Appalachia

“MUST READS” FOR LOVERS OF APPALACHIA

Today’s guest post was written by Jim Casada.

Mountain View

Frequently over the months and years loyal Blind Pig & the Acorn readers have mentioned books they thought of particular importance or asked, in the comment section, about ones that were particularly good in giving insight into the region we call Appalachia. Further, Tipper has consistently quoted from her favorites, and a number of regular readers have shared guest columns where works of note have been mentioned or featured. A few weeks back, spurred by a response to a comment of mine which asked for some reading recommendations, I suggested to Tipper that it might be a good idea to share a sort of starter or “must read” list of recommended books with loyal Blind Pig readers.

Since I’m a hopelessly addicted bibliophile whose personal collection numbers well above 10,000 volumes, an inveterate reader with a special interest in Appalachia, a writer who has published considerable material on the region including a recent book entitled A Smoky Mountain Boyhood, and someone with considerable experience in writing on this type subject matter (I’ve written the “Books” column for Sporting Classics and served as its Editor-at-Large for decades), here’s my effort at a sort of guide or starter list of Appalachian books and authors. Please note that this is one individual’s thoughts, nothing more and nothing less, although I consulted my brother, Don, also a keen student of the region, and incorporated suggestions he made.  I’ve likewise suggested to Tipper that she make any additions she sees fit.

 I’ve intentionally omitted cookbooks, since they are a sort of special genre, although I presently have a book which is mostly a food memoir but also contains numerous recipes in the finishing stages. The same holds true for studies of the Cherokees, guidebooks, and with relatively few exceptions, works on hunting and fishing. Beyond that, I would urge readers to comment with their own thoughts on any and all omissions they feel merit inclusion. I’m guessing that such efforts will cost me, because I simply can’t resist acquiring every new book on Appalachia which others deem of importance or worthy of reading. 

Forgetting a mere listing of books momentarily, I strongly recommend anyone who wants to have a solid grasp of mountain ways as reflected in our manner of speaking and expression somehow try to lay their hands on a copy of Joe Hall and Michael Montgomery’s Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English. It’s scholarly, it’s expensive (out of print although another, expanded edition is presumably in the works), and it’s indispensable. If you doubt this, just look at how much Tipper has relied on it for her beloved vocabulary tests and other information. I treasure my copy and seldom does a week pass when I don’t refer to it. Another reference work which is a “must” is Anne Bridges, Russell Clement, and Ken Wise, Terra Incognita: An Annotated Bibliography of the Great Smoky Mountains, 1544-1934.

Finally, before turning to the list, I’ll mention the fact that some items often considered “standards” are  to my way of thinking, and I feel  strongly about the matter, works which do major disservice in their depiction of mountain days and traditional ways. In that grouping I would include the likes of Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders (what one scholar whom I respect called the “nadir of stereotyping”), Margaret Morley’s The Carolina Mountains, the fictional works of John Fox and Charles Egbert Craddock (the pen name of Mary N. Murfree), and much more recently, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. 

With that bit of a diatribe off my chest, here’s a list, in alphabetical order, of books I consider to be of appreciable substance and insight. They range from well-known works to ones with which most folks will not be familiar and from delightful reading to truly heavy going. They lean heavily towards the Smokies, set squarely in the heart of Appalachia, and that’s for no other reason than the fact that mountains range is my native heath and the home of my heart.


James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Although the geographical setting is on the edge of Appalachia (in Alabama), the subject matter, which depicts impoverished people and hard living in the depths of the Depression, is revelatory and deeply moving. Photography by Walker Evans adds immensely to the book’s overall impact.

Tom Alexander, Mountain Fever. The author and his wife established the famed Cataloochee Ranch (which recently sold) and for the better part of a century the family ran this iconic destination. The book is Tom’s look at his life, the ranch, mountain ways, and more. It includes some great photographs.

Harriette Simpson Arnow, Seedtime on the Cumberland, Flowering of the Cumberland, The Dollmaker, Hunter’s Horn, and Mountain Path all remain as powerful as they were when written more than a half century ago. She was equally adept at historical material and fiction.

John Preston Arthur, Western North Carolina: A History. Published over a century ago, this work is problematic in places but involved a great deal of research and remains useful in many ways. It is available free on the Internet.

Elizabeth Skaggs Bowman, Land of High Horizons. A resident of Knoxville, Bowman had a summer home in the Smokies and an obvious love affair with the region. The first chapter of her book, “The Call of the Smokies,” says a great deal.

Rick Bragg. A Pulitzer Prize winner for newspaper work, Bragg is probably best known for All Over but the Shoutin’. He will also be familiar to readers of Southern Living magazine through his column in its pages, but from an Appalachian perspective I’d choose his The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Southern Table. It’s a literary tour de force.

Alberta and Carson Brewer, Valley So Wide: A Folk History. This is a TVA-sponsored history of the Little Tennessee River Valley. The sponsorship unquestionably tainted the thrust of the book to some extent (TVA has a decidedly checkered history), but it is comprehensive. Carson also wrote A Wonderment of Mountains and Just Over the Next Ridge. 

Elizabeth Brown, The Wild East. This is a well-researched history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which offers interesting and credible insight on a number of matters associated with its creation, the impact it had on those living there, and stereotyping of mountain people.

Robert S. Brunk (Editor), May We All Remember Well. Two volumes. A collection of essays on the history and culture of Western North Carolina put together by the scion of a well-known auction firm in Asheville, NC.

Florence Cope Bush, Dorie: Woman of the Mountains. A wonderfully told story of what the life of a logging camp man and his family was like in the area now encompassed by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Down to earth and a pure delight.

Wayne Caldwell, Cataloochee and Requiem by Fire. A native of Asheville, Caldwell’s two novels both are set squarely in the Southern highlands and have rightly received wide critical praise.

John C. Campbell, The Southern Highland and His Homeland. Ostensibly written by the man who gave his name to the famed folk school in Brasstown, in reality his wife, Olive Dame Campbell, did most of the work on this book as well as founding the school. The book was far from completion when he died in 1919. 

Jim Casada, A Smoky Mountain Boyhood: Memories, Musings, and More (2020). Obviously I’m wide open to criticism for including a book of my own in this list, but hopefully those who read it will feel it contains enough reflections of Appalachian life in the middle of the twentieth century to merit making this list. I’ll also mention another book of mine, Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (2009), which includes a lot of history of the region and plenty of anecdotes about mountain characters.

Wiley Cash. A modern writer of sort of the same literary “school” as Ron Rash and Rick Bragg—try The Last Ballad, A Land More Kind than Home, or This Dark Road to Mercy.

Fred Chappell. A native of Canton, NC, Chappell is a poet, novelist, and short story writer of amazing productivity. Start with Look Back All the Green Valley.

Olive Tilford Dargan, From My Highest Hill. Set in the Round Top area of Swain County, this highly readable book is distinguished by the manner in which the author managed to establish friendships and identify with mountain folk who were remarkably different from her.

Donald Edward Davis, Where There Are Mountains: An Environmental History of the Southern Appalachians. The book’s subtitle pretty well captures the essence of the subject matter. I understand that he has a massive book on the American chestnut somewhere close to publication.

Durwood Dunn, Cades Cove: The Life and Death of a Southern Appalachian Community. Writing about his people but doing so from the perspective of a trained historian, Dunn gives a compelling portrait of a special place and those who peopled it.

Wilma Dykeman. The author of numerous works, Dykeman is, second perhaps only to Thomas Wolfe, the most famous Western North Carolina writer. I personally find Wolfe unreadable, which is perhaps more a comment on my intellect than his abilities, but Dykeman is a delight. Try any of her many works, perhaps beginning with The Tall Woman, Remember the Innocent Earth, or The Far Family (fiction) or The French Broad (non-fiction—a volume in the Rivers of America series).

Sydney Saylor Farr, My Appalachia: A Memoir. Long associated with Berea College, Farr (who died in 2011) was a herald and an oracle for all things associated with Appalachia. This memoir is powerful and wonderfully persuasive.

Foxfire series. This long-running series is decidedly uneven in content, even within individual volumes, but some of the accounts of old-time ways and mountain people are powerful and wonderfully well done. Also, don’t overlook the Foxfire cookbook.

Charles Frazier. Most noted for his blockbuster novel, Cold Mountain, Frazier grew up in far southwestern North Carolina. In addition to Cold Mountain, Thirteen Moons and Nightwoods have an Appalachian setting. I personally find Thirteen Moons at least as appealing as the much better known Cold Mountain.

Michael Frome, Strangers in High Places. A beautifully written, well-researched, and deeply evocative look at notable visitors to the Great Smokies over the centuries.

Jim Gasque, Hunting and Fishing in the Great Smokies. This classic from 1949 was written by an Asheville journalist of the “been there, done that” nature, and the work makes easy and interesting reading. The original is rare but a reprint with a new Introduction by Jim Casada appeared a few years back and is readily available.

Joseph Hall, Smoky Mountain Folks and Their Lore. See also Sayings from Old Smoky, and Yarns and Tales from the Great Smokies. It should be noted that without Hall’s stellar researches and field work, Michael Montgomery’s A Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English (see below) would never have been published.

Silas House, Clay’s Quilt. On of the leading voices of Appalachian literature today, House is an activist who has focused considerable energy on fighting strip mining.

Sam Hunnicutt, Twenty Years Hunting and Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains. Extraordinarily rare in the original version (there are actually two somewhat different early versions, both scarce as hen’s teeth), it was recently reprinted with a new introduction by Jim Casada. This book is quaint and written by a man who was marginally literate. Yet for a feel for what sport was like in the mountains a century ago, it is without parallel. 

Herbert Hyde, My Home Is in the Smoky Mountains. Hyde was a splendid orator who filled every seat the N. C. legislative chamber any time he was scheduled to speak, the epitome of an old-time mountain lawyer, and a grand tell of tales as this collection of almost a hundred stories makes clear. The book deserves to be far more widely known than it is.

Alan and Karen Jabbour, Decoration Day in the Mountains: Traditions of Cemetery Decoration in the Southern Appalachians. A detailed and informative look at the long-established practice of cleaning cemeteries, decorating graves, and usually enjoying a fine potluck meal with singing of Gospel songs which is still prevalent in portions of the high country.

Loyal Jones, Appalachian Values. One of two unofficial deans of Appalachian studies (Cratis Williams being the other—see below), Jones wrote other works of importance including Minstrel of the Appalachians: The Story of Bascom Lamar Lunsford  and Country Music Humorists and Comedians. But Appalachian Values, which provides a wonderful counterpoise to the countless efforts in stereotyping mountain folks, is perhaps his most important work. It also features splendid photography by Warren Brunner.

Horace Kephart, Our Southern Highlanders. I actually list this book with no small degree of doubt, because as Appalachian scholar Durwood Dunn wrote in his fine book on Cades Cove, it represents the absolute nadir of stereotyping of mountain folks. If you are a person with deep Appalachian roots and can read it without a growing sense of repugnancy, then I can only conclude that there’s a hole in your soul or else your views of what is enduring and endearing about Appalachia are the antithesis of mine.

Robert L. Mason, The Lure of the Great Smokies. A little-known work, this book was written by a Knoxville resident who was a keen observer with a journalist’s instincts. He got “out and about” in his effort to capture the essence of mountain ways.

Emma Bell Miles, The Spirit of the Mountains. Unlike contemporaries such as Kephart and Morley, Miles enjoyed the advantage of personal familiarity with the Southern Appalachians from having spent most of her youth there. Better still, she eschewed condescension and romanticizing, two practices which were almost the standard approaches in looks at the region in the first half of the twentieth century.

Zell Miller, The Mountains Within Me and Purt Nigh Gone: The Old Mountain Ways. Miller was one of the last of the old-time Democrat politicians who served as Georgia governor and a U. S. Senator and famously said that he didn’t leave his party but rather the Democrat Party left him. Born, raised, and educated in north Georgia, he became a fine writer with a sure feel for and pride in his Appalachian roots.

Michael Montgomery and Joseph S. Hall, Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English. Massive, magisterial, and a “must have” for any serious student of Appalachian folkways, this work is unfortunately out of print and quite pricey. An updated and expanded version is in the works, but I have no idea of its current status. If you want to understand “mountain talk” in the fullest degree, this is THE key reference source.

Robert Morgan, Gap Creek, The Mountains Won’t Remember Us, and Boone: A Biography, along with various other works of fiction, short stories, and poems. I’m personally not as fond of Morgan’s work as that of a number of his contemporary “powerhouse” writers such as Ron Rash and Lee Smith, but there’s no question that his is a major voice in contemporary Appalachian literature. As an aside, I have to wonder how on God’s green earth this fellow, a Tar Heel born and Tar Heel bred, ended up with a decades’ long career at Cornell University.

Margaret Morley, The Carolina Mountains. One of the early and classic examples of stereotyping of mountain folks. In my personal view this work ranks only second to Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders when it comes to sad, shameful, and flat-out disgusting portrayals of the people of Appalachian and their folkways. Both books made a big splash on the national scene, but it is difficult to escape the conclusion they were written in search of Northern dollars rather than the truth.

Wiley Oakley, Roamin’ with the Roamin’ Man of the Smoky Mountains. A colorful character who put Gatlinburg on the map, Oakley wrote a number of other books including Roamin’ & Restin’, Restin’, and Rememberin’ the Roamin’ Man of the Mountains (compiled by his son, Harvey). All are quaint and quirky, much after the fashion of Sam Hunnicutt’s book, but they carry the tone and tenor of the Smokies in unmistakable fashion.

John O’Brien, At Home in the Heart of Appalachia. Set in West Virginia, this is a fine look at coal field culture and especially at the deep-seated Appalachian links to tradition and family. It is insightful not only on mountain folks but on the often ridiculous proselytizing of well-intentioned but singularly misguided outlanders determined to change the errant ways of Appalachia.

Duane Oliver, Remembered Lives and Hazel Creek from Then Till Now pay loving tribute to the author’s forebears and a way of life with vanished with the creation of the Park.

John Parris, Roaming the Mountains. This book uses the title of his column in the Asheville Citizen-Times, which ran three times a week for over four decades. It is a collection of those columns, and the same is true for My Mountains, My People; Mountain Bred; These Storied Mountains; and Mountain Cooking. In my view no one has captured the essence of Appalachian life, with all its nuances, characteristics, traditions, and wonder, than Parris. To read his material is to be transported back to a world of pure delight, the true Appalachia of yesteryear.

Willadeene Parton, Smoky Mountain Memories: Stories from the Hearts of the Parton Family. The oldest of Dolly’s many siblings, Willadeene is a genuine talent in her own right, as this book and a cookbook she wrote, All Day Singing & Dinner on the Ground, make abundantly clear.

Daniel S. Pierce, Hazel Creek: The Life and Death of an Iconic Mountain Community. A short but well-researched and balanced look at a thriving community which vanished, as did Cades Cove and Cataloochee, with the coming of the GSMNP. One big difference is that Hazel Creek is remote and not readily accessible, unlike the other two. Pierce is also the author of a book on the history of the GSMNP and perhaps the best work available on the history of moonshining in North Carolina, Tar Heel Lightnin’.

Bob Plott, Colorful Characters of the Great Smoky Mountains. This work focuses, as is true of several others from Plott, on hunters, bear dogs, and the sporting culture of the mountains.

Charles F. Price, Hiwassee: A Novel of the Civil War. The first of several works of fiction with a serious underpinning of fact from Price, I include this book primarily out of family loyalty. It touches, albeit tangentially, on the life of my paternal grandmother, Minnie Price Casada. Hers was a hard life, begun in bondage and lived in its entirety in poverty, yet she was in many ways a remarkable woman. 

Mary Beth Pudup et al. (Editors), Appalachia in the Making: The Mountain South in the Nineteenth Century (1995). A scholarly collection of essays, many of which require some pretty deep plowing. I’m a recovering academic and I’ll never fully understand why the ivory tower seems so dead set on producing prose which is all too often an instant antidote for insomnia. Having said that there I’ll hasten to add that there is grist here for the mill of anyone seriously interested in understanding the making of Appalachia. Topics covered range from the Cherokees to race, women to deforestation, and much more.

Ron Rash, Serena, One Foot in Eden, The Cove, Saints at the River, and a bunch more novels along with short stories and poetry put Rash squarely in the forefront of contemporary voices of Appalachia. A good way to get a sampling is from The Ron Rash Reader edited by Randall Wilhelm. Fittingly, Rash holds the John Parris Chair in Appalachian Studies at Western Carolina University.

Gladys Trentham Russell, It Happened in the Smokies and Call Me Hillbilly. Unabashedly proud of her roots, Russell, who grew up along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River not far from Gatlinburg, is enchanting. You won’t find finer coverage of mountain life in the 1920s and 1930s than what she has to offer in prose spiced with a bit of poetry.

Henry D. Shapiro, Appalachia on Our Mind: The Southern Mountains and Mountaineers in the American Co0nsciousness, 1870-1920. This is, in essence, a scholarly study of outside views of people who were considered strange, backward, remote, and different. The work’s lengthy bibliography is quite useful, although it is heavy going (and that’s an understatement).

Muriel Earley Sheppard, Cabins in the Laurel. Set in N. C.’s Toe River Valley, this classic was written by an outlander from New York who moved to the region with her husband in the late 1920s. Although it probably overemphasizes backwardness, the book does not take the sensationalizing road traveled by Kephart, Morley, and others, and in some senses is closer to the work of Olive Tilford Dargan. One captivating aspect is photography by Bayard Wooten.

Richard A. Straw and H. Tyler Blethen (Editors), High Mountains Rising: Appalachia in Time and Place. A collection of fourteen essays ranging across such subjects as music, folklife, and religion. A notable oversight is food. In the present context Ted Olsen’s chapter on “Literature” is of particular note.

Jesse Stuart. It is difficult to mention a single work, or even a half dozen, and get to the essence of the great son of the eastern Kentucky soil who was Jesse Stuart. He visited my undergraduate alma mater during my college years and while he didn’t make a huge splash with me then, with the passage of time and hopefully greater wisdom I’ve come to appreciate his multi-faceted genius as a novelist, in memoirs, sonnets, and short stories. Try The Thread That Runs So True, My World, Trees of Heaven, or Men of the Mountains.

Stephen Wallace Taylor, The New South’s New Frontier: A Social History of Economic Development in Southwestern North Carolina. Decidedly deep going, but for those willing to battle the surging and sometimes stifling seas of scholarly appurtenances, there’s plenty of good stuff here. The book was an outgrowth of Taylor’s dissertation at the University of Tennessee.

Laura Thornborough, The Great Smoky Mountains. Much of this book, written by a Knoxville native, is a now dated guidebook for outside visitors, but there is enough other material to justify its inclusion in this list.

Cleo Hicks Williams, Gratitude for Shoes: Growing Up Poor in the Smokies. Strictly speaking in a geographical sense, the author didn’t grow up in the Smokies but just outside them. Also, she belabors mountain talk to the point of distraction, and I for one think she goes way overboard on this subject. Nonetheless, this book is an accurate and at times moving reflection of life in Appalachia in the years after the Great Depression.

Cratis D. Williams, Tales from Sacred Wind: Coming of Age in Appalachia. One of the founding fathers of Appalachian Studies, Williams was also a gifted writer. This memoir should be read in conjunction with I Become a Teacher: A Memoir of One-Room School Life in Eastern Kentucky and The Cratis Williams Chronicles: I Come to Boone.

John Alexander Williams, Appalachia: A History. Written by a professor at Appalachian State University, this book is perhaps most important for the manner in which it lets inhabitants of the region, gifted storytellers through the generations, tell their special story with their own voices.

Michael Ann Williams, Great Smoky Mountains Folklife. Although part of a scholarly series, this book is an easy read and is particularly insightful on music, dance, and the impact the coming of the Park had on local life. Her Homeplace: The Social Use and Meaning of the Folk Dwelling in Southwestern North Carolina is also an excellent use of oral history to explain home places.

J. D. Williamson, Hillbillyland: What the Movies Did to the Mountains & What the Mountains Did to the Movies. An in-depth study of stereotyping of the people of Appalachia through the eyes of Hollywood. If you are a product of the Appalachian soil the author’s findings will make your blood boil.

Barbara Taylor Woodall, It’s Not My Mountain Anymore. A poignant and powerful look, over the lifespan of a north Georgia woman, of change in Appalachia. You’ll laugh, you’ll sigh, and if you’ve got a heart, you’ll cry. Most of all though, this lament offers a voice of longing for what we have lost.

Ann Miller Woodford, When All God’s Children Get Together: a Celebration of the Lives and Music of African American People in Far Western North Carolina. A veritable tome, this look at blacks in WNC is an extraordinary compendium of research.


I hope you enjoyed Jim’s book list! I’ll share my favorite books about Appalachia in the near future.

Tipper

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27 Comments

  • Reply
    Catherine Spence
    March 16, 2021 at 10:28 am

    I would also add Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers. It’s a collection of essays by published women of the region, novelists as well as poets.

  • Reply
    Holly Jacobs
    March 7, 2021 at 6:40 am

    Thank you for this extensive list. I hail from the north, but found my bio father and his extended family comes from Appalachia. They’ve been part of the mountains pre-Revolution. Your blog has been a wonderful way for me to connect to this part of my heritage and I look forward to finding out more from the reading list!

  • Reply
    Betty Saxon Hopkins
    March 4, 2021 at 8:07 pm

    One more I would like to add is “Smokehouse Ham, Spoonbread, and Scuppernong Wine” by Joseph Dabney. It has a wonderful history of Appalachia and it’s people with pictures, and some great recipes for all you cooks. It won the prestigous James Beard Award. I attended a lecture by Mr. Dabney when it first came out and feel very fortunate to have been able to get an autographed copy which I treasure.

  • Reply
    JanL
    March 4, 2021 at 4:28 pm

    Love this list.
    One of my all time favorites (although very sad) is Harriette Simpson Arnow’s The Dollmaker. My mother told me to read it many years ago, I still have and treasure my copy.
    I grew up in Pickens County SC, moving to Ohio at age 21 after marrying an Ohioan that had been stationed with the Air Force in SC. Like Patricia Price, I too have encountered the changes of returning home to find out others don’t hear me as ‘being from here’. The mountains are powerful in my memories. My dad worked on the dam in Murphy, NC as a young man.
    I agree with Janet Smart that ‘Christy’ was a superb book about one person’s experiences in Appalachia.
    A book of enjoyment is “The Widows” by Jess Montgomery (published 2018), it is fiction based on the Appalachian areas of southern Ohio enhanced by history of the first woman sheriff in Ohio, coal mines, life stresses. Much similarity to our Carolinas portion of Appalachia. The second book in the series is “The Hollows” (published 2019). The third book is to come out soon.

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    March 4, 2021 at 9:40 am

    Don’t leave out the Foxfire series…

  • Reply
    Catherine Spence
    March 4, 2021 at 9:30 am

    Yaaaasss! At Home in the Heart of Appalachia is my all-time favorite! My family roots run deep in West Virginia, and John O’Brien’s book helps so much when I’m homesick. I’ve worn one copy almost out and actually have a second copy on hand! O’Brien’s explanation of how the Appalachian stereotype was formed is the clearest and most concise one that I’ve ever read. You do have to wade through the issues he had with his father, but his description of living in the eastern Potomac Highlands of WV is outstanding! Thanks, Jim, for this list!

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    March 3, 2021 at 9:25 pm

    My favorites list would always have on it Lee Smith from Grundy, Virginia…writer of so many great books . Also Mildred Hahn for. ….The hawks done gone

  • Reply
    Joe Finnell
    March 3, 2021 at 4:17 pm

    I can’t agree with his, or Dunn’s, assessment of Kephart’s book, Our Southern Highlanders. I’ve read through the book 4 or 5 times, now, and all I ever got from it was a deep and abiding love and respect of the region and its people. Stereotyping? It is not stereotyping when you present an unvarnished depiction of the people. If anything, his book is an apologia for the people and their way of life, to dispel and put to rest the usual stereotyping so prevalent during his day (and even to this day) by the media, academia, and ersatz intellectuals.
    My maternal grandmother was born and raised in the region Kephart frequented, in 1898, which means she would have been a teenager when Kephart was gathering material for his book there. Stereotyping? Quite the contrary, it was a most accurate depiction. I see my grandmother all through his book — her way of cooking, her superstitions, her work ethic, her world view, her religious beliefs, etc.
    Kephart so loved the place, and its people, that he lobbied long and hard for the Smoky Mountains to become a national park. Today, there is a mountain in the park that bears his name, as tribute — Kephart Mountain.

    • Reply
      Don Casada
      March 6, 2021 at 10:52 am

      1. Does this four of five time reader of Our Southern Highlanders (OSH) consider the words below, quoted from OSH, to reflect what he calls “a deep and abiding love and respect of the region and its people?”
      – “Our typical mountaineer is lank, he is always unkempt.”
      – “Gray eyes predominate, sometimes vacuous, but oftener hard, searching, crafty—the feral eye of primitive man.”
      – “Many wear habitually a sullen scowl, hateful and suspicious, which in men of combative age, and often in the old women, is sinister and vindictive.”

      2. If the reader had any knowledge of the settlement history of Hazel Creek, these words from OSH would have raised bright red flags:
      “The mountain folk still live in the eighteenth century.”
      “The mountaineers of the South are marked apart from all other folks by dialect, by customs, by character, by self-conscious isolation.”
      The first known white settlers on Hazel Creek, Moses and Patience Proctor, arrived three decades into the nineteenth century, having traveled from central North Carolina to Tennessee before moving to Hazel Creek. Virtually all of the heads of household living on upper Hazel Creek, closest to Kephart’s “back of beyond” in a copper mine cabin, were not natives of Hazel Creek; they came there from elsewhere, including from other states. That includes Granville Calhoun, who along with his wife Lillie Hall, nursed Kephart back to health and Calhoun’s parents, Joshua and Susan Calhoun. It also includes Jack Coburn, a native of Michigan who arrived almost two decades before Kephart and his wife Bland, from Cherokee County. Many of the men in the vicinity had served in the Civil War, and the majority of those, including Louis Marion Medlin for whom the Medlin community was named, arrived after the war.
      Lives of 18th century, self-conscious isolation simply did not exist on Hazel Creek during Kephart’s brief stay there.
      3. There are many reasons to believe that the views of Horace Kephart presented in OSH are not those gained in his 15 months, from late 1904 until early 1906 – a stretch that he counts as three years in OSH – while living on Sugar Fork of Hazel Creek; rather, they are plagiarized views expressed by other writers as much as a quarter century before the publication of OSH. The word plagiarize is not one to use casually; evidence follows.
      Compare, for example, passages from William Goodell Frost in “Our Contemporary Ancestors in the Southern Mountains,” published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1899, five years before Kephart left family and his librarian’s job St. Louis with those of Kephart, from OSH in 1913:
      Frost: “When you cannot get what you need at this little store down by the creek, where do you go?
      The mountain woman answered with a frank smile, ‘I go without.’”
      Kephart, Chapter XI: “The Land of Do Without.”
      Frost: “Where are ye aimin’ ter go? Where do ye live at? Where’s yer old man?
      Kephart: “What you aimin’ to do up hyur? How much money do you make? Whar’s your old woman?”
      Frost: “They are behind relatively as well as absolutely, and their pride is all the more vehement because conscious of an insecure foundation. Shy, sensitive, undemonstrative, the mountain man and woman are pathetically belated.”
      Kephart: “The mountaineers are high-strung and sensitive to criticism…Of late years they are growing conscious of their own belatedness and that touches a tender spot.”
      Frost: “It is a longer journey from northern Ohio to eastern Kentucky than from America to Europe; for one day’s ride brings us into the eighteenth century.”
      Kephart: “Time has lingered in Appalachia. The mountain folk still live in the eighteenth century.”
      Frost: “This is the excuse for their Rip Van Winkle sleep. They have been beleaguered by nature.”
      Kephart: “So the southern highlanders languished in isolation, sunk in a Rip Van Winkle sleep”

      I completed a page by page tabulation of the first four Kephart journals in the Western Carolina University collection in which I estimated the portion of the page which fit into four different categories. Results, as a percentage of content, are below.
      Newspaper clippings: 32%
      Transcriptions and references to works of others: 55%
      Personal notes and observations: 10%
      Sayings of locals: 3%
      To summarize, only 10% of his journal entries were original observations, while 87% was material produced by others, including William Goodell Frost.
      Both words slightly tweaked to avoid blatant plagiarism and the distribution of the journal content are consistent with OSH’s characterizations being dominated by the works of others, not by his own first hand observations.

      4. Regarding Durwood Dunn’s listing Kephart’s work as the nadir of stereotyping, William Goodell Frost, whose characterizations and words were clearly appropriated by Kephart, has also been called out as a stereotyper by the very college where he served and others:
      “Frost is one of the chief villains in the stereotyping of mountain people” – Shannon Wilson, former Head of Special Collections & Archives and Berea College Archivist in William Goodell Frost: Race and Region
      “Frost probably had good intentions. Unfortunately, this came at the cost of truth. By claiming that the language was somehow ‘frozen in history.’ he helped perpetuate the stereotype that Appalachians were a retrograde people.” – Kirk Hazen, resident linguist of West Virginia University’s English department in Combatting Stereotypes About Appalachian Dialects

      Like Frost, Kephart may have also had good intentions; it is impossible to know. Judge Felix Alley knew Kephart personally and spent much time in the Cooper House during periods when serving in the courtroom in Bryson City. Alley said that he loved Kephart as a friend, but went on to observe in “Random Thoughts and Musings of a Mountaineer” that Kephart (and Margaret Morley) wrote “to be interesting and not to tell the truth; their primary object, with respect to what they say about our mountaineers being, to write books that would sell in the North.”

      Jim’s and my father, Commodore Casada, grew up in the area and knew Horace Kephart. When asked for his opinion of the man, he summed it up by “He wouldn’t look you in the eye.” When I once mentioned that in a presentation, a fellow in the group observed “Well, if I’d run off and left my wife and children to fend for themselves, I reckon I couldn’t look you in the eye, either.”

      • Reply
        Catherine Spence
        March 16, 2021 at 10:23 am

        In his book At Home in the Heart of Appalachia, John O’Brien names Frost and his presidency of Berea College as the final piece of how the Appalachian stereotype came into existence.

  • Reply
    Patricia Price
    March 3, 2021 at 3:17 pm

    My only negative comment is about Hillbilly Elegy. Being a displaced Appalachian residing in northeast Ohio, I have to say that members of my library book club who are not Southerners got the impression from that book that all Appalachians are shiftless and drug-addicted. I am not a fan of that book. However, a book that Tipper quoted from a while ago, The Dollmaker, is a favorite of mine because it so clearly and sadly draws a picture which is like my life. We moved up to Ohio from TN in 1951, and that book makes me cry about the memories. It is so hard to immigrate to where they do not talk, worship, or eat the same foods as the people one left behind. And then, after living up North half one’s life, to discover that one still has the dialect but not the home town TN accent, so I am a flatlander in my home town, as well. Lots to ponder on. Be kind to those with Yankee accents, because they may actually be one of you, in disguise!

  • Reply
    dee
    March 3, 2021 at 2:24 pm

    I typed my comments and then must have accidentally pressed something and oops it was all gone. Frustrating!! So I will just say Thank you Jim for your list. I will make a copy for future use. I have read quite a few of those books you mentioned. I really love the early history of America. Especially, after searching through genealogy and finding most of my people came to this country in the early 1700’s and fought in the Revolution. Right now I am reading “The Summer of 1787,” The Men who Invented the Constitution. I am in awe of how young most of these men were and how dedicated they were to fighting for Independence.

  • Reply
    Judy Hays
    March 3, 2021 at 12:37 pm

    Thank you so much for this list of recommended books. I have printed it and will use it for future reading.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    March 3, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    Wow! I’m dazzled!

  • Reply
    SusieQ
    March 3, 2021 at 11:46 am

    Thank you for such a helpful list of must reads and recommended books, and kindness to share it…. especially all your insight into each one.

  • Reply
    Doug Bishop
    March 3, 2021 at 11:21 am

    Not exactly Appalachia, My Side of The Mountain by Jean Craighead George is an interesting read intended more for the youth market. After reading Henry David Thoreau a young boy decides leave home and live alone in the mountains of New York.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    March 3, 2021 at 11:15 am

    There is always bad and good in everything, so I really dislike any writing that tries to paint Appalachia as poverty stricken, dirty, and ignorant. My granddaughter took WV History in college, and the books were carefully selected to steer clear of stereotyping and any false depiction of ignorant hillbillies. She gave me one titled The Milkweed Ladies” that is a raw depiction of Appalachian life, but is respectful . I personally felt Hillbilly Elegy negatively impacted my granddaughter’s life later as a child of Appalachia. I wondered why no outrage!
    “The Rocket Boys” by Homer Hickam Jr. shows the dreams of a young son of a coal miner. One that had little to do with Appalachian life, but took place not far from my home was a historical novel based on the life of Mary Ingles titled “Follow the River.” James Thorn researched the area extensively before writing the book. It was certainly one I could not put down.

    One particularly near and dear to my heart was written by a third cousin, Harry Lester, titled simply “Boy From Bud.” It so very accurately depicts everyday life in those days for children of the coal fields. Based on Harry’s life it accurately captures the determination and spirit of the people. It is available on Amazon, and is very interesting to read.

    Thanks so much to Tipper and Jim Casada for all you do to preserve our wonderful culture. It will take people like you to undo the damage done by some who chose to to be narrowminded. I was in Home Heath and saw first hand the kind and unique qualities in these people.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    March 3, 2021 at 10:29 am

    Before I read today’s post I only had about ten books on my “To Read” list. Now that list is too large to contemplate.

  • Reply
    Ray Presley
    March 3, 2021 at 9:36 am

    Good compilation, Jim. Thanks. Didn’t know that Dolly had a sister who was a writer. But some of Dolly’s talent was bound to rub off on her siblings…perhaps not recognizing enough of Willadeene’s own talent.

  • Reply
    Sallie the apple doll lady
    March 3, 2021 at 9:24 am

    Thanks, Mr Casada. I was aware of and own some of these books. Others I hadn’t heard of but anticipate reading. And I look forward to Tippers list. Your lists will definitely be shared with several of the younger generation.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 3, 2021 at 9:07 am

    Yes, thanks! I really like good books about Appalachia but cannot stand to read those by people who do not know what they are writing about or – worse – just trying to make money by mining Appalachia (actually their own imagination).

    I would suggest 2 other books.

    One is the Melville Davisson Post fictional stories of “Uncle Abner”. Post was a native of West Virginia and his’Uncle Abner’ stories are set there. Abner is a wise mountain man who untangles knotty problems, heads off trouble and is respected by all who know him. Appalachia character is shown in a unique and strong way that I think is also real.

    The other is Harry Caudill’s nonfiction “Night Comes to the Cumberlands”. The title is as if it is a sequel to Arnow’s “Seedtime” and “Flowering of the Cumberlands” books on Jim’s list and Caudill takes the saga forward through much of the turbulent coal mining era. As the title shows, it is specific to the Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky. Caudill was a lawyer in eastern Kentucky and he also wrote “Slender Is The Thread” which is stories from his law practice. I have not yet read it so cannot recommend from personal knowledge but have confidence in Mr. Caudill that it is well worth a read.

    Mr. Casada, I know there have been several bibliographies of Appalachia written. But they are so large and include so much junk (which one cannot tell by looking) that it is so nice to see an “annotated” version by someone who knows both the region and the cited work! I know you have plenty to do but you have the knowledge and ability to craft a really good annotated Appalachian bibliography.

  • Reply
    Dona DiBernardo Silver
    March 3, 2021 at 8:45 am

    Thanks.
    An impressive list. My daughter in laws family is from Indiana but she was raised in Alabama and has Cherokee blood. I want her to see this list.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    March 3, 2021 at 8:27 am

    What a great list, Jim. Some of them sound very interesting to me. Forgive me for mentioning my latest book, but I recently published a fictional novel, Where the Stars Grant Wishes, that takes place in rural West Virginia in 1908. It is a light read (56,000 words). I was inspired by the novel Christy and my grandparents when I wrote this book. You can look it up on amazon, click on the ‘look inside’ feature and read a sample and see what it’s like.

  • Reply
    Randy
    March 3, 2021 at 8:27 am

    The only author that I am familiar with besides Jim Casada, is Rick Bragg. I think I have read all of Rick Bragg’s books and will say this he knows and has lived what he writes about when he writes about the south. I live in Greenville County and for the ones that don’t know, Greenville was called the textile capital of the world at one time.
    All Over But The Shoutin’ tells about what happen to the workers and the mill towns when the mills closed. The other book, The Best Cook In The World is both a cook book and a story book about his people and especially his mother. It will make you laugh at times and feel sad at times. Some of it parallels my childhood life.

    My mother taught me to love reading and I can be content anywhere if there is something for me to read. I will be looking for the other books.

  • Reply
    Cindy Pressley
    March 3, 2021 at 7:28 am

    Now that’s a list! Thank you Jim, and thank you for all your support and advise to Tipper over the years she has written this blog. She is clearly dedicated as you are to preserving our rich heritage. Also, like you, she preserves the integrity of our rich heritage.
    My Dad always read John Parris in the paper and his books. He loved Appalachia and was born and raised here.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    March 3, 2021 at 7:22 am

    Jim,
    Thank you.

  • Reply
    dana
    March 3, 2021 at 6:47 am

    Thanks for this list!

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