SENECA THE-MUSH-STICK

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 the typescript, which includes dialect spellings and several apparent typographical errors in spelling and punctuation. For details on variants of this tale, see AppLit's bibliography page on Catskins. This tale is also much like Ashpet and other "Cinderella" tales, except that this one is quite unusual because the heroine stays with the same family that is mean to her. For explanation of the American mush stick, see "Hasty Pudding and the Pudding Stick," in The Journal of Antiques & Collectibles (June 2001, accessed at this link 7/17/05).


Told me September 23, 1940, by Mrs. Dicy Adams.  She learned it from her mother forty years ago.


       One time there was a rich family. Oh, they were the richest family anywhere close around. Just a man and his wife and one boy. The boy was a young man and all the girls in the country wanted to marry him. His parents had spoiled him and he thought there wasn’t anybody good enough for him. They had a bound girl named Seneca; and they was awfully mean to her, especially the young man. He’d make her clean his boots and brush his clothes and then cuff her about if she didn’t do it just exactly to suit him. They wouldn’t buy her any clothes and made her do all the slavish work and wouldn’t let her go off the place. All she had to wear was one dress made out of cat skins; and they got to calling her “Cat-skin.” She didn’t seem to care and when the young man would holler for “Cat-skin” she’d drop whatever she was a doin’ an’ come a-runnin’ to do whatever it was he wanted done.

            So it went on; an’ one day there was going to be a big meetin’ in the neighborhood an’ they all was a-goin’ but Cat-skin. They knowed that all the rich people would be there an’ they thought here was a chance for their boy to get struck on one of the rich girls and marry.  So the old man an’ old woman both had the young man to dress up just as fine as money could dress him before they started. He hollered for Cat-skin to come an’ get his boots and clean ‘em. She come a-runnin’ and got ‘em and cleaned ‘em and brought ‘em back to him. He didn’t like the way she had cleaned ‘em and he run in the kitchen where she was and begin yellin’ at her to do the job over and grabbed up the mush-stick that was a-layin’ there and took her right around the side of the head with it an’ left mush stickin’ all in her hair. She cried, but didn’t say a word, but took the boots and cleaned ‘em over and took ‘em back to him.  He was satisfied that time an’ put ‘em on and they got ready an’ went on to meetin’. The old woman told Seneca for to have a good dinner fixed, because she was expecting company an’ for to keep herself an’ her catskin out of sight while they was eatin’ dinner. She said she would. So they went on to meetin’.

            They hadn’t been gone very long till a little fairy come in an asked Seneca what made her look so sad. She told it that she was an orphan girl and was bound to this rich family and that they was awful mean to her and wouldn’t get her nothin’ to wear or let her go any place; and that now they was gone to meetin’ and left her to have dinner ready and if she didn’t have just to suit them they’d whip her and quarrel at her.

            The fairy asked her if she would like to go to meetin’ too. She said yes, but that she didn’t have anything to wear but that catskin dress and besides she had to stay there and cook dinner. The fairy then told her to go in the front room an’ she’d find a dress, for her to dress herself and she’d find a horse, bridles and saddled at the stileblock at the gate an’ for her to go on to meetin’ an’ dinner would be ready when she got back.

            So she run in the front room and there laid the finest silk dress she ever saw an’ there set a fine pair of silver slippers, an’ everything she needed to dress up fine. So she put on the clothes and went out to the gate and there she found a fine horse bridled and saddled standing hitched to the hitching rack. She got on it and rode off to meetin’.

            When she rode up on the meetin’ house ground there was a whole lot of young men standin’ around outside.  They all run to help her off her horse, but the young man where she staid he just shoved the others out of his way and walked up and asked her politely if he could help her to alight. She thanked him an’ he helped her off her horse an’ led her in the churchhouse an’ set her down in the best place to be found and set down by her an’ set right there till meetin; broke up.

            After meetin’ was over he asked her if he could ride home with him and she told him yes, but she knowed she’d have to get rid of him some way an’ get home before him and his pap and mother got there or she’d be in to it.

            As soon as they got started he asked her her name. She told him “Seneca The-Mush-Stick,” you see she was a-thinkin’ about him hittin’ her in the head with the mush-stick that mornin’ and that was the first thing that popped in her mind. So they rid on for a rightsmart piece and she was thinking how she was going to get away from him. At last she thought of a way. She was ridin’ aside an’ she took one foot an’ slipped the slipper off the other one with it. They went on a mile or two an’ she said all at once, “Oh, I’ve lost one of my slippers.” He told her he would go back and find it. For her to wait right there. She said she would, but he hadn’t more than got out of sight around a bend in the road than she hit out for home. When she got there she pulled of her fine clothes and they disappeared and she was back in her catskin dress again when the old folks got there with their company, and there was the dinner just exactly the way the old woman wanted it.

            After while the young man come ridin’ up and got off his horse, kicked the gate open an’ shoved “Catskin’ out of his way as he come in. He looked mad. And he was mad. He was good and mad. He had hunted everywhere and enquired of everybody he met if they’d seen a girl of the description that she had been, and nobody had seen her. So he told his pap and mother and told them he just had to find her. So they put out the noration that he would marry the girl the slipper he had would fit. And all the girls in the country came in to try it on. They would do their best to make it fit, for they all wanted to marry this rich young man, but it was too little for some and too big for some. None of them couldn’t wear it.

            Seneca she slipped up and watched all the fine rich girls try on the slipper. At last when they had all had to give up that they couldn’t wear it she walked over and said to him, “Let me try it.” He looked up and seen who it was. “Get away from here, “Cat-skin”, he said. She looked straight at him and said, “Humph! Seneca The-Mush-Stick, sir!” He looked at her and handed her the slipper and she just reached down and slipped it on and it was a perfect fit.

            And they married and lived happy.

[JTA-119]

Retyped by the Blue Ridge Institute, Mar 21, 1991.

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


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