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Friday, January 24, 2014

"Crockett" - "A Dangerous Situation" - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

Earlier this month I posted two stories from "Davy Crockett" almanacs.  Popular reactions encourage me to post this brief tall tale from the 1841 almanac about his wife.

A Dangerous Situation

(Note: the almanacs are written in a dialect and spelling which doesn't read easily, but the almanacs give an interesting opportunity to hear language accepted as coming from the frontier population.  Bracketed information was added by Michael Lofaro to clarify the text.)

Won day when I war gone off from home, and my wife sot a nitting by the fire, she heered a sort of growl behind her; and when she looked around she seed a big bear that had walked in at the dore, and sot down close by her cheer.  She looked rite into his face, and he lookt very surprised.  She war afeered to git up, lest he should put his teeth into her, so she sot and stared at him.  In a minnit he put his paw on her shoulder, and she felt the nales begin to sink into her flesh.  Nothing on arth is quicker thorted than a woman, and she seed thar war no time to lose.  So she drawed out her two nitting needles, and while the bear war looking up at her she stuck 'em both into his eyes.  He jumpt about three feet off the floor, and roared out like a stuck pig.  He then tride to spri[n]g at her, but he couldn't see, and jumpt rite into the fire.  Before he got fairly out of the fire, he had kicked the brands and coals all out upon the floor, and when he cum out, he sprawled round and kicked until he had put everything up in heeps, and broke the crockery; but my wife soon brought the rifle to bear upon his pesky carcase, and straitened him out like a corpse in December.  The way she had pork stakes, for a month arterwards, its not worth while to explicitrize about.

 (That idea about how Crockett's wife treated the corpse of the bear reminds me of these two brief comments from the 1850 almanac about her bearskin petticoats.)

Mrs. Crockett and I always sallied out in the fall to sell her barr shin [skin] petticoats which war warranted not to fade in washing and doin up.  That war all the shopping she done in the whole year.

Mrs. Crockett has made as high as eight hundred barr skin petticoats in two years time; from this you can see that we've had a smart sprinkle of barrs in our neighborhood.  I have had great experience in that line of business all my born days.
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Davy Crockett didn't write those tall tales, but the popular almanacs that appeared from 1835 through 1856, well after his death at the Alamo in 1836 seemed to have his approval.  In my previous article I mentioned Professor Michael A. Lofaro's work on the almanacs and a desire to read his more recent work, Davy Crockett's Riproarious Shemales and Sentimental Sisters: Women's Tall Tales from the Crocket Almanacs (1835-1856) published by Stackpole Books in 2001.
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I'm delighted to say it's every bit as good as Professor Lofaro's earlier The Tall Tales of Davy Crockett; The Second Nashville Series of Crockett Almanacs 1839-1841 which was a major part of my earlier blog.
Jacket copy tells a lot about the book.
and the back cover
Beyond all of that, the jacket mentions those 122 tales being divided into eight categories, but only lists three.  The others are "Wild and grotesque description", "Battles with humans", "Sentimental and religious stories", "True adventure stories" (true?), "Recipes and household hints:", as well as Professor Lofaro's appraisal of the almanacs, especially as they pertain to women, and a chronology by Steven Harthorn of "Crockett, Women, and the Age of Jackson" for 1786-1856.  As you might expect from a professor of English at University of Tennessee at Knoxville, sources are carefully noted.  

I can't help but mention Lofaro's comment about Stephen Kellogg's Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett which he says "combines, modifies, and expands the Almanac tales about Davy's wife into a rollicking legendary biography", but further notes "The audience for Kellogg's book...precludes any incorporation of the earthiness of the Almanacs." 
It was Kellogg's delightful book that first sparked my interest in the Crockett works because Kellogg mentions their source.  It also was an even bigger incentive to see Lofaro's Davy Crockett's Riproarious Shemales and Sentimental Sister.  Obviously Kellogg did a lot more work than might be readily apparent from Sally Ann.... It was a perfect addition to his other tall tales on Pecos Bill, Johnny Appleseed, and Mike Fink, plus the tall tale song, "I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago."

I agree with the professor's belief that these intentionally ephemeral publications offer "the earliest body of American tall tales about women."  Both Davy and his "shemales" form a major building block in the foundation of American tall tales.
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This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories. 

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my normal monthly posting of a research project here.  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my monthly postings as often as I can manage it.   
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