Collected by Richard Chase

Proffit, VA

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

NOTES:  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.  Where the faded typed manuscript is illegible, missing words are indicated below with [?] and uncertain words are in square brackets followed by ?.  

See also R. Rex Stephenson's adaptation of this tale, "Mutsmag," illustrated by school children. And see AppLit's Study Guide to the Jack Tale Players' dramatic adaptation of this tale, and Annotated bibliography with versions of "Mutsmag," "Molly Whuppie," and related tales. "Munsmeg" and Stephenson's script "Mutsmag" are reprinted in Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism. Ed. J. D. Stahl, Tina L. Hanlon, and Elizabeth Lennox Keyser. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006, in Part 3, Oral and Written Literary Traditions, pp. 397-401.

One time there was an old woman who had three girls, Poll and Betz and Munsmeg. Munsmeg was the youngest and they treated her mean. She wasn’t pretty like her sisters, and they called her Roughface.

     Well, the old woman died and about all she had was a cabbage patch and a big old knife. She left the cabbage to Poll and Betz and left Munsmeg nothing but that ol knife. Poll and Betz started in eatin’ that cabbage, didn’t let Munsmeg have any of it, made her eat mush and ashcakes. Then directly they’d eat up all the cabbage so Poll and Betz decided they’d make some journey-cakes and pack up and go a great journey to seek their fortune. Munsmeg wanted to go with ‘em but they told her she couldn’t. So Munsmeg begged and begged and finally they told her, said,

     "All right, old Roughface, but you’ll have to fix your own johhnycakes. Here, go get you some water in this."

     And they handed her a riddle. (That’s an old-time sifter–a thing all full of holes.

     So Munsmeg took the riddle and ran down to the spring and she’d dig up water and it ’uld all run out, dip it up, it ‘uld all run out, dip it up, it ‘uld all run out. Then a little bluebird lit on a limb and sang out,

     "Stop it with moss and stick it with clay,
     You can pack your riddle of water away."

     Then Munsmeg daubed it with moss and smeared it with clay and brought the riddle back full of water. So her sisters had to let her go. But when they got everything fixed up and were about to start, they snatched Munsmeg’s sack of journeycakes away from her and grabbed her and fastened her up in an old ash house, and went on and left her behind.

     Munsmeg tried every way to get out of that ash-house but her sisters had pulled the latch string out, and finally she set in to hollerin’ for somebody to come let her out. An old fox heard her and he came to the ash-house door, says,

     "Who’s in there, and what d’ye want?"

     "It’s me, Munsmeg, and I want out."

     "Pull the latch string."

     "Ain’t none. You push the latch up."

     "What’ll you give me?"

     "I’ll take ye to a fine flock of geese."

     Then the old fox pushed the latch up and Munsmeg got out. She took the old fox over to the place where the geese were and he thanked her, and she went on and caught up with Poll and Betz.

     So they went on and went on and it [got dark and the?] next house they came to they called and asked to stay all night. An old woman came to the door and told ‘em to come on in. She had three girls there. So they all ate supper and the old woman told Poll and Betz and Munsmeg they could go up in the loft and be with her girls. Poll and Betz went on to sleep but Munsmeg stayed awake and watched the old woman through a knot hole in the floor.

     Now they didn’t know it but that old woman was a witch and her old man was a giant. And directly he came in home with a lot of people under his arm. He throwed ‘em down in the floor for the old woman to cook up for him, hung up his hat on the peg, and sat down by the fire. Then he throwed up his head and got to smellin’ this way and that, says,


     "Hush up! You’ll wake up these three five fat pullets I’ve got for your supper."

     So she told him about the three girls asleep in the loft, and he asked her how he’d know ‘em from the other girls.

     "My girls have got lockets on their necks. You can feel of ‘em and tell that way."

     So Munsmeg slipped over quick to where the girls were and changed the lockets to her neck and her sisters! Then she laid down and went to snorin’. The old giant came and felt for the lockets. He grabbed the old woman’s girls and slit their throats, and threw ‘em down the scuttle hole to the old woman. Then he got down the ladder and there stood the old woman mad as a hornet.

     "Just look now!" she says to him, "You’ve gone and killed the wrong ones."

     And she lit in to beatin’ the old giant with the poker. So while all that was goin’ on Munsmeg took her old knife and cut up the sheets and tied ‘em together. Then she knocked a hole in the shingles and cut the sheet rope out and she and her sisters got away.

     They came to the King’s house, and the King invited ‘em in, asked ‘em to eat supper and stay the night. He got to askin’ ‘em who they were and where they came from and where they were travellin’ to and Munsmeg told him about what all happened at the old giant’s house. So the King told Munsmeg, says,

     "I’d like mighty well to get shet of him and his old woman. They’ve killed a sight of folks around here. I’ll pay anybody two bushels of gold for him and another bushel for the old woman, to go down there and kill either one of ‘em, or both."

     So Munsmeg went back to the old giant’s house that night and cloomb up on the chimney with a poke of salt. The old woman had a pot of meat on the fire a-cookin’ and Munsmeg sprinkled ever’ bit of that salt down in it.

     The old giant started in eatin’.


     "Why, I never put in but on pinch."


     "There ain’t a bit of water up."


     "Hit’s too dark."


     So the old woman threw out her light-ball towards the spring, but about the time she got a good piece from the house Munsmeg had stuck her old knife into that light-ball and run with it and squinched it in the spring water, and the old woman stumped her toe in the dark and fell head foremost right in the spring and drownded.

     Then Munsmeg went back to the King and he paid her that bushel of gold.

     Then the King says to her, says, "Now he’s got a fine horse down there, the old giant has, and if you bring me that horse I’ll pay you another bushel of gold. And if you should happen to kill that giant, that’ll make three bushels for ye."

     Munsmeg went back to the giant’s place and looked in the stable. She saw that the old giant had his horse belled. Well, she hadn’t figured out how to kill the old giant yet, so she thought she’d try gettin’ his horse. She threw some barley in the trough, and the horse threw up his head. The bell went ----

"Tingle! Tingle!"

and the old giant came runnin’ out. Munsmeg hid under the trough. The giant looked around, went on back. The horse ate that barley up ‘fore Munsmeg could untie the halter rope, so she threw in another handful of barley. The horse went for it.

"Tingle! Tingle!"

And here came the old giant. Munsmeg hid behind the stable door. The giant came in the stable that time but he didn’t notice anything and went on back. Munsmeg worked at that knot hard as she could but the horse got the barley eat up and started rar’in’ at the halter rope so Munsmeg had to throw in some more barley to make him stand.

"Tingle! Tingle."

And the old giant came so fast Munsmeg had to hide under the bresh of the horses tail. But that time the giant had him a lantern lit and he started lookin’ all around and directly he ran his hand under the horse’s belly felt of his hind legs, says,


     And just about that time the horse switched his tail and there was Munsmeg. She made for the door but the old giant grabbed her, says,

     "NOW I’VE GOT YE."

     "What you goin’ to do with me."


     "Please don’t feed me on honey and butter. I just can’t stand the taste of honey and butter."


     So he kept her about two weeks and made her eat all the honey and butter she could hold. Munsmeg just loved honey and butter. Then one day he told her, says,


     "How you goin’ to kill me?" she asked him.

     "DON’T KNOW," he says, "HAIN’T MADE UP MY MIND."

     "Please don’t tie me up in a sack and beat me to death," she told him. "It ‘uld make me howl like a dog and squall like cats, and my bones ‘uld rattle like pewter dishes, and my blood ‘uld drip like honey."

     The old giant got him a big pole.

     "I’M GOIN’ TO PUT YOU[RIGHT?] IN THIS VERY SACK," he says, "AND BEAT YOU TO DEATH." And he put her in and hung her up on the kitchen wall and took up his club.

     "Wait a minute," says Munsmeg.

     "WHAT FOR?" he asked her.

     "I want to pray for my sins. You go out and tend to your horse so I can have time to pray for forgiveness for all the meanness I’ve done."

     The old giant went out to the stable to feed and water his horse. And soon as he was gone Munsmeg took her old knife and cut out of the sack. Then she caught the old giant’s dog and his cats and got all his dishes and a big pot of honey and put all that in the poke, and sewed it up and tied it back just like it was. Then she hid behind the door.

     The old giant came back in and got his club and drawed back --- hit one lick. His dog howled.


     Then he hit another lick. Them cats just squalled. The giant grinned.


     Then he hit it several licks and broke all his dishes.

     He grinned again.


     This time he drawed way back and hit it an awful hard lick. That pot honey broke and it started drippin’ out. That nearly tickled him to death.


     Then he throwed down his club and untied the sack. There was his dog and all his cats killed and his pewter dishes all broken up, and his big pot of honey broke. He was so mad he nearly busted.

     And while he had been a-doin’ all that Munsmeg had run to the stable and saddled and bridled his horse and started ridin’ off. The old giant took out after her. He trailed the horse till he came to a big river, and there was Munsmeg on the other side, sittin on a millstone with the halter rope around her neck.


     "I pecked a hole in this rock and tied a rope around my neck and floated across."

     So the old giant he started pickin’ a hole in a rock and when he got through it he got a rope and tied one end in the hole and the other end to his neck and took that rock up and threw it in the river. The rope jerked him after the rock and carried him right to the bottom. And that was the last of the old giant.

     So Munsmeg went on back to the King’s house and got her three bushels of gold and she was well off the rest of her life. And Poll and Betz got so mad about Munsmeg gettin’ all that money they went on back home and raised ‘em some more cabbage, and died old maids.


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