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Flatlanders and Ridgerunners

Flatlanders and Ridgerunners: Folktales from the Mountains of Northern Pennsylvania

Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Flatlanders and Ridgerunners
    Book Description:

    Excerpt from Flatlanders and Ridgerunners:Out-Riddling the JudgeBack in Prohibition my uncle made moonshine. His name was Moses Kenny and his whiskey--they called it "White Mule" was the best in the county. Well, the feds got after him and finally they arrested him. Took him to a federal judge down in Philadelphia.Now, the judge liked a good time and thought he'd have a little fun with this hick from the mountains. When Uncle came into court, he said, "are you the Moses who can make the sun dark?"Moses looked at him and said slowly, "Nope, your honor. But I am the Moses who can make the moon shine."The judge let him go.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7132-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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    (pp. xvii-xxii)

    When i first came to northern Pennsylvania I was a complete flatlander. I did not know the mountains, and I did not know the ways of the mountain people. I had never tasted leeks or fiddlehead ferns; I had never dragged in a deer, and I did not stop to “jaw” with the locals when I met them on the street. Although I am still a flatlander by birth, I have learned much since then from the ridgerunners of north-central Pennsylvania. They have taught me how to hunt and fish and how to listen and how to tell stories. Most...

    (pp. xxiii-xxxii)

    The white settler came late to this region.¹ The area known today as Potter, Tioga, and Bradford Counties was one of the last places settled in the Eastern United States. Much of it was not even explored until the early 1800s, and before the War for Independence only a few white people had ever seen its dark forests. The Iroquois let a few white men pass through—Conrad Weiser, Moravian missionaries, and some French trappers—but other hunters and explorers were turned away, if they were lucky.

    Pioneers had settled in the Wyoming Valley along the Susquehanna River and also...

    (pp. 1-16)

    Oral folklore provides important insights into Pennsylvania mountain culture because it opens a window for us on the inner personality of mountain people. For the most part, the people in the northern mountains of Pennsylvania live in an “oral society.” The really important information that comes to them and that they pass on each day is conveyed by word of mouth. Of course, people watch television and read the newspapers, but the things they consider vital to their day-to-day existence they learn directly from other people. They just have to “visit” with everyone they meet because this is their primary...

    (pp. 17-26)

    A true proverb is an amazing arrangement of words: not only does it make a wise statement which may give advice or solve a problem, but it also makes the statement artfully, using many of the devices of poetry. Let’s look at one:

    When the sun is lowin’ in the west

    A lazy man will work the best.

    This proverb tells us it is useless to try to get a lazy man to work early in the day; he doesn't get going until the day is nearly over. The statement says something final about lazy workers. What is most convincing,...

    (pp. 27-60)

    Tall tales have always been popular on the American frontier. Called “windies,” “whoppers,” or just “lies,” these exaggerated and extravagant fictions tell of some heroic feat or some strange animal. The storyteller begins the story with a straight face and seriously begins to unfold the tale. However, the story gradually becomes more and more outrageous. The trick, of course, is for the teller to see how far along he can take the listener. The listener is more or less fooled into believing the story. If the listener says, “I’m not going to believe that nonsense,” then, in a sense, he...

    (pp. 61-86)

    These stories are about things that really happened. They are not traditional folktales, nor do they have their counterparts in other regions of the United States or Europe. Rather, they are localized stories about real events that have been told over and over again until they have taken on a life of their own. Their real interest lies in the way they are told, who tells them, and the situation that gives rise to their telling. Storytellers who tell traditional tales will almost always tell some personal anecdotes too. In the mountains of Pennsylvania, people tell stories about themselves all...

    (pp. 87-94)

    Now, the horning bee was a custom surrounding marriage back in the old days, and it is still practised by some. A few days after a couple got married, their friends would all get together one night. Usually it was the young men, but often it was the whole town. Well, they’d make a signal, and everybody would gather and go quietly up the newlyweds’ house. Usually they would pull a small cannon if they had one. Now, the couple would be all bedded down real quiet. All of asudden—Boom!–thecannon would go off and the couple...

    (pp. 95-124)

    Before an important tennis or bowling match, we are sure to wear our “lucky” shoes and socks. Before closing a business deal, we may check our horoscope, the phase of the moon, and the weather forecast. Whether we are naming a child, buying a home, or embarking on a journey, we are quick to become slightly superstitious. In fact, almost any time we face a difficult situation which we cannot control completely, we tend to become a little superstitious. Even though the forces we are dealing with are bigger than we are, and the outcome of events is uncertain, we...

    (pp. 125-146)

    Some a’ them college profs is so dumb they couldn’t pour piss outen a boot with the instructions printed on the heel. ’Member that prof tried to shoot his self an’ all he got was his little pinky? That’s education for you. Or the prof who’d get on his horse, falloff, get back on, and fall off again? An’ one president at Mansfield State built his self a mansion up on Pickle Hill, about two thousand feet up. All glass on one side lookin’ out over the valley. Nothin’ between him an Canada but a few geese—in season, a’...

    (pp. 147-158)

    When we talk about beliefs in the field of folklore, we do not mean religious beliefs in the modern sense. By beliefs we mean the habitual thoughts, actions, and sayings of people when faced with forces beyond their control. Farmers have all sorts of beliefs about the weather, although they have no control over it. Beliefs are a way of looking into the future for farmers and for all of us. Because we can’t know the future, we are often filled with uncertainty, even dread, about what is going to happen to us. To ease this anxiety about what is...

    (pp. 159-184)

    Just about every woman would agree that men like to make up stories and lie to each other about things they did or things that happened to them. They’ll sit around and talk for hours about the big bucks they missed, the trout they almost caught or how much wood they split. Those are the country men. The city men will talk about their great escape from the bunker on the twelfth hole and the killing they just made on the stock market. What women don’t realize is that the storyteller never lies more than the occasion seems to demand,...