The 2012 Emmys will be presented in September and the History Channel’s three-part mini-series Hatfields & McCoys has been nominated for 16 awards. Although the series can’t sweep them all because Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton are up against each other for Best Actor, the series should do very well.
(Update: Kevin Costner won the Best Actor Emmy. See his speech here.)
The Hatfield-McCoy feud is an epic story that contains almost every classic literary theme – war, forbidden love, land ownership, murder, family honor, justice, and the disintegration of a youthful friendship. As one reviewer of the mini-series said, “You have these amazing characters doing these unbelievable things on this Shakespearean scale. And it doesn’t stop…it just keeps on giving!”
But is the History Channel’s mini-series Hatfields & McCoys accurate? Did Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton give realistic portrayals of the feuding family patriarchs ‘Devil Anse’ Hatfield and Randall McCoy? And was the feud really intensified over Floyd Hatfield’s claim of ownership of a pig?
Dan Hatfield, a Paducah radiologist, thinks the mini-series is fairly accurate…and he should know. His great grandfather was Floyd Hatfield, a second cousin of family patriarch ‘Devil Anse’ Hatfield, and the purported owner of the famous pig that fueled a feud that began over land rights and escalated to murder and vengeance. Dan grew up along Blackberry Creek in Pike County’s Ransom, KY and his mother and five siblings still live in the area. He delivered newspapers to the house where the preacher depicted in the mini-series lived, but he says not many of the places in the show still exist.
Dan says, “There were always land squabbles between the McCoys – who basically lived in Kentucky – and my family, the Hatfields – who lived in West Virginia across the Tug Fork River from the McCoys. The Civil War added kindling to the little fires that were set between our families because some of the McCoys fought for the Union while most of the Hatfields were members of Logan’s Wildcats, a volunteer Confederate army. My great grandfather’s claim of joint ownership of a pig that wandered onto his land certainly didn’t help things.”
“The mini-series accurately depicted most of the characters and events, although some of the timeframes were not correct. And the show was filmed in Romania, not Pike County, Kentucky and Mingo County, West Virginia where our two families lived. I don’t think the mountains and rivers look like Eastern Kentucky, but I guess that was an economic decision that the film company made. The actual ‘Bad Frank’ Phillips was much meaner and self-serving than depicted in the show. More importantly, the mini-series didn’t emphasize that Kentucky and West Virginia almost declared war on each other because the two states would not extradite accused men to stand trial all because of our families’ feud! The ensuing legal battles ended up in the Supreme Court and eventually laid the groundwork for interstate extradition laws.”
“Today,” Dan says, “Hatfields and McCoys live next door to each other, go to school and church together, and marry each other. Nobody talks about the feud anymore. At the 100th anniversary of the feud around 1970, my grandmother said that it never really happened! She just didn’t want it brought up again.”
The Hatfields & McCoys story is “a bit of cultural American history that is true Americana,” Dan thinks. “It is about two prominent land-owning families who were geographically isolated. These two proud mountain families were intent on defending their honor and their rights to the very end.” The multi-Emmy nominated mini-series ends with this comment, “The Hatfields & McCoys without intention have become part of the American vocabulary. Their epic feud, long fought to separate their two families, has forever linked them together. So much so that one name cannot be spoken without the other.”
The mini-series is compelling television that offers the haunting lesson of what happens when pride steps in the way of good judgment. To visit the historic sites of the feud go to: http://hatfieldmccoycountry.com.
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