The Mountaineers Lived As Did Their Forefathers
Kansas City Star – 1906
One of the most interesting classes of people in the United States is the Kentucky mountaineer. Shut off from the rest of the world by the natural barriers of mountains, the advances of civilization have simply passed around them. There are whole counties here without railroads, telegraphs, telephones, or even churches. What roads they have followed the course of a stream up the “holler,” over the divide and down the next “holler.” They simply ford the creeks “endwise,” and in bad weather they do not travel at all.
Occasionally, a man or two goes down the Kentucky River into the “bluegrass” with a raft of logs and sees a little of outside life. The women stay at home, now and then making a trip on a mule up the “crick,” the baby in their laps, to the nearest neighbor. Nearly everything is homemade. A handmade loom makes strong, tough cloth, “bed quivers,” rugs, and carpets. All the furniture is handmade, even to the cradle, when there is one.
Their diet consists of corn bread, “johnny cake,” biscuits, bacon, beans, molasses, and the like. Strange as it may seem these people are simply living the pioneer life of our nation a hundred years ago.
The ministers as a rule have no education whatever and say the thing that comes to their minds first. The best minister is the one who can make his voice heard for the greatest distance. “Larnin” does not help the case in the least with them.
The schools are in a like condition. The log schoolhouses are poorly ventilated and heated. The school term is short, and the teachers are only half prepared. The scholars learn nothing of real value to them and “eddication” is considered as zero in value. An old woman expressed the opinion that her daughters “had as much need for eddication as a pig.” Another woman asked her son if he was sick when he returned from a distant school after a term of three months, and in a social gathering offered a chair to some of the girls in the family and stood himself. Such courtesy seemed rank foolishness to her.
The people are quick tempered and the “furriner,” as the visitor from the outside world is called, finds that he is entirely safe without a gun or weapon, but if they know he has one his life is in real danger.
These mountaineers made whiskey without a license before the government ever thought of them, and they see no reason for not doing so now. Besides this, the farmer finds it much easier to turn corn into whisky and carry that over mountain roads than to carry the corn itself. The illicit whisky, or “moonshine,” question keeps the “revenuers’” busy, and in constant danger of their lives. One officer during a period of seven months lately destroyed 40 “stills” and captured 50 moonshiners.
Hospitality is the law of the land. It is considered sacrilege to charge a minister for board or room, and although they have but little to offer one is welcome to a good share of what they have. A Sunday school worker in these hills within two months was charged exactly 50¢ for board, room, and washing. He was treated to enough fried chicken, country butter, milk, eggs, and vegetables and slept on enough comfortable beds to satisfy any ordinary mortal for some time to come.
Even the language is odd and out of date. Descended as they are straight from the pure Scotch and Irish, it has many of the words of Shakespeare’s time. They never “think;” they “reckon.” A girl who sings is known as the “singinist gal,” or if they have attended a meeting where they had a good time it is spoken of as the “beatenist” or the “hog killinist time.” “Holp” and “hit” stand for help and it, respectively.
The student of folklore will find here songs descended straight from the original English of years ago. They are embarrassed, however, for these songs and will not sing them before strangers. They are sung with accompaniment by banjo, violin, or dulcimer. One of the most popular of these is “Sourwood Mountain.”
So many pretty girls I can’t count ’em,
My true love lives up in the head of a holler,
(Repeat Ho-de-ing, etc.)
She won’t come and I won’t call ’er.
My true love, she’s a blue-eyed dandy,
A kiss from her is sweeter than candy.
My true love, she’s a black-eyed daisy,
If I don’t get her, I’ll go crazy.
Rack my Jinny up the Sourwood mountain,
So many miles ’at I can’t count ’em.”
There is a thing common to this region found nowhere else in the United States. This is the feud. The instinct is in their blood, and the natural location which forces them toward living closely in families for safety’s sake in the absence of police protection, as well as “mixed drinks” of applejack and moonshine whisky, led them to frequent quarrels over small affairs into which whole families are drawn on occasions. Under the new state of civilization this kind of warfare is decreasing.
One of the widest of these feuds was the McCoy-Hatfield Feud, in Pike County, which started over a dispute as to the ownership of two worthless, “razor backs” (lean hogs). This feud lasted about 15 years and involved both families to the extent of the death of ten people and the wounding of a dozen more.
The dramatic and perhaps the most interesting part of this mountain feud is the story of the winning of the heart of pretty Rose Ann McCoy by the daredevil Johnse Hatfield, her disgrace, his arrest for moonshining, and how she warned his father, who, with others, rescued Johnse from the officers.
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