The late Harry M. Caudill saw the land and people of
Appalachia with an unflinching eye. His classic, Night Comes to the Cumberlands, follows the long road traveled by
the Southern mountaineer.
His biography of the Cumberland Plateau begins in the
violence of Indian wars and ends in the economic despair of the 1950s and
1960s. Two hundred years ago, the plateau was a land of promise. The deep,
twisting valleys contained rich bottomlands; the mountainsides, teeming with
game, produced mighty timber. Some of the people who settled this land in the eighteenth
century may have come from the slums of England, but they became intrepid
explorers like Simon Kenton and Jim Bridger. They lived by scratch farming,
hunting, and making moonshine whiskey. The Civil War ravaged their land,
leaving in its wake a legacy of hate which erupted in the great Kentucky
mountain feuds and continued in the “Moonshine Wars” of the Prohibition era.
In the late nineteenth century, the coal men came into the
isolated valleys and easily persuaded the mountaineers to sign away their mineral
rights for pitifully small sums. The countryside was then systematically
plundered in what constitutes one of the ugliest eras of exploitation in
At the time it was written, Night Comes to the Cumberlands framed an urgent appeal to the
American conscience. Today it details Appalachia’s difficult past, and, at the
same time, presents an accurate historical backdrop for a contemporary
understanding of the Appalachian region that Harry M. Caudill loved so dearly
and served so well. Download and start listening now!