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Revisiting Matriarchal Moonshiners and Legendary Lawbreakers

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 Inside Appalachia, we listen to stories from 2021 that tackle everything from the challenges that came with virtual schooling to using poetry to change public perception.

We’ll hear an interview with historian Bob Hutton. He 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. Author Robert Gipe discusses 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 third 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

mahala mullins portrait.jpeg
WVPB
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A formal portrait of Mahalia Mullins sits in her cabin.

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.

Appalachia’s Bad Men 

The summer of 2021 marked 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.

Novel Concludes Robert Gipe’s Trilogy

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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 seven 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.

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

jon cooley dulcimers
Courtesy Jon Cooley
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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.

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.

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.

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from the Us and them podcast, which is supported by The West Virginia Humanities Council and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

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

Bill Lynch is our producer, but Roxy Todd helped produce the original episode. Jade Artherhults was our associate producer. Our executive producer is Eric Douglas. 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.

Stay Connected
Inside Appalachia Co-Host/Folkways Reporter, mason.j.adams@gmail.com, @MasonAtoms
Inside Appalachia Producer, blynch@wvpublic.org, @LostHwys
Kelley Libby is a Virginia-based public radio editor and producer. She currently edits for Inside Appalachia and its Folkways Reporting Project at WVPB. You can reach here at kelleylibby@gmail.com