Sunday, October 14, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1924

The Stories

January 1 to February 8. Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse continue their adventures in the sunny south, now in a more wooded location. They meet Little Robber the Cotton Rat, Whitenose the (southern) Fox Squirrel, Yowler's cousin ("who is called Yowler too"), Gray Fox, Bob White and Trader the Wood Rat. Danny is chased by Pop-eye the Crab when the plane makes a brief stop at the beach. (continued from 1923)

February 9 to February 19. Meanwhile, it is a tough winter up north. Hunger drives Reddy Fox and Old Man Coyote to Farmer Brown's barnyard. Farmer Brown's boy does his best to keep up the food supply.

February 20 to March 3. Hunger drives Peter Rabbit to strip the bark from young fruit trees in the Old Orchard. Farmer Brown's boy gets out the box trap.

March 4 to March 5. Little Joe Otter loves the cold weather and invites Billy Mink to use his slippery slide. 

March 6 to March 17. Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse return home, to great celebrity.

March 18 to April 2. The Quack family arrives, in sad shape. Their traditional wintering grounds have been drained and there are oil slicks in the ocean. Mrs. Quack makes a moving appeal for the "rights of feathered folk." (link to original story here).

April 3 to April 28. The sugar camp opens up. Whiskey Jack the Canada Jay steals food right off the plate. And Farmer Brown's boy has fun (that goes too far) with the bear cub triplets. Eventually Jimmy Skunk comes to guard the shack.

April 29 to May 17. Rising water forces Jerry Muskrat, Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse, and a young chuck onto floating debris. Hunters shoot at Jerry.

May 19 to May 30. Chatterer the Red Squirrel's appetite for bird eggs gets him into a lot of trouble.

June 1 to June 9. Skimmer the Tree Swallow is shocked to discover a flying squirrel family in his nesting box.

June 10 to June 14. Farmer Brown's boy rescues a robin tangled in a piece of string from his cat.

June 16 to June 21. Farmer Brown's boy helps a hummingbird when the weather turns unexpectedly cold.
June 23 to July 7. Everyone is excited about the new porcupine babies, especially Yowler the Bobcat. 

July 8 to July 10. Peter Rabbit is lucky Farmer Brown's boy is around when he accidentally pulls Reddy Fox's tail as a prank. 

July 11 to July 14. Farmer Brown's boy is astonished to discover that a meadowlark has learned his own whistle. 
July 15 to July 19. Farmer Brown's boy learns that rats are taking his chickens, not the red-tailed hawk. 

July 21 to August 6. It's Happy Jack's turn to have a family and a "foolish" young child. 

August 7 to August 12. Peter Rabbit learns about nighthawks and whip-poor-wills.

August 13 to August 18. Peter Rabbit observes a series of meetings between animals and concludes that Farmer Brown's boy is the master of the Old Pasture (even Buzztail the Rattlesnake flees from him). 

August 19 to August 28. It's blueberry time in the Old Pasture and Reddy Fox devises a scheme involving stinging wasps to drive Buster Bear away.

August 29 to September 6. Peter Rabbit learns that some snakes lay eggs and some give birth.

September 8 to September 15. Peter Rabbit is a taken aback by Grandfather Frog's voracious appetite, which includes small song birds. 

September 16 to October 4. Unc' Billy Possum, corn-stealer, outsmarts Farmer Brown's boy. 

October 6 to October 13. Farmer Brown's boy is astonished to discover it was Old Man Coyote who ate his prize melon. 

October 14 to October 21. Hooty the Owl is tormented by crows after he is injured mistakenly attacking Prickly Porky. 

October 22 to November 6. When Bobby Coon gets a paw caught in an old can, Farmer Brown's boy comes to the rescue. 

November 7 to November 8. Peter Rabbit is surprised to learn that Chatterer the Red Squirrel collects mushrooms to store during the winter.

November 10 to November 18. Honker the Goose and his flock arrive and describe the great treachery practiced by hunters. 

November 19. Peter Rabbit can't find Old Mr. Toad, who has buried himself for the winter.

November 20 to November 29. Old Man Coyote plots to get a beaver dinner but must watch out for falling trees.

December 1 to December 15. Farmer Brown's boy tries but fails to get rid of incriminating evidence when Reddy Fox takes a neighbor's chicken.  The foxes are smoked out and chased and must make a new home. 

December 16 to December 18. A hunter about to shoot Lightfoot the Deer has a revelation.

December 19 to December 31. Little Joe Otter and his family travel over the snow and must avoid being caught by Yowler the Bobcat and a clever trapper. (Continued in 1925)


In 1924, Farmer Brown's boy remained at the center of things (rescuing, among others, a robin, a hummingbird, and Bobby Coon), though his character was stretched in various ways. In one story line, Burgess had Peter Rabbit observe a series of meetings and the following chain: fox is afraid of coyote is afraid of bear is afraid of porcupine is afraid of skunk is afraid of rattlesnake is afraid of human. Farmer Brown's boy is thus deemed "the Master of the Old Pasture." He is a part of, rather than separate from, the Old Pasture ecosystem, a fact further reinforced when Carol the Meadowlark starts imitating his own whistle.  On the other hand, he is at the top of the hierarchy (though he was still challenged by Buster Bear in face-to-face meetings).  Farmer Brown's boy's sympathy for hungry animals led him to go so far as to leave food scraps for Old Man Coyote, though he had increasing intolerance for animals who became agricultural pests, so when the coyote began eating his melons (!) the boy was quick to pull out his steel traps again (knowing that the coyote was smart enough to avoid them). In short, animals and human could coexist but on human terms.

Burgess did not, however, make Farmer Brown's boy infallible. He mistakenly persecuted Redtail the Hawk for crimes committed by rats (Burgess was at the forefront of attempts to protect "useful" hawks from being labeled "chicken hawks" and shot on sight). His attempts to play a joke on bear cubs backfired badly. And he (refreshingly) was still no match for the tricks of Unc' Billy Possum (though he  knew where the opossum lived and could have gotten him if he really wanted to).

Perhaps shockingly, in a December story line Burgess had Farmer Brown's boy defy (human) authority by trying to cover up the transgressions (from a human perspective) of chicken-stealing Reddy Fox. While Reddy Fox and his partner had to pay for his sins [this was in some respects a repeat of the Adventures of Reddy Fox scenario], Farmer Brown's boy did not. His only crime, from Burgess's perspective, might be not doing a good enough job cleaning up the evidence against his friend...

Indeed, Burgess made one of his strongest statements in support of animal rights in 1924, through the mouth of Mrs. Quack. As in the 1916 story line, Mrs. Quack suffered from human problems, but instead of hunters, her problem in 1924 was habitat degradation. Short-sighted draining of wetlands (I think Burgess was pointing a finger specifically at Florida here) meant that wintering ducks had fewer and fewer places to live and the places that remained were over-crowded and disease-ridden. When ducks moved to the coast, they were confronted with oil slicks. As in 1916, this story can be linked to an ongoing project of William T. Hornaday to reform game-bird hunting, which finally reached fruition decades later in the form of the duck and geese-centric National Wildlife Refuges and Ducks Unlimited. [I think it's safe to say that the mallard and Canada geese populations have rebounded, though other aquatic birds have not been as fortunate].

Burgess's anti-hunting and trapping theme continued in 1924, with hunters (once again) mercilessly shooting at Jerry Muskrat when he was victimized by a flood, and goose hunters "treacherously" employing live decoys (another Hornaday legislative cause) to attract Canada geese to their doom. Once again, as in 1923, a hunter discovered that the beauty of living animals trumped their value as trophies, this time keeping Lightfoot the Deer alive.

Finally it is worth noting the continuing transformation of Grandfather Frog from wise storyteller to voracious monster.


  1. As a child, upon figuring out that Grandfather Frog was a bullfrog, I often wondered why he was only described as eating flies and fish. Having read some of Burgess's later stories online, I certainly appreciate the more frequent references to his predaceous nature, though part of me wishes he'd retained his "wise storyteller" characterization that I'd become familiar with. (That said, I've only read bits and pieces of Burgess's later works, so I don't know what was the ultimate outcome of that development.)

  2. There is that continual tension in Burgess between the (human) moral side and the naturalistic side. I think by the 1920s he was more interested in the story value of "bullfrogs eat surprising things" than anything else. There will still be nominal reference to Grandfather Frog as "wise" through the 1920s at least, though more and more that reference will be ironic.

    If you have the time it is worth it to slog through the Google News Archive holdings for these later stories. The Lewiston Daily Sun is the most reliable source (and the easiest because for most of its run the story was on page 3).