Johnse Hatfield Cause of Death: The Life and Legacy of a Feudist

Johnse Hatfield was one of the most notorious figures in the legendary Hatfield-McCoy feud, a bloody conflict that lasted for nearly three decades between two rival families in the borderlands of West Virginia and Kentucky. Johnse was the son of Devil Anse Hatfield, the leader of the Hatfields, and he was involved in many of the violent incidents that marked the feud. He was also known for his romantic affairs with two women from the McCoy clan, Roseanna and Nancy, which added fuel to the fire. But what happened to Johnse after the feud ended? How did he die and what was his legacy?

The Early Years of Johnse Hatfield

Johnse Hatfield was born on January 6, 1862, in Logan County, Virginia (now West Virginia). He was the fourth child of Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield and Levisa “Levicy” Chafin. He grew up in a turbulent time, as the Civil War divided the nation and his region. His father was a Confederate sympathizer who formed a militia group called the Logan Wildcats, which fought against Union forces and raided their supplies. Johnse’s uncle, Jim Vance, was also a prominent member of the Wildcats and a fierce enemy of the McCoys.

The Hatfields and the McCoys were two families that lived on opposite sides of the Tug Fork River, which formed the border between West Virginia and Kentucky. They had been neighbors and friends for generations, but their relations soured during and after the Civil War. The feud is often said to have started over a stolen pig, but there were deeper causes behind it, such as political differences, economic competition, land disputes, and personal grudges.

One of the first sparks of the feud was the murder of Asa McCoy, a Union soldier who fought for the Pike County Guards. He was killed near his home on January 7, 1865, by a group of Confederate guerrillas who claimed credit for the killing. His wife’s pension application stated that he was “killed by Rebels”. There are no existing records pertaining to his death and no warrants were issued in connection with the murder. However, many historians believe that Devil Anse Hatfield and Jim Vance were behind it, as they had a motive to kill Asa for his loyalty to the Union and his involvement in shooting Mose Christian Cline, a friend of Devil Anse.

The Love Affairs of Johnse Hatfield

Johnse Hatfield grew up to be a handsome and charming young man, who had a reputation for being a ladies’ man. He was also a skilled marksman and a loyal follower of his father in the feud. One of his most famous exploits was his love affair with Roseanna McCoy, the daughter of Randolph “Ole Ran’l” McCoy, the leader of the McCoys. Their romance began in 1880, when Johnse attended an election day dance at Blackberry Creek in Kentucky. There he met Roseanna, who was 18 years old at the time. They were instantly attracted to each other and danced together all night. Roseanna decided to elope with Johnse and ran away with him to West Virginia.

However, their relationship faced many obstacles. Roseanna’s family was furious with her for betraying them and joining their enemy. They sent her brothers to bring her back by force, but they failed to catch her. Johnse’s family was also not happy with his choice of partner. They did not trust Roseanna and feared that she would spy on them or cause trouble. They pressured Johnse to leave her and marry someone else from their side. Johnse eventually gave in to their demands and abandoned Roseanna, who was pregnant with his child.

Roseanna returned to her family’s home in Kentucky, but she was not welcomed there either. She was shunned by her relatives and neighbors for her disgraceful behavior. She gave birth to a baby girl named Sarah Elizabeth in 1881, but the child died soon after from measles. Roseanna never recovered from her loss and became ill herself. She died in 1888 at the age of 26.

Johnse did not remain faithful to Roseanna after he left her. He soon married her cousin, Nancy McCoy, who was also 18 years old at the time. Nancy was the sister of Asa Harmon McCoy, another Union soldier who was killed by Jim Vance in 1865. Nancy had been married before to Frank Phillips, a bounty hunter who worked for the McCoys and hunted down the Hatfields. She divorced him after he abused her and ran away with Johnse in 1881.

Their marriage also faced many challenges. Nancy’s family disowned her for marrying their enemy and tried to kill Johnse several times. Johnse’s family did not accept her either and treated her poorly. Johnse and Nancy had nine children together, but they also had a turbulent relationship. Johnse was often unfaithful to Nancy and abused her physically and verbally. Nancy eventually left him in 1900 and married another man named Reese Blizzard. She died in 1915 at the age of 52.

The Violent Acts of Johnse Hatfield

Johnse Hatfield was not only a lover, but also a fighter. He was involved in many of the violent incidents that escalated the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. He was accused of killing several members of the McCoy clan, either by himself or with his father and brothers. Some of his alleged victims were:

  • Tolbert McCoy: He was the son of Ole Ran’l McCoy and the brother of Roseanna. He was killed on August 7, 1882, along with his brothers Pharmer and Bud, by a group of Hatfields led by Devil Anse. The McCoys had attacked and stabbed Johnse’s brother Ellison Hatfield at the election day event in Blackberry Creek, where Johnse and Roseanna met. Ellison died from his wounds three days later. The Hatfields captured the McCoy brothers and tied them to pawpaw trees, where they shot them 50 times in revenge.
  • Alifair McCoy: She was the daughter of Ole Ran’l McCoy and the sister of Roseanna. She was killed on January 1, 1888, during the New Year Massacre, when a group of Hatfields attacked the McCoy family home in Pike County, Kentucky. The Hatfields set fire to the house and shot at anyone who tried to escape. Alifair was shot by Johnse as she ran out of the burning house. Her mother Sally was also badly injured in the attack.
  • Jeff McCoy: He was the son of Harmon McCoy, who was Ole Ran’l McCoy’s brother and Asa Harmon McCoy’s father. He was killed on December 19, 1888, by Cap Hatfield, Johnse’s brother, and Tom Wallace, a friend of the Hatfields. Jeff had been arrested for bootlegging and was being transported by a deputy sheriff named Frank Mullins to Pikeville jail. Cap and Tom ambushed them on the way and shot Jeff in the head.

Johnse Hatfield was indicted for several murders, but he managed to evade justice for a long time. He fled to Washington Territory with Cap Hatfield in 1888, where they worked as lumberjacks for a while. They later returned to West Virginia, where they lived as outlaws with bounties on their heads. Johnse was finally arrested in 1898 and brought to trial for the murder of Alifair McCoy. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

However, he did not spend much time behind bars. He appealed his conviction and got a new trial in 1900. He was acquitted by a jury that included some of his relatives and friends. He walked out of the courtroom as a free man.

The Final Years of Johnse Hatfield

Johnse Hatfield lived for another 22 years after his acquittal. He married for the third time in 1900 to Jeanette Francis Brookshire, who was not related to either the Hatfields or the McCoys. They had four children together and settled in Logan County, West Virginia.

Johnse did not participate in any more violence after the feud ended. He tried to live a peaceful life as a farmer and a coal miner. He also became more religious and joined the Church of Christ.

Johnse died on April 22, 1922, at the age of 60. He suffered from pneumonia and passed away in his mountain cabin near Island Creek. He was buried in the Hatfield Cemetery in Sarah Ann, West Virginia.

Johnse Hatfield left behind a legacy of love and war that still fascinates people today. He was one of the main characters in the 2012 miniseries Hatfields & McCoys, where he was portrayed by Matt Barr. He was also featured in several books, documentaries, songs, and plays about the feud.

Johnse Hatfield cause of death may have been natural, but his life was anything but ordinary. He was a man who loved passionately and fought fiercely, who made enemies and allies, who broke hearts and laws, who lived through one of the most notorious feuds in American history.

Doms Desk

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