Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 7: No 2) >> Simms, ''Bill Bauldy,'' and Alligator Horses >> Page 29

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Page 29

Secondary Scholarship | 1999
Transcription all along de bank ob de ribber! I picks out de biggest of `em all,
wha's strong enough to carry me! Well, I creeps up to `em sly as a
fox at de hen roos'. When I gets close enough. I jumps on he back!
That wakes `em up; and de moment he wakes, and feels someting
heabby on he back, he push for de ribber! I hole on, buckle my leg
roun' `em so, and `pur (spur) `em fast as I kin! Well, wha' den? He
push for de ribber, and carry me `cross. Das's no dfool ob a flat,
wid long pole, or long rope, and no bodders wid de fresh or de win'.
We jis goes ahead, you see, jis as of he was hoss, or mule, all de
same!" (Simms 470)
Although in his sketch Major Henry never actually describes Cudjo carrying out
his boast to cross the Congaree on an alligator's back (what Cudjo actually says turns
out to be empty rhetoric), Henry shows his black flatboatman becoming annoyed
with Colonel McCord's seemingly ceaseless and senseless questions. In using the
structural pattern of questions asked by a cultured and literate gentleman and Cudjo's
amusing, semi-literate responses in the colorful vernacular, Henry follows a practice
common to the Southern frontier humorous sketch: McCord's serving as a straight-
man, a convenient stimulus for advancing Cudjo's tall-talish narrative.
The main segment of "Bald-Head Bill Bauldy," recounted by the colorful and
loquacious hunter and backwoodsman Bill Bauldy, follows Major Henry's pedestrian
and semi-humorous prelude, a prelude that just seems to stop dead in its tracks, that
ends almost anti-climactically. While Cudjo gets in the last word, what he says does
nothing to redeem what otherwise has been a tedious narrative. No question that the
"Bill Bauldy" narrative represents a far superior tall tale to Henry's anecdote. After
all, in introducing Major Henry, who, by Simms's account, is genteel and
gentlemanly, a city-dweller and amateurish storyteller whose bland and uneventful
brand of humorous yarn-spinning does not measure up to the anticipated mode of
hyperbole popular among nineteenth-century Southern backwoodsmen and
yarnspinners such as Bill Bauldy, Simms consciously prepares the reader to hear the
Major's action-deficient sketch. Knowing as he does Henry's deficiencies as an
amateur storyteller, "Big Lie" possibly persuades the reluctant Henry to recount his
alligator story as a calculated ploy to embarrass the Major before the hunters by
setting him up as a weak foil to the more spirited, more free-wheeling, and more
amusingly entertaining Bill Bauldy.
In the Lying Camp ritual of tale-swapping, Bauldy follows the Major's tale
with one of his own imaginatively contrived pieces about his adventures with Indians
and a part-Indian mermaid and part-alligator queen during the Seminole War. And
while "Bald-Head Bill Bauldy" has been generally acclaimed "one of Simms's finest
tales" (Meriwether 66), the most satisfying and amusing part of it is Bauldy's
sustained and exaggerated monologue about his Seminole War experiences, and the
part most relevant to Major Henry's preliminary anecdote being when Bauldy jumps
on the back of an enormous alligator who has carried away the papoose that an old