The Headless Horseman of Booger Holler and Other Dover Tales

By Mindy Campbell Hudson. 2016. Russellville: Tea Tree Publishing. 137 pages. ISBN: 978-1-945003-00-4 (soft cover).

Reviewed by James E. Doan, Nova Southeastern University

[Review length: 480 words • Review posted on May 10, 2017]

This study of oral tales from Dover, in northern Pope County, Arkansas, includes urban, personal, naming, historical, geographical, and supernatural legends, such as the opening, titular tale (1), though later Mindy Campbell Hudson also cites one dealing with a disembodied head sitting on a fence post in Booger Holler (Hollow), noted as a place connected with “unusual happenings” (113). The author has lived in this area since the 1970s and has collected these from her neighbors, so there is a degree of intimacy not always found in folklore collections.

For the most part, the author interprets these legends within the categories described by Jan Harold Brunvand in The Study of American Folklore. Though many of these tales may be found throughout the United States, several of them have a specifically Ozark or southern context, including historical legends dealing with the Civil War or Reconstruction era. For example, the chapter on local stories of “unusual events” includes many narratives focused on conflicts, political or inter-generational (81-104). Within more recent memory, stories dealing with the Depression era loom large in the local consciousness. Like the noted Appalachian storyteller, Ray Hicks, some of Hudson’s informants describe individuals akin to Jack-like tricksters: “Harry [Poynter]’s granddaughter, Nina Sanchez, remembers her grandfather as someone who liked to tease the children.... He displayed his mask in the special piano parlor, perhaps to show off his cleverness, much like Jack the traditional trickster in the Appalachian Jack Tales, who constantly won out in situations by virtue of his cleverness” (104).

The final chapter, “Folklore Today,” deals with contemporary folklore including the effects of modern media on the local storytelling tradition. Contrary to the popular belief that television and other forms of commercialized entertainment are destroying local folklore, the author states: “The intrusion of the media, however, may actually be more of an aid than a deterrent to legend formation and dissemination. Widespread communication rapidly spreads popular urban legends with the help of journalists, newscasters, radio reporters, fax machines, email, Twitter and other powerful social media” (125-26). Hudson also points out the changing nature of local legends, e.g., the appearance of motor vehicles (as in “The Vanishing Hitchhiker”), microwaves and pooper-scoopers, which have led to newer versions of tales such as “The Dead Cat in the Package” (126). She also notes that not only the elderly tell these tales, but that a younger generation is now transmitting them. The commonality of storytelling around the world is highlighted by a final anecdote in the book. She recites an urban legend from Ghana which she heard at a lecture on African literature at Arkansas Tech University in 1992, which closely approximates one found in the United States (128-29).

The book is well produced and illustrated with photographs and maps from Pope County. My only criticism is that I would have found an index useful for looking up references in the text.

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© Journal of Folklore Research, 2020. Last revised January 22, 2022.