That’s a truly disturbing idea. I thought of it after watching the History Channel’s superbly produced and acted mini-series, The Hatfields and McCoys. It aired originally several years ago but can easily be viewed via Netflix or by other means. Over the course of going through schooling everyone gets beaten over the head with a the broad brush of ‘social studies’ rather then history, and has or will become somewhat familiar with the Hatfield and McCoy feud which began shortly after the Civil War along the border of Kentucky and West Virginia. What they don’t teach you, along with a plethora of other things, in school is the utter tragic nature of the feud and the fact that it could’ve quite easily led to yet another civil war, albeit smaller. The History Channel’s does an excellent job at capturing the humanity of the history, and steering clear of presenting either clan as the victim or villain. Early on I could sympathize with the McCoy’s, given Randal McCoy was a prisoner of war while Devil Anse Hatfield deserted the Confederacy (and his good friend McCoy) to return home a prosper in his family’s lumber business. Then there was the murder of Asa McCoy, a Union veteran, supposedly at the hands of Jim Vance (uncle to Devil Anse Hatfield), although there was no CSI back in those days to find evidence. As well as the famous lawsuit over a stolen hog. But my sympathy for the McCoy’s diminished once the revenge killings and retributions began. It quickly became a quagmire of grief and senseless bloodshed. At some points I had to take a break from watching it because both families were so incredibly dysfunctional and insanely prideful. One of the more interesting points is how the elder McCoy loses his faith over the course of the conflict. Instead of giving him comfort, his faith only increases his pain. Although, in my view it was both men’s pride that dragged them into this Hell. Why neither man sued for peace at some point is beyond me, although I think the further along the feud lasted, the more out of their hands it became. They were dragged along through the coals of the vendetta rather then holding the reins. As bad as it was it could’ve been worse. When the McCoy family started offering bounties for the Hatfields, drawing in bounty hunters such as ‘Bad’ Frank Phillips, the Hatfields attempted to persuade their governor to post troops along the state line. There was also the controversy over illegally taking prisoners across state lines for trial. Once you had the military involved along with bushwhackers hunting for bounties and both sides of the families fighting it would’ve easily been another civil war. Given the guerrilla nature of the fighting by the families and their familiarity with the land it could’ve dragged on a long time.
For the most part the History Channel series stays true to the facts, with only a few artistic bits. There’s a scene near the end where a befuddled Randall McCoy has a conversation with a Devil Anse Hatfield who’s a product of his imagination. It’s in that scene where History Channel nails the cause of the conflict on the proverbial head. Pride. That’ll damn you faster then anything else.
During the course of the conflict both families gained some fame, or rather infamy, on a national level via the press. There’s the famous scene of Randall McCoy on his porch with a shotgun (albeit the photographer insisted he hold it for the picture, an early example of manipulation by the media.) That got me to wondering what it would’ve been like if such a feud existed today with our so called social media, 24 new channels and satellite phones. I’m sure the E! Channel would be all over this.