Into the hollers with Lonewacko
While driving through West Virginia and now Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, several images come to mind. One of the more positive ones is from an old National Geographic feature on remote hollers, I believe in WV. One of the settlements was so remote that the only access to it was over a rope bridge.
If I'd had more time in the area and more preparation, it might be interesting to find a place like that. However, at the same time I'd be worried a bit about my personal safety. I get conflicting reports about whether the stereotypes of mountainfolk are accurate or not.
Part of the confusion I have with people seems to be over the difference between private land and public land which is claimed by families or groups. Are there parts where people can't go, despite it being public land, without fear of being jacked by hillbillies driving '42 Ford pickups?
One of my correspondents - a female native of these parts - had this to say about visiting hollers: "I went there once when a child to pick berries, and a local child asked me 'you got backy in your yard too?' I couldn't understand a word he was saying, it was like he was speaking a foreign language. I was told don't go into the hollers without a shotgun." She also told me to watch out for marijuana growers back in those hills, even on state lands.
Maybe my post about WV was based on me not meeting any of the hardcore mountainfolk.
Another one of my correspondents, a pretty young lady from Asheville, downplayed the antagonistic image of Appalachians, saying that she'd never met anyone who would shoot her for walking on their land or who would try to marry her off to their 80-year-old granddads. According to her, WNC folks are pretty mellow and, while hillbillies might be ignorant about certain things, they aren't necessarily dumb. I also brightened her day by informing her that Deliverance was actually set and filmed on the South Carolina/Georgia border, and North Carolina is absolved of any guilt therein.
One way to avoid problems or at least mitigate them would be to go with a guide. That might cost money, unless I could volunteer my reportarial skills, or, more realistically, my computer skills. I'm sure there are organizations out there trying to computerize the mountains, and I might be able to go out with them for a day or three in exchange for being guided to one of the remote hollers. Maybe next trip.
UPDATE: I'm also quite interested in the Melungeons, a group of people who live way out in the boonies in the Cumberland Gap. Their origins are shrouded in mystery: are they descendents of Portuguese sailers, galley slaves, American Indians, blacks, or what? See this article for an overview, and what appears to be a semi-official site is here.