People of the Upper Cumberland
Achievements and Contradictions
Unified by geography and themes of tradition and progress, the essays in this anthology present a complex view of the Upper Cumberland area of Tennessee and Kentucky—a remote and, in some ways, mysterious region—and its people. The distinguished contributors cover everything from early folk medicine practices (Opless Walker), to the changing roles of women in the Upper Cumberland (Ann Toplovich), to rarely discussed African American lifeways in the area (Wali R. Kharif). The result is an astonishingly fresh contribution to studies of the Upper Cumberland area.
Randall D. Williams’s essay on the relatively unknown history of American Indians in the region opens the collection, followed by Michael Allen’s history of boating and river professions on the Cumberland River. Al Cross and David Cross illuminate the Republican politics of the Kentucky section of the Upper Cumberland, while Mark Dudney provides a first-of-its-kind look at the early careers of distinguished Tennesseans Cordell Hull and John Gore. Equally fresh is Mary A. Evins’s examination of the career of Congressman Joe L. Evins, and coeditor Michael E. Birdwell and John B. Nisbet III contribute an in-depth piece on John Catron, the Upper Cumberland’s first Supreme Court justice. Troy D. Smith’s essay on Champ Ferguson sheds new light on the Confederate guerilla. Birdwell’s second contribution, an exploration of the history of moonshine, provides insight into a venerable Cumberland tradition. Pairing well with Walker’s essay, Janey Dudney and coeditor W. Calvin Dickinson discuss the superstitions faced by early Upper Cumberland medical professionals. Closing out the grouping of medical articles is Dickinson’s second chapter, which tells the story of Dr. May Cravath Wharton and her contribution to the region’s health care. Laura Clemons explores the relationship between composer Charles Faulkner Bryan and his gifted African American pupil J. Robert Bradley during the Jim Crow era. Birdwell’s third chapter and the collection’s final essay examines race relations in the Upper Cumberland.
Offering a broad look at one of the most understudied regions of the Volunteer State, this significant addition to Tennessee history will prove insightful for students and academics with interdisciplinary and cross-historical interests.
Michael E. Birdwell is a professor of history at Tennessee Technological University and the author of several books, including Celluloid Soldiers: Warner Bros.’s Campaign against Nazism and Rural Life and Culture of the Upper Cumberland.
W. Calvin Dickinson is a professor emeritus of history at Tennessee Technological University. He is the author and editor of several books, including Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee and Tennessee: State of the Nation, now in its second edition.