Willie and the Devil
Collected by James Taylor Adams
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 mistakes in the archive manuscript have not been altered. For other tales with similar motifs, see AppLit's bibliography page on Jack and King Marock.
As told me on July 8, 1941, by Gaines Kilgore, who lives on Birchfield Creek, the most primitive section of Wise County. He heard his father tell it twenty-five years ago.
I guess it is so. Pa used to tell hit to us youngins.
Said thar’uz a young man an’ his name was Willie. He had one brother an’ he’d married an’ moved way off summers. He didn’t know jes ‘zactly where he did live.
Willie’uz an awful gambler. Ever’body he met he tackle ‘em for a poker game.
One day he ‘uz out runnin’ ‘round an’ met the Devil. He didn’t know he’uz the Devil. So he tackled ‘im for a poker game. So they started in playin’. The Devil had a whole gallon of gold an’ in jes a little while Willie had won it.
The Devil was mad ‘cause he’d lost all o’ his gold, an’ he told Willie, he says, “You come to my house next Saturday night an’ we’ll play some more, an’ ‘f ye don’t I’ll kill ye an’ put yo’ head on a spear.”
Willie was in a quandry. He didn’t know hardly what to do. He know’d the Devil would keep ‘is word an’ kill him ‘im ‘f he didn’t go to his house an’ he didn’t know how to git thar. At last on Wednesday he made up his mind to start out an’ see ‘f he could find the Devil’s house. An’ he did. He started out goin’ west. He traveled all that day hoping to find his brother’s house an’ about sundown he did. He stayed all night with his brother an’ his brother noticed he was in trouble an’ he axed him, he saiys, “What’s the matter, Willie? That makes ye ack this a way?” An’ Willie tol’ ‘im he had to find the Devil’s house by Saturday night or the Devil would kill ‘im an’ put his head on the end of a spear. His brother hooted at him. He says, “Ah, Willie, you acktin’ the fool. The Devil won’t bother ye ‘f ye’ll go about yo’ own business.” But Willie was afraid he would an’ he got up bright an’ early the next morning’ and struck out.
So he went on an’ on. Traveled all that day an’ the next an’ hit was gittin’ late Saturday an’ he hadn’t seed a livin’ soul sence he left his brother’s Thursday mornin’. He had had nothin’ to eat ‘sept jes what few berries an’ thing he picked in the woods as he went along, an’ he’uz nearly starved to death. He’uz goin’ long an’ over to one side of him was a big river. All at once he heard a splashin’ over thar an’ somebody hollerin’ an’ goin’ on an’ laughin’. He looked hard an’ seed three pritty girls in a swimmin’. He decided he’d go over an’ watch ‘em swim awhile. Didn’t look like he’uz goin’ to find the Devil’s house nohow.
So he went over an’ sot down on the bank an’ watched the girls swim. At last they seed ‘im an’ they all come swimmin’ to the bank an’ crawled out an’ sot down by ‘im. They’uz one of them the prittiest girl he’d ever seed in all his life.
They bagged ‘im to come in an’ swim with ‘em. An’ he tol’ ‘em he couldn’t swim. The prittiest one of ‘em took out a gold needle an’ told ‘im to stick hit in his coat an’ he did an’ there he stood in a bathin’ suit an’ he went in an’ could swim like a duck. After they swum awhile they all got out an’ two of the girls jes riz an’ flew off like birds across the mountains. The other girl, the pritty one, said to him, “’F ye want to go with me ye can fly, too.” He tol’ her he was lookin’ for the Devil an’ had to find him by dark. She laughed and told him, she says, “We’re the Devil’s daughters. ‘F ye will go with me I’ll take you right smack to ‘im.” So she give ‘im a gold pin an’ he stuck hit in his coat. All at once he had wings, jes growed on his side right thar, an’ they riz up an’ flew off side by side across the mountains. They flew an’ they flew an’ at last the girl said to him, says she, “When we git thar ye’d better light before we git to the house an’ walk in.” So he lit when they got in sight of the Devil’s house an’ she flew on in an’ lit in the yard. He walked on up an’ knocked on the door an’ out come the ol’ Devil. “Oh, hit’s you, is it?” He invited him in an’ the Devil had a whole peck o’ gold. An’ they started playin’ poker, an’ they played for about an’ hour an’ Willie won hit ever’ bit.
Next mornin’, they got up an’ after breakfast the Devil called Willie out an’ told ‘im, he says, “My great-grandmother lost her gold ring down thar in that stable. You find hit by the time I git home tonight an’ we’ll play some more poker. An’ ‘f ye don’t I’ll kill ye an’ stick yo’ head on the end of a spear. I’ve got to go out in the worl’ an’ look after my business today.” An’ he was off an’ gone.
So Willie got ‘im a pick an’ a shevel an’ went down to the stable an’ started diggin’ in the manure. Thar wudn’t more’n six inches of manure when he started but by noon the stable was full an’ hit was runnin’ out at the cracks. The more he dug an’ sheveled, the more thar wuz. At twelve the pritty girl come out an’ hollered, “Come on to dinner, Willie.” “No, I can’t come out now,” he told her, “I’ve got to find that ring or the Devil will cut off my head an’ stick hit on the end of a spear.” She tol’ him to come an’ eat an’ she’d go back an’ help ‘im after dinner. So he drapped his tools an’ went on to the house an’ eat his dinner.
After dinner she went down to the stable with ‘im. The manure was runnin’ out at ever’ crack and crivice. She handed him a little gold shevel she took out o’ her bosom an’ told him to shevel with hit. He sheveled three shevel fulls an’ low an’ behold the manure was all gone an’ the floor’uz jes as clean as yo’ han’ and thar, right in the middle of the floor layed the ring. So he got hit an’ that night when the Devil come in he said, “Well, Willie, did ye find my great-grandmother’s ring?” Willie tol’ ‘im yes an’ took hit out an’ give hit to him. He looked at Willie sorty funny, but didn’t say nothin’.
Well, that night after supper, the Devil took Willie in a room an’ he had a whole half a bushel of gold. So they got in to playin’ poker an’ they played a right smart bit an’ Willie won hit ever’ bit.
The next mornin’ they got up an’ after breakfast the Devil called Willie out an’ told him, he says, “My great-great-grandmother lost her thimble in that well. Ye draw out the water an’ find hit by the time I come back tonight an’ we’ll play some more poker, an’ ‘f ye don’t I’ll cut off yo head an’ stick hit on the end of a spear.” An’ the Devil went off.
Willie got him a bucket an’ a rope an’ went out to the well an’ looked down in it. Didn’t seem to be more’n two or three gallons of water in it, but when he started drawin’ hit started rizin’ an’ by noon the water was runnin’ out of the top of the well. Oh, the sweat was jes a pourin’ off of Willie. He couldn’t gain a bit on hit. The pritty girl come out an’ hollered, “Come on to dinner, Willie.” “Oh, I can’t come now,” he told her, “I’ve got to git this water out of the well an’ find the Devil’s great-great-grandmother’s thimble or he’ll cut off my head an’ stick hit on the end of a spear.” She told him to come on an’ eat an’ she’d go back with ‘im an’ help him after dinner. So he went on an’ eat.
After dinner she went back with ‘im an’ handed ‘im a little gold cup she’d took out of her bosom an’ told ‘im to dip out three cup fulls. He did an’ the well was dry. Wudn’t no sign of water anywhere, an’ he looked down in the well an’ thar laid the thimble. He got hit an’ that night when the Devil come in he said, “Oh, Willie, did ye find my great-great-grandmother’s thimble?” An’ Willie handed hit to him.
That night after supper they went in the room an’ locked the door an’ the Devil had a whole bushel of gold. They started in to play poker an’ they played and they played and they played. Played till ‘bout midnight an’ Willie finally won hit all.
Next mornin’ they got up an’ after breakfast the Devil called Willie out an’ got a big hammer an’ chisel an’ took ‘im down on the side of the hill where thar’s was a great ol’ big rock. He told Willie, he says, “I’m goin’ off on my business today. I’ll be back tonight. I want you to set in an’ build me a house twelve stories high with twelve rooms, twelve feet square, on each story. Build hit out o’ this rock. ‘F ye have it done an’ ready for me to move in when I git back tonight we’ll play some more poker an’ ‘f ye don’t I’ll cut off yo head an’ stick it on the end of a spear.”
Well, that’uz an awful lookin’ job for one day, but Willie decided thar’s nothin’ to do but try an’ see what happened. So he set in on the rock. An’ he pounded an’ he chiseled an’ the more he broke off the rock the bigger it got. At twelve the pritty girl come out an hollered, “Come on to dinner, Willie.” “Oh, no, I jes can’t come this time. I hain’t got nothin’ done an’ I must have a house twelve stories high with twelve rooms, twelve feet square on each story built by the time the Devil gits back or he’ll cut off my head and stick it on the end of a spear.” She told him to come on an’ eat an’ after dinner she went back with him. She reached in her bosom an’ took out a little gold hammer an’ a little gold chisel an’ give ‘em to ‘im an’ told ‘im to strike three licks. He did and she said, “Now look behind ye!” He looked an’ thar was a stone house twelve twelve stories high, with twelve rooms, twelve feet square on ever’ floor. An’ they went all through hit an’ hit was all fixed up an’ finished jes ready to live in.
“Now,” she told Willie, “when you see the Devil a-comin’ you go out an’ meet him ‘fore he gits here. Take ‘im all through the house an’ he’ll be pleased with hit. Then as he comes on to the house he’ll be studyin’ about hit an’ will turn an’ look back at it. An hit’ll not be thar. He will start in ravin’ at you about hit bein’ gone an’ you tell him you contracted to build hit, not to make hit stay thar.”
So he did. That evenin’ he looked out an’ seed the Devil a-comin’. He went out an’ met him. “Well, well, Willie,” he said, “I see you built my house. How did you do hit?” An’ he looked at Willie as though he expected sumpin’. Willie tol’ ‘im to come on an’ they went all through hit an’ the Devil was awful pleased with hit. Then as they was goin’ to the house he turned to look back an’ hit wasn’t thar. Jes the big rock like hit was that mornin’ when Willie started in on it. “Where’s my house?” the Devil looked at Willie like he’d jump through him. “I contracted to build hit an’ not to make hit stay thar,” Willie answered him back. The Devil was awful mad, but he didn’t say nothin’ more. An’ next mornin’ when the Devil left he didn’t leave Willie anything to do.
After the Devil had left the pritty girl tol’ Willie, she said, “You go out to the stable an’ catch the poorest mule an’ poorest hoss you can fin’ an’ bring ‘em out here an’ we’ll run away an’ git married.” So Willie done what she told ‘im to do. An’ they’uz jes skin an’ bones. He hitched ‘em up in front of the house an’ she come out an’ told ‘im to git her a saddle for the mule an’ he went an’ he got one an’ rech it to her an’ she throwed hit over the mule an’ all at once hut ‘uz the finest an’ fastest mule he’d ever seed. As slick as a ribbon. She’ tol’ him to reach ‘er another saddle an’ he rech her another an’ she throwed hit on the ol’ poor hoss an’ he wuz jes as fat as his hide could hol’ ‘im an’ slick as could be.
They got up an’ rid off. She tol’ him the Devil’ud foller ‘em when ‘e found hit out an’ for him to keep a watch out behin’.
They went on an’ on an’ at last on a long stretch of road Willie looked back an’ seed the Devil a-comin’ jes a tearin’ after ‘em. She said you git down an’ dip up a thimbleful of water an’ piyr in my mule’s year. An’ he did an’ all at once all between them an’ the Devil’uz jes one big river an’ the Devil had to go back an’ git a gold cup and dip hti dry an’ by that time they’d gained a right smart on ‘im.
So they went on an’ on an’ on. Then Willie looked back ag’in an’ seed the Devil a-comin’ jes tearin’ behin’ ‘em. The girl told ‘im to git down an’ git a thorn an’ stick in her mule’s year. He did an’ all at once all between them an’ the Devil was jes one big thorn thicket. A rabbit couldn’t got through it. So the Devil had to stop an’ turn roun’ an’ go back home an’ git a gold axe to cut a way through the thorns an’ by that time they’d got a pritty good gain on ‘im.
So they went on an’ on an’ on. Then Willie looked back ag’in and seed the Devil comin’ jes a rarin’ and tearin’ behin’ ‘em. The girl tol’ him to git down off ‘is hoss an’ git gravel an’ put in her mule’s year. An’ Willie did an’ low an’ behold all the country between them an’ the Devil was jes one big rock piled on top of another. An’ the Devil had to stop an’ turn ‘roun’ an’ go back an’ git a gold hammer to break ‘im a way through ‘em. An’ before he got the rocks out an’ ketched up with ‘em ga’in they’d got to the settlements an’ got married an’ lived a happy life forever after.
(Folklore Tales) 2000 Words
Replaced Copy Made by the Blue Ridge Institute to Replace Unstable Original
copyright 2005 U of Virginia's College at Wise/Blue Ridge
Institute of Ferrum College/Tina L. Hanlon
Contact Tina L. Hanlon with questions or comments on this page.