Saturday, June 5, 2010

How the Dunes
Got Their Names

Following the Virginia Dare Trail from Elizabeth City through the fertile fields of Pasquotank, Camden and Currituck [Countiesk North Carolina], the, first of the great dunes heaped upon the shores of Dare rises to view … . Just a pale creamy cloud it seems at first, shore, hill and sky all of one color; but drawing nearer, it separates from beach and sky, and rises a mound of gold against the blue of the heavens. Paul Gamiel Hill, as this dune is called, received its name from a family of Gamewells once numerous in Dare and Currituck … . These Gamewells, the name now shortened to Gamiels, were prominent people in the early days of Dare and Currituck, and gave or sold the land on which the Paul Gamiel station stands to the Government.

Curles Hill, also named for an old family of that region, stands near the Paul Gamiel Hill, between the station and Kitty Hawk. Crossing the Wright Memorial Bridge that connects Currituck and Dare, and speeding through the Kitty Hawk woods past the station of that name, the traveler passes by Virginia Dare Shores, once known as Moore's Shores. A small hill to the right of the highway called Pryors Hill, the origin of its name lost and forgotten, is seen, before the green slopes of the larger of the two Kill Devil Hills is reached. …

The origin of the name of these historic hills has never been fully determined, though each of the following four stories concerning its queer cognomen [nickname] has its adherents.
"The Ballad of Kill Devil Hills" or "The Ballad of Medford Rum" as it was sometimes called, the words of which are now forgotten, but were once well known on our sand banks, gave rise to the following story:
In the olden days when the two hills were covered with verdure planted by nature, not man, one of the natives of that region ran a barroom in the woods on the higher of the two hills, where a brand of Medford rum, brought by enterprising Yankee traders from Medford, Massachusetts, was sold. This liquor was of such strength and potency that a saying arose; "That thar rum is powerful enough to kill the devil."

Kill Devil Hill, early 1900s


Another story accredits the name of the hills to the cry of the killdeer, a bird once numerous among the woods that then covered the dunes, and that nested in the grassy plains at their base. … Killdeer in the course of time became "Kill Devil," and so the hills were known. But the story is too tame for the giant dune and its accompanying mound: a dune that for centuries has known the rage of mountainous billows, the fierce glare of a sun tropical in its noontide heat, and the angry onslaught of the hurricane when the gigantic storm winds of the equinox descend upon the Atlantic.

There are sterner tales told of the origin of the name "Kill Devil," one of which is the following: Some hundred years or more ago there lived in one of the little homes on the sound shore near the hills, a native, who growing weary of the hard life of a fisherman and the ceaseless warfare against poverty, determined to try to find the ease brought by wealth that dwellers in other regions enjoyed. Tales strange and uncanny handed down from father to son he had heard told around the, fireside of those lonely homes, and they haunted his memory. Tales of men who, by secret and diabolical bargaining with the Prince of Evil suddenly came into possession of the gold that promised to bring them all that their hearts desired.

Consulting an old hag whose but was hidden deep in the dense woods of the sound shore, and who it was believed held converse with the Devil, the fisherman learning for a price her unholy rite, summoned to his aid the Evil Spirit who gladly answered his call, and an agreement between the two was reached. In the waning of the then full moon when, its silver light quenched, sea and shore and sands were left in the darkness of a winter night, the two were to meet on the higher of the two hills. There the fisherman was to receive the coveted wealth and confirm his awful promise that at his death the Devil was to receive his soul.

In high spirits at the prospect of gaining possession of the bag of gold that, so the Devil promised, would never be empty, the fisherman returned to his home. But during the week that must elapse before the time appointed for the next meeting with Satan, awful fears began to grip his heart. Pictures of flaming fires and grinning demons with their toasting forks waiting to receive his cowering soul, tormented him; but unwilling, in spite of his fears, to forego the promised gold, he began to plan how to get the fortune and yet to cheat Satan of his bargain.

The night following his first meeting with the Evil Spirit, the fisherman took his spade, stole from his hut in the dead of night, climbed to the top of the hill and began to dig. Down and down, deeper and deeper he dug, and every night until the one appointed for the dread interview he kept at his task. Reaching at last the base of the hill, quicksand was struck; and his work nearly done, he joyfully climbed out of the cavity, covered over the entrance with leaves and brittle branches of nearby growing shrubs, and went home.
The night of his rendezvous with the Devil fell dark and stormy, and at midnight, in the midst of a crashing thunderstorm, the fisherman again crept silently from his but and hastened to keep his appointment with Satan. He climbed up the dune from the west side of the hill to the mouth of the cavity. The Devil approached from the seaward slope and halted at a horse cry from the fisherman: "Throw me the bag of gold and come shake hands on our bargain!"
The Devil, strangely unaware of the plot, threw the gold into the fisherman's hands, then rushed to place on his brow the sign and seal that would insure for his own the fisherman's soul. The brittle twigs broke beneath his tread, and down into the deep cavity, into the treacherous quicksand at its depths, while fierce lightning flashed and awful rolls of thunder resounded o'er land and sea, the Prince of Darkness plunged. "I have killed the Devil!" joyfully the fisherman cried; and so proud of his clever trick was that he could not refrain from spreading the news far and wide.

So, it is said by some, Kill Devil Hills, the great dune and the little mound adjoining it, have been called from that time. But whether the Devil still reposes in the quicksand grave, or whether his spirit is yet abroad in the world, let saint and sinner decide.


The fourth legend connected with the Kill Devil Hills was published in a pamphlet written by Captain Tate in 1928, when the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first successful airplane flight was celebrated near the hills.

"The flotsam and jetsam cast up by the ocean along this fringe of coast constituted in the olden days of Kitty Hawk and Nag's Head a large part of the income of many families living on these banks. In fact, watching the shores was an occupation which sometimes paid good dividends.

"Time passed, and as the years rolled round, the practice of insuring the cargoes was instituted. An insurance system known as The Underwriters was first in the field.

"About 1804, so the story goes, a vessel was cast up by the storm very near Kill Devil Hills, and this ship was beached so high that when the storm had subsided, it could be unloaded of its cargo. Right here was the first instance where the native coast man came in contact with an insurance agent. The agent thought that the cargo could be trans-shipped, and bring more money than to sell it at a regular wreck-rate sale, which was then the custom. The cargo was then unloaded and piled up on the beach above the reach of high water, and guards were put on to protect it.

"The bales and bundles of goods began to disappear. The agent taxed the guards with disloyalty. The guards told him that the Devil was getting the goods; that bundles were disappearing right before their eyes, with no one around to help them. The agent heard of a man named Devil Ike, who lived nearby, who feared neither God nor the Devil, and who, if he were hired as guard would put a stop to the goods disappearing. Devil Ike was made head guard. That night he noticed a bundle start off seemingly of its own volition. He followed it, and getting in front of it, found a line attached. Following the line, he found a pony with a man on his back.

"Now Devil Ike was torn between his loyalty to his employer and to his native people. He cut the line, fired his old blunderbuss, and told the offender to get to hell away and never come back. The man knew Devil Ike and paid heed. In his report to the insurance agent, Devil Ike said, `I killed the Devil when you heard me shoot last night.' This happened right at the foot of Kill Devil Hill, and thus the hills got their name."

Source: Albertson, Catherine, ed. Wings over Kill Devil...and Legends of the Dunes of Dare. Wings Over Kill Devil, by Capt. William Tate. 1936 pictures 1 and 2  great pictures

No comments:

Post a Comment