Have you heard the story about Troublesome Creek and the Blue People of Kentucky? Well, it is true and there’s a lot of history surrounding the small community and why they had blue skin.
Let’s go back in Kentucky history and learn more about these Blue People of Kentucky who lived in the 19th century.
This is the story of early times in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky with the Fugate family.
Table of Contents
Who are the Blue People Of Kentucky?
The Fugates were a family that lived in the early 1800s commonly known as the “Blue Fugates” or “Blue People of Kentucky”. They were born with a genetic trait that led to a blood disorder called methemoglobinemia, which causes the skin to turn blue.
Martin Fugate was a French orphan who immigrated to Kentucky around 1820 when his family came here on a land grant from the government. He settled in the small community on the banks of Troublesome Creek, north of Hazard, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains where he married a local woman, Elizabeth Smith. They were very poor, but good people.
Unfortunately, both Fugate and Smith carried the recessive gene that caused the blood disorder, in turn giving the skin a blue color. The Fugates had seven children together, with four of them having blue skin. The skin color was a dark blue, not a light hue or shade of blue. Historical records show Martin was dark blue himself but Elizabeth was a pale light skinned woman with red hair.
In the 1800s, there were hardly any roads and if there were, they were hard to travel. The railroads didn’t come close to the area until the 1920s. Naturally, you would stay close to your homestead.
Over time, the Fugates started marrying their own kin, their first cousins and other Fugates. They would marry the person next door including other families such as the Smiths, Ritchies, and Stacys. The families all lived in isolation for many years, passing along the blue colored gene to others in line.
How did the Fugate family tree look?
It’s quite complicated to piece together the family tree 100%. From the many different sources and historical records, there is no consistency in names sometimes. They either result in a nickname or unreadable documents that show only a partial name.
Below if a Fugate family tree starting with Martin & Elizabeth Fugate.
From the historical documents found, we know Martin and Elizabeth Fugate had at least seven children:
- Benjamin Fugate
- Martin Fugate
- Zachariah Fugate ( Ball Creek Zach )
- Isaac Fugate
- Sarah Fugate
- Hannah Fugate
- John Fugate
Who was Dr. Madison Cawein III?
In the early 1960s, a hematologist doctor named Madison Cawein III from University of Kentucky medical clinic in Lexington had heard a rumor there were people in Eastern Kentucky with blue colored skin. He was very interested in studying their condition and drove from Lexington to Hazard looking for the Blue Fugates he had heard about.
Once he arrived in the Troublesome Creek area, he met a helpful nurse named Ruth Pendergrass that told him more the blue people and where he could find them. He hiked up and down the hollows of the creek, looking for anyone with blue skin. He finally was able to get in touch with some Ritchies, who lived in a small community called Hardburly, and were colored blue. They were able to chart out a family tree of these Blue People of Kentucky.
Cawein found that the Blue People of Kentucky were suffering from a rare form of methemoglobinemia, and he was able to treat them with a medication called methylene blue that turned their skin back to normal.
What is Methemoglobinemia?
Methemoglobinemia is a condition in which the blood contains too much methemoglobin, a form of hemoglobin that cannot carry oxygen as efficiently as normal hemoglobin. This causes the skin to appear blue, and can also lead to other symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and headaches.
Are there still blue people living in Kentucky?
The last known person to have the disease is Benjamin Stacy, born in 1975. He had the gene on both his father and mothers side. His skin was blue at birth but soon returned to normal. He now lives in Alaska with his wife and kids working as a water plant supervisor.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
In 2019, Kentucky author Kim Richardson, released a novel titled The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. It is a fictional version of the true and historical blue-skinned people of Kentucky. It’s a story of poverty and hope and is a recommended read.
You can buy this inspirational book on Amazon here:
Link to order – https://amzn.to/3P0xvSY
* Featured image of Blue People by Walt Spitzmiller