Ohio History Journal

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Specimens of Ante-Bellum

Specimens of Ante-Bellum

Buckeye Humor






Native American humor, that is, "humor which by reason of its

subject matter and technique possesses an emphatic native quality,"1

flourished vigorously in the backwoods of the United States for

several decades before the Civil War. Produced by the folk and

recorded by rural doctors, lawyers, preachers, and journalists, it

portrayed the comedy of character and background as seen in various

parts of the country. From it, sectional types like the Down Easter,

the Flush Timer, the Pike, the half-horse, half-alligator Kentuckian

emerged to make their bows upon the national stage and to become,

like other kings of the wild frontier, a part of the American heritage.

Thanks to the labors of such scholars as Constance Rourke, Franklin

J. Meine, DeLancey Ferguson, and Walter Blair, the importance of

this body of literature is now generally conceded. Coarse and crude

as such writings often were, they not only prepared the way for the

masterpieces of Mark Twain, but also by virtue of their realism

cast important light on the language, attitudes, and tastes of the

common man.2

Scholars have written at length upon the contribution of New

England, the South, the South West, and the Far West to this

literature, but they have said less about the humor of the Middle


* George Kummer is an assistant professor of English at Western Reserve University.

1 Walter Blair, Native American Humor (New York, 1937), 3.

2 Napier Wilt, ed., Some American Humorists (New York, 1929), xi.