Feuding American families help pinpoint historic battle site
The names Hatfield and McCoy are synonymous with feuding in the U.S., etched in American history for their famous deadly fights. So it was an unlikely sight when descendants of both clans worked side by side to help archaeologists unearth artifacts from one of the bloodiest sites in the feud.
The leader of the dig says they have pinpointed the place where Randolph McCoy’s home was set ablaze in the woods of eastern Kentucky during a murderous New Year’s attack by the Hatfields.
feud was rooted in the American Civil War of the 1860s, but the bitterness was perpetuated by disputes over timber rights and even a pig. The fighting claimed at least a dozen lives by 1888. The feud officially ended in 2003, when descendants of the families signed a truce.
Two McCoys were gunned down in the 1888 ambush on Randolph McCoy’s homestead. It marked a turning point in their battle waged in Kentucky and West Virginia, led by family patriarchs William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield and Randolph “Ole Ran’l” McCoy.
The 10-day excavation focused on a back corner of the homestead. Archaeologists and volunteers — including descendants from the two families — uncovered charred timber, shell casings, nails, a pulley and fragments of glass and ceramics.
Eddie McCoy had made earlier pilgrimages there, but he said sifting through his ancestral soil was especially poignant.
“When I was digging through the mud and big chunks of burned wood started coming out, it just made it so real,” he said this week. “I had to actually pause for a moment. I just could not believe I was being able to literally dig into my family’s past.”
A 2012 dig had given excavators some understanding of the McCoy homestead.
The team decided the actual site wasn’t quite where they thought it was, said Kim McBride, co-director of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey. She led the archaeological teams on both digs.
In a region slammed by a slumping coal industry, better identifying the McCoy homestead could help lure visitors.
The property is owned by Hatfield descendant Bob Scott, who would like to build a replica cabin on the same spot.
“We’re trying to preserve the heritage of the Hatfield-McCoy feud,” he said. “People like to get off the beaten path sometimes.”
Pike County tourism officials promote tours of feud sites on their website.