“20 Miles and 100 Years”: Illegalities and Appalachia as “Relic Culture” on Bloody Twin Creek

Prohibition contributed to the construction of the “hill country” of Appalachia as the location of a distinctive, lawless, “relic culture.” Urban locales, such as Portsmouth in southern Ohio, came to be seen as located “20 miles and 100 years” ahead of the surrounding Appalachian foothills. This constituted an intensification of discourse that had, since the writings of William Goodell Frost, seen Appalachia as a space “left behind” by modernity and Appalachians as America’s “contemporary ancestors.”

By the 1920s, Upper Twin Creek in Scioto County, Ohio had became notorious in the media and popular imagination as a site of the lawlessness of a bygone pioneer age. Popular media interest in stories of moonshine and murder, of “hill feuds” and the like — stories of illegalities and violence — reflected the assumptions of newspaper editors and their urban subscribers. The Cincinnati Enquirer and the Portsmouth Daily Times both reflected and perpetuated a popular belief that the violence and lawless behavior could be blamed on the hill country’s Appalachian identity and concomitant cultural anachronism.

An examination of press coverage of violence and illegalities on Upper Twin Creek documents a rise in crime as state intervention in the region grew in the wake of Prohibition and the creation of the Shawnee State Forest. It also demonstrates that the early twentieth century perception of Appalachian Ohio, despite its clear entanglements with material and cultural realities of the twentieth century, was being taken up as a space left behind.