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‘Hatfields & McCoys’: Real historical ties to Churches of Christ?

The television miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys” premiered recently on the History channel.
The first installment prompted several viewers to e-mail The Christian Chronicle. This query from Bob West, a member of the Ellisville Church of Christ in Missouri, was typical:

In the first episode, it showed the Hatfields and McCoys worshiping in a church building and singing a cappella. As they exited the building, the camera focused on the sign above the door: “Tug Fork church of Christ.”
Do you know if the Hatfields and McCoys were actually brothers in the church?

I didn’t know, so I contacted Doug Foster, professor of church history and director of the Center for Restoration Studies at Abilene Christian University in Texas. Foster didn’t have any firsthand knowledge but contacted the Disciples of Christ Historical Society in Nashville, Tenn., which collects historical information on all three branches of the Stone-Campbell Movement.
Associate archivist Elaine Philpott with the historical society provided this background:

I have done a little investigative work on the Hatfields and McCoys and haven’t found a link to an actually Church of Christ congregation. I found in one reference that both families tended to be primitive or hard shell Baptists.
Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield, the patriarch of the family, was baptized by a Christian Church/Church of Christ itinerate minister in the area by the name of W. Dyke Garrett. This was later in his life, and a couple of his sons were baptized at the same time.
I checked our congregational files for all the little towns in that area in Kentucky and West Virginia but didn’t come up with one. One thing I read that said when Devil Anse was asked about his faith, he allegedly said, “I belong to no church unless you say I belong to the one great Church of the World.”

Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Costner plays Devil Anse in the miniseries, as  USA Today notes:

In Hatfields & McCoys … Devil Anse Hatfield (Kevin Costner), the head of the legendary clan, is baptized in a river. It looks like a warm, sunny day, and Devil Anse appears to be slipping peacefully into warm waters.
But it was, in fact, a cold early November morning in a stream in the Snagov Forest an hour north of Bucharest, Romania.
“It was pretty cold when they baptized me,” says Costner, for whom this project is the first foray into made-for-TV movies. “It was really cold.”

  • Feedback
    One of Devile’s descendants was a deacon a few years ago: http://www.granta.com/New-Writing/War-and-Peace-on-the-Big-Sandy-River
    Oh yeah, Tim Hall, minister at the Central church of Christ in Johnson City, Tenn., probably knows more too.
    Josh Watson
    June, 12 2012

    While I don’t remember if it was the Hatfields or McCoys that my father stayed with in the 1950s, but I know that he spent time with one side while in the area for a gospel meeting. Therefore, he told me that at least that side were members of the church.
    Stanton See
    June, 12 2012

    When I preached at the Lancaster (OH) Church of Christ from 1979 – 1983, we had a McCoy family in the congregation that supposedly were related to the McCoy’s of Hatfield & McCoy infamy. I do not recall their names now as that was 30 years ago.
    Jerry S
    June, 12 2012

    My youngest son’s late mother-in-law was a member of the church. She told me that her, I believe it was her grandmother, was a McCoy before she married. She took my visiting family over to the Hatfield cemetery. This was a number of years ago. In my research I thought that she was related to the Hatfields. Of course some of the McCoy girls did marry some of the Hatfields.
    Doyal Wright
    June, 12 2012

    Jerry S that would have been Hagar and Imogene McCoy.
    June, 12 2012

    I preached at the Church of Christ in Mt. Sterling, Ky in the early 80’s. we had a “Hatfield” who was probably in his 70’s then who told me he was related to the clan and a few stories he had heard growing up about the feud. He claimed no “feuding” on his part and I failed to ask about his families history with churches of Christ. So, where there was one Hatfield member there may have been others.
    Tim Hall (Terre Haute, IN)
    Tim Hall
    June, 12 2012

    Patrick Mead has spent some time in that area and mentioned on his blog that he plans to write about it soon.
    Michael Ray
    June, 12 2012

    A dear friend of mine from WV had a sister who was married to one of the Hatfield family. They lived in Justice, WV. I don’t remember her name, but they were faithful church members.
    Linda Fox
    June, 12 2012

    My wife and I spent the summer of 1975 in the area of Prestensburg, KY not far from the KY/WV border and just a few miles from Pikeville, KY (mentioned several times in the mini-series). The church was strong in that area and we ran into several of the Hatfields and McCoys while there. Although, I don’t remember any in the Prestensburg congregation, it would not be surprising to find a good number in other congregations.
    There was mention in the movie of the name Blankenship, and it so happens that Benny Blankenship had been the preacher at Prestensburg C of C when we were there (I would remember since that is where I was baptized).
    Glenn L.
    June, 12 2012

    For a photograph of William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield, please see our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/discipleshistory. (Sara Harwell, Disciples of Christ Historical Society)
    Sara Harwell
    June, 13 2012

    My uncle George Biggers who was born in 1905 and was a travelleing minister in his early years told me that he had baptized members of both families in a gospel meeting that he held.
    Edwin Biggers
    June, 13 2012

    I was honored to have as one of my elders a gentleman name Paul Hatfield of the members of the Hatfield family as one of my elders at First Christian Church of Winter Park Fl. He has since gone to be with the Lord. He was a great Elders…
    Jim Book
    June, 18 2012

    I have done some research on the Hatfields and McCoy feud, and in the course of this research, I found that Devil Anse Hatfield was indeed baptized into Christ in 1911, and two of his sons later. After the movie, I had to dig hard to find the information from my research, and found that information. Hatfield was baptized by a man named “Uncle Dick” Garrett, who was a curcuit preacher that was known for establishing the Crooked Creek church of Christ around the turn of the century. I printed off some copies of what I could find and gave them to Dr. Lynn McMillon. I was unable to find the links regarding Randell McCoy, but I do recall that there were McCoys as members of the church of Christ. This would be a good exercise in research for anybody, whether for a history paper for a Christian college course or for the Christian Chronicle or a sister newspaper.
    In my book, anyone who has been baptized for remission of sins is indeed my brother or sister in Christ.
    Devil Anse Hatfield’s baptism shows the power of God over man’s corruption, and how glorious a sinner’s redemption is when God’s grace is extended to the sinner, no matter how horrific the sins were.
    Praise God!!
    Stephen Maple
    June, 18 2012

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