Montani Semper Liberi: The Art of Being Free in the Back of Beyond by John Meyers

Publisher’s Note:  Again, I’m pleased that John has provided yet another great narrative about the history of “state repellent” areas and regions in the USSA. This should serve as a reminder that state resistant regions like Zomia in SE Asia and other mountainous zones planet-wide can shuffle off the planetary impulse to govern every human transaction. If one wants to establish a redoubt, success will depend on interesting map lines. There is a rich history in the Appalachians of saying “nope” to any question that begins with “Should the government…?”

John just did the wonderful account of MAJ Redmond.

Our Southern Highlanders here.

Providential that we would publish this as PorcFest is fired up in NH and the Orcs in Mordor pass more nonsense from their satraps in the Supremes.  -BB

Mountain peoples have always had a knack for being free. Mountainous topography has historically acted as a talisman against over bearing authoritarianism. Rugged individualism in the Appalachian, Ozarks and Rocky Mountain chains in these united States is still rampant despite the usual suspects best efforts to squash it. Regions across the globe from Southeast Asia, to the Highlands of the Isles of Great Britain, to the Swiss Alps, demonstrate a similar allergy to despotism. Mountainous regions have long served resistance movements well from the Hindu Kush to Chechnya, the Sendero Illuminoso in Peru to everyone’s favorite counter-culture movie classic, Red Dawn set in the stereotypical Middle American small town at the foot of the Rockies.

Buppert’s Law of Military Topography puts forth the idea that a people who live in a rifle culture in mountainous terrain, are rarely if ever, militarily defeated. Historically, there are very few examples where this is not the case. While I do not intend to analyze this theory on a world scale from a military perspective, I want to establish this as a baseline theory for study of general resistance to States in particular.

The Irish Rebellion of 1916-1922, is unique in that it offers a sort of picture window analysis of a successful western European insurgency, where as most successful insurgencies involve peoples that are much different in ethnicity, religion and cultural values than what we have here in the Occupied States. Which is why the shining example of Appalachian Anti-Statism is a crucial looking glass to draw from.

James C Scott in his writings on the stateless hill people of Southeast Asia has described that since the beginning, humans have sought out mountainous regions as retreats from the State. Whether it was evading conscription, slavery, taxation, rules, epidemics or wars. The retreat into the Appalachians represents the same phenomenon. The people seeking to be free in the America of a bygone era generally found themselves on the frontier. These regions were largely what Scott calls “non-state space” and areas where the State had difficulty establishing and maintaining its authority. If you throw in challenging terrain and obstacles, you further increase your odds of being left alone and state control being minimal.

Appalachian Lineage

There may be a genetic aversion to authority embedded in the various people who settled the eastern mountains. Stemming largely from Scots-Irish, English Borderers, Germanic (“Dutch” in the Highland Dixie lexicon) and French Huguenot backgrounds, the first settlers merely by the act of settling what became known as Appalachia were law-breakers. The British Monarch in an effort to improve Indian relations put forth a decree forbidding settlement west of the line he drew on a map. Many of these people found their way west of that line.

Of particular interest to the liberty minded person is the specific culture of the Southern Appalachian region. Lucky for us, a marvelous first hand account exists of these people from before the old ways died off. Horace Kephart’s, “Our Southern Highlanders” does a wonderful job at detailing the radical individualism, anti-authoritarianism, traditions, and cultural nuisances inherent in this group of people. Much like a modern radical libertarian, the traditional mountain folk were severely skeptical of Power and granted government little if any moral legitimacy. The same way the modern advocate of a free society might argue that the fiction of Social Contract theory is nothing but a mythology of power used to explain why we have rulers, Kephart notes:

Our Highlanders have neither memory nor tradition of ever having been herded together, lorded over, persecuted or denied the privileges of freemen… they recognize no social compact.” (Kephart, 382-383)

The first settlers to the region may have largely been materially poor, but of a unique sort. Neither did they fit in with aristocratic society nor were the seaboard towns and cities fit for them. Kephart perfectly details the distinction:

“The Western piedmont and the mountains were settled neither by Cavaliers nor by poor whites, but by a radically distinct and even antagonistic people who are appropriately called the Roundheads of the South. These Roundheads had little or nothing to do with slavery, detested the state church, loathed tithes, and distrusted all authority save that of conspicuous merit and natural justice.” (Kephart, 439)

The Scots Irish mindset has historically been that of a defiant group of people. They have long been a fighting race and its no surprise when you transplant those mountain people to America, they keep up the same legacy. As Kephart further elaborates, “Thus we see that the townsman’s weapon against government was graft, and the mountaineer’s weapon was his gun.” (Kephart, 150)

The Regulator Rebellion

The frontier inhabitants were indeed not only theoretically opposed to being lorded over, they were willing to physically resist it. It is no surprise that some of the first and most interesting acts of resistance to British authority in America were on the frontier. One of the more interesting stories of the pre-revolutionary era was the antics of the North Carolina Regulators. Given that individualists gradually moved west escaping the tyranny of the Eastern governments, bureaucrats and crony-land holders, it comes as no surprise that when the government sought to establish counties and government apparatuses amongst the frontier dwellers, they didn’t take it very well. It really does come down to Ernest Hancock’s proverbial classification of two types of people; “the ones who just want to be left alone, and the ones who just wont leave you alone.”
In the mid 1760’s on the North Carolina piedmont, Royal Governor endorsed corruption reared its ugly head. Local courts and sheriffs were in the extortion game, stealing lands through tax foreclosure, forcing residents to pay double the taxes on their own whim, and all manners of the standard operating procedures of governments. Soon the Regulators struck back and were fond of using TTP’s that were similarly later employed by movements such as the American Indian Movement, where they occupied government buildings, shut down court proceedings, burned public officials houses, and urinated on the Judges bench. After several years of openly flaunting Colonial authority, the conflict came to an end when approximately 2000 Regulators were fired on by the Royal Governor’s troops as they stood in defiance at the Battle of Alamance. The corrupt government won the day, and taxes were even raised. Some rebel leaders were hanged, most others ended up on the farther fringes of the Frontier.

For a full treatment on the War of the Regulation, please Murray Rothbard’s masterwork, Conceived in Liberty. The audio version of the chapter on the Regulators can be found here.

The Watauga Association

The Appalachians’ proper were generally sparsely populated, south of what we now call northern West Virginia until into the 1800’s. The stereotypical hardscrabble mountaineer, living way up a branch, at high altitude, on his own hook, on land where farming generally couldn’t take place beyond a subsistence garden, generally didn’t come into being until the good bottom lands were already claimed. The retreat into the deep spine of the mountains like the Great Smoky Mountains, up the creeks and on the high ridges and hollers generally began to happen in the 1800’s. Most settlers clung to the more fertile valleys and the lower elevations with gentler topography, on either side of the mountains. Westward thinking settlers sought fertile lands across the mountains, with high game populations in the “Middle Ground” of middle Tennessee and Kentucky. The Great Valley, between the Smoky’s and Unaka’s to the east and the Cumberland Mountains to the west, in what is now East Tennessee, was the location of what most consider the first permanent white settlement west of the mountains in the southern region.

True to their natural libertarian ethos, they did not violently take Indian land for their settlement. They obtained a 10-year lease in 1772 from the Cherokee and later bought the land in 1775. In 1772, they established the first independent community outside of British rule. Although no copy of the Articles of Watauga Association exists, the Sycamore Shoals historic site in Elizabethton, TN, has pieced together what it believes is the most likely text based on the Watauga Petition. It details that all families living in the settlement unanimously confirmed the contract. It may be one of the few examples of a totally voluntary government that took on the role of what we consider to be functions of the state, i.e. security, a court system, etc.

The Watauga Association’s downfall came at the start of the American Revolution. Largely as a response to the Cherokee alliance with the British, they petitioned the government of North Carolina to be brought under the jurisdiction and protection of the state as the Washington District, which later became Washington County, North Carolina.


Despite a few skirmishes and Indian conflicts the far frontier saw relatively little action compared to the northern theater of the Revolution. This changed when the British sought to suppress the South. The Mountain people have largely been skeptical of all authority. In the American Revolution as well as the War to Prevent Southern Secession, large swaths of these people didn’t want to get involved. It was theorized they would fight George Washington’s Army, just as fast as they would a British General’s army. They echoed Mel Gibson as Benjamin Martin in The Patriot. “Why should I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away?” Not all on the frontier were Whigs. Some were Loyalists, but not out of a certain love for British authority. It was more of a rejection of the Gentry and ruling class of Colonial America than anything else. The apathy toward the conflict changed when British General Patrick Ferguson issued the ultimatum and uttered something he would truly regret. He said “If they did not desist from their opposition to the British arms, he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, lay waste to their country with fire and sword.” (Draper, 144)

Patriot leaders now had the overwhelming support of the Overmountain men and frontiersman from neighboring areas alike. They mustered at Sycamore Shoals in what is now Elizabethton, TN. It should be noted they mustered voluntarily on their own volition, and raised funds for the campaign on their own account. With rifles in hand, and on horseback if they were able, they crossed the high ridges of the mountains near Roan Mountain and marched toward Ferguson on Bright’s Trace. They soon converged at his camp on what became known as Kings Mountain.

Mountain dwellers loved rifles. They were hunters and they could shoot. Large calibers in the .50 and .60 caliber ranges were the norm of the day. They carried these rifles into battle as opposed to most regular militia’s smooth bore muskets. Their effective range in trained hands could be up to 300 yards. A musket was effective to about 80.

In a surprise attack, almost 1000 genuinely pissed off backwoodsmen attacked with orders to fight to the death. The backwoodsman relied on marksmanship, as opposed to volley firing in rows. One Silas McBee recalled a group of Tories’ trying to secure a rock outcropping, were systemically taken out with head-shots whenever one popped into view. Later the bodies of over 20 were found amongst the rocks. They fought Indian style, not in the conventional manner of the day.

In a matter of an hour, John Gilleland identified Ferguson who had changed out of his officer’s regalia into more mundane clothing. His rifle misfired when he tried to take the shot. He pointed out Ferguson’s position to Robert Young, a 62-year-old man from the Watauga Valley. He reportedly said, “Lets see what Sweet Lips can do” as he took aim at Ferguson and his checkered duster. Young knocked Ferguson from his horse. In the end he lay dead with 7 Rifle balls in his body. It was a pivotal point in the War essentially destroying Britain’s presence in the South. After the Treaty of Paris was signed 1783, the geographical location of the Watauga Association, formed yet another completely independent state. The autonomous region that came to be known as the State of Franklin after its secession from North Carolina, was never part of the union under the Constitution of these united States.

(Copy of an early rifle known as the Johannes Faber Rifle, perhaps dating to the 1750’s from Virginia, built by master gunsmith Eric Kettenburg. It is entirely hand-made, save the .58 caliber barrel, down to the hand filed screws and built in the most period correct fashion as can be done in the modern age. It is an example of an early period rifle that could have been used during the Battle of Kings Mountain.)

The Whiskey Rebellion

Much like the Regulator Rebellion of North Carolina, The Whiskey Rebellion was a direct confrontation with the government. The difference was that in this instance, the forces of liberty weren’t combating corrupt officials, courts and property taxation; they were combating internal excise taxes on distilled spirits imposed by the American Constitutional government. As we all know, AM REV I, in large part was a revolt against taxation. As explained in other essays, the assault on alcohol was a direct assault on the mountain man’s livelihood.

Without going into great detail, which could encompass a book length treatment, the Whiskey Rebellion was largely successful. But this isn’t what we are taught in government schools, if they even bring up the topic at all. We are told that the Rebellion was squashed in Western Pennsylvania and that its battle space was limited to merely four rogue counties in that state. That when excise agents were sent into collect taxes, they were roughed up by rogue bandits and soon Generalissimo Washington rode in to restore law and order with his militia. Isn’t it ironic that the Patriot general squelched the same principles of liberty that were fought for during the Revolution when he became President of these united States? I think it tells you all you need to know about the mythos of the great American Republic being a force of freedom.

The part your middle school history teacher left out is how the resistance movement was largely successful in all other parts of the country. Down the mountain chain from PA to GA, non-payment of the federal excise tax was the norm. In fact non-compliance was so rampant in western North Carolina that the wicked Alexander Hamilton sought permission to raise a Militia to send there as well. This was decided against because if the military rode into the mountains or Kentucky to force compliance, it would have resulted in a secession movement that rivaled the movement of 1775-1781. Revenue agents were harangued, harassed, force to quit their jobs and their life made a living hell. Enforcement was a no-go in most of the mountains and frontier regions. The mountaineer just wouldn’t take it. Largely the reason why the General marched his troops into Western Pennsylvania to squelch the rebellion there was because of requests from his cronies in local office. Not unlike the police in the riots at Ferguson and Baltimore, who protected political property while watching private property burn. Many of the Pennsylvania Whiskey Rebels moved south and west into the deeper mountains to retreat from the state and live free once again. The republicans under Jefferson eventually repealed the excise tax. The open back porch alcohol still once again ruled the day.

The War to Prevent Southern Independence

To further reinforce Kephart’s portrayal of the independent mountaineer, you can look at the conflict of 1861-1865. By this time, the good valley land of the east was settled and the mountain ridges and deep coves were seen as a refuse from statism and a chance to live free.

Even though Southern Appalachia is solidly in the South, its loyalties were divided. This largely wasn’t because of some religious attachment to the Union. They saw the Confederate government just as much of a scam and a socialist entity as they did the Northern State. They had no use for Planter Society and its exemplification in government. The deep hollers and coves of the region became known as the chief location of deserters and draft dodgers. They became known as the “Outliers,” or the “Outlier Army” engaged in a rebellion against a rebellion. They wished a pox on both houses. Different families and communities cast their lot with different sides. Western North Carolina counties leaned toward the Confederate Cause. East Tennessee Counties tended to be Union to the man. Virginia tended to be Confederate, while the far counties toward Ohio tended to be Union. (what is now the far western portion of present West Virginia) In fact the State of West Virginia was formed as a secession movement from Virginia to rejoin the Union. Kentucky while today known as a hardcore southern state culturally, was almost entirely a Union state during the war, while a state like Maryland today that is more so culturally Mid Atlantic or Northern due to Yankee migration, had a overwhelmingly southern sympathy. Look no further than the radical lyrics of the state song, Maryland, My Maryland.

Many today in regions such as East Tennessee don’t even realize their ancestors were Yankees and take offense and are surprised to learn as such. This phenomenon has played out in a recent movie called The World Made Straight, filmed and set in mountainous Madison County, North Carolina. The lead character is seen in the beginning of the movie wearing a Confederate flag shirt, only to learn later in the movie that one of his ancestors was a Unionist who was killed at the Massacre at Shelton Laurel. It was not uncommon for a returning soldier, deserter or wounded soldier to end up either pressed into service for the other side’s home guard unit, or to simply join up voluntarily if they offered a better protection plan for his family.

In many communities personal vendettas and feuds served to allocate loyalties. And the war provided the perfect cover. Most tactics were those of the guerrilla and partisan, not the regular army. Uniforms were generally not worn. Guerrillas sometimes used uniforms of the opposing side. Bushwhacking was common against contingents of regular troops. Incidents such as the Shelton Laurel Massacre in “Bloody Madison” county, North Carolina were all too common. The final death scene of the block buster movie, Cold Mountain is loosely based on a real life event that took place on the Mt. Sterling road through Cataloochee, a settlement on the edge of what is now the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Where a particularly nasty Confederate Home Guard leader shot three union sympathizers near the Mt. Sterling gap. Union guerrilla bands such as Kirks Raiders made routine raids into the Cataloochee area and other western NC areas and garnered no love from Confederate or Union sympathizing inhabitants.

The sentiment of the typical mountaineer towards the war was that of Jimmy Stewart’s character in the great movie Shenandoah. In the beginning there are scenes of both the Union recruiters and Confederate recruiters coming to his farm to recruit his sons. And he gives them the same speech. That he wants nothing to do with either of them. His statement to the Confederate Home Guard can be seen here:

Another anomaly of the region was the Confederate Colonel William Holland Thomas. A native of Western North Carolina, he was a great friend of the Cherokee who managed to evade the slave patrols of the Trail of Tears. He later went on to secure what is now the reservation for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. He was also the first White Chief of the Cherokee People. When the war came, he soon joined the Confederate Army, and created an irregular unit tasked with the protection of Western North Carolina and East Tennessee from Union aggression. He was not under direct command of Robert E Lee. He fell under authority of Jefferson Davis himself.

“Little Will” as he came be known was commander of Thomas’ Legion of Highlanders and Cherokee. A unit comprised of approximately 400 Cherokee and 800 Mountain men or “highlanders.” Thomas exploits in the war were relatively minor compared to the likes of guerrilla mastermind, John Mosby, but he had psychological warfare down to an art. Thomas wore an Indian decorated coat. His Indians were known to go into battle shirtless, in war paint and took scalps. After a short stint as the 69th North Carolina in the Virginia Valley campaign, the battle-hardened contingent came back to western North Carolina for the remainder of the war. It is no surprise that the last shots fired east of the Mississippi were fired in the mountains. In May of 1865, a month after the official surrender of the Confederate Army, the Legion was making its way through Waynesville, NC. It was reported that in defiance of Union presence Thomas himself was shirtless and painted in the Cherokee fashion while leading his men on horseback. Lt. Conley soon found the location of the Union encampment and a skirmish line was formed and the Union contingent was over taken. As they met to discuss terms of surrender, Thomas was told that the Confederate Army had surrendered at Appomattox. There is speculation as to whether Thomas knew this or not, but needless to say, a unique surrender unlike nearly any other took place. The Confederate forces didn’t technically surrender as they retained their arms and simply went home. The last shot fired of the war, east of the Mississippi was fired in that battle on 6 May 1865.

The Revenue Wars

After the war, things calmed down and resistance drifted back to more traditional agorist, clandestine and irregular methods. In order to pay off the war debt, the Federal government thought it was a great idea to once again install an excise tax on distilled alcohol. $.90 cents to Uncle Sugar, when about all a gallon of whiskey brought was $1.00 on the retail market.

Liquor law resistance surpassed all previous political boundaries. Southern sympathizers saw the liquor laws as a tool of further domination by Northern tyrants on the trampled and war weary people of the South. Union supporters saw the liquor laws as nothing but a betrayal of their loyalty. The Northern state does as states do. They steal and they kill.

Obviously no red-blooded highlander would have any of this. Complete disregard of the whiskey tax was the modus operandi. Distilleries went covert and clandestine. Underground and auxiliary functions developed amongst the clan like structure of the mountain families and communities. The people were in the moonshiner’s pocket. No Bills were largely universal in most bootlegging related offenses. Colorful characters of the southern mountains came into the spotlight. Men such as Lewis Redmond were written about in dime novels and made into heroes that rivaled Natty Bumpo of James Fennimore Coopers Leather stocking Tales. Safe havens known as “Blockaders Glory” and “Moonshiners Paradise” were denied terrain to the occupational Revenue forces. Colorful characters like Quill Rose became highly prized and revered members of the community. Born in Cades Cove, a Union enclave in the War Between the States, located in what is now the Western edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Rose fought with Thomas’ Legion and his mother was half Cherokee. He was a legendary moonshiner and bear hunter who lived on Eagle Creek on the North Carolina side of the Smokey’s. He owned Plott dogs, the unofficial dog of the Western NC/East TN mountain men. Although targeted repeatedly by alcohol agents, he was only arrested once at the age of 80. The judge turned him loose when learning of his age.

Hut Amerine was a figure much like Lewis Redmond. Unlike Rose, Hutsell Amerine served in the 3rd TN Calvary of King Lincoln’s army. A notorious moonshiner and dissident, he found himself in a shootout with Revenue Fuhrer Green Raum’s men where he killed a revenue agent in self-defense. He and Ad Wilson were wanted for murder. As always, the snitch, the informant, and the rat are the best friend of the enforcement class. After being paid to pilot the revenue cutter into the Chesnut Flats area on the North Carolina line, the government’s paid snitch made contact with Amerine and the Collectors made their arrest. The confidential informant was paid $100. But like all good insurgents in the Revenue war, things never ended with an arrest. Hut Amerine was sprung from the Knoxville Jail and he fled to Oklahoma to live the rest of his life.

The Bootlegger is often portrayed as a bloodthirsty and desperate character, looking to kill everyone in his path. But this is only true if they are aggressed upon. They follow the code of the porcupine. One interesting and common technique employed with folks who happened to find their distilling operations, if they were unknown to the bootlegger or of perhaps questionable loyalty, was to immediately make them feel at home. Have them stir the mash and switch out jugs at the end of the condenser on the rig. This way they would be accessories in the crime and unable to snitch. Seems only logical. Why kill someone for stumbling onto your operation and suffer the moral consequences and legal ramifications if you didn’t have to?

Early warning systems were always in place. This was largely a function of the Underground. A common method of alert was whenever a group of agents were seen curry combing the country, a rifle shot would let out. To which it would warn other Blockaders, where the next group would fire off a shot, and so it would go across ridges and coves until the entire Area of Interest knew the Revenue was on the move. They understood the critical element of pushing out your perimeter in order to effectively gather Intel and react before the goof troop is stacking on your door.

As always, governments escalate. They know no other way. Every trivial encounter lead to an escalation on the part of the State. Which then put more people into the bootleggers ranks, if not as active participants, at least as auxiliaries. Much like every drone strike in the Middle East results in yet another vowed blood feud and a constant stream of more insurgents, so did every arrest, every house searched, every woman beaten around and every kid left with their father in a cage over an offense against the Internal Revenue Code.
Revenue agents were paid on commission. They were often recruited straight out of jails and a disposition toward violence was specifically sought after when recruiting Collectors. They were paid by how many stills they could bust up and how many ‘criminals’ they could arrest. It is no surprise they were nothing but a bunch of desperate and horrible scum of the earth characters who got no respect from anyone. And when such people are on your trail, it is no surprise irregular warfare is the natural consequence.

Commissioner Raum wrote a report on the state of the Southern Mountain Resistance movement when he took office. He estimated there were 3000 stills in the corner of upstate SC, east TN, and western NC and they are,

“Generally owned by unlettered men of desperate character, armed and ready to resist the officers of the law. Where occasion requires, they come together in companies of ten to fifty persons, gun in hand, to drive the officers out of the country. They resist as long as resistance is possible… At this time not only is the United States defrauded of its revenues, and its officers openly resisted, but when arrests are made, it often occurs that prisoners are rescued by mob violence, and officers and witnesses are often at night dragged from their homes and cruelly beaten, or waylaid and assassinated” (Kephart, 168-169)

Sometimes the Force Calculus of the Blockaders was overwhelmingly in their favor. Horace Kephart details an incident in Overton County, Tennessee where 11 Revenue officers were discovered at a farm sleeping for the night. The impromptu bootlegger army kept up a constant firefight all night long until their ranks swelled to nearly 200 men. Three officers were eventually shot and the rest allowed to surrender and relinquish their arms. The resistance to these revenue laws was strong enough to get state of the art breech loading rifles issued to their Collectors in an effort to combat the whiskey rebels. The Dixie Highlander long thought that the Collectors were nothing but an occupying army, the proverbial soldiers quartered amongst us.

After the escalation to the point of sending in the federal military to some areas, and with an unwinnable unconventional conflict of a uniquely mountain American sort on his hands, Revenue Fuhrer Raum’s only hope was to grant leniency for bootlegger offenses to at least attempt to interrupt popular public support of the Blockaders.

The illegal distilling of spirits in the southern mountains hit an all time high during Prohibition. When big time urban bootleg operations began putting Appalachian men to work, and money in their pockets, they transported whiskey to underground bars and clubs all over America. As prohibition was repealed, illegal whiskey and brandy still was in high demand because of local governments and their prohibitions. Dry counties in the South were the norm. The governments made the counties ‘dry’ but the people were surely ‘wet.’ There is no better example of successful resistance of silly government regulations than the War on Alcohol. A law against alcohol is essentially unenforceable. Especially when dealing with a traditionally anarchical group of people.

When it came to respect for the State, the mountaineer generally had none.

“Thar’s plenty o’ men and women grown, in these mountains, who don’t know that the Government is ary thing but a president in a biled shirt who commands two-three judges and a gang o’ revenue officers… they’ve heered tell about the judges; but they see the revenuers in flesh and blood. Taxes cost mebbe three cents on the dollar… but the revenue costs a dollar and ten cents on twenty cents worth o’ liquor; and that’s robbin’ the people with a gun to their face.” (Kephart, 120)

And why should he have respect for the State? His agents had the mentality that the government created the people, the government owns the people and it decides what rights they have and its up to them to beg not to be killed for being a bitter non-conformist. One enforcement agent, Hol Rose is recorded in the following conversation:

“ Hol,” said I, “don’t you know that it is illegal for you to make searches and seizures without a warrant?”

“No it isn’t,” he replied.

“Did you ever read the Constitution of the United States?”

“No; but I’m ordered to do these things, and I’ll obey orders.”

“One of these days some fellow is going to plug you for it.”

“Well, if he does, it will be from behind or from the bushes.” (Kephart, 244)

Hol Rose, after finding a mountain resident with a barrel of apple pomace, during a warrantless search, which the man was going to make vinegar out of, Rose said he was going to arrest the man. He returned later to do so with some agents and the man resisted in defense of his natural rights, and shot Rose to death. Since federal courts had no jurisdiction in murder cases, Burnett, the apple vinegar maker who killed the Revenue Officer, was put in front of a Grand Jury who refused to indict him twice. After threats from the Judge, the third round brought Burnett to trial. It came out there were no warrants for Burnett. Burnett was first acquitted, but the third day the jury returned a verdict of guilty on second degree murder and sentenced to 12 years. In the appeal, he was acquitted. He was immediately rearrested by the federals and charged with assaulting a federal officer, essentially double jeopardy. In the end Hol Rose, the order following, oath breaking federal agent was killed breaking both moral law and constitutional law. This was not uncommon.

Federal Land Confiscation

As the 20th century started, conservation movements rose up. Demands by Tourism Lobbies and Conservationists brought rise to a movement to bring sections of the Appalachians under Federal control in the form of government owned parks and forests.

Of course these grand schemes left out the major problem of what to do with the people living in those regions. Up and down the mountain chain from the Shenandoah to the Smokey’s, settlers vowed to resist the theft of their land. Little came from the threats of armed resistance however. The settlements of the Smoky Mountains, such as Cades Cove, Smokemont and Cataloochee were on the chopping block of the Federal government. Since the feds didn’t have direct authority to confiscate land, they used state governments to initiate condemnation proceedings through the eminent domain statutes in order to obtain the land. There were holdouts, court cases and lots of threats.

In the end many left and took the money they were given and started over elsewhere. Others accepted their payment as well as the lifetime leases they were offered to stay on their land till they died. However, in typical government fashion, they prohibited their way of life. They could no longer burn their fields to regenerate growth and keep down ticks and snakes, nor could they hunt or fish they way they had always subsisted. Farming was forbidden as well as cutting firewood. Essentially the life long lease was a lie.

Although threats of blowing up roads and shooting land confiscation agents never materialized, there always will be a bitter feeling of contempt for their Uncle Sam, among the ancestry of former Park residents. This didn’t stop the feds from using their normal tactics. The Shenandoah National Park land confiscation had numerous incidents of typical heavy-handedness. From hauling off a pregnant women, throwing her belongings in a truck and tearing down her chimney to eliminate her winter heat source should she have the audacity to return to her home, to arresting people and burning down their houses in front of them.

In all, 95 families were relocated out of Cataloochee in mountains of western North Carolina. Other common land extortion tactics used by local governments included using tax foreclosure processes to get the land in the hands of the federal government. The Federal Forest Reserves were unable to obtain land through condemnation, so they resorted to different means. Some of my family’s ancestral land was taken in such a manner, at a time when the Depression raged and taxes were hard to pay. They were given the choice of selling 500 acres to the feds for $9 per acre or just having the county take it in tax foreclosure, then the feds buy it up for pennies on the dollar. TVA projects such as the 59 nuclear power plants, lakes and dams further relocated historically entrenched communities. Of course all this was ‘for their own good.’

Allergy to Statism

The often clan like folks of the backwoods coupled with geographic isolation served them well in historical times of curbing the creep of the state into their lives. A natural curiosity and skepticism of the outlander was largely a result of the proverbial carpetbagger or government agent who was ‘just here to help,’ which always resulted in the mountaineer being tread upon. The natural aversion of the missionaries, census takers and other such folks served as a bulwark against unwanted outside influence. It made the alcohol agent or other similar character easy to spot. A common dialect, a relic of the 18th century, lives on still to this day with many mountain folk.

Horace Kephart informs us that he has “never seen a mountain beggar; never heard of one.” (325) He recalls a story of a visit with the last cabin up Hazel Creek, a once god-forsaken backwoods area of the Carolina side of the Smokey’s, who lived in a rough cabin, with a large family on the verge of destitution. His eldest son, a war veteran was invalided and died in the cabin. A fellow sent away an application for the government to cover the funeral expenses to which the family was entitled by law, as his son was a veteran. The man wouldn’t sign the application. “I ain’t that hard pushed yit.”

Fiery individualism was the norm. They could not think in collective terms. Kephart notes:

“Except as kinsman or partisans they cannot pull together. Speak to them of a community of interests, try to show them the advantages of co-operation and you might as well be profiteering the North Star…. Labor chiefs fail to organize unions or granges among them because they simply will not stick together… There is no such thing as a community of mountaineers. They are knit together, man to man, as friends, but not as a body of men. ” (383-384)

One custom that has always struck me as unique was the custom of upon entering a neighbor’s home, if you were carrying a weapon you set it on the table or set it on the wall in the corner, submitting to your neighbor’s umbrella of protection out of respect. Not only did mere mundanes do this, but also so did the Sheriff and his deputies.

In place of the State to settle disputes, provide security or provide a ‘safety net,’ family, kin and the clan took this role. If one of your kin, even someone you were not close to or maybe didn’t even like, was on the run from the law, you would shelter and aid him the best you could, no questions asked. In a region isolated by wilderness, the clan was the free market protection agency and unlike paying for your local sheriffs department that can never be there to protect you and rarely will serve justice, it was voluntary. One can look to the infamous Hatfield/McCoy feud story and see that nearly every major problem or negative externality of that conflict was a result of government intervention.

Government courts have almost never been the impartial dispensers of justice they are made out to be. How can one have a fair trial when a defendant and maybe his defense attorney are the only non-government officials in the court proceedings? Kephart tells us that:

Here the right of private war is not questioned, outside of a judges charge from the bench, which everybody takes as a formality, a convention that is not to be taken seriously. The argument is this; that when Society, as represented by the State, cannot protect a man or secure him his dues, then he is not only justified but is duty bound to defend himself or seize what is his own. And in the mountains, Society with the big S is often powerless against the Clan with a bigger C.” (399-400)

Unlike the Scottish clans, the leader was a voluntary inaugurated leader, either by merit or stature. The feud was often something that was employed when the state settled a dispute in an impartial manner, which was and continues to be often. Mountain society embraced what we know as the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground, and looked lightly on someone who killed in self-defense or in dishing out cold hard justice. It was common for the defendant in murder trials to enter a plea of guilty and the jury would acquit based on his explanation, which was largely based on a question of whether the juror would do the same thing as the defendant if he were in the same situation.

Historical examples of Polycentric Law have long been studied by the likes of Robert Murphy, David Friedman, and Murray Rothbard to explain how a market society may solve disputes in the absence of a coercive state. Historical Appalachian society serves as yet another example that law can be provided privately, just as it was in Iceland and Ireland centuries ago. A feud system is an example of how justice can be extracted in absence of an executive functionary arm of the state. Feuds knew no quarter and no one expected any to be given. However, unlike the state, property was sacrosanct and women were generally non-combatants. When States make war, there is massive collateral damage, thousands or millions of innocents slaughtered and massive destruction. Not so with a feud and there was no taxation to fund the clan structure. There were limited negative externalities and the chance of a botched raid ‘on the wrong address’ was slim. And of course there was no sovereign immunity, state secrets and limited liability to hide behind. The subject of private law in Appalachia deserves its own treatise but much can largely be boiled down to the fact that they sought to rely on themselves instead of the government in all matters, even in settling disputes.

Horace Kephart talks about personally owned defense weapons and the notion that outsourcing ones self-defense was an absurd notion.

From the earliest times it has been customary for our highlanders to go armed most of the time. Even today in most parts of Appalachia I am familiar with, most of the young men, I judge, and many of the older ones, carry concealed weapons…. The typical highland bravo always carries a revolver or automatic pistol” (416-417)

To this day the Southern mountains remained one of America’s most armed regions. North Carolina CHP stat’s are highest in the western mountainous counties, and this speaks nothing of the numbers, many times over that of CHP holders who never cared to ask permission in the first place to carry a firearm for self defense.

In more recent years, the search for Olympic Park Bomber, Eric Rudolph, was a five year affair. While I in no way, shape, or form condone Eric Rudolph’s ideology, agenda or terrorism, the manhunt is an interesting story. For five years he evaded a nationwide federal and local manhunt with thousands of agents, helicopters and other air support arrayed against him. Most of this time he was holed up at a camp, some 200 yards from a 4-lane highway and only ½ mile from the Murphy, NC courthouse. He subsisted largely on dumpster diving, robbing local gardens and helping himself to food from grain silo’s, sometimes, as he told USA Today in 2005, while DUI check points and speed traps were ‘within feet’ from his location. He was hardly the John Rambo he was made out to be. The government was just inept. A rookie cop behind a Save-A-Lot grocery store in Murphy, NC eventually apprehended Rudolph by shear luck. The FBI manhunt’s heavy-handed tactics largely made locals not want to help them out in the search, yet another classic failure in Counterinsurgency doctrine. One too many restaurants were cleared out and one too many houses searched pushing the locals to resort back to the old ways of clamming up at the sight of outsiders.


There is a lot of discussion in both survival and liberty circles about the need for a sort of liberty-oriented community framework in order to either rescue us from overarching federal leviathan or perhaps survive its collapse. Quasi-secessionist/relocation movements are quite popular and offer hope by building communities of like-minded people in geographic proximity. Building tribe and establishing systems and infrastructure, in parallel fashion with the state, provide real life solutions to statist problems. Surely this is a better solution to the dilemma of big government than attempting to vote ones self free. The historic struggle of the Mountaineer can serve to show how an overarching State can be meaningless if the culture doesn’t allow it to take hold. If a tyrannical government can have little or no affect on your community, then liberty lives there.

The way of life and loose ideology of the Appalachian Highlander has been presented in this essay as an historical blueprint for modern liberty devotees to draw from while attempting to build a free society. While I remain a pessimist and cannot see a final liberty solution in the near term, if ever, perhaps the best we can do today is live as freely as we can. As the Mountaineer has shown, the state is obsolete if you make it so.

A key factor in determining one’s freedom level is how effective is the ruling apparatus at doing what it does. Pakistan has permitting, registration and regulation schemes for firearms, and Karzai has declared Afghanistan a gun free zone. However the prohibitions are unenforceable. The Khyber Pass gunsmiths will make you what you want, if they don’t have it in stock. Who cares if prohibitions are on the books if your culture nullifies it by default and your community is denied terrain for enforcement? While the federal government had a War on Alcohol waging after the War Between the States, they effectively lost it because the culture in the Resistance would never give up, no matter what they flung at them. The backwoodsman simply never gave in and lived life on his own hook under his own terms. If you wish to see liberty in your lifetime, you will probably have to develop the mindset, contempt for state power and the allergy to authority that the historical Mountaineer’s and Appalachian Anti-Statists had.

Montani Semper Liberi.

Works Cited

Kephart, Horace. Our Southern Highlanders. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. 1983.

Draper, Lyman C. Kings Mountain and Its Heroes. Johnson City: Overmountain Press, 1996.

14 thoughts on “Montani Semper Liberi: The Art of Being Free in the Back of Beyond by John Meyers”

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  2. The only thing that he seems to get wrong is : The “Kentucky” mountains were settled by Europeans as early as the 1640’s or 50’s .(some believe MUCH earlier) Some good examples would be Louisville Ky. 1670’s, Ft. Paint Lick (a French trading post was built on the same sight near Richmond Ky. as early as 1635) The “Dutch towns” near what is now St. Matthews Ky. (1640’s) “Cobb’s station” (exact location unknown) Near present day Taylorsville Ky. around 1690. My family settled in “Rock Springs” in what is now Owsley Co . Ky. around 1755. It was already a settled community by the time of the French and Indian War. Contrary to the “official history” Boone had little to do with “settling” Kentucky. He was awarded the government contract to cut the road and open the land office in the “unsettled wilderness” so that his employers (our dear founding fathers) who had deeded themselves all of Ohio , Kentucky and “other” ” indian lands” , could sell it to the highest bidder. History was written to support the governments theft. So nothing has changed at all in 250 years, has it?

    1. Ray:

      Interesting stuff. I was well aware of isolated outposts and exploration parties like that of Dr Thomas Walkers’ in the 1750’s and the like pre F+I war, but never of any significance to claim KY was “settled” by this time. I always placed the first permanent Ky Settlement @ Harrod’s Town, 1774.

      Either way, I generally dont consider areas as far west as Louisville, etc to be Appalachia proper. I generally consider the Spine of the mountains to define the region, and presented some incidents and historical episodes on the more eastern side of the mountains as a backdrop to the settling of Appalachia proper in later years.

      Would love if you can provide some source materials on the early permanent KY settlements, pre-rev war.

    2. I would also add that Kentucky was fairly split on the whole “War of Southern Independence” issue. Much like Missouri. The Piedmont, just to the West of the Appalachians proper, was inhabited by the planter, wealthy, slave-owning class and was very pro-Confederate. The Mountains proper, where there was little slave ownership and much less wealth, not so much.

      The Official Narrative is that Kentucky was a “border state” that never seceded. Technically true, but also includes a Lie of Omission. Kentucky had two separate legislatures that were both formally recognized by their respective governments – one in Frankfort, one in Danville – and fielded formal military formations for both sides. The center star on the much-argued-over Confederate battle flag represents Kentucky.

      Like Missouri, the only reason Kentucky did not “formally” secede from the Union is due to naked Federal aggression. Furthermore, everyone has heard of “Bleeding Kansas”, but almost nobody has heard of the guerrilla war that was fought in the mountains and hollers of Kentucky – it was every it as bad, if not worse, than what was going on in Kansas. Bitterly contested, but didn’t get nearly as much press as Quantrill & Co..

      Most books on the subject of Kentucky during the War of Southern Independence usually follow some agenda and slant their opinions by saying things like “the prevailing sentiment in Kentucky was Union”, which makes it sound very much like Kentucky voluntarily stayed with the Union, but in fact just means that the Federals had the upper hand and drove out the Confederates early on. Or they badmouth Kentucky after the war.

      An outstanding book about the opening up of the Appalachian Mountains proper after the War of Southern Independence would be “Mountains, Millhands and Mountaineers”, written by an old professor of mine, Ron Eller… He’s not someone writing about what he thinks he knows from afar (which is where a great deal of the misconceptions about us comes from) – he’s a native of these mountains and a good man.

  3. As Ray pointed out, the Appalachians were most certainly settled in the 1700’s, so the statement that they were mostly unsettled in the 18th century is incorrect.

    My family settled in what’s now Tucker County, W.Va. in the early 1700’s, between the towns of Parsons and Elkins.

    The USFS took most of the land when the Monongahela and George Washington national forests were created. The family was left with around 120 acres out of well over 600 ares of fertile valley farmland,and apple orchards.

  4. Game getter:

    We may be kin. One of my branches are from Tucker and Randolph counties.

    I believe we are knit picking here guys. Perhaps I should of been more specific. Here in WNC, the high Smokies were not settled in any seriousness until well into the 1800’s. Of course, there were the Plotts and a few other families, but the point being the high ridges, deep mountains and branches were settled well after the valleys on the eastern and western slopes of the spine of the mountains. They moved deeper into the hills once the good valley and bottom land was claimed.

    When you look at the longhunters, they pushed past the high ridges and hunted Kentucky and the middle ground and settlements sprang up in those areas, not at 5000 ft on a 45 degree slope at the end of Hazel Creek in the GSMNP.

    Contact me if you wish to jaw about WV.

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