Emmy Follow-Up: Hatfields and McCoys

The tragic feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families was recreated on The History Channel and aired this past Spring. Starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton as “Devil” Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy, respectively, the three-part miniseries drew 62-million viewers.  

Nominated for 16 Emmys, last night Kevin Costner won for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series and Tom Berenger won for Best Supporting Actor.

This localized Civil War, which ran between 1880 to 1891, was fueled by initial transgressions ranging from suspected murder to a stolen pig. But it was rooted on both sides by the basest of sins: pride and an unwillingness to forgive or show mercy. And as a result the feud claimed more than a dozen members of the two families, drew national attention, and prompted the governors of both Kentucky and Virginia to call up their state militias to restore order.

If you’d like to read a good overview of the conflict, go to:


There is a significant – and ultimately ironic – theme that threads its way throughout this saga, a spiritual one.

Anse Hatfield is a man who has no use for God, goes to church only when his wife “drags” him there and when, during the Civil War, he’s encouraged, in the thick of battle, to “make your peace”, he responds, “I never courted God before … I doubt he’d hear me now.”

Randall McCoy, on the other hand, goes to church regularly, talks about God, talks to God (at least in emergencies) and quotes Scripture.

But he seems rather selective in his reading of Scripture, knowing nothing of the call to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4: 31, 32)

Hot-tempered, McCoy also ignores:

Matthew 5:44 – “Love your enemies, and pray for those that persecute you.”

Mark 11:35 – “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him… “

Romans 12:20, 21 – “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

I John 3:15 – “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”

The stark difference between these two men is evident in one particular confrontation:

McCoy: “Devil Anse Hatfield, I rue the day I saved your life. May God damn your eternal soul.”

Hatfield: “That may be, Randall. But I don’t remember God saving your ass that day. We saved each other because that’s what men do in war. Now this all here: this all sits the way it sits cause of us and nobody else. You feel the need to bring up God one more time, whose side he sits on [cocks rifle] you won’t be makin’ the ride home.”

As the violence escalates over the years, costing the lives of some of his own children and the sanity of his wife, McCoy begins to abandon any claim he might make for the goodness of God.

“I prayed to a merciful God who showed us no mercy. Is this his will? My children dead? My wife hurt and my house burned? Where was God? If this was his will, what kind of God is that?”

Having turned more and more to drink, McCoy shows up for what turned out to be the final confrontation between the two families: The Battle of Grapevine”, in 1888. Completely drunk he cries out, “The law be damned! Hatfields be damned! God be damned! Damn you all to Perdition!”

It’s a relatively short skirmish and both Ansel Hatfield and Randall McCoy live through it, although Hatfield’s youngest son is killed.

After that, it is Hatfield who decides enough blood has been spilled. It is time for the fighting and killing to stop. And in a somewhat heartless manner, he brings it all to an end.

Years later, Randall McCoy, in a deranged, drunken outburst, ends up perishing in a house fire.

Ansel Hatfield, on the other hand, is shown having come to a faith in Jesus as his Savior and being baptized in the river.

These two men, to the extent that their lives were accurately portrayed, demonstrate some very important dimensions of the Gospel.

Regarding Randall McCoy:

1)      Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 7:21)

2)      He also said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”(Matthew 12:34)  and

3)      “By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:20). Then,

4)      The Scriptures describe the fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22, 23)

Regarding Ansel Hatfield: He exemplifies Jesus’ parable recorded in Matthew 20. No matter how late someone responds to Jesus’ invitation, he is as welcome as the one who came first.



Filed under Art, Christian benevolence, Evil, Film analyses, Film analysis, Jesus, Media, Religion, Television

2 responses to “Emmy Follow-Up: Hatfields and McCoys

  1. Martha Beinor

    Johnny, several weeks ago when the associate ministers at First Pres were taking their sermons from the Book of Jonah, Stan Johnson’s theme was, “You cannot out-sin God’s Grace.” A main idea was that He is not only there waiting for you, but He is actively searching for you. It was quite heartening.
    Along this same line, I am constantly reminded of two verses that Dr Kuizenga, the minister at the Presbyterian Church I attended in Ann Arbor when I was a student, connected and quoted every Sunday, and which was printed in our Bulletin:
    “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest — Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”

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