The Babes in the Woods

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 Taylor Adams
Big Laurel, Va.

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. It was retyped by Michelle Vincent (July 2005) without altering Adams' typescript. One typographical correction has been added in brackets in the word "knife." When the parents in this tale pretend to go a sanging, they are referring to collecting the herb ginseng. For details on variants of this tale, see Babes in the Woods - and - The Two Lost Babes - and - Hansel and Gretel.

Told me Aug. 15, 1940, by Erella Adams; she had it from her father, Finley Adams, and he learned it from his father.

One time there was a man whose wife was dead and he had a little boy and a girl. He married again and his second wife didn’t like the children and wanted to get rid of them. So she thought and thought and at last she thought of a way to get shet of the children without her man knowing she didn’t want them

So she began hiding everything there was on the place to eat. He would go off and work and bring in just great loads of stuff to eat and in a few days she would say it was all gone. At last they were nearly starving to death. And him and her got to talking it over and wondering what on the top side of God’s green earth they was a-going to do. At last she told him they were all going to starve to death if it went on like it had been going, and it would be better that some of them live as for them all to die together. So she said why not them take the children away off in the woods and slip off and leave them there and maybe somebody that had something to eat to give them would find them. Anyway, she said, him and her could live and that would be better than for them all to starve to death.

The man didn’t want to do this, but she kept on and he was getting hungrier and hungrier and at last he agreed to take the children off and drop them in the woods.  So they called the children up and told them they was all a-going a sanging and they started off through the woods, all of them but her just as weak xxxxx as they could be; couldn’t hardly walk.  She had xxxxxxxx parched a little corn they had for them to eat before they started. The little boy thought she was trying to get shet of him and his little sister and instead of eating his corn he put it in his pocket and as he went along he dropped a grain every now and then.

So they took them away off in the woods and they told the children to stay there and they would go and hunt something to eat. And they got away from them that way. It began to get late and the little boy believing they had slipped off from them struck out following the grains of corn. He didn’t have much trouble finding his way and about good dark him and his little sister walked in home. They let on like they had got lost themselves and was a-fixing to go back to hunt them.

So the woman she said they would go a sanging again next day and that morning she slipped out and got a little meal where she had it hid and told them she scraped it out of the bottom of the meal tub, and she baked a little bread and give everyone a piece.

The little boy didn’t eat his piece, but put it in his pocket and that day as he went along he would drop little crumbs all along the way. They went further and further, a whole lot further than they had the day before. At last the woman thinking she had them far enough told them to stay there and they would go off and try to find something to eat. They stayed and it began to get late and they didn’t come back and the little boy told his little sister to come on and lets go. They started following the bread crumbs but it was not long till he found the birds had eat up the bread and he could not find the trail. So they wandered around and around. They kept going on through the woods and after while they found a little hut and they crept up and knocked on the door and an old witch come to the door and smiled at em and said, “Come in, children, come in.” They went in and told her their step-mother was trying to starve them to death and had took them off and left them in the woods to starve to death.

So the old witch she took them and fastened them up in a pen she had built and give them all sorts of good things to eat. Another old witch come with her to look at them and they heard them talking about them.  The old witch that had locked them up told the other one that they would soon be fat enough to kill.

Every day she would tell them to stick their hands out so she could feel of their fingers. That was the way she had of telling when they were fat enough to eat. The little girl would stick her fingers out, but the little boy he would stick out some sticks. The old witch was nearly blind and couldn’t tell the difference. She would say to the little girl, “Gee, you’re getting fat.” But the sticks the little boy stuck out felt hard and she would say, “Ah, your’e not fatting like you ought to.”

So it went on for several days and at last one evening right late she come and took the little girl out to kill her.

She took her in the hut where she had a big oven and lid on the fire. She was going to bake her in that oven. While she was whetting up her knife she told the little girl to get in the oven and see if it was getting hot, that she was a-going to roast a lamb. She did and it was so hot she couldn’t hardly stand it, but she jumped out and said, “No, it hain’t hot hardly at all.” So the old witch kept whetting her k[n]ife and after a while she told her to get in the oven again and see if it was hot. She did and it was so hot now it almost burnt her up, but she hopped about a little and jumped out and said, “No, it hain’t hardly airy bit hot. You get in and see what you think about it.”  The old witch she stepped in the oven and the little girl slammed the led down on it and grabbed the keys and run out and let her little brother out of the pen and they run off into the woods.

They hadn’t gone far till they met their father a-coming to hunt them. His old woman had brought out all the things she had hid when she thought they were gone, and he found out what she had done and he had beat her nearly to death and run her off and started out to hunt his children. They all went back home and had plenty eat from then on.  They never did see the woman any more.


Record Copy Made by Blue Ridge Institute to Replace Unstable Original April, 1991

copyright 2005 U of Virginia's College at Wise/Blue Ridge Institute of Ferrum College
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