Review: Sticks in the Knapsack and Other Ozark Folk Tales by Vance Randolph


Folk tales. They weave in and out of nearly every community on earth embellishing local histories, giving listeners a good laugh, or teaching children a wise lesson. As the great American melting pot has continued to blend and balance various cultures, however, much of the distinctly flavored stories of its people have been lost in the mix.

The hill people of the Ozark mountain range are proud and characteristically relaxed. Their ‘yarns’ have been collected here, in Vance Randolph’s Sticks in the Knapsack – a transcription of oral history. Randolph’s time spent vacationing in the Ozark foothills lead to a fascination with its people and traditions, and eventually to the employment of stenographers, the purchase of a mechanic voice recorder, and the publication of this collection in 1958.


Having been a traveler for most of my life, I have little claim on any one culture. Bits and pieces of the places I’ve lived and explored have built up who I am today, but none truly stand out among the others. When it became obvious that my new home is more on the permanent side of things, I began digging into its history and culture. I want to know everything I can about what makes Arkansas unique. So, when passing by the free book box on my library’s fourth floor, I was quick to spot Randolph’s intriguing little book.

With only one edition to its name, Sticks in the Knapsack certainly can’t boast popularity. The stories held within are often crude and somewhat tasteless. However, they are striking and witty, full of heart, and absolutely steeped in the history of North West Arkansas. One story, “Lover’s Leap”, has particularly caught my attention as the true story of a popular hiking trail and how it got its name. It casts an entirely new shade on the concept of romanticism.

Out of five, I would give this collection a four. Written nearly verbatim from the front-porch wives, the speculating uncles, and the God-fearing grandmothers of the Ozarks, these stories are well worth the time of any local enthusiasts. They require patience and appreciation, and too many at once diminishes the value of each. Finding a copy of Sticks in the Knapsack is not impossible, but I’ll do you one better: If you’re in the neighborhood, swing by my place. I’ll put the coffee on and tell you a few tales as best I can.


I have wondered what might be a good accompaniment to these folktales, but not necessarily a collection native to the States. So, feel free to check out these international collections at the links below!

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Happy Reading!
– Bekah

2 Replies to “Review: Sticks in the Knapsack and Other Ozark Folk Tales by Vance Randolph”

  1. For a relatively short review, this is awfully informative and well-written, and I applaud you for choosing such an idiosyncratic book. It’s a reminder of the joys and delights of storytelling and folk tales — unadorned, uncensored — and the way such stories reveal culture and history. I appreciated this.


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