So Far Appalachia: The Kickstarter Math

We’re heading to Northern Kentucky University tonight to celebrate the opening of a friend’s film, which was also funded (in part) through Kickstarter. I’m excited to see Revelation Trail because I came to know the film first through early drafts of the script.

John and I talked several times about the plot, the backstories, and the characters.

As we head out, I am left with the math of my own Kickstarter.

  • We have $5128 left to raise
  • We have12 days.

We need to raise $427 per day, or roughly 12 $50 donors per day until May 2.

If we don’t reach that goal, we don’t receive any of the funds so you can imagine the stress levels are a bit high around the house.

My wife, ever the optimist, continues to believe and she has remained a source of good cheer. As have the 77 people who have contributed, and the hundreds who have visited the site and sent me kind emails. (I’ve talked to several folks who are appreciative of the project.)

I have been overwhelmed by the warm wishes offered by people who think this type of project is worthwhile.

Here’s the last 12 days!

The Bakers, Appalachia, and (More of What) Gladwell Missed

This is part of the So Far Appalachia book project. If you enjoy what you read, please visit my Kickstarter page (and pass this along to any friends who you think might find this interesting).

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I spent the past weekend buried in a draft of Chapter 1, an early outline of how the story of So Far Appalachia will be framed. While it’s a memoir, the story isn’t about me. As one of my student’s told me: “The most interesting parts of the chapter aren’t about you at all.”

Chapter 1 ends with my trip to our family’s grave site in Clay County, and with me standing over George “Baldie” Baker. From here, the story begins to move backwards in time, telling the story of the Bakers throughout the yeasr.

The reason: I want to begin with the Appalachian stereotype (which I wrote about here), and walk that backwards while using those images to illustrate how the past resonates through modern America.

As you’ll read, my family — which Malcolm Gladwell used as representative of people who pass down a culture of violence — wasn’t as described in his book Outliers. In fact, the Baker family came to the New World as British loyalists (for a little while).

As I prepare the outline for the next few chapters, I wanted to share a bit of the family history + mythology, which is where the book is headed. This is from a series of emails posted on a website that traces the Baker family lineage back to England.

“The first known ancestor of the Bakers of Hancock County, Tennessee was Robert I of England, who was the King’s personal Knight. The King gave him his daughter as his wife and a castle and many riches and bestowed him with a Coat of Arms (that) consisted of the castle with three roses in the yard.

The earliest known American ancestor was Andrew Baker, b. 1604 at Buckinghamshire, England who came to Boston, Massachusetts in 1624. His son John Baker was b. 1624 in Massachusetts and immigrated (sic) to Pennsylvania. His son Robert 2nd b. 1655 in Virginia d. 1728 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. he was granted land and a gun boring mill for the manufacturing of firearms, the Pennsylvania rifle, by the King of England.

Robert Baker being the first man in recorded history to design and manufacture the Pennsylvania Rifle. At his death, his son Caleb kept up the tradition and later used to great effect in the American Revolution. The rifle was later known as the Hog Rifle and the Kentucky Rifle in Daniel Boone’s Day.”

One thing to note: Caleb Baker is the grand-father of Abner Baker, Sr., the first clerk of Clay County, Kentucky (and the father of Abner, Jr., who many attribute to starting the Clay County War):

I Was Playing to Win

Day 15 of the So Far Appalachia Kickstarter project, and funding has stalled at the 40% mark.

The math is starting to work against the project.

I don’t like to live in negative spaces. Until recently, I never considered what my life would be without writing. Now, I contemplate it every day.

The truth is I can’t really conceptualize what that might look like. I can’t imagine putting this project aside, and laying down my pen for the last time. My mind doesn’t yet accept the possibility (and my wife continually tells me “I chose hope.”) even as I know that reality may come to pass.

As I struggle to sleep through the night, and worry about how I might convince another 120 people to contribute to my project, I wake up every day thinking about this:

I watch this, I laugh, and I get back to trying to move the mountain for another 15 days.

When CNN Visited Manchester, Kentucky

This is part of the So Far Appalachia book project. If you enjoy what you read, please visit my Kickstarter page (and pass this along to any friends who you think might find this interesting).

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In 2006, CNN visited Clay County. This portrait paints an accurate picture of the county’s relationship with outside politics.

“The only way it’s ever going to change for us is if a poor person is elected president, and that isn’t going to happen.”

The Storytelling of Science

My wife and I started our Sunday off by sitting in bed, drinking coffee, and watching this.

Listen to “Bill Nye, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, theoretical physicist Brian Greene, Science Friday’s Ira Flatow, popular science fiction writer Neal Stephenson, executive director of the World Science Festival Tracy Day, and Origins Project director Lawrence Krauss” talk about the stories in science that inspired them.

In Rebuttal to Malcolm Gladwell

“The borderlands — as this region was known — were remote and lawless territories that had been fought over for hundreds of years…

And when they immigrated to North America, they moved into the American interior, to remote, lawless, rocky, and marginally fertile places like Harlan that allowed them to reproduce in the New World the culture of honor they had created in the Old World.” — “Harlan, Kentucky,” Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.

At the moment, this story seems to be about an alcoholic and his redemption. That is just a momentary issue. This is really a story that millions of people who live in the Appalachian region have lived. It’s a story that you can’t quite tell in one direct narrative because there isn’t a beginning, middle, and end in the way that you think of them.

My journey would lead me down a rabbit hole and into my family’s past, one that weaves through the early history of America. This is the story of my family, the Bakers, who came to America in 1604 from northern England. They provided guns to the colonists during the Revolutionary War. They foraged and trapped with Daniel Boone. They mined the salt mines of southern Kentucky. They battled the Rebels in the Civil War. They even battled the National Guard, sent to bring order to the near 80-year feud between the Bakers and the Whites.

Eventually, my family escaped to Indiana before scattering across the country. In its wake, they left a city, a county, and a region in the direst of straits. Manchester and much of southern Kentucky continue to have some of the highest poverty rates in the country.

What people want to discuss, though, is the feuds. They are drawn to the caricatures of long-bearded men with shotguns engaged in Main Street shootouts while fighting over triple-x marked bottles of moonshine. When people look back upon the region, the long shadow of the infamous feuds stretch across the landscape, inviting strangers to give a significance to these brief moments in time while ignoring the more complex relationships between the ever-expanding American economy as it weaved together with the sustainable local economies.

And so with my family, I saw its same complex history washed away in the bright lights of feud stories. This isn’t resigned to the past. The most recent example came by way of The New Yorker writer and author Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, which used my family’s history as an example of how a culture passes down violent tendencies.

Washed away was the acknowledgement that the families who feuded in Manchester were well-to-do, elite families fighting over an increasingly small economic pie brought on by the collapse of the salt mining prices, a crumbling transportation infrastructure, and national competition for goods. Gone was the discussion of lawlessness that came about when the Courts, near bankrupted, lost the ability to function in a timely manner. Erased was mention of speculators from outside the area pushing the sustainable agriculture economy to the side while gobbling up farmland for salt and timber.

Instead, Gladwell, as have so many others, paints a picture of ignorant, angry, uneducated mountain folks who are divorced from the rest of America. As I read about my once proud family, I saw in them a portrait of myself. As my family’s story came into view, I began to view the Appalachian story. I felt connected the people who came before, and I came to understand what it means to live with the unspoken weight of history pressing against you.

This is the story of the long, slow pressure that settled across the Appalachian region and squeezes out your breath without you knowing that you’re suffocating. This is the story of growing up Appalachian without realizing what that means.

My story is a memoir in the loosest sense of the word. This is my Appalachian story, not the Appalachian story. Like so many other stories from this region, though, this is the story of how Appalachia ripples through modern America.

I’d been swirling towards the bottom of the drain, sucked inevitably down towards a bottom I couldn’t see and yet knew was there. I was trapped, held down by an idea I couldn’t quite place. Every movement I made to hold back the tidal forces was inevitably met with a greater force pulling me into the abyss.

Clay County: The Last Baker

This is part of the So Far Appalachia book project. If you enjoy what you read, please visit my Kickstarter page (and pass this along to any friends who you think might find this interesting).

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(Left) Robert Lee Baker, Sr, the last Baker killed in the Clay County War. B: 2-18-1885; D: 6-22-35

(Left) Robert Lee Baker, Sr, the last Baker killed in the Clay County War. B: 2-18-1885; D: 6-22-35

Robert Lee Baker, Sr, my great-grandfather, was the last man killed in the Clay County War.

There are two stories I’ve been told about the nature of his killing, one related to a marital affair and another related to retribution.

Both stories, though, place the War as the motivating factor.

The Revenge Killing

Robert Lee had moved his family from Clay County to southern Indiana, although he maintained several businesses in Cincinnati and kept ties in Manchester.

However, the Bakers were warned by the Whites not to return to Kentucky because the first one to step foot in town would be killed. The reason: Robert Lee’s brother, Tom, had allegedly killed a man, although nobody served any jail time.

Read More

A Brief Portrait: The Youngest Baker Boy

This is part of the So Far Appalachia book project. If you enjoy what you read, please vist my Kickstarter page (and pass this along to any friends who you think might find this interesting).

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The days after the Clay County War were difficult on my branch of the Baker family. Robert Baker moved his family — his wife and 9 children — to southern Indiana, where he purchased a small family farm.

A few years later, he would be killed when he returned to Clay County, reportedly the last person killed in the Clay County War. Some say he was ambushed when he came back to finalize his affairs, and others say the Whites were upset that he’d been having affair with one of the White daughters.

What we do know is Robert Baker, the son of “Bad” Tom Baker, was shot and killed as he drove his car into Manchester.

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Read More

Why You Should Help Fund This Book: Discovery’s New TV Program, Backyard Oil

This is part of the So Far Appalachia book project. If you enjoy what you read, please vist my Kickstarter page (and pass this along to any friends who you think might find this interesting).

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I’ve been a passionate advocate for Appalachia for most of my professional life, even though my writing has taken me far away from my home.

Yet at times I’ve wondered if I was just a lone voice screaming in the wind. I’d like to think people have been entertained (and educated) about the place I call home, but I know that my little stories won’t make much of an impact.

I hoped that my book would be part of a larger discussion about Appalachia and America.

Since I launched the project, I’ve been sick with worry that it won’t get funded. (I think that is natural.) My wife and I spend parts of every day reaching out to people we think might be interested in hopes of raising the $250-$300 per day we need to make this a reality.

The process is difficult, and it’s easy to get despondent.

And then this happens.

A friend of mine sent me a note today, and I knew what exactly what to expect when I saw the first line of the press release:

BACKYARD OIL follows the fortunes of the most boot-strappin’ oil men in all of Appalachia – mogul Jimmy Reliford and his sidekick Mad Dog; Coomer, who’s raking in $300-thousand a month thanks to an oil strike in his own backyard; a bearded hillbilly named Rascal; and the Page Boys, a father-son team who can’t help but bicker about everything…except finding that sweet, sweet crude.

If ever I needed a kick in the ass, this was it. This is exactly the reason why I decided to pursue Kickstarter and eschew the traditional publishing world.

The hillbilly minstrel show sells, but it doesn’t make us better. I think we all deserve something more than that.

Salts, Courts, and the Genesis of a Feud, Part I

This is part of the So Far Appalachia book project. If you enjoy what you read, please vist my Kickstarter page (and pass this along to any friends who you think might find this interesting).

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“The lived in a place that wasn’t really made for farming.”

That’s how my family described Crane Creek, the Baker’s homestead. Nestled into the southern Kentucky, the soil was hard and the land hilly. The two trips I’d made to Boston Gap, a hillside just off Crane Creek Road, verified that. Every time I climbed up, I couldn’t help but think how terrible this trip would be on horseback.

Why, I found myself wondering, would a family of intelligent, well-read men chose the worst place to farm as its homestead.

The answer: money.

The truth is that Clay County wasn’t settled by farmers. It was settled by speculators, people hoping to capitalize on the wealth of the salt mines and the timber. The Bakers, the Whites, the Gerrards, the Bates, and the Philpots, along with a handful of the other elite families of the area came for the same reason the gold miners moved west.

And for the first 40 years, the salt and timber business proved relatively profitable. The state invested in transportation and roads to help factory owners move salt from Clay County to the Mississippi, and the local economy functioned using promissory notes and written debt.

The Breakdown

Two events brought the speculation days to a close: the depression that swept through the County in the 1840s and the increased hostilities between the Bakers and the Whites, which set off a chain of events that engulfed the area in a bloody feud.

Read More

The Baker Boys, WWII, and Life After the Feud

This is part of the So Far Appalachia book project. If you enjoy what you read, please vist my Kickstarter page (and pass this along to any friends who you think might find this interesting).

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The Bakers have a long, complicated history with this country, one in which I’ll explore through the chapters of the book.

Some of that history is colorful, a mix of mythology and fact. Other parts of it are grounded in history.

The one truism is this: No matter the discord, the Bakers never failed to serve when called reaching back to the Civil War (when they took up for the Union), the Spanish-American War, and eventually World War II, where 7 members of my family served.

In the same manner the Bakers would fight back against those who would oppose the family, so to would they fight back when the country was threatened.

In this picture, my great-great grandmother Flora (Ball) Baker received a special “Seven Star Pin” to represent each of her sons and grandsons in the war.

Flora Baker, mother to six sons who fought in World War II, received a special national commendation for her sacrifice.

Flora Baker, mother to six sons who fought in World War II, received a special national commendation for her sacrifice.

The sons of Robert Baker, the last man killed in the Clay County War, all served with distinction in World War II.

  1. Pvt. William Bryan Baker, 27
  2. Pfc. William E. Baker, 25
  3. Pfc. Herbert Baker, 24, who fought in the only US-based battle in the Aleutian Islands. He was listed as serving “somewhere in Alaska.”
  4. Corp. Hubert Baker
  5. Pvt. Clifton Baker, 19
  6. Robert Lee Baker, 17
  7. Grandson James M. Burke, 19, also served
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