The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek 

Kim Michele Richardson




The story opens as Cussy Mary Carter, otherwise known as the Book Woman, is riding her mule Junia to deliver books. She finds a man hanging from a tree, blood is dripping down his body exposing blue nails on this hands and feet, while an infant lies on the ground crying.


The year is 1936. In the remote Kentucky Hills of an area known as Troublesome Creek, resides the Carter Family. Elijah Carter, Cussy’s father, works in the coalmines and is ill from inhaling years of coal dust. He is determined to find Cussy, 19, a husband before he dies. He promised his wife before she passed, that would make sure that Cussy was taken care. Before Carter would leave for work, he would light the courting candle on the front porch. This would signal eligible men to come and court his daughter. He had arranged several men in the past, offering the deed to his land as dowry. But as soon as the men saw Cussy, they left. Cussy and her father were the last in line of the blue people who founded the area. They were descendants of a blue man from France who came to the remote area of Kentucky on a land grant. He married a white woman and they had several children; some were different shades of blue and some white. Some would leave the area but those remaining would marry cousins, passing the color on. The townspeople treated the blue people the same way they treated the other ‘colored’ people:  diseased, damaged, dirty, not equal, a different race. 


Cussy’s mother loved books and had quite a collection. She passed her love of reading onto Cussy. In 1935, President Franklin D Roosevelt created the Work and Progress Administration, which allowed women to work and bring art and literature into the hills of out of reach places such as Kentucky. One job that became available was that of a book woman who would deliver books by horseback to remote areas. Cussy applied directly to the administration for fear that the local librarian would not hire her due to her skin color. She was right. Cussy loved the patrons on her route. The one rule of a pack librarian is that she had to be single. Cussy did not want to marry and lose her job, a job that she loved.


One night, Elijah lit the courting candle and Charlie Frazier walked up on the porch. He asked to see the land deed and after reading it several times, he agreed to wed Cussy. Cussy did not want to marry this man. He was old, dirty, smelled disgusting, and rough. Cussy plead with her father to let her stay home and continue the job that she loved but her father wanted her married. After a quick legal ceremony right there, he took Cussy home. He brutally raped and beat her, breaking her arm. He died that night of a heart attack. Cussy’s father took her home and the doctor attended to Cussy and Charlie’s body. Cussy inherited his mule, Junia. Junia was frightened and covered with sores from being beat by Charlie. Cussy nursed Junia back to health. Now widowed, Cussy is able to continue her job as a librarian. She still had one fear to face every time she went out. That was Vester Frazier, a cousin of Charlie’s. Vester Frazier was a minister who was a fanatic at baptizing and yes, killing, those who were different in appearance. He was constantly following and threatening Cussy. After an incident occurs with Vester, Doc offers to cover it up by making an agreement with Elijah and Cussy, to allow Doc to take Cussy to the hospital with him once a month. He wants to examine her and draw blood and try to see if the bloodwork would tell him why they have blue skin. Cussy agrees as long that he also brings a variety of food with him each time so that Cussy can give it to her various patrons.


Cussy has many patrons on her route that look forward to her weekly visits including:

Angelina Moffit, 16, married to an older man Willy, who now lays in bed with an infected foot due to a gunshot wound he sustained when he was caught stealing a chicken.

Martha Hannah married to Devil John, the local moonshiner, and their children

C. Cole, Hogtail’s Tower firewatcher hired by the Conservation, Corp.

Loretta Adams, 71, who has poor vision and likes Cussy to read the bible to her.

Winnie Parker, 36, the schoolteacher who lives above the school. Her husband moved to Detroit for a factory job. Winnie will move there once he is settled and has enough money. Winnie and the schoolchildren become very excited when The Book Woman arrives with new books and magazines. Cussy notices how hungry and ill the children are due to malnutrition. Many from different families succumb to pellagra.

And, Jackson Lovett who has returned home to his farm after designing and facilitating the construction of the Hoover Dam.

Hannah Harden is the Assistant Library Supervisor and Eula Foster is the Head Librarian. Both are racist and treat Cussy and Queenie, a black librarian, with disgust and hatred.


This is a story about the importance that the packhorse librarians were to the outlaying community, the prejudice/racism/laws of all colors, and the blue-skinned people of Kentucky. In 1820, Martin Fugate, a French orphan, arrived in Troublesome Creek. In the 1960’s, not the 1930’s where the book takes place, Madison Carwein, a Kentuckian hematologist, heard about the blue-skinned people and went in search of them. He discovered through bloodwork that the Fugates had congenital methemoglobinemia. This is due to an enzyme deficiency, leading to higher than normal levels of methemoglobin in the blood, which reduces oxygen capacity. Less oxygen in the blood causes the blood to appear chocolate-brown in color, causing the skin to appear blue instead of white.



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