Background to Feuding: The Vendetta in Kentucky

The mountain country of Kentucky, until very recent years, has been the scene of fierce family feuds, as A.L. Lloyd records here.

The southern upland farmer is the clown of the American scene. The films, the magazines, the comic-strips show him as a hard lanky man, so ill-nourished that the lice drop off him dead, so backward that he pokes his beard over his slate and declares: “By Gad, if fourth grade’s any harder this year than ’twas last, Ah’m sneaking mahself right back into third grade.” Even his languid movements have a humorous description: the hookworm hustle.

Superior Americans have described him as “our contemporary ancestor,” but most of his countrymen give him no grander name than “hillbilly,” a term as contemptuous as comic. The popular view of the hillbilly is so strongly stereotyped that many Americans believe him to be a product of the vaudeville stage, a stock figure of fun, and not a real man at all.

Perhaps this is one reason why scholars have tended to neglect the peculiar history of Southern mountain folk. The hillman’s native wit strengthens his reputation as a clown. His is a wry humour, much concerned with the disadvantages of mountain country. A man will tell you that, in his narrow valley, the moonlight has to be wheeled out in a wheelbarrow each morning, and the daylight wheeled in. The land is stony; the cats run, zip, zip, zip, seventeen miles down to the railway junction, the only place where they can find any soil. The dogs are so weak, they must lean against the fence to bark. The pigs are so lean, they must stand up twice to cast a shadow. It is said that if you hold a mountain pig like a straight razor, you may shave yourself with the bony ridge of its back.

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