Roseanna’s kindly aunt owned a cozy cabin, with a porch just yards from the Tug Fork. It was too small for a family but perfect for two people. It was entirely a woman’s habitat, decorated with fancy hand sewn pillows and white lace in the main room. It was full of family antiques that dated back to the Revolutionary War.
Betty had lost her husband at an early age to a cholera epidemic. Though petite, small boned, she was a tenacious woman that knew how to live on her own. She taught herself to shoot a rifle and pistol with precision and hunted her own game. Her reputation as a deadly shot was cemented during one of her nephew’s visits. On this occasion, Aunt Betty was able to dispatch a rattlesnake with a forty-four, when the reptile came dangerously close to the child.
Roseanna had been unable to get the Johnse out of her system. The two sweethearts continued their affair because she had not given up her hope on marriage. Though her suitor had no such plans, he was not inclined to let her go. In spite of the continued objections from both families, they kept seeing each other on a regular basis. Their point of rendezvous was near a farm owned by Randolph’s neighbor Tom Stafford. Johnse would make false promises. It always ended with the couple doing what their families considered the indulgence of married folk.
By the fall of 1880, the mountain Romeo and Juliet had been illicitly courting for six months. Their romance remained the primary topic for nasty gossip that had permeated the valley. Devil Anse and Levicy, who had become fond of Roseanna thought Johnse was being completely reckless in not marrying her. Randolph was angry, perceiving that he had become a laughing stock for being unable to control his daughter.
On an evening in mid October, the air was chilly and crisp as the sun dipped beyond the horizon. A washed, freshly scented Roseanna was looking forward to seeing Johnse. Days apart from her lover would gnaw at her insides, which alternated with the constant dread over ruining what was left of her future.
Aunt Betty stood chatting with her niece, while she watched the mountain beauty primping her long dark strands of hair in the mirror. The cabin enveloped the two women with warmth from the blazing fireplace. “You know that Hatfield boy is using you like the neighbor’s well.”
Roseanna’s face cast a frown in the reflective glass. “He’s not like that Betty.”
Aunt Betty frowned back. “Girl, trust me, this ain’t my first barn dance. He’s after what all men is after. Why can’t you find a man that’ll do you right by you?”
Impatiently dropping her hands to her hips, Roseanna swiveled around to face her well meaning aunt. “You don’t know him like I do; I’ve seen his kind and gentle ways.”
Betty rolled her eyes as she sipped her drink. “Did you hear what I said? All men are after one thing and one thing only. And this one’s no different. I may be out of practice with men, but I don’t expect they’ve changed much since last I looked.”
Randolph had been waiting for an opportunity to catch Johnse unprotected. Upon receiving the word from Stafford that the Hatfield boy was meeting his jilted daughter near his friend’s farm, he collected his sons Tolbert, James, and Pharmer. By his reckoning, it was time to teach the callous young man a lesson in manners.
From the front porch of his place, Randolph McCoy looked down at the eager faces of his four sons. “I got word that fool Johnse is meeting your sister tonight. We’re going to put a stop to it.”
Tolbert’s face lit up like a smiling Jack o’ lantern. “Now you’re talking daddy,”
“Pharmer, saddle the horses, Tolbert, go get the shotgun, the Model 66 and the forty-four,” Randolph instructed.
Tolbert cocked his head. “Daddy, are we having a shotgun wedding or a necktie party?”
“Son, don’t get ahead of yourself. Just get the weapons and let me do to the thinking.”
Randolph had reflected for weeks on a plan to get Johnse out of Logan County and across the Kentucky border to Pikeville. There, the disgruntled father would have him taken into custody. His oldest son James was a peace officer that had knowledge about warrants sworn out against his sister’s lover. They included carrying a concealed weapon, as well as making illegal distilled beverages.
The McCoys armed themselves with an array of firearms retrieved by the anxious Tolbert. They quickly mounted up and rode towards Mate Creek, which was located a few miles east of Stringtown. There, they intended to intercept Johnse and Roseanna at their clandestine rendezvous.
With no moon in the night sky, it was pitch dark, which made the trail difficult to navigate. To see the road ahead, Randolph led the four nightriders by torchlight. His friend Tom Stafford had imparted specific instructions, on where to look for the secret lovers. Randolph followed them to the letter and discovered the young couple half-naked on a blanket, underneath a tree.
Roseanna looked up at her father’s face. As the torch flickered, she could see his anger. The four men surrounded the couple and levied their guns at the nervous suitor.
“Get up and get your britches on you son of a bitch, before I shoot you where you lay!” Randolph shouted.
“Yes sir, yes sir I will,” Johnse replied with his voice cracking.
“Let’s kill him now daddy,” Tolbert said to his father.
Randolph became rankled with his impatient offspring. “Boy, it wouldn’t kill you to think before you open your mouth. Let’s do it my way.” He motioned to his oldest son. “Take him.”
Constable James jumped off his chocolate saddle bred, confiscated Johnse’s pistol, and roughly tied Hatfield’s hands behind his back. “We’re taking you back to Pikeville. You’re gonna stand trial boy,” he said triumphantly.
Johnse barked back to his captor. “Stand trial for what, seeing your sister?”
“You shut up about my sister or I’ll wring your damn neck.”
“That would be easy right now,” Johnse replied turning his bound up hands towards James.
The young peace officer smiled. Boy, I got a warrant swore out against you for carrying a concealed firearm and selling illegal beverage.” He waived a piece of paper at his prisoner. “See, it’s all nice and legal.”
“Let me have that chicken scratch so I can wipe my ass with it,” Johnse replied.
James puffed out his chest, while he assisted his prisoner on to his horse. “You best mind your manners.” He pulled his long coat back, pointing to a gold badge. I’m a deputy in this county. I’ve got every right to kill you if you twitch the wrong way.”
Roseanna nervously watched her brother preparing to take her lover away. “Don’t you lay a hand on him James!” she yelled in a shrill voice.
Randolph looked down from his mount with disgust. “I don’t even have the words for you right now. But sister, you and I have to go the long mile before too long. Now get on home where you belong.” Taking his reins in hand, he rotated his horse around leaving his daughter in a cloud of dust.
Hysterical with fear, Roseanna had nowhere to run but to Tom Stafford’s place. When she arrived, he felt remorse about informing on her and the Hatfield boy. With tears in her eyes, she barely was able to get out a coherent sentence. “Can you lend me a horse?” she stuttered.
The normally gruff farmer’s heart melted at sight of the sobbing, beautiful girl. “Sure honey, I’ll saddle one up for you directly,” he responded.
Roseanna galloped the borrowed animal as if her life depended on it. A waterfall of salty teardrops continued to stream down her face. She took a deep breath and rode in the direction of Elias Hatfield’s cabin. While engaged in small talk earlier that evening, Johnse had told his sweetheart that his father planned a visit to his younger brother. In spite of the darkness, she managed to see the small cabin located in a clearing just off the main road. Breathlessly, the despairing girl burst through the door where she found Devil Anse sitting with his brother Elias.
In a startled voice Elias inquired “What in damnation do you think you’re doing?”
“Mister Hatfield, they got your boy, Roseanna said loudly.
Somehow not surprised, the old veteran calmly folded his hands on the redwood kitchen table. “How many your does your pappy got with him?” he asked.
“He’s got four of my brothers with him,” she answered.
“I appreciate you coming here to warn me honey.”
This distraught girl clutched the older man’s rough hand. “Don’t let them hurt him.”
Devil Anse patted her hand. “If they do, they’ll be hell to pay.”
The Hatfield patriarch wasted no time gathering up a group of his own. This included his son Cap, his brothers Elias and Ellison, his cousin Jim Vance and two other neighbors. In spite of their head start, he figured on intercepting his son’s captors. No one man in Pike or Logan County knew the terrain better than him. Using a shortcut, his band was able to overtake the McCoy posse.
Not far from where Bill Staton had been killed, Devil Anse had his men dismount eto assume tactical positions along the road to the Poundmill Run. Crouching down behind a dry brown shrub, Devil Anse quickly loaded shells into his Henry Rifle.
Ellison Hatfield checked his revolver to ensure it housed a full load. “I reckon we’ll give them boys a real surprise.”
Devil Anse smiled back at his brother. “I reckon we will.”
The burly Cap crawled along the dirt to where his father was hidden. “Are we planning on shooting anyone?” he asked nonchalantly.
“No they ain’t drawn any blood and neither will we. Just the same, you better make sure your Winchester is loaded.”
Just barely seventeen, Cap coolly smiled as his father. “I’m loaded for bear.”
“We won’t kill anybody but that don’t mean we won’t ruffle their feathers a bit,” added Devil Anse.
The quick thinking Jim Vance had instructed Cap and the others to roll a sizable log in the middle of the road. Stalled by the huge impediment, Randolph McCoy and his three sons received the jolt of a lifetime, when they rode into the middle of the Hatfield welcoming committee. Their shock was heightened when they saw twice their number of guns trained on them.
Devil Anse hooted out from the underbrush. “Evening boys, you got something that belongs to me.”
Randolph's dull blue eyes squinted, glancing around at the men who had an array rifles following his every move. “Don’t get nervous with that hardware, I was just fetching your misplaced boy back to you.”
Devil Anse gleefully retorted. “Then I better lend you my compass, because you were headed in the wrong direction.” He pointed over to his son. “Now cut my boy loose and send him over to me.”
James slowly walked his mare over to his prisoner and unsheathed his hunting knife. He hastened to cut the ropes that bound their captive’s hands together. Johnse cautiously rode towards the Hatfield party without glancing back at his captors.
“I wish you’d keep your boy away from my little girl Anderson,” said Randolph.
“I think them children got a mind of their own.”
“My little girl is my concern; and I don’t want your boy trifling with her anymore.”
Devil Anse stood up from behind the ground cover and walked out holding his lever-cocked Henry Rifle. “It wasn’t neighborly of you to try and take my boy where he don’t want to go; but I’ll try to see that he doesn’t bother your little girl anymore.”
Randolph nodded in agreement.
The former Confederate sharpshooter slung the large rifle over his left arm, pointing it directly at Randolph McCoy. “Now, I want you to get off them nags and get down on your knees. Then I aim to see you apologize to Johnse.”
Jim Vance covered his mouth to keep from laughing.
The McCoys nervously looked at each other.
“I mean now!” Devil Anse yelled.
Randolph, Tolbert and Pharmer all dismounted and sunk down on the dirt ground. Only James remained on his horse.
Devil Anse was surprised when he saw the Pike County deputy refusing to get off his mount. He took several steps forward and pointed his Henry at the defiant man. “What’s a matter with you boy, don’t have any respect for your elders?”
“I respect you Mister Hatfield. I ain’t afraid of you but I respect you. But I won’t get on my knees for you,” James replied.
Randolph looked up at his oldest boy. “Best do what he says.”
The square-jawed lawman looked down at Devil Anse. “I got a bottle of Kentucky bourban in my saddlebag; mind if I have a drink before you shoot me?”
Devil Anse roared with laughter, looking back at his supporters as they too began to chuckle. “This boy’s got stones; he’s the only one in bunch that I got any respect for. All right boy, take as many snorts as you want, I ain’t gonna shoot,” he said. He lowered the barrel of his rifle away from James and levied it back at the other McCoys.
The elder Hatfield pointed to his oldest son. “You gents got something to say to my boy” he asked rhetorically.
With more than a half-dozen rifles pointed at his family, Old Ranel cleared his throat and took a bite of crow. “We’re sorry for what we did tonight,” he said looking over at Johnse.
Devil Anse motioned Randolph and his sons to stand up. “I guess that satisfies the family honor. Consider this a warning against troubling my family again.”
Wanting to leave quickly, the dejected McCoy clan climbed onto their horses and rode off into the darkness.
Devil Anse turned his attention to his son, who stood with his arms around Roseanna.
“I should have done everyone a favor and let her father take you
back to Pikeville. Maybe time in a jail cell wouldn’t do you no harm.”
Johnse hung his head down.
Devil Anse continued on with his scolding. “You need to thank your uncles, your brother and our friends for helping you tonight. I warned you about this, didn’t I?”
Johnse kept his head lowered and remained silent in response to his father’s lecture.
Roseanna abruptly chimed in. “He’s right you know. We can’t keep this up any longer. You got to stop pretending you’re ever going to marry me Johnse. It just ain’t going to hold water no more.”
Johnse began to drift off allowing the words of his father and lover to become a distant drone while occasionally nodding in agreement. He had another girl on his mind; and would quickly detach himself from the one standing before him. He wasn’t worried about his father’s anger because he was that sure in reality, the old man reveled at outcome from the evening’s adventure.