Summer Ginsenger Finds Body

By Stephen D. Bowling

From time to time, I run across stories I cannot find all the answers to and stories that have not been told. While locating and transcribing cemeteries some months ago, I found a small cemetery on the hillside on Colt’s Fork of Cane Creek. Two small tombstones sat silently and barely visible on the hillside behind a house and pool.

After climbing up the hill, I learned that there were more graves in the area and undoubtedly additional burials scattered in the woods behind those that could be seen from the roadway. Of the twenty or so graves, only a few had tombstones, and one of those caught my eye. A flat, granite stone bore the inscription: “Herman Wyatt 1914-1970.”

The Wyatt Family was an old Breathitt County family with undetermined roots. William L. Wyatt moved to the area and married Fannie Oaks, the daughter of James and Mary (Napier) Oaks, who owned hundreds of acres on Cane Creek. The most famous of the Wyatts was Corporal Lindon Wyatt who was honored for his courageous military service with the awarding of a Distinguished Service Cross for his coolness in battle at Medeah Ferme, France, in 1918.

I started my search for information about Herman Wyatt, hoping that a newspaper article would reveal details about his disappearance. I found no mention in the local or state papers in February or March of 1970. The only information about Herman Wyatt’s death came from an article in The Jackson Times published on the front page on Thursday, July 23, 1970.

Breathitt County Coroner Franklin Dean Spencer
Missing Man Found Dead By Gingeng'er

A Lexington man hunting for ginseng in a wooded section of Breathitt County Tuesday morning discovered the partially decomposed body of a 54-year-old Elkatawa man who had been missing since early spring.   

Authorities were called to the scene by Fred Combs, who was hunting the high-selling ginseng which is used in medicines, when he happened on the body of Herman Wyatt in the head of Cope Branch and Belcher Fork section of the county.  The dead man had not been seen by anyone since late February or early March. 

Deputy Sheriff Roy Watkins and Coroner Dean Spencer reported today that from all indications Wyatt died of natural causes.  Generalized decomposition had set in all over this body.  His billfold was still on the remains and there was no sign of foul play, the officer stated. 

The Coroner ruled that Wyatt had been dead since March of this year.  His body was brought to Watts & Spencer Funeral Home.  Cause of death pending further investigation. 

Herman Wyatt was born on January 1, 1914, in Breathitt County to William B. and Prudence Ann “Prudie” (Allen) Wyatt. He was one of eight children they raised in the Colt’s Fork community. He attended the Elkatawa School and completed the sixth grade.

Herman Wyatt’s draft registration from World War I.

Herman married Nancy Tomlinson on April 29, 1933, at Elkatawa, but the marriage was short, and the couple divorced without children. He later married Exie Watkins, the daughter of Everett and Eliza B. (Little) Watkins, on June 21, 1938, in ceremonies conducted by Levi Collins. Herman found work on the WPA road crew and worked on highway improvement projects in Breathitt County. At some point, he moved to Indiana and worked at several different jobs there.

Herman and Exie produced eight children, including three daughters who survived him: Cora (Wyatt) Hollon, Claranetta Wyatt, and Alene (Wyatt) Digman. In 1970, three sons survived: John Wyatt, Cowell Wyatt, and James Wyatt.

Of his seven brothers and sisters, only four out-lived their brother: Thornton Wyatt, Ronald Wyatt, Herbert Wyatt, and sister, Alene (Wyatt) Probus.

Herman Wyatt’s obituary appeared in the July 20, 1970 edition of The Lexington Leader on page 20.

No wake was held due to the advanced decomposition of the body. The Rev. Clell Miller led singing and spoke at graveside services on July 23, and burial was in the William Wyatt Cemetery, about a mile up Colt’s Fork near his home. When the stone that caught my attention was installed is not known. Herman’s wife, Exie (Watkins) Wyatt, died in 1997.

© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Breathitt County and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Summer Ginsenger Finds Body

  1. Glenita Wyatt Fenwick says:

    This was my uncle. I never knew until years later.


  2. Anna Wyatt East says:

    I am a niece of Herman Wyatt. He used to live with my mom and dad on a farm in Martin county Indiana. Would like to how his children are and where they live.


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