In his new book, “Hillbilly Hellraisers,” History alumnus J. Blake Perkins (PhD, 2014) searches for the roots of rural defiance in the Ozarks. He focuses on the experiences and attitudes of rural people as they interacted with government in the late 19th and 20th centuries, uncovering the reasons local disputes and uneven access to government power fostered markedly different reactions by hill people over time.
Resistance in the earlier period sprang from upland small farmers’ conflicts with capitalist elites who held the local levels of federal power. But as industry and agribusiness displaced family farms after World War II, a conservative cohort of town business elites, local political officials and Midwestern immigrants arose from the region’s new low-wage, union-averse economy. As Perkins argues, this modern anti-government conservatism bore little resemblance to the backcountry populism of an earlier age but had much in common with the movement elsewhere.