WYTHE CO., Va., Aug. 16, 2012 – The History Channel is repeating its first attempt at historical drama on Aug. 16th with the telling of the storied feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. The decision to play it again is an easy call for the History Channel, considering its recent record setting debut on Memorial Day. It was the most watched scripted program in the history of basic cable.
Sixty-Two million viewers tuned in to see an award winning ensemble cast that includes Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton, Mare Winningham, and Tom Berenger.
This is by far the highest number of viewers for the History Channel, and the 16 Emmys it has been nominated for are testament to the quality of the mini-series.
The fight over ownership of a pig is often given credit for the start of the feud, but this long running and deadly rivalry had much deeper roots than a dispute about pork.
Both clans had their patriarchs; the McCoys, were led by Randolph “Ole Ran’l,” McCoy, (played by Bill Paxton) while the Hatfields were led by William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield, (played by Kevin Costner.)
During the Civil War, the south was patrolled by roving bands of men calling themselves the Homeguard, but sometimes the distinction between maintaining the peace and perpetuating a more personal agenda was blurred.
The first bloodshed between the two families started when a group of ex-Confederate Homeguard called the “Logan Wildcats” shot and killed a returning Union soldier, Asa Harmon McCoy on January 7, 1865.
The Tug Valley was almost entirely pro-south, so this, along with the fact that the Hatfields were more affluent and better connected politically, made the chance of convicting anybody for the killing a long shot. Even some of the members of Asa’s own family thought he got what he deserved for fighting for the Union in the first place. No one was ever brought to trial for the murder.
The next recorded conflict between the two families didn’t happen for another 13 years, in 1878, over ownership of a pig. The presiding judge of the court case was Anderson “Preacher Anse” Hatfield. (Played by Powers Boothe.) The McCoys lost the fight in court over the pig because of the testimony of Bill Staton, a relative of both families. For his testimony Staton was killed in 1880, by two McCoy brothers.
The conflict further escalated when Devil Anse’s son Johnson “Johnse” Hatfield began courting Roseanna McCoy. This eventually led to the arrest of Johnson Hatfield by McCoys, who was rescued by a posse of Hatfields before he could be taken to court.
The escalation continued in 1882 when Devil Anse Hatfield’s brother Ellison was mortally wounded by three of Rosanna McCoy’s younger brothers. Initially arrested and headed to Pikeville, Kentucky to await trial, a large group of followers headed by Devil Anse Hatfield took the three brothers by force back to West Virginia to await the fate of Ellison.
When Ellison finally died, the three McCoy brothers were themselves murdered.
The feud reached its peak during the 1888 New Year’s Night Massacre when a gang of Hatfield partisans opened fire on a house full of sleeping McCoys. The cabin was set on fire to drive Randolph McCoy into the open who eventually escaped, but not without a high price. Two of his children were killed and his wife was beaten and left for dead.
That same year, nine of the men involved were arrested and brought to trial for the New Year’s night raid. Of these men, seven received life sentences. One man, Ellison “Cottontop” Mounts, was hung in front of an audience of thousands in Pikeville, Kentucky.
Between 1880 and and 1891 the feud claimed more than a dozen members of the two families, which drew national attention, and prompted the governors of both states to call up their state militias to restore order.
Contemporaries of the two families officially buried the hatchet in 2000, when a joint family reunion was held at which more than 5000 Hatfields and McCoys attended.
The History Channel’s first scripted mini-series is rich with human drama, action, and American history that all combine to make it a very compelling show. The cast is stellar, and the story has a timeless appeal, much like an Appalachian version of The Godfather.
If this mini-series is any indication of what the History Channel has in store for the future, I cannot wait to see their next attempt.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.