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Kentucky Folktales

Kentucky Folktales: Revealing Stories, Truths, and Outright Lies

Mary Hamilton
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Kentucky Folktales
    Book Description:

    The storytelling tradition has long been an important piece of Kentucky history and culture. Folktales, legends, tall tales, and ghost stories hold a special place in the imaginations of inventive storytellers and captive listeners. In Kentucky Folktales: Revealing Stories, Truths, and Outright Lies Kentucky storyteller Mary Hamilton narrates a range of stories with the voice and creativity only a master storyteller can evoke.

    Hamilton has perfected the art of entrancing an audience no matter the subject of her tales. Kentucky Folktales includes stories about Daniel Boone's ability to single-handedly kill a bear, a daughter who saves her father's land by outsmarting the king, and a girl who uses gingerbread to exact revenge on her evil stepmother, among many others. Hamilton ends each story with personal notes on important details of her storytelling craft, such as where she first heard the story, how it evolved through frequent re-tellings and reactions from audiences, and where the stories take place. Featuring tales and legends from all over the Bluegrass State, Kentucky Folktales captures the expression of Kentucky's storytelling tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3601-1
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Welcome to this collection of oral tales frozen in print. Frozen? Do I mean lifeless? Absolutely not! As you read these stories you will bring them to life in your imagination much as you would if I were standing before you telling them. And when you read them a second time, you might imagine them differently even though the text remains unchanged—frozen. Even if we were face to face and I told you these stories, the words I spoke would not be an exact match for the text you can read here. And if you heard me tell one...

  4. Haunts, Frights ,and Creepy Tales

    • Introduction
      (pp. 11-12)

      So who decides what stories are truly haunting, frightening, or creepy? The audience, of course!

      Nevertheless, storytelling event producers frequently offer evenings of such stories to the public, and they count on storytellers to rate the intensity of each story they will tell. The event emcee uses the ratings to arrange a story sequence that creates an evening of ever more intense stories. In events with intermissions, stories are commonly divided into pre-intermission family friendly tales and post-intermission tales for teens and adults.

      Here I’ve arranged the stories in the order I would present them if asked to create an...

    • Stormwalker
      (pp. 13-18)

      Several years ago, in that part of Kentucky where Russell and Adair counties meet,¹ a little girl named Roberta Simpson was growing up on her daddy’s farm. When she grew old enough to go to school, she walked, for everyone walked to school in that time and in that place.

      Now Roberta had a real smart teacher. If her teacher looked out the school window and saw a storm was on its way, she said, “Children, stop everything. A storm is coming. You need to go on home before this storm hits.”

      You may be wondering: That was a smart...

    • Promises To Keep
      (pp. 19-26)

      1861. That was a real important year in our country’s history, for in 1861 this country split in two and the North and South went to war against each other. It’s a war that’s come down to us by many names. The War Between the States. The War to Free the Slaves. In the North it was called the War of Southern Rebellion; in the South, the War of Northern Aggression. The Civil War.

      When the war began in April 1861, young men all over the North and South looked at each other and said, “We’ve got to sign up....

    • The Gingerbread Boy
      (pp. 27-35)

      There once lived a girl who shared a home with her stepmother. Years earlier, her mother had died and her father had remarried. While her father lived, her stepmother treated her kindly. But after the girl’s father died, that woman turned poison mean. She made the girl do all the work around the house and on the farm. When the girl didn’t work fast enough—and most days there was no fast enough—the woman beat the girl with a chain. The girl was miserable, but she had nowhere else to go.

      One morning, when the girl was around fourteen...

    • Little Ripen Pear
      (pp. 36-44)

      There once lived a family—a mama, a daddy, a little girl, and a little boy. Every day, the father and son would leave the house to go work in the fields. The mother and daughter stayed home. They cleaned the house, cooked the food, sewed the clothing, tended the garden, and did other nearby chores.

      One day, the mother said to her daughter, “Go to the orchard and pick pears. Now, don’t you go giving even one away. If you do, I promise, I’ll kill you.”

      The little girl left the house. She walked over the hill, through the...

    • Flannel Mouth
      (pp. 45-51)

      There once lived a woman who was so difficult to get along with no one even knew her name. Everyone just called her Flannel Mouth. Ornery as Flannel Mouth was, people still sought her out because of her fine weaving. Back in Flannel Mouth’s day, if you wanted cloth you had to weave it yourself or find someone who would weave for you. Flannel Mouth traded her weaving skills for everything she needed to support herself and her small child.

      One winter day, when the snow lay deep, Flannel Mouth was so busy weaving she didn’t notice when the fire...

    • The Blue Light
      (pp. 52-58)

      Near the edge of a large forest lived a woodcutter and his three beautiful daughters, Emily, Ella, and Lisa. All three girls had hair like their mother’s, as fine and pale as the tender silks on the corn that grew in the family garden.

      When Lisa, the youngest, was just a toddler, her mother died. Nevertheless, she and her father and sisters managed to live well. Every day, the father and daughters ate breakfast together. On weekdays, the father took up his axe and walked into the forest to work. The daughters worked around the house and in the garden,...

    • The Open Grave
      (pp. 59-62)

      A long time ago, when it was night it wasdark.You may be thinking: so what? It’s dark at night now. But in the time I’m talking about the most frequent light anybody had to travel by was moonlight, and on the night I’m telling you about there was no moon. But there was a fellow traveling home through the darkness on that moonless night. He decided to take a shortcut through the town graveyard.

      There he was, walking along through the cemetery, and whoosh! He fell into a newly dug grave. Well, he did what most of us...

  5. Tall Tales and Outright Lies

    • Introduction
      (pp. 63-64)

      Tall tales “weigh the delicate balance between truth and untruth in favor of untruth”¹ and rely on outrageous exaggeration and lying for comic effect.²

      In this section, you’ll find stories about real people—Daniel Boone, Otis Ayers, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, and my four brothers. You’ll find stories about real events—the Meade County Fair, Halloween, and presidential elections. You’ll find stories that take place in our real world—in the woods, on the farm.

      Most importantly, for tall tales, you’ll find stories with truth stretched to impossibility. And if after reading them you believe them, “go stand on your right...

    • Daniel Boone on the Hunt
      (pp. 65-66)

      Back in Daniel Boone’s day, if you wanted meat to eat you had to go hunt it yourself. Fortunately Daniel Boone was a skilled hunter and an intelligent man.

      One day Daniel Boone was out hunting, and he met up with a bear. Now Daniel Boone was not hunting for bear, so he was not especially pleased to see a bear. From what I hear, the bear was not especially pleased to see Daniel Boone either. That bear charged Daniel Boone. Fortunately Daniel was about fifty yards away from the bear when it charged, so he figured he had a...

    • Farmer Brown’s Crop
      (pp. 67-69)

      Folks say Farmer Brown was a pretty good farmer, and like most farmers he was also a practical man. One year, he decided to plant his corn and his pumpkins in the same field. The way he saw it, he and his hardworking plow horse would have a bit less ground to plow, and the leaves on the pumpkin vines would shade out the weeds so there would be no need to hoe out the corn either.

      That spring he plowed his cropland. Then he planted corn and pumpkins. Oh, good fortune was with him! The ground stayed warm. Soft...

    • Hunting Alone
      (pp. 70-72)

      One morning, a man took his gun and his dog and he went hunting. He’d been out quite a while when he and his dog heard some rustling in the underbrush. They looked and spotted a possum heading home. Well, the dog dove right through a thicket following that possum. By the time the man had made his way through the thicket, the possum had sought refuge in a hollow log. There the man’s dog stood, at the big end of the log. He looked up at the man, then into the log, then up at the man again, and...

    • Otis Ayers Had a Dog—Two Stories
      (pp. 73-75)

      Folks say Otis Ayers had the best quail-hunting dog around. One day Otis and his dog were out hunting when a covey of quail fluttered up and took shelter in an old hollow stump. His dog ran over, jumped up, put his paws over the exit of that stump to block the quail in, and then looked up at Otis and grinned.

      Otis was delighted, “Oh, Dog, we’re going to have us a fancy hunt! When I say, ‘Pull!’ you let one loose.”

      The dog woofed in agreement.

      “Pull!” yelled Otis. His dog let one quail loose, and Otis shot...

    • Some Dog
      (pp. 76-92)

      When I was a child growing up on the farm in Meade County, it seemed to us that city folks were all the time taking kittens and puppies they didn’t want and dropping them off at the end of farmers’ driveways. We couldn’t imagine why city folks thought we wanted their pets if they didn’t want them, but boxes and bags of kittens and puppies showed up so often we just thought: must be how city folks’ minds work.

      So, it’s not surprising that one day, when my daddy and my four brothers, Steve, Alan, David, and Jeff, were on...

  6. More Kentucky Folktales

    • Introduction
      (pp. 93-94)

      Here are some Kentucky folktales that don’t exactly fit the earlier categories of tall tales and lies or haunting, frightening, and creepy tales. So, now that you know what they are not, let me tell you what they are. In this section you will find:

      a formula tale, a story with a very repetitive, highly predictable plot—so it is also going to be exceedingly easy to recall and retell, should you have a mind to.

      a tale with a catch or trick—enough said, or I’ll be giving away the trick!

      a couple of folktales of the realistic sort...

    • The Enormous Bear
      (pp. 95-105)

      Once upon a time, a grandma, a grandpa, a little girl, and a little boy all lived together in a small house. Next to the house a squirrel lived in a tree. The squirrel enjoyed watching the people and even thought of them as his family.

      One day the grandma said to the little boy, “We are all out of bread and milk, so I need you to go down to the store and come back with bread and milk.”

      The little boy headed for the store, singing to himself,

      Bread and milk, bread and milk

      Going to the store...

    • The Farmer’s Smart Daughter
      (pp. 106-112)

      One morning a king stood in his doorway. He looked out on all the land he owned, and he had but one thought: “I want more.”

      The land next door to the king’s land was owned by a farmer. So the king sent for the farmer and said, “Well sir, I have decided to increase my land holdings, and your farm is the land I’m going to increase my holdings by. Now, I am the king, so I could just take your land, but I believe in being fair. I am going to ask you three questions, riddles you might...

    • The Fortune Teller
      (pp. 113-116)

      One evening, several years ago, I was wandering along the midway at the Meade County Fair. I walked past the Ferris wheel and Tilt-A-Whirl. I walked along a row of booths. I saw the ring toss, the baseball throws, and the shooting gallery, all offering the possibility of winning huge stuffed animals. Then I saw the sign: “Fortunes Told. Past Lives Revealed. $1.”

      My first thought? What a hoax! My second thought? Aaw, what the heck, why not?

      So I paid my dollar and walked inside.

      The woman who greeted me certainly knew how to dress the part. She wore...

    • The Princess Who Could Not Cry
      (pp. 117-121)

      A long time ago there once lived a princess who could not cry. Her mother, the queen, said, “Darling, that you cannot cry would not matter if you didn’t laugh at everything.” The king and queen became so worried about the princess, they offered a huge bag of gold to anyone who could make her cry.

      A wise man arrived at the palace with a plan to make the princess cry. “Feed her nothing but bread and water for a full week. She’ll be crying then.”

      The queen protested, “Bread and water? I’m afraid she’ll starve. Couldn’t we feed her...

    • Rawhead and Bloody Bones
      (pp. 122-130)

      A little girl once lived with her daddy. Her mama had died. Not far away another little girl lived with her mama. Her daddy had died. These two little girls knew each other and got along well. Over time their parents fell in love and married each other. For a while all was well, but then the mother began to make a difference between the two girls.

      She noticed that her husband’s girl was prettier than her daughter, so she began to dress her husband’s daughter in old worn-out clothes and dress her daughter in new pretty clothes. Whenever her...

  7. Beyond Kentucky Folktales

    • Introduction
      (pp. 131-132)

      Here I’ve placed three folktales that, as far as I know, have not been collected in Kentucky—yet! While I’ve usually been able to tell you who collected a story, and often who the collector heard it from, and sometimes even who that person reported hearing it from, it would be a falsehood for me to claim all the Kentucky tales in this book were transmitted orally, and only orally, before various collectors heard them and recorded them or wrote them down. Some probably do come from long-thriving oral traditions within individual families. Others were probably read, then told, and...

    • Kate Crackernuts
      (pp. 133-150)

      The day of Princess Kate’s birth marked the beginning of five years of happiness for Kate and her mother and father. But then Princess Kate’s daddy died. For the next three years, Kate, missing her daddy, followed the men of the kingdom. From the horsemen she learned how to ride. From the woodsmen she learned how to walk in the forest and never get lost, and which berries and plants were safe to eat and which were not. She grew so sturdy and so strong she could crack nuts open with her bare hands. So, everyone began calling her Kate...

    • The King and His Advisor
      (pp. 151-156)

      There once lived a king. The king had an advisor. Everywhere the king went, his advisor went. Whenever anything happened, the advisor would say, “Your Majesty, everything happens for the good.” The king thought this meant his advisor was incredibly wise.

      One day, the king and his advisor were walking in the palace gardens. The king spied an especially beautiful rose. He reached out to pick it, and a thorn cut his finger. His finger began to bleed and bleed.

      The king cried, “Look at this. Who could imagine such a cut from a thorn on a rosebush?”

      The advisor...

    • Rabbit and the Alligators
      (pp. 157-164)

      A long time ago, a long, long,longtime ago, way back, when rabbits had long, pretty tails like foxes, there lived a rabbit. One day Rabbit had been gone from home since early, early in the morning. All day long Rabbit had been working, working, and working. By the end of the day, Rabbit was tired, so very tired. He headed for home. Hop hop, rest. Hop hop, rest. Hop hop, rest. Ooooh, Rabbit was tired. By the time Rabbit reached the edge of the swamp near his house, he was so tired he couldn’t even take one more...

  8. Family Tales and Personal Narratives

    • Introduction
      (pp. 165-166)

      In this section you’ll find both oral traditional narratives and personal experience narratives. Montell explains the difference: “The personal experience narrative is aneyewitnessorfirsthandaccount; the narrator says, in essence, ‘I was there, I saw the action, and this is the way it happened.’ . . . Oral traditional narratives, on the other hand, aresecondhand(‘I wasn’t there, but my grandmother was, and she described it like this’) orthirdhandreminiscences.”¹

      I first heard most of the family tales here from my father, so my retellings are second-, third-, maybe even fourthhand accounts. I don’t tell them...

    • A Place to Start
      (pp. 167-168)

      When my Uncle Sammy was a boy he was a real good eater. Every day, my grandma would send Sammy off to school with two sandwiches, and he would always come home with an empty lunch box.¹

      Now when Sammy began first grade, sandwiches were made from double loaf bread—each slice was twice as wide as the slices of bread we have today. When my grandma made Sammy’s sandwiches, she would take a slice of that double loaf bread, put the filling on, and then fold the bread over for sandwich one. She would then take a second slice...

    • Jeff Rides the Rides
      (pp. 169-172)

      The year my little brother Jeff turned eight was a real important year for him. On his eighth birthday, my daddy looked at him and said, “Jeff, now that you are eight years old, when Meade County Fair time comes, you can go over to the midway and ride all the rides all by yourself. You won’t have to have any older brothers and sisters tagging along with you to make sure you behave.”

      Oh, Jeff was excited. From his birthday in April all the way to fair time in August, he’d look at us and say, “I get to...

    • Jump Rope Kingdom
      (pp. 173-179)

      First grade babies

      Second grade tots

      Third grade angels

      Fourth grade snots

      Fifth grade peaches

      Sixth grade plums

      And all the rest are dirty bums.

      I heard that rhyme on my first day of school, which at Flaherty Elementary in Meade County, Kentucky, was the first day of first grade. I’m not sure who started the rhyme. Could have been the snots. They were proud of themselves. Might have been the peaches. Might have been the plums. I don’t believe it was the dirty bums because, if memory serves me correctly, the dirty bums were much too old for recess....

    • Mary Helen’s Fiancé
      (pp. 180-185)

      After my great-aunts Mary Helen and Eloise graduated from Mount Saint Joseph Junior College near Owensboro, Kentucky, both secured jobs with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, working in one of its Kentucky offices. During World War II the federal government decentralized its operations by moving many offices out of Washington, D.C., and the headquarters of the Department of Agriculture moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. By the time the war began winding down and government agencies returned to Washington, my great-aunts worked in the Cincinnati headquarters, so when their jobs moved to Washington, they moved too.

      After the war Eloise moved to...

    • This Is the Story . . .
      (pp. 186-188)

      Many of us have heard stories about ourselves set in that time before the earliest memories we are certain we recall. Here is a story I heard from earliest childhood, retold as I remember my mother and father telling it:

      You were born on August 3rd. When we brought you home from the hospital, it was so hot we dressed you in a diaper and an undershirt and put you in your baby bed. We had just drifted off to sleep when you began to cry. Well, you were our baby, so we tried to help you. You weren’t hungry;...

  9. Permissions and Acknowledgments
    (pp. 189-190)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 191-210)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-216)
  12. Index
    (pp. 217-220)