It’s the most famous family feud in American history. And now, 125 years after its end, a recent archeological find has put the Hatfield and McCoy families back in the spotlight. Last week, researchers announced the discovery of what they believe is the first physical evidence of the conflict’s deadliest chapter—the New Year’s Massacre of 1888.
In the decades following the American Civil War, tensions between the West Virginia-based Hatfields and the Kentucky McCoys had periodically erupted with deadly violence as the two families feuded over land, jobs, and even divided family loyalties. On January 1, 1888, a group of Hatfields, led by the son and uncle of family patriarch William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield, ambushed the Pike County, Kentucky, home of Randolph McCoy. “Ole Randall” escaped into the woods, but his family wasn’t so lucky: Son Calvin and daughter Alifair were killed in the crossfire, and his wife Sarah was badly beaten. The attack thrust the long-simmering feud into the national headlines. After a series of legal wranglings that went all the way to the Supreme Court, eight men were sentenced to life in prison for their role in the massacre, while another, Ellison “Cottontop” Mounts was hanged—despite the belief of many that the mentally-challenged Mounts was merely a scapegoat. The massacre and subsequent trials seemed to finally accomplish what law enforcement officials had been unable to do—put an end to the bloody conflict that had festered between the two families for more than 20 years.
So, what exactly did the excavation turn up? A stash of bullets—believed to have been fired by the McCoys in self-defense—buried in a bluff overlooking the family home. In addition to the bullets, researchers also located ceramic shards, pieces of glass and charred wood, which they claim were damaged during the fiery attack. Additional research uncovered another link to tale: The land is currently owned by Hatfield descendant Bob Scott, but public records indicate that in 1888, the plot was owned by Randolph and Sarah “Sally” McCoy. Researchers hope to uncover additional historical material during future excavations.
Get the full story behind the feud here. And check out some of our exclusive Hatfields & McCoys content below:
Hatfields & McCoys: Who’s Who
Find out more about both families with our interactive family trees, which includes brief bios and exclusive video for all the major participants in one of America’s most famous family feuds.
Hatfields & McCoys Trivia
Think you know you know all there is to know about Devil Anse and Ol’ Randall? Test your knowledge of all things Hatfield and McCoy with our interactive trivia game.
Find out why violence came so easily to the Hatfield & McCoy families.
Watch the cast and crew discuss the significance of this epic feud.