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“Why Do I Study the Kentucky Frontier?” by Nancy O’Malley, Author of BOONESBOROUGH UNEARTHED

As a military brat, I spent my childhood moving from place to place. I began my journey in Fort Worth, Texas, where I was born, and later moved to Oklahoma, Alabama, Louisiana, Japan, Texas and back to Alabama, where I then finished high school. I learned two key things during my nomadic childhood: the ability to assimilate into a new culture quickly and the knack of observing while participating. For me, there was always another social frontier to cope with, whether it was a Deep South country school, a foreign culture, a large urban high school or the throes of desegregation. Everywhere I went, I was the stranger, the outsider, until I could find my niche.

A persistent theme in my research is the idea of the frontier as the unfamiliar and uncharted, a concept that I trace directly to my upbringing. For me, a frontier can be a physical place or a social arena, and generally both. Kentucky’s position as one of the earliest areas of western American expansion certainly qualified it as a “frontier” to incoming settlers in the classic Jacksonian sense. My interest in the Kentucky frontier of the late eighteenth century was sparked by a site type called a “station” – a defensible residential site that usually housed more than one family—that was a key element of the early historic settlement of Kentucky during the Revolutionary War. Extensive research on pioneer stations in a twelve-county area in Central Kentucky resulted in my publication “Stockading Up.” I eventually received an invitation to conduct research on Fort Boonesborough, one of a handful of large public forts that were built to provide protection and sanctuary for the hundreds of settlers that flocked to Kentucky during the Revolutionary War.

I was intrigued by their experiences in a land that was similar in many respects—weather, forest composition, physiography—to their homes back east, but still very unfamiliar, lacking the landmarks, both physical and metaphysical, of the “civilized” Euroamerican society in which they had grown up. Moreover, there were Native Americans (Shawnee, Cherokee and other allied tribes) who violently opposed the incursions of commercial hunters and settlers, like Daniel Boone. These hunters killed hundreds of wild game animals, and settlers cut down the forests and claimed land as if the native people who had lived in Kentucky for millennia had no rights. And then there was the war that started just as settlement began in earnest. And not just any war, but a bloody family conflict that was fought to separate the American colonies from their mother country of England.

My research into the practical survival strategies that the settlers used to weather deadly attacks and raids while still moving toward their goal of permanent settlement focused necessarily on the defensive sites they built—the stations and forts that formed a network of protective places connected by trails and paths. But always present in my mind was what was going through the settlers’ minds as they woke up each day, not knowing what harrowing event might come yet still having to find enough food for themselves and their animals, get along with their neighbors and put up with often squalid living conditions.

Anthropologists are taught that people bring their attitudes, mores, practices and prejudices—their cultural baggage—with them wherever they go. Kentucky settlers were no different. And there were many differences among them—“distinctions and partitions” as Robert Johnson wrote to Governor Patrick Henry in 1786—that belied a monolithic stereotype of a frontier emigrant. People came from every American colony as well as some European countries; most were white but black emigrants, enslaved and free, comprised a significant minority of the growing population. Settlers who spoke English as their first language encountered German and French settlers who spoke accented English as their second language and exhibited unfamiliar ethnic practices. Social class and wealth distinctions were immediately identifiable. [1]


Kentucky settlers sensibly emigrated in groups composed of friends and family and often settled in the same station until conditions allowed them to settle their own farms. Personal relationships and familiarity and combined resources made shared risks, deprivations and losses easier to bear and increased the chances for survival. An enemy’s bullet knew no distinction of social class or wealth. Your life might be saved or lost but for the intervention of a stranger or a friend. Cultural differences were particularly acute and had to be negotiated in the close spaces of larger, public forts like Fort Boonesborough even while the safety of greater numbers mitigated the dangers of frontier life. Settlers had to keep their hopes trained on a future, better life that lay beyond the immediate uncertainties of life on a wartime frontier. Prosperity was not a given; many failed to attain the land and financial success they sought. [2]

What was remarkable to me was how brief this period of frontier life really was. For the core area of central Kentucky where much of my research has focused, the period of instability and insecurity was, for all practical purposes, over once the Revolutionary War ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Other areas such as northern Kentucky along the Ohio River experienced Native American attacks and raids until the Battle of Fallen Timbers and the Treaty of Greenville in 1794, but that area also did not experience widespread Euroamerican settlement until some years later than the central Kentucky area. For all its brevity, however, the eight years of the war must have seemed endless at times. The experience informed the society that Kentucky eventually became—largely conservative, patriotic, passionately attached to place and somewhat insular. But as Stephen Aron carefully and precisely explains, the development of Kentucky society from a frontier to an ordered society “did not unfold in an orderly parade” and its transformation “featured many casualties.” [3] Like many other aspects of human endeavor, the frontier experience was complicated and complex and cannot be readily reduced to tidy stereotypes.

A frontier as uncharted and unfamiliar is perceived as such only by the newcomer. As a child and young adult, I adapted as I learned more about the places and people I encountered with each move. The unfamiliar became familiar and I usually found a spot where I could fit in. But since I moved often, assimilation became a habit and a survival strategy that never really left me, even though I have now lived in Kentucky for over forty years.

It’s perhaps inevitable that my personal experiences have informed my opinions about the hot topic of immigration these days. Modern immigration discussions are characterized by disturbing polarization of attitudes and opinion, but there is nothing new or unusual about the issues that immigration from without or emigration from within currently raise. We have experienced it all before, numerous times, from the first European arrivals on American shores to the trans-Appalachian movement to the entry of Irish fleeing famine, Germans fleeing oppressive governments, Asians responding to work opportunities, southern blacks moving north to escape the Jim Crow South, Latin immigrants seeking sanctuary and prosperity and so on.

Fundamentally, the forces that drive people to relocate today are no different from those of the past. Sadly, the reactions of those who feel threatened by newcomers are no different either. A look backwards seems to suggest that we keep repeating old patterns over and over again. But I believe that we are at our roots an immigrant nation and that anti-immigrant sentiments have always been limited to a minority whose voices have been temporarily magnified but ultimately, eventually quieted by the embrace of cultural diversity and equality.

Another thing I learned growing up was to adopt a “glass half full” attitude even when conditions around me, whether they be personal challenges or national sentiments, seemed particularly divided and polarized. Amid the rancorous political debates, the demonizing of opposition regardless of which side of the debate you are on and the partisanship that divides, optimism often is a challenge to maintain and the complexity of the issue makes resolution of our differences hard to attain. I recall the pioneers that looked forward to a better day and relief from their temporary privations and take a lesson from their hopefulness. Will partisan politics and “partitions and distinctions” continue to rise to the top in the future? Undoubtedly. Are we as a nation up to the challenge of fighting against the inequities they inspire? Absolutely.

[1] Elizabeth Perkins, Border Life: Experience and Memory in the Revolutionary Ohio Valley, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998. p. 85.

[2] Aron, Stephen, How the West Was Lost: The Transformation of Kentucky from Daniel Boone to Henry Clay, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

[3] Aron, p. 2



In her book, Dr. Elizabeth D. Leonard documents the lives and community of Joseph and Sandy Holt, particularly their time during the Civil War and its surrounding context. The interwoven stories of these two provide very different perspectives on the Civil War. Joseph was a slaveholder turned abolitionist who had family ties to confederates and held high level offices. Sandy was a former slave of the Holt family, purchased by Joseph himself, who managed to survive the awful system of slavery, marry, and escape to serve the Union in the Civil War during his middle-age. By placing the timelines of the stories of these men next to each other, we can see the contrasts and the intersections in these two extremely different lives.

Joseph Holt Timeline Sandy Timeline
1807: Joseph Holt was born in Breckenridge County, Kentucky

Mid-1820’s: Holt attended Centre College where he encountered criticisms of slavery. He also gave at least one speech that was critical of slavery

1845: Holt wrote a letter to his maternal uncle, Robert Stephens, saying that slavery was a “social political or moral evil”, but that there was not a safe way to abolish it

1856: Holt gave a speech defending the rights of states to manage themselves when speaking on behalf of Democrat James Buchanan’s presidential candidacy. His speech also spoke on the necessity of preserving the Union

1857: Holt and his wife, Margaret, left Kentucky for Washington D.C. after he was appointed commissioner of patents. Before leaving, he transferred ownership of all but a few slaves to his younger brother Thomas

1860: Margaret, Holt’s wife, died

October 1860: Holt emancipated his wife’s slave, Jane, who remained in his employ

Fall of 1860: Holt remained critical of abolitionists in his speeches and letters, as he was still primarily concerned with preserving the Union

Winter of 1860: Holt’s brother Robert declared that the time for Kentucky’s secession was soon

Early 1861: Holt was declared Secretary of War by Buchanan

February 11th, 1861: Holt received a letter from his brother Robert that may have been what caused him to abandon his last defenses of slavery

March 4th, 1861: Lincoln became president

March 6th 1861: Holt stepped down from the position of Secretary of War to focus on efforts to persuade Kentucky to remain in the Union

April 15th 1861: Lincoln issued a call for a militia to put down the rebellion

Late May 1861: Holt wrote a letter to Joshua F. Speed arguing against Kentucky’s claim of neutrality and blamed Southern nationalist slaveholders for the conflict. He also traveled to Kentucky to give speeches against Kentucky’s neutrality and the possibility of secession

October 1861: The Liberator said that Holt could not be expected to overcome the prejudices that came from the way he was raised

Fall of 1861: Holt’s former father-in-law, Charles A. Wickliffe, as well as other Unionists remained very supportive of slavery

April 16th 1862: Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act

May 21st 1862: Congress declared that laws and ordinances applied to black Washingtonians in the same way they applied to white Washingtonians

May 24th 1862: Holt freed his only remaining slave, Alfred, who also remained in his employ and eventually married Jane

September 3rd 1862: Lincoln appointed Holt the Judge Advocate General of the Army under the War Department

September 30th 1862: Holt petitioned the District of Columbia to free his brother and sister-in-law’s slave Caroline Robinson due to their part-time residence there

September 22nd 1862: Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

October 13th 1862: Holt also petitioned the District of Columbia on the behalf of Ellen Cox, another of his brother and sister-in-law’s slaves, for her freedom

December 1862:  The Liberator called Holt an abolitionist

January 1st 1863: Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation

March 13st 1863: Holt recommended either a court-martial or dismissal for a union solider who was criticizing the Emancipation Proclamation

May 1st 1863: The Confederate Congress passed the Retaliatory Act

Summer of 1863: Holt’s employee, Alfred,  possibly enlisted

Summer of 1863: Holt spoke to Lincoln for the protection and freedom of black soldiers, especially in the light of things like the Retaliatory Act

July 1863: Lincoln issued his response to the Retaliatory Act where he promised that if a black union soldier was enslaved or executed in violation of the laws of war the same or a similar punishment would be enacted on captured confederate soldiers

July 13th 1863: Holt talked to Lincoln on behalf of a black soldier, Sergeant Robert Sutton, who was being court-martialed

January 1st 1864: Holt urged Lincoln to overturn the court ruling in the case of a white man who tortured and murdered a fugitive slave woman in order to sentence him to a harsher punishment

July 1864: Holt was sent to Kentucky by the Secretary of War to meet with civil and military leaders to discuss the military situation. He did not visit his home county due to fears for his safety

Fall 1864: Holt returned to the war department. He issued a report on his home state that condemned the justification for white oppression of black people and reported positively on the recruitment of black men for the war in Kentucky

Final Months of the War: Holt served as judge advocate general and head of the War Department’s Bureau of Military Justice and continued to advocate for the rights of black soldiers and civilians

1824: Sandy was born to unknown parents in Virginia

1837-1840: Sandy was bought and brought from Mississippi, where he was taken due to a previous sale, to Holt’s Bottom in Kentucky by Joseph Holt for his brother’s wife

1842-1843: Sandy and other family slaves were periodically sent to Louisville to perform domestic chores and to look after the land and garden of the house of Joseph Holt and his first wife Mary

1846: Sandy’s name appears for the first time in historical record

1853: Sandy married Matilda, an important member of the local slave community

1853: Joseph Holt took out an insurance policy on Sandy, which he had never done before, to cover his unaccompanied steamer journey to Louisville from Holt’s Bottom in case of his death, injury, or escape

1857: Sandy’s ownership, along with many others, is transferred from Joseph Holt to Thomas Holt

1863: Sandy’s wife Matilda dies

Summer of 1864: Sandy, now forty years old, ran away to Owensborough to join the 118th United States Colored Infantry Regiment. By law he was required to register under the name of his owner, Holt.

June 1864: Adjunct General Lorenzo Thomas recommended that recruiters enlist even fugitive slaves who could only do the minimum of work due to physical disability, since they had no other place to go but their masters, who would punish them severely

July 1864: A surgeon was appointed for the 118th, which was important due to the prevalence of disease in the military

September 1864: Marion Lucas describes the mistreatment of black soldiers by their white peers in a letter

October 5th 1864: Sandy and his company were with Union forces that found the body of eighteen-year-old Robert Eaves, a recruit, who was lynched by local guerilla confederates

October 1864: Recruiters gathered enlistees from the Owensborough area and the 118th reached the minimum operational strength and began the journey of roughly seven-hundred miles from Owensborough to Baltimore, Maryland

October 8th 1864: The 118th is ordered to proceed to City Point, Virginia via Baltimore

October 24th-25th 1864: The 118th received their equipment and uniforms in Baltimore, and they were formally assigned to the XVIII Corps Third Division

October 1864: The 118th performed guard and fatigue duty, which was difficult but essential maintenance work

November 1864: The 118th were reassigned to the First Brigade and told to retire to the line to be trained due to concern over the condition of the regiment

November 3rd 1864: The 118th’s Lieutenant Colonel, Moon, was recommended by fifteen of the regiment’s white commissioned officers for promotion to Colonel because of his bravery and success with recruitment

November 1864: Moon was appointed Colonel of the 118th

November 1864: Unfavorable weather obstructed opportunities for federal forces to advance

November 1864: Sandy was hospitalized for parotitis

December 1864: Sandy was hospitalized for diarrhea

December 3rd 1864: The X and XVIII Corps were reorganized along racial lines. The white men were put in the XXIV Corp and the black men, including the 118th, were put in XXV where General Godfry Weitzel assumed command

Late 1864-1865: Sandy and his company performed labor for General Butler’s Dutch Gap Canal Project. There, Sandy was assigned to throwing up breastworks to help protect the others workers. He permanently injured his left wrist in the process of doing this

January 1st 1865: The ends of the Dutch Gap Canal were blown up with 12,000 Ibs of gunpowder. It was ultimately deemed a failure as the earth simply settled back to where it was before the explosions

January 7th 1865: Lincoln replaced Butler with Major General E. O. C. Ord, which upset many black soldiers

January 23rd-25th 1865: Sandy and the 118th were peripherally involved in the Fort Brady battle


Drunken Hot-Fudge Pudding Cake

No matter what, everyone deserves to be spoiled on Valentines Day. Food, especially food that would upset your doctor, is a great way to do that. One recipe to treat yourself with is the Drunken Hot-Fudge Pudding Cake from Lynn Marie Hulsman’s Bourbon Desserts (buy her book here). This cake is absolutely sinful and the perfect way to top off your Valentines Day.


1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup cocoa, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar, divided
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon bourbon
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
plus, 1 tablespoon, chilled, for greasing pan
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1/2 cup hot water


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan.

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, 1/4 cup cocoa, salt, and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Whisk to combine. Add the milk, vanilla, egg yolk, bourbon, and melted butter. Spread into the prepared pan.

In a small bowl combine the remaining brown sugar and cocoa. Whisk to combine and break up clumps.

Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the cake batter, distributing evenly, then sprinkle on the cocoa-sugar mixture.

Combine the espresso powder with the hot water and pour it gently over the top, but do not stir.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the edges of the cake set up and brown, but the center still has a bit of jiggle. The middle part of the cake should look like a warm, rich custard.

Cool the entire pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes before cutting into 9 squares. Serve warm.

Store in refrigerator, tightly covered with plastic wrap or foil, for up to 1 week. Rewarm before serving.

Don’t Forget Dessert!

DuncanHinesComps3.inddWrap up your Thanksgiving festivities with a delicious dessert selected from Duncan Hines’ The Dessert Book. While the turkey, stuffing, and football may be important parts of many Thanksgivings, the dessert that follows is essential for every celebration. Whether you’re looking for a more traditional pumpkin or apple pie, or want to mix things up this holiday season, The Dessert Book will not leave you disappointed.  In the words of the food connoisseur himself, “One of the most important courses in any meal is the dessert…and, like the final act in a good play, is long remembered with pleasure.”

In the 1940s and 50s, Hines was the most respected restaurant reviewer in America, known for reliable recommendations of eating places from coast to coast. Today, many shoppers may recognize his name as a dependable brand of cake mix.

First published in 1955, this work is more than just a collection of recipes.  In addition to the more than 500 desserts in every conceivable category, Hines includes a number of helpful additions to ensure a perfect result every time, including pages on equivalent measures and weights, food weights and measures, recommended temperatures, substitutes, baking and cooking terms, useful kitchen utensils for dessert preparation, how to freeze desserts, and reducing and increasing recipes.

Enjoy a selection of a few desserts to try this week!









‘Cue Cards: A Guide for Father’s Day

Father’s Day is approaching, and you know what that means . . . Time to find the perfect place to take Dad for dinner.


The first step to becoming a BBQ aficionado is being able to talk the talk. In The Kentucky Barbecue Book, Wes Berry defines many key terms for his readers. Here are a few you may not know:

Burgoo: an “everything but the kitchen sink” rich stew made with several meats and vegetables, cooked up in large quantities at Owensboro’s International Barbecue Festival and found at barbecue joints in Kentucky, especially those in the “burgoo tree” (my term) that includes the counties of Daviess, Hopkins, and Christian, among others.324255_346022322091385_842314571_o

Chip or chipped: a style of barbecue preparation popular in Union Co. and Henderson Co., where heavily smoked exterior pieces of pork shoulders, hams, and mutton quarters are chopped and mixed with a thin tangy dip sauce, a bold flavor creation that’s salty and good as a sandwich.

Fast Eddy: a meat smoking apparatus that often utilizes wood pellets and a gas flame.

Hickory: one of the hardest of the hardwoods, hickory trees are nut-bearing friends of squirrels and Kentucky pitmasters, who favor the smoke and heat imparted by hickory over all other woods. Several different species of hickory trees live in North America, including shagbark, shellbark, mockernut, bitternut, and pignut. Some pitmasters claim they prefer one species of hickory—like shagbark—to others.

Monroe County dip: Sopping sauce favored in several south-central Kentucky counties, made with vinegar, butter, lard, salt, black and cayenne pepper, and sometimes other ingredients like tomato or mustard, used for basting meats as they cook slowly over hickory coals. Also served as a finishing sauce.

Mutton: Mature sheep, either female or castrated males. Mutton is Kentucky’s claim to barbecue fame, although only 10 percent of the barbecue places in the state serve it.

Smoke ring: the pinkish hue imparted to smoked meats (a very good thing).

Grab a copy of Wes berry’s book to learn even more BBQ lingo and scope out the best places for smoky meats and saucy treats in the state.

The Environmental Vision of J. R. R. Tolkien

9780813124186Many readers drawn into the heroic tales of J. R. R. Tolkien’s imaginary world of Middle-earth have given little conscious thought to the importance of the land itself in his stories. As a result, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion are rarely considered to be works of environmental literature or mentioned together with such authors as John Muir, Rachel Carson, or Aldo Leopold. Nonetheless, Tolkien’s vision of nature is as passionate and has had as profound an influence on his readers as that of many contemporary environmental writers.

In celebration of the tenth anniversary of the publication of Matthew T. Dickerson and Jonathan Evans’s Ents, Elves, and Eriador:The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien, we’re sharing an excerpt from this groundbreaking and charming work of ecocriticism:

Food, Cheer, Song, and Well-Tilled Earth

The idea that nature has an inherent goodness is affirmed not only in the lofty mythological passages of the Silmarillion. It is apparent also in the more homely world of The Hobbit and in the opening passages of The Lord of the Rings. Turning for a moment from the distant and mythic realm of Valinor to the more familiar farms and fields of the Shire, we can see Tolkien’s ideas further developed in the earthiness of the Hobbits and the simplicity of their lifestyle. Hobbits in general, and particularly those who are central to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, show us that the common stuff of life—including, perhaps especially, the material things of this world—should be valued and appreciated for what they are in and of themselves.

The first two paragraphs of The Hobbit afford several valuable insights. The first thing we learn about Bilbo is that he lives in a hole in the ground. As a now famous anecdote tells us, it was this seemingly accidental sentence that Tolkien wrote on a blank piece of paper while marking examinations one day in the 1930s that led to the book’s being written in the first place: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” A philologist both by trade  and by passion, Tolkien immediately wondered, “What is a hobbit?” and “Why do they live in the ground?” The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings may be seen as something of an exploration on his part into the possible answers to these questions.  It is not until Appendix F—written in 1955, after the trilogy had been completed and the first two volumes had reached print—that the reader finally learns the answer to these questions from a pair of Old English words: hol (“hole” or “hollow”) and bytla (“built structure, building, or dwelling”). There, on the last page of the book preceding the indexes, Tolkien explains that he used Old English to represent the language of the Rohirrim and that the word hobbit is “a worn-down form of holbytla, if that name had occurred in our own ancient language,” for the original Westron term kûd-dûkan, or “hole-dweller.”

Still in the first two paragraphs of The Hobbit, we can also discern something from a comment about the layout of Bilbo’s dwelling on the Hill: “The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.” There
is a subtle suggestion here about the value Hobbits place on nature: their “best rooms” are not the ones with the most conveniences, the best paintings, the largest beds, or even (tellingly) the most food—they are the ones with the clearest views of the landscape. Their best rooms look out not only on gardens—that is, nature in cultivated form—but also on meadows and the river, natural features that, though by no means truly wild, are less domesticated or cultivated.

[ . . .]

[D]welling in the ground is fundamental to the nature of Hobbits, and although in Buckland and in Bree some live in houses aboveground, Hobbits of the Shire consider this aboveground life to be unnatural. Hobbits are close to the earth, and they are closely associated with the material substance of the soil. They wear no shoes, and their walking around barefoot keeps them in direct physical contact with the earth. This literally down-to-earth image is extended further when we learn in the fourth paragraph of The Hobbit of their uncanny ability to blend in with nature: “There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along”—a point repeated at the start of the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings.

Likewise, the Hobbits’ love of growing things can be seen throughout The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo’s love of nature and gardens is evident in the fact that, though there is no mention of a housekeeper or a cook, he has a paid gardener. We see it in the names that Hobbits give to their children; little girls are most often named after flowers:
Rose, Elanor, Daisy, Primrose, Marigold. More generally, we see their appreciation for the simple pleasures of life in the songs they sing and the things they choose to take delight in: a bath at the end of the day, a mug of beer with friends, good food, a quiet walk in the woods and meadows, and—again, from the opening scene of The Hobbit—simply standing on the front step enjoying a pipe and some sunshine. They value these things over machines and technological contrivances, which do not make an appearance in their songs. When the four hobbits are imprisoned by the Barrow-wights and Tom Bombadil rescues them, he sends them running naked over the grass, thereby restoring their contact with the earth (I/viii). After hearing Merry and Pippin describe Hobbits, Treebeard comments about their earthiness, “So you live in holes, eh? It sounds very right and proper” (III/iv).

In the BBC radio interview quoted earlier, Tolkien associates the Shire with the English countryside of the central Midlands and its “good water, stones and elm trees and small quiet rivers and so on.” Hobbits, and especially our hobbits, are able to take delight in these simple things for their own sake, and not merely as means to an end or as excuses for achieving power. This is one reason—perhaps the most important reason—that they are able to resist the seductive influence of the Ring for so long: they are not fundamentally concerned with the manipulations of power, so they are able to take things for what they are.

The Value of Simplicity

Perhaps the most important overall picture we get of Hobbits and their lifestyle is one of simplicity. They are simple people with simple tastes, and they are fond of the simple comforts of modest living. As the narrator of The Hobbit tells us in the book’s second sentence, Bilbo’s home “was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” At certain points in the novel, the narrator seems critical of the Hobbits’ extreme love of comfort, suggesting that at times it can manifest itself as something other than virtue. However, there is much that is good about the Hobbits’ values. Even the particular types of comforts they prefer are associated not with modern gadgets and machinery but rather with living simply. To be sure, they are not averse to the ownership of possessions, but the Hobbits derive pleasure principally from good food, friendship, and an unhurried lifestyle that is made more leisurely not through the use of modern technology by the absence of it.

This idea runs counter to the modern orthodoxy of “bigger, better, more, faster” that lies at the heart of the relentless pursuit of technical and mechanical innovation in advanced societies. It has been pointed out that modern life can be characterized by, among other things, its frenetic pace. Colin Gunton, for example, calls “the paradox of modernity” the fact that technological advances have brought less, not more, leisure time: “The modern is less at home in the actual time and space of daily living than peoples less touched by [technological] changes. . . . The paradox is that there is to be found more genuine leisure in ‘undeveloped’ societies than in those dedicated to the creation of leisure.” Gunton cites E. F. Schumacher’s 1973 Small Is Beautiful, a classic of its time that had widespread social impact and, among other things, helped inspire the “Green” movement of environmental activism. Schumacher wrote, “The pressure and strain of living is very much less in, say, Burma, than it is in the United States, in spite of the fact that the amount of labor-saving machinery used in the former country is only a minute fraction of the amount used in the latter.”

Schumacher was a cultural forerunner in popularizing an alternative orthodoxy of simplicity that could seemingly offer people greater satisfaction in their lives. The title of Schumacher’s book became a catchphrase for an enduring theme in popular culture, championed recently in Joseph Pearce’s Small Is Still Beautiful. It is interesting —though perhaps not surprising—that Pearce also has written about J. R. R. Tolkien and sees environmental implications in Tolkien’s portrayal of Hobbits. In an essay entitled “Tolkien as Hobbit,” Pearce discusses Tolkien’s anti-industrialism in connection with Schumacher’s, seeing both writers as participants in “a long tradition of opposition to the
evils of the industrial age.”

Similarly, in his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes about the “discipline of simplicity,” which in his opinion requires both an internal spirit and an external application. Perhaps the most important application of simplicity is in the lifestyle we live and its effect on both world ecology and those who suffer most from degradation of the environment. Discussing the lack of simplicity in modern society and in most modern lifestyles, he writes: “We must clearly understand that the lust for affluence in  contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. . . . Covetousness we call ambition. Hoarding we call prudence. Greed we call industry.”

By contrast, simplicity is one of the defining features of the Shire. Rather than craving things they do not need, Hobbits enjoy what they have. They do not hoard but give freely, an attitude reflected in the habit of giving (rather than receiving) gifts on one’s birthday. Thus they practice the third of Foster’s ten principles of simplicity: “Develop a habit of giving things away.” They also do well on the fourth: “Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.” Unlike many of us, Hobbits are not collectors of gadgets. Foster’s sixth principle is “develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.” He says, “Get close to the earth. Walk whenever you can. Listen to the birds . . . enjoy the texture of grass and leaves.” Foster, Schumacher, and other advocates of simpler living might have derived this principle directly from studying Tolkien’s Hobbits. An overarching principle, and one that Foster suggests separates the positive virtue of simplicity from the negative one of asceticism, is that “the creation is good and to be enjoyed.”

The values of the Hobbits are seen most sharply when they come into contrast with those of others around them. Hoarding tendencies are most clearly exhibited by dragons, particularly the dragon Smaug, who is the archvillain of The Hobbit. But Tolkien also shows this hoarding tendency and its sad result in Dwarves, who appear frequently in connection with dragons. This connection seems to have been a commonplace of early medieval culture. A seminal source for Tolkien— both professionally and creatively—can be found in the Old Norse Völsunga Saga, where the dwarf Andvari has a golden treasure and a magic ring that are seized by Fáfnir, a man transformed into a dragon by the curse of greed, the curse of the hoard, or both. One of the most moving scenes in The Hobbit is the death of the Dwarf king Thorin, whose dying words to Bilbo are, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world” (H, 348). As Thorin acknowledges only moments earlier, the specter of impending death—of going to “the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers”—forces a clearer vision and a reevaluation of what is really important. Thorin repents of his earlier unkind words to Bilbo, contrasting the traditional values of the Hobbits, which are vindicated throughout the story, with those of the Dwarves, which have brought such trouble.

Wendell Berry might take the principle of Thorin’s dying words a step further, seeing hoarding, a problem addressed by Foster as well, as the central problem to be corrected. Among other things, the hoarder cannot fully appreciate what he or she is hoarding. Tolkien certainly makes this point with respect to the dragon Smaug, who appreciates the monetary value of objects but not the objects themselves—their beauty or inherent worth. More significantly, perhaps, land itself cannot be appreciated or cared for properly when it is made the object of possessive accumulation: “It is well understood that ownership is an incentive to care. But there is a limit to how much land can be owned before an owner is unable to take proper care of it. The need for attention increases with the intensity of use. But the quality of attention decreases as acreage increases.”This idea is stated in many of Berry’s essays as a contrast between small family farms and the agricultural empires of agribusiness. For the former, success is defined in terms of producing good crops, in an environmentally sustainable manner, for the consumption of the farmer and his family, the surplus being made available for the needs of neighbors. For people involved in agribusiness, success is defined in terms of the money economy; the agribusinessman must accumulate larger tracts of land, more equipment, and larger storage capacity to survive in the agricultural market, creating an endless cycle of acquisition and dependency. Hoarding fits the goals of agribusiness; by means of hoarding, there are “corporations that have bought cheap and sold high the products that, as a result of this agenda, have been increasingly expensive for farmers to produce.” Thus hoarding is sometimes a good way to make money, but it is always a bad way to live life.

An even greater contrast can be seen between Hobbits and Orcs. When we first meet Orcs—called Goblins in The Hobbit—we learn a good deal about their values, and they are not entirely without what one might call virtues. Although “they make no beautiful things,” they at least “make many clever ones.” Cleverness or ingenuity might be seen as having the positive value of problem solving. Mechanical solutions to the problems of the physical world often bring problems of their own, however, and the Goblins are said to have invented “some of the machines that have since troubled the world,” ingenious devices that make use of “wheels and engines and explosions.” Like us, Orcs are interested in saving labor, but they are described as “not working with their own hands more than they could help,” suggesting not a pursuit of efficiency to liberate them from tedium for the sake of higher interests but rather lethargy or slothfulness. Their slothfulness has a particularly sinister side, too: whatever labor cannot be done by machines, the Orcs avoid by using slaves, who “have to work till they die for want of air and light.” Tolkien’s narrator passes judgment on the Orcs’ badly applied value system, calling them “wicked and bad-hearted” (H, 108–9). The implications for modern life in the real world should not be lost. People in technologically advanced, consumer-oriented societies often find themselves enslaved to the very machines meant to free them from toil—machines that contribute in no small way to pollution of the soil, water, and air and thus to the general endangerment of life and health.

By contrast, Hobbits not only love beautiful things but also love to work with their hands. They particularly like good earth and wellfarmed countryside. Though they are “skilful with tools,” they dislike and do not understand any machines “more complicated than a forgebellows, a water-mill, or a handloom” (Pro). We will postpone lengthier remarks on the agrarian nature of Hobbit society until chapter 3, but for now we want to connect this with several earlier points. The first is that the Hobbits’ appreciation for the simple pleasures of good food, singing, hot baths, and the like is related to the value they place on nature: the grass, the brown earth beneath their feet, the river in the meadow, the blue sky overhead. The second is that they turn away from the sort of power over others—enslavement and war making—that technology affords: the kind of technology devised by Saruman and employed by Orcs. Instead, Hobbits prefer the work of their own hands and closer connections to the things of the earth they love.

Here it must be noted with some concern that neither of the Bagginses—neither Bilbo nor Frodo, the primary heroes of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings—do any such work themselves. As far as the reader is informed, Bilbo and Frodo never actually get their own hands dirty in their gardens; instead, they pay the Gamgees to do it for them. However, there are four important observations to make with respect to this fact. The first is that although the Bagginses are not farmers or even gardeners, their personal sympathies seem wholly consistent with those of their surrounding culture. Early in The Lord of the Rings, the fellow hobbits with whom the Bagginses are most closely and even affectionately related—Sam Gamgee, Hamfast “the Gaffer” Gamgee, Farmer Cotton, and Farmer Maggot, for example—do perform such work. Pippin is also from a farming family. Second, and more important, the narrator (at least in The Hobbit) seems critical of the Bagginses precisely because they are becoming too much like the snobby upper class: people who say the opposite of what they mean and make others do their work for them. As Tom Shippey points out, Gandalf is trying to rescue Bilbo from being a member of the bourgeoisie—a simple, selfish materialist like his relatives the Sackville-Bagginses, whom the narrator is clearly critical of. Bilbo is not there yet, but he is “heading that way.” Third, upon the return of the four heroes in The Lord of the Rings, the reconstruction of the Shire is clearly supported by Frodo, even though Sam and many others do the actual work of rebuilding, requiring simple manual labor. And finally, it is not Frodo but Sam, the gardener and forester, who emerges as the real “hero” of the reconstruction—and the only Hobbit ever elected mayor for four terms in the Shire—while Frodo, for various reasons, is unable to cope.

In the words of environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, “[a]nyone who ever thrilled to Tolkien’s fighting trees, or to the earthy Tom Bombadil, or to the novel charm of the Shire will want to read this important and lovely book.” We hope you enjoyed this excerpt of Ents, Elves, and Eriador:The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien by Matthew T. Dickerson and Jonathan Evans.

The Civil War Origins of Memorial Day

Three years after the Civil War ended, the head of an organization of Union veterans—the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)—established “Decoration Day” as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead. It is believed that the last Monday in May was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

However, springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places as early as 1866. On April 25 of that year, a group of women in Columbus, Mississippi visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in the battle of Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed by the sight of these bare graves, the women placed flowers on them as well.

MacEnany.inddIn 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff.

150 years later, in honor of the Civil War origins of Memorial Day, we present an illuminating conversation with Brian McEnany, author of For Brotherhood and Duty: The Civil War History of the West Point Class of 1862:

Why did you feel particularly drawn to the West Point Class of 1862?
I was initially drawn to this class because it graduated 100 years before my own. While researching old musty cadet records and books at the archives at West Point for a reunion project, I became interested in Civil War politics and the cadet life of this class. I found stories and records of an extraordinary group of young men. Not finding much written about West Point classes after the start of the Civil War, I decided to write a book to fill that gap in history.

What was the most surprising thing you uncovered about this unique group of soldiers?
That is a hard question to answer. Regular army promotions were very slow during the war. There were questions raised in my mind about why this class did not have more transfers into volunteers to increase their chances for promotion. Secondly, the reputation of the Military Academy suffered greatly because of the large number of resignations of southern cadets—not a lot of people know that.

Can you talk a bit about why so many cadets from this class felt they had to resign from West Point before graduation?
Lincoln’s election followed by multiple changes in the superintendent and the commandant, resignations of officer instructors, as well as cadets led half this class to resign by the end of the summer of 1861. Their reasons were rooted in very strong state allegiances, colored mostly by friends, family, and politicians who appointed them as well as other cadets from the same state. It left little room for independent thought on the matter. Their letters were particularly poignant. One cadet from another class wrote to his mother that he resigned because he couldn’t sign his name to the oath of allegiance to the Union—he felt no one from the South could.

How did resignation like that affect the remaining cadets?
While they continued to focus on academics in preparation for graduation, their class motto, “Joined in a Common Cause,” shows they were strongly committed to the restoration of the Union.

Do you think the confusion and desolation of war may have led to their stories being overlooked?
I’ve found that most books and articles about the Civil War at West Point only focus on members of the May and June classes of 1861. Books about the other classes (1862–65) have not been written. My book is the first one published about another class that graduated during the war.

Can you talk a bit about the service records of the various cadets throughout the war?
The hardest task was to track the actual units they were assigned to—something that is not carried in their personnel records. I researched microfilm files of old newspaper articles and unit muster reports and found cadet, mid-career, and obituary pictures before I could write a biography for each member of the class. Promotions were very slow. Only the engineers and ordnance officers made captain during the war. The rest remained first lieutenants with the exception of four that went into volunteer service. One rose to Major General (Ranald Mackenzie), one was awarded the Medal of Honor (George Gillespie) many years later, one ex-member (Henry Farley) fired the first shot at Fort Sumter, and one classmate (William Bartlett) at the end of the war took the surrender of the last Confederate units in the eastern theater.

Who do you think was the standout from the class and why?
Ranald Mackenzie for sure. He graduated first in the class and rose to the rank of Major General US Volunteers during the war. He was in the right place at the right time; picked to lead an infantry regiment, he made a name for himself. Even Grant called him “a most promising officer.” Stern disciplinarian, an able tactical leader, brave to the point of recklessness; he was wounded six times during the war. He became a brigade commander, then commander of a cavalry division in the Army of the James. That division became part of Sheridan’s command during the Shenandoah Campaign and Lee’s Retreat. Mackenzie became more renowned after the Civil War. This was the Mackenzie that chased the Apaches into Mexico, and a 1950s TV show called Mackenzie’s Raiders even touted his exploits. He likely would have outshone Custer in history if he had lived long enough, but he died early. Others in the class were equally brave; 24 of the 28 were brevetted for gallantry, and one was awarded the Medal of Honor.

From these accounts, were you able to tell if any of these classmates felt remorse for attacking their fellow cadets during the war? Or was their dedication to their cause more important?
There were several incidents where classmates faced classmates on the battlefield. Sometimes, they were unaware of the other’s presence. At other times, they knew. Virginian James Dearing, an artillery man who commanded the guns in Pickett’s division, fired at Tully McCrea and John Egan at Gettysburg. At the end of the war, Mackenzie found Dearing lying, mortally wounded, in a hospital in Lynchburg just after Lee surrendered and made sure he was well taken care of. Morris Schaff ran into others after the war and wrote that there was no animosity shown. The bottom line is that I do not think they carried any bad feelings with them—the brotherhood endured.

What is the biggest thing you hope people take away from For Brotherhood and Duty?
For Brotherhood and Duty is all about memories, personal relationships and experiences.  What I hope is that people will remember those stories so that the next time they visit a battlefield they recall a real person and his story about that particular campaign or battle.

A Rose by Any Other Name: The Surprising Stories Behind Kentucky Weeds

Weeds of KentuckyHere at the University Press of Kentucky, we recently finished digitizing over 1000 books dating back to our founding in 1943. It’s a lot of work going through all those books, but it’s been a process full of fun surprises and astounding discoveries. Best of all, every now and then, there’s a book that we can’t put down—a book so good we just can’t resist sharing it with you again:

As Shakespeare’s Juliet once said, “[T]hat which we call a rose/
By any other name would smell as sweet,” and no book in our catalog demonstrates what’s really in a name as beautifully as Patricia Haragan’s Weeds of Kentucky and Adjacent States: A Field Guide.

In Kentucky, where commercial agriculture is so important, some of the plants that were prized by our ancestors are considered nuisances today due to the harm they inflict on crops and livestock. In this informative and surprising book, Patricia Haragan not only provides a guide for identifying these plants, but reveals the cultural and natural history behind each. Here are some of our favorites—from the poisonous weed that allegedly killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother to the ivy that was once indispensable to brewmasters. Click on the illustrations below for longer descriptions:

The next time you go out to weed your garden or yard, maybe you’ll recognize some of these plants from their mug shots. Pick up a copy of Weeds of Kentucky and Adjacent States to learn about other interesting plants you may have overlooked.

A Conversation with Bob Edwards

A Voice in the Box Bob EdwardsToday, radio legend and Louisville, Kentucky, native Bob Edwards turns 69. For thirty years, he was the voice of National Public Radio’s daily newsmagazine programs, co-hosting All Things Considered before launching Morning Edition in 1979. To celebrate, we are sharing an interview with Edwards—one of the most iconic personalities in modern broadcasting.

You’ve seen substantial changes in radio since you began your career. What is it that still makes radio relevant with the rise first of television and now of the internet? Do you imagine that radio will survive into the future and what might it sound like?

Radio adapts and re-invents itself as needed in response to the introduction of new media or other phenomena. It’s still the most portable medium that doesn’t require hand or eye contact. The pictures are better on radio because they’re formed by the listener (with help from us)—with the result that the pictures enhance the content rather than distract from it. Radio will continue to survive because it never loses its magic of intimacy. The listener believes the voice on the radio is talking directly to him or her. On TV, there’s no illusion that Jay Leno is talking only to you.

How has radio journalism changed during your career?

Radio journalism has changed for the better and for the worse over the course of my career. Sadly, journalism has disappeared from most commercial radio stations. On the positive side, public radio carries plenty of news programs and is producing them at a level of quality that radio has never known before. New technology has dramatically improved radio news reporting. Computers have replaced wire machines and typewriters, satellites have made long transmission lines unnecessary and improved the quality of overseas calls. Cell phones give reporters maximum mobility and have given even more immediacy to the medium that already was the most immediate.

You’ve interviewed over 30,000 people. Who have been the most memorable and what about them stood out?

My favorite person to interview is Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest in East Los Angeles who works with Latino gang members who want to go straight. He is doing extremely important work and he knows how to share his stories with a radio audience in a compelling way.

During your childhood, you dreamed about being in radio. When did it first hit you that you had realized your dream?

I realized my dream in 1968 at my first radio station—WHEL in New Albany, Indiana. I was 21 years old.

What was the most important lesson that you learned from Red Barber during your weekly broadcasts with him?

Red Barber loosened me up, took me off-script (not that we ever had one) and made me better able to respond to spontaneity. He had high expectations regarding preparation and professionalism. He built on what I had learned from Susan Stamberg about working with an on-air partner. Red also encouraged me to stand up for myself in the workplace and within the industry.

You’ve interviewed all sorts of people—politicians, artists, authors. How is each group different to interview? Can groups be categorized by any shared characteristics?

Politicians can be exasperating—especially if they’re wedded to repeating their “message of the day.” Athletes are dreadful and fond of clichés. Professors are often verbose, answer questions in outline form and expect to be allowed to continue until they’ve exhausted the entire outline. Writers and artists are in the communication business and generally understand that I’m aiming for conversation—not talk.

You’ve written a biography about Edward R. Murrow and his contributions to radio broadcasting, and you’ve said that he was influential in the development of your career. What is it about Murrow that makes him one of your radio idols?

Edward R. Murrow set the highest standards for integrity at the birth of broadcast journalism. He expected his employer to share his lofty values. It did not—and that cost Murrow his career.

You write extensively about your unhappy departure from NPR. Since then, your former employer has received its share of bad press and a full on assault to defund the media organization. What are your feelings about NPR today?

With newspapers in decline and commercial broadcasting increasingly shrill, partisan, and often irresponsible, funding for public radio is more important than ever. NPR and its member stations are a national treasure providing in-depth, award-winning news programs unavailable elsewhere in American media.

How can you compare starting a show at NPR with starting a show with SiriusXM? Are there similarities or differences between the two?

Starting anything new is exciting because you’re allowed to experiment and be daring. I joined NPR in its third year. I joined satellite radio in its third year. I’ve had the thrill of watching both of them grow and prosper—and it’s fun to share in that success.

What radio programs do you listen to besides your own, and what about them appeals to you?

I listen to the other programs on SiriusXM and on NPR. All the shows essentially do the same thing—they’re vehicles for telling stories. Still, they are all very different, so the variety of ways to tell a story would seem to be without limit.

Now that you’ve finished your memoirs, what’s next for you?

I plan on doing my show for at least twenty more years and then write Still a Voice in the Box.

Bob Edwards is the author of Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism and Fridays with Red: A Radio Friendship. Edwards has been awarded the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award for radio journalism, a George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting, and the Edward R. Murrow Award for outstanding contributions to public radio.

To learn more about his memoir, A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio, and watch a trailer, visit our website.

Happy 223rd Birthday, Kentucky!


Time flies when you’re having fun! For a quick glance back at this great day 223 years ago, we’ve turned to James C. Klotter and Freda C. Klotter’s wonderful A Concise History of Kentucky for a peek back in time.

On June 1, 1792, Kentucky became the fifteenth state in the new United States and the first state west of the mountains. The people chose as their first governor a man named Isaac Shelby. Of medium height and only a fair speaker, the forty-one-year-old Shelby was originally from Maryland; he had been a war hero and moved to Lincoln County, Kentucky, at the end of the conflict. He started out from Danville that June day, with horsemen around him, and headed for the temporary capital at Lexington. When he arrived, people fired rifles and cannon in the air to honor him. Then he took the oath of office as governor. Three days later, legislators met in a two-story log cabin. One of the first orders of business was to decide where the permanent capital would be located. Groups of people from various towns vied for that honor, but Frankfort made the best offer. It promised land in town to build on, money for construction, and building materials—glass, nails, locks, stone, and timber. The new state had a new capital and now faced a new future.

We’re not firing any rifles or cannons but we’re still pretty excited about what the commonwealth will do next!