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    Simon Bolivar Buckner appoints an agent to arrest Johnse Hatfield for his part in the New Year's Night Massacre

    [Hatfield & McCoy Feud]. Commonwealth of Kentucky Document Signed by Simon Bolivar Buckner Appointing T[reve] M. Gibson Agent to Retrieve Johns[e] Hatfield, Indicted for the Murder of Alifair McCoy. Partly printed document, one page, 11.5" x 17.75"; Kentucky; April 6, 1889. The document is directed to the Governor of Washington Territory and informs that "Johns Hatfield stands charged by Indictment with the crime of Willful Murder Committed in the County of Pike and information has been received that the said Johns Hatfield has fled from justice and is now going at large in the Territory of Washington... I have appointed T.M. Gibson my agent to receive said fugitive and bring him to this state, having jurisdiction of the said offense that he may be abide his trial for the crime for which he stands charged." Signed "S.B. Buckner".

    The appointment is bound with an official copy of Hatfield's indictment, which charges "Cap Hatfield, Johns Hatfield, Robt Hatfield, Ellison Mounts, French Ellis, Elliot Hatfield, Charles Gillespie & Thomas Mitchell of the crime of Willful Murder committed as follows: The said defendants before named on the1st of January, 1888 in the County and Circuit aforesaid, did willfully feloniously and of their malice aforethought kill and murder Alifair McCoy by shooting her with guns & pistols. Each of the Defendants was present and willfully feloniously and of their malice aforethought aided and abeted assisted and encouraged each of his codefendants to kill and murder the said Alifair McCoy, as before stated and to do this the said Dfts. did conspire together."

    An application for requisition signed by the county attorney, J. Lee Ferguson is attesting that he has reliable information that Hatfield is in the county of Spokane, Washington and recommending T.M. Gibson is also present. Both the indictment and application each measure 8.5" x 13.25" and are held together with three small grommets at top, strung with a light blue ribbon held down with a gold embossed seal of the state.

    The exact origins of the Hatfield & McCoy Feud are unknown. Both families lived on land along the borders of West Virginia and Kentucky, which further complicated issues of jurisdiction and law. One theory is that it began with the murder of Harmon McCoy in January 1865. Harmon was the younger brother of family leader Ranel McCoy. He was murdered by Jim Vance, a Confederate sympathizer who had previously served with General Vincent Witcher's raiders, and was now a member of a guerrilla group by the name of the Logan Wildcats headed by "Devil Anse" McCoy. Another, less likely, theory is that Johnse Hatfield (the subject indicted) had seduced and abandoned Roseanna McCoy. Despite the feud, the families often intermarried, and took up arms against their own kin, which makes the latter scenario highly unlikely.

    What cannot be disputed is that the 1888 New Year's Night Massacre that resulted in the murder of Alifair McCoy was one of the bloodiest events of the feud. In December of 1887, Governor Wilson of West Virginia issued warrants for twenty members of the Hatfield clan for their roles in the Pawpaw Murders. Devil Anse Hatfield came up with a plan to murder Ranel McCoy and his family so as to eliminate any potential witnesses against the Hatfields; a poor plan from conception, particularly because the main witnesses of the Pawpaw Murders were not targeted in the attack.

    On the evening of January 1, 1888, Jim Vance and the eight accused listed in the indictment, snuck up on the home of Ranel McCoy. Devil Anse remained in bed claiming illness, and gaining plausible deniability for his role in the plot. Cap Hatfield, Jim Vance, and Johnse Hatfield approach the cabin while the remaining men covered all possible exits. Jim Vance then called out for Ranel McCoy to surrender. According to Cap Hatfield, Calvin McCoy fired the first shot from within the house; but the end result is that the attackers all fired their weapons into the McCoy house; and Ranel and Calvin McCoy returned fire.

    Hoping to draw the McCoys out of the house, Jim Vance set it on fire. The McCoy women turned their attention to dousing the flames. Alifair McCoy, lame from polio, was an easy target as she made her way to the well. Although her sister Fannie stated as a witness that Cap Hatfield was her killer, others insist that Ellison "Cottontop" Mounts was the shooter. Calvin McCoy was shot dead, and their mother Sarah McCoy was knocked unconscious. The remaining McCoys survived.

    The Hatfields also suffered gunshot wounds in the exchange, but all escaped with their lives. Jim Vance would be killed shortly after in retaliation. Of the eight men eventually indicted for Alifair McCoy's murder, only one would be successfully and expediently brought to justice. Ellison "Cottontop" Mounts pled guilty to the murder hoping to receive mercy and be spared the death penalty. Despite witnesses naming Cap Hatfield as the triggerman, Mounts was found guilty and hanged. Charlie Gillespie requested, and was granted, a separate trial. He escaped from jail before the trial, and was never found.

    The documents offered here were issued in 1889, and although it is the only of its kind that we have ever seen, it is known that at this time former Confederate general, and now Governor of Kentucky engaged many detectives and agents to arrest Johnse Hatfield and bring him in for trial. The appointment offered here specifically directs Treve Gibson to search for Hatfield in Washington State. Gibson was unsuccessful in finding Hatfield. There is nothing known about Hatfield's life in Washington.

    Hatfield returned to West Virginia in 1898. He married and ran a logging business, and did not live the life of a fugitive. He would finally be captured not by the law, but by a rival in the logging business, Doc Ellis. Hatfield would eventually be tried and found guilty for Alifair McCoy's murder. He was sentenced to life, but would be freed six years into his sentence as a reward for saving the prison warden's life during an attack by another prisoner.

    This document has been kept by Gibson's descendants together with his Eureka Detectives badge and a cabinet card of Gibson circa 1890. The badge measures 1.5" x 2.5", silver plated, with an eagle crest and is stamped with the date June 1863 at center. The cabinet photo is identified on verso in modern blue ink: "T.M. Gibson about 1920 Alaska" but likely dates from the early 1890s. The cabinet card is on an A Hugo Albrecht mount, who operated a photography studio in Lincoln County, Washington between 1890 and 1896.

    Condition: Appointment has some surface creasing, and light soiling. The indictment has a small tear at bottom margin, with creasing resulting. Cabinet photo is in excellent condition, with a clean mount.

    Reference: Blood Feud. The Hatfields and the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance. Lisa Alther; Lyons Press, 2012.



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