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Kentucky Folktales

Revealing Stories, Truths, and Outright Lies

Mary Hamilton

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-9

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...

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Haunts, Frights, and Creepy Tales

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pp. 11-62

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...

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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...

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Promises to Keep

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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...

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The Gingerbread Boy

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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...

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Little Ripen Pear

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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...

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Flannel Mouth

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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...

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The Blue Light

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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...

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The Open Grave

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pp. 59-62

A long time ago, when it was night it was dark. 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...

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Tall Tales and Outright Lies

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pp. 63-91

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...

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Daniel Boone on the Hunt

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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...

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Farmer Brown's Crop

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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...

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Hunting Alone

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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...

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Otis Ayers Had a Dog--Two Stories

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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...

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Some Dog

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pp. 76-91

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...

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More Kentucky Folktales

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pp. 93-129

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...

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The Enormous Bear

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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...

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The Farmer's Smart Daughter

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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...

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The Fortune Teller

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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...

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The Princess Who Could Not Cry

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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...

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Rawhead and Bloody Bones

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pp. 122-129

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...

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Beyond Kentucky Folktales

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pp. 131-163

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...

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Kate Crackernuts

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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...

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The King and His Advisor

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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...

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Rabbit and the Alligators

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pp. 157-163

A long time ago, a long, long, long time 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...

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Family Tales and Personal Narratives

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pp. 165-187

In this section you’ll find both oral traditional narratives and personal experience narratives. Montell explains the difference: “The personal experience narrative is an eyewitness or firsthand account; the narrator says, in essence...

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A Place to Start

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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...

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Jeff Rides the Rides

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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...

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Jump Rope Kingdom

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pp. 173-179

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...

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Mary Helen's Fiance

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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...

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This Is the Story . . .

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pp. 186-187

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...

Permissions and Acknowledgments

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pp. 189-190


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pp. 191-210


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pp. 211-215


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pp. 217-219

E-ISBN-13: 9780813136011
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813136004

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012