The Hatfields and McCoys

There will come a time when Big Oil and the ethanol industry come together and realize that the feud that has now gone on for nearly 30 years must come to an end. Until that time, the fight goes on.
By Mike Bryan | December 11, 2013

As the story goes, the Hatfields and McCoys lived on opposite sides of the Tug Fork Valley of the Big Sandy River, the Hatfield family in West Virginia and the McCoys in Kentucky. Trouble began during the Civil War with the Hatfields fighting for the Confederacy and a number of the McCoys fighting for the Union.

While it may be a bit of a stretch for me to compare the oil industry and the ethanol industry to the Hatfields and McCoys, there clearly are some parallels to be drawn. The Hatfields (we’ll call them Big Oil) were quite large in the timber industry and as a result were much more affluent than the McCoys and politically well-connected. The McCoys, on the other hand, (we’ll call them the ethanol industry) were primarily farmers and did not have the financial resources or the connections of the Hatfields.

The battle between the two families began small but over the years continued to escalate. A shooting here, a stolen pig there, one thing leading to another until there was virtually no stopping the feud. Both sides accused the other of a variety of devious acts, from stealing to murder and both sides were convinced that they were in the right. 

The Hatfields, while guilty of untold acts of aggression used their money and political influence to deflect the charges laid against them. On the other hand, the McCoys dug in their heels with a vengeance and were determined not to give an inch.

When one reads a story of  two families, fighting each other for nearly 30 years, you can’t help but wonder if at some point the oil industry and the ethanol industry will come together in an official truce as did the Hatfields and McCoys on June 14, 2003. Today, for the decedents of the two families, it’s just a page out of their history book, a reason for a good laugh and perhaps an opportunity to swap a few stories.  

I believe we will reach that point. I believe that there will come a time when our two industries come together and realize that the feud that has now gone on for nearly 30 years must come to an end. It’s pointless and has accomplished little for either industry, while costing hundreds of millions of dollars and countless casualties along the way. But until that time, the fight goes on. Sometimes I wonder if we even know what we are fighting about anymore. We just get up each day and start all over again. 

There’s an old cartoon about Sam and Ralph, the sheepdog and the coyote. They came to work each day greeted one another, punched in at the time clock and began fighting. They would stop and have lunch together and then start all over again promptly at one o'clock. At five they punched out, said goodnight and went home for the day.

The final truce of the Hatfields and McCoys proclaimed, “We ask by God’s grace and love that we be forever remembered as those that bound together the hearts of two families to form a family of freedom in America.” Maybe someday!

That’s the way I see it.

Author: Mike Bryan
Chairman, BBI International
mbryan@bbiinternational.com