Author Harry M. Caudill, whose book “Night Comes to the Cumberlands” helped inspire President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty, shot himself to death Thursday in view of the mountains he loved so fiercely. He was 68.
Caudill shot himself in the head, said Edison Banks Jr., the assistant commonwealth’s attorney of Letcher County.
Caudill was pronounced dead about 3 1/2 hours later at Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital.
“He did it in typical Harry style,” said Banks, a former student of Caudill’s. “He was looking at the mountains and shot himself once in the temple area.”
Pat Gish, a longtime friend of Caudill’s, said the writer had Parkinson’s disease. “It was the result of a long struggle with poor health,” said Gish, who publishes The Mountain Eagle newspaper in Whitesburg with her husband, Tom.
A retired lawyer and state legislator, Caudill taught Appalachian history for eight years at the University of Kentucky until 1985.
Caudill is best known for his 1963 book, “Night Comes to the Cumberlands,” an expose of poverty in Appalachia.
The book so vividly described Appalachia’s problems that it brought the region into the national spotlight. President Johnson subsequently backed an array of social programs designed to develop the region and improve living standards for its people.
Caudill vividly described environmental problems caused by strip mining, criticized absentee landowners and preached to improve the region’s schools. He was widely admired for taking courageous stands against injustice despite huge obstacles and a hostile political climate.
By last spring, Caudill had written 10 books, 80 essays and editorials and about 50 magazine articles protesting injustices faced by Appalachian residents.