updated 05/30/2012 AT 1:00 PM ET
•originally published 05/30/2012 AT 5:25 PM ET
Fourteen million cable TV watchers can’t be wrong. As the dust settles on the History Channel dramatization of the great American feud – the network’s ratings record-setter Hatfields & McCoys airs its third and final installment Wednesday night – perhaps it’s time to step back and look at the real-life patriarchs being portrayed by Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton.
The series tells the tale of West Virginia’s Devil Anse Hatfield (Costner) and Kentucky’s Randall McCoy (Paxton), close friends until the end of the Civil War. Once home, simmering tensions and resentments soon explode into an all-out rivalry that encompasses years of land disputes, kidnappings, even murder.
While artistic liberties were admittedly taken by the makers of the TV drama, several facts remain, according to a Blue Ridge Country magazine account. Devil Anse, whose full name was Capt. William Anderson Hatfield, was “tall, gray-eyed and bearded” and looked remarkably like Stonewall Jackson.
Prone to outrageous pranks, he was also a gifted marksman whose hunting legend first developed when he was young and kicked awake a sleeping bear that he then held captive for days. When he finally shot the animal, Hatfield supposedly said that the experience left him “ready to face the devil” – and that’s how he got his nickname.
Hatfield and his wife Levicy had 13 children: nine (extremely vengeful) sons and four daughters.
As for Randolph (Randall, Ole Ran’l) McCoy, he reputedly lacked Hatfield’s charm and humor, to the point of being considered morbid. He and his wife, his cousin Sarah, produced 16 children, 15 of whom survived: nine sons (every bit as vengeful as Hatfield’s) and six daughters.
It does seem as though fate drove the two once-friendly factions apart. According to The Hatfields & The McCoys author Virgil Carrington Jones, both Hatfield and McCoy were each a “simple, hospitable mountaineer … affectionate and home-loving,” who just happened to be cursed with offspring who never forgave, and never forgot.