How Rabbit Hash, KY got its name

Posted by | September 13, 2011

Please welcome guest author Callie Clare, whose book ‘Potions and Notions: The Legacy of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky’ has just been published by the Rabbit Hash Historical Society. ‘Potions and Notions’ describes the history and community of this small river town, and explores the appeal of the town, the media attention it receives, and how the locals respond to its ever-increasing notoriety. Clare is a lifelong resident of Rabbit Hash. This book is adapted from her MA thesis for her degree from Bowling Green State University’s Department of Popular Culture. Clare is also finishing up her PhD from Indiana University in Folklore and American Studies.

When people visit Rabbit Hash, Kentucky the one piece of information they want is how Rabbit Hash received such a strange name. To begin this long and complex history of the town’s name, it is important to know that Rabbit Hash was first called Carlton. Just down river from Carlton is Carrollton, Kentucky and the mail from the two towns was getting mixed up. Therefore, the postal service requested that those living in Carlton change the name of the town to prevent further confusion. The residents chose Rabbit Hash as the name of the town.

But why Rabbit Hash, of all names? This is the most interesting, most documented, and most argued point in Rabbit Hash’s history. While all documented versions of the story are very different, they all claim the town was named after the dish — rabbit hash.

The first version of the tale was recorded in Professor A.M. Yealey’s book, History of Boone County Kentucky. He claims that the name came from salt traders at a tavern at Meeks Landing, where the ferry boat to Indiana was located at the time. According to Don Clare, who has dedicated many years to the history of the town, these accounts cannot be confirmed because there is no written documentation of a tavern operating in Rabbit Hash.

The story of the name was also misreported in Now and Then, which credits Mary Draper Ingles(1) with the name, stating that during the time she spent in the area as a captive, she served her captors this dish.

The validity of this account has been seriously questioned because of the dates. This story takes place practically seventy years before the General Store (the first building in the town) was built and some twenty years before Daniel Boone (credited with the settlement of Kentucky) even entered the state. Therefore no people existed in the area to perpetuate the name.

Rabbit Hash's General Store in 1894. Photo by Reuben Gold Thwaites.

Rabbit Hash's General Store in 1894. Photo by Reuben Gold Thwaites.

The story of Rabbit Hash that an inquirer will most likely hear today was recorded and embellished by William H. Nelson, the editor and publisher of an Indiana newspaper and a school teacher who lived in Rabbit Hash. His version originally appeared in The Lawrenceburgh Register around 1849 but was also included at the end of a story he wrote entitled ‘The Buried Treasure: A Rabbit Hash Mystery.’ The story takes place during a devastating flood on Christmas day, 1847:

Instead of the usual rejoicing, a pall of gloom overspread the community. No roast turkey and mince pies; no eggnog nor rum flip were to be had nor expected. Instead of the usual hilarity the masculine portion of the community stood around in sheltered places and watched the great flood sweeping by in majestic grandeur, bearing on its turbulent breast a great wealth of miscellaneous drift….

Conversation was spiritless, and few words were uttered, save about some scene or incident connected with the watery panorama before them. At length one of the crowd, stimulated by hunger and visions of many past savory Christmas dinners, turned the talk to this interesting theme.

Then, in turn, each one joined in by telling what he wished for or hoped to have on his festive board. One said he would have roast goose, caught in the drift the day before; another had a fat hen, caught in a similar manner; another a fat ‘possum, unwarily caught napping and grinning in a hollow log; and so they went on from hog to hominy, until all but one of the party had announced their bill or fare.

This one was the jester, although the butt of the company. He stood somewhat apart, shivering violently, not so much from the effects of the cold, however, as from the chronic influence on his system of over-indulgence in any and every kind of alcoholic stimulant that he could buy, beg or borrow. When it was noticed that he had taken no part in the gastronomical conversation someone asked:

‘Well, Frank, what are you going to have for your Christmas dinner?’

With a leer and a wink that seemed to intensify his fit of shivering, his teeth chattering like castanets, he answered in just two words, ‘Rabbit Hash!’(2)

As the story goes, the locals referred to Frank as “Rabbit Hash” and over time that moniker became associated with the town.

This has been adopted as the official version of the tale by the Rabbit Hash locals, and because of that, it is the most widely known. It is interesting to note that this version is also the only one that credits the locals with the naming of the town; the other tales give credit to outside travelers or well-known heroines. In a way, promoting the tale featuring the locals leaves the Rabbit Hash residents of today entitlement to the town that they call home.

Rabbit Hash's General Store in 2011.

Rabbit Hash's General Store in 2011.

(1) Mary Draper Ingles is a well-known heroine in the Northern Kentucky area because Big Bone Lick, just down river from Rabbit Hash, is thought to be the point of her escape from Indians who captured her from her home in Virginia. By following the Ohio, Kanawha, and New Rivers, she eventually made her way back home. Her journey has been made famous through many different retellings of her tale.

(2) Nelson, William H., The Buried Treasure: A Rabbit Hash Mystery (Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, Inc., 1997), 17-20.

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