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knott county, kentucky: a study (1932) Editors’ Note: These excerpts are taken from the thesis submitted by West to the faculty of the Vanderbilt School of Religion for the degree of Bachelor of Divinity on May 14, 1932. West’s thesis advisor was Dr. Alva Taylor, a Disciples of Christ minister and a leading figure in the Social Gospel movement, who also chaired the Church Emergency Relief Committee. Knott County is one of the most remote and isolated of all the mountain counties . It is not different in many ways from many other of the highland counties , and it is very different in many other ways. My purpose in this thesis is to present the various phases of the county’s life frankly,as clearly as possible and without any prejudice. Many ills and unfavorable conditions have been uncovered which I am not able to offer a remedy for. Knott County lies almost in the extreme south-eastern corner of Kentucky. It is in the heart of Kentucky’s famous mountains—famous for their lofty peaks, chopped ridges,scenic beauty, “moonshine licker,” razor-backed hogs, hard working women, and feuds. . . . . Knott County is chopped up into scarred ridges and rock-strewn mountains, with fresh clear streams gurgling down the narrow valleys between.Few of the valleys are of sufficient breadth to afford any profitable cultivation.Most of the farming is done on the hill sides. In this county, as in many other of the highland counties,water courses are quite significant and very important.Communities , educational and magisterial divisions have been decided by the course of these creeks and branches. The inhabitants, by cause of necessity and convenience , have settled, built their homes and communities along the banks of the streams. Mountain water ways have been the backbone of mountain civilization . They have not only served the people for drink, both man and beast, but have furnished power to turn the creaking mill wheels to grind the corn into meal for bread, and have been the only high ways. They have furnished a 01.Prose.1-blnk 96/West 12/2/03, 11:48 AM 22 selected prose 23 natural,though rough and difficult,road over which the jolt wagons have driven for provisions,and communications from the outside world have been received. Creek beds have been, in many instances, the high ways of progress in the mountains. The old circuit rider must have had ample time to think upon the wonders of nature and work up his sermon while listening to the ever recurrent monotone of the gurgling waters, and the splash of his horse’s hoofs as the tired animal faithfully plunged through one cataract after another, bearing his master to the little mountain church where he was to bring spiritual food to a hungry people. . . . . There is little doubt about the influence of geography upon the life and nature of a people. If we should go thoroughly into the mountain situation we would find geography wielding a tremendous influence. The mountains of Knott County have locked the people in and pushed progress out.At least,the so-called material progress,over which America has gone wild,but which I am not at all content to call such. The mountain people are essentially no different from other people.They have lived their isolated lives there among the hills, and in many ways the hills have shaped their lives.In a sense they have become a part of the hills and the hills a part of them. Many of the Knott County people have moved west, stayed a year or two years, and then returned to the hills from which they went. The only dentist in Hindman17 is a man of high intellectual capacity, a graduate from a standard medical school. In his early life this dentist moved to Oklahoma,set up his profession and was doing well,but he did not stay. He returned to Hindman, where he may possibly get three dollars of work a week. This man told me that “the plains were too straight and level, the people were nice, but not like the people here. And anyhow, I just wanted some mountains to look at.” . . . . The people of Knott County have all the good and bad qualities of the other mountain sections. Hindman was once the scene of desperate feuds and clannish wars.Bad John Wright,who died last year with 28 notches on his gun (the character...


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