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.


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  • Marlene Cochran

    My grandmother was from the McCoy clan. I am 68 yrs. old and grew up near the K.Y. border where the fight took place. In 1963 I had a tumor removed as well as the adrenal gland. Until reading this, did not know anything about the McCoy decendants having tumors.. It almost killed me before finding out what my problem was. Surger at Duke. They had only seen 13 cases there. If you need any more information regarding this please feel free to email me. I am informing my relatives of this McCoy curse. Marlene Cochran

  • Elizabeth Meggs Browning, MA’54 (Nashville)

    Imagine my surprise when I turned to page 24 of the Fall 2007 issue to see a picture of my husband’s grandmother and great-grandfather.

    My husband, U. Grant Browning, MDiv’58, is the grandson of Betty Hatfield Caldwell and the great-grandson of [Hatfield clan patriarch] William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield. Our daughter, Barbara Browning, BA’78, is the great-great-granddaughter of “Devil Anse.” The feud is an interesting part of our family history, but I never expected to see a connection to Vanderbilt.
    Thank you for an informative article.

  • Devil Anse Hatfield is my grand grand grandfather I was name after my great grandmother Mary Jane Hatfield Howes. My dad was
    John E. Howes and he was from Sarah Ann, W.Va.

  • Nichole McRoberts

    My grandfather told me last summer that we are related to the hatfields and the mcCoys and reading about the tumors and it gave me chills. I have all of those symptoms,feels like i’m going to pass out sometimes. I get angry for know real reason. Now i see my 6yr old showing the signs. I will be checking on that.

  • Sally Decker

    As far as I know I’m not a relative of the McCoys, or Hatfields for that matter, however, I too have had this tumor. I had it for 10 years with no doctor in Indiana finding the problem but blaming all kinds of other things, including saying it as all in my head. When I moved to Florida in 2005 I was in the hosptial dying when they found the tumor and then later removed it at Shands Hospital. The doc. that had found it had only seen it once before and that person died. However, I never know when it will return and now knowing the symptoms I’m sure that my father and grandfather also had this tumor and no one found them in those days. Good luck to all who have it, it changes your personality and life completely. I’m now a diabetic because of this tumor.

  • Karen

    Note: genetic testing for VHL is available at the request of your doctor (testing cost $313) via the Molecular Genetics Laboratory at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (formerly the Genetic Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine):


  • Regina M. Terry

    My father, Charley Franklin McCoy died of adrenal glad cancer. We have common ancestry with the feuding McCoys. If you are a McCoy descendent, it does not hurt to allert your family physician about the possibility of you having this disorder.

  • Troy Greenlee

    How can i email Marlene? My Grandma on my Mother side is a decendant of the Hatfield and McCoys. I believe She said either her Mom or Dad was a direct decendant. Or one of her Grandparents were direct decendants. Wished I was able to still ask her Nd get more information about this from her. I am wanting to know what I need to do to make sure i don’t have this disease. I am 39 and have some of these symptoms. The heart paplaptions (I know I mis-spelled this) was found when I went to hospital for chest pains and did an EKG. I have since been back but find nothing wrong. I appreciate any information anyone can Give me about this. I am 39 years old. Thank you.

  • Pingback: Lessons from the Hatfield-McCoy feud | HealthBeat()

  • I am a direct descendent of the McCoys. My great great great uncle was Randall McCoy. My great great grandmother was Allifair McCoy. McCoys are on both sides of my family.

    My family shares a trait, a sort of rage disorder. I have it, my mother had it and both sisters are prone to fits of rage. I also have two couisins with rage disorders. I wonder…do we have non-Hippel-Lindau?

    Lisa K. Seaman
    Tipp City, OH

  • Dave

    The family picture is infact, a photo of the Hatfield clan.

  • Mary Wright

    I am a Mccoy decendant & live in east Texas and also have Von Hippel Lindau. My daughter also had the disease. I have had a tumor on my adrenal gland & brain. My daughter had them on the brain,eyes,spine,and ear. The tumors can be dangerous if not caught in time. This disease is very rare and did come from the Mccoy clan.

  • paul hazinski jr

    hello i am the grandson of mary pauline mccoy daughter of “pappy” john mccoy. for years i hsve been telling my wife that i thought their was some kind of mental or behavior problems that have run in my family ,is their some kind of relationship or disposition with females for this disease, the reason i ask is that most of the people in my family that have behavial problems seem to be female any insight u have would be helpful, and i have always thought this to be the case but this is the fist real evidence i have found.

  • Randal Barnette

    It might be noted that although this article is about the McCoys, the picture is of the Hatfield clan. Devil Anse Hatfield is second from left in the front line, with the rifle pointing up. He eventually renounced his feuding ways and came to embrace religion.

  • Hello,
    I would like to suggest that Winnter’s tumors may be caused by Cell-Wall-Deficient (CWD) bacteria, also known as the “L-form.” This class of bacteria was discovered by researcher, Lida Mattman, PhD. The cells are so tiny that they are much closer to being the size of virus cells. They are often passed from mother to baby, generation after generation. Borrelia (Lyme Disease) is one example of these pleomorphic, CWD bacteria.
    I believe Winnter would be greatly helped by either being tested for a CWD bacterial infection, then going on the Marshall Protocol, or simply doing a trial of the M.P.
    Now that scientists at the NIH have studied the microbiota present in human beings, and are saying that each human has an average of over 450 various strains, it seems highly likely to me that Winnter’s family has a particularly nasty bacterial strain. I don’t believe it’s a genetic problem at all. These CWD bacteria are known to change the body’s DNA.
    Wishing you all the best, Winnter.
    Linda Santini
    Bellingham, WA
    author of The Secrets to Recovery from Mental Illness

  • Ashley

    I am a direct McCoy descendant on my mother’s side myself. My great-great-great-great grandfather was Randall McCoy’s brother and I too have been diagnosed with ADD and my mother has just been diagnosed with a “cyst” on her kidneys. If you are interested in studying our family line further concerning this condition, I will be more than happy to assist you in the research. Please feel free to e-mail me at your convenience.

  • Tom Harden

    Any “rage disorder” is a very serious condition that can destroy lives. Much like alcoholism or drug addiction, left untreated the end result is usually a prison cell or graveyard. The untreated cases I know of ended that way.

  • Gregory McCoy

    Heyy im just stumbled upon this. Randall was my great great great grandpa. If anyone is interested im also a Hatfield off my daddy side. Momma was a McCoy. My email is mccoyboy109@gmail.com and phone is 2567272186 if your either Hatfield or McCoy I’d love to meet family. We could share all our stories thanks