Pine Mountain Settlement School
When Katherine Pettit founded Hindman Settlement School with May Stone in 1902, near the small town of Hyden in Knott County, Kentucky, she was following the national trend of Progressivism. Hindman was also under the influence of another national trend, that is the WCTU or the Women’s Christian Temperance Union which provided funds for the school during its first thirteen years. Bolstered by the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs and a close friendship with Frances Beauchamp, the Kentucky president of the WCTU, Pettit and Stone mounted a vigorous campaign to eradicate alcoholism through a program of education that focused on social and moral reform and scientific agriculture. Pettit and Stone were not hatchet carriers like Carrie Nation, but believed that reform started from within and not from without. The emphasis placed on health work that Pettit learned at Hindman carried over into her work and programs at Pine Mountain. Following the departure of Katherine Pettit to Pine Mountain in 1913, the funding from the WCTU at Hindman dwindled and the school experienced several disastrous fires that added to their woes. In 1915 Hindman experienced a “Broadening Out,” as they described it and the name of the institution was changed to the HIndman Settlement School. The name change came just as prohibition began to be a hot political debate in the state of Kentucky. Frances Beauchamp, President of the Kentucky WCTU and Pettit’s good friend, was soon the object of considerable “mudslinging” as described by Jess Stoddart in her well-researched history The Story of Hindman Settlement School, (Stoddart 2002, p.82.)
While references to the WCTU school disappeared in the wake of the political battles of Prohibition, the settlement at HIndman charted a new progressive educational course. Angered by the perceived retrenchment, some significant donors pulled their support for the school. All the while, moonshine did not go away. It continued to light the midnight production of corn liquor and the revenue continued to support families who lived on the economic margins of society. Moonshine, after all, was a very persuasive form of social capital not unlike that seen in many parts of the world — not just Appalachia.
One of the most striking similarities to Appalachia’s current return to what often referred to as “localism” can be seen in locations as diverse as some South American countries and some countries in Asia, particularly in Thailand, Myanmar and Viet Nam. In those countries, the nostalgia for social capital has been used to push for reform in health services, agriculture, and a variety of other older practices that were remembered as part of a healthy democracy. Place-based education has often returned to indigenous knowledge and past practice in an effort to re-form and inform social capital. A brief visit of a group of Viet Nam visitors to Pine Mountain in the early 1970’s said much about the common issues in the two countries, including the power of Asian “moonshine” cooperation to work its magic in restoring civic engagement and a nudge toward less destructive economic initiatives.
In Appalachia drinking was a discreet part of many social gatherings. It enhanced conversation, made young men bold, softened the sensibilities of young women, and lessened the aching back of the subsistence farmer. in many cases it was the juice of existence, providing desperate families a means of providing for a house full of children or a poor crop. But it is the stories of rampant drinking and associated violence like that documented in the records of the Hyden school and also at Pine Mountain, particularly in the health centers at Big Laurel and Line Fork, that are seared on the public mind.
The novels of Lucy Furman, a staff member at Hindman, and many other writers promoted “moonshine stories” to an eager national audience. Percy McKaye, the playwright, John Fox, Jr., and other visitors to Pine Mountain continued to romanticize the practice of distillation of the mountain’s principal crop — corn. John Fox, Jr. was notoriously energized by the marketing of what Darlene Wilson in her article for Back Talk From Appalachia (1999) called the “dichotomous stereotype of twin Kentuckys — the twins being the “…sneaky, murderous, moonshiners,” versus the “civilized ‘outer-world’ of the rest of the state. (See: Wilson, Back Talk … p. 112). Yet, marketing and publications at Hindman and later at Pine Mountain can be found using moonshine stories to capture the imagination of an audience that believed the area to be rampant with stills and guns. And, unfortunately, the written records of the settlement schools, largely the record of “outsider authors” gave credence to some of these tales of violence, redemption, and survival, centered on moonshine. After all, in the 1920’s Harlan County’s murder rate was the highest in the country — a ready testimony to the mixture of guns and alchohol. “Bloody Harlan” was at it core a name born out of the mine wars, but the rage was often fed by corn liquor. But then, even this story is much more complex than the easy tales often spun about moonshine in the mountains of Kentuckyh and further it is an easy path to the long road of stereotyping.
At any rate, Pine Mountain seemed particularly taken with Henry Mixter Penniman, the faculty member from Berea College in Kentucky who came for a visit. Berea accommodated many visitors who wished to visit the rugged mountains of eastern Kentucky and to see first-hand how the notorious mountaineer lived. Often visitors were directed by the college or the President, to Pine Mountain to give the folk a deeper dive into the local culture. Berea had for many years provided consultation and support to the settlement schools in the southeastern corner of the state. Many articles by William G. Frost, an early President of Berea , and his faculty from the college wrote considerably of the region they felt was in their care. They kept in close touch with the settlement schools in the southeastern region and “moonshine” was often part of their concern and their somewhat exaggerated focus.
Dr. Henry Mixter Penniman, a faculty at Berea, was particularly concerned by the Southern Appalachians and its people and was someone who had built up good relations with many of the people in the southeast. He was a close observer of the culture and of the language and the wry humor of the people of the region, Not much was missed by Penniman, as seen in two tales both collected and somewhat concocted and, apparently, recited by Penniman in public performances. These selections have surrogates in the archival record at Pine Mountain.
THE BEREA QUARTERLY 1908, p. 20-22
Henry Mixter Penninman
Professor Penniman is a Massachusetts man. educated at Brown University and Andover Seminary, who has been connected with Berea since 1895. More than any other member of our Faculty he has assisted the President in making friends for our enterprise, and more than any other, except Professor Dinsmore, he has come into immediate contact with the mountaineers. He is what the Kentuckians call a “good mixer,” and he has preached on half the creeks in Eastern Kentucky, entering into the real life of the people with a sympathy which opens their hearts.
Professor Penniman has a keen sense of the ludicrous and a good scent for literary material as well. Instead of giving a statistical or scientific account, he gives pictures, impressions, which have made his presentations of the mountain work most attractive, in spite of his being a ”minister of the Gospel” he has become a great impersonator, so that a business men’s club. or a camping party in the Adirondacks, counts itself fortunate when it can secure an hour of his recitals.
We find room this month for one brief anecdote which is almost a photograph, but a photograph selected with an artist’s eye. Following it is a testimonial which recently came to President Frost regarding Professor Penniman’s impersonations before well known people in Cincinnati.
Henry Mixter Penniman.
Splash, splash down the mountain passway, for the path lay in a stream fretting and playing in the narrows of a “V” shaped valley. A mountaineer on his big mule and a preacher on his horse, after a long, hot, hard day were riding forward in the edge of the night. The preacher was tired enough to fall off.
A long silence was broken by the man on the mule.
“Mr. Preacher, you’ve ben yere nigh six year an all thet time I’ve knowed you’ve wanted to ast me one thing an you ain’t ast hit. Now I’m goin to promise hit to ye without your astin.
“You’ve alius wanted to ast me not to drink no mo’. Now I promise I’ll drink no mo’.”
This was like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky. The horse moved over to the mule, and the big mountain hand almost crushed the preacher’s. The stump and rock in mid-stream that made them unclasp was a relief.
Again the silence was broken.
“Mr. Preacher this country will take notice that I am quitting and they’ll know you are into hit, and thars plenty of folks round yere will try and spile your mind about me. Now if you hear I git drunk come to me, ef I get drunk I’ll tell ye an I’ll still be a pullin’ to be a temperance man.”
Not long after, the preacher heard his mountain friend was drunk and riding to his cabin asked point blank,
“Did you get drunk?”
“Yes” was the answer,
“I got powerful drunk but I got drunk innercent.
” How was that?
“I’m troubled with cramps, when them cramps ketch holt I hev to hev some whiskey to subjew their pain and when I git nuf whiskey down to subjew their pain, hit onhinges my ides as to what’s right and I slip into the rest innercent.”
‘ ‘Mr. Preacher I don’t low hits wrong to take er dram, but I do say hits wrong to git drunk. I cayn’t tak er dram and not tak mo’, so I ain’t goin to tak er dram.”
HARD AND HIS KETTLE
Another tale, among many about the use and abuse of Moonshine can be found in the Pine Mountain Settlement School collections .”Hard and His Kettle,” a chapter from Henry Mixter Penniman’s book, Moonshine Life of the Mountains of Kentucky. It is uncertain whether the book was published, but this particular chapter was printed in the Berea Quarterly, Vol. 12 No. 9, 1908 and captures the same regional dialect and humor often found in the community around Pine Mountain.
The typescript found here varies only slightly from the Berea Quarterly version.