AppLit Home Jack Tales / Animal Tales Tina L. Hanlon

"Jack and the Robbers" or "Jack and the Animals"
or "Jack Goes to Seek his Fortune"


Appalachian Variants

Related Appalachian Tales Related Tales from Other Regions Hispanic Connection

Overview: After Jack is joined by a group of different animals, they find their refuge in a robbers' den, chase the robbers away, and in most versions find the robbers' hidden fortune. Jack's reasons for running away vary, and in some Appalachian variants, there are no animals. In the famous German tale, "The Bremen Town Musicians," the animals do not have a human leader like Jack as they do in the British Isles and America.

  See also Study Guides for Jack Tale Players Jack and the Robbers

quilt square Chase, Richard. "Jack and the Robbers." The Jack Tales. Boston: Houghton, 1943, pp. 40-46. With two drawings by Berkeley Williams, Jr., including a dramatic full-page night-time scene of a robber flying over the fence after encountering the ox. Chase's sources were R. M. Ward of Beech Mountain, NC and Elisha Rasnick, Wise Co., VA.  Chase's notes say, "Mr. Rasnik called the tale 'Jack and the Rogues.' The bull is from his version which also had a swarm of bees and a flock of geese" (p. 191). He also lists variants of tale type 130, The Animals in Night Quarters. Chase tells this tale orally over colored drawings of the action in Jack and the Robbers. Verdugo CA: Pied Piper Productions, filmstrip1974; video 1987. "The veteran poseur Richard Chase, who popularized Jack tales to a huge American public in the late '40s and '50s, narrates a Jack tale in App. dialect." Information from Southern Mountaineers Filmography, Appalachian State University Libraries. With partial animation, teacher's guide (WorldCat information). A copy of this filmstrip can be found in (accessed 10/22/15). Chase also tells this tale in the audio recording Richard Chase Tells Three “Jack” Tales from the Southern Appalachians. LP. Sharon, Conn: Folk-Legacy Records,1962. Children laugh as Chase tells the tale. A copy of this recording can be found in (accessed 10/22/15). 23 minutes.

Stephenson, R. Rex. "Jack and the Robbers." The Jack Tales. Schulenburg, TX: I. E. Clark, 1991. Reprint Woodstock, IL: Dramatic Publishing. Story theatre dramatization, as performed by The Ferrum Jack Tale Players. Jack leaves home because he disobeys his parents and is punished. Children especially enjoy the performances of the old ox, donkey, coon dog(s), cat(s), and rooster, who say they are "not so good" because they are worn out and their masters want to get rid of them, so they run away with Jack. The robber who returns at midnight is amusing in his stupidity as he looks for a light and mistakes the animals for men with weapons. Although he and his animal friends find the robbers' gold, Jack returns home and chops kindling wood for his parents at the end.

After many performances, the Jack Tale Players help children from the audience act out a brief version of the tale, as in the 30th anniversary performance at right, at Callaway, VA Elementary School, Dec. 12, 2005. In the photo at left, Rex Stephenson and Thomas Townsend perform with children in Woodstock, GA. On Dec. 2, 2011, children in Rocky Mount, VA joined in at an outdoor performance (Franklin News Post photo at this link). More at Study Guides for Jack Tale Players.

Stephenson, R. Rex. "The Jack Tales." In Eight Plays for Youth: Varied Theatrical Experiences for Stage and Study, edited by Christian H. Moe and R. Eugene Jackson. American University Studies Series XXVI: Theatre Arts. Vol. 8. New York: Peter Lang, 1991. Includes three tales by Stephenson with background on Jack Tales and story theatre: "Jack and the Robbers," "Jack and the Three Giants," and "Greasy-Beard."

arrow  In the photo at left, Emily Rose Tucker plays Jack with his animal helpers at Ferrum College in 2007.

Children's responses to Stephenson's version of this tale are displayed at Appalachian Storytelling Event. Appalachian Studies Program. Virginia Tech, 2013. On June 24, 2013, children made quilt squares and recorded their own audio stories or responses to Jack Tales after seeing Stephenson and Emily Blankenship-Tucker tell stories (photos of storytellers at this link). Some of the children added another animal into "Jack and the Robbers," such as an owl that is stuck in its nest and then after Jack helps it out, the owl helps Jack scare the robbers. One child imagined Jack living in the robber's house and another mansion until he was 111 years old!

"Jack Goes to Seek His Fortune." Full text in AppLit. James Taylor Adams Collection, JTA-71. Virginia folklorist James Taylor Adams wrote that this tale from his father was the first one he set down. Several versions are published in Perdue, Charles L., Jr., ed. Outwitting the Devil: JACK TALES from Wise County Virginia. Santa Fe, NM: Ancient City, 1987. In the one Adams collected from Lenore Corene Kilgore in 1940, reprinted in this web site, Jack leaves home because his mother is dead and he has a mean stepmother; he marries at the end after he and the animals find the robbers' gold. It is also reprinted in Smith, Jimmy Neil, ed. Why the Possum's Tail is Bare and Other Classic Southern Stories. New York: Avon, 1993. pp. 176-70. Perdue identifies it as type 130, "The Animals in Night Quarters." Another version of "Jack Goes to Seek His Fortune" and one called "Jack and the Robbers" (also collected by Adams in 1940-41) are a different story about Jack fending off some robbers while taking shelter in a strange home or mill (pp. 60-62). James Taylor Adams Collection (Folder Tales IV, in notes called "Folk Tales of the Cumberlands").

"Jack and the Robbers." Full text in AppLit. James Taylor Adams Collection, JTA-74. This short tale is quite different from others with this title, since there are no animal companions. Jack finds a fortune rather easily when he has to sleep in a mill and scares away robbers by knocking down the hopper in which he has been lying. It is also published in Perdue, Charles L., Jr., ed. Outwitting the Devil: JACK TALES from Wise County Virginia. Santa Fe, NM: Ancient City, 1987, pp. 61-62. Perdue identifies it as type 1653, "The Robbers Under the Tree."

"Jack and the Robbers." In Hicks, Orville, and Julia Taylor Ebel. Jack Tales and Mountain Yarns, As Told By Orville Hicks. Illus. Sherry Jenkins Jensen. Boone, NC: Parkway Publishers, 2009. Afterword by Thomas McGowan. pp. 38-47. This book contains discussion of Jack and the Hicks storytellers by Orville Hicks, Ebel, and McGowan.

"Jack and the Robbers by Storyteller Orville Hicks." YouTube channel "Orville Hicks Story Teller," Feb. 6, 2017. 8:37 min.

Davis, Donald. Jack and the Animals: An Appalachian Folktale. Illus. Kitty Harvill. Little Rock: August House Little Folk, 1995. This one is similar to "How Jack Went to Seek his Fortune" (in Joseph Jacobs, English Fairy Tales, 1898) more than "The Bremen Town Musicians" or other Appalachian versions, because no motive is given for Jack and five elderly animals to leave their homes. Jack is simply going to seek his fortune, not escaping punishment resulting from his own negligence or his brothers’ betrayal, as in Hicks’ picture book and other variants. The motivation of the animals is also weakened, since they don’t say that their masters want to destroy them or even get rid of them for being too old to work. At the end, Davis brings in the sheriff to assure Jack he can keep the treasures of the robbers they have scared away.  

“Jack and the Animals.” Told by Donald Davis in Grandma’s Lap Stories. Audio cassette. Little Rock, AR: August House Audio, 1995.

"Jack Seeks his Fortune" (10 min., 28 sec.) Told by Donald Davis in Storytelling the National Festival. Side 2 (of 2 LPs, c. 95 min.). Jonesborough, Tenn.: National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling, 1983. Also in 2 Audio cassettes (116 min.).

Van Laan, Nancy. "Jack Runs Off." With a Whoop and a Holler:  A Bushel of Lore from Way Down South. Illus. Scott Cook. New York: Atheneum, 1998. Jack gets a whoopin' for not doing his chores. He runs off with a group of animals that are too old to be useful.  They all ride on the donkey at night. After scaring away the robbers, Jack and the animals stay in the house, where "they are still havin' themselves a grand ol' time!" Retold from "Jack and the Robbers," one of the oral Jack Tales of Maud Long recorded at the Library of Congress in 1947. Cook's wacky illustrations show the frightened robber and carousing heroes. A map shows where the tales originate in different Southern regions, including the mountains. The amusing illustrations depict quirky human and animal characters in earth tones. For other details about this book, see Appalachian Folktales in General Collections.

Hicks, Ray and Lynn Salsi. “Jack and the Robbers.” The Jack Tales. New York: Calloway, 2000. Links between this tale and famous illustrations of “The Bremen Town Musicians” are dramatically suggested in Owen Smith's tall, full-page color illustration of Jack and two animals riding on the donkey. This version begins with Jack's brothers getting him in trouble by claiming he has been picking on them, so he is angry at being the one to get punished for fighting and he runs away.

“Jack and the Robbers.” Told by Ray Hicks on CD in The Jack Tales, 2000. The oral version is not identical to the edited text in the book.

Hicks, Ray. "Jack and the Robbers." Recorded 1951. In "Ray Hicks." American Folktales: From the Collections of the Library of Congress. Ed. Carl Lindahl. Vol. 1. Armonk NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2004, pp. 134-38.  Also includes "The Unicorn and the Wild Boar," "The Witch Woman on the Stone Mountain on the Tennessee Side," "Grinding at the Mill" (a Jack tale also called "Sop Doll"), Mule Eggs." With photographs of Ray Hicks.

Hicks, Orville. "Jack and the Robbers." Full text in Orville Hicks Official Website. See also AppLit's Ray and Orville Hicks, Storytellers of North Carolina. Jack leaves home because his father beats him for being lazy, and the animals he meets are in danger of being destroyed.

Hicks, Ray and Luke Borrow. Jack and the Robbers. Videocassette (20 minutes). Appalachian Storyteller Ray Hicks Series. Part 4. Derry, NH: Chip Taylor Communications, 1997. Produced by Luke Barrow, Fandangle Films. Based on Richard Chase's The Jack Tales.

"Jack and the Robbers." Told by Richard Chase in Richard Chase Tells Three "Jack" Tales from the Southern Appalachians. LP. Sharon, Conn: Folk-Legacy Records, 1962.

Torrence, Jackie. "Jack Runs Away from Home with a Gang of Talking Animals." In More Jack Tales. Audiobook on tape. Columbia, MO: Nita, 1980. Also includes "Jack is Young," "Jack is Old," "Jack Captures the Death Angel," "Jack is Magical," "Jack is Lazy."

"Jack and the Robbers." In Kindt, Carol Lee and Linda Rockwell High. Once Upon a Mountain Tale: Eight Jack and Grandfather Tales. Lakeland, TN: Memphis Musicraft Publications, 1995. Accompanied by music and drawings with which children can make puppets and backdrops.  

"Jack and the Robbers." In MacDonald, Margaret R. Twenty Tellable Tales: Audience Participation Folktales for the Beginning Storyteller. Illus. Roxane Murphy. Chicago: Rev. ed. American Library Association, 2005. This books also includes versions of "Sody Salyratus," "Old One-Eye," and "Groundhog Dance" (Cherokee).

Pica, Tony. Tradition Will Never Die. One-man show on Richard Chase, written and performed by Ferrum College drama senior Tony Pica. Includes a retelling of "Jack and the Robbers," and a depiction of Marshall Ward as an off-stage character introducing Chase to the Jack Tales. Directed by R. Rex Stephenson. Feb. 2003.

"Jack and the Animals/Jack dap Swa'hol Wowe." In Corn Mountain/Pine Mountain: Following the Seasons. Script by Arden Kucate and Edward Wemptewa of Idiwanan An Chawe and Donna Porterfield and Ron Short of Roadside Theater. Original music by Ron Short. Directed by Dudley Cocke. This tale is about Jack winning the hand of a princess and teaching her to talk to animals. Jack's animal friends insist on following him to try for the princess; on the journey he rescues some drowning kittens and a toad-frog being tormented by boys. Because Jack can talk to animals, he rids the king's village of the wild Zuni dogs left by an angry witch, the kittens help him get rid of rats, and the frog helps turn the wart-covered princess into a beauty. Two fleas help him answer a question about the color of the princess's hair. This tale within the play ends by noting that "you don't have to be rich to be smart.... You don't even have to be smart to be rich.... And the most important language of the language of the heart" (p. 90). Script published in English and Zuni in Journeys Home: Revealing a Zuni-Appalachia Collaboration. Ed. Dudley Cocke and Edward Wemytewa. Zuni, NM: Zuni A:shiwi Publishing, 2002. Foreword by Gregory Cajete. From the Publisher: "The story of the sixteen-year collaboration between artists from two of the United States' most traditional cultures, and the bilingual play they made together." Kentucky's Roadside Theater collaborated with Zuni Pueblo's Idiwanan An Chawe (Children of the Middle Place), the first Zuni language theater, in western New Mexico. Their play, which toured nationally, is included in the book. It combines "traditional and original stories, oral histories, humor, music, and dance to celebrate and comment upon two agricultural ways of life that once provided physical and spiritual sustenance for people in Zuni and Appalachia. . . . The Zuni writing in Journeys Home is the most inclusive example of written Zuni extant, and the book, with the accompanying CD, will become a primary text for teaching written Zuni."

"Jack and the Robbers." Photos from 2019 at this link from Facebook page of Jack Tales Storytelling Theater of the Smoky Mountains. See also 2017 photo album at this link, and 2015 photos in three other albums, and 2009 photos in another album. In this version, Jack sets off for Nashville with his mother to become a country singer at the Grand Ole Opry. Also videos titled "Jack and the Royal Robbers" from July 2009 and "Jack and the Robbers" are linked in Facebook and "Jack Tales Storytelling Theater of the Smoky Mountains originated at Clear Creek Campground in 1987." Facebook pages include photos and videos from a variety of tales. "Jack Tales Storytelling Theater is performed at Jack's Playhouse, located in the Adventure Bound Camping Resort (also known as Crazy Horse Campground), Highway 321, between Cosby and Gatlinburg, Tennessee" (accessed 12/14/19).

 Related Appalachian Tales:

"The Animals and the Robbers." In Roberts, Leonard. South From Hell-fer-Sartin': Kentucky Mountain Folk Tales. U of KY Press, 1955. Rpt. Berea, KY: The Council of the Southern Mountains, 1964. As in "The Bremen Town Musicians," there is no Jack or any man, just a group of old animals who run away from threats of death and scare away robbers by climbing on top of each other and making noise. The robber who goes back in the house thinks the rooster says, "Cock-a-doodle-do/Let me kick him too."

"The Traveling Animals." In Roberts, Leonard. Old Greasybeard: Tales From the Cumberland GapIllus. Leonard Epstein. Detroit: Folklore Associates, 1969. Rpt. Pikeville, KY: Pikeville College Press, 1980. pp. 28-31. An old mule, cat, dog and rooster scare robbers away by climbing on top of each other and yelling in the window (as in "The Bremen Town Musicians," see below). When one robber returns, he thinks he is attacked by fierce monsters as in "Jack and the Robbers." They keep the robbers' house and gold. A teacher wrote the tale down for Roberts.

"The Magicians of Bremen Town." Box 50, Leonard Ward Roberts Collection, Berea College. The teller is unidentified in this archive transcription. An old donkey, rooster, cat, and dog run away to Bremen Town, as in the Grimm Brothers' tale (see below). The animals talk of being magicians but also discuss playing music. They get on top of each other and then robbers in a house, thinking they are demons, run away when the animals make sounds. The animals eat the robbers' food; then when a robber comes back, he thinks the cat is a witch, the dog who bites his leg is man with a knife, the donkey who kicks him is a black monster, and the rooster is a judge on top of the house who says, "Save thee, flee!" The robber swears he will never return to the house.

"The Cat That Went A-Traveling." In Marie Campbell, Tales from the Cloud Walking Country (Indiana UP, 1958. Rpt. Athens: U of George Press, 2000), pp. 226-27. Collected by Campbell in Kentucky in the 1930s. A cat leads the group of animals instead of a man or boy. When an old woman says she'll kill her cat (which is bad luck), the cat gathers up her kittens and starts the journey, living off the robbers' money with the other animals in the end.

"The Fox and the Cat." Told by Dave Couch, Harlan County, KY. In Roberts, Leonard. I Bought Me a Dog: A Dozen Authentic Folktales from the Southern Mountains. Berea, KY: The Council of the Southern Mountains, 1954. This is a cumulative tale similar to "Henny-Penny" in which a hungry fox leads a growing group of animals, telling each one he is going off to seek his fortune. When it's time to eat, the fox gives them rhyming names such as "Henny Penny." The whole group agrees to his plan and eats the one he says has an ugly name, until only the fox and cat are left. Catty Latty and Foxy Loxy "fit and they fought" about who has the ugliest name until they eat each other up. Roberts notes that this is tale type 20, Animals Eat One Another Up, one of few tales descended from European Reynard the fox stories that appeared in Appalachia.

See also similar tales about Billy Bobtail:

"Billy Bobtail," as told by Ruth Casey (b. 1897). Collected in Cedartown, Polk County, West Georgia, in the Appalachian foothills. In Burrison, John A., ed. Storytellers:  Folktales and Legends from the South. Athens, GA: U of GA Pr, 1989. Billy is an orphan who goes off with animals to seek his fortune; they scare away robbers and live happily on the robbers' money.

quilt square  Related Tales from Other Regions:

Jack and animals silhouette by Arthur Rackham"How Jack Went to Seek his Fortune." In Joseph Jacobs, English Fairy Tales, 1898. Jacobs found the tale in American Folk-Lore Journal, 1, which also contains a variant "probably derived from Grimm's 'Town Musicians of Bremen'." Jacobs also discusses Celtic sources (Dover edition, 1967, p. 235). 

"How Jack Went Out to Seek his Fortune." Illustration at right by Arthur Rackham for Flora Annie Steel's English Folk Tales, Macmillan, 1918. Reproduced in Project Gutenberg with illustrations.

"Jack and His Comrades." In Joseph Jacobs, Celtic Fairy Tales, 1892. With a dramatic drawing of four animals on top of each other by John D. Batten. Reprinted in The Internet Sacred Text Archive. At the end, after Jack returns the stolen gold and silver to the Lord of Dunlavin, Jack is dressed as a gentleman and made steward, and brings his mother to live near the lord's castle. Jacobs' source is Kennedy's Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts.

The Grimm Brothers' German folktale "The Bremen Town Musicians," an 1884 translation of Grimms' 1857 version, with illustrations by different artists. Robert Godwin-Jones, 19th-Century German Stories. Virginia Commonwealth University, Department of Foreign Languages, 1994-1999.

"The Bremen Town Musicians." Heidi Anne Heiner's annotated version of the Grimms' 1884 tale, with illustrations, parallel tales across cultures, modern interpretations, and Bremen Town Musicians statuereprints of Joseph Jacobs' "How Jack Sought his Fortune" and the Irish "Jack and His Comrades." Sur La Lune Fairy Tale Pages.

Animals in Exile, edited by D. L. Ashliman, gives notes and the texts of a number of variants of tale type 130 from the USA and Europe—with or without Jack or another human hero. Tales reprinted include "The Bremen Town Musicians" from the Grimms' last (1857) edition, "Jack and His Comrades" from Ireland (from Joseph Jacobs, Celtic Fairy Tales. London: David Nutt, 1892), and several 19th-century American versions from New England and Ohio. Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts, edited and/or translated by D. L. Ashliman. University of Pittsburgh,1996-2005.

Photograph of bronze animals in Bremen, Germany (also shown in photograph above). "Town Musicians of Bremen." has background information and links to adaptations of the tale.

Grimms' Fairy Tales. National Geographic web site contains photographs, illustrations, audio, and 12 tales, including "The Bremen Town Musicians," based on a 1999 magazine article on the Grimm Brothers.

Price, Kathy. The Bourbon Street Musicians. Illus. Andrew Glass. NY: Clarion, 2002. Picture book set in rural Louisiana and New Orleans, with "bluesy dialect" and comical illustrations. A mule is the leader of the animals in this adaptation of "The Bremen Town Musicians."

de Paola, Tomie. Jack. NY: Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2014. "Young Jack meets a host of animals on his way to ask the king for a house." There is no conflict with parents, animals' masters, or robbers, but in de Paola's picture book for preschoolers Jack acquires a big group of noisy animal friends on his quest. The king gives them a house but it's a boarded up wreck. The next page shows that they fixed it up and filled the many floors with different animals.

"Jack and His Companions." Jane Yolen's retelling of a nineteenth-century Irish tale collected by Patrick Kennedy. In Yolen's book Mightier than the Sword: World Folktales for Strong Boys. Illus. Raul Colón. New York: Silent Whistle/Harcourt, 2003, pp. 56-63. Yolen notes that Jack is a good leader and organizer in this tale. He returns the robbers' loot to Lord Dunlavin, and is rewarded but not with marriage. He and his animal friends get prosperous posts at the castle. Jack's quest to find money for himself and his poor mother, and his care of his mother at the end, contrast with his antagonistic reasons for running away from home in some Appalachian tales.

quilt square Hispanic Connection:

"The Cat, the Cock, and the Lamb." In Cothran, Jean, ed. With a Wig, With a Wag, and Other American Folk Tales. Illus. Clifford N. Grady. New York: David McKay, 1954. pp. 49-53. From Spanish-speaking inhabitants of northern New Mexico, in the Rio Grande Valley, where Spanish tales have been told since the first visits of Spaniards to America after the conquest of Mexico. A free translation by Inez Symington of "El Gato, El Gallito y El Borreguito," reprinted from Memoirs of the American Folklore Society, 1937. A cat, cock and lamb run away from the old couple who love them after they eat the meat they are supposed to watch while the old couple are at church on fiesta day. To avoid being beaten, they flee and reach a wolves' cave. They scare away the wolves twice by falling out of a pine tree and other mishaps that make the wolves think they are men with sharp knives, a big head to butt them, and a loud voice to brag about hanging the wolves. The animals take the wolves' meat home to the old couple and they all start preparing happily for the next feast day. Cothran's book includes "Old Bluebeard" from the Southern Blue Ridge, collected by Isobel Gordon Carter. Tales from other regions also include "Rusty Jack" (see "Jack and the Bull"), "With a Wig, With a Wag" (similar to "Gallymanders"), and "Little Bear" (similar to "Mutsmag").

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