The History Channel has aired its much-hyped “Hatfields & McCoys.” I’ve only watched two of the three parts. Thanks to the magic of Tivo, I’m hoping to finish it tonight.
I’m not a feud historian, but I’ve read a little bit about the dealings between Ole Ran’l and Devil Anse Hatfield. Being a McCoy, I have been asked many times if I am related to this famed feuding clan. While we don’t have any definitive genealogical proof, we do have some circumstantial evidence that points to the possibility.
There has been some family history done by one of my Dad’s cousins, and it appears that my family can trace its roots to Kentucky and West Virginia at about the time of the feud.
And then there’s the picture. Many years ago my uncle Larry McCoy found a picture of Randal McCoy. I wish I had a good picture of my Uncle Larry to show you. You’ll have to take my word for it: there is a resemblance.
That being said, watching the History Channel mini-series was a somewhat strange experience for me. I wasn’t just an objective observer. I guess you could say that I had a rooting interest. I remember as a kid when I heard about the McCoy-Hatfield feud, one of my first questions was, “Did we win?”
Even now, as I watched the movie I found myself “rooting” for the McCoys. It was clear that Anderson Hatfield was a terrible person for deserting, and profiting while his brethren and friends suffered. It was clear that Old Ran’l was wronged when that thieving Hatfield stole his hog, then trumped up testimony in the trial. In the ruckus in the courtroom after the case, McCoy shouts, “This is a case of Godly right versus Damnation wrong!” And I was all, “Hell Yeah!”
I had to catch myself. It wasn’t about that at all. It was about pettiness and grudges. Eventually, McCoy’s godly self-righteousness started to grow tiresome. I couldn’t help but chuckle when later in the movie Hatfield tells Randall, “If you feel the need to bring up God one more time, and who’s side he sits on, you won’t be making the ride home.”
I won’t go through all of the details of the movie, or analyze any characters, because pretty quickly into the second episode it was clear that there were no good guys in this story. I haven’t seen how it ends, but I feel like the movie has done a great job of showing the feud as what it was – futile. There were no winners.
Stubbornness, false pride, hardened hearts, vindictiveness, and revenge fueled the feud. As a child I saw the world in black and white and just assumed that the McCoys were good, the Hatfields evil, and there must have been a clear winner. I’ve realized now that life is usually more about shades of gray. I’ve learned that revenge is never good fuel for a soul. As I watch the last episode, I’m hoping someone figures that out. Then I’ll know who won.