RU::Geography Blog

RU::Geography Blog
News and Views from RU Geography Department, Club & Students

The Blue People In Kentucky

November 3rd, 2006

Current Mood: Alarmed emoticon Alarmed

I am sure that we have all seen the forwarded email usually entitled ‘Six Things You Didn’t Know About Kentucky‘ that makes its way around to our mailbox every so often about the “blue people in Kentucky” and in regard to this email, you’ve probably wondered whether or not this is true or just some creepy old stereotype that originated from the same origins as Deliverance and other creepy mountain tails of the sort or perhaps if it was someone’s misinterpretation of Smurfs.

First of all, the truth is “yes” there were ‘blue people’ in KY. This rumor was true, however, they are not blue in the sense of bright Chevy blue or a similar color. The real color that is being called blue is actually an ashen grayish color that is only mildly blue in appearance. Who were the original ‘blue people’? You ask. The first known ‘blue people’ are The Fugates or as they are known in history and online, “The Blue Fugates of KY”. This brings us to our next question about the Fugates. Why were they blue? Apparently at some point in their family blood line, someone had a rare disease caused by a recessive gene called Methemoglobinemia, which is, in short, a disease that causes blood to carry less oxygen which is turn makes the skin of a Caucasian person have a bluish appearance due to the lack of oxygen.

“The Blue Fugates” were not of a different race, they were a very close family living in the Appalachian Mountains in the early 1800s. The family settled somewhere hear Hazard Kentucky at this time in a place called Troublesome Creek. Martin Fugate and his wife, Mary were thought to be the origin of the ‘Blue Fugates of KY’ because Mary was thought to be a carrier of Methemoglobinema (Met-H). This is usually a recessive gene. In other words, if one parent has it and the other doesn’t, the children usually wont have it. None of Martin and Mary’s descendants would have been blue had they not intermarried with another clan, the Smith’s. Someone else in this clan had the recessive gene and thus produced children with the gene. Because of the small size of the community, several people intermarried and reproduced children carrying this gene resulting in individuals who appeared to have a bluish hue. The first blue Fugate was thought to be born in 1832. By the 1890s, there were about a half dozen ‘blue people’ in the area. One source states that a recent case was reported in 1975, however, there is not any current proof that would substantiate this at this time.

In 1960 A doctor named Madison Cawein took interest in this case and decided to attempt diagnosis and prescribe a cure. He succeeded in tracking down several of the original Fugates. He had previously read about similar documented cases in Alaska. He prescribed the chemical Methylene Blue which replaced the missing enzyme in the blood and corrected the problem. Dr. Cawein documented within minutes of giving a dose of the chemical to one of the Fugates, their skin took on a normal, pink appearance for the first time in their lives.

If you would like to read more about the Fugates, there is a very lengthy article located here that details the disease, facts, information and some interviews with family members in regard to those in the family who were blue.

3 Responses to “The Blue People In Kentucky”

  1. comment number 1 by: Fran

    Great article. As a health care professional, I found it very interesting!

  2. comment number 2 by: dominique walton 12

    i loved the artical but was their any proof that they were blue

  3. comment number 3 by: Administrator

    I have not been able to find a photograph of them, however, medical research would indicate that they had an ashen-gray/blue tone to the skin because of the disorder.

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