Hatfields and McCoys in the US Supreme Court

OK, yes, I watched the History Channel miniseries about the Hatfields and McCoys, which explains my second reference to the topic in as many days.  It looks like Kevin Costner’s hair has made a nice recovery, but frankly I didn’t recognize Tom Berenger as Jim Vance until the credits ran.

Anyway, if you did not watch the series, or are otherwise unfamiliar with the feud, you may not know that there were legal issues associated with it that made it all the way to the US Supreme Court.  On New Year’s night 1888 several members of the Hatfield clan surrounded Randolph McCoy’s cabin in Kentucky and started shooting. The cabin was set on fire, and as they ran out of the burning building two of Randoph’s children were shot and killed, and Randolph’s wife was severely beaten and left for dead.  A posse was formed in Kentucky, and Governor Simon Bolivar Buckner appointed Frank Phillips to lead it.  The posse crossed the border into West Virginia, captured eight members of the Hatfield clan and brought them back to Kentucky to stand trial.  Because no request for extradition had been filed by Kentucky, the state of West Virginia argued that the actions of the posse were illegal, and those abducted must be returned to West Virginia.  The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court where, in a  7–2 ruling in favor of Kentucky, the Court held that even if a fugitive is returned from the asylum state illegally instead of through lawful extradition procedure, no federal law existed (in 1888) to prevent that fugitive from being tried. Mahon v. Justice, 127 U.S. 700 (1888). The men were thus tried in Kentucky, and all were found guilty. Seven were sentenced to life in prison, while the eighth, Ellison “Cottontop” Mounts, was hanged.

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