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The Post Offices of Breathitt County - Pauletta Hansel


The Post Offices of Breathitt County

by Pauletta Hansel

ALTRO: first established as Bush Branch. No, Bush Branch is the holler—you go up and cross the hill and come down to Altro. BARWICK: Coal camp the company abandoned in the early 1940s. The name may derive from the rock bar in the river above Whick Allen's place. BETSMANN: Could this have been named for a Betsy Mann, related to or living near Susie Minter? BOONE FORK OF FROZEN CREEK: So named because the name of “Daniel Boone” was found inscribed on a beech tree on Sand Creek by the early white settlers. Alleged. CALLA: Not named for Calla Pelphrey, local postmistress. Eric is not her son. Name changed to Vancleve. CANOE: A canoe was found by early settlers. It had took the Indians so long to make it, the water got too shallow, they could never get it out. CLAYHOLE: Named for the sticky blue clay in the creek bed. COCKRELL’S FORK OF COPES FORK: probably named for Simon Cockrell, one of 9 pioneer brothers of Virginia, by the late 1830s the county’s richest man. (See JACKSON); ELKATAWA: Named for the prophet brother of Tecumseh, the Shawnee chief. This contention is highly suspect but no one has yet come up with a better explanation. FROZEN CREEK: The account of Daniel Boone's refuge in the hollow sycamore tree rests upon insecure evidence; nonetheless, it was in winter a troublesome place to cross. GLEE: According to John S. Hollon, March 2, 1916, the proper name for this new post office was Hollon. No Glee families are listed in the 1920 Census. GOBELGAP: No Gobels either. GOMEZ: Postmaster Isaac Combs was a veteran of the Spanish American War; in short, the name was not a corruption of Combs. GAGE: It is not likely named for Guage Williams, allegedly killed there. GUERRANT: Named for Dr. E.O. Guerrant. First called Highland and still is. HARDSHELL: Named for the Baptists. HOLLY CREEK: Named for the trees. HOUSTON: Allegedly named for a stranger who rode through on horseback. They apparently liked his name. ISOLATION: The upper end served by this post office is now called Smack 'em. JACKSON: Simon Cockrell gave 10 acres of his farm for the county seat began as Breathitt Town and renamed for Andrew Jackson in 1845. JUAN: First called Pinegrove, renamed for the battle of Juan. Also Called Shoulder Blade, named for the creek which either looks pretty much like a man's shoulder, or near which the shoulder bone of a very large animal was once found. LIBERTY CHURCH: So called because preachers of all denominations were free to preach there. LONGS CREEK: Named from a rather a sad circumstance, as a Virginia hunter with the lengthy name of Long was killed there himself when the gun he’d used to kill a bear struck a bush and went off. LOST CREEK: Took its name from the fact that an Irishman by the name of Ned O'Grady went hunting in that region in early times and got lost, just as might be expected. Some old man in Beattyville told me that. LUNAH: Named for Mahala (Miller) Ritchie (1837-1922), called "Lunah" for her eccentricities. MARBLE: According to Lula Strong in 1897, the proposed name was Mable. No Lula or Mable was listed in any Strong family in the 1900 Census. MORRIS FORK: Once nicknamed "Hell's Corner," for its meanness and moonshine; by 1940 made more heavenly by a minister and his wife. NOCTOR: To be named for Governor Nocton, Republican, but it came back from the Postal Department as Noctor. QUICKSAND: Site of the largest hardwood lumber sawmill in the world, so named for its treacherous shifting sands. ROOSEVELT: According to William. H. Deaton, 1902, the proper name for this new post office was Deaton. ROUSSEAU: Named for a man named Rousseau who operated a windmill there. Was first named Days. No, never had another name. No, no Rousseau ever owned a mill there. Could have been named for General Lovell Harrison Rousseau, since some local men were Unionists. SALDEE: It is said to have been named for the girlfriend of the postmaster, or maybe for the Salyers and Deatons. SEWELL: It may have been named for Sewell Benton who died in 1911 after having been kicked by a mule. SHOULDER BLADE: (See JUAN); SKY: So named for its beauty, especially at sunset. TALBERT: Serving Turners Creek where an awful lot of Turners still live. THE PANHANDLE:  A narrow, 75-foot-high rocky ridge that forced the North Fork of the Kentucky River to flow four miles before coming back to within 40 feet of itself on the other side. TWOMILE BRANCH OF BIG CANEY CREEK: Two miles long. TWO MILE FORK OF SOUTH FORK: Not named for its length. VANCLEVE: (See CALLA); WAR CREEK: Said to have been named for the considerable fighting in the old days. WOLF COAL: At the mouth of Wolf Creek, named for its coal. WOLVERINE: Called Hays for the sawmill, then Gunn for the coal mine, bought out in 1926by a New York City man and named for the new proprietor. No, he was from Michigan and the Wolverine name is older than Gunn.  

For space reasons, I have only touched on a fraction of the Breathitt names. Did you or a family member share any of these or other stories with Mr. Rennick? What tales do you have about the place names of Breathitt County? 

 * Rennick, Robert M., "Breathitt County - Post Offices" (2000). County Histories of Kentucky. 159. 


Pauletta Hansel is a poet, essayist and teacher from Jackson who was Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate. Her parents cared for and educated Breathitt children and young adults for many years. 

This column is brought to you by Our Breathitt, a community arts and health experience bringing together artists and Breathitt Countians from across Kentucky. Project is organized with IDEAS xLab (an artist-led nonprofit), and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Starting in August 2019, five collaborating writers, each with their own perspectives and ties to the county, will offer weekly columns and audio stories for radio and podcasts. Contact us at 859-397-1317 to join this conversation by leaving a voicemail with your response to the questions we raise and adding thoughts of your own! You may hear your responses incorporated into future posts and narratives! You can also email at We hope you will mark your calendars and join us at the Our Breathitt Summit, October 11-12 in Jackson, Kentucky. Information at