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'Hatfields and McCoys': Is History Channel miniseries fact or fiction?

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These shows focus on Americana as much as they do on American history, notes Professor McMullen. The History Channel’s "Hatfields and McCoys" continues the theme, as it has been a long-standing American folk legend, he adds.

As with any program trying to separate the threads of a little-documented historical period, he says, the difficulty is separating fact from fiction when discussing the famous feud. One major problem anyone faces in attempting to explore history’s overlooked, disenfranchised, or maligned is that often these are individuals with little desire – or little capacity – to tell their own stories. “These were not regions of the country where people were keeping careful track of their own stories,” says Thomas Flagel, a historian at Columbia State Community College in Franklin, Tenn., and author of “The History Buff’s guide to the Civil War.”

Many participants in this story lived in isolated areas where it would be difficult to trace events accurately, he says. This was not helped by the yellow journalism of the time. If the sketchy events emerging from news accounts as the bodies piled up were not sensational enough, he adds, “newspapers of the day often had no problem with simply making things up.”

Nonetheless, the show's producers were at pains to point out in press materials that while not actually filmed in Appalachia – the incentives are better in Romania, where it was shot – the miniseries “tries to capture accurately details of the family fight that eventually involved the US Supreme Court, made international headlines, and nearly pushed Kentucky and West Virginia to the brink of war.”

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