The Thieving Boy

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

Collected by James M. Hylton
Wise, Virginia

NOTE: This text was recopied directly from a typewritten copy in the archives of the Blue Ridge Institute. James Taylor Adams (1892-1954) kept typewritten copies of the folktales he and others collected during the last thirty years of his life, while he lived in Wise County, VA. Dialect spellings and apparent typographical errors in spelling and punctuation have not been corrected, but a few corrections and questions about apparent typographical errors are inserted in brackets. For details on tales similar to this one, see AppLit's bibliography page on "Jack and the Doctor's Girl."

Warning: In several places the father is said to swear in this tale. It is an amoral tale about becoming a thief, perhaps intended as satire of a father whose older sons don't follow his advice.

       Related to this Writer, March 9, 1942, Wise, Virginia, by Fugate Bryant, aged about 43 years, who is the father of four children and a miner by occupation, working just outside of Wise, Virginia. He came from Scot[t] County some time ago to make his home in this section. On a trip to his home or during an interview with he and his wife, he recited to me the Tale of the Thieving Boy or The Boy That Stole The Sheet Off The Bed. He says his parents before him knew it and that he has heard it all his life. It was impossible for this Writer to glean any more information from them on this trip as it was late in the night and they were ready to retire. However he promises to be of much help to me in the future and a better account of his life, parents and other information concerning his family will be given. This is one Tale that Mr. Richard Chase has been asking about throughout this section in every interview he has with people in this section. Everywhere I go I have that in mind and deem myself lucky to have ran across it on this trip. The Tale followed:

       "Once there was a man who had three sons, Jack, Will and Tom. Tom and Will who was next oldest to Tom were several years older than Jack. Their old man thought as much of one as he did the other but as these two were older he wanted them to have a good education and make something out of themselves. He loved Jack too but it was not time for him to be sent away to School and h he only awaited his time, then he too would have a chance to learn something and make his way in the World. The old man gave Tom and Will every thing on earth that was needed in the way of education, sent them to School, sent them money, clothes and other good things that every boy never had before. They'd write back and ask for money, saying they needed it for this and that, and, in the end the old man would wind up by sending it to them. He had sent them to one of the best Colleges of that day# and after several years he heard of one of them being sent to the Pen at Frankfort ### for stealing something. Later he got word that his other boy had turned out to be a thief also and he was i in the Pen also near his brother. After some letters and investigation he was told that his boys had both turned out to be nothin g but regular thieves. He learned that they would steal from stores and Public buildings or anywhere else that anything was laying around loose. That they had been doing this all the time that he thought they had been learning an education and preparing themselves to step out into the World and make their own living. It is needless to say that the old man was very disheartened at this news and for some time he remained at home in a sorrowful mood. At last he saw that that would not get him anywhere and that he had one more son, Jack who he would do a job on that was to his notions. He had tried to raise his other two to make something he wanted them to, but they had made what they wanted to make themselve[s] so he was determined to see that his boy made what he wanted him to this time and he made up his mind if his boys were to all make thieves that he would se to it that his last boy would make a dammed good one if he had anything to do with it. He didn't want it said that he could not train his boys for what he wanted them to be. So, in time Jack was made ready to be sent away to train for the future and he got in touch with some tough bandits and old-time Gangsters in Louisville and Lexington #### where crime[e] was at that time rampant. It was not long, however until he h[a]d made connections with the proper ones or to his liking and he sent Jack to them telling him to do as they told him at all times and to see what a good mark he could make at thieving. In time Jack met the parties and at once was sent on a life of crime which mostly meant a stealing job. The men were glad to het [or get or net him?] him for their jobs and trained him to perfection, if that can be said of such work. All in all he made a good thief as far as his teachers were concerned.

       The old man kept in touch [w]ith the gangsters and they informed him that his son was doing a splendid job with them and would be able to take care of himself soon. In fact they had used him until they thought it might be best to get rid of him before he knew too much. So they wrote to the old man and told him they were sending him home soon. The old man wrote his thanks with the money for pay for his training saying; "I don't want no one-horse rogue in the family, if they gotta be thieves they'll have to be goddam good ones",

       The boy arrived on evening just about dark and after greeting the old man and the sisters and mother they sat down to a good old country-meal. At the table the old man inquired as to what kind of thief he thought he could make in he future. "Well," said Jack, "I don't know what you think about it I can steal the very sheet off your bed and you sleeping in it", and he went about wating [eating?] his supper as if he had said nothing unusual. The old man eyed the son across the table with a doubtful look and made fun of him, saying, "I don't believe any of that stuff son, noone could pull that over me".

       They lived in an old log house back in the foothills of Kentucky and a good many years had seasoned it out good in every way. It had the old fire place, the ladder leading up to the loft and the punchin' floors that most all of the cabins were made with in the early days. The punchin' boards are cut with a fro and hewn down on the sides so they will fit close together to the ones on either side. The edges are made in a bevel-sort of way so that when they are placed on the floor they will fit even and stay there without moving about. The end boards are against a post or the wall and these two end boards hold all the other steady. When necessary you could you could lift any board you wanted up and replace it as easy. That was the kind of floor the old man had in his log cabin where he had raised his family and where the three brothers were all born. So as they finished the supper the boy told his old man to go on to bed with the rest of the family as usual and he would sit the night out on the front porch as he was eager to get some good cool, fresh, country air. The old man started to go to bed buth the son, Jack reminded him to bar the door as he had always done before. After doing this the old man retired to his bed and was soon fast asleep.

       Jack waited a while and then stole underneath the floor of the bedroom where his old men slept and rained one of the punchin's up and crawled up into the room near the bed where the old man lay snoring. The old man was a restless sleeper and every time he would move or turn over in the bed, Jack who had taken hold of the edge of the sheet would pull it out from under him inch by inch. It was a long and nerve racking job but he finally got it out from underneath him and rolled it up under his arm. He then went back down through the hole where he had crawled in and laid the punchin' in its place as it had been before. He hid the sheet in the smoke-house and returned to a big home-made chair on the porch where he curled up and was soon fast asleep himself, dreaming of the City where he had been for the past year or so.

       Morning came and the old man made the fires and opened the door, Jack awoke and went into the house. The old lady started breakfast and soon they were at the table eating breakfast. The old man started bantering Jack about his braggin' about the sheet stealing and Jack just sat in silence until he had eaten his meal. Then he told him to see where his sheet was off his bed. The old man went to the bed and saw his sheet gone. Jack told him to go to a place in the wood shed and there he found the sheet. He had made a good thief.

[JTA-1175] (Folk Tales) 1200 Words

Retyped by the Blue Ridge Institute, April 1991.

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