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.

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