Source: "Blue Ridge Country" magazine
Virginia State Park Lore
The Legend of Hungry Mother Park
Park names do not get any more odd than "Hungry Mother" in Southwest Virginia.
"It's a name that kind of sticks," says Jim Kelly, who oversees the state park near Marion. "Everybody who's ever been here says, 'How did it get this name?'"
Usually, Kelly points to a sign posted outside the park headquarters:
Still, that story does not match the earliest known name for the creek, "Hungers Mother," listed on a survey in 1774, according to Goodridge Wilson, the author of a 1932 book, "Smyth County History and Traditions."
In 1958, Wilson wrote about Hungry Mother State Park in his long-running Roanoke Times column, "The Southwest Corner." Wilson mentioned meeting William Copenhaver, a Confederate veteran.
"Copenhaver distinctly remembered hearing his grandmother say that a woman who had been hurt escaped from Indians with a small child and went up the creek; that shortly afterward some white men found her body with the child on it, crying, ‘Hungry, Mammy!’ " Wilson wrote.
Wilson also discovered possible connections to the Hungry Mother legend and a raid on June 18, 1755 at the Samuel Stalnaker cabin, which "stood at or near the mouth of Hungry Mother Creek."
A brief historical record lists a "Mrs. Stalnaker and Adam Stalnaker, Samuel’s son" as among those killed in the raid, according to Wilson.
Leo Stalnaker wrote a family history in 1938, which "asserts that the tradition of the mother and the starving child has been kept alive through generation after generation of Samuel’s descendants in West Virginia," Wilson wrote.
The Stalnaker account "differs from other versions in that it says definitely that the ‘Mrs. Stalnaker’ listed as killed was Samuel’s wife, and that the haunting cry of her starving child, ‘Hungry Mammy,’ rang in the ears of men who found her body so that they came to speak of her as ‘the hungry mother,’ which gave the name to the creek," Wilson wrote.
Following Wilson’s research, the late Mack Sturgill published an exhaustive book in 1986 called "Hungry Mother: History and Legends." A reprinted version is now available at Hungry Mother’s nature center, near the park‘s main entrance on Va. 16.
It was 1929, according to Sturgill, when a Unaka National Forest map became the first source to list the name "Hungry Mother Creek" - seven years prior to the park's opening.
But how "Hungers Mother" turned to "Hungry Mother" was something Sturgill attributed to "linguistic erosion and lazy tongues" - not the stuff of legend.
Webmaster Note: The author of this article, Joe Tennis, wrote to us in August 2004 and reported: "I recently had a book published on Southwest Virginia that includes more fun folklore, photos, maps, etc. on how places got their names (including Hungry Mother) and about recreational opportunities in the southwestern corner of Virginia." You can order his book, "Southwest Virginia Crossroads," from Amazon by clicking here or from the publisher by clicking here.