Heritage Days 2018
Since 1998, I have had the welcome opportunity of traveling to Pikeville/Pike County (KY) many times for a variety of Hatfield-McCoy events. In the early days of planning the M2k-led reunions, I made multiple round trips from North Carolina, sometimes four or five times a year. In recent years as Pike County Tourism has spearheaded Hatfield-McCoy events, my trips to Kentucky have declined somewhat, usually limited to two visits a year. Nevertheless, as I headed to Pikeville for the 2018 "Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days" festival (Sept. 21-23), it occurred to me that I have made the trip more than 60 times over the course of twenty years. Yet, after two decades, I find that I am still excited about heading "home."
Since 2013, the City of Pikeville has hosted "Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days," a celebration of regional culture, arts and crafts, food and music. The annual fall festival has taken the place of the "Hatfield McCoy Reunion Festival" that we used to host annually in June. For this year's event, motor coaches visitors from Roanoke, Va. joined Hatfield and McCoy descendants for a "Homecoming" dinner on Saturday night. To commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Hatfield-McCoy truce signing in 2003, Reo Hatfield presented a new "Declaration of Unity" document that reaffirmed the families' ongoing commitment to peace. The document was signed by family members and all of the witnesses in attendance.
Hatfield-McCoy events are nearly always a series of "firsts." 2018's "Homecoming" was no exception.
My children, Rachel and Jacob made their first trip back to Pike County after an absence of ten years. Jacob brought his wife, Kayleigh and Rachel brought my granddaughter, McKenna, both on their first-ever trip to feud-country. Despite persistently rainy conditions, we were able to tour a number of sites in Pikeville and down into the Tug Valley.
We joined Jack and Judy Hatfield and other family members for a tour of Alltech's Dueling Barrels Distillery by manager, Clay Christian. The 30,000 square foot facility opened in June, 2018 and promises to be an economic boon for the City of Pikeville. In January, 2019. Dueling Barrels will be inaugurated as the easternmost member of Kentucky's famed “Bourbon Trail."
Since his passing in 1914, many attempts have been made to commemorate family patriarch Randolph McCoy with a statue. As recently as 2002, drawings were made for a metal-cast statue of “Ol’ Ranel” to be produced and displayed in the City Park. After encountering public resistance to the idea, however, the statue's potential location was moved briefly to nearby Dils Cemetery before the project was abandoned altogether.
Hope for a Randolph McCoy statue was rekindled in 2017 when Bob Scott, owner of the former McCoy homestead property in Hardy, KY, met Travis Williams, a local artisan at the Kentucky State Fair. With Bob's encouragement, Travis, a skilled woodworker, agreed to create a life-sized woodcarving of Randolph. The 8 foot sculpture was completed and unveiled to the public, just in time for "Heritage Days" 2018. The amazing carving was produced by Travis from a single log of cedar. The entire process was documented in an incredible time-lapse video.
History is often made when we least expect it. Such was the case on Sunday afternoon of the festival. The day began with festival attendees and family members braving the elements to attend a "Hatfield-McCoy Unity service" preached by Billy Hatfield under a picnic shelter at Blackberry Fork Park. We also celebrated the birthday of Preacher Anderson Hatfield down the road at the Hog Trial Cabin site with music supplied by Jason Goble and Troy Burchett.
That afternoon, I took my family for their first visit to the Hatfield Cemetery in Sarah Ann, West Virginia. We were especially fortunate to be joined by my friend, Billy Hatfield and his wife, Sharon. We braved the steep muddy walkway up to the cemetery, made more slick by the day's ample rainfall. Fortunately, the rain eased up long enough to allow us a pleasant visit.
It was not until much later in the day that it occurred to me that our visit had been truly remarkable. For the first time in history, three generations of Randolph McCoy's family had stopped by the Hatfield Cemetery to pay their respects, accompanied by the great-grandson of "Devil Anse" (and his wife). It was yet another memorable moment in the reconciliation of the families over the past twenty years, one that I am grateful to have been part of and will not soon forget.