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Appalachia Through My Eyes - Creek and Holler Folks

Creek and holler folks

Creek and holler folks is one of many synonyms used to describe people who live in the mountains. A few others that come to mind:

  • Hillbilly
  • Branch water people
  • Mountain people
  • Ridge runners
  • Hill people

I don't care what you call them, I just call them my people.


Appalachia Through My Eyes - A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.

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We have the high ground. We could look down on everyone else but seldom do. How can they look up to see us and presume look down on us?

Don't matter though. I'm way past giving a $#!+ what anyone thinks. I yam what I yam.

I was appalled when the Cohen Brothers made "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?". People flocked to see the movie, including people of the Southern Appalachians, and people of the South and people of Scots-Irish descent. I was amazed that the group and family known as "The Whites" sang for the movie and used it to attempt to further their stage appeal the Grand Ole Opry. We set ourselves up to be laughed at; we further the stereotyping by thinking it's funny to deride our culture and exaggerate our dialect into farcical shame. The now archaic forms of English found in our mountains are treasures in linguistics and culture yet we allow and participate in profaning the use of that form. I resent the term "Hillbilly"; I am hurt when I see our Scots-Irish heritage taken for buffoonery. My forebears came here from western Europe and Ireland and Scotland. My ancestors laid the railways and tracks that facilitated America's economic growth. My people dug the canals and felled the timber for a new nation. And, yes, spread churches and Christianity all about; a religion of love and kindness and forgiveness.

Yet, we allow ourselves to be seen, by absurd generalization, as racists, as freaks because we worship Jesus and read the Bible, as ignoramuses with pronounced nasal twang to the point of silliness. We allow the stereotype to be furthered in television shows and we don't change the channel nor revolt at the slur.

I am sickened by the "N" word, and terms like "Kike" and "Pollock" and "Chink". By God, I am equally angered as America continues to brand Southerners and Appalachians as "Hillbillies" and "Bible-Bangers" and anything else except just plain, normal, good people. We are not stupid. We are not oafs. We are not interbred idiots. We are not racists. And I.Q. statistics show that we are generally brighter than average. We should stop accepting the stereotype and the slurs.

I'm of two minds about the term 'Hillbilly'. It was conceived as derogation and is most often used that way by ignorant flatlanders. If a geographical reference is required for descriptive purposes I suggest that 'Southern Appalachian Highlander' be used. It's a slight modification of Kephart's term. It is also accurate since 'Highlander' implies, at the very least, hills if not mountains and 'Highlander' also reflects the predominant cultural heritage of our region in its reference to Scotland. On the other hand, I feel free to use 'Hillbilly' anytime someone exhibits behavior that provokes me. After all I'm a 'Hillbilly' and I can call you one when you jump line, cut me off in traffic or display discourtesy and dunderheadness. If the offense is bad enough I'll escalate to 'D*&%#@ Yankee' even though one of my friends, from Pennsylvania, is one. I say it with a smile when I call him that. By the way shouldn't that be "Crick 'n Holler Folk"? Folk is plural; jest like deer and sheep.

'Our people' were always there to help in times of trouble, no matter how little they had. Some of the 'youngsters' would keep firewood for the widows in the area. And how the ladies could turn out a table of food for a funeral or a dinner on ground
Im sure there's good folks everywhere but I'm glad and thankful to be part of our beautiful mountain world.

I wonder do they have mountains in heaven? And hollers and hills? And branches and creeks with footlogs acrost? And trails leading through thickets of ivy and laurel? Do they had rocks cushioned with moss and leaves as deep as your knees? Are there hidden waterfalls with snuff glasses to catch you a drink? Are there vines on the steep places to pull yourself up? And saplings to grab onto when you have to go down?
I don't want to stroll on no street paved with gold. I prefer to walk barefooted on a cool, damp trail. I don't need no crown encrusted with jewels. Just a toboggan cap to pull over my ears. I don't need a mansion, I wouldn't know how to live. Just a little cabin with a sheet metal roof to capture the music when it rains.
My musings could go on forever but I vowed to stop before I filled up the comment box. I am a purebred hillbilly. That's how God made me! I won't argue with Him!


Don't forget Tarheel!

I had a Uncle I didn't care for too much! He sometimes forgot his past and got above his raisin'! Don't get me wrong, I think it's wonderful to succeed in life...but gettin' too "snuddyfied "and "uppity" to the point of makin' fun of others is wrong and right hurtful.
Anyhow he was talking about going to college one time when we were visiting in NC...I said that someday I wanted to go to a Chicago art school when I grew up! He said, "What's wrong with you! There's no money in art! Why you might be living in Tennessee but you're still nothing but a little Tarheel !" I didn't know what a tarheel was or what it meant until later talking to my parents! They laughed and said, "Well, you were born in NC, so we're all Tarheels!"
Dad explained the folklore, etc. I also heard that the hills were so high here in the mountains of NC that you had to put pitch/tar on your shoes so when walking you wouldn't fall off the side and plunge to your death! Ha
Thanks Tipper,
PS...I am a born Tarheel...but living on the hill n' ridge of the Tennessee Hillbillies!

My origin is not of the Mountains, but certainly wish I was. My trips to the south and experiences with the Appalachian people I have met has always been a warm and friendly one. If I was to refer to them as anything I would call them the salt of the earth, and their country the most beautiful of any I have seen.
Tipper really love The blind pig and the acorn, Pappy's bluegrass gospel music. Can't make it to the Fall festival in Brasstown this year but hope and pray it will be an event I can make next year. Can we get CD's of Pappy's gospel music?

My first visit to the Smokies about 71.
I've always felt right at home there when talking to the native people.

I've never heard branch water people.
Dad use to say ole so and so has religion that's weaker than branch water.

When I was younger and in the dating era, we guys would carefully pick a girl from the Bankhead mountain area to call on because most could sling a young hefer across her shoulders, just a little intimidating, we called them mountain hoogers.

These are my people too. Folks who look down on us are just ignorant. I know people who can't make it here, because of the Cold Winters. They may make more money, not being from here, but money isn't everything. I love the Mountains. ...Ken

I spent my entire working life away from the mountains and am REALLY glad to be back. I love the mountains and the people of the mountains. They are like no others.

My wife and I live in Shelton, Connecticut, which is sort of an "ex-urb" of metropolitan New Haven, fifteen miles due east on Route 34. Sounds like a belch. With my family's Western and Appalachian heritage, which I consider a basic, romantic connection to the land--the reality that civilization, for all its virtues, such as painless dentistry, papers over--I prefer to think of myself as a displaced Mountain Man.

This morning I just read an article entitled "Cherokee Names and Legends" written by an extraordinary person! Now I am looking forward to going back to that beautiful mountain region - where I have roamed - oh so many times! I will walk through those trails where 'our people' once trod. I will listen to the sounds from the winds. I will recall the stories that my Mother shared with her children, about how her Grandmother 'hid out' in the mountains. She did not have to walk on 'THE TRAIL OF TEARS' those many years ago. Indeed it has been MANY YEARS. However I will never forget!

Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD

I grew up in a holler. It was surrounded by hills, had a creek running through it and a dirt road. I loved it and miss the closeness of knowing everyone and being near my relations.

There is evidence that the term Hillbilly originated in Northern Ireland more than 300 years ago. Dutch prince William of Orange invaded England and Ireland in the late 1600's, and he became King William III of England. In Northern Ireland he was popularly called "King Billy," and the Scots Irish men who joined his army in Ireland were referred to as "hillbillies."

I reckon 'hillbilly' was come up with by an outlander as a slur but we adopted it among ourselves without the slur. A lot of folks in mine and my wife's family left the KY hills and went north to the Midwest. They lived in enclaves the locals called things like 'Hillbilly Heaven' and 'Little Kentucky' and were called "hillbillies'.

I've lived long enough to realize that the use of slurs says far more about the speaker than about those spoken of. Among ourselves, we are just home folks by - as Tipper says - whatever name.

Whatever the designation for us, we bear the "tag" proudly. Like the saying, "You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy." Likewise, with us who bear "hillbilly" and other names for us proudly, "You can take us out of the hills/mountains, but you can't take the mountain ways and values away from us." These are too deeply rooted, very much a part of who we are and how we think, act and live. I'm glad!

Tipper--My people as well, and I'm proud to be among their ranks. To some the words and phrases you offer are terms of opprobrium. For example, Horace Kephart, in "Our Southern Highlanders," belittling backwoods folks as "branch-water people." Yet it was a pair of those supposedly lowly branch-water people, Granville and Lillie Calhoun, who literally saved his life when he came to the Smokies through sobering him up and nursing him back to health.

For my part, shameful stereotypes such as those of Kephart aside, I reckon traditional mountain folks to be staunch, salt-of-the-earth types who display all the most enduring and endearing traits of our collective Scots-Irish ancestry.

Jim Casada

I remember my Grandmother telling me where her relatives lived. It was up on the ridge, out the crick or down the holler.
Those were the only directions they needed to find loved ones and friends.
How simple life was then. No GPS.

I read in a book about people being called "Creekers." Another term I've heard is "Stump jumper."

Up here in Cleveland, being called any of those things is never good.

I love the picture for this post. I always like the pictures, though. They make me homesick in the best way.

Country is another, I used to work with a guy (Social Worker from New York) who would occasionally say to me "Cindy, your country is showing!" It seems he thought I should change my way of talking so people would not know I am from the country. The idea of that was not something I wasted any energy thinking about!

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