Rabbit Hash - About That Name . . .


Well. . . It’s probably incumbent upon anyone who posts a web page that touches the history of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky to tackle The Name.

Here goes.  All 9 versions. Who knows, one of them may actually be true.

There is general consensus among sources that the original name was Carleton, and there was a post office established there with that name on January 3, 1879, but two months later, the post office folks made them change it because of confusion with Carrollton. It changed from Carleton to Rabbit Hash. Why change it to Rabbit Hash? Was it Rabbit Hash before it was Carlton?

In a word, yes.  There is a listing for Rabbit Hash in George Hawes' Kentucky State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1859 and 1860. Read it here.

The stories:

1.  Some folks have imagined that the famous Mary Ingles made hash from the many rabbits in the area.  Since other English speaking people in the area would have been few, and because the Indians probably didn't name the place Rabbit Hash, this version is the least likely to be true of all the versions here, but some people once published it (Lents, Dycus and West, Then and Now, 1977), so here it is.

2.  The man who has done the research on the names of virtually all Kentucky place names is Robert Rennick. His book, Kentucky Places Names, should, if you’ve come this far into our web site, be on your shelf. He cites A.M. Yealey’s History of Boone County, from 1960. Rennick says two travelers, in the flood of 1816, looking for something to eat, asked about the availability of food. They were told that because the flood drove so many rabbits into the hills, where they were killed for food, there were plenty of rabbit's for hash available to eat.

Yealey says one Mr. Meek's ran a ferry from Rising Sun to Rabbit Hash from 1816 to 1840, and that river traffic in the area was heavy with salt agents and fur agents, and that two of these agents, going opposite ways, talked about whether food was available at Meek's Ferry.   At that point he relates the story repeated by Rennick above.

3. The Kentucky Times-Star, on May 21, 1923, carried this version of the generally told version:

How “Rabbit Hash” Derived Its Name
Of Unusual Appellation Being applied to Town

(By the Associated Press), Grant, Ky., May 21 – How the name Rabbit Hash found its place in the directory of Kentucky towns is related by R. T. Stephens, one of the residents of that town, in the following manner:

“Christmas Day, 1847, the Ohio River was at flood stage. The residents of Rabbit Hash that were on the banks had been flooded, and the owners were compelled to seek quarters with their more fortunate neighbors. Snow, two feet deep, covered the ground, and that, combined with extreme cold, made communication with the outside world extremely uncomfortable and somewhat hazardous.

Instead of the usual rejoicing, a pall of gloom overspread the country. No roast turkey and mince pie, nor eggnog, nor rum flip were to be had, or expected. On this Christmas morning conversation was spiritless and few words were uttered.

“At length, one stimulated by hunger and the visions of past Christmas dinners turned to talk on that interesting theme. Then, in turn, each joined the conversation. One said that he would have roast goose, caught in the drift; another had a fat hen, caught in a similar manner; another a fat possum caught napping in a hollow log, and so they went from hominy to hog, until all but one announced their bill of fare for the day. This one had been made the butt of the conversation. He stood somewhat apart, shivering violently. When it was noticed that he had taken no part in the gastronomical conversation, some one asked:

“Well, Frank, what are you going to have for your Christmas dinner?” He answered in just two words: “Rabbit Hash.”

Note the date given in this version- Christmas, 1847 - is 32 years before the name changes from Carlton to Rabbit Hash, and years after the version in #2.

4.  The common variation on this story is that the punch line was delivered not by a poor unfortunate wretch, but by the town wit, as a joke.

On October 15, 1983, an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer not only repeats the Christmas story above, but also gives a name to the man who uttered the two words – Frank Elson.

5.  But then, the Enquirer, on May 11, 1975, also says:

“Rabbit Hash came into being with an old inn, now gone, which was built here in the early 1800's.  It was a favorite stop for flatboat operators on the Ohio, who particularly liked the rabbit hash cooked up at the inn.”

6.  On November 18, 1901 from the Diary of C. W. Hotchkiss, we get this:

Mr. Grey, who has entertained us with many stories since we left, told us how Rabbit Hash got its name.  According to Mr. Grey:  Many years ago a group of disgruntled settlers from Marietta set out in three flat boats for St. Louis.  They were beset by every hardship and mishap possible.  He explained these in great detail.  Finally after their many trials they arrived at Fort Washington [Cincinnati] where they prevailed upon the custodian of the fort to revictual their little flotilla.  It seems that all that was available for provender were carrots, potatoes, and home made whiskey, but these items were in great supply.  So the flat boats were loaded with all they could hold.  The gladdened travelers went on down the river, stopping about where we are now.  Here they found, in large abundance, wild rabbits.  They concocted a great stew, made of equal parts of all the ingredients they had: rabbits, carrots, potatoes, and whiskey.  The fumes from this stew brought the denizens of the area, both white man and Indian, from miles around. They traded everything they had for the stew.  One of the enterprising travelers from Marietta painted a large sign that said “Rabbit Hash.”  They sold their delicious concoction to all who traveled the river and became very rich.  One dark night, the notorious Hymie Herzog and his river pirates raided the place.  They wiped out everything and everybody.  All except the great sign.  Slowly the sign rotted, but the name remains, “RABBIT HASH,” even to this very day.  At least that’s the way Mr. Grey tells it.  As said before, he loves tall tales.  We did not retire until 9:30 p.m. because of Mr. Grey’s long winded story.” (– Entry on November 18, 1901 from the Diary of C. W. Hotchkiss, published by the Price Hill Historical Society in 1998)

7.  The Kentucky Times Star, on March 2, 1955 carried an entirely different version:

Rabbit Hash!

A somewhat unusual name for a community, yes, but still pretty much at home with names like Big Bone, Beaver Lick, Gunpowder, or even Idlewild.

Boone County Historical Society learned recently how Rabbit Hash got its name. The explanation came in a letter to Mrs. Schuyler Lockwood, Florence, and was revealed by William Fitzgerald, society secretary.

The writer of the letter was Mrs. Millicent Piatt Floyd, who formerly lived near Rabbit Hash. Her grandfather, John Piatt, built a rambling white house near East Bend on the Ohio River, which was washed away in the flood of 1937.

Her uncle, Robert Piatt, ferryboatman between Rabbit Hash and Rising Sun, Ind., and “quite a practical joker,” played a leading role in the village’s naming, Mrs. Floyd recalled.

A young doctor of the community known only as Cowen (believed to be Dr. C. L. Cowen, who died in Rising Sun in 1920) was fond of rabbit and often hunted them, according to Mrs. Floyd. Once, he returned with a full game bag and hung his bunnies up to freeze while he went about making his calls.

Robert Piatt took the rabbits, and later invited the physician to his home for a dinner of rabbit hash. Accepting, Dr. Cowen enjoyed himself and his dinner but didn’t know he was eating his own game. As the joke spread, the victim became known as “the rabbit hash doctor,” Mrs. Floyd wrote.

“The village, from whence he came, finally accepted the name Rabbit Hash,” she added.

8.  On the other hand, Reuben Gold Thwaites, who took some of the pictures on the NKY Views Rabbit Hash page, published his Afloat on the Ohio, republished as Pilgrims on the Ohio, in 1888. His account of Rabbit Hash, “a crude hamlet of a hundred souls,” comes from two men playing checkers, and a half dozen spectators of the checker game. Thwaites asks them about the origin of the name. Here’s his account:

“I tried to ascertain the origin of the name Rabbit Hash, as applied to the hamlet. Everyone had a different opinion, evidently invented on the spur of the moment, but all “’lowed” that none but the tobacco agent could tell. And he off in the country for the day; as for themselves, they had, they confessed, never thought of it before. It always had been Rabbit Hash, and like enough would be to the end of time.”

9. Or, there's our daughter Andrea's opinion. She suggests that maybe the namesake rabbit was an early mayor of the town (you know in recent years that a dog was actually elected mayor of Rabbit Hash, right?) who very literally came for dinner.

So which account is true; which one has the best ring of truth?

NKY Views would point out that Thwaites, the man who was told the tobacco agent was the only one who knew,  takes particular notice of Rabbit Hash residents in the 1880’s who are prone to invent explanations “on the spur of the moment.” Or, in the words of Chester Geaslen, “at such places as depicted here, there is never a dearth of news.  If it does not come, though. . . it is manufactured, and then sworn to.” Since we don't believe that's changed at any point in the last 125 years, we believe it prudent to wait on the tobacco agent alluded to in Thwaites account to return, because if he does in fact know the origin of the name, he’s the only one.