Post by The Folks @ TanneryWhistle.com on Nov 10, 2003 14:36:53 GMT -5
Here I am all set to talk to you about this weird little collection that I did ten or fifteen years ago, and just found in my old computer files. It starts with a little creature that sits in the tops of trees and throws dead limbs down at people. I think it is a Yankee critter, but it ended up in Appalachia because it came with the lumber camps. There are a whole bunch of these beasts. When the lumber camps left, these creatures eventually followed them, but they left a few traces. I think the same is true of the Ax-handle Hounds, these poor, starved dogs that raided lumber camps late at night and ate ax-handles. Then, there was a thing called the Arkansas Snipe which bore no resemblance to the timid little snipe that is featured in most folk tales. In fact, it was a mosquito that ate horses, cows and people. Gary
Post by The Folks @ TanneryWhistle.com on Nov 10, 2003 17:05:26 GMT -5
Here are a couple of pages. What do you thing? does this work, or do we need to change the format? I decided to include indigenous critters plus the ones that came visiting and either stayed or left. Do you figure that Plat-Eye is a critter? If it is a shape-changer, what does it look like? Gary
WONDROUS AND FEARSOME CREATURES
OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
This little critter lives in dead trees. According to Walker Wyman, who seems to know more about it than anybody, lumberjacks consider the agropelter mischievious and good humored. Small enough to be carried in a shirt pocket, its greatest joy in life was to pelt unsuspecting people with pine cones, bark and tree limbs. Sitting in the top of a dead tree, the agropelter had an excellent vantage point, and when it saw hunters or lumberjacks approaching, it would begin to gather its arsenal. Since it has a slender, wiry body and muscular, thin whip-lash arms, it could appear, throw its missle and vanish in an instant. 1 Unfortunately, hunters who first encountered the little critter did not share the lumberjacks' belief that it was harmless and began to kill agropelters in astonishing numbers. To make matters worse, unscrupulous trappers began to capture the little tree monkeys and ship them to southern mill towns were the agropelters were trained to run the looms in cotton mills.2 When it became obvious that the species was facing extinction, concerned woodsmen undertook to train them to defend themselves. Consequently, the agropelter became fierce, crafty and capable of throwing dangerous objects. They could throw pieces of dead wood with amazing accuracy, stunning and sometimes killing woodsmen. Although hunters still return home with injuries that could have been caused by an angry agropelter, most folklorists feel that the beleagured critter is endangered since it can only reproduce once in every four years on February 29.3 Litters always consist of odd numbers, such as one, three, five, etc. According to William T. Cox, the agropelter's diet consists of hoot owls and woodpeckers (and the hybrid, the hootpeckers). As these birds diminish, so does the agropelter.4
(It is interesting that William T. Fox and Walker D. Wyman, the agropelter's two most fervent chroniclers, disagree considerably about this tree creature's appearance. Fox's agropelter is bigger and meaner while Wyman describes it as small and cute. Another biographer, Henry H. Tryon, doesn't add any significant information. Paul Bunyan literature notes that the agropelter has "never been completely described and its life history is unknown.")5
The Arkansas Snipe
The Arkansas snipe has nothing to do with the traditional nocturnal hunt for elusive little birds with white spots on their backs. In fact, the Arkansas snipe is a mosquito - a huge, ugly insect that eats horses, cows and hapless campers. There are literally hundreds of "windies" about Arkansas snipes and their kin in other states. A few examples will suffice:
A hunter in Arkansas got lost, so he tied his horse's bridle to a tree limb and climbed up a ridge to get his bearings. When he come back, two Arkansas snipes had eat his horse, chewed up the saddle, and they were pitching the horse's shoes to see who'd get the bridle.6 In another version, the mosquitoes kill a cow and pick their teeth with her horns.7 A tall tale specialist named Danial Stamps is credited with this one (as told by "a friend of Dan'l's"):
"A northern cattle buyer came into town and wanted Dan'l to find him some steers. So, next mornin' they started out through the swamp. Pretty soon, they heard a cow bell ringin', and they started that way. When they got to a clearin', there was a mosquito standin' over a dead cow and ringin' its cow bell to beat hell for the rest of the herd to come. Those mosquitoes were more like coons than mos- quitoes. You see, their toe nails was so long they could kick a cow in the belly and pierce its heart."8
And then there is the story about Bill Jenkins:
"Bill Jenkins, he is the biggest man in these parts. Well, he woke up one night and two skitters had him and was a-flying off with him betwinxt them. Old Bill let out a yell, but them skitters didn't pay it no mind. Then, Bill heared them skitters a-talkin'. One of 'em said to the othern 'I'm hungry. You reckon we'd better eat him now or hide him in the swamp?' The other sketter shuck his head and said, "I spect we better eat him here. If we take him down to that swamp, some of the big sketters is liable to take him away from us..'"9 There is a real Arkansas "whopper" about a man that hid from the mosquitoes under a big kettle. The mosquitoes drill through the kettle, the man brads their bills so they can't withdraw them, and the mosquitoes fly off with the kettle and the man.10 When an Arkansaw storyteller tells this one, he always swears that he has seen the pot and sure enough, there were the holes drilled clean through it. Honest!
Of course, there are large mosquitoes in South Carolina, too.
"Is dat de biggest mosquito you all ever seen? Day was li'l baby mosquitoes! One day my old man took some men and went out into de woods to cut some fence posts. And a big rain come up, so they went under a great big ole tree. It was so big it would take six men to stand around it. De other men set down on de roots, but my ole man stood up and leaned against de tree. Well, sir, a big ole skitter come up on de other side of dat tree and bored right through it, and got blood out of my old man's back. Dat made him so mad that he up wid his ax and bradded dat mosquito's bill into dat tree. By dat time the rain stopped and they all went home.
"Next day when they come out, dat mosquito had done cleaned up ten acres dying. And two or three week after dat, my ole man got enough bones from dat skeeter to fence in dat ten acres."11
And finally, there is the Paul Bunyan "miskittos" which are thought to be a terrifying hybrid produced by crossing Arkansas Snipe with a species from Texas. The miskitto is frequently mistaken for a bird, and are so large, they can stand astride the Chippewa river and snatch loggers from the log drives as they float down stream. There was a pitched battle between the miskittos and a drove of fighting bumblebees from Texas (or Australia), but after several years of war, they signed a peace treaty, intermarried and produced a skitter more deadly than any of its predecessors since it had a stinger on both ends.12
This is a lumberjack pest and camp follower. It looks a bit like a dachshund, with a hatchet-shaped head, a handle-shaped body and short legs. A nocturnal creature, it prowls through lumbercamps at night sniffing out axe and peavy handles. Since its diet consists totally of these items, it is totally dependent on lumbercamps. The Axehandle hounds sometimes travel in packs, and have been known to devastate whole cords, or wagon-loads of axehandles.13
The Bald-knob Buzzard
Apparently, this benighted bird only exists in White County, Arkansas. Straight-faced denizens of that region will tell you that the "Bald-knob buzzard has only one wing (plus a small, stunted one on the other side); consequently, it flies in circles."14 Unable to break out of its orbit, the vulture is condemned to live forever on the bald knobs of White County. According to some folklorists, the Bald-knob buzzard, resembles the Pinnacle grouse. In Paul Bunyan's mythical Pyramid Forty, the Pinnacle grouse can only fly from left to right (but it has an additional talent: It can change the color of its plumage to match either the seasons - or the disposition of the observer)15.
This "harbinger of death" has been sighted from North Carolina to Oklahoma. In Appalachia, his appearance was thought to presage the death of some notable person. Dying politicians, generals and ministers were supposed to hear the dread tolling of the death bell as the "funeral bird" circled their house.16 However, as oral tradition spread, the belled buzzard's responsibilities became more complex. In some instances, the buzzard becomes a form of divine judgment and punishment. Like the Furies in Greek mythology,punishing those who had committed "unspeakable crimes" or had otherwise offended the gods, the buzzard's