Tumors May Have Fueled Hatfield-McCoy Feud


Winnter Reynolds may have within her body a clue to the legendary Hatfield- McCoy feud. The 11-year-old is a descendant of McCoys who harken from West Virginia and are, according to her grandmother, Goldie, kin to the family known for its long-running clash with the Hatfield family.

Winnter came to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt because of a tumor on her adrenal gland. Her grand-aunt and guardian, Rita Reynolds, had similar tumors removed at Vanderbilt a couple of years ago.Winnter’s family has a theory about a connection between these tumors, which run in their family, and the famous feud carried on by their forebears.

“These tumors can send your moods up and down,” Rita Reynolds says. “They diagnosed Winnter with attention deficit disorder, but I think it’s the adrenal tumor that’s been making her hyperactive at times.”

Winnter’s doctors say the theory that a genetic predisposition for adrenal tumors–caused by a genetic disorder called von Hippel-Lindau disease, which Winnter’s family carries–is a possible explanation for why the feuding McCoy family members were so violent and angry.

“Adrenal tumors cause the release of massive amounts of catecholamines–chemicals like adrenalin,” says Dr.Wallace “Skip”Neblett,MD’71, chair of the Department of Pediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital and Winnter’s surgeon.

The Hatfield and McCoy feud took place in the mountain terrain of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.While some say it started over a pig, historians maintain it began when Southern-sympathizing Hatfields murdered a McCoy who had served in the Union Army.

That led to the first of many retaliations. In 1878 “Old Randall” McCoy thought he spotted one of his pigs being stolen by Hatfields. An ensuing string of accusations, botched trials and killings took place until the climactic burning of Old Randall’s home and the murder of his son and daughter in 1888.

Before it was all over, 13 members of the families died violent deaths. There was no further violence after the deaths of the two clan leaders,Old Randall McCoy and Devil Anse Hatfield, in 1914 and 1921, respectively.

In 2002 a symbolic peace treaty was signed by Hatfield and McCoy descendants. Members ofWinnter Reynolds’ family have attended Hatfield-McCoy reunions for years and have been swapping stories about their distant cousins all their lives.


“The theory is, maybe those early McCoys had these adrenal tumors as well and that’s what helped to set them off,” says Winnter’s uncle, Frank Hankins.

“From the scientific point of view, the genetic condition the McCoy family has, von Hippel- Lindau disease, is associated with too much adrenaline and related compounds because of a condition called pheochromocytoma, a type of tumor of the adrenal gland,” says Dr. Revi Mathew, associate professor of pediatrics and Winnter’s endocrinologist.

“It does produce hypertension, headache and sweating intermittently depending on when the surge of these compounds occurs in the bloodstream. I suppose these compounds could possibly make somebody very angry and upset for no good reason.”

Last spring Winnter underwent surgery to remove a tumorous adrenal gland. Because von Hippel-Lindau can cause tumors in several organs during the span of a person’s life, it could be the first of many surgeries.

Explore Story Topics