on the Devil’s Fork
The Pete Whetstone Letters of C. F. M. Noland
Edited by Leonard Williams
With an Introduction by George E. Lankford
of the earliest masters of southern humor
By the 1840s American
literature tradition had become fascinated with the frontier.
The rural folk humor of the “Devil’s Fork”
letters that a young Charles Fenton Mercer Noland (1810–1858)
of central Arkansas began writing in 1837 was something the
country wanted. His pieces were published regularly in New
York’s Spirit of the Times, and he quickly
achieved a reputation as one of the southwest’s best
humorists. His tall tales told in dialect reflected the peculiar
characteristics of the people of a backwoods region.
semiautobiographical “Letters” were built around
the experiences of Pete Whetstone, who, along with his neighbors,
devoted himself to hunting, fishing, and an outdoors lifestyle.
Through his first-person narration readers were able to experience
an ideal southwest frontier existence. Here was a land of
natural beauty, with clear rivers, forested mountains, and
abundant game, a place where a person could live a free and
were horse races and bear fights, politics and balls. Unfortunately
for Noland, an early death cut short a promising career. Had
he lived longer and written more, he could have become one
of America’s great nineteenth-century humorists. Midcentury
America was certainly looking for one.
Williams published Cavorting on the Devil’s
Fork with Memphis State University Press in 1979. Williams
taught at the University of North Alabama in Florence. He
was killed in an automobile accident in 1988, and was one
year younger than Noland was when he died.
E. Lankford is an emeritus professor of folklore
at Lyon College in Noland’s hometown of Batesville,
Arkansas. He is the editor of Bearing
Witness: Memories of Arkansas Slavery Narratives from the
1930s WPA Collections,
now in its second edition.
6 x 9 292 pages, 3 illustrations, index
$22.50 (s) paper