Why Does the Hatfields and McCoys’ Saga of Feuding Still Hold Water?

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I missed Part 1 of the Hatfields & McCoys miniseries on the History Channel, but recovered quickly and recorded Parts 2 and 3. The entire record breaking series (the highest ad-supported cable show ever) will repeat on Saturday, so I’ll see Part I last. Furthermore, a History Channel program covering the background of this most famous feud will appear on Saturday before the Hatfields & McCoys rotates over again. So, my guns are loaded to do some learning, how about you?

The figures for viewership of the new six hour miniseries (Hatfields & McCoys) are impressive and worthy of reprinting. Part 3 got 14.3 million viewers, Part 1 garnered 13.9 million, and Part 2 received 13.1 million viewers. I’m enjoying typing these figures out and am green with envy thinking about how some moldy old history of two such crude mountain families could elicit so much interest. Moreover, those figures will probably change, ratchet up considerably, as interest in this small slice of American history filters through the grapevine.

hatfields and mccoys

This morning I’m scrambling to fill in the picture for what’s behind this feud. Being a history major and all, I was wondering if Kevin Costner and his writers had stuck to the facts in their telling of the story. Then I discovered that much of what’s behind the feud is not always clear. My research habits being as they are, I began by reading the Wikipedia entry, which has some good links to further information on the Hatfield/McCoy feud. Boy, never seen so much drinkin’, cursin’, and lawlessness in my whole life!

My training in history told me to begin with a geography lesson. The Wikipedia page has a good map of this Tug Fork region, the scene of the feud, which divides West Virginia and Kentucky. Studying the geography will give you some insight as to what may be behind this. A major telling clue is that in the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), West Virginia went with the Confederates and Kentucky favors the Yankees. You’ll have to chew on this considerably as you attempt to sort out this family vendetta, that was like a new war all over again.

Some of the external links are not too bad, and I’ll provide you with one good one at the end of my piece (The Hatfield-McCoy Feud: Roseanna, Don’t You Cry by Norma Lugar – published in Blue Country.com). But if you want to get really serious, you’re going to have to get some of the books that have been written on the subject. Most of these are ebooks now, so you can download them from Amazon and start reading today! Believe it or not, I still don’t have a Kindle (nor an ipad), but I believe I will order one tomorrow. Time to make the digital conversion real.

Check out Further Reading on the Wikipedia entry. It’s hard to say how good some of these titles may be, but I think I’ll begin with The Hatfield and McCoys by Otis K Rice (1982). I’m searching more for serious, accurate historical research, but may want to mix that with a little color. I hear Virgil Harrington Jones’ volume, published in 1948, gives you this perspective, which adds an important historiographical element to your knowledge.

As my command of the facts grows, I’ll re-watch the miniseries (it will be out on Blue- Ray later this summer), then my eye will be more critical. I know already, the acting is superb, as I watch some of my favorite actors (and actresses) of all time ply their trade. I’ve always been partial to Powers Booth and he steals every scene he appears in. And I’ve never seen Tom Paxton in any better role as Randall McCoy. Finally, did Kevin Costner reincarnate himself as Captain William Anderson Hatfield, or what?

Hatfield-McCoy feud – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Hatfield-McCoy Feud: Roseanna, Don’t You Cry – Favorite Articles – Archive