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The “State Line Country” of this book is a rugged area of small farms on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Historically the area has had a homicide rate more than ten times the national average.

In this gripping and penetrating study of violence and death in the State Line Country, Lynwood Montell examines the local historical and social conditions, as well as the prevailing attitudes and values, that gave rise and support to rowdy behavior and homicidal acts from the Civil War to the 1930s. The area fostered, he thinks, a culture of violence. Drawing from vivid oral accounts, which he recorded from present-day residents,

Montell describes more than fifty killings that took place in the area, locating them against a background of farming, moonshining, and sawmilling activities common in that country. In addition to reconstructing the homicides, he analyzes their key features, including the circumstances under which they took place, the relationships of the persons involved, the presence of precipitating factors (such as deadly weapons and alcohol) in the culture, and attitudes toward law enforcement officers and the courts.

This close examination of homicide in the State Line Country, which views the tradition from regional and national perspectives, adds a significant dimension to the study of homicide in the South.

"An inside look at a way of life that was familiar to many of our early settlers and fellow Kentuckians."—Ashland Independent

"Montell has once again provided a compelling look at mountain people, and he has challenged scholars to think more deeplhy about the world in which these people live."—Georgia Historical Quarterly

"A captivating book of interest to the general reader as well as to the specialist in oral traditions and cultureal history . . . with ample oral narratives of killings as macabre as any story written by Flannery O'Connor."—Indiana Magazine of History

"Montell has provided a model for local studies tht can contribute to a better understanding of the broader patterns of regional violence."—Journal of American History

"Provides material that other will find highly suggestive about a subject still poorly understood."—Journal of Southern History

"Skillfully reconstructs the lives of real and troubled people in the upper Cumberlands, and his sympathetic reading even of their lethal habits of folk justice lends needed balance and rich texture to a literature that has been too heavily and judgementally focused on the carnage."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"An importatnt contribution ot the ongoing dialogue between history and folklore, with much to say to both disciplines."—Southern Folklore

"An important book for a number of reasons. First, it demonstrates the value of folklore in historical work. Second, it provides an excellent example of the significance of oral narratives in determining traditional attitudes. Third, it refines some earlier broader studies of Southern homicide."—Western Folklore

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Kentucky, Tennessee, State Line Country, History of violence, Kentucky history, Tennessee history


United States History

Killings: Folk Justice in the Upper South
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