Jimmy Wolford: A Man Who Matched the Mountains

Written by Ron McCoy and Pike County Tourism CVB

The Tug Valley has lost one of its brightest stars, as singer/songwriter Jimmy Wolford has passed away on March 5th, 2020. Wolford was also known as a storyteller, and one of the region’s pioneers in reviving the Hatfield McCoy heritage, which has drawn the interest of people from all across the globe.

Wolford recognized the importance of the tourism industry in Eastern Kentucky early on, seeing the value of the famous Hatfields and McCoys heritage long before most were willing to even come to terms with the history. Wolford knew that people from all around the world were enthralled with feud history and dedicated himself to providing a narrative for the story that was not only authentic, but also entertaining.

Wolford told the story of the Hatfield-McCoy feud in song, producing an album titled “The Hatfields And The McCoys: The Great Vendetta”. This album features Appalachian folk music that showcases Wolford’s unique storytelling flair in a style that reflects the culture. One track in particular, “Men Who Matched The Mountains”, highlighted the challenging environment that the Hatfields and McCoys were thriving in, offering a clearer illustration of who these people were; not savages, but people surviving in the mostly lawless, post-Civil War Appalachian mountains of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. Snippets from Wolford’s album are also featured on the wildly popular “Hatfields & McCoys Historic Feud Driving Tour” audio CD, which serves as an audio guide for one of the region’s most popular tourist attractions.

For more than 40 years, Wolford served as an ambassador for the “Hatfields and McCoys”, carrying the feud story with him wherever he went, across the country and around the world. Passionate about his heritage, he was also a role model for the power of grace and forgiveness. Nevertheless, telling the feud story wasn’t always easy. Growing up as a McCoy descendant in Williamson, WV in the 1930s, Wolford knew the feud was not something the McCoys were willing to discuss. 

As a child, Jimmy recalled asking his grandmother about the feud. “Son, that’s something we don’t talk about,” said Wolford. “I went to Grandpa and I said, “Grandpa, tell me about the Hatfields and McCoys.” And he said, “We don’t talk about the Hatfields and McCoys.” As a musician on the campaign trail with Hubert Humphrey in the 1960s, Jimmy was often prompted by the Senator to discuss the feud. “He would say, Jimmy, tell me about the Hatfields and McCoys. I said, we don’t talk about that.” When Humphrey introduced him to the Prime Minister of England in 1971, Jimmy gave the same answer he always did: “We don’t talk about that.”

After the campaign trail, Wolford returned home to his roots, determined to tell the feud story in a way that had never been done. He partnered with songwriters Larry Johnson and Bob Stanley and spent three years researching the feud. Wolford was not content to telling the “McCoy” side of the story alone, however. He met with Willis Hatfield, last surviving son of “Devil Anse” and Dr. Henry D. Hatfield, “Devil Anse’s” nephew, and was impressed by their empathy. “They hurt for Roseanna McCoy. They hurt for Devil Anse and Ellison and them. They hurt for each other. (The feud) was something that occurred that did not have to happen, but it did,” said Wolford. His classic album, The Great Vendetta released in 1976 became the definitive musical retelling of the feud.

Wolford’s contributions to preserving feud history extended beyond music. In 1975, Wolford was concerned about the deteriorating state of the McCoy Cemetery in Hardy, KY.  He enlisted the help of businessmen Joe “Tab” McCoy and Leonard “Mix” McCoy, owners of the McCoy Caney Coal Company in Phelps, KY. The McCoys cleaned up the cemetery and purchased an $8000 granite memorial for the site, manufactured by the Hatfield Monument Company in Sarah Ann, WV.  The six-foot long monument in the shape of an open Bible featured a quote from one of Wolford’s songs: “There is no secret why they died so young; pride took control – youth’s song was never sung.” 

Wolford was also influential in the publication of Truda McCoy’s book, The McCoys: Their Story. After her passing, Truda’a son Paul was determined to see that the book manuscript was printed. Paul contacted Wolford to enlist his help in finding a publisher. Wolford carried the manuscript with him in the trunk of his car for nearly two years. Finally, “Tab” and “Mix” pointed Wolford in the direction of Pikeville College and the capable guidance of Dr. Leonard Roberts. The book was printed in 1976.

In 1979, Wolford led the “McCoys” to take on the “Hatfields” in a five episode series of the game show, “Family Feud.” It was the first joint-appearance of the Hatfields and McCoys on a nationwide broadcast and it showed the camaraderie that existed between the families.  During the show, Wolford presented a copy of the Great Vendetta album to host Richard Dawson. The McCoys would go on to win the series after a corrected cash total allowed the family to win by $1.

At the first national reunion of the families in Pikeville, KY in 2000, Wolford was the recipient of the first “Real McCoy” award, given for his decades of tireless service to preserving feud heritage. Twenty years later, his message to the families remains remarkably relevant:  “Don’t ever let anybody say anything bad about a Hatfield because you’re a McCoy. Vice versa. Don’t say anything bad about a McCoy because you are a Hatfield. Because that’s the way it started.” 

Being a McCoy descendant, Wolford inspired other McCoys to not only explore their history, but also come to terms with it. “What a life, yet Jimmy remained grounded and always promoted the Tug Valley in a dignified impartial way,” said McCoy descendant Eddie McCoy. “I am glad I got to meet him because he was probably the first McCoy who still lived in the area that I contacted back when I was a kid and the feud had been less in the public eye than it is now. He was always respectful towards the Hatfield family and that attitude was one I modeled myself after whenever I interacted with the Hatfields myself.”

“Jimmy has always been one of my heroes,” said Ron McCoy, great-great-great grandson of Randolph McCoy. “He was out promoting our family history when it wasn’t always popular to talk about the feud. It was his mission to preserve our heritage and he did so in a way that was positive and affirming. He never failed to reach out to Hatfields and McCoys alike. Jimmy has been a role model for all of us who have tried to carry on after him. Jimmy Wolford was one of a kind.”

Jimmy Wolford Songs & Media

Media Article

https://www.williamsondailynews.com/news/tug-valley-singer-jimmy-wolford-dies-at-age/article_c7f8b4e6-ab42-54be-a6be-e61b9a344063.html

Hatfield & McCoy Feud Descendants Tell Their Story

After a long day of clearing brush and cleaning gravestones, Ron McCoy takes a moment to stand before the towering statue of Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield, which sits atop the famous feudist’s resting place. This interesting and deeply moving moment was captured without, at the time, Ron’s knowledge. What ran through Ron’s head as he stood there is anyone’s guess, however, such a compelling moment had an undeniable impact on me, so I snapped the photo.

Ron, along with descendant Bob Scott (Hatfield), had been spending the week in their ancestral home of Pikeville-Pike County, Kentucky assisting Pike County Tourism CVB staff and volunteers in cleaning and preparing the gravesites of the feudists for tourist season. Thousands of feud descendants, as well as history buffs from all over the world visit Pikeville-Pike County each year to tour the sites of the world’s most famous feud, and to these descendants, the gravesites’ condition are of utmost importance. To see the descendants of these famous feudists cleaning the gravestones of their family’s ancestral enemy is a powerful image of forgiveness, and truly shows the humble heart these people have developed despite a legacy of hatred and bloodshed.

Devil Anse Hatfield Cemetery
Ron McCoy facing Devil Anse Hatfield’s grave (candid photo).

Ron, along with descendant Bob Scott (Hatfield), had been spending the week in their ancestral home of Pikeville-Pike County, Kentucky assisting Pike County Tourism CVB staff in cleaning and preparing the gravesites of the feudists for tourist season. Thousands of feud descendants, as well as history buffs from all over the world visit Pikeville-Pike County each year to tour the sites of the world’s most famous feud, and to these descendants, the gravesites’ condition is of utmost importance.

As marketing director of Pike County Tourism CVB, I have, for years, sought to not only promote the Pike County Hatfield & McCoy Feud Sites as a historic destination, but also to tell the story of the feud from interesting and unique points of view. I find the perspective of the direct descendants to be particularly interesting, as their relationship with the history is so intriguing. Given that there are great many Hatfield and McCoy descendants around today, with a great variety of perspectives on feud history, we tend to reach out to the descendants that were involved in signing the Peace Treaty when creating our content, namely Ron McCoy, Bo McCoy and Reo Hatfield. William Keith Hatfield and Jack Hatfield, who are William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield’s descendants, are also two resources that we commonly reach out to, as they have worked over the years to create and enhance our Hatfield McCoy events, namely Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days which takes place each year in September in Pikeville/Pike County, Kentucky.

The Hatfield – McCoy Feud: From Retribution to Reconciliation

Recently, we called upon some of these descendants to assist us in creating a video detailing their story as it relates to the Hatfield and McCoy Feud; to tell the story of how the two families went from retribution to reconciliation. The following video was filmed in the Preacher Anse Hatfield Hog Trial Cabin, and features descendants Ron McCoy, Reo Hatfield and William Keith Hatfield.

Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days Homecoming 2019

Come experience the Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days Homecoming with us this fall from September 20th through the 22nd, 2019. Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days Homecoming is a celebration of the peace made between the Hatfields and McCoys, and serves as an event memorializing the events of the feud, as well as the steps the families took to officially bring the feud to an end. This event is open to the public, with visitors encouraged to discuss with the descendants of these famous feuding families anything they wish to learn about Hatfield & McCoy feud lore.

Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days Homcoming 2019 Rack Card

Below is an early schedule of events. This schedule is likely to change, yet much of it may stay the same:

Friday

7 pm – Main Street Live! Feat. Roger Lee Charles and a Mile to Nowhere.
7 pm – “The Bullet” Race.
7:30 pm – Sally McCoy Play at the App A Feud story from Sally McCoy’s perspective.

Saturday

8 a.m. – “The Cuss” Race .

9 a.m. — 2 p.m. Pikeville Farmer’s Market For craft vendor space and non-political information booths only, call Bridget Michelle Tackett at (606) 794-3033. Music will begin at 9:30 a.m., and will last until 2 p.m., featuring local talent.

Noon – Pig Roast with the Hatfields and McCoys (Pikeville Farmer’s Market).

3 p.m.Blood Song Play Historic Pike County Courthouse on Main Street, admission $10 cash at the door. Featuring Hatfield-McCoy descendants telling their story.

6 p.m. – Dinner with Descendants, Dueling Barrels Brewery & Distillery ($20/person).

2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. – Sally McCoy Play at the App A Feud story from Sally McCoy’s perspective.

Sunday

7 a.m. “The ( Son of a ) Gun” Half Marathon.

10 a.m. – Hatfield & McCoy Feud Memorial Service: McCoy Homeplace and Well Site at Hardy for church service – 10 a.m. Church service conducted by William Hatfield, Ron McCoy, and Reo Hatfield.

Event details subject to change.

Ruff, Tuff Race Series

The Ruff Tuff Race Series Registration is now OPEN!! 3 days, 3 different events, 3 medals, 2 finisher’s shirt (1 for completing The CUSS & 1 for completing all 3 events), a ton of fun, laughs, great/priceless photos and experiences. Come join your friends and family in this Annual event.

The Whole Series will be $75

September 20th @ 7pm THE BULLET ($25)
September 21st @ 8am THE CUSS ($40)
September 22nd @ 7am THE (Son of a) GUN Half Marathon ($40)

All monies raised are put back into the event so the more people registering the BIGGER this can be!

Many more events will be added as the date approaches.

Secure Your Lodging Today

Hotels & Motels

Buy Moonshine Made From McCoy Well Water of Feud Fame

Distilled by Pike County’s Pauley Hollow Distillery, Fuel of the Feud moonshine is made from water drawn from the McCoy well, which is located on the property where, on New Years Eve, 1888, the Hatfields attacked the McCoy homeplace, burning it to the ground. This product will become available in July, 2019, and is one of many projects planned that involves the McCoy Well property.

McCoy Well owner, and Hatfield descendant Bob Scott, along with his wife Rita, worked tirelessly over the course of the past few years, to make this product a reality.

“This product not only tastes great, but it also gives locals and visitors an opportunity to own an artifact from Hatfield McCoy Feud Country,” said Scott, who is also a Pike County Tourism CVB board member. “This is more than a drink, this is a keepsake for those who love the history, and it is something that further enhances Pike County’s tourism offerings.”

“Products are more meaningful to our visitors when they have a story attached to them,” said Jay Shepherd, Pike County Tourism CVB Marketing Director. “This is a product with a story. A Hatfield designed it using water from Randolph McCoy’s well, and a Pike County distillery distilled it.”

“Moonshine has long been part of the heritage of Appalachia and the Hatfields and McCoys,” said Ron McCoy, direct descendant of Randolph McCoy. “Like so many aspects of feud history, moonshine has its negative connotations. However, using the water from the McCoy well is a truly unique way to produce an authentic product distilled by a local business, one that promotes the unity between the families and is respectful of our mutual heritage.”     

“Keeping with the tradition of the feud, Fuel of the Feud is made from a mashbill of West Virginia corn and Kentucky rye along with malted barley and cane sugar,” said Josh Martin, owner of Pauley Hollow Distillery. “It is distilled in a copper pot still in small batches. This 100 proof moonshine has an initial sweet corn flavor with a spicy rye finish.”

Pauley Hollow Distillery’s Fuel of the Feud will be available this July, and can be purchased in Liquor stores across Kentucky.

For more details on Fuel of the Feud, visit www.FueloftheFeud.com.

Fuel of the Feud Gallery

Hatfield McCoy Feud Driving Tour

Thousands of people from all around the world have visited Pike County, Kentucky to immerse themselves into some of America’s richest historical locales. Pike County is home to most of the significant Hatfield and McCoy feud sites, and as a result of the recent spike in the feud’s popularity, Pikeville/Pike County offers a self-guided tour of these interesting historic locales.

The Hatfield and McCoy Driving Tour is a self-guided tour that includes all historic sites, both in Kentucky and West Virginia, of the feud. Visitors are provided a Hatfield and McCoy Driving Tour brochure for free, which features step-by-step instructions for finding each feud site that is open to the public. An optional Hatfield and McCoy Driving Tour CD is available for purchase below. Both items can be found in our visitors’ center store, located in the Hampton Inn on 831 Hambley Blvd, Pikeville. The audio CD serves as a tour guide for the feud sites, and offers professional voice talent and music, which spices up the already wonderful tour.

Hatfield McCoy Powersports Spring 2019 Ride the Ridge

Come join us for Hatfield McCoy Motor Sports Spring Ride the Ridge event on May 4th, 2019. Enjoy the hospitality, big savings and prizes.

Ride Details
The ride will be leaving the HMMS Complex, located just off KY US 119 in Belfry, KY at 10:00 a.m. on the morning of 5/4/19 and return back there at 3:00 p.m. for lunch, prizes and some giveaways.

Last year’s event featured a great turnout and excellent riding. Be sure to show up for this great event!