Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South

Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South

Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South

Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South

Excerpt

The means used to achieve political goals are more often than not of greater
relevance to the future world than the intended goals.

—Hannah Arendt, On Violence (1970)

This is a history of Breathitt County, Kentucky, in its first seven or so decades of existence, before and after it became known as Bloody Breathitt. I consider the county and its nickname two separate entities; Breathitt (pronounced “breath-it”) County is a political unit, founded in 1839 in eastern Kentucky. “Bloody Breathitt,” as I use it here, is a collection of factual and fanciful explanations for the county’s history of violence, with broader implications for Kentucky, the South, and the United States. Breathitt County is a place that earned a singular reputation for killing between the Civil War and World War I; Bloody Breathitt is the accumulation of information and misinformation this reputation was made from.

In the early twentieth century Breathitt County was called “the darkest and bloodiest of all the dark and bloody feud counties,” the first—and the last—Kentucky county associated with prolonged, reciprocal, vengeancebased personal or familial conflicts. With that in mind, this book is also an attempt at explaining feud, a word Americans associate with history even though it has been used to defy and deny history in places like Breathitt County. This book is not about blood feuds. It is about acts of violence that were called blood feuds, and why this labeling is deceptive. I consider feud a vague expression, an element of what Wayne Lee calls “clouds of rhetoric” applied to various sorts of violent events in order to make their particulars less knowable. It was one word, among many in the English language, used . . .

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