During the period following the Civil War up through WW2 missionaries and other do gooders descended upon the hills and valleys of Eastern Kentucky. What they found was often to them poverty so stunning that it was beyond comprehension.
Conditions as measured by them were far worse than anyone outside these hills could have imagined. Large families often lived in ramshackle one or two room shacks. Children were dressed in rags if at all and animals often shared the home. It was not uncommon for pigs to live under the porch and chickens to roost on it. The men, women and even the children were often equally addicted to alcohol and tobacco. Violence was a common theme with feuds and mayhem the order of the day while education was almost unheard of.
This is a glimpse of what outsiders perceived to be our mountain culture and while it is a truthful rendering as far as it goes it does not paint the full measure of the nature of our people. The fact is that mountain culture was different because our mountain people were faced with unique challenges that mainstream society scarcely understood. We faced isolation for generations making our people some of the most self sufficient in America. They were well educated in the skill sets needed to thrive in these hills and hollows amongst the beauty bestowed upon this land. More than anything they loved this land and the simple way of life it afforded. Far too many educated outsiders have stereotyped us as somehow inherently inferior because we are different. There seems to this day to be more prejudice against people from Eastern Kentucky than any where else in America. Be that as it may I for one am proud of my mountain heritage and my many mixed bloodlines from Native American to Melungeon.
Something else they discovered juxtaposed with this poverty were powerful families that controlled most everything. The poor had little choice but to side up with a powerful family who would in turn afford them a measure of assurance. If you were without education as most were, you were dependant on someone to guide you through any legal matters. Needless to say exploitation was rampant and to an extent still is. I wish I could say we have overcome this systemic culture of being subservient to the powerful but the simple truth is exploitation of the disadvantaged is still all to common.