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

Porch Talk Storytelling Workshop Series

The Appalachian Center for the Arts, in partnership with the Appalachia Book Company and UK Extension – Pike County Fine Arts, is thrilled to introduce our new live storytelling and conversation series: Porch Talk at the App!

We all love kicking our feet up on the front porch, gathering around a roaring fire, or circling a kitchen table to talk with our friends. Porch Talk is your chance to share those stories with your community, and we know you have some good ones! Come share your stories solo or in conversation with your friends. We want to hear the generational (tall) tales you’ve collected, the monumental moments from your life, or remembrances of the people who have mattered most.

Porch Talk workshops will help you craft your personal stories into stage-worthy monologues with the help of professional editors, actors, and public speakers. These low-pressure workshops will culminate in a staged storytelling showcase and possible publication!

Storytelling Workshop Series @ Pike Co. Extension
January 23rd & 30th @ 6:30
February 6th & 13th @ 6:30

Porch Talk Story Showcase @ The App
February 18th

To pre-register for workshops contact UK Extension – Pike County Fine Arts through FB message, at (606) 432-2534, or at emilyknelson@uky.edu.

For more information visit theapparts.org/porchtalk or contact the Appalachia Book Company at appalachiabookco@protonmail.com.

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.

Preservation Kentucky Tour120 – Pikeville/Pike County Historic Tours

Just a reminder for you history buffs, Preservation Kentucky Tour120 is coming this weekend, Saturday May 18th and Sunday May 19th, to Pikeville-Pike County, Kentucky!

The following is available this weekend:

Saturday 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. – Historic tour of the Big Sandy Heritage Museum, Pike County Historic Courthouse and Pikeville City with Reed Potter. Meet at the Doughboy beside the Pike County Historic Courthouse, 146 Main Street, Pikeville KY.  $10.00 per person (donation for Big Sandy Heritage Center). Reed Potter contact: reed_potter@hotmail.com

Saturday 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. – Tour of the Hatfield McCoy Hog Trial Site with Patti Whitt (Blackberry, KY). Patti Whitt contact: pattiwhitt@icloud.com

Saturday 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. – The McCoy Well Site will be available, featuring the Randolph McCoy statue. (Hardy, KY).

Saturday 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. – Matewan Heritage Days will be going on in Matewan, WV. Featuring reenactments. Kim McCoy contact: (606) 371-0938

Sunday 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. – The Big Sandy Heritage Museum will be open for special hours, featuring Hatfield & McCoy artifacts.

 

For full details on Tour120, visit the Preservation Kentucky website here.

 

Gallery

Hatfields and McCoys: A Story of Forgiveness

When one thinks of the Hatfields and the McCoys, they no doubt think of a bloody grudge, unrelenting violence, unforgiveness and vengeance. After all, the Hatfield and McCoy feud is perhaps the world’s most infamous feud, and is a pop culture staple that is found in everything from movies, to television shows, artwork, as well as a huge assortment of books. The Hatfield and McCoy feud is so ingrained in American culture that one name is rarely said without the other, with the figure of speech “feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys” being used across the nation, and in many parts of the world.

Ron McCoy with “Devil Anse” Hatfield

With all of the sensationalism found within feud lore; the gunfights, the forbidden Hatfield-McCoy love affair, law men and outlaws, and everything in between, it is no wonder that this story has garnered the attention of so many, and has had the lasting appeal that it has. With all of this considered, it is easy to lose sight of the greatest feud story told, a story of forgiveness.

Since the signing of the peace treaty in Pikeville back in 2003, Hatfield and McCoy descendants have gone to great lengths to use the infamy of the feud to bring a new message to the world, a message of conflict resolution and forgiveness. In fact, this message of forgiveness was recognized by the John Templeton Foundation as being one of “Ten Great Moments in Forgiveness History”, alongside notable acts such as Holocaust survivor Corrie Boom shaking the hand of a guard that held her captive in a prison camp, Pope John Paul II forgiving his would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca, and Jesus Christ forgiving roman guards as they were in the process of executing him on the cross.

While the Hatfield & McCoy descendants may disagree on some of the details of the feud, they are passionate about bringing their message of reconciliation to the world. Each year, at Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days in Pikeville, Kentucky, Hatfield and McCoy descendants travel to Pikeville to take part in a variety of events, from a pig roast at the Pikeville Farmer’s Market, to a Hatfield McCoy theatre production, storytelling events and more. Hatfield & McCoy Heritage Days culminates in a special service at the McCoy Well in Hardy, Kentucky, the site where the Hatfields attacked and burned down the McCoy cabin on New Years Eve, 1888. This attack resulted in the death of two of Randolph McCoy’s children, a daughter and a son, as well as leaving his wife permanently injured. This special service focuses on memorializing the past, and reiterating the message of peace and forgiveness.

Gary McCoy & William Keith Hatfield

So, when telling the story of the Hatfields and the McCoys, remember, the story does not end in the execution of Ellison “Cottontop” Mounts, nor does it end with a climactic battle. The story of the feuding Hatfields and McCoys ends with a treaty, a handshake, and a newly forged kinship between both families. Where one story of vengeance and unforgiveness ends, a new story of forgiveness and brotherhood begins. Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days will be held in Pikeville, KY September 21 – September 23, 2018.

 

Peace Treaty Signing Media

 

 

Hatfield McCoy Gallery

Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days