Hatfields & McCoys debuts on the History Channel

Bill Paxton as Randolph McCoy with familyThe feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families of Appalachia has transcended its origins as a bloody multi-generational backcountry conflict to become a metaphor for all vendettas. Yet, despite its lexical fame and inherent drama, it has rarely been depicted on television outside of documentaries, cartoons (Bugs Bunny, The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo have all done versions) and a particularly awesome episode arc of Family Feud. Kevin Costner as Devil Anse HatfieldStarting Monday at 9:00 PM EST, the History Channel will step into that void with Hatfields & McCoys, a three-episode miniseries starring Kevin Costner as William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield and Bill Paxton as Randolph “Ole Ran’l” McCoy.

I understand the show is basically faithful to the historical record, although of course it’s fictionalized to some degree. If you don’t want to read spoilers for something that happened 140 years ago, stop here. If you want to follow in the footsteps of these most notorious of feuders, check out the Pike County website which has a handy printable brochure (pdf) describing the key Hatfield-McCoy landmarks, as well as tips for other activities in the area, places to eat, hike, etc. They also have a companion CD to enhance your Hatfield-McCoy driving tour. Call Pike County Tourism at (800) 844-7453 or contact them via email to purchase a copy.

And now for the backstory.

The Hatfields and McCoys were early settlers of Tug Valley, an area on the border between Kentucky and what is now West Virginia. The Hatfields lived mainly on the West Virginia side in Mingo County, the McCoys on the Kentucky side in Pike County. During the Civil War, the Hatfields fought for the Confederacy while the McCoys sided with the Union. The trauma of the war underpinned much of the conflict between the two families.

Asa Harmon McCoyIn fact, the first to die at the hands of the other family was Asa Harmon McCoy, a Union soldier who returned home after breaking his leg. He was immediately threatened by a posse of ex-Confederate vigilantes headed by Devil Anse Hatfield who called themselves the “Logan Wildcats.” After he was shot at while drawing water from his well, Asa Harmon fled his home and hid in a cave. The Wildcats found him by following his slave Pete (yes, the Union soldier had a slave well after the Emancipation Proclamation) to the cave where they shot Asa dead on January 7, 1865.

Devil Anse HatfieldThe McCoys blamed Devil Anse, who as it happened was not among the killers that day because he was home sick. It was Devil Anse’s uncle Jim Vance who probably did the killing. Nobody was ever brought to trial. Much of the community, even many members of his own family, thought Asa had it coming for fighting for the Union, so no witnesses ever came forward and the case was never officially solved.

Randolph McCoyIt was 13 years before tensions erupted again; this time the central bone of contention was a pig. The McCoys said the pig belonged to them, but the Hatfields claimed that since it was found on their property, it was now theirs. Unlike the murder of Asa Harmon, the pressing matter of the pig was taken to court, or rather, to the home of the local Justice of the Peace, Anderson “Preacher Anse” Hatfield. Bill Staton, who was related to both feuding families, testified for the Hatfields and the Hatfield judge ruled in the Hatfields’ favor.

Two McCoy men took their revenge by killing Staton. They were acquitted of murder on the grounds of self-defense.

Roseanna McCoyThe next year came the Romeo and Juliet portion when Roseanna McCoy, daughter of Randolph, and Devil Anse’s son Johnson “Johnse” Hatfield fell in love. She squealed on her own family in order to save Johnse when they captured him. Despite that and despite the fact that she was pregnant with his child, Johnse married someone else, specifically, Roseanna’s cousin Nancy. The McCoys were less than pleased, and in 1882 Roseanna’s brothers Tolbert, Pharmer, and Bud killed Ellison Hatfield, Devil Anse’s younger brother.

The brothers were on their way to trial when Devil Anse captured them, waited until Ellison died of his wounds, and then killed all three of them in retribution. Sadly, that wasn’t even the peak of the violence. The culmination of this murderous madness came in 1888 with the New Year’s Night Massacre. The Hatfields, led by Uncle Jim Vance, surrounded Randolph McCoy’s home in the dark of night and shot up the cabin before setting it on fire. Randolph managed to escape, but two of his children were killed and his wife was beaten severely and left for dead.

The hanging of Ellison "Cottontop" MountsBy now the murders were making headline news all over the country. The governors of Kentucky and West Virginia were under pressure to stop the slaughter. Devil Anse’s brother Wall (played in the History Channel mini-series by Powers Boothe who was so chillingly brilliant as Cy Tolliver on Deadwood) and seven other Hatfields were arrested for one of the New Year’s Night Massacre killings. After legal vicissitudes that reached as high as the United States Supreme Court, all of the men were found guilty. Seven were condemned to life in prison. Ellison “Cottontop” Mounts was sentenced to hang from his neck until dead.

Although trials on various Hatfield-McCoy charges continued into the 20th century, the bloody murder sprees stopped after the hanging. Almost a hundred years passed before Hatfields and McCoys shook hands in 1976. That laid the groundwork for that awesome three-parter of Family Feud in 1979, and by 2000 the Hatfield and McCoy descendants were having joint family reunions. They officially signed a truce document in 2003, inspired to come together permanently by the events of September 11, 2001.

256 thoughts on “Hatfields & McCoys debuts on the History Channel

  1. I agree with you whole heartedly! Not only was the language not correct but the location, landscapes, costumes, ect. were not correct at all. You would think that some more investagation by the cast, crew, ect. would have ben in order it was in fact fillmed in eastern europe. I was born in verdonville and lived in Logan, Maitwan, Bluefield, Beckly and remember the coal camps where we were imprisoned so the whole romantic theme is a fabrication. Life in this area was hard then and it still is but that is another story. Thanks for your accurate description of this piece of crap film and may I say thay I turned it off after a couple of minutes in discust. Thanks for your comments, Jack.

  2. I had intended to get e-mail comments from this site but did not ck. the box and I will do that now. Jack.

  3. Right, but life back then was rough and vulgar. From what I understand it from my reading, it still is. I am visiting the Hatfield/McCoy areaS soon, this fall and hope that it is safe to visit and I won’t be strung up b/c I live in California.

  4. Because no one in history has ever spoken like that? Because vulgarism and obscenity was never in histroy it is simply a something invented in the mid 1900’s? I’m a little late to this party, however, how about enjoy it for what it is, and simply get off your high hourse of being offended and be a man.

  5. I thought it was a great series! I enjoyed every minute of it and it left me wanting to know more which is how I came to be on this page. For entertainment purposes, I thought the acting, directing, photography, etc, were all done very well to include the script.

    I find many of these negative comments here to be shallow. I watch movies now days and think there are many times when vulgar language is overly used but at no time did I even think about the language being used in this series while I was watching because the script flowed and made sense.

    Why are so many of you hateful and arguing and using “!!”? If you turned it off after only a few minutes or half an hour then you missed a great show but then you are probably not the kind of person that appreciates a good film/movie/show/script. Maybe you just need to read a history textbook because this was a TV series that brought to life for entertainment purposes this history making-shocking-family feud. Did the actors look “just like” the real people? Probably not, because once again it is a movie for entertainment purposes trying to depict a historical event so yes they probably got “prettier” people that makes for better entertainment, right?
    Take it for what its worth. It was a great series. I loved it!

  6. People. It’s just a movie. They could not and never will be able to tell it like it was. As far as the actors doing their job goes, they did great. If you couldn’t understand their accents and tell who was randal and devil anse then watch something else. Lol you act like they were speaking Creole lol.awesome movie. If the hatfield were portrayed correctly then I would’ve supported the Hatfield’ s. According to the movie they weren’t the hypocrits.

  7. In most of the history their are lots of rumors of what went on unless their are signed confessions or eye wittnesses who were their can confirm what it was about before the murder look at my country and all the rumours ho jack the ripper was like boardwalk empire it is to entertain and give u some knowlage but create a story line to glamorise it and that proramme was realy good but strayed away from the truth and im sure both of these familys didnt go through allthat suffering just for are entertainment

  8. Seriously? You were worried about your kids being exposed to some bad words as opposed to all the violence and murder? Wow.

  9. Late to the party here, but my two cents:

    1) This is a modern portrayal about historical events that occurred a century and a half ago.

    2) The producers wanted the best actors they could get their hands on. Kevin Costner has a “normal” modern American accent. As do most of the other actors. It’s hard enough finding top-rated actor like Costner out of a total national population of 300 million. The likelihood of finding a local actor with a more realistic accent, with the acting skills the producers we’re looking for? This project would never have gotten off the ground.

    3) Profanity? There wasn’t any. This was on cable television. “God damn,” “for God’s sake” is not profanity. Your “Christian” values don’t get to be projected onto everyone else. As for language back then, they certainly would have used “fuck,” and “shit.” You can’t have people witness a bloody civil war that killed a 20th of the national population, go through a bloody family feud, and not expect some profanity.

    3) As others have said, if all you are worried about is the language due to your delicate little “Christian” sensitivities and not the bloody violence, rape, and incest….You’re absolutely insane!

  10. After watching all episodes, I then started googling and reading the stories. If they wanted to really follow the real story,the 1st thing I looked up was “what had happened to Nancy & Jefferson’s mother and the child she was carrying”. Here to learn she married Perry Cline. I suspected a love story but Rosanna and Johns, that was as far away the truth as the love story on the newest Titanic. The love story was far more with Nancy and Johns especially since they had 3 kid’s together before she left for Frank Phillips. As for the language, we must of watched a cleaned up version, the only bad thing we heard was at the voting grounds where Ellison Hatfield was attacked. The 1 made the comment about a woman seeing a man’s erection for the first time. THAT scene could of been played out better. If you put in all the stabbings then they should of continued with the truth that Ellison was shot twice in the back. Otherwise I found it interesting and learned even more since it aroused my curiosity even more than I had about the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s from signs on the Hwy, going to and coming home from Virginia Beach. Now the next time we go we’ll leave time to go take the full tour and visit their graves especially Mrs.McCoy and Mrs.Hatfield, they were surely two very strong woman.

  11. 🤥Ken🤥 –
    This makes twice in 24 hours that I’ve had to call someone out for casting aspersions on NYC, where I live. These are my people you’re talking about. They don’t curse anymore here than people do anywhere else. You claim to have heard people cursing at a Walmart in Brooklyn? NYC, including Brooklyn, has never had a Walmart.

    You’re in the same category as the guy who claimed he saw a documentary on people making their livings by panhandling, with one particular person going to a NYC bus terminal to stash his suit in a locker there, to change into his rags, to play the part of a beggar. Bus terminals in NYC don’t have lockers. They were all removed decades ago because of fears terrorists might use them to hide bombs.

  12. I’ve read this story many different times. Except for the dates the stories all seem kind of the same. The murder of Asa Harmon McCoy, the pig and trial, Rosanna Mct Coy and Jonse Hatfield, and the New Years Day Massacre, all come up in every story. This story feel even sadder to me now that I see it being acted out as life. I would also like to know how close did this story come to truth. How long did this feud actually last and what actually brought it to an end?

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