The Literary Digest
Samuel Cecil Graham quote at very bottom of article.
A DEFENSE OF THE MOUNTAINEER HASTY CHARACTERIZATION of the mountain people of Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, the Carolinas, and adjacent States as a lawless and murdering lot is denounced as unjust by people who have known them and their ways for many years. We might just as well judge all New Yorkers by the "car-barn gang" and the "gas-house gang," as to judge' all the mountaineers of the Blue Ridge and the Alle- ghanies by the men who shot the judge and court officers at Hillsville, say the papers of that region, in reply to Northern critics. Some of the great men of our Republic have come from these sturdy and God-fearing people of the rock-ribbed mountain slopes, and, tho we may disapprove of then: irregular methods of distilling and their custom of taking the law into their own hands, we are reminded that they have their own justification for these things, which we may at least recognize as resembling the ideas of our own forefathers not many generations back. And it is declared unfair to blame them as'a class for what a few of the most reckless ones do, for every region has its ruffians.
Many of them are descendants of the best English pioneer stock, and it is their isolation from advancing civilization that has made them what they are, we are told by the New York Evening Post anent the Hillsville tragedy. True, the ancestors of some of them were the riffraff of pioneer days, but there are many now who are the kindred of Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. Most of these mountain people started for the West years ago, and, instead of going on with the more persistent pioneers, they stopt in the Blue Ridge and Appalachians. Says The Post:"Those who are unfamiliar with the region may need to fix in their minds something of its geography. The mountains are interpenetrated by fertile valleys. The great valley of Virginia itself, the richest agricultural region in the State, lies between the Blue Ridge and the Alleghanies, and there are many lesser valleys. These choicer lands were settled by people who are not mountaineers at all.
Some of the oldest and most aristocratic towns in Virginia, towns like Abingdon, in Washington County, for instance, towns which have furnished the State with governors and senators and judges, stand in the very midst of the mountain region. These towns never did and do not now —remote as they are from larger centers—share the life of the mountaineers living among the ' knobs' just a few miles away. They are members of civilization in good standing, and have been so from the beginning, possessing rather more than the American average of education and prosperity and the social amenities, tho commerce with their primitive neighbors may have tinged their ideas upon questions like the morality of 'moonshining.'"As for the mountain people whose origin has been suggested, they lived apart. They stood still while their immediate neighbors and those who remained in the lower country to the east of them, and those who had pushed on to the west of them, moved on and became the nation that we know. Once only they were drawn into the main stream of the life of that nation. That was when the nation was torn by the Civil War. The war came to the mountaineers and the mountaineers fought. They fought on both sides. But most of them in the Virginias, in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Carolina fought on the Union side. They had little in common with the slaveholders, and of State pride they had little, also—since most of them knew of the State but vaguely- They were good fighting men. on whichever side they fought."
"Pent up in their mountains," out of touch with their fellow countrymen, the mountaineers live to-day much as they did a generation ago. Even now, they are "only to a very small extent reached by schools." But they are, in general, a religious people, and for the most part moral and honest. Altho:"There were, and are, low and brutish types among them. There are families of degenerates, 'clay-eaters' whose miserable state is variously charged to underfeeding and to inbreeding and original bad blood. There are traces among them of the less formal morals of that seventeenth century to which they properly belong, as there is plenty of that same century's indifference to the practise of sleeping, many and mingled, in a hut, of its lack of squeamishness about dirt, and a number of the niceties associated with life in cities.
There are scattered among them, too, queer tribes of mixt-breed creatures like the gipsy-like 'Melungians' (the spelling is uncertain), who are to be found in the region of Virginia and North Carolina adjoining this very county of Carrollin which the outrage occurred. This particular tribe, for instance, is reputed to have Portuguese blood, and it has morals of its own. Incidentally, it is utterly looked down upon by the mountaineers. The point it is important to make is that the average mountaineer is, according to his lights, a very fair sample of decent manhood and womanhood." As we have been told by other reliable authorities, these people do not think they are violating any moral law when they make whisky of the corn they raise on their poor little farms. The mountaineer lives out of touch with Federal laws, and thinks that internal-revenue officers ought to stay away and not bother him in his efforts to earn a living. Moreover, we read on: "Such as he was, the end of the war found him following his immemorial custom of making a part of his poor corn-crop into whisky. If one mountaineer in a dozen miles of rocky and remote and difficult country had a pot-still and a copper worm, he enabled a score of mountaineers besides himself to get more profit out of those little patches of corn. If the corn were made into meal, it might serve with the help of a little pork to give him and his family a slender daily ration. If part of the corn were made into whisky, one could sell it to buy more and better food and clothing as well.
As soon as things settled down after the war, the activities of the Government toward the collecting of the whisky-tax and the hunting down of illicit stills were redoubled. The revenue-officer began to pervade the mountains, 'ruining trade,' and destroying the mountaineer's property in the way of liquor and pots and copper-coils, besides arresting the mountaineer and locking him up in a jail, or even killing him when he attempted to defend his home and his factory."Observe that the mountaineer had no consciousness of wrongdoing, no conviction of sin. He had made whisky of his corn. He had as much right to do that, according to his lights, as he had to make meal of it or hominy of it. The Government meant nothing to him. He owed it nothing. The law gave him no protection. He did not need it. He protected himself when he had an enemy. Otherwise, there was no protecting to do. The revenue-officer was to him a mere invader—he was no better than a pirate, and fit to be shot on sight as so much human vermin.
The situation was precisely—from the mountaineer's point of view—as if, say, a United States ship-of-war should drop into the harbor of Hamilton and send an officer and armed men ashore to confiscate the Bermudians' crop of spring onions. The Bermudian would, naturally, resist, and afterward he would not feel kindly toward the visitors who, by force, destroyed or carried off the crop and perhaps burned his house and killed some of its occupants."It is the collection of the Federal internal revenue which has created, in the minds of a primitive community which had always been a law unto itself, an attitude of hostility to the agents of a law coming from outside and made by and for those outsiders. A warlike people by nature—tho they are gentle enough except when aroused by what they regard as aggression —they have made war on the revenue-officers and the United States marshals for decades. They have slain and been slain, and when their friends and brothers and fathers and sons have been carried off to jail in the civilized settlements in the valleys, they have come down and rescued them, as their ancestors might have rescued clansmen of theirs held in a robber baron's hold."
Samuel Cecil Graham, a lawyer of Tazewell, Va., writes that the three million people of the Southern mountain districts should not be blamed for the murder of the Hillsville court officials by "a half-dozen savages." We quote this paragraph from his letter: "Take your map, if you please, and for a few moments study it. Adjoining Carroll is the country of Patrick, where the cavalier Gen. J. E. B. Stuart was born; adjoining it also is the county of Floyd, where Admiral Robley D. Evans was born; hard by is the county of Franklin, where Gen. Jubal A. Early was born. Maybe you will say that it was the savage in them that made them great chieftains by land and sea. Was it the storms of the mountains and the floods that called them to the shock of battle and the roar of the ocean? Over yonder among the mountains of Harrison County, now West Virginia, taken from Virginia by a revolutionary rape, Stonewall Jackson was born. True he prayed, but maybe you would call him the greatest savage war-god since Napoleon. These are but a few brilliant examples of the product of the Virginia mountains. The. plain people—the bone and sinew of our country—are intelligent, energetic, educated, brave, and, in many instances, wealthy."