WIRT'S "LEGEND OF BLOODY HOLLOW" - The "Aunt Kitty" Mystery

By William C. Blizzard, February 27, 1966

On W.Va. 14, about four miles northwest of Elizabeth, the Parkersburg-bound motorist may be startled by a highway sign pointing toward Bloody Hollow.

Despite its grim name, the hollow in question is most peaceful in appearance. Young and craggy in its narrow upper reaches, it expands into broad, dignified baldness as it approaches the highway, looking no more dangerous than Alfred Hitchcock, but, like Hitchcock, concealing mystery in its ample fields.

Whence came its incarnadine appellation? Did a deed most foul dye this bit of Wirt-County soil? Was this verdant valley the location of some mountain feud which tipped the green grass with the scarlet lifeblood of misguided zealots? Or was it merely the location, in past years, of the local slaughterhouse?

Practical fellows who dislike romantic tales might prefer the last explanation. But it isn't true. There is a Legend of Bloody Hollow.

Louis Reed, Elizabeth attorney and politician who was born within dagger-tossing distance of Bloody Hollow, knows all about the legend and such fact as may be proved. He learned much of the legend from his mother, Mrs. Emma Belle Reed, who is now 87 years old. And the fact what little is actually recorded he found out for himself.

The Legend of Bloody Hollow boasts no headless horseman. It has a grayhaired heroine, albeit a somewhat picaresque one. Her name was Katherine Mullenax, born Katherine Hammond. She lived to be nearly 80 (if my calculations are correct), and was well-liked by her neighbors, who considered her gentle and inoffensive. For more than a quarter-century, everyone called her Aunt Kitty.

I can remember her, says Reed,and I remember attending her funeral in 1910. She's buried on my property, or, rather, in the Hammond private cemetery, which is surrounded by my property.

Aunt Kitty was well-liked and a good neighbor, but there was a story about her which was whispered around family hearths and during quilting bees.

They say, one housewife would tell another, that Aunt Kitty once killed a man. Killed him in a cornfield, with a hoe.

This is not the sort of thing you tell strangers about a nice old lady, and you certainly don't ask the nice old lady herself to elaborate the story. Aunt Kitty volunteered no details. But in the area around Elizabeth the legend about Aunt Kitty persisted and was well-known.

In time, adults nearly forgot the tale, although they sometimes mentioned it within the hearing of children; and the children delighted, in those pre-TV and pre-radio days, in giving themselves goose pimples by amplifying the legend with terrifying, gory details.

As a result, some children came to view gentle Aunt Kitty Mullenax as a sinister, dangerous woman. She might, for all they knew, be the head of a gang of pirate cutthroats which, at the proper signal, would ravage the countryside.

Despite these dire, youthful expectations, half-hoped-for, Aunt Kitty lived out her blameless years in peace until, in 1910, she was buried in the Hammond cemetery across the highway from the valley now called Bloody Hollow.

Many years passed. Louis Reed, who had attended Aunt Kittys funeral, moved away from Bloody Hollow. So did the Hammond family to which Kitty belonged.

But Reed came back to the area, and in 1953 was named clerk of the Fourth Circuit Court. Inasmuch as his home faces Bloody Hollow and he often had occasion to recall the legend connected with Aunt Kitty Mullenax, Reed decided to check court records. If Aunt Kitty had actually killed a man with a hoe, it was possible that some legal record of it existed.

“Sure enough,” says Reed, “I did find something. It wasn’t much, but it proves that the legend was at least in some part based on fact. During the Civil War, court was suspended from April, 1861 to April, 1863. For the latter term of court I found an indictment. It charged Katherine and Solomon Mullenax and Michael Hammond with the murder of ‘one Naylor.’ That’s the only name in the record: ‘one Naylor.’”

“That’s all there is. Just an indictment, and no details. The case never came to trial. Naylor, whoever he was, must have been killed sometime between 1861 and 1863. The rest is all conjecture.”

The legend goes that Aunt Kitty, then a young woman, was working in a cornfield along with her husband, Solomon Mullenax, and her father, Michael Hammond, when a man attacked Hammond. Kitty’s father would have been about 58 at that time.

Michael Hammond was helped less by Soloman’s wisdom than by Kitty’s right arm. Kitty, according to the local legend, struck her father’s attacker in the head with a hoe, with permanent consequences. That is as far as even the legend goes.

Who was ‘one Naylor?’ Why did he attack Hammond? No one knows, or knows the disposition of Naylor’s body. The incident occurred during the Civil War, and may have been due to friction ensuing from that conflict. Or the fatal blow, may have resulted from differences more personal than ideological. No one knows, or is saying at this late date.

History has quietly closed a door upon the complete story, leaving visible only the name “Blood Hollow” as a latchstring at which the curious tug.

Aunt Kitty is buried in the Hammond cemetery, although no headstone marks her grave. Among descendents who live nearby are one granddaughter, Glenna Watson and a great-great granddaughter, Mrs. Norma Lee.

The Hammond family to which Kitty’s father belonged (Michael died in 1878) moved to Oregon in 1905. Vida Hammond died in Oregon in 1965 and willed a sum to the Beulah Presbyterian Church for upkeep of the old Hammond cemetery, a cemetery containing less than 20 graves.