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WVU Press publishes account of the struggle over West Virginia’s forests

The Industrialist and the Mountaineer

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 West Virginia University Press has published The Industrialist and the Mountaineer, a major work of history by Ronald L. Lewis, Professor of History Emeritus at West Virginia University and Historian Laureate of West Virginia. Lewis, who was inducted into the Order of Vandalia in 2016 and is former president of the Appalachian Studies Association, uses a forgotten story from West Virginia history to understand the fate of Appalachia’s forests.

Dwight Billings of the University of Kentucky calls this book “fascinating and informative,” while Bruce E. Stewart of Appalachian State University notes it is “a welcome addition to the study of industrial Appalachia.”

In 1897 a small landholder named Robert Eastham shot and killed timber magnate Frank Thompson in Tucker County, leading to a sensational trial that highlighted a clash between local traditions and modernizing forces. Ronald L. Lewis’s book uses this largely forgotten episode as a window into contests over political, environmental and legal change in turn-of-the-century Appalachia.

The Eastham-Thompson feud pitted a former Confederate against a member of the new business elite who was, as a northern Republican, his cultural and political opposite. For Lewis, their clash was one flashpoint in a larger phenomenon central to U.S. history in the second half of the 19th century: the often violent imposition of new commercial and legal regimes over holdout areas stretching from Appalachia to the trans-Missouri West. Taking a ground-level view of these so-called “wars of incorporation,” Lewis’s powerful micro-history shows just how strongly local communities guarded traditional relationships to natural resources. Modernizers sought to convict Eastham of murder, but juries drawn from the traditionalist population refused to comply. Although the resisters won the courtroom battle, the modernizers eventually won the war for control of the state’s timber frontier.

Ronald L. Lewis is Stuart and Joyce Robbins Chair and Professor of History Emeritus at West Virginia University, where he taught for many years. He is the author of several books, including Aspiring to Greatness: West Virginia University since World War II (published by WVU Press) and Transforming the Appalachian Countryside: Railroads, Deforestation, and Social Change in West Virginia, 1880-1920. He lives in Morgantown.

Publication date: March 2017
288pp/PB 978-1-943665-51-8: $26.99/CL 978-1-943665-50-1: $79.99/ePub 978-1-943665-52-5: $26.99 

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