Lessons from the Hatfields and McCoys
One of my usual vacation activities is to read or study some topic connected with the geographical area of my vacation. Since part of our family vacation always includes time spent in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the South, some past topics have included Mountain Music, Slavery, and the roots and background of NASCAR racing. This year’s topic is the Hatfield and McCoy feud. The book “The Hatfields and McCoys” by Otis K. Rice, published by The University Press of Kentucky, gives an account of the topic with some breadth and depth, considering not only the details of the feud itself, but also the cultural, political, geographical, and historical background of the topic. Included are maps, pictures, and genealogical charts for reference.
One of the things that I wanted to learn immediately was whether our popular, cartoon-like images of the feud were close to reality. As with many historical events, the answer is “yes and no”. The author shows that at the time, roughly 1863-1893, newspaper accounts (it was national news) were often either factually mixed up or embellished (surprise!). The flavor and substance of the actual events, however, are not too different than the impressions that I had accumulated over the years. The historically accurate account is at least as violent and severe as the popular folklore version.
The background and causes of the feud were complex and varied, a combination of things as simple as the alleged theft of a hog, things as common as arguments over romantic relationships, and things as complex as election day politics. Many involved were illiterate, yet some surprisingly well off due to hard work and common sense, along with large land holdings. Conspicuously absent on both sides seems to be the presence of Jesus Christ in the hearts of the participants. Interestingly, the leader of the Hatfield clan, Anderson (Devil Anse) Hatfield, became a Christian after the feuding, and several members of his clan went on to be doctors and lawyers, and one Governor of West Virginia.
OK, where’s the lesson? I’d like to focus on one point that stuck out and reminded me of today’s world. The Kentucky State Senate was debating a bill to add six new units to the Kentucky State Guard to quell the feud (yes, it really was that big). Several amendments were considered, one of which was to strike a provision for sending guns to the affected counties and inserting a statement that “six good school teachers and two evangelists be sent to said counties, to remain until the disturbances are quelled”. The provision became academic, since the bill failed to pass in any form.
Leaving aside arguments over the propriety of a state government becoming involved in education and evangelism, suppose that American Christians had more of this kind of thinking. Suppose that, instead of clamoring for the use of our powerful military to decimate populations around the world, we had more desire to show the world the benefits of Christianity? Of course, you could point out that we threw those benefits away ourselves throughout the 20th century as we hid in our churches…but can we really think that we can advance the cause of Christ at the end of a gun barrel?
Let’s get back to the biblical use of our military for defense, and stop following the idiotic slogans drummed up by the political elite for a dumbed-down population like “they hate us because we’re free” and “better to fight them in Baghdad than in Boston”. Nobody in Baghdad had their sights on Boston until we blew their city apart and killed countless innocent civilians. What a godless policy. Unjust aggression brought misery to the Hatfields and McCoys, and it will bring misery to us if we allow it to continue.
~ Jim Mogel