MS/Lakes: The Tar Baby

You are probably familiar with this story already from the African-American tradition as collected by Joel Chandler Harris in his Brer Rabbit stories: The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Mississippi Valley / Great Lakes unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes, edited by Katharine Berry Judson (1914).

The Tar Baby

RABBIT aided his friend the Frenchman with his work. They planted potatoes. Rabbit looked upon the potato vines as his share of the crop and ate them all.

Again Rabbit aided his friend the Frenchman. This time they planted corn. When it was grown, Rabbit said, “This time I will eat the roots.” So he pulled up all the corn by the roots, but he found nothing to satisfy his hunger.

Then the Frenchman said, “Let us dig a well.”

Rabbit said, “No. You dig it alone.”

The Frenchman said, “Then you shall not drink water from the well.”

“That does not matter,” said Rabbit. “I am used to licking off the dew from the ground.”

So the Frenchman dug his well. Then he made a tar baby and stuck it up close to the well. One day Rabbit came near the well, carrying a long piece of hollow cane and a tin bucket. When he reached the well he spoke to the tar baby; it did not answer.

 “Friend, what is the matter? Are you angry?” asked Rabbit.

Tar baby did not answer. So Rabbit hit him with a forepaw. The forepaw stuck there.

“Let me go,” said Rabbit, “or I will hit you on the other side.”

Tar baby paid no attention, so Rabbit hit him with the other forepaw, and that stuck fast.

“I will kick you,” said Rabbit. But when he kicked him the hindpaw stuck.

“Very well,” he said, “I will kick you with the other foot.” So he kicked him with the other foot and that stuck fast. By that time Rabbit looked like a ball, all four paws sticking to the tar baby.

Just then the Frenchman came to the well. He picked Rabbit up, tied his paws together, laid him down and scolded him. Rabbit pretended to be in great fear of a brier patch.

“If you are so afraid of a brier patch,” said the Frenchman, “I will throw you into one.”

“Oh, no, no!” said Rabbit.

“I will throw you into the brier patch,” repeated the Frenchman.

“I am much afraid of it,” answered Rabbit.

“Since you are in such dread of it, I will throw you into it,” said the Frenchman. So he picked up Rabbit and threw him far into the brier patch. Rabbit fell far away from the Frenchman.

Then he picked himself up and ran off, laughing at the trick he had played on the Frenchman.

(400 words)

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