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The Pakistan-Afghan Borderland: Pashtun Tribes Descending into Extremism [Kindle Edition]

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Appalachia: Afghanistan: Appalachian Attitudes Toward War and Work

Source: Fischer, David H., Albion's Seed, pp. 740-743. Border Attitudes toward War and Work

Where the warrior ethic is strong, the work ethic grows weak. This was so among the borderers and backsettlers, on both sides of the water. A traveler in North Britain remarked that the inhabitants were "indolent in high degree, unless roused to war." In the American backcountry, other travelers frequently repeated similar observations. "They are extremely poor owing to their extreme indolence," wrote an itinerant clergyman. A Philadelphia Quaker wrote"... the Irish are mostly poor beggerly idle people."

This "indolence" was in some ways more apparent than real. The impression of idleness rose in part from the fact that men and women in this culture worked differently from others. Most of them lived by a combination of farming and herding which required heavy labor in some seasons and little effort in others. In their new American environment the backsettlers adopted an old North British system of agriculture called the "infield-outfield" farming. The "infields" were given over to the most valuable crops, and cultivated with the light plows that were common in North Britain or with hoes that became more common in the backcountry. The outfields were allowed to remain fallow. The land was fertilized by confining animals in movable enclosures called "cowpens."

Crop farming remained very primitive in Appalachia. It was mainly a system of hoe-husbandry that was also introduced from North Britain. In the 1730's, for each hand in one settlement were "one axe, one broad hoe and one narrow how," with very little use of the plow. Except for the abandonment of the plow, this system of farming had been followed generally throughout the English border counties, the Scottish lowlands and northern Ireland. It was introduced to the American backcountry at an early date. A traveler in the backcountry noted, "A fresh piece of ground ... will not bear tobacco past two or three years unless cow-penned; for they manure their ground by keeping their cattle ... within hurdles, which they remove when they have sufficiently dunged one spot."

At some seasons of the year, large herds of grazing animals were allowed to browse freely in the forests and canebrakes of the old southwest, and later on the open ranges of Texas. In 1773, a surveyor for South Carolina described this system in detail. He reported that vast herds of cattle, often more than a thousand animals, were raised in the woods throughout the backcountry between the Savannah and Ogechee rivers. They were tended by "gangs under the auspices of cow-pen keepers, which move (like unto the ancient patriarchs or the modern Bedouins in Arabia) from forest to forest in a measure as grass wears out or the planters approached them." Once a year, these animals were rounded up, penned and driven to market on the hoof.

This system of herding had also been practiced in the North British borderlands, and was transferred to the American backcountry. A few important changes were made necessary by the new environment. Sheep, which had been the main support of the British animal husbandry, became easy prey for predators in the American wilderness. They were replaced by swine which were allowed to breed freely on the range, rapidly reverting to the wild species from which they had descended. This process of devolution produced the backcountry razorback, which was more like a wild boar than a barnyard pig. It became so wild that it was hunted with a rifle.

A similar process also created rough and dangerous Texas longhorn cattle, which were American descendants of similar animals that had flourished in Scotland, northern Ireland, and the north of England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

For both swine and cattle, this system of herding was fully developed in the backcountry by the mid-eighteenth century. Robert Witherspoon remembered that "as the range was good, they had no need of feeding creatures for some years." A petition of the inhabitants in 1767 made reference to "our large stocks of cattle," and described the system of "cowpens" and infield-outfield husbandry. This method of farming was land-consuming, but labor-saving. By one estimate, each head of range cattle in the southern backcountry required fifteen acres of piney woods -- a total of 1,500 acres for a hard of 100 cattle.

The backsettlers also sought to introduce a mixed economy domestic manufacturing. The raising of flax and the weaving of linen became a flourishing cabin industry throughout the southern highlands, as it had been for many generations on the borders of North Britain.... This movement toward a factory system was abandoned in Appalachia during the nineteenth century, and was not revived until the twentieth. But in the eighteenth century it was developing strongly. In way, as in so many others, the people of the backcountry transplanted the work ways of their kin on the borders of North Britain.

COMMENTS: The original Phillips' farm on Muddy Creek Mountain, Fort Springs district, Greenbrier county, (West) Virginia was located on an extremely steep hillside that was nearly terraced by the decades of cattle wandering along the slopes to find grass. The same "cattle terracing" and "cattle trails" are found on the slopes of Gauley Bridge's hills, now forested after cleared pastures were abandoned long ago and have reforested. Cattle husbandry was probably abandoned with the arrival of the railroad in the New and Kanawha river drainage that permitted the development of the coal industry. Wage labor, even within the near-serfdom of the "Company Store System," provided a better standard of living than subsistence farming and cattle.

Fischer doesn't mention swine herding that was also commonly practiced in the British Isles and would be a natural substitution for sheep that were heavily attacked by predators in Appalachia. Sir Walter Scott provided us with a good view of "Gurth, the Swineherd" in Ivanhoe.

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