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Hatfields, McCoys feature local actor

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By Tracy Harris

If last week’s Hatfields and McCoys miniseries on the History Channel has sparked your interest in the feud, you’re not alone — more than 13.9 million people tuned into the series’ debut.

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The story has attracted interest for decades, with dozens of books and films published on the subject. There are at least nine historic sites in Kentucky and at least as many in West Virginia, most open to the public.

The newest film includes “Bad Blood: The Hatfields and McCoys,” filmed last year in Nelson County. The direct-to-DVD movie was released Tuesday and includes a Pewee Valley resident as a key Hatfield character.

John Wells, a 1998 South Oldham High School graduate, plays Valentine Hatfield, a senior member of the Hatfield clan in West Virginia.

“It’s an adaptation of 20 years of history,” Wells said. 

Writer and director Fred Ray pushed to film the movie in Kentucky to make the scenery more authentic, he said.

The timing of the movie’s release is no accident, according to Wells — Ray banked on increased interest following the History Channel series to help DVD sales.

“Production-wise, (Synthetic Filmworks) spent a fraction of what the History Channel did,” Wells said. 

And crews filmed the entire movie in nine days.

“It’s just unheard of,” he said, crediting local crew members and re-enactors for their roles in the film.

Wells isn’t the only Oldham County resident in the film’s credits — La Grange resident Troy H. King served as associate producer, organizing locations for filming. Crews filmed scenes at the Lincoln Homestead State Park, a Springfield horse farm and in Bardstown’s historic district.

The History Channel miniseries has also propelled a 30-year-old book on the subject to national bestseller lists.

University Press of Kentucky published “The Hatfields and the McCoys” in 1982, written by Otis Rice.

But University Press of Kentucky officials credit the digital version of the book, released in 2010, for its current success.

The e-book is topping Amazon and Barnes and Noble bestseller lists, drawing readers in through extensive use of court records, official correspondence and other documentary evidence.

The book is considered by critics as a thorough and factual account of the feud.

Rice, who died in 2003, was a professor emeritus of history at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology and was named West Virginia’s first historian laureate just before his death.

For those looking for an educational summer trip, Pikeville — where several feud-related trials took place and home to the McCoys after the feud — is about four hours away from Oldham County.

There is an audio driving tour available from the Pike County Tourism, Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. The CD features a map, feud history and narration for each location.

The tour includes several grave sites and two former McCoy homes, along with other notable locations.

Tourism officials completed the CD in 1999, after a major restoration project improved many of the sites on the tour.

Members of the U.S. Congress have appropriated nearly $500,000 to build walkways to accommodate foot traffic between the sites and make them more tourist-friendly.

While the sites are open year-round, two annual events encourage bigger crowds, including the Hatfield and McCoy Reunion Festival this weekend.

This is the 13th year for the festival, which started in 2000 when Bo McCoy, a great-great-grandson of feud patriarch Randolph McCoy, and his cousin, Ron McCoy, organized a historic joint family reunion for both families.

The festival is June 8-10, and includes guided tours along with marathon and half-marathon races around the historic sites.

In April, the annual Hillbilly Days Festival draws m ore than 100,000 visitors to Pikeville to celebrate Appalachian culture and fundraise for the Shriners Hospitals for Children.