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Rural Life and Culture in the Upper Cumberland

Michael Birdwell

Publication Year: 2004

Tennessee History Book Award Finalist The Upper Cumberland region of Kentucky and Tennessee, often regarded as isolated and out of pace with the rest of the country, has a far richer history and culture than has been documented. The contributors to Rural Life and Culture in the Upper Cumberland discuss an extensive array of subjects, including popular music, movies, architecture, folklore, religion, and literature. Seventeen original essays by prominent scholars such as Lynwood Montell, Charles Wolfe, Allison Ensor, and Jeannette Keith uncover fascinating stories and personalities as they explore topics including wartime hero Alvin C. York, Socialist Party Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Kate Brockford Stockton, and even a thriving nudist colony, the Timberline Lodge.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

No book project ever occurs in isolation. This volume is the result of hard work and the patience of a number of people who were generous with their time and energy, especially Jennifer Peckinpaugh of the University Press of Kentucky. Thank you for believing in this project. We would like to thank the following people for their help in making this...

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pp. 1-14

Flagrantly violating King George III’s proclamation of 1763 prohibiting expansion beyond the Appalachian mountains, long hunters entered Kentucky and Tennessee in 1769. Led by Daniel Boone, the party entered the Upper Cumberland region in search of game, furs, and land. Exploring what is now the Big South Fork River and Recreation Area,...

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1. Minerals, Moonshine, and Misanthropes

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pp. 15-34

Over the past two centuries, people in the Upper Cumberland used caves in several ways. One important early usage was for subsistence, as caves provided shelter from the elements and were sources of water for long hunters, travelers, and settlers. As permanent settlements increased throughout the nineteenth century, caves became somewhat less important...

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2. Sheltering the People

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pp. 35-48

The first American settlers in the Upper Cumberland region before 1800 built temporary dwellings, one-room structures constructed of round logs and crude notches, with a door and a few windows. Many had dirt floors, and many probably had stick and mud chimneys; some may have had no chimney....

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3. Saints, Sinners, and Dinners on the Grounds

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pp. 49-65

In frontier days, Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland was, by all accounts, a rugged area of rivers and creeks, wooded plateaus, hills, and hollows. A raw-boned land, it attracted raw-boned people who, in turn, produced rugged preachers determined to “chase out Satan” and bring salvation’s message to the area. Bud Robinson, a traveling preacher said...

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4. Ashes to Ashes

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pp. 66-72

”Tomb rocks”—a folk expression that can still be heard among old timers in the Upper Cumberland region—can be very telling of a region’s people and their social development. New England is well known for its piously erudite slate gravestones somewhat grimly decorated with skulls, soul-effigies, hourglasses, and other symbols of mortality. Such...

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5. "Fevers Ran High"

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pp. 73-104

Enthusiasm ran high in the Upper Cumberland in 1861, leading to public brawls over secession. In June, Judge Guild of Overton County called for immediate hanging of Union sympathizers. In July, four men in Jamestown assaulted a well-known Unionist.1 When Overton County Judge Horace Maynard attempted to speak against secession at...

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6. Slavery, Freedom, and Citizenship

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pp. 105-121

African Americans appeared in the Upper Cumberland in the late eighteenth century. Some came before statehood, and several accompanied the first settlers brought into the Tennessee wilderness by John Sevier and James Robertson.1 On the eve of America’s Civil War, they made up 12.4 percent of the total Upper Cumberland population. They comprised...

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7. "That's Not the Way I Heard It"

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pp. 122-139

As a folklorist and oral historian, I am committed to the study of traditional life and culture of people whose names, actions, attitudes, and behaviors are seldom, if ever, included in history books. The thrust of my academic endeavors for more than forty years has been to write about local people as they perceive themselves....

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8. "Now, There's a Story"

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pp. 140-158

At one time it was common for teachers and scholars to dismiss the whole of American literature as insignificant compared with British and continental literature. Once American literature came to be appreciated, there was still little regard for Southern literature. And when Southern literature came into its own, there was little concern for the...

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9. Gobble Like a Turkey

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pp. 159-177

The image of Sergeant Alvin Cullum York etched into the collective consciousness of most people is not the famed Tennessee hero at all. They conjure up Gary Cooper’s portrayal of York in the Warner Bros. film, Sergeant York (1941), gobbling like a turkey, licking the sights of his Enfield rifle, popping off Hollywood Germans.1 Hollywood’s York...

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10. Good Times

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pp. 178-195

Summer resorts were long patronized by southerners, who annually fled the heat of the cities for the relatively cooler air of mountain communities. During the late nineteenth century, resorts were so popular that the Nashville Daily American ran a special weekly column, “Amid Cool Breezes,” which kept everyone up to date on “What Nashville Summer

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11. A Brave New Deal World

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pp. 196-210

Unlike many utopian experiments, the Cumberland Homesteads cannot be judged according to a single, well-defined set of goals. Its original New Deal planners intended to create a “new pattern” of “dignified, wholesome, abundant living,” to lead a select group of families from Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau out of the Depression, and thereby lay...

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12. Radical Hillbillies

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pp. 211-226

Socialism has had negative connotations in America because of the propaganda directed toward the philosophy. So it may seem unusual that in the conservative state of Tennessee, and particularly the Upper Cumberland region of the state, numerous persons interested in socialism have launched several socialist experiments. In fact, one could contend...

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13. Somewhere in Tennessee

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pp. 227-245

Late in the summer of 1938, listeners to Cookeville’s WHUB radio station became more aware of events in Europe. The crisis over Czechoslovakia brought Adolf Hitler’s voice into Upper Cumberland living rooms. That July, Sergeant Alvin C. York of Pall Mall wrote a lengthy telegram to the New York...

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14. Made on the Mountain

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pp. 246-273

In Tennessee and Kentucky, crafts played a larger role than the fine arts in the history of culture. Craftsmen produced notable work in wood, clay, and fibers. During the period before contact with Europeans, Native Americans engaged in the creation of utilitarian crafts and ceremonial art objects. Perhaps the best known objects still found throughout...

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15. "Old Cumberland Land"

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pp. 274-301

In December 1882, a twenty-five-year-old black railroad section hand named Willis Mayberry married a local girl named Amanda Galbraith in the village of Kingston, Tennessee. Willis had a reputation as a mean, violent man, and before the marriage was many months old, rumors began to reach the Galbraith family that Amanda was being mistreated....

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16. Lights, Camera, Action!

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pp. 302-322

The Upper Cumberland debuted on film during the silent era. Because of early-twentieth-century fascination with the Hatfield-McCoy feud, stories of mountain romance and violence piqued the curiosity of moviegoers. A garish stereotype emerged, featuring hard-drinking, violent, isolated, and ignorant people. Unaware of the fruits of...

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17. "Bring Your Own Towel"

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pp. 323-333

Nudity, as typically viewed by American society, is usually regarded as a taboo topic, often equated with pornography and prostitution. The problem with nudism in American society is one of perception, and nudists tend to be condemned as perverts. There are more than three hundred nudist camps in forty-one states in the United States today,...


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pp. 335-348


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pp. 349-351


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pp. 353-369

E-ISBN-13: 9780813171890
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813123097

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2004