The Hatfield and McCoy descendants came armed—with digging tools. Side by side, they worked together to help archaeologists unearth artifacts from one of the bloodiest sites in America's most famous 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 Hatfield clan. Two McCoys were gunned down in the 1888 ambush. It marked a turning point in their cross-border war waged in Kentucky and West Virginia, led by family patriarchs William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield and Randolph "Ole Ran'l" McCoy. Many believe the feud was rooted in the Civil War, 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.
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. A 2012 dig had given excavators some understanding of the McCoy homestead. "We had some suspicions that we weren't quite in the right place at the first dig," an archaeologist says. "With more work, we were able to confirm that suspicion. We think the house sat a little bit further back." The property is owned by a Hatfield descendant, who would like to build a replica cabin on the same spot to attract visitors. The National Geographic Channel series Diggers will focus on the feud and the most recent dig in an episode airing tonight. (Read more Kentucky stories.)