Pretty Polly

Collected by Emory L. Hamilton
Wise, Virginia

in AppLit with permission, from the James Taylor Adams Collection
University of Virginia's College at Wise/
Blue Ridge Institute of Ferrum College

NOTE:  This text was recopied directly from a typewritten copy in the archives of the Blue Ridge Institute.  James Taylor Adams (1892-1954) kept typed copies of the oral folktales he and others collected during the last thirty years of his life, while he lived in Wise County, VA.  One missing letter has been inserted in square brackets, but other irregularities in wording have been left as in the original. A different story of Pretty Polly who is murdered by the man who takes her away is told in the ballad "Pretty Polly." See also AppLit's notes on other variants of "Pretty Polly."



Here is an old folk tale tale that was told to me by Mrs. Polly Johnson, Wise, Va., and one that she believes is true.  She learned it from her mother.  June 12, 1939.



   "Once there was a young woman named Pretty Polly who lived alone. She lived out away from any close neighbors and made her living by tending her garden and raising her own food."

   "Once three young men came to her home. She didn't know them very well, but had seen them several times before. After their visit was ended they insisted that Pretty Polly come to visit them. "But, I don't know the way," Pretty Polly said. "Oh, but we can tell you the way." After telling her how to find the way Pretty Polly still didn't want to go. She didn't feel just exactly right about going to see these three young men who were practically strangers to her. "I don't believe I can find the way," she told them.

   "Oh, you must come, we'll sprinkle ashes along the way and you can follow them and come to see us tomorrow," they said. So she decided to visit them the next day by following the ash trail.

   "If we are not there," one said, "Just go in and make yourself at home. We won't be gone long and there's plenty food on the table for you to eat if you are hungry. It will be on the table and just lift the cloth and eat."

   So next morning Pretty Polly followed the ash trail until she came to the home of the three young men. There was no one home. She was ver[y] hungry and tired from the long walk and entered the house as bidden. She found the table and lifted the cloth. There was plenty food and she took out a piece of meat. It tasted good, but she did'nt know what kind of meat it was. She started picking over it with her fork and found part of a woman's hand in it. She became scared for she knew that she had been persuaded there to be murdered. She began looking around for a way to escape. She started to look in a room when a parrot bird said, "Don't look in there Pretty Polly, you'll lose your heart's blood."  "Don't look in there Pretty Polly you'll lose your heart's blood." She turned and looked in another room. There was queer bloody looking stains all over the room. "Don't look in there Pretty Polly, you'll lose your heart's blood," the parrot screeched.  Then she heard someone coming, a woman moaning.  She saw the three young men coming bearing a woman between them, who was moaning pitifully. She told the parrot to tell them that Pretty Polly hadn't been there and then ran behind a door.

    Then the three young men came in and bore the woman into the blood stained room that Pretty Polly had just examined. While they were taking her through the door she placed her hand on the casing to resist and one of the men hacked the hand off. It flew across the room and Pretty Polly quickly picked it up and concealed it in her garments. She saw the face of the woman as the hand was severed and saw that it was her cousin. Then she heard them murdering her in the blood stained room.

  Soon one of the men came out and asked the parrot if Pretty Polly had been there. The parrot said she hadn't. "Don't tell me a lie if she was here and run home," the said to the parrot. "If you do I'll kill you too."

    After awhile the three men left the house and Pretty Polly slipped out and went home. Soon after that she had her cotton to pick and after she'd made a good picking she invited in a lot of people. All the people around her and asked the three young men to come too. The house had gathered full of people who were picking over the cotton, telling jokes and riddles and tales. Pretty Polly said she wanted to tell a dream she had. Then she told the dream which was the story of the three young men murdering her cousin that she had witnessed. When the dream was finished she took the hand from her clothes and slapped it down on the knee of one of the men. When he saw the hand he fainted. She told the people then that it was not a dream but a true story that she told and that the three men were the ones that murdered her cousin. They were then arrested and all put to death.


Replaced Copy Made By the Blue Ridge Institute to Replace Unstable Original.
April, 1991


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