Legends and Tales of the American West

Legends and Tales of the American West

by Richard Erdoes

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From Davy Crockett, Wild Bill Hickok, and Calamity Jane to Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and Frank and Jesse James, here are more than 130 colorful stories of the pioneers, cowboys, outlaws, gamblers, prospectors, and lawmen who settled the wild west, creating a uniquely American hero and an enduringly fascinating folk mythology.

In this wonderfully boisterous treasury of tall tales, everyone and everything is larger than life and bragging is elevated into an art form.  Many of these stories are of real people and real events; more than a few, however, grew taller and funnier as they made their rounds from wagon train to campfire to rodeo to miners' quarters.  But even if it is far from established that Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett were able to kill three men with one bullet or subdue ferocious grizzly bears with their fists, they come vividly to life here as beloved characters who have become part of the fabric of the American imagination.

With black-and white illustrations throughout
Part of the Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307801616
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/20/2011
Series: The Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 464
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Richard Erdoes is co-editor of American Indian Myths and Legends and the author of, among many other books, Lakota Woman; Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions; and Saloons of the Old West.  He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Read an Excerpt

Traders to the Indians are part of the early West’s folklore. On the whole they were a sorry lot. As an eighteenth-century writer put it:
The English manner of carrying on the Indian trade is this: the regular traders undertake twice of oftener each year journeys to the Indian villages, their Packhorses laden with Strowds, match coats, hats, looking-glasses, beads and bracelets of glass, knives, and all manner of Gawdy Toys and Knacks for children, as well as guns, flint, Powder, and Lead, and cags of potent Rum to be watered when they arrive to the Indian country. When there these traders live with the Indians, selling them goods in prospect of the season’s fur catch and often keeping one or more squaws as wives and are trusted by their neighbours for they are content or two or three centum profit . . .
Other traders there are who frequently creep into the Woods with spirituous liquor and cheating trifles, after the Indian hunting camps, in the Winter season, and putting down several Cags before them, make them drunk selling their liquor at ten times its value, as the Indians will sell even their wearing shirt for inebriating liquors . . . These Traders are the most vicious and abandoned Wretches of our Nation, a set of Mean Dishonest mercenary Fellows . . . they even debauch the Indians’ young women, and even their wives, when the husbands are from home or drunk.
But here is a tale of the cheater cheated.
There was a Nipissing chief called the Red Owl, a mighty hunter and trapper, who brought enough meat to his wigwam to support several wives. His adobe was always filled with the choicest pelts of otter, beaver, fox, mink, and weasel.
There also was a trader, Smith, or Miller, or, possibly, Cooper. Well, whatever his name, he was a mean liar and cheat who would have sold his own mother’s soul to the devil for two pieces of eight. One day this thieving swindler came to the Red Owl’s wigwam, pointing to a stack of prime beaver plews, saying, “I’ll have those.”
“What you gimme for them?”
“How about this keg of whiskey, Chief? Strong as lightning.”
“No whiskey,” said the Red Owl, who could not be bamboozled by an offer of rattlesnake piss.
“Tell you what I’ll do for you, Chief,” said the trader, handing the Red Owl a small bag of coarse-grained powder. “I’m in a giving mood today. I’ll swap this for you beavers,”
“This little powder for big heap pelts?”
“These are seed grains, Chief. You plant ‘em in the soil and grow bushels of grains like these. You’ll never need to swap for powder again.”
“Let’s smoke calumet. You smoke’em calumet, you cannot tell a lie.”
“Sure, Chief, let’s smoke.”
They smoked the pipe and this Smith, or Miller, or Cooper, went off with the furs whistling a merry tune.
The Red Owl planted the powder grains. He cared for them tenderly. He watered them every day. But no plants heavy with powder grains every came up.
A year later the same transfer came to the Red Owl’s wigwam. He had so many tricks up his sleeve that he had forgotten the one he played on this chief. He spread his wares.
“I take’um gun, lead, looking glass, two bags of beads, bolt red stuff, bolt blue stuff, coat with gold lace.”
“Fine, fine, Chief,” said the trader, rubbing his hands. “Now for all that stuff I want so and so much beaver, silver fox, red fox, ermine, otter, and musquash.”
“Me not have’um pelts. Took on one more wife. Young, plump, very active. No time for trapping. Come back in twelve moons. The Red Owl five mighty heap of pelts, beaver, silver fox, red fox, ermine, otter, and musquash.”
“Let’s smoke the calumet, Chief. When you smoke the calumet, you can’t lie. Right?”
“Let’s smoke,” said the Red Owl.
Another year went by. Again this Smith, or Miller, or, possibly, Cooper appeared at the lodge: “Here I am, Chief, let’s have those furs you promised me.”
“No furs for you!”
“What, you cheating, thieving red devil? Not furs?”
“No furs!”
“You miserable red varmint, you helliferous savage, you promised. We smoked the calumet!”
“No furs!”
“Damn you, you painted godless heathen! Hand over the furs! Hellfire and brimstone! You promised!”
“White man,” said the Red Owl, grinning broadly, “you gave me bad of black powder, bag so little, like this. Told me to plant’um grain. Watch powder bushes grow. Tell chief never again gottum swap pelts for powder. Grains grow slow. Very slow. Come back sometime when bushes heavy with powder grains. Then chief pay with big heap beaver, silver fox, red fox, ermine and musquash.”
“Damn your eyes!” said the trader.
And that’s how the cheater was cheated.

Table of Contents

It Ain’t Necessarily So  /  xiii
Foreword  /  xv
Chapter 1 — Ohio Fever  /  3
The Devil and Major Stobo  /  5
The Cheater Cheated  /  9
The Wild Hunt  /  12
Dreams  /  14
The Skeleton Hand  /  15
The Wild Hunter of the Juniata  /  23
The Consequences of Not Letting a Man Have His Drink  /  28
The Laughing Head  /  31
Chapter 2 — The Long Hunters  /  35
Tarzan Boone  /  37
Swallowing a Scalping Knife  /  42
That’s John’s Gun!  /  43
A Clever Runner  /  44
A Damn Good Jump  /  45
The Warrior Woman  /  49
The Corcondyle Head  /  51
Chapter 3 — Backwoodsmen  /  55
The Irrepressible Backwoodsman and Original Humorist   /  57
Grinning the Bark Off a Tree  /  60
Davy Crockett on the Stump  /  61
The Drinks Are on Me, Gentlemen  /  61
Gouging the Critter  /  62
Jim Bowie and His Big Knife  /  63
Won’t You Light, Stranger?  /  69
Ohio Poem  /  70
Chapter 4 — Ring-Tailed Roarers of the Western Waters  /  71
A Shooting Match  /  75
Did Such a Helliferocious Man Ever Live?  /  77
Like Father, Like Daughter  /  80
She Fought Her Weigh in She-B’ars  /  81
He Crowed and Flapped His Wings  /  83
A Fight Between Keelboatmen Averted  /  84
Stranger, Is This a Free Fight?  /  85
The Screaming Head  /  85
Stopping Drinking for Good  /  89
Chapter 5 — Mountain Men  /  91
Little Big Man  /  95
Kit Carson and the Grizzlies  /  100
Run for Your Life, White Man!  /  103
Old Solitaire  /  109
Pegleg Smith and Headless Harry  /  121
Mind the Time We Took Pawnee Topknots?  /  127
Lover Boy of the Prairies  /  128
Putrefactions  /  135
The Injin Killed Me Dead  /  137
Heaven According to Old Gabe  /  139
Damn Good Shootin’  /  141
Uncle Joe the Humorist  /  146
Ba’tiste’s Nightmare  /  147
Song of the Voyageur  /  150
Chapter 6 — Timber!  /  151
Paul Bunyan and His Little Blue Ox  /  153
Paul Bunyan Helps to Build a Railroad  /  157
Kidnapped by a Flea  /  162
Thunder Bay  /  167
Chapter 7 — Gold! Gold! Gold!  /  171
Tommy-Knockers  /  173
It Had a Light Where Its Heart Ought to Have Been  /  177
He Ate All the Democrats of Hinsdale County  /  180
A Golden-Haired Fellow  /  184
Treasures of Various Kinds  /  185
The Missing Chest  /  190
Chapter 8 — Git Along Little Dogies  /  195
The Saga of Pecos Bill  /  197
The Taming of Pecos Bill’s Gal Sue  /  203
Coyote Makes a Texas Cowboy  /  209
The Heart-Shaped Mark  /  212
The Skeleton Bride  /  215
Western Jack and the Cornstalk  /  217
Better Move That Drat Thing!  /  219
Being Afoot in Roswell  /  220
Outstunk the Skunk  /  220
Chapter 9 — They Died with Their Boots On  /  221
No-Head Joaquín and Three-Fingered Jack  /  225
The Headless Horseman of the Mother Lode  /  232
El Keed  /  235
El Chivato  /  241
He Rose from the Grave  /  244
A Whale of a Fellow with a Gun  /  248
The King of the Pistoleers  /  255
A Western Duel  /  263
The Nuptials of Dangerous Davis  /  264
Killing Off the James Boys  /  266
Theme and Variations  /  267
The Winchester Ghosts  /  272
Chapter 10 — Bucking the Tiger  /  277
A Hard Head  /  279
Indians Can Play Poker  /  281
Jim Bowie Takes a Hand  /  282
The Curly-Headed Little Boy  /  284
Shall We Have a Drop?  /  287
Colonel Tubbs Strikes It Rich  /  289
Good for Our Entire Assets  /  294
The One-Eyed Gambler  /  295
Chapter 11 — Lady Wildcats of the Plains  /  297
Born Before Her Time  /  299
How Old Calam Got Her Name  /  301
Calamity Jane Meets a Long-Lost Lover  /  305
Chapter 12 — The Man Who Never Was  /  309
Deadwood Dick  /  311
Deadwood Dick and the Grizzly  /  312
Deadwood Dick to the Rescue  /  315
Chapter 13 — An’ That’s My Roolin’  /  321
The Law West of the Pecos  /  323
Ah Ling’s Hommyside  /  325
Fining the Deceased  /  328
The Hanging of Carlos Robles  /  330
Roy Bean’s Pet Bear  /  332
Judge Barker, Old Zim, and the One-Eyed Mule  /  335
El Cuatro de Julio  /  337
A Drink’s Worth of Punishment  /  337
Chapter 14 — Sky Pilots  /  339
Preachin’ One Can Understand  /  341
The Parable of the Prodigal Son  /  345
Lissen to the Heavenly Poker Player!  /  347
Hear What the Great Herd Book Says!  /  349
A Funeral Oration  /  349
A Black Hills Sermon  /  350
Chapter 15 — Critters  /  353
The Valley of Headless Men  /  355
A loup-Garou, or a Windigo, or Maybe a Carcajou  /  359
The Call of the Wild  /  365
The Windigo  /  369
The Great White Stallion of the West  /  370
Until Judgment Day  /  373
El Diablo Negro  /  376
Snake Yarns  /  381
A Rolling Snake Gathers No Moss  /  383
The White Snakes  /  385
A Pair of Fine Boots  /  386
The Young Man Who Wanted to Be Snakebit  /  389
The Peg-Leg Cat  /  391
Chapter 16 — Mostly Lies  /  393
Somebody in My Bed  /  395
The Weather  /  397
It Gets Mighty Cold Around Here  /  398
Texican Liars  /  400
Chapter 17 — Miracles, Saints, and Witches  /  401
The Three Lost Daughters  /  403
The Two Witches  /  405
The Owl Witch  /  406
San Isidro and the Angel  /  407
A Riddle  /  409
The Many-Times-Killed Young Man  /  411
The Caveman of the Hermit Peaks  /  416
The Miracles of Chimayo  /  420
The Miraculous Staircase  /  424
The Hitchhiker  /  427
Source Notes  /  431
Bibliography  /  441

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