The Real Reason the Hatfields and McCoys Started Feuding

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In the late 19th century, the Hatfields and McCoys were locked in a bloody, decades-long feud. The battle between the clans has been pop culture fodder since at least 1923, when Buster Keaton parodied the situation in his movie Our Hospitality

But the event that launched the now-infamous conflict—which claimed the lives of 13 family members—has taken a backseat to the fact of its impressive longevity. What caused the bad blood in the first place?

A pig. Well, that’s how one of the stories goes, anyway. In 1878, Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield of stealing one of his hogs. The matter went to trial, with the star testimony coming from Bill Staton, a McCoy who married a Hatfield. Staton sided with Hatfield, and was later shot dead by Sam McCoy.

Adding fuel to the fire was the short-lived romance between Johnse Hatfield and Roseanna McCoy. After she became pregnant, McCoy moved in with the Hatfields, infuriating her family. But Romeo and Juliet they were not. Several months into the pregnancy, Johnse decided to move on with another McCoy—Nancy, Roseanna's cousin. Roseanna and Johnse's daughter died of the measles when she was 8 months old.

In 1882, three McCoys got into an election day fight with two Hatfields, which resulted in Ellison Hatfield being stabbed 26 times and shot in the back. Despite his horrific injuries, Hatfield didn’t immediately perish. Devil Anse, the head of the Hatfield clan and Ellison’s brother, vowed that he would not seek retaliation if his brother lived. When Ellison died three days later, Devil Anse found the three McCoy brothers who were responsible, dragged them into the woods, then blindfolded and shot them.

In 1888, the Hatfields struck again, ambushing the McCoy homestead and lighting it on fire in what became known as "The New Year's Day Massacre." Two were killed, including Alifair, a McCoy daughter who was caught in the crossfire. Her mother, Sarah, was badly beaten when she tried to help her dying daughter.

Ellison Mounts was hanged for Alifair’s death, and the feud seemed to settle down after that. But by the time all was said and done, at least 13 Hatfields and McCoys had died—all over a pig, it seems. Still, some historians believe that the hog was just a scapegoat. The real source of the ire, they say, was the Hatfields' Confederate leanings. (The McCoys considered themselves Unionists.)

A century later, the vendetta continued—sort of—in front of a live studio audience. For a 1979 Family Feud special, producers thought it would be funny to “litter the stage with bodies”—the Hatfield and McCoy teams received one appropriately attired mannequin for every match they won.

Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]


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