Tall Tales of the Trails: Origins of the Tall Tale Tradition.

Origins of the Tall Tale Tradition.

The elements of a Tall Tale are exaggeration and a huge scale, normally told in good nature. These short stories range from classic fish stories like “You should have seen the one that got away” to the tales of John Bunyan and other legendary heroes.

The traditions of the Adirondack region of New York are a good example of Tall Tales as a cultural element. This tradition has a large number of rich tales, told as if they were true, which clearly could not be anywhere near the truth. A Favorite example I grew up with is “I was on the wrong bear” by Harvey Carr. 

Most of these tall tales are relatively short, humorous, and clearly exaggerated. However, they are told in the same  way as any true story, to make the effect that much more entertaining.

As stated in a 1989 issue of the St. Lawrence County Historical Society’ The Quarterly:

“One story-type favored in woodsmen circles throughout regional America is variously known as the humorous “lie” or “tall tale.” In the Adirondacks, I have also heard them referred to as “big stories.” The storytelling format typically involves a narrator beginning what, on first encounter, is set up as a personal-experience account-plausible reminiscence related in deadpan style. As the telling progresses, the art of the genre begins to emerge; things become increasingly fantastic and incongruous. The story ends on a comic and often uproarious note. As a listener you’ve been hauled along, caught up in playful absurdity, and ultimately the victim of falsehood in fun.” (Page 11-12 HERE

The same genre is also common in trail life. Any time you comically inflate a story, or make one up, you’re engaging in this very ancient tradition.

This series will be an examination of this tradition as it plays out on the trails in the United States. Hopefully, with some help from those who spin these yarns, it will also come to be a collection of these nascent legends for all to read and enjoy. Stay tuned as the series progresses, and the stories get rolling. If you have a good candidate, please write it down. Everyone should fill out the survey here as well, to assist in ongoing research for this series. 


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