Some Kansans are familiar with the stories of grasshoppers so big that cowboys could ride them, or summers so hot that corn popped in the field.
“Kansas Legends and Folktales” will be presented by Jim Hoy at the McPherson County Historical Society meeting at 2 p.m. Jan. 6 at the McPherson Museum and Arts Foundation, 1111 E. Kansas Ave. in McPherson.
Hoy is a recently retired professor of English at Emporia State University. He has lectured internationally on the folklife of ranching and is the co-author of the syndicated newspaper column “Plains Folk.”
One tall tale Hoy shares in his presentation is that of Bill Pickett, an African-American cowboy from Texas who performed in the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch Wild West Show. It was said of Pickett that he could bring down a bull by biting the animal on its lip.
"I find these legend and tales interesting narratives. They're about ordinary and extraordinary people," Hoy said.
Some tall tales started out as jokes, Hoy noted.
"It used to be these travelled person to person, word of mouth, and then television changed that," Hoy siad.
Hoy will give his audience a way to categorize the different types of stories that are told.
"I'll distinguish between myth and legend and tale and give examples from Kansas," Hoy said.
The tales may vary between geographical regions and subcultures in Kansas, but these exaggerated narratives help us understand the character of our state and its people.
"Southeastern Kansas is different from western Kansas," Hoy noted.
Whether you have lived in Kansas all your life or are new to the Sunflower State, learning about local folklore can give you a better understanding of local culture.
"It's what we as Kansans think and believe and organize our lives — the beliefs and mores that distinguish us from other people in the country," Hoy said.
“Kansas Legends and Folktales” will explore some of the many legends and folktales from around the state, and what they say about the communities that keep these stories alive.
"They're stories that we value and believe in telling and retelling," Hoy said.
Just as eyewitnesses to an event will each recall unique details, legends can gain fantastic elements through the words chosen to relay the narrative to others.
"A good storyteller will make a story even better," Hoy said. "The people who have passed these stories and legends on down are generally good storytellers."
While many legends are based on real people, stories that are told and retold do not always focus on historical individuals.
"I usually work in a couple of weather anecdotes," Hoy said. "Kansans were very interested in the weather."
“Kansas Legends and Folktales” is part of the Kansas Humanities Council’s Kansas Stories Speakers Bureau, featuring presentations and discussions that examine our shared human experience—our innovations, culture, heritage, and conflicts.
Members of the community are invited to attend the free program, made possible by the Kansas Humanities Council.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at email@example.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.