Red Bird Christian High School is located squarely in the middle of the beautiful Daniel Boone National Forest near Beverly, Kentucky at the headwaters of the Red Bird River, named for Chief Red Bird, a Cherokee chief who lived in the area prior to and for a time after the arrival of the first European settlers. The campus is located on the home-place of Dillion Asher. His cabin still stands on the campus. Dillion Asher was appointed toll-keeper on the Wilderness Road blazoned by Daniel Boone at the Cumberland Ford (now Pineville, Kentucky). Mr. Asher is an ancestor of many of our students who live in the community.
Red Bird Christian School is deep on the Cumberland Plateau on the West side of the Appalachian Mountain range. We are about 26 miles from Pineville, Kentucky; 31 miles from Manchester; 30 miles from Middlesboro; 52 miles from London; 130 miles from Lexington; 113 miles from Knoxville, Tennessee; 203 miles from Louisville; and 200 miles from Cincinnati.
Nearest airports are at Lexington, Kentucky; Knoxville, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; and Cincinnati, Ohio. All are within easy driving distance of Red Bird.
So Red Bird Christian School, a ministry of Red Bird Mission and United Methodist Women, is located within the Appalachian Mountains. A great deal has been written about Southern Appalachia and its inhabitants.
The culture is grounded in the Elizabethan age in some ways. The rugged individualism of pioneer days is still evidenced, and the “I’ll make it some way” spirit has made the people of the area masters of “making do” with whatever they have at hand. The austerity of mountain life tended to develop independence of character, which in many families has been handed down through the generations. Loyalty to the family and attachment to place are distinguishing marks of the people. There is a firm faith in God and the Bible as the word of God.
Following is a treatise about the Southern Highlander and his background by the late Bettie Sue Smith, a renowned teacher at Red Bird Christian High School and Deaconess in the United Methodist Church:
“Most of the early [European] settlers who migrated into the Southern Appalachians from Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania or other states were Scotch-Irish, English, German or Dutch. Many of them were independent people from the highlands of [England] seeking freedom from political or religious persecution. Often they brought with them their traditions, their ingenuity, and their stories and their music from their original homelands. The settlers carried these with them as they moved further into the Appalachians to escape King George’s decrees or too-close neighbors.
The hardy pioneers who moved into the mountains became a fiercely independent people who were almost totally self-sufficient. Neighbors had to work together to survive. This neighborliness is still found among many mountain people today. Friends are invited in to talk awhile or perhaps to share a meal. Too much experience with outside exploiters has caused many people to be wary of strangers until the strangers prove their sincerity.
The family has always been the primary social unit in the mountains. Family love and ties are very strong, reaching outside the immediate family to include the extended family. Relatives, especially homeless children and older people, are generally cared for by the family instead of institutions. This devotion to family is a very good characteristic, but it has sometimes discouraged young people from getting too much education for rear of getting above the family.
The earlier [European] mountain people entertained themselves by telling stories and singing ballads and folk songs that had passed by word of mouth for generations. This oral literature is still very important in the mountains today. Many original Scottish and English ballads have been collected in the Appalachians. One of the most famous ballad singers of the twentieth century is Jean Ritchie from near Hazard, Kentucky. She sings the ballads unaccompanied or with the mountain dulcimer. Many other mountain musicians play and sing folk songs, mountain hymns and other traditional music.
Some early people danced to the music of the fiddle, but others thought it an instrument of the devil. So for many years, the fiddle had a questionable reputation, but today it and the banjo are considered to be typical mountain musical instruments along with the dulcimer.
One of the most popular forms of oral literature is the “Jack Tale.” Jack is an Appalachian hero. He does not possess superhuman strength as Paul Bunyan or some other folk heroes, but he is very clever and can usually outsmart his opponents by using his head. Tales of hunting, humor, ghosts and witches are also an important part of our oral literature.
When writers began to write about the mountains, most of the stories were romanticized and exaggerated, because most of the writers were from the outside. Some of these writers were Mary N. Murphy and Lucy Furman.
In the twentieth century a number of more realistic writers who have been writing about the Appalachians have become known for their writing ability in our region and far outside the bounds of it. Some of these are Kentucky’s own Jesse Stuart, Harriette Arnow and James Still and Tennessee’s and North Carolina’s Wilma Dykeman, James Agee, Thomas Wolfe and John Ehle.
Appalachian life has always been greatly influenced by religions. Often this religion has been rather fatalistic. Fatalism influences the way people accept life’s hardships and sorrows. Many people have a great respect for the Bible and interpret it literally . . . .
The creative skills that were so necessary for the early [Native American and European] settlers have been passed down and are now used to make our many beautiful mountain crafts.
Attitudes about the role of women are changing, especially among the young, as more and more young women become educated and enter the world of work.
Many of the characteristics of the Appalachian culture, hospitality, independence, loyalty, love of home, self-sufficiency and others have helped people to survive an environment that has not always been friendly and many outside influences that have been destructive. But these same characteristics have sometimes been a hindrance to people.
The mountain people have many cultural contributions that can enrich the broader American culture just as they in turn can be enriched by contributions from other cultures.”
The economy and the natural resources of the mountains deserve some comment. The Appalachian Mountains were bequeathed from God with remarkable natural resources, especially timber and coal. Yet, due to outside exploitation, most of these natural resources did not accrue to the mountaineer; rather, outsider individuals and organizations came in and bought up these resources in the latter parts of the 20th Century and the early years of the 21st.
Logging and coal mining boomed after the First World War. However, boom and bust cycles impacted the mountaineer in many ways. Out migration was significant after the Second World War. The original growth of timber was exhausted. And coal mining jobs came and went for bust cycles were always imminent. So many people moved to the industrial cities of the North to find jobs in factories, especially the automobile factories.
In the 1970s a new boom cycle for coal mining surged. Numerous mountain people returned from the North to the new coal mining jobs – both underground mining and strip mining that was so devastating to the natural environment.
Today, the timber industry has seen some new life as the second growth of timber is harvested but very few jobs are created.
However, the coal industry is now decimated as a result of political efforts to remove the influence of coal burning electric plants on the environment. Since 2008 coal mines stand shut and the unemployment of coal miners in our communities sky-rocketed. Our students and their families have been severely impacted by unemployment. The ministries of Red Bird Mission are more critical than ever to the people of the area.
Red Bird Christian School accepts the awesome responsibility of educating children and youth. Preparing them for college and university and possibly a life beyond the Appalachians is central to the mission of the school. With a firm faith in God, and led by Jesus Christ, we accept the splendid opportunity to impact the lives of our people in meaningful and magnificent ways.