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Matriarchal Moonshiners, Legendary Lawbreakers And More, Inside Appalachia

baldwin-felts
Courtesy Bob Hutton
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Denison Baldwin and Thomas Felts were part of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, ca.1912.

This week on the show, we’ll hear an interview with historian Bob Hutton, who recently wrote an article about the Baldwin-Felts gunmen, who did the dirty work of Appalachia’s capitalists, even against their neighbors.

We’ll also meet instrument-makers who are determined to find a way, even if it’s using the remnants of a refrigerator box, and women who are using poetry to undercut the wrong ideas people have about mountaineers. And author Robert Gipe has just completed his trilogy, which concludes the turbulent story of several generations of an eastern Kentucky family. At the center of his first book “Trampoline” is Dawn Jewell, a spitfire whose mother struggled with addiction. Gipe’s new book “Pop” follows Nicolette, the daughter of Dawn Jewell. Nicolette struggles to cope with her environment, and her family, while working to make something for herself. In this case — an artisanal soda pop business.

In This Episode:

Matriarchal Moonshiners
Legend has it Mahalia Mullins once beat 30 men in a wrestling match and sold them all whiskey afterwards. Mullins was born in 1824 into a poor family and died a folk hero. The cabin where she lived has even become a tourist destination in East Tennessee. But who’s the woman behind the myth? We’ll travel to the Mahalia Mullins cabin to learn her story.

mahala mullins.jpeg
WVPB
A formal portrait of Mahala Mullins.

Appalachia’s Bad Men Baldwin-Felts
This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain — the largest armed uprising in America since the Civil War, and a major event in West Virginia history. A few months before Blair Mountain, the spark was lit with the Matewan Massacre.

In these conflicts, the coal bosses hired henchmen to do their dirty work. In the Mine Wars, that was the Baldwin-Felts private detective agency. The agency started in the Virginia coalfields by William Gibbony Baldwin and the detectives were hired to help suppress strikes by coal miners.

Inside Appalachia co-host Mason Adams spoke with historian Bob Hutton about his research into the Baldwin-Felts, which started in the Virginia coalfields.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
The opioid epidemic is forcing many grandparents, even great-grandparents, to become parents again to a new generation. In a recent episode of the “Us and Them” podcast, host Trey Kay spoke with West Virginia grandparents about the challenges of raising children during COVID-19.

If you’re a grandparent or a great-grandparent raising children, we’d like to hear from you. Write us a letter — we’re at Inside Appalachia, 600 Capitol Street, Charleston, WV. 25301. Or send an email to insideappalachia@wvpublic.org.

 

New Novel Concludes Robert Gipe’s Trilogy
We also hear about another multigenerational family, who are the main characters in Robert Gipe’s illustrated novels, set in Eastern Kentucky. The books combine funny, heartbreaking writing and cartoony drawings. The first book in the series, “Trampoline,” came out six years ago. That novel introduced Dawn Jewell — a teenager growing up with a mother addicted to pain pills. Robert Gipe spoke with Inside Appalachia just after Trampoline was published in 2015.

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Courtesy Robert Gipe
An illustration from Robert Gipe's new book "Pop."

A sequel called “Weedeater” followed up three years later, and now, Gipe has completed the trilogy with a new book called “Pop.” It’s not easy to describe the books — there’s love, violence and a dash of magical realism. Assistant news director Eric Douglas talked with Gipe to discuss the trilogy.

From Recycling To Musical Instruments
Many people have been relying on online shopping these days, but who knew all that leftover cardboard had a use? This week on the show, we learn about dulcimers that are made out of cardboard, and even banjos made out of coffee cans. As part of our Inside Appalachia Folkways series, reporter Rachel Moore spoke to two instrument-makers in Western North Carolina who are carrying on the DIY instrument legacy.

jon cooley dulcimers
Courtesy Jon Cooley
Jon Cooley performs a dulcimer demonstration at the Mars Hill Farmer's Market. Cooley teaches both adults and children how to make and play cardboard dulcimers.

Dispelling Stereotypes
We all know the stereotypes people use to paint Appalachia as a cultural backwater. But as WEKU’s Cheri Lawson reports, a dedicated group of fierce women are using the arts to fight back.

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Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Dinosaur Burps, Wes Swing, John Petterson, and John Wyatt.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Jade Artherhults is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Andrea Billups. Kelley Libby is our editor. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.

Mason Adams grew up near the Virginia/West Virginia border in Clifton Forge, Virginia. He’s covered mountain communities and the issues affecting them since 2001. His work has appeared in Southerly, Daily Yonder, 100 Days in Appalachia, Mother Jones, Huffington Post and elsewhere. He lives with his family and a small herd of goats in Floyd County, Virginia. Follow him on Twitter @MasonAtoms.
Roxy Todd joined West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 2014 and works as the producer for Inside Appalachia. She's the recipient of a National Edward R. Murrow Award for "Excellence in Video," for a story about the demands small farmers face in West Virginia. She also won a National PMJA Award For "Best Feature" for her story about the history of John Denver's song "Country Roads." You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.
Jade Artherhults is the associate producer for Inside Appalachia and is based in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at jartherhults@wvpublic.org or @JArtherhults on Twitter.