The panel began with Mia Brett (History, Stony Brook University)’s history of vigilantes in postbellum Montana. Vigilantism was an important component of Montana territory, even as formal legal institutions appeared in the area. In the 1860s, small towns were governed by local sheriffs, many of whom had criminal connections themselves. Unsatisfied with the formal criminal justice system, prominent business-owners, lawyers and community leaders joined vigilance committees. ... The vigilantes connected their barbarism to American identity, drawing on a regional history of warfare with Native Americans.
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Jillian Jacklin (History, University of Wisconsin)’s “A Family Affair” is a study of labor activism among Wisconsin’s dairy farmers. Thrust into a particularly volatile market during the depression, the state’s dairy farmers organized in a “milk pool” and refused to sell their products to larger dairy companies. Resistance, like dairy farming itself, was truly a “family affair.” The women whose labor had sustained the industry worked organized working families at barn dances and picnics.
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Tyler Davis (Religion, Baylor University) presented “Life Beyond Lynch Law: Imagining the Human and Utopia in Rural Texas,” his analysis of Sutton Griggs’ Imperium in Imperio in the context of the national non-response to lynching. Like his contemporary Ida B. Wells, Davis argued, Griggs recognized the collusion of the state in extralegal violence.
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Heath Pearson (Anthropology, Princeton University) presented his paper “The Carceral Outside: Living & Laboring in a NJ Prison Town,” with a narrative dynamism that, I’ve since learned, is typical of anthropologists. He related his ethnographic study of a New Jersey town (he calls it “Dayton”) that his home to one state and one federal prison facility. * * * In Heath’s assessment, the town’s elite made Dayton into a prison town, soliciting prison investment when the town’s factories closed.
And from Lew-Williams' commentary:
[T]he four papers illustrated the state’s relationship with even extra-legal violence. Lew-Williams introduced a question that would be reiterated: what is the role of the rural? How do historical phenomena--progressivism, law-and-order, black resistance, the prison industrial complex--change in rural settings?