The Alligator Peach Tree
Church Point, Acadia Parish
This tale was collected on July 3, 1990, by C. Renée Harvison. Until Pierre Daigle's memory was prompted by a collecting session, he had forgotten about the stories that he had heard as a young boy by his grandfather. Like most tall tale tellers, Pierre narrated in the first person. Pierre explained that his grandfather often used this technique before telling his tall tales: "He would always tell his tall tale, any tall tale, in the first person, as if he'd experienced it."
My grandfather told a lot of tall tales, and we had an uncle who would come. He was a bum. He traveled all over. He lived here a while until they kicked him out and then he'd go somewhere else. And he'd spend several nights at the house during the wintertime. I was very happy to see him because he was my television set long before television was invented. We'd stay up all night and tell stories about buried treasure and that kind of thing. Those were not folktales. They were just lies he made up.
Tall tales--we had several. My grandfather used to tell one to all the grandkids, and that one stuck to my mind. He said--this was all said in French, but I'll tell it to you in English. "One morning, I'd gone hunting." Of course he had an old musket, muzzle-loading musket.
And he said, "I had my horn, my powder horn hanging from my belt, and my lead ball pouch hanging on the other side." And he said, "I was way out there in the forest, and I shot something." And he said, "When I came to reload, I noticed the pouch had broken open and all the lead balls had fallen out. There I was way in the forest, plenty of powder and caps to load the gun, but no lead balls."
So he said, "I started back home. I came to this small lake in the forest. On the bank of that lake was the biggest alligator"--which makes me think this one originated here because alligators were not called alligators, they called them cocodrie. They thought they were crocodiles. Anyway, he said, "The biggest alligator was sleeping on the banks. Boy, I sure would like to kill that alligator for the skin! I could skin it and sell the skin." He said, "I started thinking what I could use for musket balls. That morning, before going hunting, I passed by a peach tree, and I'd plucked some peaches and I'd eaten them, but I'd put the seeds in my pocket when I came back." He said, "I decided, maybe a peach seed. I packed that powder in, put a peach stone, I packed it in, went right up to that sleeping alligator and shot it right between the eyes. That thing pulled up, rolled over, crawled back in the lake and disappeared. Well, I didn't get him."
He said, "Five years later, I went hunting in that same place. Right on the banks of this lake there was a beautiful peach tree growing. It was loaded with peaches. When I ran out to grab a peach, it swam out in the middle." He said that peach [stone] had sprouted in that alligator's head and made a beautiful peach tree!
This basic plot is one of the most common in American tall tale literature, but the animal whose skull becomes the host for a tree is almost always a deer when the tale is told elsewhere. The Louisiana bayous and the tall tale tellers' love of working their surroundings into their stories produce this variation. This story is found in the famous eighteenth-century collection of tales by the Baron von Münchausen, but it has been reported in the United States far more often than in any other country.
For more information on this and related tales, refer to the book, Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana, published by University Press of Mississippi.