Let’s Talk About the “Hog Trial”
Let’s talk about the infamous “hog trial,” which is said to have been conducted in the front parlor of the house seen here. I have been in that room many times, and talked at great length with the man seen in the photo, Uncle Ransom Hatfield, who lived there all his life. He was the son of the presiding justice, Preacher Anderson Hatfield, who was my great-great-grandfather, on both sides.
The first question is: Was there a hog trial, or is it just another “feud fable?” Yes, even though there are no documents proving it, there was a hog trial, wherein Ran’l McCoy sued Floyd Hatfield, asking the court to return a hog that both men claimed. While I never talked to anyone who was there, I talked to several people who were alive at the time, and all remembered hearing about it from childhood. Uncle Ransom heard the story directly from his father many times. I think it will be interesting to examine it to see just how much of the story is obviously made up, and how much is likely true. Of course the most detailed description, as with all of the “feud stories” is from Dean King, so I will parse his words in detail as we go along.
First, take a look at the photo. There were two rooms in the front part of the house; the room where the trial took place is on the left as you look at the photo. It was about the size of the average Holiday Inn Express room. So, first, we must populate that room, according the description given by Mr. King.
The first problem we encounter is that King has the trial in February, 1879 (it was actually in the fall of 1878), which means that one entire wall is out of play for seating people, due to the roaring fire in the fireplace. With that useless wall in mind, we first seat the justice, with a table in front of him, a jury of twelve, a plaintiff and a defendant and a witness. We now have sixteen men seated in that room, one with a table in front of him. Are we getting crowded yet?
I know you are feeling a little crowded, with sixteen men seated in that room, considering that one wall and several feet in front of the fireplace is unusable, but you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! King says that “Randall jumped up and launched into a furious tirade, railing against all of the Hatfield witnesses, whom he accused of lying.”(p. 56.) Since King said that “witness after witness” had testified, and he has them still in the room for Ran’l's tirade, we now have at least two dozen people in the room. If you think the air is a little stuffy, join the club.
King says that witness Bill Staton “Lunged at him(Randall),” during Ran’l's abusive tirade. King, having substituted Bill Staton, Sr. as the witness, in place of Bill Staton, Jr., who actually was the witness, now has the septuagenarian Staton, Sr., “lunging” at the fifty-some Ran’l McCoy. But the old man Staton is foiled at his attempt to get at Ol’ Ran’l, because “Randall’s sons were faster and seized Staton before he could strike their father.”(p. 56).
Adding an unspecified number of Ran’l's sons exacerbates the crowded conditions in the room. As King does not give the number, and he uses the plural, we will cut him some slack and say that there were only two of Ran’l's sons in the room. But, if the judge allowed two McCoy sons, he would have been obliged to allow at least that many of Floyd’s close relatives to sit in. we now have nearly thirty men in the Preacher’s parlor, with one side of the room unusable due to the fire in the fireplace.
Mr. King seems to have an irrepressible urge to show his readers that he knows the minutest details. This sometimes runs him afoul of actual records that show him to be prevaricating. For example, he says that Preacher Anse was “age fifty-seven.” (p. 54) The record shows that Preacher Anse was born in 1835, meaning that he was forty-three at the time. King says that the defendant, Floyd Hatfield, who was a neighbor of several McCoys at Stringtown on the Kentucky side of the Tug, lived in West Virginia. Is King really unaware of the simple fact that if Floyd Hatfield had lived in West Virginia, he would have been out of reach of Preacher Anse’s little court in Kentucky? A Justice of the Peace does not try a federal case–then or now.
We can’t go on with the trial with more than two dozen men in that room, given that one entire wall is unusable due to the fire in the fireplace. Forcing some of the men out into the yard would not be unreasonable, as there are many, many people out there in the cold already. King says: “both sides showed up in force for the trial.”For the Hatfields, King has “Chafins, Ferrels, Mahons, Vances and Statons.” For the McCoys, King has in Preacher Anse’s cold front yard “Colemans, Gateses, Normans, Sowards, and Stuarts.” (p.55) Since the 1880 Census shows no one named either Gates, Sowards or Stuart living anywhere on the “backside” of Pike County, King would have us believe that many men rode from as far away as Pikeville to lend moral support to Ol’ Ran’l in his quest for the pig. I know that most readers will doubt that someone would ride all night through the February cold, just to get to Blackberry Creek to see who got the pig, but, you must remember that this is written by Dean King, the world’s foremost authority on the Hatfields and McCoys, so you just gotta accept it. Accept it and then try to help me clear some of the people out of that room, so we can go on with the trial.
King says: “the jury of twelve, being evenly split between Hatfields and McCoys, neither side could complain of a stacked deck…”(p. 56) We are asked to believe that Devil Anse had some interest in the case, and having an equal number of people named Hatfield on the jury might placate Devil Anse if Floyd lost. How could the presence of six Kentucky Hatfields, who were mostly former Unionists, Republicans, supporters, parishioners, and close relatives of Preacher Anse reassure the West Virginia ex-Rebel and Democrat, Devil Anse, if he had an interest in the case? Devil Anse’s attitude toward the hog trial was no doubt total unconcern. If Devil Anse reacted to every loss by a cousin of something as inconsequential as a pig, he would have been involved in several feuds simultaneously.
Preacher Anse maintained his standing among all the families by being careful not to show partiality. He had a problem in that his Hatfield relatives were so numerous on Blackberry Creek that it was difficult to impanel a jury that did not have an outright majority of Kentucky Hatfields, much closer related to Preacher Anse than to Devil Anse. In fact, that would be the case in most randomly picked juries. The foreman of the jury in the hog trial was preacher Anse’s brother, Elexious (Leck). So, to protect his own reputation for fairness, he went the extra mile and found enough McCoys to balance the jury. Preacher Anse had far more to lose in the hog trial than did Devil Anse because the justice of the peace/preacher needed the votes of the McCoys, and many of them were his parishioners. The jury composition was to protect the preacher, not to placate the Devil.
Why does Dean King say that there were six Hatfields and six McCoys on the jury? I really don’t know—any more than I know why he said that 1200 people attended Preacher Anse’s church “on a fair day,” in 1882, (p. 89)when the church only had 28 members in 1890, and the entire Association of 14 churches had barely 400 total members. Or why he said that 100 armed McCoy invaded Logan in 1880, (p. 85) when the 1880 Census shows only half that many McCoy males between the ages of 15 and 50 in the entire valley.
King pays no attention to either the Census or to the church minutes. He says what he wants to say, knowing that he has the backing of the New York publishing cartel, and the feud industry. I say that there never were 1200 people at a church service on Pond Creek. It hasn’t happened in the 20th or 21st century, and it damn sure didn’t happen in the 19th century–in a church with 28 members. We will solve the problem of overcrowding in Preacher Anse’s parlor by paying attention to Kentucky law, and not to Dean King’s fabulous tale.
A cursory look at the 1880 Census will give anyone a pretty clear picture of the difficulty one would encounter in trying to impanel a twelve-man jury on Blackberry Creek. Fortunately the legislature realized that fact, and made the proper provisions. Section 2252 of the Kentucky Statutes says: “A petit jury in the circuit court shall consist of twelve persons, and in all trials held in courts inferior to the circuit court, or by any county, police, or city judge, or justice of the peace, a jury shall consist of six persons; but the parties to any action or prosecution, except for felony, may agree to a trial by a less number of persons than is provided for in this section.” Article 248 of the Kentucky Constitution incorporates the same requirements for juries in courts inferior to the circuit court. So, by simply complying with the law, we have cut the crowd in the Preacher’s parlor down to a manageable size–ten men total, counting the jury of three Hatfields and three McCoys. Cool, huh?
Uncle Ransom Hatfield said that in the rare cases where someone demanded a jury trial, Preacher Anse was usually able to get them to agree to a lesser number than the legal maximum of six. Most jury cases were tried by a jury of three, but Ran’l McCoy was obstinate in demanding the full six-man jury. This necessitated the inclusion of the West Virginian, Selkirk McCoy, who just happened to ride by to get a deed notarized, and ended up drafted for jury duty. Ran’l was agreeable, as Selkirk was both nephew to Ran’l's wife, Sally, and cousin to Ran’l. It backfired when Selkirk gave weight to the eyewitness testimony of Bill Staton and cast the critical fourth vote for Floyd Hatfield.