By Molly Myhand
It can be difficult to navigate local government. Getting potholes filled, paying county taxes, and negotiating small-time court cases can require almost superhuman patience and a working knowledge of Google to figure out what to do and whom to contact. But it’s even more difficult for the 17 residents inhabiting the small peninsula of land known as the Kentucky Bend.
Sure, their name, their phone num- ber, and their status as part of Kentucky’s Fulton County all point to the lower-level government of the Bluegrass State as the one respon- sible for their community. But their mailing address—Tiptonville, Tenn.—points to the other side of the Mississippi. That’s right. Tennessee.
The 17-mile long Kentucky Bend, nestled in a loop of the Missis- sippi River, is swallowed up by the state of Missouri on three sides and Tennessee on the fourth. The spattering of residents farming the soy- bean fields that dot the rich landscape drive the 20 minutes to nearby Tiptonville, Tenn., for school, gas, shopping, and regular hospital vis- its, only driving the 30 miles to the rest of Kentucky to vote in Fulton County and state elections.
Despite the isolation from the rest of the state, the Kentucky Bend—on paper and in the heart of its residents— is as much a part of Kentucky as Lexington or Louisville. However, it is not their geographical location that makes the residents of the Bend unique.
Rather, it is their dedication to the simple, self-reliant lifestyle of a time long past that characterizes their home as a place like no other. When first confronted with the reality of this little Kentucky “is- land” in Tennessee, most people are confused as to how such a thing could occur. Some have vague ideas of Civil War acquisitions or shady deals between states as possible causes.
In reality, the answer is much simpler: human error. When surveyors first marked Kentucky-Tennes- see state lines in the early 1800s, they were unable to push that far west. They were forced to estimate where state lines would meet the Mis- sissippi River, which marks Kentucky’s western border and Missouri’s eastern border.
When they were finally able to travel out to make more accurate lines, they encountered a problem: a series of earthquakes in 1812 had caused the Mississippi River to change shape, creating a sort of oxbow loop that created a “notch” of land in Kentucky state lines that was re- moved from the rest of the state.
The strange paradox of state identity created in this bubble of Kentucky land gave rise to confusion from residents and contention from Tennessee, as well as literary inspiration from great American authors. The latter was how Ronnie Ellis, a Ken- tucky journalist who followed state auditor Adam Edelen’s campaign to the Kentucky Bend in 2011, originally discovered its existence. “In high school and college I studied English lit. I was a big Mark Twain fan in those days and he wrote about [The Bend].”