Hatfield-McCoy battle artifacts highlighted in National Geographic show

George Wyant, left, and Tim Saylor are the hosts of Diggers.
George Wyant, left, and Tim Saylor are the hosts of Diggers. submitted

The site of one of the bloodiest chapters in the Hatfield and McCoy feud has been uncovered by archaeologists, including bullets thought to have been fired on that cold night in 1888 when Randall McCoy's home was destroyed.

The infamous feud lasted from 1865 to 1891, but the 1888 New Year's ambush was one of the most gruesome episodes.

Two of McCoy's children were killed, his wife was seriously injured and his house was burned to the ground in the attack by nine armed Hatfields. The McCoy family left after the ambush, moved to Pikeville and never returned.

"The site is extremely important because it was one of the more dramatic events of the feud," said Kim McBride, co-director of the Kentucky Archeological Survey, which excavated the site.

The history is coming to light as part of a show, Diggers, on National Geographic Channel. Diggers hosts Tim Saylor and George Wyant travel the country using metal detectors to uncovered historical sites.

A two-part episode on feud-related sites begins at 10 p.m. Tuesday.

The Kentucky Archeological Survey was asked to help with excavation and research on the project because of the site's historical significance, McBride said.

Bob Scott, whose family owns the property in Hardy, said family lore helped to pinpoint where the McCoy family home once stood. A well on the property dating to the time of the feud remains, Scott said.

Charred wood, window glass, bits of ceramics and bullet fragments were among the items uncovered during the excavation, McBride said. About a dozen bullets were discovered on a hillside away from the house. She said it appeared that those bullets were fired by the McCoy family toward their attackers.

"We don't have bullets from the OK Corral or from the gunfights of Jesse James, but we have these bullets," Scott said.

There are no plans for additional work at the site, McBride said.

At first, "I was a little taken aback by all of the interest" in the feud, she said. But once artifacts began to be uncovered, McBride said, she was thrilled with the discovery.

The Hatfield and McCoy feud has loomed large in the public imagination, and a three-part miniseries that aired last May created even more fans. Hatfields & McCoys broke viewership records for History channel and brought an avalanche of interest in all things feud-related.

Scott, who lives on the property with his wife, said at least 4,000 people have visited the well since the miniseries aired last year. His neighbor keeps an unofficial tally, he said, so the number probably is higher.

Visitors have been respectful of his property, but they never know who is going to show up. He and his wife came home from church one Sunday to find six visitors from China examining the well, he said.

The artifacts discovered on Scott's land were delivered to the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce on Monday morning. State police walked down a red carpet carrying the artifacts in a box before a crowd of about 100 people, said Natalie Young, chamber executive director.

The items that will be on display included a piece of the charred cabin, a fragment of a wash basin and part of a stove grate.

"They could have cooked their last meal on that stove," Young said.

Feud fever continues to rage in Tug River Valley, which separates West Virginia from Kentucky, Young said. The chamber lists three options for guided feud-related tours, and books about the feud are for sale.

"We've had tourists from everywhere," she said.

Scott is pleased that the artifacts from his land can help attract tourists to the area, where the loss of coal jobs is hurting the economy. He would like to see more of a coordinated effort to promote feud tourism.

"We are sitting on a real time bomb here," he said. "Kentucky and West Virginia need to get in the game."



10 p.m. Tue. on National Geographic Channel

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