Mountain Folklore

Country road, take me home, to the place I belong
West Virginia, Mountain Mama take me home.
John Denver

This is the Old Wild West, the West that existed before the West we usually think of. It is the place of Feuding Families, Hillbilly Moonshiners, ballads, and Country music.

The Appalachian mountains are a low mountain range that covers what used to be the frontier of early Northern America. It was first settled by Scotch-Irish (aka Ulster Scots in British English) who were descended from the border clans that had lived in the no-mans-land between England and Scotland. Forced by poverty and by the fact that the monarchy very much wanted them somewhere other thean Britain, the Scotch-Irish first settled in the protestant portion of Ireland (hence the name), and then in America, just west of other settlements which was quite convenient to colonists who were pleased to see someone between them and the Indians. The Scotch-Irish were a genuine Proud Warrior Race and the same qualities that helped them survive on the Anglo-Scottish border helped them survive jammed right next to the French and the Iroquois Confederacy. This was a bloody area, known for violence and atrocities on all sides with petty lawlessness even at normal times, adding to the fact that a major war was fought about every generation up to the American Civil War, and this area tended to be the nastiest part, where The Laws and Customs of War were unknown. At the same time, not all was enmity; there was cultural mixture, trade, and there was even interbreeding across the frontier which caused many Indians to adopt white culture and vice-versa wholly or in part. Such that you often could not tell which a person accounted himself as without asking.

The Scotch-Irish were a clannish folk, almost as tribalistic as the Indians. Their code of honor was rather dark with a stern demand for revenge and a high tolerance for violence. At the same time they were survivors, and they were as tough as their country. Much of the Country and Folk Music tradition of America stems from this region; it is known for its haunting ballads, many of them derived from the Child Ballads of Britain. For many a generation they retained an old fashioned belief in magic and luck; their were charms for such things as healing, passing school tests, and what not. Another element is the many folk sayings, some fairly mundane("he who fights another day, lives to fight another day.") some bordering on the shamanistic (like recipes for folk medicine).

Mountain Folklore passed into the west with pioneers, evolving into one of the biggest influences on American tales. Many of the traditional tropes of The Western can be traced to the Appalachian Mountains.

Tropes include:

  • Abduction Is Love: Ritual abduction used to be a regular part of weddings. The real kind wasn't unheard of, though mostly obsolete by the eighteenth century.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Mountain boys were raised to be assertive with the assumption that they would likely be soldiers.
  • Cold Sniper / Friendly Sniper: Mountain folk were famous for this from Daniel Morgan in The American Revolution to Alvin York in World War I. Naturally it would enter into tales.
  • Cool Gun : The Pennsylvania Long Rifle, sometimes erroneously called the "Kentucky Rifle."
  • Cool Old Lady : Mountain Apron Matrons were held in high respect and were the keepers of the traditions of The Clan.
  • The Clan: Extended families would crowd around each other for protection.
  • Davy Crockett: The Real Life one lived here.
  • Determined Homesteader: And all determined variations thereof.
  • Drink Order: They loved whiskey here.
  • Feuding Families: most famously the Hatfields and Mc Coys.
  • Honor Before Reason: One man was brought before the judge for moonshining. He begged leave for permission to settle his affairs. Whereupon he went home, settled his affairs and came back. After all he gave his word.
  • Manly Men Can Hunt: At least, they hunted if they wanted their families to have food on the table.
  • Mountain Man
  • Murder Ballad: And any other kind of ballad. The area is well known for ballads.
  • Never Mess with Granny: According to a story a group of escaped German POWs came to the house of a tough old Apron Matron whereupon she said "Get!". When they wouldn't "Get". She shot them. When the sheriff arrived he mentioned that they were German's whereupon she burst into tears. Exasperated the sheriff asked the problem. She replied, "I thought they was Yankees...".
  • Proud Warrior Race
  • Revenge: A prominent theme of folk tales and songs.
  • Vigilante Man: As frontier justice was often nonexistent, it fell to the friends and relatives of the wronged party to exact recompense on the wrongdoer through whatever means necessary. "A life for a life" was a common punishment.
  • Violent Glaswegian: What many mountain folk once were.