THE KNOB DANCE--A TENNESSEE FROLIC .
DICK HARLAN'S STORY.
KNOXVILLE, July 16th, 1845.
Mr. Editor.--Your Mississippi friend "In the Swamp," in spite of his pathetic appeal not to "crowd the mourners," seems very inclined to do that same to a considerable extent. He crowds "Old Knox" jist a leetle closer to Louisville, Charleston, and Winchester, than ever I expected to see it. It makes the old town quite restive, it does. He says Knoxville is 200 miles from each of the places above named. Now that's hot ! Geographys wouldn't sell in that "swamp" if they happened to insinuate that the man thar, was wrong, perhaps, a few hundred miles. I think if he was to occur in this rootin, somebody would see one dead man twice if they never saw two dead at one time, and he would " See the Elephant," sure ! His sketch is good and true, though, all save placing us so near where somebody lives. Wonder if he was at "ar-a-frolick" while he was in East Tennessee ? I reckon not or you would have hearn of it before now in the "Spirit of the Times." My friend DICK HARLAN tells of one that took place some where in the neighborhood of Stock Creek that "crowds the mourners." Hear him bust !
You may talk of your bar hunts, Mister Porter, and your deer hunts, and knottin tigers' tails thru the bung-holes of barrels, an cock fitin, and all that but if a regular bilt frolick in the Nobs of "Old Knox," don't beat 'em all blind for fun, then I'm no judge of fun, that's all ! I said fun, and I say it again, from a kiss that cracks like a wagin-whip up to a fite that rouses up all out-doors--and as to laffin, why they invented laffin, and the last laff will be hearn at a Nob dance about three in the morning ! I'm jest gettin so I can ride arter the motions I made at one at Jo Spraggins's a few days ago.
I'll try and tell you who Jo Spraggins is. He's a squire, a school comishner, overlooker of a mile of Nob road that leads towards Roody's stillhouse--a fiddler, a judge of a hoss, and a hoss himself ! He can belt six shillins worth of corn-juice at still-house rates and travel--can out shute and out lie any feller from the Smoky Mounting to Noxville, and, if they'll bar one feller in Nox, I'll say to the old Kaintuck Line ! (I'm sorter feared of him for they say that he lied a jassack to death in two hours !)--can make more spinin-wheels, kiss more spinners, thrash more wheat an more men than any one eyed man I know on. He hates a circuit rider, a nigger, and a shot gun--loves a woman, old sledge, and sin in eny shape. He lives in a log hous about ten yards squar ; it has two rooms one at the bottom an one at the top of the ladder--has all out ove doors fur a yard, and all the South fur its ocupants at times. He gives a frolick onst in three weeks in plowin time and one every Saturday-nite the ballance of the year, and only axes a "fip" for a reel, and two "bits" fur what corn-juice you suck ; he throws the galls in, and a bed too in the hay, if you git too hot to locomote. The supper is made up by the fellers ; every one fetches sumthin ; sum a punkin, sum a grab of taters, or a pocket full of peas, or dried apples, an sum only fetches a good appetite and a skin chock full of perticular deviltry, and if thars been a shutin match for beef the day before, why a leg finds its way to Jo's, sure, without eny help from the ballance of the critter. He gives Jim Smith, (the store-keeper over Bay's Mounting,) warnin to fetch a skane of silk fur fiddle-strings, and sum "Orleans" for sweetnin, or not to fetch himself ; the silk and sugar has never failed to be thar yet. Jo then mounts Punkinslinger bar hacked, about three hours afore sun down and gives all the galls item. He does this a leetle of the slickest--jist rides past in a peart rack, singin,
"Oh, I met a frog, with a fiddle on his back,
A axin his way to the fro--l--i--c--k !
Wha-a he ! wha he ! wha he ! wha ke ! he-ke-he !"
That's enuf ! The galls nows that aint a jackass, so by sun-down they come pourin out of the woods like pissants out of an old log when tother end's afire, jest "as fine as silk" and full of fun, fixed out in all sorts of fancy doins, from the broad-striped homespun to the sunflower calico, with the thunder-and-lightnin ground. As for silk, if one had a silk gown she'd be too smart to wear it to Jo Spraggin's, fur if she did she'd go home in hir petticote-tale sartin, for the homespun wud tare it off hir quicker nor winkin, and if the sunflowers dident help the homespuns, they woudn't do the silk eny good, so you see that silk is never ratlin about your ears at a Nob dance.
The sun had about sot afore I got the things fed an had Barkmill saddled, (you'll larn directly why I call my poney Barkmill,) but an owl couldent hae cotch a rat afore I was in site of Jo's with my gall, JULE SAWYERS, up behind me. She hugged me mity tite she was "so feerd of fallin off that drated poney." She said she didn't mind a fall but it mought break hir leg an then good bye frolicks--she'd be fit fur nuthin but to nuss brats ollers arterwards. I now hearn the fiddle ting-tong-ding-domb. The yard was full of fellers and two tall fine lookin galls was standin in the door, face to face holdin up the door posts with their backs, laffin, and castin sly looks into the house, and now an then kickin each other with their knees, an then the one kicked wud bow so perlite, and quick at that, and then they'd laff agin an turn red. Jo was a standin in the hous helpin the galls to hold the facins up, an when they'd kick each other he'd wink at the fellers in the yard an grin. Jule, she bounced off just like a bad of wool-rolls, and I hitched my bark-machine up to a saplin that warnt skinned, so he'd git a craw-full of good fresh bark afore mornin. I giv Jule a kiss to sorter molify my natur an put hir in heart like, and in we walked. "He ! hurray !" said the boys, "my gracious !" said the galls, "if here aint Dick an Jule !" jist like we hadent been rite thar only last Saturday nite. "Well, I know we'll have reel now !" "Hurraw !--Go it while you're young !" "Hurraw for the brimstone kiln--every man praise his country !" "Clar the ring !" "Misses Spraggins drive out these dratted tow-headed brats of your'n--give room !" "Who-oo-whoop ! whar's that crock of bald-face, and that gourd of honey ? Jim Smith, hand over that spoon, an quit a lickin it like "sank in a bean-pot." "You, Jake Snyder, don't holler so !" says the old oman--"why you are worse nor a painter." "Holler ! why I was jist whispering to that gall on the bed--who-a-whoopee ! now I'm beginning to holler ! Did you hear that, Misses Spraggins, and be darned to your bar legs ? You'd make a nice hemp-brake, you would." "Come here, Suse Thompson, and let me pin your dress behind ? Your back looks adzactly like a blaze on a white oak !" "My back aint nuffin to you, Mister Smarty !" "Bill Jones, quit a smashin that ar cat's tail !" "Well, let hir keep hir tail clar of my ant killers !" "Het Goins, stop tumblin that bed adn tie your "sock !" "Thankee marm, its a longer stockin than you've got--look at it !" "Jim Clark has gone to the woods for fat pine, and Peggy Willet is along to take a lite for him--they've been gone a coon's age. Oh, here comes the lost 'babes in the wood,' and no lite !" "Whar's that lite ! whar's that torch ! I say, Peggy, whar is that bundle of lite wood ?" "Why, I fell over a log an lost it, and we hunted clar to the foot of the holler for it, and never found it. It's no account, no how--nuthin but a little pine--who cares ?" "Hello, thar, gin us 'Forked Deer," old fiddle-teazer, or I'll give you forked litnin ! Ar you a goin to tum-tum all nite on that pot-gutted old pine box of a fiddle, say ?" "Give him a soak at the crock and a lick at teh patent bee-hive--it'll ile his elbows." "Misses Spraggins you're a hoss ! cook on, don't mind me--I dident aim to slap you ; it was Suze Winters I wanted to hit ; but you stooped so fair--" "Yes, and it's well for your good looks that you didn't hit to hurt me, old feller !" "Turn over them rashers of bacon, they're a burnin !" "Mind your own business, Bob Proffit, I've cooked for frolicks afore you shed your petticotes--so jist hush an talk to Marth Giffin ! See ! she is beckonin to you !" "That's a lie, marm ! If he comes a near me I'll unjint his dratted break and run, shall look at me, that's flat ! Go an try Bet Holden ! "Thankee, marm, I don't take your leavins," says Bet, hir face lookin like a full cross between a gridiron and a steel-trap.
"Whoop ! hurraw ! Gather your galls for a break down ! Give us "Forked Deer !" "No, give us 'Natchez-under-the-hill !'" "Oh, Shucks ! give us 'Rocky Mounting' too ! jist give us
"She woudent, and she coudent, and she dident come at all !"
"Thar ! that's it ! Now make a break ! Tang ! Thar is a brake--a string's gone !" "Thar'll be a head broke afore long !" "Giv him goss--no giv him a horn and every time he stops repeat the dose, and nar another string'll brake to nite. Tink-tong ! Ting-tong ! all rite ! Now go it !" and if I know what goin it is, we did go it.
About midnite, Misses Spraggins sung out "stop that ar dancin and come and get your supper !" It was sot in the yard on a table made of forks stuck in the ground and plank of the stable loft, with sheets for table cloths. We had danced, kissed, and drank ourselves into a perfect thrashin-machine apetite, and the vittals hid themselves in a way quite alarmin to tavern-keepers. Jo sung out "nives is scase, so give what thar is to the galls and let the ballance use thar paws--they was invented afore nives, eney how. Now, Gents, jist walk into the fat of this land. I'm sorter feerd the honey wont last till day break, but the liquor will, I think, so you men when you drink your'n, run an kiss the galls fur sweetnin--let them have the honey--it belongs to them, naturaly !"--"Hurraw, my Jo ! You know how to do things rite." "Well, I rayther think I do ; I never was rong but onst in my life and then I mistook a camp meetin for a political speechifyin, so I rid up an axed the speak 'how much Tarrif there was on rot-gut ?' and he said 'about here there appeared to be none !' That rayther sot me, as I was right smartly smoked, myself, jist at that time. I had enough liquor plumb in me to swim a skunk, so I come agin at him. I axed him 'who was the bigest fool the Bible told of ?' an he said 'Noah for he'd get tite ! I thought, mind, I only thought he might be a pokin his dead cat at somebody what lives in this holler ; I felt my bristles a raisin my jacket-back up like a tent cloth, so I axed him if he'd 'ever seed the Elephant ?' He said no, but he had seen a grocery walk, and he expected to see one rot down from its totterin looks, purty soon !' Thinks I, Jo you're beat at your own game ; I sorter felt mean, so I spurr'd and sot old Punkinslinger to cavortin like he was skeered, and I wheeled and twisted out of that crowd, and when I did git out of site the way I did sail was a caution to turkles and all the other slow varmints."
Well, we danced, and hurrawed without eny thing of very perticular interest to happen, till about three o'clock, when the darndest muss was kicked up you ever did see. Jim Smith sot down on the bed alongside of Bet Holden (the steel-trap gall,) and jist fell to huggin of hir bar fashion. She tuck it very kind till she seed Sam Henry a looking on from behind about a dozen galls, then she fell to kickin an a hollerin, an a screetchin like all rath. Sam he come up an told Jim to let Bet go ! Jim told him to go to a far off countrie whar they give away brimestone and throw in the fire to burn it. Sam hit him strate atween the eyes an after a few licks the fitin started. Oh hush ! It makes my mouth water now to think what a beautiful row we had. One feller from Cady's Cove, nocked a hole in the bottom of a fryin-pan over Dan Turner's head, and left it a hangin round his neck, the handle flyin about like a long que, and thar it hung till Jabe Thurman cut it offf with a cold chissel next day ! That was his share, fur that nite, sure. Another feller got nocked into a meal-barrel ; he was as mealy as an Irish tater and as hot as hoss-radish ; when he bursted the hoops and cum out he rared a few. Two fellers fit out of the door, down the hill, and into the creek, and thar ended it, in a quiet way, all alone. A perfect mule from Stock Creek hit me a wipe with a pair of windin blades ; he made kindlin-wood of them, an I lit on him. We had it head-and-tails fur a very long time, all over the house, but the truth must come and shame my kin, he warped me nice, so, jist to save his time I hollered ! The licken he give me made me sorter oneasey and hostile like ; it wakened my wolf wide awake, so I begin to look about for a man I could lick and no mistake ! The little fiddler cum a scrougin past, holdin his fiddle up over his head to keep it in tune, for the fitin was gettin tolerable brisk. You're the one, thinks I, and jist I grapped the dough-tray and split it plumb open over his head ! He rotted down, right thar, and I paddled his 'tother end with one of the pieces !--while I was a molifyin my feelins in that way his gall slip'd up behind me and fetch'd me a rake with the pot-hooks. Jule Sawyer was thar, and jist anexed to her rite off, and a mity nice fite it was. Jule carried enuf har from hir hed to make a sifter, and striped and checked her face nice, like a partridge-net hung on a white fence. She hollered fur hir fiddler, but oh, shaw ! he coudent do hir a bit of good ; he was too buisy a rubbin first his broken head and then his blistered extremities, so when I thought Jule had given her a plenty I pulled hir off and put hir in a good humor by given hir about as many kisses as would cover a barn door.
Well, I thought at last, if I had a drink I'd be about done, so I started for the creek ; and the first thing I saw was more stars with my eyes shut than I ever did with them open. I looked round, and it was the little fiddler's big brother I know'd what it meant, so we locked horns without a word, thar all alone, and I do think we fit an hour. At last some fellers hearn the jolts at the house, and they cum and dug us out, for we had fit into a hole whar a big pine stump had burnt out, and thar we was, up to our girths a peggin away, face to face, and no dodgin !
Well, it is now sixteen days since that fite, and last night Jule picked gravels out of my knees as big as squirrell shot. Luck rayther run agin me that nite, fur I dident lick eny body but the fiddler, and had three fites--but Jule licked her gall, that's some comfort, and I suppose a feller can't always win ! Arter my fite in the ground we made friends all round (except the fiddler--he's hot yet,) and danced and liquored at the tail of every Reel till sun up, when them that was sober enuff went home, and them that was wounded staid whar they fell. I was in the list of the wounded, but could have got away if my bark-mill hadn't ground off the saplin and gone home without a parting word ; so Dick and Jule had to ride "Shanks' mar," and a rite peart four-leged nag she is. She was weak in two of hir legs, but 'tother two--oh, my stars and possum dogs ! they make a man swaller tobacker jist to look at 'em, and feel sorter like a June bug was crawlin up his trowses and the waistband too tite for it to git out. I'm agoin to marry Jule, I swar I am, and sich a cross ! Think of a locomotive and a cotton gin ! Who ! whoopee !
That's Dick Harlan's story, Mr. Editor, and if the man "In the Swamp" could see Dick at a Knob Dance he would think that something besides politicks and religion occupied the mind of some of the inhabitants of the "peaceful valley."
Is Mr. Free dead ? I have a yarn to spin on him, also, one about "Sleep Walking," and I will do it some day if I can overcome my laziness. You see I am hot hand at the location of capital letters and punctuation, (the spelling is Dick's.) If you think I have made one "capital" letter I shall be agreeably disappointed.
Tom Warner says he saw the man "In the Swamp" at the Warm Springs, and he knows him by his style, and thereupon tells a very good yarn on him. Shall I tell you privately ? say ? [Yes "hoss."]
Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.
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