The Hindman Dulcimer…


The history of the dulcimer in Hindman and, in the larger picture, Appalachia is both old and deep; with roots tracing back all the way back to the “scheitholts” and “zitters” of the earliest German settlers. It is believed that the first dulcimers were closely patterned after these stick-like fretted instruments, reportedly carried into the back woods by Mennonite missionaries of the day.

The earliest dulcimer maker we have found in southeast Kentucky is Ely (Eley, Eli) Boggs, documented by historian V. N. “Bud” Phillips in his history of the Maggard family, Coming down Cumberland. Ely Boggs (1781-1869) was born in southwest Virginia and died in Letcher County.

Ely was living in southwest Virginia when he made a dulcimer for Elizabeth Maggard (1823-1887), then a young girl living in Letcher County, Kentucky. Elizabeth was perhaps no older that fifteen when she received her dulcimer, which would place its manufacture at about 1838. The haunting story of her dulcimer

Near Ely Boggs, located at Big Doubles (in Letcher County at the time) James Edward (Uncle Ed) Thomas is thought to have begun making instruments ca. 1870. It is likely that Thomas played a dulcimer made by Boggs or possibly Uncle Rob Cornett (a Knott maker) before designing his unique and ultimately world-famous instruments. Thomas is widely credited with making the very first hourglass mountain dulcimer interchangeably known as the "Hindman", "Kentucky" or “Cumberland” style. His most famous instrument, perhaps his masterpiece, was presented to Josiah Combs as a graduation present from the Hindman Settlement School in 1905. Hindman’s Jethro Amburgey would later pick up the mantle from Uncle Ed sometime in the 1920’s, continuing the tradition on into the 1970’s.

In the larger scope, the dulcimer story is central to the history of the Hindman community. Although the fact may be somewhat forgotten locally, Hindman is actually world-reknown in dulcimer circles as the birthplace of the Cumberland dulcimer. By extension, this certainly includes Eastern Kentucky into the Bluegrass. Besides studying the work of these early masters, we are also detailing the methods of the late Homer Ledford from Winchester and Warren May from Berea, as well as many other well-known Kentucky craftspeople