February 8, 2019

Kentucky Alligator-Horse

        The Kentucky alligator-horse is a fabulous mythical creature, as magnificently illustrated in this wood block print from a ballad broadside.  I like the use of the gouged wood texture for the ground.  I suspect that the two little British soldiers are separate blocks, probably ones the printer already had on hand rather than carved for this purpose.  They certainly make the alligator-horse look big.
        The origin of the creature, alas, is not quite as exciting as its appearance.  “Half horse half alligator” was a common description of Ohio and Mississippi riverboatmen in the tall tales of the early nineteenth century, and it was used in a song written to commemorate Andrew Jackson’s 1815 victory in the Battle of New Orleans.  The lyrics include:
And if a daring foe annoys,
Whate’er his strength and forces,
We’ll show him that Kentucky boys
Are alligator horses.
Behind it stood our little force,
None wished it to be greater,
For ev’ry man was half a horse,
And half an alligator.
        So while the song was apparently enormously popular, that’s a little disappointing compared to the enormous ramping beast of the woodcut, which you’d think would at least lurk in swamps and do something fantastical.  Nevertheless, I think this creature is ripe for new life in legend.

[Picture: The Hunters of Kentucky, or Half Horse and Half Alligator, wood block print c.1815 (Image from Wikimedia Commons.  See another version from the Library of Congress).]

No comments: