Nebraska Folklore (Second Edition)

Nebraska Folklore (Second Edition)

by Louise Pound

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A distinguished scholar and writer who, in the words of H. L. Mencken, “put the study of American English on its legs,” Louise Pound (1872–1958) was always intensely interested in the folklore of her home state. Nebraska Folklore, first published in 1959, collects her best work in that rich vein.

Included are cave legends, snake

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A distinguished scholar and writer who, in the words of H. L. Mencken, “put the study of American English on its legs,” Louise Pound (1872–1958) was always intensely interested in the folklore of her home state. Nebraska Folklore, first published in 1959, collects her best work in that rich vein.

Included are cave legends, snake superstitions, weather lore, tales of strong men who rival Paul Bunyan, stories of Indian lovers' leaps, hoaxes of a petrified man and a land-locked sea monster, and the legends of Weeping Water and Lincoln Salt Basin. A section on old Nebraska folk customs provides a wealth of information about holiday observances, literary and debating societies, political rallies, spelling contests, and various social traditions. Going beyond Nebraska, the book ends with studies of the origins of American cowboy and folk songs and of the use of dialect in folklore. Its wit and honesty will appeal to readers everywhere. Roger Welsch provides an introduction to this new Bison Books edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Bloomsbury Review

“Those of us not from Nebraska may be unfamiliar with Louise Pound, an oversight well remedied by this volume. Issued numerous times since its introduction in 1947 . . . it is now a classic.”—Bloomsbury Review
Nebraska History

“Few people are successful in becoming authorities on the folklore of a region, fewer still on the folklore of a state. Louise Pound was recognized by folklorists for her mastery of both areas. Therefore, as one should expect, Nebraska Folklore is an important book.”—Nebraska History
Journal of Folklore Research

“This new edition of Pound’s essays is valuable because it testifies to her lasting significance as a pioneer in folklore studies and a trailblazing woman and academic worthy of continued admiration. . . . This book has historical value for the folklorist as a celebration of Louise Pound’s life and accomplishments, and entertainment value for all readers, who will enjoy not only the old Nebraskan legends, personalities, customs, and amusing anecdotes preserved in its pages but also Pound’s straightforward and logical prose.”—Journal of Folklore Research

Product Details

UNP - Bison Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Second Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

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Nebraska Folklore (Second Edition)

By Louise Pound

University of Nebraska Press

Copyright © 2006

University of Nebraska Press

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8032-8788-7


Roger Welsch

Three potent elements come together in the phrase "Louise
Pound's Nebraska Folklore." Each of the three-Louise Pound, Nebraska,
and folklore-has exerted a cultural influence well beyond
the ordinary. Thus, while this book provides an interesting look at
traditions from Nebraska's past, even for the casual reader it also
constitutes an intellectual reach and thrust that echoes through
current American scholarship and academic thought.

First we must consider Louise Pound's Nebraska. Louise Pound
was a frontier scholar, not simply in terms of her scholarship but also
in the Nebraska she knew. Nebraska was five years old at the time
of her birth in 1872; twenty years later when she graduated from
the University of Nebraska in 1892, large areas of the state were still
unsettled by immigrants and some had not yet been opened for
homesteading. I would argue that Nebraska was still in its infancy
at the time of her death in 1958 and, to my way of thinking, it still is
today. Nebraskans have come to think that reaching the landmark
of a century of survival for a city or village indicates permanence or
even antiquity, a notion that visitors from other parts of the world
find amusing if not hilarious. In my own lifetimeI have known
homesteaders; some Nebraskans still live in sod houses; and almost
every week a new weather record of some sort is set as we latter-day
frontiersmen still try to figure out exactly what extremes this
landscape has in store for us. Pound's Nebraska was populated with
a checkerboard of immigrant communities in towns where residents
were modern Americans but they still ate, worshiped, sang,
and spoke in the tongues of their native lands and, for all intents,
planned to transplant the old ways into this New World.

Can a society as young as Louise Pound's Nebraska even have
such a thing as tradition? The very word "tradition" implies antiquity.
In fact, when Pound came onto the scholarly academic scene,
the word "folklore" was new; the mainstream of that young discipline
was still using, in large part, the older term "popular antiquities."
Isn't "new tradition" an oxymoron we laugh at today,
a bit like our all-too-common "first annual" festivals and celebrations?
Shouldn't we laugh at the notion of photographer Solomon
Butcher assembling a "history" of Custer County in the 1880s, well
before the region really had a chance to have a history?

The modern folklorist would argue ... and, God knows, Louise
Pound was the very archetype of the modern folklorist! ... that, to
the contrary, Nebraska was a kaleidoscope of traditional, even ancient
expressions ... a crazy quilt of traditional folklores, from
Greek baklava to Czech kolaches, Omaha Helushka dances to German
polkas, a Chinese tong in Omaha, a Liederkranz in Grand Island,
a tribal gathering in the Panhandle. Nebraska, far from being
a blank slate devoid of established tradition, presented Pound with
the problem of such folkloric variety that it must have been hard
for her to decide where to begin the harvest in this garden of folk
culture delights.

This new and unique patchwork of transplanted traditions
within enclaves removed from the usual contexts certainly had an
effect on Louise Pound's scholarship, and she in turn had an effect
on how modern scholars view immigrant lore. Her graduate
training was intensely traditional-she achieved her doctorate in
record time at the University of Heidelberg in 1900-where the
study of folklore was as firmly established as the definition of folklore.
Today folklore is generally understood to be cultural materials that
are informally transmitted from person to person ... either orally,
by example, scribbled on the backs of envelopes, as demonstrated
by mothers to daughters, that kind of thing. In Germany, where
the idea of the study of folklore had developed during the Romantic
period (1800-1830), the most obvious manifestation of the
transmittal of cultural material occurred among the rural peasants.
In fact, among peasants almost all cultural knowledge was transmitted
in such ways: through songs, stories, recipes, cures, building
construction methods, farming techniques, beliefs, legends ...
and always had been. The Grimm Brothers, Clemens Brentano, and
Heinrich Heine only needed to obtain entry to a peasant home to
find a wealth of traditional materials that would keep them busy for

But could one really speak of a peasantry within America's rampant
egalitarianism? Louise Pound did not because her understanding
of folklore was not caste-based. Could a true folklore spring
from communities that were only a few years old, where the "peasants"
had become (or aspired to become) the ruling class, where
roots and origins couldn't possibly be traced to a Nordic, Aryan, or
Classical past but were clearly the progeny of the American frontier?
Louise Pound could believe so, even insisted they did, and she
proved her case by going into the field and finding it, forcefully
advancing yet another frontier in scholarship and academic understandings,
not only of how one studies folklore but indeed of what
folklore is.

Pound posited explicitly, or demonstrated by example (as in the
pages following), that folklore may be ancient, but not necessarily
so. Folklore may be found in the rural countryside, but can prosper
in the cities, as anyone who looks will easily find. She demonstrated
that American folklore is indeed partly a product of our primary
English origins, but, in the new context of the Plains frontier, it
might also possess influences of other immigrant cultures ... or,
for that matter, of traditional Native cultures that prospered here
before the frontier swept through (at least where those cultures
had not been destroyed before at least perfunctory ethnographic
examination). She defined and demonstrated the modern understanding
of folklore as the cultural holdings common to all levels
of society regardless of education, economics, or sociology, and she
did it not with theoretical or esoteric examples but through a solid
corpus of folklore she collected herself within her own geographic
base in her own contemporary world ... her Nebraska.

Pound resisted the expansion or, perhaps more accurately, the
continuation of seeing folklore as a trivial, popular amusement,
something cute or quaint. Yet she wrote her articles and reported
her findings in a language and style that made them accessible to
the public, without the slightest hint of condescension. She approached
her resources in the Nebraska field-the people from
whom she collected her folklore materials-with that same seriousness,
and thus understanding, and demonstrated, by means of
empirical evidence, that within traditional knowledge we often find
not misguided superstitions and curiosities but instead unrecognized
or forgotten wisdom accumulated within common experience.

I would have a hard time proving it, since I never so much as met
Louise Pound-although I did once see her on the university campus,
and later I made a point of teaching my own folklore courses at
the University of Nebraska in the same small seminar room she had
used for her seminars in hopes of acquiring, by inhalation, some of
her intellectual and pedagogic acumen!-but through her writing
I get the feeling that despite the no-nonsense approach of her
scholarship, she nonetheless enjoyed the naked human curiosity
and pleasure that comes from listening to the voices of traditional
wisdom past and present, unencumbered by the usual trappings of

Two of the elements for a remarkable alloy were in place when
Louise Pound set to work: 1) the raw material of folklore with a
rapidly developing scholarly rigor for its study, and 2) the sturdy
crucible for the new and rich mixture of those raw materials in the
form of frontier Nebraska. But I would not for a moment want to
give the impression that I consider Pound to have been simply a
lucky scholar who popped up in the right place at the right time.
Almost any other person, much less a scholar, would have simply
accepted the context as it was and taken the easy path by following
the established route of scholarship in dealing with such materials.
Or, for that matter, quietly accepted the conventions of a woman's
life in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries in college
towns like Lincoln, Nebraska.


Excerpted from Nebraska Folklore (Second Edition)
by Louise Pound
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Louise Pound (1872-1958) was a distinguished literary scholar, folklorist, and professor of English at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln for more than fifty years. Roger Welsch is a well-known folklorist and essayist. He is the author of nearly thirty books, including It's Not the End of the Earth, but You Can See It from Here and the coauthor of Cather's Kitchens: Foodways in Literature and Life, both available in Bison Books editions.

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