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Riverboat Racing

A Kentucky Folktale

An old lady from Kentucky was going to New Orleans with a load of lard to sell. It was her first time traveling by riverboat, and she was nervous because her friends had told her a number of stories about the dangers of riverboat travel–snags, collisions, racing with other riverboats. Before she got on the boat, the old lady made the Captain promise that he would not race the riverboat during her trip. The Captain agreed to her request.

Several days passed uneventfully. Then one morning, when the old lady was walking on the deck, she saw another riverboat nose its way past them, much to the chagrin of the crew. The old lady watched the rival boat for a few moments, and then she hurried upstairs to speak to the Captain.

"Captain, I come from a state where they race horses, and I want you to race that riverboat!"

A smile burst over his face. "Madame, we’ll do the best we can," he said. "But they are putting oil on their wood– do you see the black smoke?–and I am not sure we can beat them."

"Captain," the old lady said excitedly, "I will give you some of my lard to use if you will beat that riverboat in the race."

"Madame," said the Captain, "you have a deal."

The Captain had the lard put on the logs in the boiler, and the old lady watched in excitement as the fire in the boiler grew hotter, the great wheels turned faster, the riverboat quivered and shook. The boats drew even, but they could not pass their rival. The lady called for the steward to bring her last barrel of lard to put on the fire. The wheels churned the water until it was white as ice, and the riverboat edged ahead of her rival.

The old lady shook her fists gleefully at the other ship, turned to the Captain and said: "Now that’s the way we do things in Kentucky!"


You can read more Kentucky folktales in Spooky South by .


S.E. Schlosser

S.E. Schlosser

S.E. Schlosser is the author of the Spooky Series published by Globe Pequot Press. She has been telling stories since she was a child, when games of “let’s pretend” quickly built themselves into full-length tales acted out with friends. A graduate of both Houghton College and the Institute of Children’s Literature, Sandy received her MLS from Rutgers University while working as a full-time music teacher and a freelance author.