Promoting Tourism And Reclaiming The Hillbilly Narrative, Inside Appalachia

Nov 1, 2019

By branding southern West Virginia “Hatfield & McCoy” country, are we re-affirming negative stereotypes in Appalachia?

In this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia, we’ll look at how some communities in southern West Virginia are hoping to jumpstart their local economies through tourism. In particular, we’ll explore a type of tourism that caters to ATV riders along the Hatfield and McCoy trail system.

But what do we gain, and what do we lose, when we market ourselves to visitors? Are people able to remain true to their real identity, and claim ownership of their own narrative? We'll discuss that and more in this week's episode.


The Hatfield and McCoy feud is full of bloodshed and revenge. An article published in “The New York Times” in 1896 referred to the feud as “frontier lawlessness”, and the Hatfields and McCoys as having an “utter disregard of human life.” The fact that the families got their income from “illegal moonshining” has also been used to discredit them as “outlaws.”

For some, the feud has become synonymous with the type of mischaracterization of Appalachians that we’d like to leave behind. 

We’ll hear about a new episode of PBS’ American Experience that looks deeply at the history of the Hatfield and McCoy Feud, how it was reported, and some of the long-term effects the stories have had on people in Appalachia. 

 

In This Episode:

A group of tourists from New York state were parked outside the Ole Jose Grill and Cantina parking lot in Pineville, Wyoming County.
Credit Emily Allen/ WVPB

  Tourists who come to ride the ATV trails in southern West Virginia help support an ailing economy. But are they also helping to re-ignite an authentic sense of pride?

“We don't really play off of the name, but what we want people to know is here we stick true to tradition,” said Chad Bishop, master distiller at Hatfield & McCoy Moonshine, a distillery in Mingo County that caters to ATV tourists. The owner of the distillery is Nancy Justus, a descendant of the infamous Hatfield family. While she admits that most of her family members have a bit of a temper, she’s quick to point out that there’s more to her family. 

“Hatfields are great people. My daddy would have given you the shirt off his back. I loved my daddy,” Justus said. She said she feels like she’s reclaiming her family’s name through her businesses, and by telling these stories. 

 

The Feud

Also in this episode, the Hatfield and McCoy Feud is a story many Americans have heard of. But the real story is much more complicated. We’ll hear why some descendants of the infamous Hatfield and McCoy families say, it’s time to take back the narrative.

“A lot of people viewed us as uneducated people, savages, and that has never really been the case at all,” Kimberly McCoy, a descendent of the Hatfield and McCoy families. “People can call us whatever they want. But we’ve always been very proud people, very proud of our heritage, and very proud of our homeplace.”

We’ll hear from one of the writers of the new American Experience episode called The Feud, and why they wanted explore the complicated history surrounding the Hatfield and McCoy feud, and the lasting impact it had on Appalachia’s identity.
 

Matewan

You might have heard of this small southern West Virginia town because of the movie, “Matewan”. The 1987 movie highlights the labor history in Mingo County in the 1920s. The film shows a fictionalized account of historic events that led up to the shootout that took place between Baldwin-Felts Detectives, who were hired by the coal company owners, and forces in the community who supported striking miners. Ten people died; seven of them were Baldwin-Felts Detectives. And like the Hatfield and McCoy Feud, the Matewan Massacre is a part of our history that was once taboo and a story often used to characterize Appalachians as lawless, violent and rebellious. 

But now, this southern West Virginia town is leaning into this labor history. Folks in Matewan have even built a museum dedicated to the Mine Wars. It opened in 2015 and draws about 1,500 visitors each summer, many from out of state. 

The museum is closed for the season, but in May, they plan to expand to a larger building in downtown Matewan, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the Matewan Massacre. Local actors from the community, as usual, will perform a re-enactment of the Matewan shootout.  

Blood Creek

“Blood Creek” is a new novel that tells the Matewan tale from the perspective of women who lived through the mine wars. Author Kimberly Collins wrote the book after being inspired by stories about her own family members and how they were involved. 

 

Hope For The Future

 

“We have some grim realities here, but we also have people who are finding solutions, and making changes,” said Inside Appalachia host Jessica Lilly, in the close for this episode. “There’s no lack of work to be done. Economic hardship, apathy, loneliness, addiction. But Appalachia is home to some really creative and extremely resourceful people. Tourism alone can’t fix central Appalachia’s problems. But it can help bring new energy, and people, into our communities. And while visitors bring their own sorts of problems, too, I’d like to believe that they also bring opportunities to glean insight into other places and perspectives. I’d also like to believe that as we become better at telling our own story, other people will begin to understand us better, too.” 

 

Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Dinosaur Burps, and Hazel DickensRoxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. Glynis Board edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia. You can also send an email to InsideAppalachia@wvpublic.org.