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. It didn’t show what response I was talking about.

    Comment by LadyShea
    2012-05-29 18:06:29
    I’m sorry Edith, but there is no way you could possibly know how the Hatfields of that time spoke. And, as they were not above murdering children in their beds, why on Earth would anyone believe they were somehow above using naughty swear words?

  2. I am very surprised at the mention of vulgar language oh come on folks do some of you really believe people who actually go out and shoot to kill one another hold the line at cursing.. I think the the film even though it does not follow the story to the truest form interjected interest in these families and that is good as far as I am concerned they were important to the fabric of America and even though Appalachia years ago was so misrepresented, I would hope that this brings a revivival of interest to that area and people can truly appreciate who these hard working people of that area really are…

  3. Sorry to necro but this is all too common. It doesn’t matter what you DO, as long as you don’t cuss while doing it.

    I once gave a college “speech of persuasion” against the emotional abuse of children. In it I used “everything you touch turns to shit” and “you’re shit on legs” as examples. Two reviews downchecked the speech because I “swore”…twice. They ignored the impact such words have on children.

    And, my fellow Southerners, “eh law” is just a way of saying “oh, Lord”.

    Euphemisms are just sneaky cussin’.

  4. I wouldn’t have wanted to live in this era. I can’t judge but I guess it would have done som crazy things to a mind to have lived through civil war. How sad to have this as your family legacy. I am thankful they were able to make ammends finally.

  5. I am from pikeville ky.Lived here for 40 years,have grown up hearing the stories all my life.I did watch the movie on dvd.I personally enjoyed it.

  6. Well, I am a McCoy from Georgia & I thought it depicted the fued honestly. I think Kevin Costner did a very good job. You have to understand that when “HISTORY” is made into an action feature… They will use the language, gestures, clothing and anything else that truly puts things into perspective for the viewers. Do I like hearing the language…no, but that’s life. I bet you can’t say that you’ve never said a few dirty words yourself now can you? Judge not less ye be judged & let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

  7. To me the language helps with understanding how intense the feuds were.
    I think I was a great movie!!! Don’t understand why people cry about language saying its disgusting how he makes the families look like potty mouths and had turn it off because there kids were watching, Com’on really they were murders they killed kids and your worried about language. But ill say it again great movie :skull:

  8. Yet you have no problem allowing them to watch hangings, throat-cutting, heads being blown and beaten off, etc… Your “morals” seem a bit misplaced.

  9. I guess we didn’t watch the same show. I can’t recall much swearing on it at all.

    Then again I just finished four seasons of Kitchen Nightmares so my swear meter may be broken.

  10. I agree totally. You notice most times they talk vulgar is away from the women. which makes sense, the same it is today. You can never be sure of what was unless you were there. Could have been worse or less than recorded over time. both sides woukd want to stress their story and lot has been passed along by word of mouth or story and we all know how stories go. the acting was awesome, the set was awesome, its on tv.

  11. I believe the story line was as accurate as they could make possible. For those of you or related to either party should quite yourself, who’s to say they did or did not curse? I believe with someone who would want one dead and that much hatered fueled any mouth. The movie depicts a family hating another and how they would want each other dead. What would you rather have them do to get the veiwers attention? Have them sing you a luliby? It was a great movie

  12. So what they used a little bad language doesn’t matter why all that matters is that it told the story to a t it was accurate more accurate then any other stuff that I have seen it is one of the best films I have ever seen and rather you people like it or not it is a part of American history and great part at that!!! id like to see more stuff like this I have always been a history buff cause I like to know what happened in this world!!!! so all you people complaining about the language shut up im sure you have cussed a few times in your life stop being a hipacrite!!!

  13. I can’t believe some of these comments. I’m from Holland and I just watched the series. I thought it was very good. I did not mind the bad language. In those days they probaly used the same language. It’s wonderful to see a part of history in the spotlights. The accents and the details can’t be exactly the same, because of a lot of reasons. And it’s not ment to be watched with your young children because it’s a story about murders! I did not know this part of history, and I’m thankful for the insight the show has given me.

  14. It’s not a family movie, it’s a movie about two families killing each other! I won’t let my two teenage sons watch it, just because of the scene where the McCoy boys get killed. Very well done movie, but any moron should know to pre-watch violent themed media before exposing underage kids.

  15. I am only reading a bit about this story b/c I have connections to the Vance family but my son and I were watching and at on point we both said “what did he just say”. The accents were awful. I’m from northeast Louisiana and have never heard anyone from any part of the south talk with some of those accents. Better if the had just spoken in their normal voices. It’s a sad series of events and the show reflects that in the tone and feel.

  16. I agree…I am an Australian and not at all used to the accents used in the movies. I saw the series in a ling haul flight Sydney to Dubai. Understood the accents and lived the production. I agree with Cassie’s comments.

  17. The Civil War was indeed about keeping the Union together but if it had not been for slavery there would have been no civil war and even Lincoln knew that slavery was a great wrong as did many in the north.

  18. I keep seeing comments about how this is a family movie It’s about 2 families killing each other. How did you think this would be appropriate for your children to watch?? Did you think they would have everyone hugging and getting along?

  19. There were many that fought and died in the war that had never seen an African American person before the war. Many had been born and raised on 100 acre farms in hill country that was just enough for a family to farm. They fought because before the Civil War when a man talked about his Country, he was referring to his State not the United States, there was an understanding that it was strictly a common defense and economic union. These men did not accept mandates from other States(Countries in their thinking) over their Country, ironically, many did not think slavery was right either)(while correcting such an evil, the war also changed the role of the Central Government as one of Supremacy over the individual States, allowing more and more power over the years to the Central Government and less and less to the individual States.

  20. “Wall” Hatfield who was portrayed in History’s “Hatfields and McCoys” by Powers Boothe was no “Preacher Anse” or “Deacon” Hatfield. It was Valentine “Wall” Hatfield, eldest brother to “Devil Anse” and Ellison.

  21. Lincoln himself stated that he wouldn’t have freed the slaves if he hadn’t been pushed to. The man lead to Union during a time of civil war, but that doesn’t make him a saint! Google it!

  22. Hello! I’m brasilian. I see this move, but I don’t know the history about. Your comment is tru? thanks for feedback. Greetings from Brasil.

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