Eldridge Hutchison

Eldridge Henderson Hutchison, a son of James Alexander Hutchison and Nancy O’Neal Hutchison, was born on 4 April 1863 in what is now Monroe County West Virginia, in a family that had come to North America from Ulster sometime before 1738. They settled in Orange County, Virginia and around 1800 moved to the Trap Hill area of what is now Raleigh County, West Virginia. It was a musical family and Eldridge learned to play the fiddle and banjo. He married Cordelia Adeline Lester in 1880 and just after the birth of his first grandson Frank Hutchison in 1897, he moved his family, including eight children and grandson Frank, from Raleigh County to Logan County, because he wanted to play music there. At first he worked as a day laborer at Mud Fork while playing the fiddle for dances. Within a year or so he took a job at the Camp Branch mine near Dingess in Mingo County, and he became known as a fine fiddler in his short residence there. It was in that mine that he met his death in a slate fall on 18 June 1903, while working with his eldest son. Not long after, his grandson Frank took up the guitar and between 1926 and 1929 recorded for OKeh Records; he is now highly regarded for his varied repertoire of pre-blues and blues as well as dance tunes and fiddle tunes. In February 2018 Frank was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame and at the ceremony I acknowledged Eldridge’s influence on his grandson. Eldridge Hutchison is buried at the Dingess Cemetery in Dingess, West Virginia, near the mine where he was killed.

—Gloria Goodwin Raheja, July 2021

Source: This biographical sketch is based on Raheja’s research for her forthcoming book, Logan County Blues: Frank Hutchison in the Sonic Landscape of the Appalachian Coalfields.


The Search for Eldridge

Part 1:  False Trails

Those who know me are aware that I will often go to great lengths to solve a mystery, especially if it involves forays into the woods and exploring new places. If it involves talking with strangers in remote southern WV hollows, and poking around old cemeteries, which it often does, all the better. Today was once such day.

In the summer of 2019 I joined my colleagues, Gloria Goodwin-Raheja, and Brandon Ray Kirk, on a wonderful three-day jaunt around Logan, Mingo, and Lincoln counties in southern WV, where we pursued the graves of long-gone musicians whose names would go unrecognized to all but the most curious of traditional musicians and musical scholars.

While largely successful at our mission, Gloria suggested there was one last grave she would like to find—that of one Eldridge Hutchison. Eldridge was the grandfather Logan County singer and blues guitarist, Frank Hutchison, and was reported to be Frank’s first musical influence (we had visited Frank’s grave individually on separate occasions).

Gloria had dug up the mine fatality report the showed Eldridge meeting his demise in a slate fall in 1903 in the Dingess area…possible the Pearl Mines. We had some pretty good information on where Eldridge was buried, a listing on the Find a Grave site that had a picture of Eldridge, along with photos of the cemetery gate, and Eldridge’s marker. So on our last day of hunting we checked our maps and made the trek to the Marcum Cemetery in Delbarton.

Now, Delbarton seemed an odd place for Eldridge to be buried for several reasons—he had no relatives in Delbarton and Delbarton is roughly 20 miles from Dingess, so the trip would have had expenses related to that travel, and we just figured he would have been buried much closer to the site of the accident that did him in. Regardless, we went to the Marcum Cemetery and quickly decided that this was not where we would find Eldridge.

We stopped at the local gas station and talked with several locals about the grave in question and received a variety of suggestion on other nearby cemeteries would should investigate, which we did to no avail—three more, to be exact. Eldridge would have to wait for another trip.

Our trip over and all of us back at home, we started putting out feelers for other potential locations. I found a friend who knew where the cemetery gate in the picture was located. Brandon agreed to go check that one out…. on a high ridge in Mingo County. No luck. I called several funeral homes and monument companies in southern WV and was rewarded with a copy of several pages from “the little black book of cemeteries” that one monument company in Charleston used to find these little backwoods lots. A few more things to investigate, but we turned up nothing, and their locations still just didn’t make much sense.

Fast forward to a few months later. I was playing a gig at a local Morgantown bar, Mundy’s Place, and mentioned that the song I was about to play referenced my hometown of Logan, WV. From the back of the darkened room came a voice that said, “I’m glad it is not about Mudfork (a community in Logan).” I answered back that I might sing one about the Dingess Tunnel (a famous RR, now automobile tunnel down that way), to which the mystery voice said, “better be careful going through there at night.”

After my set, I went to identify the mystery voice. Turns out the fellow grew up in Dingess and we had a grand time talking about the area. I then said to him, “I am looking for a grave of a guy who died in a slate fall in 1903, probably at the Pearl Mines, he was a musician, and I believe he is likely buried near Dingess.” The ‘voice’ said, “he is in my family cemetery!” “I didn’t even tell you his name.” “I don’t need to know his name…. there are two graves in my family cemetery that are not family—my grandfather told me that one of them was a musician miner that was killed at Pearl and our cemetery was the closest to the mine, so they buried him in there.” He went on to say, “he is in the upper left corner…back up near the edge of the woods…his marker is not a regular stone, but something like a little seat or bench.” Well…. I about fell over because he described the marker just like that in the picture.

Fast forward to Thursday, August 8, 2020. I hopped up this morning and made the drive to the family cemetery outside of Dingess and, my God, what a drive it was. I stopped in Dingess, fully masked due to the COVID pandemic, and asked some folks at a local garage to confirm that my directions to get to the cemetery were correct. They were and I was off for the final leg of the journey. If you have never been to Dingess, WV, suffice it to say it is but a shell of the place that enjoys a well-deserved rough and tumble reputation in the history books. There are a few folks who recall the heydays, but there is not much left in the way of structures that would give anyone an indication of the booming community that once occupied the bottomland by Twelvepole Creek.   

The cemetery was about 8 miles further into the woods past Dingess—through the infamous Dingess tunnel, a turn onto a side road, a turn off that road, a turn off that road, and then 6 miles of dirt road, with the last 4 serving as both roadway and creekbed...not a dry bed, either.

The farther into the journey I got, the more narrow the “road” and the more frequent the creek stretches. I pushed my 2005 Subaru Forester to the limits…water up to the bottom of the doors, roadway barely wide enough to pass at times. About a mile after what was then unknown to me as the final creek crossing—a particularly dicey one at that (one that hung me up both coming and going)—the thought entered my mind that I was likely going to be walking the 8 miles back to Dingess to see if I could get some assistance in getting my car the hell out of there.

Just then I saw another creek crossing ahead—the road heading into what looked like a substantial clearing-- but the road also turned away a bit to go beside the creek. I then saw a rather large, bearded, tattooed man, Little Sid Moore as I came to learn, walking from the clearing toward my car. Now—here is where most might get worried. Me, I was thinking, “I’ll bet this guy knows where the cemetery is!” So, out of the car I jumped and yelled across the creek that I was looking for the Sturgell Cemetery. He said, “man….you found it….300 feet on up the road.” You can park there, or you can drive on up…you’ll see the outdoor chapel...park there and the cemetery is up to your left…can’t miss it….can’t go any farther, either.”

We chatted for a few, then I started for the cemetery. Just as I pulled away I heard his female friend (she was sitting on a sofa under a tree in the clearing) say, “tell him to watch out for the bear.” My ears perked up and I said, “did she say watch out for a bear?” “Yep,” he said…”a momma bear with a 2 year old…she’s been causing me all kinds of problems this summer….chasing me all over the damn place. Pretty aggressive, that one.  Keep your eyes open.”

With my heart pumping from both the bear possibility and the assumption that I was about to lay eyes on the elusive grave of Eldridge Hutchison, I made my way up to the cemetery and climbed the small rise.

I saw a bench type marker almost immediately, but it was in the middle of the hillside…not up near the back corner as my source as said it would be, so it was suspect. Closer inspection revealed it was for a woman of the family name. I scanned the cemetery—it was not large at all—and could not find the desired object. I walked up into the woods—the beautiful, damp, thick, mushroom filled, cucumber tree dotted, woods for a look around. Nothing.

Mr. Moore came up to assist and he could not recall such a stone as I described, yet his relation, my source in Morgantown, had said it was here. I cannot begin to relate how disappointed I was at not finding the marker. I fully expected it to even have an aura around it, as if to say, “Chris…you found me…I’ve been waiting.”

The Hutchison family history placed Eldridge in a Marcum Cemetery and there were Marcums buried up in the upper left where Eldridge was supposed to be (not that finding Marcums in a graveyard anywhere in that vicinity is an oddity), but it was clear this was not the Marcum Cemetery that showed up in the Find A Grave listing for Eldridge.  That Find A Grave site can be both wonderfully useful and terribly misleading.  

I went back to Mr. Moore’s house….a little cobbled together cabin maybe 15 x 20 where he lives with no electricity nor running water. I asked if he had some solar panels for electricity and he said, “ man, I don’t need ‘em. When it gets dark, I go to bed.” He told me about bear, deer, coyotes, elk, starry nights, and just loving being out in the woods like that. I suggested that Eldridge might come to him in the night to reveal his hiding place, and he didn't miss a beat by saying he would not be surprised if that happened. His partner, Kim, and I talked about mushroom pictures...she had a phone-full of photos she had taken just yesterday...same as I had done up here in Morgantown yesterday.

We shared some coffee…distanced…and talked about stuff. Graves, burial traditions, Matewan, frontier history (he is a reenactor). I played some banjo tunes for him and he thought that was a great early birthday present (his day being tomorrow).

He invited me to stop back by anytime (I asked him how soon I could start---revealing my uncertainty that I would be getting back to the hard road anytime that day). He laughed and just said to go out the way I came in and when I came to that one bad crossing, to stay to the right because of an unnoticeable big hole in the creek bed on the left that will get you stuck for certain. How I missed that hole on the way in is anyone's guess. 

He also provided me with more names of people, including his dad, who might know where the elusive Eldridge is buried. I’ll be following up with them, you can count on that.

Oh, yeah…ended the day by calling up another stranger—an old fiddler I’d learned of at Glenville 25 years ago. We agreed to meet up in the Chief Logan State Park. We did just that and played fiddle tunes for a few hours. He is Mr. James Howes….92 years young and a great-grandson of Devil Anse Hatfield. More on that on another page! 

Part 2:  Eldridge Found

Once back in Morgantown from last week's trip to find Eldridge, and to visit with Mr. Howes, I set about expanding my list of possible contacts who might steer me in the direction of Eldridge’s grave. Little Sid Moore suggested his dad, Rev. Sidney Moore. The fellow at the Dingess Service Center suggested Woodrow Moore (Sidney’s brother). I already had the name of Arnold Dillon, given to me by the contact who told me about the Sturgell Cemetery. I messaged my sister in Logan with a request for her to look up those numbers in the local phone book as I could not find their numbers on line.

I was able to reach Arnold Dillon…a long-time resident of Dingess and the local historian. We had a wonderful conversation about the Sturgell Cemetery and he assured me that Hutchinson was NOT in his cemetery (just as I had found on my trip down last week). He could not recollect such a name in the area and also suggested that Rev. Sidney Moore might know something, as might Woodrow. I tried both of those numbers, but could not reach anyone.

Meanwhile, I reached out to folks deeper in Mingo County, up on Newsome Ridge—to see if I could find anyone willing to go to the Marcum Cemetery up there to look for the stone. There was absolutely no good reason to look there, other than a residual collective family memory that Eldridge was buried in a Marcum cemetery, so I was checking every Mingo County Marcum Cemetery I could find off the list.

A relatively new Facebook friend, Ronald Nelson, had gotten involved in the saga due to some crossover between Hutchison and one of his own distant family members—the Logan County musician Dick Justice (whose grave-hunting story is detailed on the Dick Justice page). 

On a whim, Ronald reached out to a person known on Find A Grave as ANONYMOUS—the person who had posted the picture of Eldridges’ stone and a picture on the Newsome area Marcum Cemetery on the Find A Grave website. I had reached out to ANONYMOUS in the past and had not gotten very far with any new information—mainly just confirming that the information on the site was incorrect.  Gloria had also spoken with ANONYMOUS many years ago.  

Ronald’s inquiry seemed to spark some new interest in ANONYMOUS and she supplied a personal email, along with an invitation for me to reach out to her to discuss the known and unknown about the mystery. 

Before long I was talking with ANONYMOUS on the phone. Turns out that ANONYMOUS is a great-grandchild of Eldridge. She knew the information she had posted on Find A Grave was not completely accurate, and she was interested in correcting it. The conversation resulted in clarification of some facts in my head: the picture of Eldridges’ headstone had come from a DVD copy of a VHS tape from a family reunion some 30 years ago. The person filming the headstone could be heard saying they were in the Marcum Cemetery. I asked ANONYMOUS to examine the video for any surrounding stones, landmarks, and comments for any other clues as to where this might be. She said there were none, but that the family historian, who was also the man who had arranged for the purchase and placement of the marker, was in the video and he did not correct the narrator on the Marcum Cemetery designation, so she felt the Marcum descriptor must be correct. The only other description we had on the location was something Gloria had obtained from Elizabeth Tackett at the Man library.  According to Elizabeth, a distant relative of Eldridge's, the cemetery was 'near the Dingess tunnel and a big poplar tree.’ ANONYMOUS was thinking that the Buster Deskins-Flem Marcum Cemetery was the most likely ‘Marcum’ cemetery.

Armed with this new information from ANONYMOUS, I set out to find the Buster Deskins-Flem Marcum Cemetery. While I found references to it, I was unable to pinpoint it on Google Maps. I contacted an old friend from Mingo, Tim Caudill, now living just down the street from me in Morgantown, for assistance. Tim put out a few feelers and within thirty minutes had directions for me. It lay about 5 miles from the Camp Branch mine where Eldridge was killed in the 1903 roof fall. I was able to find someone on Find A Grave who was familiar with the cemetery in question and she responded quickly to my inquiry with the following comment, “I can assure you he is not in that cemetery.”

While I hit another dead end with this cemetery, the search for it opened my eyes to a new way to look for other small family cemeteries. I was poking around with the WV Property Viewer tool online—a tool that lets you look at tax maps overlain with satellite imagery. While you can sometimes clearly see a cemetery on a satellite image of an area, often times the vegetative cover is so thick that you can’t make out anything but the vegetation.

Using the Property Viewer tool, I could eventually navigate to the black and white line-drawn maps of the tax parcels.  In those I noticed that I could now see little square parcels—small in-holdings within larger parcels. Recognizing that those little parcels seemed to be in the spots of cemeteries I had located, I started clicking on them and confirmed the observation. If they were not cemeteries, they were public utility parcels. I could now quickly scan large areas of property for little squares. If I found one, I could click on it and confirm it was a cemetery, then I could download a PDF map that more often than not included the name of the cemetery. BINGO! My searching went much more quickly and I was developing a list of places to hit next time I could get down there. I focused on the Camp Branch area and panned out from there…I would visit any cemetery close to that site for again, we felt it unlikely that Eldridge had been carried far from the place of the accident for his burial.

My inquires to folks over on Newsome Ridge were not yielding any results, but in looking for the phone number of another person over that way to contact I stumbled upon a Facebook group I had seen last year. The group was Marrowbone and Jennies Creek Cemeteries, and their stated goal was to map and document cemeteries in that region. I decided I’d send a message to their site and see if anyone answered.

As I awaited a response from the Marrowbone group, I acted upon a thought Gloria, ANONYMOUS, and I had that maybe the family of Eldridge had at some point erected a marker back in their home area of Raleigh County—that perhaps the picture we had was not from the Dingess area after all.

As I now knew that a grandson, Silas Hutchison, had arranged for the marker, I reached out to the Sears Monument Company to see if they had any record of such a marker or purchaser. The Sears Monument Company has worked across southern WV and KY since 1911. I had done a similar search for monument companies in Charleston and Huntington last year. The Sears rep answered my inquiry with a very long list of markers they had created for, or purchased by, a Hutchison.

Unfortunately, there was nothing for Eldridge nor Silas. I had even called a contact in Beckley, a man who gifted me with a very neat fiddle collection (another long ‘mystery solved’ story you can read about at the John Tutterway page) to see if he knew any Hutchisons he could contact.

At about 6:45 on a Wednesday evening a response from the Marrowbone group hit my Facebook Messenger account. The fellow, Zach Fitzpatrick as I came to know, said he’d try to help and asked for some information. I sent a pic of the stone and the Marcum cemetery gate. His reply stunned me, “looks like you were up at the Marcum Cemetery on Big Laurel Branch of Marrowbone..that is where that gate is located. This Eldridge Hutchison you are searching for is actually buried on Dingess at the old Trace Cemetery—it is very grown over.” I replied, “are you kidding me? You know where he is buried?”

The next message included five pictures of the marker from a trip he had taken to the Trace Cemetery in 2017. Zach was documenting cemeteries in the Dingess area where is family roots were deep.  He didn’t know who Eldridge was, but recalled the stone.  The Trace/Dingess cemetery is not more than one quarter mile from the Camp Branch accident site! We always figured they would have taken Eldridge to the closest cemetery…turns out the closest cemetery was NOT a Marcum cemetery, but the original Dingess community cemetery!

After talking at length with Zach, and sharing the news with Gloria and ANONYMOUS, I began to wonder how I had not seen this cemetery plot on the Parcel Viewer map. When I went back to the map and did the parcel research, the cemetery turned out to be on a rather large parcel…not the little postage stamp inholdings like the other family cemeteries. There was no visual reason for me to click on that parcel!

Not once did anyone in Dingess ever reference that cemetery, so overgrown and forgotten it was.

So, there was Eldridge, hiding in plain sight in a cemetery right near where is was killed, as we suspected was the case, and in a cemetery that is partially visible from the road if you know where to look.

All that was left is to clean up the grave, inspect the grounds for the bronze flower vase that used to be affixed to the marker, and to have a seat on the bench to play Eldridge a little of the Cumberland Gap on the banjo.

That’s all—unless, of course, there happened to be an additional name inscribed on Eldridge's marker--that of Infant Lacy--and certain parties were interested in untangling that mystery!


Videos and Pictures of the Search for Eldridge

Videos and Pictures of the Hunt for Eldridge H. Hutchison


Revisiting Eldridge's Grave with Gloria Goodwin Raheja in 2021

As stated earlier, the hunt for Eldridge would not have even crossed my mind had it not been for a comment Gloria made during our summer 2019 research trip.  She remarked in an almost casual way that it would be neat to find the grave of Eldridge Hutchison, as he was the grandfather of her main focus, Frank Hutchison.   Little did we know that finding Eldridge would turn into the ghost hunt that it did.  As strongly as Gloria wished to come back down to WV from MN to field check the information that Zach Fitzpatrick provided as to where Eldridge was buried, COVID prevented that trip and it was unclear when the next window of opportunity might open for Gloria to visit, so I, along with Brandon Ray Kirk, went ahead an confirmed the location Zach provided.  I must say that while it was plenty exciting to finally locate the grave, it was somewhat of a hollow victory to not have Gloria there with us. 

On the bright side of things, a window did open in late July of 2021, and Gloria was able to make the trek to WV.  I picked her up in Charleston and we visited several sites related to the subjects in her book--sites she had not yet seen.  We visited sites in the counties of Lincoln, Wayne, Boone, Logan, and Mingo.  The Mingo County grave sites, while all fairly close to the main road, were on steep ground and not so easy to access.  The cemetery where Eldridge is buried, while almost completely taken over by the woods, is relatively easy to get to, and Eldridge's grave is close to the entrance.  On a steamy July morning, Gloria was finally able to visit Eldridge...a character who had captured her imagination, and who had led us on perhaps the wildest of all goose chases!