Betsey and The Mole Skin (A Dirty Ozark Folktale)


“How Jack O’Lanterns Came To Be” — Zora Neale Hurston

From Zora Neale Hurston’s novelization of folklore, Mules and Men:

It was slavery time, Zora, when Big Sixteen was a man. They called ‘im Sixteen  cause dat was de number of de shoe he wore. He was big and strong and Ole Massa looked to him to do everything.

One day Ole Massa said, “Big Sixteen, Ah b’lieve Ah want you to move dem sills Ah had hewed out down in de swamp.

“I yassuh, Massa.”

Big Sixteen went down in de swamp and picked up dem 12 X 12’s and brought ’em on up to de house and stack ,em. No one man ain’t never toted a 12 X 12 befo’ nor since.

So Ole Massa said one day, “Go fetch in de mules. Ah want to look ’em over.”

Big Sixteen went on down to, de pasture and caught dem mules by de bridle but they was contrary and balky and he tore de bridles to pieces pullin’ on ’em, so he picked one of ’em up under each arm and brought ’em up to Old Massa.

He says, “Big Sixteen, if you kin tote a pair of balky mules, you kin do anything. You kin ketch de Devil.”

“Yassuh, Ah kin, if you git me a nine-pound hammer and a pick and shovel!”

Ole Massa got Sixteen de things he ast for and tole ‘im to go ahead and bring him de Devil.

Big Sixteen went out in front of de house and went to diggin’. He was diggin’ nearly a month befo’ he got where he wanted. Then he took his hammer and went and knocked on de Devil’s door. Devil answered de door hisself.

“Who dat out dere?”

“It’s Big Sixteen.”

“What you want?”

“Wanta have a word wid you for a minute.”

Soon as de Devil poked his head out de door, Sixteen him over de head wid dat hammer and picked ‘im  up and carried ‘im back to Old Massa.

Ole Massa looked at de dead Devil and hollered, “Take dat ugly thing ‘way from here, quick! Ah didn’t think you’d, ketch de Devil sho ’nuff.”

So Sixteen picked up de Devil and throwed ‘im back down de hole.

Way after while, Big Sixteen died and went up to Heben. But Peter looked at him and tole ‘im to g’wan ‘way from dere. He was too powerful. He might git outa order and there wouldn’t be nobody to handle ‘im. But he had to, go somewhere so he went on to hell.

Soon as he got to de gate de Devil’s children was playin’ in de yard and they seen ‘im and run to de house, says, “Mama, mama! Dat man’s out dere dat kilt papa!”

So she called ‘im in de house and shet de door. When Sixteen got dere she handed ‘im a li’l piece of fire and said, “You ain’t comin’ in here. Here, take dis hot coal and g’wan off and start you a hell uh yo’ own.”

So when you see a Jack O’Lantern in de woods at night you know it’s Big Sixteen wid his piece of fire lookin’ for a  place to go.

“He Done It with a Bucket” (An Ozark Folktale)

“He Done It with a Bucket,” an Ozark folktale from Vance Randolph’s indispensable collection, Pissing in the Snow & Other Ozark Folktales

“Have You Ever Been Diddled?”

The Ozark folktale “Have You Ever Been Diddled?” from Vance Randolph’s indispensable collection, Pissing in the Snow & Other Ozark Folktales

[Told by J.L. Russell, Harrison, Ark., April, 1950. He heard this one near Berryville, Ark., in the 1890s.]

One time there was a town girl and a country girl got to talking about the boys they had went with. The town girl told what kind of car her boyfriends used to drive, and how much money their folks has got. But the country girl didn’t take no interest in things like that, and she says the fellows are always trying to get into her pants.

So finally the town girl says, “Have you ever been diddled?” The country girl giggled, and she says yes, a little bit. “How much?” says the town girl. “Oh, about like that,” says the country girl, and she held up her finger to show an inch, or maybe an inch and a half.

The town girl just laughed, and pretty soon the country girl says, “Have you ever been diddled?” The town girl says of course she has, lots of times. “How much?” says the country girl. “Oh, about like that,” says the town girl, and she marked off about eight inches, or maybe nine.

The country girl just sat there goggle-eyed, and she drawed a deep breath. “My God,” says the country girl, “that ain’t diddling! Why, you’ve been fucked!

“Pissing in the Snow”

The Ozark folktale “Pissing in the Snow,” as told to Vance Randolph by Frank Hembree in 1945. Hembree first heard the tale in the 1890s. From Randolph’s indispensable collection, Pissing in the Snow & Other Ozark Folktales

One time there was two farmers that lived out on the road to Carico. They was always good friends, and Bill’s oldest boy had been a-sparking one of Sam’s daughters. Everything was going fine till the morning they met down by the creek, and Sam was pretty goddam mad. “Bill,” says he, “from now on I don’t want that boy of yours to set foot on my place.”

“Why, what’s he done?” asked the boy’s daddy.

“He’s pissed in the snow, that’s what he done, right in front of my house!”

“But surely there ain’t no great harm in that,” Bill says.

“No harm!” hollered Sam. “Hell’s fire, he pissed so it spelled Lucy’s name, right there in the snow!”

“The boy shouldn’t have done that,” says Bill. “But I don’t see nothing so terrible bad about it.”

“Well, by God, I do!” yelled Sam. “There was two sets of tracks! And besides, don’t you think I know my own daughter’s handwriting?”

Found Folktales



I found this little gem at the bottom of a cardboard box in a locked cabinet in an abandoned teacher’s lounge. I had to break the lock: hidden treasure. Florida Folktales collects a range of folklore, ranging from ghost stories and trickster tales, to modern urban legends. I was intrigued by the back cover blurb by my one of my old professors at the University of Florida, Dr. Robert Thomson (he was the instructor for a folklore class I took. My project: I collected stories told by people who claimed to have had supernatural experiences while on drugs. Lots of LSD angels-and-demons stuff. I think I got an A-). Lovely book, University of Florida Presses.




Under Florida Folktales I was pleased as punch (yes, punch: like this guy) to discover Virginia Hamilton’s retelling of traditional American Black folktales, The People Could Fly. I used a few of the tales the same day in class. Beautiful illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon perfectly capture the axis of waking life and dreamworld these folktales express. Again, a lovely book.