Day 5: The Magic Cowhide

“The Magic Cowhide” from Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Folktales” Told by Mr. Lon Jordan, Farmington, Ark., November, 1941. He heard it near Fayetteville, Ark., in I903.

One time there was a boy named Jack, and his folks died and left a good farm. But when they come to divide up it was his two older brothers that heired the farm, and Jack didn’t get nothing but an old cow. Pretty soon the cow died, so Jack didn’t have nothing, and then his brothers says he better go to town and get a job somewheres. Jack skinned the cow and started out to sell the hide, or else maybe he could trade it for something. Every house he come to he would ask the people, but they all says they don’t want no stinking old cowhide.

When it come night Jack laid down on the ground, and he put the cowhide over him. Pretty soon he woke up and the sun was shining. There was a lot of crows on top of him, a-pecking away at the cowhide. Jack grabbed one of the crows and made a little cage for it out of willow switches. He thought maybe he could split the crow’s tongue and learn it how to talk.

Pretty soon he heard somebody a-coming, so Jack hid in the brush and held the crow’s bill shut. It was two robbers, and they was talking how they had buried a lot of gold under the fireplace in Sim Lawton’s cabin, while Sim was out a-working so he didn’t know nothing about it.

After the robbers was gone Jack walked on till he come to a house, and the man says his name is Sim Lawton. “Well,” says Jack, “me and the crow was talking about you last night.” Sim he just laughed. “The crow says there’s gold buried on your place,” says Jack, “and I’ll show you where it is, only you must give me half.” Sim laughed louder than ever.
“Take half and welcome,” he says, “but you two birds have got to do the digging, because I won’t turn my hand to no such foolishness.” So then Jack prized up the hearthstone, and sure enough there was a big sack of gold pieces.

They split the gold even, but Sim says he will give half of his share for the crow, and Jack let him have it. Sim figured he would travel around with the crow and find out where folks has hid their money. So Jack walked on down the road with three-quarters of the robbers’ gold wrapped up in his cowhide.

Jack stayed at the hotel all night, and the next day here come Sim, and he is pretty mad. “This fool crow won’t talk,” says he. “It just goes, ‘Quark, quark,’ and so I want my money back.” But Jack just laughed in his face. “The bird talks all right,” he says, “but a man can’t understand crow language till he sleeps three nights under the magic cowhide.”

Sim wanted to borrow the cowhide for a few days, but Jack wouldn’t hear of it. So finally Sim handed over the rest of the robbers’ gold, and Jack give him the stinking old cowhide. Jack had all the gold now, and he went to Little Rock. Sim Lawton took several trips down there to look for him, but Jack was plumb gone. Some say he went pardners with them Hot Springs gamblers and got rich, but the folks never did find out for sure.

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