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North America


Settler Tales

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Boulot And Boulotte








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The tales in Pot-Likker are firmly rooted in the folk traditions that have evolved since Europeans arrived on the continent.

Many traditional American stories and tall tales are based on real-life historical figures such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, while others are pure fiction such as Paul Bunyan and the Lone Ranger. Some narratives are born of exaggeration, while others were created to help make sense of aspects of the world not understood at the time, and others to shape the ideals of society.

The founding of the United States is often surrounded by legends and tall tales. Many stories have developed since the founding long ago to become a part of America's folklore and cultural awareness, and non-Native American folklore especially includes any narrative which has contributed to the shaping of American culture and belief systems. These narratives may be true and may be false or may be a little true and a little false; the veracity of the stories is not necessarily a determining factor.

A number of these tales are also examples of early fictional writing in America, combining folklore and social commentary in innovative ways. Kate Chopin in particular embodies this form in her tales set in Louisiana.

The tall tale is also a fundamental element of American folk literature. The tall tale's origins are seen in the bragging contests that often occurred when men of the American frontier gathered. A tall tale is a story with unbelievable elements, related as if it were true and factual.

Some such stories are exaggerations of actual events; others are completely fictional tales set in a familiar setting, such as the American Old West, or the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. They are usually humorous or good-natured. The line between myth and tall tale is distinguished primarily by age; many myths exaggerate the exploits of their heroes, but in tall tales the exaggeration looms large, to the extent of becoming the whole of the story.

I feel that we are just touching the tip of the iceberg here, based on those few texts that I've collected so far. There is, I believe a vast weight of storytelling beneath the waters upon which we sail in this collection. I hope that you enjoy these tales as much as I have in their discovery and their mild adaptation.


A Very Fine Fiddle

When the half dozen little ones were hungry, old Cléophas would take the fiddle from its flannel bag and play a tune upon it. Perhaps it was to drown their cries, or their hunger, or his conscience, or all three. One day Fifine, in a rage, stamped her small foot and clinched her little hands, and declared, "It's no two way'! I'm goin' smash it, that fiddle, some day in a t'ousan' piece'!"
"You mustn’t do that, Fifine," expostulated her father. "That fiddle been older than you an' me three times put together. You done yaird me tell often enough about that Italian what give it to me when he die along yonder before the war. And he say, 'Cléophas, that fiddle, that one part my life, what goin' to live when I be dead…Dieu merci! You talkin' too fast, Fifine."
"Well, I'm goin' do somethin' wid that fiddle, va!" returned the daughter, only half mollified. "Mine what I say."
So once when there were great carryings-on up at the big plantation, no end of ladies and gentlemen from the city, riding, driving, dancing, and making music upon all manner of instruments, Fifine, with the fiddle in its flannel bag, stole away and up to the big house where these festivities were in progress.
No one noticed at first the little barefoot girl seated upon a step of the veranda and watching, lynx-eyed, for her opportunity.
"It's one fiddle I got for sale," she announced, resolutely, to the first who questioned her.
It was very funny to have a shabby little girl sitting there wanting to sell a fiddle, and the child was soon surrounded.
The lustreless instrument was brought forth and examined, first with amusement, but soon very seriously, especially by three gentlemen: one with very long hair that hung down, another with equally long hair that stood up, the third with no hair worth mentioning.
These three turned the fiddle upside down and almost inside out. They thumped upon it, and listened. They scraped upon it, and listened. They walked into the house with it, and out of the house with it, and into remote corners with it. All this with much putting of heads together, and talking together in familiar and unfamiliar languages. And, finally, they sent Fifine away with a fiddle twice as beautiful as the one she had brought, and a roll of money besides!
The child was dumb with astonishment, and away she flew. But when she stopped beneath a big chinaberry-tree, to further scan the roll of money, her wonder was redoubled. There was far more than she could count, more than she had ever dreamed of possessing. Certainly enough to top the old cabin with new shingles; to put shoes on all the little bare feet and food into the hungry mouths. Maybe enough, and Fifine's heart fairly jumped into her throat at the vision, maybe enough to buy Blanchette and her tiny calf that Unc’ Siméon wanted to sell!
"It's just like you say, Fifine," murmured old Cléophas, huskily, when he had played upon the new fiddle that night. "It's one fine fiddle; and like you say, it shine' like satin. But some way or other it ain't the same. Yair, Fifine, take it, put it outside. I believe, me, I ain't goin' play the fiddle no more."

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