Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 7: No 2) >> Simms, ''Bill Bauldy,'' and Alligator Horses >> Page 30

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Secondary Scholarship | 1999
Transcription Indian woman had strapped on his back to nurse while he had been a captive. In
describing his wild alligator ride, Bauldy begins by saying:
"I straddled the beast in the small of his back, doubled my legs onder
his belly, and gin him my heels, with all my might. Onluckily, I hed
no spurs! I mout ha' done better of I had!...
"But my seat was a mighty oneasy one, for I had no purchase
of arms or hands, `cept by hugging him `round the neck, and this I
tried fust; but jist then, it flashed across me, as I seed his sharp leetle
eyes, looking out from his pine-knotty head, that I could manage him
by gouging. Much better than by spurring. Gouging is a nateral art,
you see, wharever a pusson hes got strong fingers and thick nails!..."
(Simms 490-491)
And just prior to this description, Bauldy becomes defensive, fearing that his
listeners might erroneously think that he has stolen this part of his tale from Major
Henry's earlier sketch, and quickly exclaims, "Now, as God's my Jedge, I never
haird before that ere story of Major Henry, about Col. McCord and the Congaree
nigger boatman, Cudjo" (Simms 490). As the previously-quoted brief segment from
Bauldy's alligator-riding escapade seems to affirm, he is a far more engaging
storyteller and likeable liar than the stiff, dilettantish Major Henry.
But the question remains: what was Simms's probable source for the
alligator-as-horse folklore that he incorporates into Major Henry's anecdote and in
the part of Bauldy's tale about his wild ride on an alligator's back? Did either
Simms or the real-life Henry actually read or hear such a tale? Surprisingly, the most
authoritative source for folk materials, Stith Thompson's Motif Index of Folk
Literature, for reasons unknown, does not even list the alligator-as-a-horse in the
compilation of many thousands of narrative elements. The absence of this motif
seems strange and unexpected, especially since the alligator has, at least since
William Byrd wrote his Dividing Line histories in the late 1720s, been a popular part of
of the American folk imagination and has been regarded as an "object of dread or
reverence, propitiation, and worship in those regions where it is found, and plays an
important role in folk belief, folktale, and `conjure' (Funk and Wagnalls Standard
Dictionary 37). Vaughan L. Glasgow, in A Social History of the American Alligator,
has noted that, in the nineteenth-century, oral tales about alligators-as-horses were
numerous and popular. One instance he cites is that of Dr. Bennett Dowle, who, in
quoting John J. Audubon, observes, "when alligators are about to go into winter
quarters...a child may mount them as a wooden rocking horse" (4-5). Dr. Dowler
also points out that there was an account in 1846, where canal-digging and road-
building crews entered an alligator den, and on occasions when the alligator had been
wounded by one of the workers, "the animal ran some distance with the man, who
had accidentally fallen astride its back" (qtd. in Glasgow 5). By 1855, this story had evolved into a bona-fide tall tale of anonymous authorship featuring "a
man...mounting on the back of an alligator, and using the two forelegs which he