“Okie from Muskogee”, Fact or Fiction?

I spent many years in Muskogee, OK growing up. Muskogee is one of those places that was put on the map in the 1970’s by a country artist by the name of Merle Haggard. Haggard wrote of an optimistic, drug free, patriotic town where a man would fight for what was right and good. The lyrics of “Okie from Muskogee” read,


We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee  

We don’t take our trips on LSD  

We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street  

We like livin’ right, and bein’ free”.


Like the author Muriel Earley Sheppard and photographer Bayard Wootten in their collaborative work “Cabins in the Laurel”, in which they skewed reality of the community they wrote about into a perceived work of misrepresented fiction in order to market the book to an intended audience, Haggard shared a common stage with them.

Haggard possibly penned “Okie from Muskogee” out of his sense of reality, or maybe his sense of hope of how things should, or maybe could be. One thing is for certain, it is not reality. Muskogee has its share of drugs, crime, and corruption as many other places in the nation do. It is not exempt from the hardships that bombard the common man. In fact, there is nothing extraordinary about Muskogee at all.

For someone that lived there the song is a source of great pride, though I’m sure that Haggard made plenty of money off of “Okie from Muskogee”.



The Rise of Violence

In the winter of 1864 the violence of the civil war began to take its toll on previously untouched portions of Appalachia. The Federal army would send raids into the regions of Appalachia that robbed them of their resources and destroyed their crops and homes. This contributed greatly to the increased violence in the local communities as Appalachians chose sides in the conflict.  In “Civil War and Reconstruction”, a book written by Gordon B. McKinney, he writes, “A general weakening of the social and political loyalties of the region further eroded civil peace. The result was a growing level of violence and despair in the mountain areas by 1864 and the disintegration of the social order by 1865.”

In 1863 the armies began drafting young skilled workers. This came at a hefty cost to a community’s infrastructure. With no skilled workers left to repair the roads and bridges towns soon fell into disrepair.  Some communities found themselves literally cut off from the rest of the world (and the supplies they desperately needed) as roads became impassable. Along with the skilled worker, the clergy and teachers were not exempt from the draft.  Soon, the formal education was left behind so that the children could help out on the farm just to survive.

As you can see, when you combine these effects of the war on Appalachia, you will start to see the well-known stereotype of the violent, uneducated mountain folk that you see in movies and books. This was not a result of choice by the Appalachian, but rather the effects of war that are still felt today.

the-hatfields-and-mccoys      blood-in-the-hills

“Ghosts, Boundaries, and Names”

I’ve been reading a book by John Alexander Williams in my Intro. to Appalachian Studies class called “Appalachia: a history”.  As I read the Introduction titled “Ghosts, Boundaries, and Names” I’ve come to the realization, of what I believe is at the core of what Williams is trying to tell us, that in order to understand what Appalachia is today, we must first understand what it used to be.  We must understand it’s “Ghost”.  Williams attempts to do this be the retelling of the history of Appalachia, and those who lived there, so that we may gain a deeper understanding of the rich culture of Appalachia today.

In his book, “Appalachia”, John Alexander Williams wrote, “One of the keys to the success of the region’s writers is that they have – as educators, folklorists, and missionaries did in earlier eras – continue to hold up to the larger nation an “alternative America,” a not-always-welcome image that contrasted with the stress and placeless-ness that beset a “nation of exiles”.”

West Virginia coal mine.
West Virginia coal mine.
Appalachian mountain folk.

I am not a native to Appalachia, but I can’t help but think of the changes that have taken place in my hometown of Clinton, OK. I was born and raised during the oil boom of the 1970’s.  One could say that I grew up with the displaced descendants of the native Appalachian.  Ghosts, boundaries, and names accurately describes Oklahoma which was named Indian Territory until 1907.  I attended school at Arapaho and Council Hill. Later in life I owned a saddle shop in Checotah while living in Hitchita.  As you can see the native Appalachian’s left their legacy, and ghosts, across this nation. Many of the landmarks of my childhood have faded away, leaving nothing but the memories of the past told by those that lived it.

Portrait "Trail of Tears"
Portrait “Trail of Tears”

Many times as our focus turns to “what could be”, fueled by government or often times big business with a progressive mindset, we unintentionally erase or circumvent the landmarks and history with highways and skyscrapers. Memories of “what was” are lost to the ideas of “what could be”.

 I think a good question we should ask ourselves is, “Who would you be as an individual if you had amnesia and could no longer remember the people, events, and places that shaped you into the person you are today?”. 

Native Populations and Settlements

Hello everyone! Welcome to the Sawing On The Strings blog where we will discuss the history and culture of Appalachia and how the colonization of Appalachia brought about a multi-faceted change.

Wilma A. Dunaway wrote in her book “Speculators and Settler Capitalists”,  “Half a century before the decolonization of North America from the British Empire, southern planters and eastern capitalists expropriated vast territories of southern Appalachia from the Native American groups who lived and hunted there….Between 1763 and 1773 settlers engrossed 4,545,908 acres from the indigenous peoples.”

What would life be like today in Appalachia if early settlers had learned and embraced the rich culture of the early Appalachians?

Line of Proclamation
The Line of Proclamation 1763

melungeon indians 1