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Night Comes To The Cumberlands by Henry M. Caudill

This is the definitive biography of modern Appalachia, particularly the coal mining regions of West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. Caudill is a descendant of people who came to the mountains before 1800. A lawyer and former member of the Kentucky state legislature, he is the most eloquent and persistent voice of outrage against strip mining, and the coal industry in general which has raped the Appalachian hills. Particularly interesting are the descriptions of life in the coal towns of Kentucky from the 1920's on.

So immense was the coalfield and so roadless and rugged its terrain that the process of buying up the region's wealth necessarily consumed considerable time. Commencing about 1875 with the first roving timber buyers and their wildcat surveys, the task was not substantially complete until about 1910. By that year a major portion of the land was owned in fee simple by nonresidents. Perhaps three fourths of the remaining salable timber was held by absentee investors and at least 85 per cent of the minerals had passed out of the hands of the plateau dwellers. Thus the stage was set for the most momentous single occurrence in the history of the Cumberlands - the building of the railroads. After years of rumor and speculation, the iron horse was to intrude upon the ancient solitudes of this beautiful land.

The mountaineer's imagination was fired by this event as by nothing else that has befallen him in his long sojourn in the Southern highlands. He hoped that the much-touted railroads would bring many benefits. The income from the sale of his timber and coal, small though it was, had caused him to acquire a taste for things he could not make and which money alone could provide. His quickened appetite for "factory goods" remained, but his money was soon gone. Hence the boom promised by industrial development offered hope for more such desirable things. Perhaps he and his sons could find jobs at high wages at sawmills or in mines. More and better schools might be built so his children could "lam somethin'," the tempo of life would quicken and his drab existence would take on new color and sparkle. The mountaineer had come to look forward to the new era for many reasons, but most ardently because he knew that his long isolation would be broken and the monotony of his ancient mode of living would be interrupted by new experiences. He was confident of his ability to profit from this new and startling event. Though he had known many hardships and his folk memories groped back through eras of toil, tears and blood, he had never known failure. His life, like those of his ancestors from the Piedmont and the Blue Ridge, had been lived in fiercely free independence, and when the gangs of track layers first poked into the long valleys of the Kentucky, the Big Sandy and the Cumberland, they found the essential physical environment of the plateau remarkably unaltered. Though millions of logshad been jent down the river and many coves were not growing corn instead of tulip poplars, the changes wrought by such labors were not large and thousands of acres of still virgin timber persisted on every hand. But these outward appearances were deceptive. Now the trees that shaded him were no longer his property, and he was little more than a trespasser upon the soil beneath his feet.

ISBN: 1931672008

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