Entries by Brian Halpin

Does Country Music Have A Color?

  This week I realised I’ve been failing. A person familiar with this blog and podcast said: “You’ll always be on an uphill struggle.  It looks like you’re trying to tell white people that they’re not white.  Then they look in the mirror, and see a white person.” The entire premise of Before We Were […]

A Trip to the Badlands

  It took this podcast two years to find its first listener in South Dakota. South Dakota is a big state with a small population – less than a million souls, in fact – making it the fifth least densely populated state in the union. Still, we’ve managed to find more listeners in states with […]

Hate and the Ownership of Identity Politics

  Many conservatives these days claim to be exhausted by identity politics. Hell, I’m an Old Leftie, and some days even I find myself wishing the news cycle would focus more on the immediate existential problems of corporate greed, war, and climate change. But here is the problem. Identity goes to the very heart of […]

On the Origin of the Term “Hillbilly”

  The word “hillbilly” is commonly said to have an origin among those Appalachians claiming a Protestant “Scots-Irish” identity, folks whose forefathers were supposedly supporters of William of Orange (“King Billy” to his Protestant English and Scottish supporters, b1650, d1702). This is almost certainly a false folk etymology. The so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1689, in […]

The “Black Dutch” of Appalachia

  The German word for “German” is “Deutsch”, and in America, “Deutsch” got misconstrued as “Dutch”.  The so-called “Pennsylvania Dutch” or Amish and Mennonite communities are not Dutch – they are German. In the late 1600s and early 1700s – during the Nine Years War [1688-1697] and the Wars of the Spanish Succession [1701-1715] – […]

“It’s about the land, stupid!”

  1776.  You’re flat broke most of the time, and hungry half the time. A recruiting sergeant rides into your small town in backcountry Virginia. “Come and fight for a year or two”, says the sergeant. “Fight for what?” asks you. “For a new government.  Freedom.” “How much you paying?” asks you. “Food, a set […]

“Gypsy Queens” and Irish Travellers

  Tryphena McNeill, née Green, from an English Romanichal family of Greens and Bucklands, was married to Samuel “King Sam” McNeill, who seems to have been of Irish Traveller (Pavee) stock. The extent of intermarriage between these two itinerant groups is much debated, with outsiders often preferring to focus on ethnic difference rather than cultural […]


  Sally Shields was born in South Carolina in 1821, one of many children born to an enslaved woman and her so-called “owner”, a man named William Bryant Shields. Details are sketchy, but some form of human bond must have slowly developed between William Shields and his “consort”. Within a few years, Shields felt compelled […]