Saturday, June 2, 2012

Appalachian Feuds - My Take on the History Channel's "Hatfields and McCoys" Miniseries

Wow!  That's my first impression of having watched the "Hatfields and McCoys" on the History Channel this past week.

Let me first point out that I am not from either West Virginia or Kentucky, but my parents and my three older sisters are.  They were born and raised in the area where this infamous feud took place.

Feuds are nothing new.  They have been going on since the days of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Ishmael, and Romeo and Juliet.  There just doesn't ever seem to be a good outcome.

The Appalachian area was filled in by both Germans and the Scots-Irish.  The Scots-Irish, in particular, has been plagued by feuds for centuries and is not uncommon today.  These feuds existed over land, religions, romance, etc. - and the element of these feuds came right over to America with them.  We've all heard of the 'Fightin' Irish'.

When the area of the Shenandoah Valley was settled, the Germans came southward from the southeastern areas of Pennsylvania and created beautiful farmland.  They were renown for keeping their homes and farms neat, clean, and highly functional.  They were basically peaceful, but still protective.  The Kentucky Rifle was actually fashioned by the Germans.

The Scots-Irish, known for their tempers and their warfare in the old country, were pushed a bit further to settle the frontier.  This helped in the protection of homes against the Native Americans that were being edged further to the west.  They didn't have a lot of fear in the blood.

Come forward a few years to the Hatfield and McCoy feud.  The same pride, stubbornness and sense of justice are coming right along with them.

I won't go back and repeat the story, for it is being re-broadcast again tonight, and you can find the story simply by doing a google search on the subject.  It is the most famous of the feuds.

The main story consists of hog-stealing, forbidden love between the families, and killings.
The leaders of the two rival families.
The two who fell in love.  She ended up pregnant.  They never married, the baby died, and it is said she died of a broken heart.

The History Channel's Miniseries was certainly believable, and they were mostly correct.  But, in talking with my sisters, it was easy to tell this was not filmed on site.  It was filmed in Romania.

First of all - the terrain was much too nice.  In West Virginia and Kentucky, the hills are very, very steep and thickly forested.  There are few flat areas for running the horses.   In the late 1800's, when the story actually was in its heyday, the forestation was so thick that one would be hard-pressed to get through it at all.  It's the same today!  The hills are at such an incline that it would have been hard to get equipment to stay on them at all.

Second - the cabins were too nice.  Back then, they would have been hewn logs with every chiseled mark clearly visible.  There were have been mud chinks packed in between the logs.  The cabins in the movie were ones I would like to live in today!

Third - the horses.  I'm just not too sure about the horses.  Most horses were used for plowing.  Mules were the preferred mode of getting through the hills.  My mother much preferred to ride on a mule than a horse, for mules were more sure-footed.  These horses look like they were taken from the Kentucky Derby.

Fourth - the accent.  I'm sure it was just the Hollywood version of the Appalachian "twang" - and it's not easily duplicated.  There was at least one local in the movie, and I could spot him a mile away.

Fifth - the saloon scenes and the "get on your horse and let's go" reminded me of western movies.  This would not be unusual, given Kevin Costner's background in "Dances With Wolves" and others.

But, all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the miniseries, and plan on watching it again.  I was happy to hear that a truce had been called and a declaration that the feud had ended, but I'm not so sure that feuds really end.  There always seems to be an air of mistrust hanging in the background.

My father liked to relate an incident that happened while living in Logan, Logan County, West Virginia.  He and my mother and sisters lived there in the late 1930's and 1940's.  Everyone knew of this famous feud.  Dad even took my family over to see Devil Anse's grave.
In this part of Logan County where they lived, they lived in a house on a road that was very, very steep.  Mom always said if you open your mouth and talk while walking uphill, you would get a bit of dirt in it.  The house was built on stilts.  The house up on the hill above him had a drainage pipe where sewage would spill over into my family's back yard.

The family's name was McCoy.

Dad told the man on several occasions the problem needed to be solved.  Mr. McCoy replied that once it left his yard, it didn't matter to him.  It was no longer his problem.

Getting nowhere by talking, Dad took matter into his own hands.  He mixed up a batch of concrete and plugged up the pipe.  Problem solved.

Mr. McCoy was furious, but eventually the problem was solved.  Just think - there could have been another feud...

Little did dad and mom know that our family lines have now been researched back into the McCoy line!

For more info on feuds:

All pictures are from


  1. Interesting post! I have not seen the show but TV cabins are usually a far cry from reality. Some of those cabins would have had dirt floors, and very likely no grass in the yard because there were no mowers, only goats or sheep or the scythe. So yards were often bare, with a fence to keep livestock out and beyond the fence was pasture or meadow and probably pretty scraggly.

    About the trees--it might be true that the area was heavily forested at the time of the feud and I have not researched this, but in my area of West Virginia (Jackson county) people clearcut the land to make pasture, meadows and cropland--even the steepest land was cleared. You can imagine the erosion. I've seen photos from the turn of the century and later, and there was little forest left. I don't know if this was the case in the Tug Valley, though.

    Horses--people did take pride in their horses, but probably the movie horses were a lot higher quality than might have been in the mountains. As to the riding off from the bar, yeah, that might have actually been reality. It was pretty wild in these parts.

    I laughed out loud at your story of the sewage pipe! What an excellent solution. Your Dad was a master, all right.

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  3. Great post - and great story. How true that the History Channel gets things wrong - unfortunately, a lot of times. I, too, thought of it as a Kevin Costner western. But it was certainly enjoyable. Thanks for setting the record straight! :)

  4. Awesome Peggy! Watched the show and it's sad what a little pride and no forgiveness can do to men! Not to mention letting your children grow into making their own decisions. Interesting how Anse laments in the last segment how he wondered if things would have been different if they had just let their son marry his sweetheart. Love can sometimes conquer mountains ... even the Appalachian kind!!

  5. Oh, Cindy! Thank you for your comment! I agree with the pride and forgiveness issue. Entire generations were affected by their decision to not let go of feelings. What a shame. I, too, was touched by his lament. It just didn't happen soon enough.