The History of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud

Hatfields and McCoys film still - The History Channel

The History Channel will be airing a three-part miniseries about the Hatfield and McCoy families starting on Memorial Day. The miniseries stars Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton, Mare Winningham, and lots and lots of guns and violence. Historian Altina L. Waller, author of Feud: Hatfields, McCoys, and Social Change in Appalachia, 1860-1900, was interviewed extensively for the accompanying documentary to the miniseries.

Feud: Hatfields, McCoys, and Social Change in Appalachia, 1860-1900, by Altina L. WallerThe Hatfield–McCoy feud has long been a part of American folklore and legend. It is also a serious historical event. In Feud, Waller tells the real story of the Hatfields and McCoys and the Tug Valley of West Virginia and Kentucky, placing the feud in the context of community and regional change in the era of industrialization.

Waller argues that the legendary feud was not an outgrowth of an inherently violent mountain culture but rather one manifestation of a contest for social and economic control between local people and outside industrial capitalists—the Hatfields were defending community autonomy while the McCoys were allied with the forces of industrial capitalism. Profiling the colorful feudists “Devil Anse” Hatfield, “Old Ranel” McCoy, “Bad” Frank Phillips, and the ill-fated lovers Roseanna McCoy and Johnse Hatfield, Waller illustrates how Appalachians both shaped and responded to the new economic and social order.

Don’t miss the Hatfields and McCoys miniseries, airing on The History Channel May 28-29. Then, dig deeper into the history with a copy of Waller’s Feud. Waller will be joining us with a guest blog post next week, so stay tuned!

Update 5/29/12: Waller answers the question “How realistic is it?” for the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog.

Update 6/11/12: Waller offers a full assessment of the historical accuracy of the miniseries in a guest blog post, “The Hatfield-McCoy Feud.”