Yet this feud also led to an influential U.S. Supreme Court ruling on due process and extradition after a posse brought a Hatfield to Kentucky to stand trial for the slaying of Alifair McCoy, killed during the "New Year's Night Massacre" in 1888, the crowning violence of the affair.
The Hatfields were a more affluent family than the McCoys, due to the success of Devil Anse's timbering business in the great virgin forests of Appalachia.
"Devil Anse was one of the very first post-Civil War entrepreneurs," said Richardson. "He was one of the first people to begin logging that timber and capitalizing on it. Coal had been discovered, but not really mined yet in Southern West Virginia. This was even before the railroad was through here," Richardson said.
So, add a dispute over timber rights into the mix and that a Hatfield - Henry D. Hatfield, a nephew of Devil Anse - would become the 14th governor of West Virginia, and you begin to fill in a more interesting history of a much-caricatured feud.
"It became individual disputes between two families," Richardson said, "and then it spiraled out of control."
The full tale
Richardson is sensitive to questions about whether all this renewed attention could be a negative for the state and whether the History series will have any nuance to it.
"I just think the discussion of negative depictions is premature," Richardson said. "If, when the show comes out, it does portray us negatively (which I don't think it will), then that's a perfectly legitimate discussion. But to start talking about it now, when it hasn't happened -- and may not -- just makes people miss the point that good things are happening in a place and for a state that usually only gets bad press."
It's true, he said, that the way the feud has been portrayed in years past reinforced stereotypes of mountain folk.
"All the negative stereotypes of mountain people can be traced back to the Hatfield and McCoy feud. When people talk about ignorant hillbillies marrying their cousins, that all came from the Hatfield and McCoy feud. And that is because it was such a big story back then."
The renewed interest in the feud, whether told with nuance or lack of it, will be a bonanza for the state, he said.
"We're going to get what I estimated to be about $120 million of media coverage about the history of West Virginia."
History, after all, is mostly about wars, battles and conflicts, he said. In studying how to develop a tourism industry around a violent event like the feud, Richardson pondered how some other states built a thriving tourist business around Wild West outlaw Jesse James.
"If you think about Jesse James, he was a cold-blooded murdering outlaw," Richardson said, "but Missouri and two or three other states have built a tourism industry around his life."
Some in West Virginia might be anxious about over-attention to the feud, but there is no reason not to mine such rich history, he said.
"It seemed to me ridiculous to run away from that history when everyone else was embracing [such tales] and turning them into an economic asset," Richardson said.
The History channel series will be interested in telling a good story, he said.
"The Costner miniseries will absolutely tell a fictionalized version of the history," Richardson said. "It will depart from the facts, there's no doubt about it."
Yet he cited a similar film project he helped with, John Sayles' "fictionalized history" film, "Matewan," which stirred a whole lot of interest in the actual history of the Mine Wars era.
"I can't control whether they play fast and loose with the truth," Richardson said. "All I can control is trying to utilize that to try and get people to come here and learn the true story, which is even more interesting than the mythology."
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.