What’s in a Name?

Rogue Harbor Ridge north slope and crest - March 2011

In Madison County, like a lot of rural areas, we identify almost every part of every landscape – be it a “Brush Creek,” “Long Field,” or “Walnut Cove.”  As with many Madison County hollers, our farm is surrounded on three sides by named ridges.  The westernmost ridge in our holler is Rogue Harbor Ridge, the namesake for our farm.  Rogue Harbor Ridge is a rugged and steep elevation; several springs water its sides, and rock formations dot the wooded slopes.  During the afternoon, we can easily gauge how much time we have left in the work day by judging the sun’s progress over its heights.  When Aubrey and Linda first moved to the farm, they were immediately intrigued by the name, and heard two accounts of the origins of what locals always referred to as “The” Rogue Harbor.  Both accounts were related with equal vigor, and it’s probable that both stories are true.  We’ll leave it to you to decide…

The first story relates to the Civil War, a period of intense upheaval and turmoil in Appalachia, and particularly Madison County, which earned the nickname “Bloody Madison” during the conflict.  Many mountaineers at the time were opposed to participating in the war (on either side), and the mountains rapidly filled up with men evading conscription agents, deserters, and general outlaws.  “Rogue” was a common word of the time, capturing the general sense of lawlessness that existed in the mountains then.  As the story went, some of these “rogues” found a safe harbor on the ridge.  Walking (or crawling, in places) to the top today, you can easily see the appeal if you didn’t want to be found: the springs and rock formations offer a great deal of natural sustenance and shelter, and the vantage from the top of the ridge gives you a commanding view of the surrounding landscape.  The back side of the ridge is rocky and steep, and would provide a formidable obstacle to anyone trying to climb it.  Harbor for rogues, indeed!  It doesn’t require a tremendous amount of imagination to picture “bushwhackers” inhabiting the slopes.

Rock formations on Rogue Harbor Ridge

The second account of the name’s origin deals with an animal that anyone familiar with them will certainly say can fit the bill of “rogue”: goats.  These furry beasts are widely known to be, at times, quite mischievous, ornery, and independent-minded animals.  Before the invention of barbed wire and other cheap, effective fencing materials, the common practice for many kinds of livestock was to turn them into the woods to feast on whatever they could find – primarily chestnuts, as the American chestnut dominated the Appalachian woods at the time.  According to the story, a band of “rogue” goats took up semi-permanent residence on the ridge at some point in time, and remained there for years.  By the time Aubrey and Linda arrived, these goats were long gone, but the goats Aubrey and Linda brought with them quickly followed in the old tradition, escaping to the ridge’s rocks and springs, fences or no fences!

For us, Rogue Harbor Ridge is a place that symbolizes the mountains in general: tough, challenging, but capable of harboring and sustaining life of all kinds.  We think it’s a fitting name for our farm.

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