Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Rural Life and Culture in the Upper Cumberland

Rural Life and Culture in the Upper Cumberland

Michael E. Birdwell
W. Calvin Dickinson
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 384
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Rural Life and Culture in the Upper Cumberland
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7189-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Michael E. Birdwell and W. Calvin Dickinson
  4. Introduction
    (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, the long hunters crisscrossed between Kentucky and Tennessee in the rugged border region. A portion of the group continued south into current-day Fentress and Overton counties in Tennessee. As they were encamped near the headwaters of the Roaring River, a skirmish broke out between the long hunters and...

  5. Chapter 1 MINERALS, MOONSHINE, AND MISANTHROPES The Historic Use of Caves in the Upper Cumberland
    (pp. 15-34)
    Joseph C. Douglas

    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 as shelters but were thoroughly integrated into domestic household economies. Caves provided water for home use as well as cold storage, serving as both springhouses and root cellars. These interactions with the environment revealed a utilitarian emphasis in the culture of the Upper Cumberland, as the people...

  6. Chapter 2 SHELTERING THE PEOPLE Folk Architecture in the Upper Cumberland Region
    (pp. 35-48)
    W. Calvin Dickinson

    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.

    Second homes for these early settlers may also have been log, but they were built more carefully for permanent occupancy. Now the logs were hewn with broadax and adze, usually only on two sides. Yellow poplar, chestnut, and the various varieties of oak were the woods most commonly used.

    Notches were cut...

  7. Chapter 3 SAINTS, SINNERS, AND DINNERS ON THE GROUNDS The Religious Legacy of the Upper Cumberland
    (pp. 49-65)
    Larry Whiteaker

    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 to have preached more than 33,000 times, captured this “grab ‘em by the throat” approach in his famous prayer: “Lord, give me a backbone as big as a saw log, and ribs like the sleepers under the church floor; put iron shoes on me, and galvanized breeches....

  8. Chapter 4 ASHES TO ASHES Burial Upper Cumberland Style
    (pp. 66-72)
    Richard C. Finch

    “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 stones accurately reflect eighteenth-century Calvinist attitudes. The tombstones found along the foothills of the Cumberland Plateau are very different, but no less interesting, and just as revealing of the character and social evolution of the Cumberland people. The following observations result from visiting nearly 2,000 graveyards...

  9. Chapter 5 “FEVERS RAN HIGH” The Civil War in the Cumberland
    (pp. 73-104)
    James B. Jones Jr.

    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 the Livingston courthouse, a mob threatened his life, forcing him to flee. As he left, Maynard promised he would denounce secession the next day in Monroe. Pro-Confederates said that if he tried to speak, the audience would be forcibly dispersed. Maynard spent the next day rounding up Union sympathizers,...

  10. Chapter 6 SLAVERY, FREEDOM, AND CITIZENSHIP African American Contributions to the Upper Cumberland
    (pp. 105-121)
    Wali R. Kharif

    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 10 percent or more of the populations of only eight counties—four each in Kentucky and Tennessee. The overwhelming majority were enslaved and lived in the rural countryside. Only nine hundred free African Americans lived in the entire region.² Free Africans and slaves were not uniformly distributed...

  11. Chapter 7 “THAT’S NOT THE WAY I HEARD IT” Traditional Life and Folk Legends of the Upper Cumberland
    (pp. 122-139)
    William Lynwood Montell

    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.

    Some historians and folklorists might disagree with me, but I deem stories (or narratives) to be the strongest force in creating and maintaining a strong sense of identification with state, region, community, and home place that most of us know, appreciate, and understand. Thus, because...

  12. Chapter 8 “NOW, THERE’S A STORY” The Literature of the Upper Cumberland
    (pp. 140-158)
    Allison Ensor

    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 literature of Appalachia. In most studies of Appalachian literature, the higher mountains to the east have received the greatest attention from scholars. Yet it should be evident from all that has been said that the Upper Cumberland has made its appearance in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction....

  13. Chapter 9 GOBBLE LIKE A TURKEY: Alvin C. York and American Popular Culture
    (pp. 159-177)
    Michael E. Birdwell

    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 claimed Daniel Boone was his personal hero, and Walt Disney studios made a conscious link to Cooper’s portrayal of York inDavy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier(1955). Davy (Fess Parker) competed with fron- tier riflemen at a shooting match much like the...

  14. Chapter 10 GOOD TIMES Vacationing at Red Boiling Springs
    (pp. 178-195)
    Jeanette Keith

    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 NashvilleDaily Americanran a special weekly column, “Amid Cool Breezes,” which kept everyone up to date on “What Nashville Summer Wanderers Are Doing.” There were columns from Tennessee resorts at Beersheba Springs, Lookout Mountain, Estill Springs, Tyree Springs, and such distant out-of-state spas as Manitou, Colorado.¹ TheDaily American’s special correspondent recorded the names of those vacationing at Red Boiling Springs and described amusements found...

  15. Chapter 11 A BRAVE NEW DEAL WORLD The Cumberland Homesteads
    (pp. 196-210)
    Stuart Patterson

    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 a path to an entirely “new type of civilization in America.”¹ But these plans fit uneasily at times with the ideals and expectations of the colony’s residents, who struggled to build for themselves a place they could simply call home. The pattern that ultimately defined the Cumberland Homesteads...

  16. Chapter 12 RADICAL HILLBILLIES Socialism in Tennessee
    (pp. 211-226)
    W. Calvin Dickinson

    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 that the Upper Cumberland region has been the center of socialist thought and activity in Tennessee.

    Most socialist philosophy and experiments in the region, however, did not envision or advocate an absolute socialist economy. With the exception of the Socialist Party of America, in the early twentieth century, most...

  17. Chapter 13 SOMEWHERE IN TENNESSEE The Cumberland in Wartime, 1940–1947
    (pp. 227-245)
    G. Frank Burns, Kelly Sergio and Rex Bennett

    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 YorkJournal-Americancalling for strengthened defenses and compulsory military training in all Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) facilities. By the fall of 1939, county newspapers were publishing columns about European affairs. Dr. Gus Dyer of Vanderbilt spoke to the Cookeville Rotary Club, warning them to prepare for war.¹

    Congress passed the Selective Service...

  18. Chapter 14 MADE ON THE MOUNTAIN Upper Cumberland Arts and Crafts
    (pp. 246-273)
    W. Calvin Dickinson and Michael E. Birdwell

    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 the Upper Cumberland are the myriad flint arrow and spear points. Clovis points of varying description have been found in rock shelters, recently plowed fields, and along streams and river banks. Numerous mounds dot the landscape of the Upper Cumberland from the Woodland and Mississippian...

  19. Chapter 15 “OLD CUMBERLAND LAND” The Musical Legacy of the Upper Cumberland
    (pp. 274-301)
    Charles K. Wolfe

    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. One of her brothers, Tom Galbraith, accosted Willis and words were exchanged; pulling a knife, Tom “cut” Willis. The wound was not serious, but Willis vowed to remember it. A few weeks later, he loaded an old musket with iron scrap and nails and set out...

  20. Chapter 16 LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION! The Upper Cumberland in Theater and Film
    (pp. 302-322)
    Michael E. Birdwell

    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 industrialization, these latter-day Luddites were clannish, unkempt, homegrown exotics. These hillbillies prided themselves in their prowess with weapons and their ability to produce and consume moonshine. As a result, a number of films were set in the Upper Cumberland region of Kentucky and Tennessee.¹

    Perhaps the first film set in the region was produced and...

  21. Chapter 17 “BRING YOUR OWN TOWEL” Nudism, Federal Courts, and the Timberline Lodge
    (pp. 323-334)
    Allison Barrell

    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, where some 300,000 Americans claim membership.¹ There are over one million practicing nudists worldwide.² This means that there could be a nudist in line at the local grocery store, or maybe playing the organ at the Baptist Church on Sunday. Practicing nudists can be found...

  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 335-348)
  23. Contributors
    (pp. 349-352)
  24. Index
    (pp. 353-369)