Saturday, February 16, 2008

A racy book, full of the thrill of mountain adventure

In winter one must draw the little hickory split chair close to the hearth, for most of the heat from the great glowing fire goes up the chimney. The house may have a small window-sash immovably built in. Often there is none. The woman cooks breakfast before sun-up, and supper after dark, by the smoky light of a tiny kerosene lamp with no chimney. It is difficult to carry lamp chimneys long distances in saddle-bags.

There are many homes where even the moderate luxury of kerosene is not found. A sliver of pine knot gives an even more smoky light, and occasionally a “ladle” is used. It is preferably made by a blacksmith, an iron saucer with a handle to hang it by. Narrow strips of cotton cloth, twisted or plaited together, are laid in the ladle in grease. The end of the rag is hung over the edge and ignited. Its illumination is not measured in candle power.

The Land of Saddle-bags
by James Watt Raine

The Land of Saddle-bags is one of the three most important books from the early twentieth century that, according to Dwight Billings (a contributor to the 1997 reprint), have "had a profound and lasting impact on how we think about Appalachia and, indeed, on the fact that we commonly believe that such a place and people can be readily identified". Originally published in 1924, it was advertised as a "racy book, full of the thrill of mountain adventure and the delicious humor of vigorously human people."

James Watt Raine, Berea CollegeJames Watt Raine provides eyewitness accounts of mountain speech and folksinging, education, religion, community, politics, and farming. In a conscious effort to dispel the negative stereotype of the drunken, slothful, gun-toting hillbilly prone to violence, Raine presents positive examples from his own experiences among the region's native inhabitants.

In 1906 Raine became an English instructor at Berea College in Kentucky, where one of the courses he taught was on English and Scottish ballads. He eventually submitted several course proposals - all apparently denied by the college - that would have allowed him to grant credit upon a student’s successfully collecting a certain number of ballads from the student's home territory. However, Raine persisted in his ballad collecting activities.

Raine - an actor, playwright, and author – ultimately headed Berea’s English and drama departments. He was much in demand as lecturer for cultural entertainment programs on through to his retirement in 1939. He died on February 12, 1949, age 88, in Berea, Kentucky.

The Land of Saddle-bags, by James Watt Raine, 1997, University Press of Kentucky

Orginally blogged at Appalachian History

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