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Maybe the McCoys Were Mad for a Reason

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Maybe the McCoys Were Mad for a Reason

Maybe the McCoys Were Mad for a Reason

Maybe the McCoys Were Mad for a Reason

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Is there a brain-chemistry component to the Hatfield-McCoy family feud? Newly revealed research shows that members of the McCoy clan have long been subject to a rare disorder that raises the blood pressure.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

The adrenal gland them do it. There was no news this week in that ancient feud between the Hatfields and McCoys, who've often been considered cats and dogs of American history, feuding senselessly and incessantly in the late 19th century.

The Hatfields lived in the West Virginia side of the Tug Fork River, the McCoys in the Kentucky side. Both families made moonshine and were proud Confederates. But Asa Harmon McCoy ran off to join the Union Army. A few nights after he returned home in 1865 he was found murdered in a cave. Hatfields were suspected.

In 1873, Floyd Hatfield and Randolph McCoy disputed the ownership of a pig that had crossed between their lands. A man named Bill Staton, who was distantly related to both families, told the courts that the pig belong to the Hatfields. Bill Staton was killed. McCoys were suspected.

In 1881, Roseanna McCoy began to keep company with Johnse Hatfield. Johnse was kidnapped by the McCoys. Roseanna organized a rescue party to save him, but that no good cur, Johnse Hatfield, abandoned Roseanna when she got pregnant and ran off with her cousin, Nancy McCoy.

Sounds as if young folks from both families needed to take a singles cruise or go to Fort Lauderdale on spring break, just get out of the Tug Fork River and meet some new people.

The feud became national news in 1882 when Roseanna's brothers - Tolbert, Pharmer and Bud McCoy - kidnapped Ellison Hatfield, stabbed him 26 times, then shot him. Hatfields then kidnapped the McCoy boys, tied them Paw Paw trees and shot them.

Between 1880 and 1891, more than two-dozen Hatfields and McCoys were killed and the National Guard was called in. Remember that the next time someone says that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have a feud; a real feud means tying someone to Paw Paw trees and calling in the National Guard.

The family signed a truce in 1891. They have since had joint family reunions and helped develop Hatfield-McCoy Feud tourist sites.

This week, Revi Mathew, a Vanderbilt University endocrinologist who's been treating a McCoy, said that members of that family may possess a rare inherited condition called Von Hippel-Lindau disease that produces excess adrenaline. This condition can make anybody short-tempered, he explained.

Now, I want to be open to modern medical interpretation. But I'm queasy about glandular explanations for criminal behavior. It doesn't hold people responsible for their actions. It condemns descendants to feeling helpless to control themselves. It means that the Hatfields and McCoys weren't feuding about the civil war, a stolen pig, or a little sister being jilted. They just didn't take their medication.

(Soundbite of song, "Out of Control")

Mr. TOM ROWLANDS and Mr. ED SIMONS (Chemical Brothers): (Singing) Out of control, out of control, out of control.

SIMON: Chemical Brothers. And this is NPR News.

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