The View From Plum Lick
What's in a name?
Hell fer Sartin is in Leslie County.
Some write it Hell for Certain, because there’s an understandable disagreement over which is the more correct way. Those who prefer “Hell for Certain” tend to believe “Hell fer Sartin” is another one of those Appalachian putdowns. Actually, it’s a celebration of down-home values and strong individuals.
The late Leonard W. Roberts wrote a book titled South from Hell-fer-Sartin, and Kentucky author John Fox Jr. had a field day writing in dialect. His Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come and The Trail of the Lonesome Pine favor Hell fer Sartin.
The little rocky stream—Hell fer Sartin —arises in northwestern Leslie County, near Sizemore, where Bull Skin Creek slides westward to the south fork of the Kentucky River at Oneida, in Clay County. Hell fer Sartin tumbles eastward to the middle fork of the Kentucky. Between Sizemore and the mouth of Hell fer Sartin at Confluence, there’s only one place name on today’s map and that’s Kaliopi, pronounced KAL-ee-OH-pee, which is somehow connected with a man who ran a Greek restaurant in Hazard and came over to marry a young lady from Hell fer Sartin.
Cutshin Creek is also in Leslie County to the east of the county seat, Hyden, and there’s a place on the map named Cutshin. According to The Kentucky Encyclopedia, the names “Cutshin” and “Hell fer Sartin” came about as the result of an early pioneer who tried to cross the streams during stormy weather. It was hell fer sartin and he cut his shin. Something like that.
You might want to read Robert M. Rennick’s From Red Hot to Monkey’s Eyebrow, which sheds more light on this subject of unusual Kentucky place names. And, of course, there’s Dr. Niel Plummer’s Guide to the Pronunciation of Kentucky Towns and Cities. For example, Yosemite is pronounced YOH-se-meyet.
Leonard W. Roberts also compiled Up Cutshin & Down Greasy: Folkways of a Kentucky Mountain Family, which was published by the University Press of Kentucky. Greasy Creek is in Harlan County.
Cutshin, a longer stream than Hell fer Sartin, arises near Big Rock close to the Harlan County line. Cutshin flows northward through Yeaddiss, Smilax, and on to Wooten, where the waters merge with Meetinghouse and Flackey branches. I need help on how these names came to be.
As good fate would have it, my path crossed with Eliza, daughter of William Curtis Wooten, who made a living rafting logs, trading horses, and raising cattle. Eliza, born on Cutshin in 1918, taught first, second, and third grades at Hell fer Sartin school. Back in the 1930s, Eliza and another teacher hung a curtain to make a two-room school out of a one-room school.
We had a grand time talking about the “old days,” before there were hardly any roads in what is now 412 square miles. As late as the 1880s, Leslie County was mainly forest and accessible by canoe, horseback, and walking in all kinds of weather.
Eliza showed me a painting depicting “The Old Home Place on Cutshin,” mother washing clothes in a kettle beneath a big tree, the well for drawing up water by hand, “battin’ stick” for getting the clothes cleaner, mule-drawn cane mill, and the picket fence encircling the log cabin.
Electricity was a distant dream.
Eliza handed me a special gift—a postcard with a little poem written by Gladys Inhout, a frontier nurse of the Helforsartin Clinic. I’ve added it to my growing collection of tokens, which I keep close by and admire.
Snow and ice will soon be gone,
Spring tides will be startin.
Dog wood trees will be in bloom
All down Helforsartin.
Mountain waters rushing clear
Song birds swiftly dartin.
Little rainbows in the sky
Tears unbidden dim my eyes
At the thought of partin.
When I’m far away outside,
I’ll dream of Helforsartin.