In nineteenth-century America, hell was a generic term for a rough or difficult stretch of country, such as the wildly eroded Hell’s Half-Acre in Wyoming. Similarly, the thermal features of Yellowstone Park were originally called Coulters Hell, after the explorer and mountain man John Coulter. The word was also used to designate the most lawless sections of frontier towns like Fort Worth and San Antonio, as well as particularly dangerous and rough parts of the urban landscape, such as Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. In the southern Appalachians, a hell is a dense, extensive growth of laurel or rhododendron. Horace Kephart, in Our Southern Highlanders, defined the term this way: “A ‘hell’ or ‘slick’ or ‘wooly-head’ or ‘yaller patch’ is a thicket of laurel or rhododendron impassable save where the bears have bored out trails.”

Charles Frazier