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The Devil Went Down to Kentucky

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Bluegrass State:

The Three Percenters on Memorial Day, the Year of Our Lord 2020, May John McCains Enraged Spirit organize His Beer Drinking Maverick Army of Angels to Swoop Down at Zero Dark Thirty & Help us All before Our Nations Commonweal & Human Wealth is Over and Its Too Late.

ADVICE TO THE READER: please bow your heads in a moment of silence, because right now it appears U.S. Marine Amy McGrath Doesn’t Have a Snowballs Chance on a Hotter Planet To Triumph Given All Odds, Oligarchies, & all Ostriches with their Heads in the Sand, or elsewhere darker, Across the Bluegrass State. Amen.

By David Hatfield Crockett

“A hillbilly may be defined as any member that comes from the Appalachian region who likes to make moonshine and drink it whenever they please and shoot of firearms at will.”

Encyclopedia of Southern Culture

“Don’t listen to Governor Beshear, he’s a dumbass”

—sign brandished by Three Percenters, Frankfort, Memorial Day, 2020

“The most important part of a sign is everything that surrounds the sign”

—Ferdinand de Saussure

I.

Memorial Day, May 25, 2020. A crowd assembles at the state capital in Frankfort, Kentucky, including members of an organization called “The Three Percenters.” It is a cheerful affair for some in the ragtag group. My guess is that preparations had been made as if for a tailgating party; treats for the kids, chips & sandwiches and Big Gulp sodas for everyone. Maybe even a few beers if the attendees with pistols & rifles in their pickups & car trunks, or on their person, weren’t from a dry Kentucky country and members of the Church of Christ or Primitive Baptist. Given their strict beliefs on all forms of alcohol, including the beverage made from fermented grapes and rejoiced over at Jesus Christ’s first miracle at The Wedding of Cana, these individuals who’ve read The Book of Daniel do not defile the temple of the bodies, made in God’s image, with that particularly delicious ambrosia known in the New Testament as wine.

At one point a few characters from the assembled group decided to hang a facsimile of Democratic Governor Andy Beshear in effigy. Needless to say, the historical echo nationwide was loud & it quickly rose to a crescendo as onlookers watched these particularly determined protestors, some with AK-47s and AR-15-type assault rifles possibly in their home bunkers, attics, or grain silo survival basements, storm the front porch of the governor’s home, where he lives with his wife and his ten and eleven-year-old children.

Currently, with the Three Percenters still healthy & afoot the upcoming election next week in the Bluegrass will be no sunshine-filled game, especially as the votes are counted, largely because these witty representatives of “liberty,” “justice,” and “physical strength” continue free across the United States and in the Bluegrass and they have a following nationwide. To wit: they keep showing up rallies & infiltrating peaceful protests. These Proud Boys. Tea Party wishy-washys, These Let’s Go To Denny’s & Drink Coffee Then Raise Some Ideological Hell Cro-Magnon Posse Lites, whatever their brand, whatever garage, (whatever grange, that’s French you hooligan lurkers), whatever barn, tree stump, stone or rock under from which you’ve crawled. That’s right. I’m a little peeved under the collar about Mitch McConnell and his Chinese wife. Normally, I’m a gentleman farmer with a tortoise named Timothy whom I occasionally walk on his little leash, but more of that anon.

Now it’s Halloween, 2020 & most all the nation "holds its breath" to see what’s going to happen next Tuesday. By now whatever one’s woebegone news source, all of the Americas and Most all of the World has seen other armed, pumped, camouflaged versions of these men mostly in Southern states & Western states but also in other various north of the Mason-Dixie line manifestations, places like Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, and Wisconsin.

The fact these individuals are generally males seems worth noting. Fox TV & the nation’s bottomless pit of mentally limited shock jocks cannot change certain scientifically measurable facts: these “individuals” tend toward the hirsute, routinely drive pickup trucks, they’re fond of beard-growing competitions & wearing hats stylistically more pragmatic for working in the sun, than for attending The Kentucky Derby.

Yes, indeed, it’s a testosterone-driven phenomenon. Additionally, everybody can see or suspect that Agent Orange is on something at all of his tiny-fist pumping rallies. These Three Percenters and Proud Boys are out there and keep appearing & will continue to appear into the year 2021 and beyond, wherever television cameras might be so they can finally start, making themselves “known” virtually. They will keep showing up in costumes & pickups every where marches and cries for logic, action, and justice take place.

At any rate, we have an election Tuesday. While largely popular in what I’d call a neck-deepwater crimson state, instead of waist-deepwater & fairly reasonable red state, which potentially could swim out of its problems with a corrective election result, Governor Andy Beshear responded immediately with rhetorical calm and a good family man’s moral fury.

What’s that? Are you’re saying deepwater’s not a word? That it’s totally inappropriate to say Kentuckians are in deepwater? Frankly, I do not concur and the phrasing fits Kentucky’s voting population fine & dandy. Right now it’s October 31st, so wake up if you’re still breathing air, have not yet voted, and are living in Kentucky.

Furthermore, for anyone outside of my natal land who is not scared or downright terrified of the re-electing of Mitch McConnell I’ll just say “Boo,” then shame on you, then mind your own small business enterprise. Maybe it’s not the American people or your Kentucky in-state workers you really care for but rather rigged tax laws, accounting shenanigans, & that handy-dandy “bankruptcy” option of which you have been quite fond all along.

Let’s try and understand the state of Kentucky. It’s a puzzler, isn’t it? I was saying just this to a friend in the houseboat moored next to mine here at the Louisville Yacht Club where I’ve hunkered down with a few swell folks: two undergraduate foreign language teachers from Bellarmine, nine lawyers who are all living together in a gawdy yacht, four Methodist preachers and a frightened Honduran from a tree removal service, along with the COO of Papa John’s who comes to drink with us on Thursday evenings to escape and relax, which is another fascinating true tale which we’ll return to with time permitting. Also, one Trappist monk from “The Abbey of Gethsemane” where Thomas Merton wrote his masterful “The Rain and the Rhinoceros.”

Anyhow, the other day we were all chatting & I was explaining how back in the 1980s this young, handsome lawyer took a gentleman named Robert Bork to school on national television & fixed his little red wagon. Mostly, this bright lawyer did this because Judge Robert Bork was known in educated circles for saying and writing down horse-hockey such as this: “Truth is what the majority thinks it is at any given moment precisely because the majority is permitted to govern and to redefine its values constantly.

To which that young lawyer back in the 1980s, who is now currently called Vice-President Joe Biden, said, “I do not agree.” However, in his head, which is a good one, hopefully our future President Biden, that day still in the history books, said very quietly (sotto voce, for you Proud Boys who speak Italian & enjoy opera) along with the spirit of Edmund Burke, who is probably guzzling a lot better beer in heaven right now, instead of that RNC swill called Coors, and laughing his ass off looking at current South Carolina polling numbers—and thought quickly:

“However, to form

a free government,

that is, to temper

together these opposite

elements of liberty & restraint

in once consistent work,

requires

much

thought.”

Hampered by racial violence and charges that local administrators of many of the war on Poverty programs abused their offices for their own political and economic gain, President Johnson ordered the commission to expose the weaknesses and shortcoming in this Great Society Programs. Among other responsibilities, the commission had to investigate everything from farm labor to cultural opportunities for rural families & the impact of these factors on migration from rural America to urban centers.

—Thomas Kiffmeyer Reformers to Radicals: Appalachian Volunteers & the War on Poverty

II.

What do you really know about Kentucky? A whole lot? More with time since you’ve been following issues & the upcoming election? Zilch? Not a blessed thing? Since only a week remains, why not take a fleeting interest in the Bluegrass state?

Perhaps you have studied a map & observed the geographical basics? Hard for you to look at my home state without judging isn’t it? Appalachia. Those funny folks without good schooling. Been thinking about how lucky you were to attend college, considering the cost of your braces alone perhaps, back whenever you were a teenager attending private school?

Naturally, I’m just guessing but since I’m assuming that you’re a political junkie, just like me, ever since I cast a vote for John Anderson in 1980. Still, do me a favor okay? Do remember those braces & all the nutritious food that when down the little red lane & your well-educated throat while you were growing up: fresh salmon, organic fruits and veggies from Whole Foods replete with phytonutrients?

Well, these foodstuffs pretty much guarantee that you’ll never have rickets, so whenever you talk about an uneducated electorate, or make jokes about my home state, or want to start chuckling at Appalachia’s so-called inbred idiots & hollers & moonshine, well just go back to the drawing board and your Ivy League club for a cocktail.

While you’re sipping on it savor this tidbit, which is that my daughter’s mother has a PhD in astrophysics and she was a straight “A” student who grew up in Salyersville, Kentucky, which is not that far from the heart of coal country.

Yessir & yes ma’am, that’s near Magoffin County, Kentucky, the same speck on the globe as publisher, gun-violence victim, moral sunshine specialist Larry Flint. Say what you like, the man is a deconstructer of the trickle-down-your-leg Chicago School economic theory of toothy but very boring Ronald Regan, just ask his first wife. Yes, Ronald Reagan was a boring husband. Go figure. That’s what happens when you’ve read Ayn Rand and not a single word of Plato’s Republic, have never heard of France’s E.N.A. training, and aren’t very interested in other people’s bootstrap-less condition, and have been handsome all your life, with good teeth, and a smidge of charm.

At this point, I’ll just hazard a guess—Hazard, Kentucky is a real place—and say that when it comes to their jobs, paychecks, & sources of health insurance, many of Kentucky’s citizens feel confused, bifurcated, split in two because of all the disinformation, lies, fibs, and taunts. Of course, the military still trains troops & houses a few of its finest crack units at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne and also where my buddy Armando with a plate in his head trained, and also Jimi Hendrix before he hurt his ankle training and practicing to be a paratrooper. Thank goodness he went into other vocational opportunities & playing his guitar nonstop while in that “warehouse of strangers” in Kentucky. By the way, John Prine served, too.

Ah, the Bluegrass state’s cool side and its aficionados and natives. That’s what you’re thinking about now, right? Always ahead of me aren’t you? George Clooney, Johnny Depp, and Lily Tomlin. The Everly Bros? Boy oh boy, you’re learning & really have your nose to the grindstone now. Furthermore, hospitals and science exist in Kentucky! Aren’t you thrilled! Many of the people in my hometown work at factories and plants like Union Carbide, Pillsbury, B.F. Goodrich, and Air Products.

The PGDP Plant located in McCracken Country made enriched uranium, which transformed Paducah into what some people called “the Atomic City” from 1952 to 2013 and for virtually one entire decade was the USA’s only operating enrichment facility.

Backwoods stuff, right? Not exactly a muzzleloader factory, huh? We’ll get to Daniel Boone & his self-sufficient woodman macho schtick in a jiffy. Would you please lower your voice and be patient? Certain matters matter. So, hold your horses.

“We have a tremendous geographical advantage that makes Louisville almost the distribution center of the United States, and this is perhaps the main reason why UPS located the Worldport here.”

—Kevin Gue, referring to the UPS Worldport, Louisville International Airport

   III.

Manufacturing is king in Kentucky and don’t you forget it. It’s not coal. It’s not horses, bourbon, pretty horses or fast women like Zelda Fitzgerald & vice versa. It’s making things. Making modern machines. That perhaps is precisely what’s had you so flummoxed and absolutely confused all along about Mitch McConnell now isn’t it?

Go ahead & say up front that you were entirely lost. Step up the plate, New York Times & Guardian readers & watchers of Portlandia and you punk rock listeners, too. Shucks, you might have listened to rock and roll in college like me too for all I know. Sweet Jesus & sweet tea with lemon! So you still want to understand Kentucky?

We’ve hardly started and your mind-blown already and panting for mercy and left in the dust. That one single fact. That’s not what you thought or believed when you woke up this morning, right? UPS. Yumm Brands. Toyota. Papa John Pizza. UPS.

Are you following? This means if you live East or if you even live West of the Old Man, mostly likely hard-working black & white & Hispanic essential Kentuckian workers at UPS might have brought you your organic groceries, all your COVID-19 survival kits & masks & supplies.

Constructing things using machines & hiring people to run the machines that make the new machines is currently and will enduringly & most likely be the leading industry in Kentucky. Relax. We’ll get to Eastern Kentucky directly. BTW, that’s American and saying “directly” is clear & accurate diction, fine regional slang, you weird talking Bostonian stuck-up schmucks. That’s right, I’m especially talking to you, too, Ben Affleck, oh my goodness, what a classy lovely woman you had there for a while.

Suffice to say, there is not and there will never for Appalachia in the future exist anything remotely like Louisville’s UPS Worldport, not ever in another million geographical years. Yet there’s plenty of Time in that part of the world and who knows what all kind of good ideas those homo sapiens might come up with given a little micro-loan seed money, which will be donated any day now by all the panelists on Shark Tank, who I’m sure are eager to share their entrepreneurial love & savoir-faire in the region.

Seriously, my home state residents could use a hand, and the difficulty lies not so much in “developing new ideas,” as John Maynard Keynes points out, “but in escaping from old ones.” Also, let me cut to the chase & add that the 2020 economic markets can remain irrational longer than the needy human beings in Kentucky can remain solvent & if this amoral tyrant is reelected more people will die in all our nation’s more impoverished areas.

Perhaps a few Geographical ABC’s are in order? This seems prudent in case AOC does decide to drive her automobile down—eschewing uppity jet travel—when she comes to help stump and actually lend a helping hand to Amy McGrath, thereby making a real serious effort to defeat Mitch McConnell.

She could visit my home state’s migrant worker fields or the peach orchards in Livingston County, which would potentially boost the Hispanic in-state vote, but I mostly want for her to come so she herself can help Bernie Sanders robotized-voters to exit their mind-funk. She’s super healthy, young and able, full of ideas about Kentucky and all itching to take a trip.

Now that we’ve covered that little problem, we may continue focused again, smiling with understanding, whistling a tune, & hand-in-hand once more. Let’s agree, however, that, generally speaking, most people outside of its borders, unless it’s Kentucky Derby Week and they’ve spent one or two thousand dollars at a milliners, do not know or care that there are three regions in the Bluegrass state. Now let’s return to our afternoon’s tutorial and entertainment and let you get back to your map.

First, there’s Western Kentucky—aka the “Jackson Purchase”—which includes my family’s now subdivided Hereford cattle farm and hometown located off I-24, near Kentucky and Barkley Lakes. These are two huge TVA lakes create a pleasant water scene for local sailing, waterskiing, bass and crappie fishermen, then the lake’s dammed water outflow makes its way to the Ohio River, which forms the state’s northern border, and this same Ohio River is where Jim tells Huckleberry that he’s heading to rejoin his wife and kids.

Second, there’s Central Kentucky’s big economic engines of Louisville and Lexington, then mid-sized towns like Owensboro and Bowling Green, then the bustling small towns and villages like Danville, and Scottsboro, home of Dollar General.

Third and finally, there’s the greener world of a billion trees and at times beautiful but poverty-plagued for centuries Eastern part of Kentucky, with its woebegone coal country in a region that, yes, you are correct, is sometimes known as “Appalachia.”

Of course, this triadic division above is a simplification, but still it’s a way to begin this 21st-century cultural primer about a unique and different place with folkways and habits and crafting skills in addition to the age-old Art of Making Do With Little or Nothing, like whittling, bluegrass music, doll making, quilting, and so forth.

The whole history of American captivity is the attempt to correct a syntax of Indian-with conversation in which the imperative mode is supposed to operate in only one direction. What make the white settlers’ experiences in Kentucky who were captured unique is that adoption of captives was the main mode of behavior and central to Shawnee society—they tolerated and were intrigued by difference and Otherness. 

—David Sewell, historian

IV.

Myths, Legends, & Histories, where to start? Tradition matters. Right? Okay, let’s dive into it. Wilderness frontier hero Mr. Daniel Boone wore coonskin caps, shot a muzzleloader, and quite preposterously killed him a bear when he was only three. Spare me & bless your soul. All that I can say is bless your soul. That is, if you’re cursed to know how the rest of how this song was occasionally sung, and you wish to continue with a song in your heart about our nation’s racist past history. Lost lives, night riders, strange fruit. Nothing funny about that.

Did I mention that Daniel Boone wasn’t a Kentuckian by birth since the state didn’t even exist until 1792? Several years passed after his first failure & ass-kicking by a group of Shawnee Indians who met this toad-colored gentlemen at the border of their land when he was a tenderfoot immigrant.

That’s right. In the beginning before his election in later years to the Virginia State Capital, where off & on even today a few legislators try to be acknowledged poets & vice versa, Daniel Boone experienced an EDUCATION and had to hightail-it back across over the Cumberland Gap.

Apparently, Daniel Boone had adopted two nicknames, and believe it or not one of these nicknames “Sheltowee” or “Big Turtle.” Schoolteacher John Filson came to the great state in 1873 and his book entitled Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucky sold like hotcakes and transformed both its author and Daniel Boone to the extent to he became a media star, don’t you know it, and internationally famous even in his own lifetime, so even Lord Byron mentions him in his epic poem Don Juan.

Well, like I was saying, Mr. Boone survived and was able somehow not to inspire or have the Shawnee take his life when they encountered him. However, the schoolteacher and author John Filson was not so well-placed since later following his book’s publication and success he was killed and scalped while surveying.

Daniel Boone’s mythic status has grown wildly & inaccurately out of proportion, many of its mas’ macho que las macho contours enduring now for two hundred and fifty years.

After his initial failure—Daniel Boone was captured, not hero stuff, of course, not anyway to our Drum-Majorette-in-Chief if you happen to have glimpsed Trumps private school snapshots—our wilderness he-man provisioned a few stalwart others and their wives and horses and mules. Once sufficiently rested, then off he went again toward the Kentucky border and set about setting up plats and making a lot of gold coin. All the businessman & congressman stuff came later.

First, those Shawnee Nation’s young braves sent him scampering across the border. Then guess what? Some others caught him and hog-tied him up once more. But it was necessary, insofar as Mr. Boone was very big man. Additionally, he had probably been brandishing “his best friend,” perhaps even pointing its muzzle straight at their chests where their hearts resided. However, he was indeed Daniel Boone and he had not tarried but journeyed day and night back to cross the Cumberland Gap to eventually found the settlement known as Boonesboro, which was a little like White Water, but not exactly because it made money for its investors.

Anyhow, the facts suggest that the Shawnee really kind of respected something about Daniel Boone and there are good reasons. There’s little doubt that he was skilled as a hunter and woodsman and orienteer. Personally, I’m more interested that he took the issue of communicating with the Shawnee quite seriously. Maybe he knew its advantages were myriad and unknown. Maybe knowing a bit of their language could help everyone? Maybe it would be best to “shake hands across the aisle?” Long story short, Mr. Boone was “adopted” and “assimilated. In his very fine book From the Fallen Tree, Thomas Hallock gives us a bit more historical detail:

“A war party captured him in 1778. After running the gauntlet, Boone was taken into the tribe. His scalp was plucked; his skin scrubbed, the leader Blackfish named the stocky Boone Sheltowee” meaning “Big Turtle.” The group assimilated the backwoodsman to the extent that he could engineer his own escape. But when the Shawnee agreed to join an English siege against the fort, Sheltowee told his captors that he was going for a hunt then disappeared toward the town, not without having established ties, however, to his second family.”

Choosing this precise moment to be the man he’d become, Daniel Boone went to help the other imperiled families at the Boonesboro fort and encampment. And the Shawnee attack was vicious. The subsequent siege lasted eleven days! Imagine & film it in your head. Eleven long days.

 

Those must have nice sunsets.

Then twilight and onyx-dark nights among a billion trees.

Torches & candles made from animal lard.

Then dressing of wounds, rushed meals, burying the dead, long restless nights tossing & turning, and sleeping in shifts.

 

Finally, when the Shawnee agreed to attempt a negotiation and the Booneboro gates were opened, it was Daniel Boone who translated. He was capable, attentive, helpful and reasonable and took seriously the tribe and his temporary “second” family’s demands.

 

Colonial Americanist Tom Hallock tells us that one other historian even claims that Daniel Boone received his adopted father Blackfish by hugging him with great respect, and whether it happened exactly that way, as Hallock carefully points out & assiduously observes, becomes the fodder with which careful historians wrestle. All the historians agree on one rather amazing fact which is that Mr. Daniel Boone got flack from the other white males in Boonesboro for being communicative, empathetic and dialectical. We know this because later on, all the white men court-marshaled him.

 

Surprised? Come now. Surely not. By now, don’t we know what all can happen when a “crowd” gets together? Almost anything, as Mark Twain once explained via the character of Colonel Sherburn, who single-handledly stops “a party down at the square” in a pretty good book I read in tenth grade for the first time:

 

The idea of you. It’s amusing. Because you're brave enough to tar and feather poor friendless cast-out women that come along here, did that make you think you had grit enough to lay your hands on a man? Why, a man's safe in the hands of ten thousand of your kind—as long as it's daytime and you're not behind him.

Anyhow, tobacco was the inhalant choice of the day. Mr. Boone and others sought good farming terrain: land, land, land. Just like Scarlett’s O’Hara’s father explained to her in Gone with the Wind andeconomically, Kentucky was on its way.

All issues are women’s issues.

—Martha Layne aka “Landslide” Collins

Commonwealth of Kentucky Governor 1983-1989

I will refer back to Senator Mike Enzi and the school he was talking about in Wyoming. I think probably there, I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies.

—Betty DeVos

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

—Sarah Palin, on The Affordable Care Act, Aug. 7, 2009

V.

Overall, Kentucky ranks 45th in education, however problematically these statistics are determined, and it is the 5th poorest state in America per capita. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2018 the national poverty rate was 11.8% percent and not having enough of what they needed affected 38.1 million Americans.

Here are the top ten most impoverished places to live in the USA, not counting hurricane-smashed Puerto Rico, whose inhabitants are notorious whiners and hoarders of paper towels, or so I’ve heard on my AM radio one time: Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, District of Colombia, Oklahoma. Oh yeah, next is Senator Lindsey Graham’s South Carolina.

So here we find ourselves, tossing and turning in the final week of election year and October 2020, like the woebegone & worried yet better weaponized Shawnee, worrying about the ongoing antics of Mitch “Big Turtle” McConnell. How could such a thing come to pass in the USA? How humiliating and unfathomable. Frankly it’s like what one of the erudite Three Percenters might themselves call one great big Giambattista Viconian gyre. Back to next week’s election & contemporary Covid-19 in a minute.

First ladies & gentlemen, please join me in a ritual and sincere benediction, as all the ancestors of the Chickasaw, Osage, Miami, Yuchi, Quapaw, the dominant Shawnee, and the woebegone Cherokee “RISE UP” who are still mourning & missing their often shared hunting grounds—later named “Kentucke” by John Filson before he went topless to his grave—and start sending their energy and spirit-strength to all Kentucky voters all this week & weekend and into next Tuesday.

Frankly, all of the Bluegrass state’s going to need a good anointing, and I’m not sure even the Episcopalians are up to the task. Let’s try everything N.O.W. all at once.