Women in American Folklore are usually portrayed as strong, cunning, intelligent people full of wisdom. Back in the days of old, before equality, that was not such a good thing to be in the eyes of society. Women were supposed to be feminine, quiet, modest, shy, focus on being pretty and doing womanly tasks. Riding a horse while wearing gauchos and slinging a rifle out to shoot at enemies or felling a wild animal was just not the image that people had of women. Yet women like Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane were considered heroines and loved by all.
Leave it Davy Crockett to marry one of the prettiest women in the west. Yet Sally Ann Crockett gained fame in folklore as a sassy and tough woman who could outsmart even Mike Fink. Now, any woman who could do that must have been pretty cunning! It was said of Sally Ann that "She was tougher than a grumpy she-bear and faster than a wildcat with his tail on fire and sweeter than honey, so that even hornets would let her use their nest for a Sunday-go-to-Meeting hat." Davy himself said, "Yes sir, she can wrestle an alligator until it gets down on its knees and begs for mercy."
While Davey had his hands full with defending the fame of his wife, Ol' Pecos Bill had another tough lady to handle. Slue-foot Sue! Now there was a courageous lady indeed! Sue was Bill's first of many wives, but she was his only true love. Not only could Sue ride almost as good as Bill, but she could ride a catfish down the Rio Grande. While riding the catfish, she would have a six-shooter in one hand taking pot-shots at the clouds to make pretty patterns in the sky.
Women in the new frontiers during the early settlement days of America were the bond that held the family and hearth together. Although it was considered a man's world in these wild and rough regions, it was the woman behind him that held it all together, that kept the home fires burning and provided the substance and sustenance for the men. The men needed these women to help meet the challenges of life in the remote wilderness. Due to the strength and perseverance of these women, stories grew by word of mouth on just how strong they were. Sometimes the stories became very exaggerated over the years and that is how some folklore began.
Home remedies for the most simple thing to serious illnesses were made by these frontier women by trial and error and by the instructions handed down to them from their mothers and grandmothers. A whole wealth of folklore remedies came from these women. Diaries were kept religiously by most of the women and this is what was handed down through families as stories, remedies and superstitions of the folk in the areas.
Frontier women learned to commune with nature, shoot, ride and hike as well as their men, bag their own game, fish for their breakfast, make their own medicines, grow their own produce and each fall put up the dried foods and preserves needed to carry them through the winter. No wonder folklore abounds with tales of women with strength and courage. A lot of folklore stems from the stories of real women who helped settle the land and bring new families into the world.
Here's to the women of folklore!
Sources and links:
Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett
Bests Mike Fink
S. E. Schlosser