Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 7: No 2) >> Simms, ''Bill Bauldy,'' and Alligator Horses >> Page 28

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Secondary Scholarship | 1999
Transcription Simms, "Bill Bauldy," and Alligator Horses


Ed Piacentino

One of the more intriguing curiosities about Simms's "Bald-Head Bill
Bauldy, and How He Went Through the Flurriday Campaign!— " concerns the
alligator sketch, "How to Cross an African River." In it, "Big Lie" persuades Major
Henry to tell "a lie that should run like the truth" (468) as part of the Saturday nighttale-swapping ritual, a ritual the hunters who accompanied Simms on a hunting trip
ttale-swapping ritual, a ritual the hunters who accompanied Simms on a hunting trip
to the Balsam Range in southwestern North Carolina in the late summer or early
autumn of 1847 engaged in (Guilds 799). The raconteur of this sketch, Major Henry,
is a character based on Major James Edward Henry of Spartanburg, a lawyer, South
Carolina legislator, and sometimes author, best known for Tales of the Packolette,
which began appearing serially in The Southern Ladies ' Book (subsequently known
as The Magnolia) in December of 1840.' By any measure, but especially against the
rollicking and hyperbolic histrionics commonly displayed in the nineteenth-century
Southern frontier humorous sketch or tale, Major Henry's anecdote is rather mellow
and disappointing. His sketch features a former African prince and subsequently a
flatboatman at McCord's Ferry on the Congaree River, an old black man to whom
Henry assigns the generic name of Cudjo and who boasts he can cross the river faster
on an alligator's back than by poling a flatboat. Cudjo, who complains of the
difficulty in trying to maneuver a flatboat in the rough waters of the Congaree,
openly voices his resentment, excitedly exclaiming, "In my country [Africa], we
nebber hab flat to cross river! Nebber hab boat! Nebber had de worry to work de
pole...!" (Simms 470)' According to Major Henry, when Colonel McCord inquires
of Cudjo how he crossed the river in Africa, the boisterous flatboatman, while
appropriately pointing to an alligator on the river's bank as his prop, responds, his
quaint dialect providing the intended comic effect:
"Das's alligator, I `spect, `bout twelve foot long!. He's baby to da
alligator in country; but, he can do of you mek `em do! Da' same
alligator, you sees dar, kin carry you `cross de ribber,—dis berry
ribber, Congaree!... In my country, when I comes to de ribber and
wants to git across, I looks `bout me! I see the alligators a-sleeping

1 All biographical references to the real-life Major Henry in this essay may be found in Piacentino 3-11.

2 All references to "Bald-Head Bill Bauldy" are to Guilds's edition of The Writings of
William Gilmore Simms, 466-521.
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