Based on the Irish story of Stingy Jack. There’s an Appalachian version that was collected by Richard Chase and called “Wicked John and the Devil” that can be found in his book “Grandfather Tales”. The image above is from the picture book version of the story illustrated by Joshua Tolford.


Once there was a man named Jack who everyone thought was the grumpiest ole cuss that ever lived. He drank, he swore, he was never seen setting foot into the church, and everyone around avoided him at all costs knowing that to be seen with ole Jack meant your soul was probably in peril too.

One night as Jack was walking home drunk he come across a tattered old man lying in the middle of the road. “Friend,” Jack said, pulling on the man’s coat, “foller me to my cabin and you’ll have a bed for the night and food in your belly.” With that the tattered man jumped up from the ground. Jack thought at first that he was seeing things, but soon realized it was no illusion. There in front of his eyes stood Ole Scratch himself.

“Jack,” said the Devil, “I’m here to take your immortal soul back with me to Hell.”

Well the whiskey was starting to wear off and Jack felt himself coming to his senses again. “Devil,” Jack answered, “you can take me to Hell, but please grant this one request?”

The Devil thought and thought then answered, “Since you were so good to help me lying there on the cold ground I’ll give you one request before I take you away.”

Well Jack thought and thought then said the one thing in the world he’d want, “Buy me one last drink of whiskey, Devil.” And the Devil agreed. So they went over to the tavern and Jack ordered a whiskey, and the Devil pulled out a shiny silver coin and handed it to Jack. Well Jack took that coin and said, “God bless this coin and the soul who gave it to me!” And the Devil was trapped there, unable to move at all.

As Jack drank his whiskey the Devil begged and pleaded with the man to release him but Jack just shook his head, “Not till I finish this glass.” He said.

Soon Jack had drank up his whiskey and again the Devil begged and pleaded to release him. “I’ll release you,” Jack said, “if you give me ten more years to live.” Well the Devil agreed to the terms and Jack let him disappear into a puff of fire and smoke.

Ten years later and Jack is walking home drunk again when all of a sudden he sees a tattered old bum lying asleep in the middle of the road. Jack pats the man on the shoulder and says, “Friend, foller me to my cabin and you’ll have a bed for the night and food in your belly.” The man jumps up off the ground and Jack sees that it’s the Devil come for his immortal soul.

“Jack,” said the Devil, “your time is up, I’m here to take you back with me to the fiery pits of Hell.”

Jack just nodded then asks the ole demon, “Devil, you can take me to Hell, but please grant this one last request?”

The Devil thought and thought then answered, “Since you were so good to help me lying there on the cold ground I’ll give you one request before I take you away.”

“Let me taste one of them apples one last time?” Jack pointed over to an apple orchard nearby. The Devil agreed and followed Jack up into the apple tree. Well Jack took out his pocket knife and carved a cross in the biggest branch on the tree before jumping back to the ground. The Devil was stuck, unable to come out of the tree no matter how hard he tried.

The Devil begged and pleaded with Jack to let him come down out of that tree, but Jack just shook his head and said, “Not until I’ve eaten this here bushel of apples.”

By morning Jack was full on apples and since the Devil was still begging and pleading with him he decided he’d be nice to the feller. “Devil,” Jack hollered up into the tree, “I’ll release you if you give me ten more years to live.” Of course the Devil agreed to the terms and Jack let him disappear into a puff of fire and smoke.

Ten years go by in a flash and Jack is walking home drunk again when all of a sudden he loses his footing and falls head first down into the holler. Well the fall must have killed ole Jack cause when he woke up he wasn’t in his cabin, or on the road, or in the woods, but on a snow white field next to a set of tall, golden gates. “Heck, I musta died.” Jack thought to himself before standing up and walking over to the gates.

Outside there was an old man asleep in a rocking chair, a ring of big ole keys hanging around his wrist. Jack woke the man up with a cough and asked if this were Heaven. “Yes son,” the old man replied, “But don’t fool yerself, you’ll never get in!” And the man fell back to sleep.

So Jack took the other road down to the fiery plain of Hell, and when he got up to those big iron gates he knocked once, knocked twice, knocked three times but no one answered. “Anyone at home?” Jack yelled. “Get lost Jack! Even the Devil doesn’t want you!” A voice yelled back.

Well Jack was pretty sad by the state of things, and he knew that the only future he had was wandering the Earth as a lost, helpless haint. But the Devil felt bad for ole Jack and threw him out a single red-hot coal to light his way in the darkness. And so Jack picked it up and still carries it around with him to this day.


This story is an old explanation for the will-o’-the-wisps and Jack-o’-lantern traditions of Ireland and the British Isles which were brought over to become a part of the folklore tradition of the Appalachian and Ozark mountains.