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Bloody BreathittBloody Breathitt

Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South

T. R. C. Hutton


Book published by The University Press of Kentucky


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.

REVIEWS:

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





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