Contractor Tip Of The Month: Fighting With Your Competition Can Kill Your Business

Contractor Tip Of The Month: Fighting With Your Competition Can Kill Your Business

Damian Lang

Some contractor friends invited me to go ATV riding on the Hatfield and McCoy trails in Pocahontas, West Virginia. Intrigued by the history of the land we were riding on, I did some research on one of the greatest feuds of all time that was held between the Hatfield and McCoy families. Think about this before you “go to war” against your competitors. 

As told in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, the feud started in the Civil War when both William “Devil Anse” Hatfield and Randolph McCoy were Confederates who were both along on a raid that killed Union General Bill France in the fall of 1863. That raid sparked into action the Kentucky home guards, who were sent to take Devil Anse and his men. One of France’s men, Asa Harmon McCoy (Randolph’s brother), came after Anse in revenge.

He camped out in a rock house near his home. Anse found out and sent his uncle Jim Vance and Jim Wheeler Wilson, a fellow soldier, to confront McCoy. It is believed that one of those men shot and killed Asa McCoy.

A couple of court decisions helped to fuel the feud. In the late 1870s, Devil Anse Hatfield got into a land dispute with McCoy’s cousin Perry Cline. Anse won the land dispute and was granted Cline’s entire 5,000-acre plot of land. 

A few months after the verdict, Randolph McCoy stopped to visit Floyd Hatfield, a cousin of Devil Anse. While visiting, McCoy saw a hog that he said, bore the McCoy marking on its ear. Hatfield denied the accusation and the two were hauled into court with Preacher Anderson Hatfield (a Baptist preacher and justice of the peace) to settle the suit.

Both Hatfields and McCoys served as jurors. Randolph’s nephew Bill Staton, also a brother-in-law of Ellison Hatfield, swore that Floyd Hatfield owned the hog. 

Floyd won the case. On June 18, 1880, Staton was killed in a shootout with Paris and Sam McCoy, who were sent to prison for their crime. Ellison Hatfield testified at that trial.

Two months after the killing of Staton, Devil Anse’s son, Johnse, met Roseanna McCoy, the daughter of Randolph McCoy, at an 1880 Election Day event. They became lovers, but Randolph did not approve.

When she went to be with Johnse in West Virginia, a posse of McCoys rode to the cabin, took Johnse prisoner, and set out for the Pikeville jail. Roseanna told Devil Anse, who gathered his own crew to cut off the McCoys and rescue his son. 

On Aug. 5, 1882, it was Election Day and at the polls on Blackberry Creek, Ellison Hatfield got into a fight with Tolbert McCoy (Randolph’s son). Tolbert’s two younger brothers, Pharmer and Randolph Jr., jumped in the fight with knives, and Pharmer McCoy shot Ellison.

Preacher Anse Hatfield ordered police to take the McCoy brothers to the Pikeville jail to face charges. They stopped at Floyd McCoy’s house for food and decided to spend the night further up Blackberry Creek. Devil Anse Hatfield found out and the next morning arrived on the scene, and a posse of nearly 20 family and friends captured the three McCoy boys. When Ellison died, Devil Anse crossed into Kentucky, tied the boys to pawpaw trees, and the group of men executed the McCoy brothers who had killed Ellison.

Hoping to leave no witnesses, the Hatfields raided the McCoy cabin in the dark of morning on New Year’s Day 1888. A firefight ensued, killing Randolph McCoy’s daughter Alifair and son Calvin. The raiders burned Randolph’s cabin to the ground. Randolph, his wife Sarah, and the remaining children escaped.

The murders of the McCoys caused Kentucky’s governor Simon Buckner to unleash special officer Frank Phillips and 38 men to arrest the nearly 20 men, and put out a special reward which brought a slew of bounty hunters to come after the Hatfields. Phillips captured several of those men, and Phillips shot and killed Uncle Jim Vance on Jan. 10, 1888.

On Jan. 19, a large firefight between Phillips and his men, and Devil Anse Hatfield and his men happened, known as the Battle of Grapevine Creek. Although no one was killed in the fight, it prompted Devil Anse to order 25 new Winchester repeating rifles to prepare for future attacks.

The raids brought the ire of West Virginia Gov. E. Willis Wilson, in which many thought another Civil War might break out along the Tug Fork between factions in the two states. Both states ordered their National Guard units to prepare to defend their borders.

West Virginia’s governor sued Kentucky for the unlawful arrest of nine prisoners and unsuccessfully appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court in April 1888. The court ruled the Hatfields would have to stand trial in Kentucky whether or not the original arrests by Phillips were legal. Ellison Mounts was hanged on Feb. 18, 1890, for the shooting of Alifair and Calvin McCoy, and the rest were given life sentences for their roles in killing the three McCoy brothers.

In the end, at least 20 and perhaps up to 100 people lost their lives during the dispute. At any point during the 27-year feud, Devil Anse Hatfield or Randolph McCoy could have stopped seeking revenge, and called off the fight. Instead, both men, their families, and contacts endured tremendous pain and suffering while the fight continued. In the process, the Hatfields and McCoys both lost the fight. 

Something I often hear from contractors is how they plan to destroy their competition. That is a major obstacle to these contractors’ own growth. Spending days and nights egotistically fighting with their competition will cost them more than they will win in the process. 

Are you wasting energy trying to destroy your competitors, or those you believe have done you wrong? If so, it is killing you and your business. To quote Abraham Lincoln, “If a man ceases to attack me, I never remember the past against him. A man doesn’t have time to spend his life in quarrels as you pay for bitterness and grudges with your own piece of mind.”

Damian Lang is CEO at Lang Masonry Contractors, Wolf Creek Construction, Malta Dynamics, and EZG Manufacturing. To view the products and equipment his companies created to make jobsites more efficient, visit his websites at or To receive his free e-newsletters or to speak with Damian on his management systems or products, or call 740-749-3512.

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