Saturday, January 27, 2001

Feud country

Tourists get taste of bloodshed

        The problem with the Appalachian stereotype is that it comes in handy sometimes.

        Want to mess with Yankees? Tell 'em you're from Hatfield-McCoy territory.

        Want to lure tourists to eastern Kentucky? Print a map that says “Feud Country” and mark the sites where people got shot or hanged.

        That's the plan in Pike County, home to the McCoy side of the famous conflict. Already, signs are scattered around the mountains, telling which important killings occurred where. Over 12 years in the 1800s, 12 people perished.

        There's the site where Ellison Mounts was hanged, now situated in front of a science building at Pikeville College, and the site where three McCoy boys were shot. This looks much like it did in 1882 — grass, trees, paw-paw bushes — only now there's a gravel turnaround for gawkers.

Government subsidies
        Officials hope to build a museum and replicas of cabins. They may even construct a temporary gallows.

        State and local governments have contributed $125,000 to the project. An additional $500,000 is expected through the efforts of U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who thinks it's a great idea to satisfy curiosity about feuding Appalachians. (Translation: Exploit history; get money.)

        “When people think of the region, this is one thing they think of, and it's something folks are hoping to parlay into one aspect of our tourism economy,” says Dan DuBray, a Rogers spokesman.

        This sort of thing sometimes provokes hand-wringing among Appalachians.

        It's no longer acceptable to pick on other ethnic groups, so everyone piles on hillbillies. As the daughter of an Appalachian immigrant, I'm a mite weary of all the bad imitations. At least get the accent right.

        Now Pike County wants to make a tourist attraction out of the Hatfields and McCoys. Their feud was an aberration for its time, and scholars have linked some of it to external pressures on the community.

        But that's a complicated story, so it won't be told. Better to condense.

        As Pike County's brochure tells it, the feud began after a Hatfield was acquitted of stealing a McCoy hog. When a witness was killed in revenge, “The hatred grew and the feud was on!”

        Yea! Go killings!

Laid-back hillbillies
        It would be easy to criticize. But just as the Hatfield-McCoy feud is more complicated than its stereotype, so, too, is the Appalachian viewpoint.

        Larry Redden, a second-generation eastern Kentuckian from Price Hill, once picketed the movie Beverly Hillbillies. But he's not particularly bothered by Hatfield-McCoy tourism, as long as the truth is told.

        “People have a right to explain their history and try to bring it out to the public,” says Mr. Redden, 53.

        In Pike County, I checked with Larry Webster, a lawyer known for his unabashed appreciation of redneck culture. He's not expecting much from the project, but neither is he opposed to it. Hillbillies don't much care what others think of them, he says.

        He compared the feud's legacy to Cincinnati's heritage as a place where a few German immigrants probably drank too much beer.

        Are Cincinnatians proud of those immigrants? he asked.

        Probably not ashamed, anyway.

       Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer. She can be reached at (859) 578-5584 or


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