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Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South

by T.R.C. Hutton

Availablepaperback$30.00s 978-0-8131-6124-2
Availablecloth$70.00x 978-0-8131-3646-2
New Directions in Southern History
444 pages  Pubdate: 03/03/2015  6 x 9  26 b&w photos, 5 maps, 12 tables

The notorious conflict between the Hatfield and the McCoy families of West Virginia and Kentucky is often remembered as America’s most famous feud, but it was relatively brief and subdued compared to the violence in Breathitt County, Kentucky. From the Reconstruction period until the early twentieth century, Breathitt’s 500 square miles of rugged upcountry land was known as “the darkest and bloodiest of all the dark and bloody feud counties” due to its considerable number of homicides, which were not always related to the factional conflicts that swept the region.

In Bloody Breathitt, T. R. C. Hutton casts a critical eye on this territory for the first time. He carefully investigates instances of individual and mass violence in the county from the Civil War through the Progressive era, exploring links between specific incidents and broader national and regional events. Although the killings were typically portrayed as depoliticized occurrences, Hutton explains how their causes and implications often reflected distinctly political intentions. By framing the incidents as “feuds,” those in positions of authority disguised politically motivated murders by placing them in a fictive past, preventing outsiders from understanding the complex reality.

This meticulously researched volume offers the first comprehensive narrative of the violence in this infamous Kentucky county, examining Breathitt’s brutal history and its significance to the state, the South, and the nation. While the United States has enjoyed unparalleled longevity as a republic, Hutton’s timely study reminds readers that the nation’s political stability has had a tremendous cost in terms of bloodshed.

T. R. C. Hutton is a lecturer in the department of history at the University of Tennessee.

Bloody Breathitt is a fascinating and important contribution to the historiography of modern Kentucky, the Civil War era, and regional identity and memory. Hutton understands the significance of his project and tackles it with brio. -- W. Fitzhugh Brundage, editor of Beyond Blackface: African Americans and the Creation of American Popular Culture, 1890-1930

An impressive work. Hutton contributes significantly to the scholarship on a variety of subjects, including feuding, violence in general, and the mid to late nineteenth century history of Kentucky and Appalachia. More importantly, he places the study of Breathitt County’s violent history in the context not only of regional history but American history. -- Altina Waller, Professor Emerita, University of Connecticut, Storrs

A very high quality work of history and politics that will serve as a standard for comparison. Thought provoking and compelling. -- Robert S. Weise, author of Grasping at Independence: Debt, Male Authority and Mineral Rights in Appalachian Kentucky, 1850–1915

Eudora Welty once said that 'One place comprehended can make us understand other places better.' Nowhere has local history proved so vital to understanding region as it has for Appalachian scholarship, as this latest entry in the field amply demonstrates. Like the best of those “one place” studies, Hutton’s masterful portrait of Kentucky’s Breathitt County offers both compelling stories and insightful analysis of the multiple forms of violence that played out in this most notorious of highland South locales, while shedding considerable light on how such brutal power struggles played out elsewhere in the region and well beyond. -- John C. Inscoe, author of Race, War, and Remembrance in the Appalachian South

Bloody Breathitt delivers a good, clean shot, slaying longstanding myths about white mountaineers and internecine conflict in the decades after the Civil War. Corrupt politicians, northern industrialist powers, and bloodthirsty newspapers play central roles in this drama of whiteness and intraracial violence, which unfolds on a stage of massive social and cultural dislocations set by modernization and rapid economic change. This is one of those rare studies which will satisfy sociologists, anthropologists, and historians alike. -- Matt Wray, Temple University

The book does an excellent job of framing the violence within the political climate of the time as well as underscoring Breathitt County's importance to Kentucky, the South, and the United States--reminding us that political stability has come at a price. -- Kentucky Kaleidoscope

An illuminating analysis... Recommended. -- Choice

Bloody Breathitt is a solid work of scholarship, well written and exhaustively researched. Hutton has mined a wealth of primary sources, including often overlooked state and local government records to produce a milestone study of violence in the Appalachian South. -- Ohio Valley History

Winner of the Weatherford Award for Non-fiction

Winner of the Appalachian Writers Association Book of the Year for Non-fiction

Winner of a Kentucky History Award

Named an honorable mention title for the Wiley Silver Prize

In linking local events to the politics of the wider South--to which they were previously imagined to be immune--Hutton makes major contributions to both Appalachian and Southern History. -- Dwight B. Billings -- American Historical Review

In this impressive work, T.R.C. Hutton... sheds light on the history of the very unique and interesting county of Breathitt, Kentucky and its reputation for feuds. -- The Southeastern Librarian

…addresses a quintessentially Appalachian topic – feuds – in a fresh and enlightening manner. -- Appalachian Journal

An important study that should appeal to both scholars and general readers alike. -- Appalachian Journal

Hutton’s local history is insightful, and his compelling arguments will certainly intrigue scholars. -- Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Hutton’s study contributes significantly to the scholarship on Kentucky, Appalachia, and the South. -- Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

The research and insights Hutton presents provide a fresh look at a topic of renewed interest for historians and general audiences alike. By highlighting
the real motivations for violence in Breathitt County, Hutton links the county
to the larger themes of racial and political violence in the United States. This
work gives evidence that the residents of Breathitt County were not living
in a world apart or with barbaric values but instead faced the same modern
struggles of those living in urban and rural areas, North and South. This work
should stand as a new foundation for interpreting the meaning of violence in
Kentucky and in Appalachia. -- West Virginia History