The "Appalachian Region" of the United States has long been considered a separate subdivision of the larger American culture. Popular images of "mountain men" could range from toothless moonshiners to serene elderly women gathered at a quilting bee to violent feuders caught up in some "mess" totally distinct from anything else in the country. However, the mountains have never been as far away as many people considered them, and have played an important part in shaping the nation as we know it. The mountains may seem "different" than the United States, but it was only through a constant interaction with the mainstream outside world that the region developed its own character.
The impact of outsiders has been felt in the Appalachian mountains since before the first white settlers arrived. White explorers reached the Appalachians in the mid-1500s and began the natural effect that their presence brought to the Native American population already living there. By the 1700s, white settlers had moved into the area in the first wave of the American westward movement. Although the British government had barred settlement west of the mountains, as James Bullock wrote, the "covetousness" of the white settlers spelled doom for the Indians.
As the new land became more "free" to take over, the first pioneers rushed to take it over, and in doing so forced the existing population, the Indians, to get out of the way or be killed. Treaties were established between the Indian tribes and the American government to split up the lands and attempt to save the Indian population and its rights, but by the beginning of the 1800s, the government had taken a position much more favorable to the white settlers who called for the extermination of the Indians. The were forced off their land and onto reservations by force and unfair violence, and put into a system of acculturation which would put them into the mainstream society. Although that system was eventually repealed, the impact of Native culture on the development of the region was never as great as it could have been.
That first wave of settlers had been sent into the mountains not only by their own drive for expansion, but by that of wealthy land owners who began the speculation business in the eighteenth century. Since the land was "unoccupied," these land owners would claim huge stakes of land and recruit others to settle on them. This created two effects: 1) it created a buffer zone between the "wild" Indian lands and the established white settlements to the East, and 2) it increased the value of the speculator's land as more people came to live on it. As depicted in Cades Cove, the first settlers confronted many hardships which caused them to form a tightly-knit society within themselves, but which was never disconnected from the mainstream. The region my have been considerably more remote (because of its geography) than the land to the east, but it was never as "isolated" as popular conception believed. At least in Cades Cove, the residents maintained a high level of interaction with the outside world through political and social currents. After all, all of the early settlers had come from somewhere else, and their ties to the East and to national affairs were still factors in their lives.
This interaction would increase greatly, however, in the years following the Civil War. The nation began its movement towards industrialization, and found itself in a great need to fuel its enterprises. Many of the soldiers who had fought in the region during the war returned, this time as agents for Northeastern corporations and land interests. The Appalachians were considered a highly untapped resource, and the rush to seize upon them was even greater than it had been in the early part of the century and before. Speculators entered the mountain communities with an eye for profit, and wherever they saw the possibilities of some sort of natural resource extraction, moved quickly to attain the rights to the land. These speculators were at first welcomed by the mountaineers, but as their intentions and methods became more well-known, they began to see the outsiders as enemies. The speculators were often more knowledgeable of the legal methods of obtaining the land and used them to "steal" the deeds from their early owners. Some entrepreneurs within the communities did work with the outside agents, though, causing a class separation to develop within the region where one had not widely existed before. The large-scale use of the land, therefore, did not affect solely the natural resources of the area, but profoundly did so on the human resources that were available.
The first industry that paved the way for the industrialization of the mountains was the timber industry, which reached its peak at the end of the Nineteenth century. This highly "boom/bust" industry was the first non-agricultural employment widely available to the population of the Appalachians, and was the first to draw its citizens out of the farms and into the temporary camps. Although early timbering had been selective, only removing the best quality lumber, later enterprises became devastating and changed the landscape immensely. A huge conservation movement eventually developed and in an effort to save trees, the national government founded its first national parks, leading to an increase in tourism in the region. The timber industry was short-lived, however, and it was soon eclipsed by a much greater force: coal.
Much like the tree industry, widespread coal mining was brought into the mountains by outside interests, looking to fuel the new industrialization. Local land owners lost an immense proportion of their land to the huge conglomerates of the North or from abroad. With no land left, they were driven into the mining camps, where the only jobs were available, and under the rule of the absentee coal barons who controlled all aspects of their lives. The conditions in the coal camps were often very uncomfortable and work in the coal mines incredibly dangerous, so much so that a huge number of disasters took their toll on the population of the mountains. Coal barons often replaced native workers with immigrants or blacks, brining new population groups to the area. Furthermore, as had been the case with the trees, as the human resources of the mountains were forced into the mine camps, the precious natural resources were being taken out of their natural homes and being shipped to other parts of the country. The only option for most of the miners was to join a union (another outside influence) if allowed, which resulted in open conflicts with the coal barons and other miners. The violence could be huge, as was the West Virginia Mine Wars of 1920-21, which caught the national eye and the situations in Appalachia were realized by the public.
The press received by the conflicts were part
of a long line of publicity which portrayed the Appalachian region in a
very stereotypical way. Journalists had continually portrayed a culture
separate from the rest of the nation, often for different motives.
Early speculators used journalists to publicize the region to settlers
in order to entice them to move there. As communities and national
parks emerged, they attempted to attract tourists to a "wild place" in
order to interact with the native population which represented older, dying
ways. This was also picked up by local colorists like Mary Murfree,
who depicted exotic regions for readers of popular magazines who felt very
different form the characters about which they read. The mountain
people were left as a totally subjective group, unable to fight the stereotypes
which had emerged about them, and the images of Appalachia as a separate
part of the nation continued. Although the constant interaction of
outside forces had greatly worked to form these images, the interior culture
could not break away from them.