“The Devil’s Son: Cap Hatfield and the End of the Hatfield and McCoy Feud”
Anne Black Gray: Foreword by G. Cameron Fuller
$21.95, Woodland Press
When I learned of “The Devil’s Son,” a 2012 novel regarding the Hatfield McCoy feud, I wasn’t keen on reading it. After all, just how many feud rehashes do we need? But I’m a Hatfield fan and so I read it. It was a relief to see it provides a unique and exciting slant on an important Appalachian topic. Author Anne Black Gray, a Parkersburg native and Hatfield descendant, did her homework.
This is the first fiction, to my knowledge, to address the effects of the feud on the children (both the grown and the toddler) of the feudists, as well as on neighbors, friends, and extended family members. In addition, it details the economic impact and the legal and political wrangling resulting from the feud.
The protagonist, William Anderson “Cap” Hatfield, the most military and capable son of Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield, is a rugged but sensitive young man with a yen for a life of his own. Taught to kill when necessary, he respects his father and is loyal to his kin. But Cap has talents and a dream. He wants to learn to cipher and read. He realizes lawyers are having a major impact on what is happening in the mountains. He wants to be one so he can read and understand contracts his father is asked to sign.
The novel’s cinematic opening depicts Cap astride his horse, Traveller, on New Year’s Day, 1888. Deep in a blustery winter snow, he scans the landscape for marauding McCoys and considers the option of leading an attack against them. Killing Randall McCoy might end the feud and finally win Cap his father’s approval. If he can end the feud, he will be the next in line to command.
The strong plot of the novel moves rapidly. The events and settings are portrayed realistically and the characters are well drawn with understandable attributes and emotions. The sights and sounds in the mountains and the towns shimmer and crunch.
The story reflects folkways: the new found wonders of town life (soup in a can, store-bought bread, and houses with glass in their windows). The women are shown as strong but silent partners. Mothers, daughters, and daughters-in-law are all of child-bearing age and sometime pregnant at the same time. Frequent pregnancies lead to large families and interesting naming practices. The story shows the effects of the lack of early mountain schools, as well as the damage done by the onslaught of coal barons, land grabbers, and timber merchants.
The novel rings true and provides an interesting and more complete picture of the people and their era. “The Devil’s Son” adds a distinctly new dimension to feud literature.