What Is the Bloodiest Feud in American History?

The history of the United States is riddled with conflicts and disagreements that often ended in violence. Among them, the bloodiest feud in American history was the Hatfield-McCoy feud that lasted for more than a decade.

The Hatfields and McCoys were two families that lived in West Virginia and Kentucky respectively, along the Tug Fork River. The feud began in 1865 during the American Civil War when Devil Anse Hatfield, the patriarch of the Hatfield family, deserted from his Confederate regiment. He was pursued by a Union soldier named Asa Harmon McCoy, who was also a distant relative of the McCoy family.

This incident led to a heated argument between Devil Anse Hatfield and Randolph McCoy, Asa’s father. The argument eventually turned violent when one of Devil Anse’s brothers stabbed Randolph McCoy repeatedly with a hunting knife. This incident sparked the beginning of one of the deadliest feuds in American history.

The Causes

There were several reasons behind this long-standing feud between these two families. The primary reason was land ownership. Both families had disputes over land ownership along their shared border, which led to several court cases.

The second reason was personal grudges and revenge killings. Both families had members who were killed or injured by members of the other family.

The Violence

The violence between these two families escalated quickly, leading to several murders on both sides. The Hatfields were known for their cunning tactics and guerrilla warfare methods, while the McCoys sought legal action against their rivals.

Some of the most notable incidents during this feud include:

  • The New Year’s Night Massacre where three McCoy brothers were killed by members of the Hatfield family.
  • The death of Ellison Hatfield (Devil Anse’s brother) at the hands of three McCoy brothers.
  • The trial of Johnse Hatfield (Devil Anse’s son) for the murder of Roseanna McCoy (Asa’s daughter), which ended in a hung jury.
  • The eventual capture and imprisonment of several members of both families.

The End

The feud finally came to an end in 1891 when both families signed a treaty to end the violence. The treaty was signed in front of Kentucky Governor Simon Bolivar Buckner, who had threatened to send in the state militia if the violence continued.

Despite the treaty, however, there were still occasional outbreaks of violence between the two families. It wasn’t until the last surviving member of the feud, Devil Anse Hatfield, died in 1921 that the violence truly ended.


The Hatfield-McCoy feud is a tragic reminder of how disputes can quickly escalate into bloodshed. It’s estimated that more than a dozen people lost their lives during this feud and countless others were injured or displaced from their homes.

While it’s been over a century since this deadly feud ended, it still serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of letting personal grudges and disputes spiral out of control.