The Corsicans

In Corsica, when a man is wronged by another, public sentiment requires that he redress his own grievance, and that his family and friends shall share the consequences.

“Before the law made us citizens, great Nature made us men.”

“When one has an enemy, one must choose between the three S’s—schiopetto, stiletto, strada: the rifle, the dagger, or flight.”

“There are two presents to be made to an enemy—palla calda o ferro freddo: hot shot or cold steel.”

The Corsican code of honor does not require that vengeance be taken in fair fight. Rather should there be a sudden thrust of the knife, or a pistol fired point-blank into the enemy’s breast, or a rifle-shot from some ambush picked in advance.

The assassin is not conscious of any cowardice in such act. If the trouble between him and his foe had been strictly a personal matter, to be settled forever by one man’s fall, then he might have welcomed a duel with all the punctilios. But his blood is not his alone—it belongs to his clan. Whenever a Corsican is slain his family takes up the feud. A vendetta ensues—a war of extermination by clan against clan.

Now, the chief object of war, as all strategists agree, is to inflict the greatest loss upon the enemy with the least loss to one’s own side. Hence we have hostilities without declaration of war; we have the ambush, the night attack, masked batteries, mines and submarines. Thus we murder hundreds asleep or unshriven. This is war.

Moreover, while a soldier must be brave in any extremity, it is no less his duty to save himself unharmed as long as he can, so that he may help his own side and kill more and more of the enemy. Therefore it is proper and military for him to “snipe” his foes by deliberate sharpshooting from behind any lurking-place that he can find. This is war.

And the vendetta, says our Corsican, is nothing else than war.

When Matteo has been slain by an enemy, his friends carry his body home and swear vengeance over the corpse, while his wife soaks her handkerchief in his wounds to keep as a token whereby she will incite her children, as they grow up, to war against all kinsmen of their father’s murderer. ...

It is a far cry from the Mediterranean to our own Appalachia: so why this prelude? Our mountaineers never heard of Corsica. Not a drop of South European blood flows in their veins. Few of them ever heard one word of a foreign tongue. True. And yet we shall mark some strange analogies between Corsican vendettas and Appalachian feuds, Corsican clannishness and Appalachian clannishness, Corsican women and our mountain women...

I quote now from a history of this [the Baker-White] feud published in Munsey’s Magazine of November, 1903.—

“Captain John Bryan, of the 2d Kentucky, said to the widow of the murdered Tom Baker, after they returned from the funeral:

“‘Mrs. Baker, why don’t you leave this miserable country and escape from these terrible feuds? Move away, and teach your children to forget.’

“‘Captain Bryan,’ said the widow, and she spoke evenly and quietly, ‘I have twelve sons. It will be the chief aim of my life to bring them up to avenge their father’s death. Each day I shall show my boys the handkerchief stained with his blood, and tell them who murdered him.’”