Timeline of Appalachian Folktales in Oral and Written Traditions

   Tina L. Hanlon
Ferrum College
Spring 2008

See also Diagrams of Types of Folk Literature.


Note: This timeline began in 2008 as a handout for a public presentation on Appalachian folktales by Tina Hanlon and Rex Stephenson, who work mainly with literature and drama for children. Some links in this timeline are to other AppLit pages or The Jack Tale Players web site and some are to organizations and online books in other sites.

Early days of human speech (?) to present

Human beings everywhere tell stories that reflect their deepest fears, desires, and beliefs. Remarkably similar stories appear around the world (through common ground in human psyche/collective unconscious (?) or cultural contact such as movement of Europeans and Africans to America from 16th century). But most stories change as they are retold, evolving to reflect the values and language of every generation and culture. Native Americans have passed on cultural history through oral traditions in many languages for at least 10,000 years.

19th century German Grimm Brothers, Danish Hans Christian Andersen, American Joel Chandler Harris and others collect, rewrite and publish oral tales that represent cultural heritage of their regions; folk and fairy tales become staples of books and theatre for children in the Golden Age of Children's Literature (c. 1865 to 1920s). Folks in Appalachia and everywhere keep on telling tales orally to their own family and friends.
1900 Myths of the Cherokee, from the 19th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, records myths, legends and folklore collected by anthropologist James Mooney (1861-1921), who lived with the Cherokee for several years. Modern storytellers use this written record as the source of numerous reprinted and adapted tales, to revive native Cherokee traditions (while later storytellers such as Gayle Ross also pass on their own Cherokee families' oral traditions).
1910s and 1920s Folklore collectors discover Euro-American ballads and tales in living oral traditions of south-central Appalachia, especially in very old Hicks-Harmon family of Beech Mountain, NC. Isobel Gordon Carter publishes Jack tales told by Jane Hicks Gentry and other tales in Journal of American Folklore, 1925.
1935 Collector Richard Chase meets Marshall Ward, school teacher and descendant of Council Harmon, who introduces Chase to old stories told by his NC family, many of them about a boy named Jack.
1930s and 1940s James Taylor Adams records thousands of pages of folklore in Wise County, VA, collecting with Richard Chase and others for the WPA during the Virginia Writers Project.
1940s Richard Chase (1904-88) publishes The Jack Tales and Grandfather Tales, later several other folklore books and recordings; Chase travels as popular storyteller/educator/performer until 1980s.
1950s Leonard Roberts and Marie Campbell compile major collections of folktales in Kentucky.
1960s to present Folk revival in America and massive growth in marketing of children's literature lead to countless publications and performances of traditional music and stories from Appalachia.
1970s to present Scholarly study and teaching of marginalized subjects of children's literature and Appalachian studies continue to grow and earn greater academic credibility and respect. Chase's Jack Tales included in Touchstones list of children's classics by Children's Literature Association in 1980s. Feminism, civil rights movements, and postcolonialism launch searches for lesser known tales of strong women and minority and indigenous cultures.
1973 First National Storytelling Festival in historic town of Jonesborough, Tennessee, started by Jimmy Neil Smith, teacher/editor/mayor.
Rex Stephenson, dramatist at Ferrum College, reads Jack tales when his daughter brings Chase's book home from school, seeks versions of tales to dramatize, rediscovers treasure trove of James Taylor Adams papers when widow/storyteller Dicey Adams tells him to look in boxes at Clinch Valley College, begins Jack Tale Players performances in local schools, gains approval and advice from Richard Chase in late 1970s (photo at left).
1975-1996 Virginia farmer and filmmaker Tom Davenport produces From the Brothers Grimm series, 11 live-action fairy tale films based on Grimms' and Appalachian folktales, set in historical periods in mountains, shown repeatedly on public television and in classrooms. All are available on DVDs and free streams at From the Brothers Grimm web site.
Late 20th century
Appalachian folktales retold and adapted in all print and audio-visual genres and media for children and adults. Growth of multicultural literature brings recognition to Appalachia and its tales with Native American, African, and European origins. Second "golden age" of lavishly illustrated folklore books.
Death of James Still at 94, "dean of Appalachian literature," who worked with children and the library at Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, KY from 1931 until his death. He was author of several books of folklore (all reprinted in the late 20th century) and An Appalachian Mother Goose, nursery rhymes published at age 92.
Gina. Jamie. Father. Bear.Early 21st century New fiction by authors such as Ruth White, Candice Ransom, Jane Yolen, Sally M. Keehn, and George Ella Lyon (Lyon's Gina. Jamie. Father. Bear. at left) blends realism and folklore in innovative ways. Anne Shelby's The Adventures of Molly Whuppie and Other Appalachian Folktales (2007) gives female folk hero more prominence than in past collections. Fantasy fiction set in Appalachia increases through 2010s, with folklore incorporated into the Serafina trilogy by Robert Beatty and Bone's Gift by Angie Smibert, for example.
Easter 2003
Death of Ray Hicks at 80, most beloved storyteller of Hicks-Harmon family, living humbly on Beech Mountain but willing to tell tales to neighbors, visitors, scholars and public audiences, a favorite at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee after it started in 1973.

Jack Tale Players reunion photo Blue Ridge Folklife Festival 2012       October 2012

Final reunion show of Rex Stephenson's Jack Tale Players at Blue Ridge Folklife Festival (photo at left). In Dec. 2005 they had 30th anniversary show in same auditorium at Callaway Elementary School (Franklin County, VA) where they gave first performance on Dec. 11, 1975. From 1998 Stephenson dramatized tales with female main characters, such as "Mutsmag," as well as Jack tales. He continues with Jack Tale Storytellers and Ferrum College Summer Enrichment Camp classes.

Bibliographies of Appalachian Folktales

Complete List of AppLit Pages on Folklore

General Guidelines for Teaching with Folktales

 Essay "Oral Traditions and Modern Adaptations:
Survey of Appalachian Folktales in Children's Literature"

Fairy Tale Timeline (written tales and adaptations) by Heidi Anne Heiner in Sur La Lune Fairy Tales

Children's Literature Assoc. Links to Web Sites on Mythology and Folktales


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This page's last update: 10/8/18
Links corrected 3/31/10