Friday, October 26, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1930

The Stories

January 1. Farmer Brown's boy makes a new home for Happy Jack (continued from 1929)

January 2 to January 29. When Farmer Brown's boy finally figures out how to stop Chatterer the Red Squirrel from getting in the corn crib, Chatterer employs the talents of Timmy the Flying Squirrel.

January 30 to March 1. When Hooty the Owl steals Blacky the Crow's nest, he organizes a mob, with deadly consequences [two crows dead]. Later Mrs. Hooty must protect her owlet after it falls from the nest.

March 2 to March 15. Whitefoot the Wood Mouse makes his home in a surprising place--an old wasp nest.

March 17 to March 20. Farmer Brown's boy nurses Dipper the Grebe back to health.

March 21 to April 1. Flip the Fox Terrier learns about porcupines, the hard way. Later Paddy the Beaver gets pricked after a visit by Prickly Porky.

April 2 to April 26. The mallards arrive and Mrs. Quack relates her sorrows to Peter Rabbit. Later predators search unsuccessfully for mallard eggs and Mrs. Quack loses a duckling to Snapper the Turtle.

April 29 to May 1. Peter learns about wildflowers but is distressed when people come and pick them.

May 2 to May 28. After losing two children to Killy the Sparrow Hawk and Mr. Blacksnake, Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse decide to move but get separated. Nanny ends up in an old oil can, accidentally tossed out of sight by Farmer Brown's boy. When he discovers what he has done he mounts the can in a tree. 

May 29 to June 3. Carol the Meadowlark is very tricky when it comes to hiding his nest.

June 4 to June 13. Peter Rabbit learns all about Starnose the Mole. Farmer Brown's boy accidentally ruins the mole's home.

June 14 to July 9. There are nine new muskrat children who must learn to be safe. Unfortunately, three of them don't learn quickly enough.

July 10 to July 23. Peter Rabbit learns about egrets and little blue herons. When an egret is shot, Farmer Brown's boy nurses it back to health.

July 24 to August 9. Farmer Brown's boy adopts Blacky the Crow's venturesome son and names him Jim. He proves an adept thief. Later the wild crows sentence him to death.

August 11 to October 6.  Impy the black chipmunk fights for a mate (Miss Frisky), outwits Shadow the Weasel, kills a snake, and becomes friends with Buster Bear.

October 7 to October 16. Lightfoot the Deer and a rival get their antlers locked. Farmer Brown's boy fetches a saw and saves their lives.

October 17 to November 10. Bobby Coon joins Jimmy Skunk as a guest to the Brown's shed. Farmer Brown's boy pets both of them. Later Bobby Coon enters the shed to escape from poachers. 

November 11 to November 24. Whitefoot the Wood Mouse sings.

November 25 to December 31. A young muskrat gets caught in a steel trap and must twist his foot off to escape. Now known as "Stumpy," he learns to live with three feet. Later he is horrified when his heedless sister is killed by Little Joe Otter.


In 1930 things got grim in the world of Burgess.  No more near misses for the foolish, heedless, and slow. In succession Burgess mowed down two young crows (Hooty the Owl), a mallard duckling (Snapper the Turtle), two young meadow mice (Killy the Sparrow Hawk, Mr. Blacksnake), three young muskrats (Hooty the Owl, Reddy the Fox, Whitetail the Marsh Hawk), and one more young muskrat (Little Joe Otter) for good measure. Stumpy was faced with gnawing off an entire foot not just a toe. Mrs. Quack's sorrows deepened (three of her grown children were killed the previous fall). And the court of crows passed a death sentence (not carried out) on poor Jim Crow, guilty of deserting crow kind for the community of humans--the enemies of crows. [The distasteful name, "Jim Crow, " was apparently what Burgess called a crow he kept as a pet when he was young.]

It is unknown why Burgess finally let a full dose of tragedy into his stories after nearly two decades restraining himself, but it certainly fit the spirit of the times. Burgess himself had lost much of his fortune (he had reportedly been one of the wealthiest citizens of Massachusetts [see comment]) in the stock market crash and August 1930 saw the end of the Radio Nature League. Burgess meanwhile had been frustrated in his attempts to sell a sponsored radio show to NBC, who rejected him because of the perception he was just for young people.

A reader of the 1930 stories would be justified in thinking that they were reading "The Adventures of Farmer Brown's Boy." The only major story lines in which he did not appear were the tales of the muskrat children, Impy the black chipmunk, and Whitefoot the singing Wood Mouse.  As in previous years, Farmer Brown's boy's behavior was not uniformly admirable, his curiosity about the appearance of star-nose mole babies leading him to damage the moles' home. Generally, though, he was his usual helpful, generous self, and a fierce defender of his family's property from hunters (who increasingly seemed to be able to tell when the Brown family was away).

Egret the White Heron (great egret) made his first appearance in the north (he had talked with Danny Meadow Mouse in the Sunny South a few years previous). This was a sign that the egret population was rebounding and returning to traditional ranges after the end of the plume trade. Nevertheless, his presence allowed Burgess to rehearse the sorrowful history of plume hunting and Egret was eventually shot ("the more rare and the more beautiful a bird is, the more some people want to kill it," thinks Farmer Brown's boy) as a reminder of the bird's continuing vulnerability.

Finally it is worth noting that the young trapper responsible for maiming Stumpy repented when he saw the pain and suffering he had caused (and the grim evidence of the muskrat foot left in the steel trap) and promised never to set another trap. And Burgess suggested that there would be no steel traps set in the Smiling Pool ever again. 


  1. Burgess was not "one of the wealthiest citizens of Massachusetts". As far as I can tell, this misinformation seems to have originated with an entry in Dowhan's Burgess bibliography, in which Dowhan says as much and references a newspaper article. But the referenced article does not actually say that. It mentions how much Burgess paid in tax that year (1924 I believe), and then says how much the wealthiest paid in tax. Burgess' tax was a small fraction of theirs. From another source I found that the amount of Burgess' tax was close to the average income at the time. So Burgess was certainly well in the mid 1920s, but not "one of the wealthiest citizens of Massachusetts" by a long shot.

  2. Ah, I need to check comments more regularly!

    I stand corrected. Burgess was wealthy, but not THAT wealthy.