National Geographic uncovers the "Real McCoy"


In November, 2014, I was given a rare privilege to take part in an archeological excavation of the home site that once belonged to my great-great-great grandparents. It was an unprecedented (and quite literal) opportunity to dig into history. For me, it was the culmination of a personal exploration into my family history that had begun more than 15 years earlier.

For my family, the former Randolph and Sarah McCoy homestead in Hardy, KY is hallowed ground. On January 1, 1888, it was the location of one of the heinous events of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. A group of men launched an ill-conceived campaign to end the feud once and for all by assaulting the McCoy home place. After a prolonged shootout, the frustrated attackers set the cabin ablaze in hopes of driving the trapped family outside. Daughter Alifair, (my great-great aunt) was shot to death attemtping to retrieve water from the family well to douse the flames. Sarah McCoy (my great-great-great grandmother) ran from the burning house to attend to her injured daughter. She was beaten with the butt of a rifle, sustaining critical injuries. Son Calvin (my great-great uncle) was shot to death running to a nearby corncrib in hopes of providing gunfire cover for his father and other family members to escape. The conflagration burned the home and its contents to the ground. In the days following the attack, two of Randolph and Sarah’s sons, Jim and Sam, were instrumental in moving the family 25 miles west to the relative safety of Pikeville, KY.

In 2012, nearly 125 years after the event, a crew from the National Geographic Channel’s television program “Diggers” visited the site at the invitation of property owner, Bob Scott. For the first time in history, artifacts from the feud were recovered including bullets, nails and charred wood remains. In addition, the “Diggers” were able to determine the exact location of the cabin's perimeter.

Excited by the preliminary findings, Mr. Scott was certain there was more history to be uncovered. In November, 2014, he invited the “Diggers” back along with an anthropological unit from the University of Kentucky. For the historic occasion, Bob decided to ask descendants of both families to join in the dig as well. As the great-great grandson of Sam McCoy, it was my distinct honor to share the occasion with two of Jim’s great-great grandchildren, cousins Edward McCoy and Linda Bergman. Representing the Hatfields were the great-grandchildren of “Devil Anse” Hatfield, William Hatfield and Heather Vaillancourt and their families. Over the course of the dig, more than 120 people visited the site including local historians, public officials and extended family members including Truce author, Reo Hatfield.

Dr. McBride and her intrepid archaeological crew braved the elements, working through light snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Two weeks of excavation at the back corner of the cabin uncovered household effects, nails, burnt wood pieces -- and pieces of industrial cotton used to start the fire that destroyed the home. I likened the find to discovering pieces of the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

Taking part in the 2014 dig at my great-great-great grandparent's homestead was another chapter in my exploration of my family's history that began in 1998. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to share in events that have celebrated the modern-day unity of the Hatfields and McCoys. For me, it was a true honor to take part in the 2014 dig, working side by side with members of both families who shared a common purpose. Digging together in the frozen soil, uncovering and preserving our mutual history, we ensured that the events that had transpired there will never be forgotten.


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