By Sidney Underwood

In the early 1950's when I was a little boy spending summers on my granddad Williams' farm on Upper Nutters Fork, I was constantly warned by my mom to never go down into the Coulehan Hollow. She told stories of individuals getting lost and wandering for days in that desolate place. She also said that some people thought the area was haunted by evil spirits. As a kid I wasn't quite sure if those stories were true or if she simply made them up to keep me away from there.

That deep hollow is a unique place. The terrain is rugged and heavily wooded. It extends almost a mile from its entrance on Jockey Camp to a rising canyon rim that joins a hill top fence line to my granddad's property. The area encompasses over 300 acres.

The Coulehan has steep ravines that have eroded over the years exposing rock formations that contain numerous fractures. There are seeps on the inclines that have caused slips resulting in trees appearing to be malformed and leaning at odd angles. In the deepest part of the hollow the runoffs resemble burial mounds. It is easy to get confused when trying to climb up out of that place, but an old haul road is there if you know where to look for it. I can tell you from personal experience that the place is intimidating at dusk. I would not want to be there when darkness descends.

The rocky outcroppings on those inclines cover areas where sunlight never penetrates creating dark and dangerous places that requires constant vigilance lest you encounter snakes hidden under the jutting rock formations. If you are bitten, you should know that your cell phone is useless as you cannot get a signal there.

Looking around the Coulehan, there is evidence of sawmill activity from years gone by. Near the head of the hollow, a 1949 Buick hood and dashboard rest partially covered by dirt and leaves giving evidence of a saw mill that once stood there powered by the car's engine. Several places show slab piles that have decayed enriching the soil.

Many small natural gas lines converge in that hollow and enter a larger cross-country line carrying gas from numerous shallow wells that were drilled over a hundred years ago. Those connecting lines show evidence of being repaired many times. Most recently, a newly constructed high pressure Marcellus pipeline now crosses the Coulehan near its entrance and another one is under construction.

In years past as you travelled up Jockey Camp Road from Avondale off old RT #50, a stone chimney with fireplace was visible on the left. Although I have inquired, no one seems to know when it was built. It was one of those old landmarks that was always there. The entrance to the Coulehan Hollow is just beyond where it once stood. Several years ago that old relic was destroyed when a gas well was drilled on the site.

I remember examining that chimney before it was bulldozed and noting that it was obviously built by a skilled stone mason. It had symbols cut into the stones that I was unable to interpret. It has been speculated by the locals that the family who once lived there was superstitious and the unusual markings were designed to ward off evil spirits.

Recently, I talked with Bud Barr, a native of Doddridge County, who is several years older than me. He is familiar with the area since he grew up in the nearby Smith Hollow. He remembered the Coulehan family that lived on Jockey Camp. He also remembered the cut stone chimney but had no memory of any house ever being attached to it.

If you travel up the Coulehan Hollow one quarter mile from its entrance off Jockey Camp Road, another chimney with fireplace will be encountered. This one is still standing and is rather crude being built of creek rocks daubed with red clay. The cabin it was once connected to is long gone and there is now no evidence of foundation stones.

It seems odd to me that two stone chimneys were built a quarter mile apart and no one has any knowledge of the houses formerly attached to them. That fact is reason enough to make a person wonder about the area and what may have transpired there in the 19th century.

Further up that hollow, a Jernny-lind four room house is still standing, however the back side is collapsing. It does not have a chimney, but shows evidence of being heated at one time by natural gas as half- inch pipe sections are visible under the house that sets on foundation rocks. With missing doors, broken windows and sections of metal roofing gone, the house has a skeletal look about it. Inside, birds have built nests on the rafters. The decaying wooden floors creak and sag when you walk on them. Looking closely, you will find shriveled snake skins in the openings between the walls. Grape vines cover most of the back wall and have found their way through open window to the inside.

The house has been desecrated by paint ball activity. Colored splotches cover the walls of all rooms. Also, empty whiskey bottles litter the floor. The remaining drywall has penciled dates posted by hunters and visitors going back to the 1960's. When I visit that house, thoughts of a candlelight séance sometimes cross my mind because the ambiance of the place seems correct. Other times, I am reminded of the movie, DELIVERANCE.

Beyond the house is the remnants of a log barn that fell in about twenty years ago. The heavy timbers have rotted away and sections of the rusted metal roof can still be found. Also, an abandoned gas well can be seen in an overgrown field near the edge of the deep woods.

From old census records and DODDRIDGE COUNTY ROOTS, I have learned that a John C. Coulehan {Spelled Couleham in 1910 census} was born in Ireland in 1843. He came to America with his parents and siblings in 1849 at the age of 6 years. His parents are shown as Thomas and Ellen {Phelaw} Coulehan. John is listed as 67 years old in 1910 and the head of the household. There is no mention of a wife although I have subsequently learned that her name was Mary {O'Donnell} Coulehan and she died in 1904. John's occupation is listed as a, "Pumper." He may have worked in the oilfields operating single cylinder Bessemer engines that pumped oil in the early oil and gas era. John died in 1911, one year after the census. He had six sons and two daughters who survived and one child that died in infancy.

I have learned that the Coulehans owned several land parcels in addition to the hollow my mother warned be about. They owned a two story house and adjoining land on Jockey Camp below the site of the modern EQT automated compressor station. That old house is empty and still standing, but beginning to give way.

In discussions with Bud Barr, I learned that one of John's sons lived in the four room house with the nearby log barn in the Coulehan Hollow as previously described. His full name was Joseph Frank Coulehan and he was born in 1884 and died in 1960. Apparently he was a self-sufficient farmer able to survive in that lonely place.

Bud Barr also told me that he does not know of any remaining Coulehans still living in Doddridge County. Other people now own the property they once held.

My personal experience with the Coulehan Hollow began early in my life. It might have been in the spring of 1950 when my dad was checking fence lines for my granddad on property overlooking Jockey Camp. My cousin, Eddy Cutright, and I accompanied him as we traveled along the ridge. At the time, I was 8 years old and Eddy was 11. We soon grew tired of watching dad repair the fence. We asked if we could go on around the ridge and drop off the hill at granddad's house.

I remember dad telling us to stay on the ridge until we could see the metal roof of granddad's barn and then go downhill toward it. Hillsides were mostly clear at that time and dad's instructions should not have been a problem. He told us to remember to go downhill on the right side toward the barn. We took off skipping along without a care in the world. As we curved around the ridge, we passed below a large rock and somehow got confused and started out another ridge and downhill to the right into the Coulehan Hollow. I remember it was really steep and didn't look quite right with more trees than should be, but I knew we were dropping off to the right as dad had said to do. It seemed odd that granddad's barn was not in sight. I don't know who actually made the wrong decision that day; we still argue about it when Eddy and I get together. When we reached the valley floor, I saw a small metal building that looked nothing like granddad's barn. When I looked through a window, I saw one of those gas line compressors with a big flywheel.

Beyond it was a log barn and four room house that I had never seen before. Suddenly, all those scary stories my mother had spoken of made me think we were lost in the Coulehan Hollow! My dad must have realized that we had gone down the wrong way because we heard him calling to us from the ridge. My heart stared beating wildly and I began hyper-ventilating. I was in a panic to get back up out of that strange place. Hurrying back up that steep incline, I remember digging and clawing with both my hands and feet. I couldn't get out of there fast enough! Cousin Eddy thought I looked so funny digging like a dog throwing dirt everywhere! He begged me to slow down so he could catch up. When I looked over my shoulder, I saw him rolling around on the hillside laughing his butt off and pointing at me! I didn't find his laughter very amusing and I kept on digging my way up out of that Coulehan Hollow. The evil spirits might be after me, but I was determined they were going to have to put some effort into catching me! When we arrived at the top, I got there a good five minutes before Eddy did.

Dad was disgusted with us. He told us we had to stay with him for the remainder of the trip since he couldn't trust either one of us to know our right from our left! After that experience, I started to believe mother's stories about getting lost in that forsaken place and the real possibility of evil spirits lurking about.

In 1960 I made my first planned trip into the Coulehan with my dad. He pointed out the exact spot where Eddy and I went out the wrong ridge beyond that large rock. With difficulty we walked down into that deep hollow and through the overgrown field all the way to the edge of Jockey Camp road. On the return trip, we stopped and looked at the house and barn, both of which were in relatively good shape, but there was no evidence of anyone living there. The hardest part was the return trip climbing back up to the line fence. We stopped and rested several times. I remember thinking how quiet the place was and how lonely it seemed.

About thirty years ago, a story made the rounds of Doddridge County that a well tender was repairing a leaking gas line in the Coulehan when he heard a unique throaty growling sound. He looked up and saw a large cat moving through the woods on the flat above him. He stopped working and stood very still and watched as it leisurely moved along. About the size of a German Sheppard, he said it stopped and stretched upward full length against a tree and used its front claws to scratch a layer of bark. He stood transfixed and watched until it disappeared into a laurel thicket.

He said that he left as quickly and as quietly as he could, but returned at a later date and went to the tree and verified the claw marks. Everyone laughed at him and accused him of telling a tall tale. Others suggested that he might have been smoking something other than tobacco. Never-the-less, he continued to state that what he saw that day was a large yellow/gray cat with a long tail and it was not a bobcat, coyote or stray dog. When asked years later to repeat his story, he refused and said he would never speak of it again.

Why do I return to that lonely place time after time? I really don't know except maybe I am naturally drawn to it. Yes, I always wear boots, watch carefully where I step, have my walking stick and always carry my old Colt 32-20 revolver. But I also stop often, listen and look over my shoulder. It is hard to explain, but it seems that I am intruding into a place where I am not welcome. I get the feeling that someone or something is watching me and that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

I occasionally tell myself that I should make that journey after dark to finally put to rest the possibility that the hollow is haunted. For whatever reason, I keep finding excuses not to do that.

At this stage of my life, I can accept the fact that some things will always remain a mystery.