Reconstruction witnessed rebuilding, but also tumultuous times in Kentucky, with communities torn by politics and alleged lawlessness. Through developing industries and industrialization, the nation "discovered" the Appalachian region. The media fascinated Americans with contradictory "mountaineer" stereotypes — tranquil pioneers and feuding hillbillies — that would endure for generations.

Despite an official surrender, bitter wartime memories remained, dividing communities. Guerrillas continued ravaging a state already economically devastated. Sympathizers seeking to "settle a score" attacked returning soldiers. Occasionally assisting formal law enforcement, vigilantes, called "regulators," more often served as judge, jury, and executioner. Governor Luke Blackburn obtained little control, even after he promised leniency for voluntary surrender and pardoned several hundred former regulators. Uncontrollable vigilantism partially perpetuated a stereotypical violent and lawless Kentucky.

During most of the nineteenth century, governors occasionally pardoned convicts because paroling did not exist. As sole reviewer, the governor sometimes rewarded allies and relieved crowded penitentiaries with pardons. Judges and lawyers occasionally felt repercussions from their dangerous business, due to mob justice, legal loopholes, and corruption. Sometimes the accused were never sentenced. Unwritten laws permitted revenge, if dishonored, and acquittal. Powerful community leaders controlled politics and justice, especially in small towns, through intimidation, tainting juries, stuffing ballot boxes, and, occasionally, heading feuding families.

The definition of feud as "long-lasting hostilities between families marked by vengeful, violent attacks" is somewhat broad. Feuding "families" often hired gunmen. Violence occurred sporadically, with ambushes and assassinations, rather than in long stretches, while feuds ranged from a few years to decades in length. Feudists legally sought justice, albeit in relatively corrupt systems, for some issues. These issues, or "troubles," included politics and economic rivalries. With multiple sides to every story — especially feuding ones — cohesive explanations rarely exist.

The Martin-Tolliver-Logan Feud, or Rowan County War, erupted with an 1884 Election Day shooting, provoked by political disputes between the Tollivers and Martins. Violence and scheming prevented lawful justice. The Tollivers obtained control of Morehead after driving out Sheriff Cook Humphrey in 1885. The state denied Rowan County disbandment recommendations and attorney Daniel Boone Logan’s requests for assistance. Logan gathered a vigilante army and, in June 1887, won the feud’s final battle. Despite approximately 20 murdered and 16 wounded in three short years, there were bloodier feuds.

"Bloody Breathitt" combines multiple feuds spanning throughout 30 years. The Amis-Strong-Little Feud formalized, from wartime disputes, in 1874. Judge assassinations and mob-seized courthouses disrupted trials. Although State troops brought temporary peace in 1878, minor clashes persisted, intertwining these families with the Hargis-Callahan-Marcum-Cockrell Feud by the 1890s. With powerful roles in local court systems, lawful justice rarely occurred. By 1902, approximately 30 had died. The shooting deaths of the Hargis-Callahan leaders (1908 & 1912) essentially marked the end of feuding in Kentucky. Nevertheless, the stereotypes remained.

Probably most recognizable was the Hatfield–McCoy Feud. It allegedly began in 1878, though the cause (or causes) are often debated, ranging from a romanticized "Romeo and Juliet"–type courtship to a hog ownership dispute. Neither the bloodiest nor longest feud, it drew national attention when Deputy Sheriff Frank Phillips raided into West Virginia seeking justice for Kentuckian McCoys. The US Supreme Court declared Phillips could only arrest Hatfields in Kentucky. The legal 1890 Pikeville hanging rendered peace. Partially due to media coverage, Hatfield and McCoy are names forever intertwined with quintessential feuding.

Writers published local color pieces based on personal perceptions of the local customs, mannerisms, and characteristics specific to "Feudist Country." Feuds were initially called "vendettas" and families became "clans" to convey Scotch-Irish heritage, despite the diverse population. Other stereotypes involved poverty, ignorance, and isolation. However, some entrepreneurial feudists owned businesses in various industries, and industrialization increasingly connected the "outside world" with mountaineers. Nonfiction drew attention while fiction reinforced stereotypes.

Poetry and literature popularized the violent, gun-toting, moonshine-drinking, disheveled hillbilly, and the self-sufficient, benevolent, backwards mountaineer. Kentuckian John Fox, Jr. wrote fiction, with dialect and illustrations perpetuating Appalachian stereotypes. Visual media only strengthened established depictions. "Devil Anse" Hatfield was often photographed with his rifle. Similarly, filmmakers, including D.W. Griffith, sometimes consulted and included mountaineers in appropriate films.

Iconic feudists and mountaineers continued in movies, cartoons, songs, and publications. Whether as violent hillbillies, gentle pioneers, or merely comic relief, powerful Appalachian stereotypes still linger today..