Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 7: No 2) >> Simms, ''Bill Bauldy,'' and Alligator Horses >> Page 31

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Secondary Scholarship | 1999
Transcription drew over the reptile's back as one does the reins of a bridle" (qtd. in Glasgow 5-
Another folkloric account of the alligators-as-horses legend. which also dates
from the nineteenth century, is an African-American tale of Georgia origin, " Leely
Gal, Buh Alligator an de .lay-Bud." In this obscure dialect anecdote, Leely Gal, who
wants to cross the river to go home but finds no boat available to carry her, discovers
that an alligator will transport her across the river on his back if she promises not to
tell anyone. Yet Jaybird, who knows what Alligator has done, keeps taunting him
with the words, "Yaller-belly Alligator ferry me ober" (Jones 52). Yet the Alligator
cleverly turns the tables on his tormentor and deceives her, pretending to be deaf so
as to lure the bird into coming close enough to land on his nose and consequently be
Yet the most popular and frequently reprinted nineteenth-century source of
the folklore on alligators-as-horses is found in the Crockett Almanacs. The Crockett
Almanacs (1835-1856), which were gatherings of oral lore and woodcut illustrations,
were published, as Richard Dorson has noted, "first in Nashville, then in New York
and Boston as their fame spread; Philadelphia, Albany, Baltimore, and Louisville
imprints attest their popularity" (iii). Moreover, as Michael G. Lofaro has observed,
the "almanacs were designed as entertainment and meant to appeal to a broad
audience for the widest possible commercial success" (xxxviii). Because of the
widespread popularity of the Crockett Almanacs, then, it seems conceivable that
either Simms or the real-life Major Henry or both of them may have read or heard
some of the alligator-as-horse sketches which they contained. My personal
speculation, based on the manner Simms employs in gently belittling Major Henry's
somewhat inept storytelling ability in the frame to "Bald-Head Bill Bauldy," is that
he may have heard Major Henry, whom he knew personally, visited with in
Spartanburg, served with in the South Carolina Legislature, and felt contempt for
because of differing political views in 1847 (Piacentino 7-10), actually tell a story
obviously derivative in using the kind of alligator-as-horse lore found in some of the
yams in the Crockett Almanacs, all of which appeared in print before Simms wrote
"Bald-Head Bill Bauldy." Simms himself, as we know, was directly familiar with
Southern frontier humor, as Arlin Turner, Edd Winfield Parks, Mary Ann Wimsatt,
and others have noted.3 Drawing on Simms's collective comments drawn from
various reviews of works by William Tappan Thompson, Johnson Jones Hooper,
Thomas Bangs Thorpe, and Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, among others, and on

3 See Turner 143-44; Parks 138, note 26, for references, to Simms's familiarity with
selected Southern frontier humorists; Wimsatt's four pieces of criticism: "Simms and
Southwest Humor" 118-30; "Native Humor in Simms's Fiction and Drama" 158-65;
"The Evolution of Simms's Backwoods Humor" 148-65; and "Frontier Humor and the
"Arkansas Traveler' Motif in Southward Ho!" 147-64; Boyd's "Southwestern Humor in
The Wigwam and the Cabin" 165-78; and Arnold's "Facing the Monster: William
Gilmore Simms and Henry Clay Lewis" 179-91.