CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Despite being more than 125 years old, the Hatfield & McCoy feud will be a surprisingly hot subject in the national media this spring and summer.
A host of cable series, shows and books will focus on one of the world's most notorious feuds, most prominent among them a three-day History channel miniseries, "The Hatfields and McCoys: An American Vendetta," starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton that begins airing Memorial Day, May 28.
On the coattails of what the channel bills as an "epic three-night event," several of its other shows will do Hatfield and McCoy-themed programs. History's popular "American Pickers" will lead up to the series with a program that recently brought hosts Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz to the Mountain State, checking out some little-known feud memorabilia. "How the States Got Their Shapes" will tape a show of its own this June.
While the high-profile Costner-Paxton miniseries looks to be an action-packed telling of a colorful feud, with the dramatic license to be expected from a TV drama (see the trailer at www.history.com/hatfields-and-mccoys), History also will screen a two-hour documentary about the feud's historical bonafides.
In addition, several new books are out or coming out. On the smaller scale, independent West Virginia book publisher Woodland Press recently released "The Devil's Son," a novel by Parkersburg native Anne Black Gray, inspired by some of the feud's characters and billed as a "vast historical epic."
At the larger end of the publishing spectrum, Dean King, author of the nonfiction best-seller "Skeletons On The Zahara: A True Story of Survival," has a "retelling" of the feud due out March 2013 in a book from Little, Brown.
Need more? Last week, Anderson Cooper filmed an episode of his new daytime talk show, "Anderson," about the feud, featuring Costner and a Hatfield family member, to air before the series.
All this is music to the ears of Bill Richardson, who for years has toiled at turning the feud into tourism gold for West Virginia and has fingers in several of these projects.
More than a pig
"There is going to be a landslide of national media about our state's history and that will result in a landslide of attention," said Richardson, who helped with research on the Young book and was interviewed for the History documentary.
Richardson, a West Virginia University Extension associate professor who does community development work in Mingo and Logan counties, also is a filmmaker, artist and author who, several years back, produced his own 57-minute Hatfield & McCoy documentary, "Feud."
He has been instrumental in encouraging feud-related tourism destinations in the state (see a list at a website he developed called hatfieldmccoycountry.com). Among them:
The burial sites of Devil Anse Hatfield and Randle "Ole Ran'l' McCoy, patriarchs of the feuding families; The Paw Paw Massacre site where the Hatfields executed three McCoys for killing Devil Anse's brother; the place where Johnse Hatfield and Roseanna McCoy, "the Romeo and Juliet of the hills," met and fell in love; and The Hog Trial site, where a trial featuring a contested pig contributed to the feud.
Richardson hopes all the attention will lead to more people visiting the state and learning a more nuanced, broader view of the feud than the caricature of violent hillbillies going at each other for vendetta-settling target practice.
"It wasn't just ignorant hillbillies fighting over a pig, which is one of the ways it has been characterized. When you actually get down to the facts of the history, it is very different than the myths that have grown up."
Causes and effects
There was not a sole causal event, but many factors in the feud that set two backcountry families at each other's throats for the better part of the 1880s, and led to the murder of an estimated dozen people and the wounding of 10 others.
Most of the Hatfields lived in West Virginia's Mingo County along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River and fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Across the river, the McCoys called Pike County, Ky., home and had fought for the Union.
One of the seeds of the feud was the 1865 murder of returning Union soldier Asa Harmon McCoy, killed by a group of ex-Confederate militia dubbed the "Logan Wildcats." Devil Anse Hatfield was an initial suspect, but when it was learned he was home sick at the time, suspicion shifted to his uncle, Jim Vance, a member of the Wildcats.
Later, the ire stirred up in both families was deepened by the romance between Johnse Hatfield and Roseanna McCoy, along with a host of other personal conflicts.
But there was more than a just blood feud in play. Larger forces also were at work, in a dispute that eventually would put two state governments at loggerheads -- the West Virginia governor even threatened a militia invasion of Kentucky at one point, as murder, retribution and foiled justice abounded.