Web Wanderings: The blue-skinned people of Troublesome Creek.

In Troublesome Creek, Kentucky – thanks to a rare, recessive gene – some descendants of Martin Fugate and Elizabeth Smith have been born – and have lived their whole lives – with blue skin.

I have no direct knowledge of this phenomena. I’ve never been to Troublesome Creek. (But, oh, how I adore that name.) I cannot find any public domain photographs of the condition. Still, I am fascinated.

While web wandering, I searched through dozens of sites to find the most reputable sources of information to share:

The ABC News website captions this image as a hand-colored black and white photo of Martin Fugate and his family. The source is shown as unknown.

In case you don’t have the time or inclination to read through those websites, allow me to relate the highlights.

It seems that Martin Fugate emigrated to Kentucky’s Troublesome Creek in approximately 1820. (From Virginia? France? Sources differ on this and other details.) Family lore says that his skin was blue, which seems to be confirmed by the above image, (but remember it is hand-tinted.) He married a local woman with fair skin, who nevertheless seems to have carried the same recessive trait he did. They had seven children, four of whom were born blue. These seven children married into the few local families in the area and founded a distinct bloodline.

That bloodline is complicated. I’ve been pouring over the available data, and I can’t quite trace my way through the tangled genealogical pedigree (provided by a descendant of the Fugates) which is viewable at the Indiana University website listed above, not even with the help of this reference: Pedigree Analysis.

The complication stems mostly from the fact that one of Martin and Elizabeth’s children, Zachariah (who was blue) married his mother’s sister. This marriage resulted in a generation of indeterminate number, which included Levi. (Or Levy.) Levi married and produced eight children, including a girl named Luna.

Luna was, perhaps, the bluest of all the Fugates. She gave birth to thirteen children, none of whom were blue. In 1975, however, her great-grandson was born deep blue, in a hospital not far from where Martin and Elizabeth first settled. As he aged, he lost the blue coloration and is thought to be just a carrier.

For more information about the condition itself, you’ll have to wade through the websites I provided, because I’ve developed a massive headache from tracing lines on that chart. (Two bits of pertinent information: 1: the condition is treatable, and medication can eliminate the blue coloration if it is taken daily 2: there doesn’t seem to be any adverse side effects to the condition – most of those who exhibited the color lived long, healthy lives.)

Before I go, I want to offer my personal thoughts about this. Many of the websites to which I didn’t link took an avid, breathless sort of tone which emphasized the fact that this condition came about because of inbreeding. I was offended. It isn’t hard for me to understand how geographical and socioeconomic factors contributed to the spread of this gene.

As a story-teller, I have to wonder if Martin journeyed to Troublesome Creek because there was a family there that would not treat him as an outcast because of the color of his skin. (Even if neither Elizabeth nor Mary were blue themselves, they both must have carried the gene – which suggests to me that somewhere in their family history, there were blue people.) Is it possible that he embarked on a quest to find people who would accept him as he was? And what of Zachariah, who married his aunt? Was he, perhaps, the eldest of Elizabeth’s children, and was Mary, perhaps, a straggler baby in Elizabeth’s birth family? How many children of the appropriate age existed in the community? And how many of those potential mates would accept a blue spouse?

In the end, I guess, there’s no way of knowing why events unfolded as they did. Without knowing, I think it best to reserve moral judgements.

Besides, isn’t it sort of wonderful that there have been – and may still be – blue people in the world?