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Essay "Where the Sun Set Crimson and the Moon Rose Red": Writing Appalachia and the Kentucky Mountain Feuds by Dwight B. Billings and Kathleen M. Blee In his 1901 essay "The Kentucky Mountaineer," novelist John Fox, Jr., inscribed the mythic image of the southern mountaineers: "proud, sensitive, kindly, obliging in an unreckoning way that is almost pathetic, honest, loyal, in spite of their common ignorance, poverty, and isolation." But Fox also pointed out a darker side of the mountaineer that must have both fascinated and repulsed his middleclass readers. Noting the extensive violent conflicts then taking place in the mountain counties of Kentucky, he wrote, "It is only fair to add, however, that nothing that has ever been said of the mountaineer's ignorance, shiftlessness, and awful disregard for human life, especially in the Kentucky mountains, . . . has not its basis, perhaps, in actual fact."1 Accounts like Fox's profoundly shaped public perception of the southern mountains at the turn of the century. Along with descriptions of moonshining, popular and academic representations of mountain conflicts—sometimes described as "vendettas" but more often as "feuds"—did much to persuade middleclass readers throughout the United States of the region's strange and peculiar nature and apparently benighted population. Imagined to be "one of the most primitive regions of the United States," Appalachian Kentucky in particular was depicted as a place where "bloodshed is a pastime," where "cruel and cowardly murder goes unpunished," and where "assassination is . . . its passion."2 Literary, journalistic, and scholarly depictions of the Cumberland Mountains as a violent subculture shaped a discourse—a tradition of under- By characterizing Appalachians standing—about Appalachia and as quaint yet fearsome, popular its feuds. As literary theorist Edward understandings about feuding Said observed, discourses are shaped in fhe southern mountains by power and thus can "create not, .,_.. . V , , J L , , paved the way for subsequent only knowledge but also the very r__, . , . ., reality they appear to describe."effortS t0 eXPlain and IUStlfy Thus, by characterizing Appalachi-the region's chronic poverty ans as quaint yet fearsome, popularand suitability for resource understandings about feuding inexploitation. 330Southern Cultures the southern mountains paved the way for subsequent efforts to explain and justify the region's chronic poverty and suitability for resource exploitation.3 At the turn of the century, when feuds captured the popular imagination, violent community conflict was widespread throughout not only the postReconstruction South but also the developing West, the industrial North, and increasingly inter-racial urban America. Throughout the nation, such conflicts expressed new tensions but resulted in traditional and often violent forms of direct action: riots, mob action, labor struggles, vigilantism, racial and ethnic harassment, regulation, rebellion, and, most rarely, outright civil war. Such responses to conflict have existed in American society from colonial times to the present, from the Boston Tea Party and Shay's Rebellion to the most recent riots in Los Angeles. Despite the regularity and abundance of violent conflict in American history, the "Cumberland Gap region of Kentucky" came to be singled out as "one of the few dark spots on the map of the United States" and the Kentucky mountaineer as "a man of blood, governed more by hate than by justice."4 Historian Altina Waller's recent analysis of late nineteenth-century press coverage of Appalachian feuds in the Louisville Courier Journal and the New York Times shows that both newspapers reported numerous examples of violent community conflicts throughout Kentucky and the wider South. It was not until about 1885, however, that they began to denote some of these as "Appalachian" conflicts and even later as "feuds." Before then, violence was deplored in newspaper reports and editorials, but such conflicts were interpreted as the expression of underlying political troubles. Once an episode was°nce an episode was distinguished distinguished as "Appalachian," as "Appalachian," however, the ori- *v.-> ^«i„¿~ ?* ^??„_„„ ^„^-,? *?gin of violence came to be seen as the origin ot violence came to 6 . ,, , .. . "personal, cultural, or even genetic" be seen as "personal, cultural,\, tU .... , „_ * . . „ . , rather than political. For the first or even genetic" rather thantime/, Wallerwrites> „the mountain political.region of Eastern Kentucky was singled out as being uniquely guilty of producing individuals...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 329-352
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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