Big Sandy River (Ohio River tributary)

Coordinates: 38°24′58″N 82°35′45″W / 38.41611°N 82.59583°W / 38.41611; -82.59583
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Big Sandy River
Confluence of Levisa Fork and Tug Fork, forming the Big Sandy River
Map of the Big Sandy River watershed, with its Levisa Fork (left) and Tug Fork (right) tributaries shown
CountryUnited States
StateKentucky, West Virginia
CountiesLawrence KY, Wayne WV, Boyd KY
Physical characteristics
SourceTug Fork
 • locationBig Stone Ridge, McDowell County, WV
 • coordinates37°16′38″N 81°26′06″W / 37.27722°N 81.43500°W / 37.27722; -81.43500[1]
 • elevation2,604 ft (794 m)[2]
2nd sourceLevisa Fork
 • locationGap of Sandy, Buchanan County, VA
 • coordinates37°09′06″N 81°54′04″W / 37.15167°N 81.90111°W / 37.15167; -81.90111
 • elevation2,657 ft (810 m)[3]
Source confluence 
 • locationLouisa, KY
 • coordinates38°07′05″N 82°36′06″W / 38.11806°N 82.60167°W / 38.11806; -82.60167
 • elevation545 ft (166 m)
MouthOhio River[4]
 • location
Catlettsburg, KY
 • coordinates
38°24′58″N 82°35′45″W / 38.41611°N 82.59583°W / 38.41611; -82.59583
 • elevation
525 ft (160 m)
Length29 mi (47 km)
Basin size4,280 sq mi (11,100 km2)[5]
 • locationmouth
 • average5,006.74 cu ft/s (141.775 m3/s) (estimate)[6]
The Big Sandy River at its confluence with the Ohio River. The land in the foreground is West Virginia, that on the left is Kentucky, while the background is Ohio.

The Big Sandy River, called Sandy Creek as early as 1756, is a tributary of the Ohio River, approximately 29 miles (47 km) long,[7] in western West Virginia and northeastern Kentucky in the United States. The river forms part of the boundary between the two states along its entire course. Via the Ohio River, it is part of the Mississippi River watershed.

It is formed between Louisa, Kentucky, and Fort Gay, West Virginia, by the confluence of the Tug Fork and Levisa Fork. It flows generally northwardly in a highly meandering course, between Lawrence and Boyd counties in Kentucky and Wayne County in West Virginia. It joins the Ohio between Catlettsburg, Kentucky and Kenova, West Virginia, 8 miles (13 km) west of Huntington, West Virginia, at the common boundary between West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio.

The river is navigable and carries commercial shipping, primarily coal mined in the immediate region.

The name of the river, originally called Sandy Creek by 1756, comes from the presence of extensive sand bars. The Native American names for the river included Tatteroa, Chatteroi, and Chatterwha.[8] The name "Big Sandy" was in use no later than February, 1789.[9]

George Washington surveyed land at the mouth of the river between 1768 and 1772.[10]

First Americans[edit]

Some Native American groups have links to the area and region, such as the Shawnee, Cherokee, Tutelo, Issa, and others.

Sandy Creek Expedition[edit]

In 1756, as part of the French and Indian War, the Sandy Creek Expedition occurred in the valley.

Early Anglo settlement[edit]

The tombstone of David White, an early settler along the river in Kentucky, marks his passing in 1817 with the note that he lived many years near the Mouth of the Big Sandy.[11]

Civil War[edit]

Several notable personalities relating to the Civil War hailed from the Big Sandy Valley. Likewise, the valley hosted important war-time events.

Hatfield-McCoy Feud[edit]

The Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River is the site of the Hatfield-McCoy feud.

Martin County sludge spill[edit]

On October 11, 2000, the Martin County sludge spill polluted hundreds of miles of the Ohio River, the Big Sandy River and its tributaries. The accident was caused when a coal sludge impoundment owned by Massey Energy in Kentucky broke into an abandoned underground mine below. Toxic pollutants including heavy metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic, copper and chromium were found in the sludge that spilled into these waterways.[12]

The spill was 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill (12 million US gallons (45,000 m3)) and one of the worst environmental disasters ever in the southeastern United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Popular culture[edit]

Two well-known fiddle tunes take their name from the Big Sandy River: "Sandy River Belle" and the "Big Sandy River". Loretta Lynn's "Van Lear Rose" and Dwight Yoakam's "Bury Me" also mention the river.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tug Fork". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved 2004-04-24.
  2. ^ "Tug Fork Source". Elevation Query. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2008-04-24.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ "Levisa Fork Source". Elevation Query. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2009-07-18.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ "Big Sandy River". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior. 1979-09-20. Retrieved 2009-07-18.
  5. ^ "Tributaries".
  6. ^ United States Environmental Protection Agency. "Watershed Report: [Big Sandy River]". Archived from the original on 2021-07-03. Retrieved 2021-07-03.
  7. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map Archived 2012-03-29 at the Wayback Machine, accessed June 13, 2011
  8. ^ Bright, William (2004). Native American Placenames of the United States. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 89. ISBN 0-8061-3598-0.
  9. ^ Ely, William (1887). The Big Sandy Valley: A History of the People and Country from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time (Google eBook). Central Methodist. p. 11.
  10. ^ "The Big Sandy news. [volume] (Louisa, Ky.) 1885–1929, April 19, 1888, Image 3". Big Sandy News (Louisa, KY). 19 April 1888. Retrieved 29 November 2023.
  11. ^ [], Retrieved 2013-7-19
  12. ^ [,1660633&dq=martin+county+sludge+spill&hl=en Spartanburg Herald-Journal], Retrieved 2011-01-29.

External links[edit]