Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Biography – Staff
Richard Chase (1904 – 1988), Staff, Visitor


Richard Thomas Chase:
Counselor 1943-1944? 1948-1949?
Visitor, Folklorist

Puppet show in Burkham Schoolhouse auditorium. Series VII-52 Children & Classes. [elem_035.jpg]

TAGS:  Richard Chase, folklorist, folk tales, recreation leader, interview, games, music, Jack Tales, folklore, Glyn Morris, folklorist, children’s literature,  writers,  puppetry, Punch and Judy, theater, dance, White Top Folk Festival, folklife

Richard Chase, a well-known folklorist, had a long-running association with Pine Mountain Settlement School. Through the years he came to the School as a visitor. During the 1940s he was also employed as a recreation leader and counselor.


Richard Chase was born near Huntsville, Alabama, on February 15, 1904. To further his education, he left Alabama following high school to attend Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Antioch’s relationship with PMSS was the connection that first put him in touch with Pine Mountain Settlement School. He graduated from Antioch College in 1929. 


When Laurel House I burned in 1939 some of the staff left the School. This created an acute need for an additional student counselor, leading to Richard Chase’s hiring as a counselor. Glyn Morris, PMSS Director at the time, said that Chase’s work would make it possible for “staff members to know more about their students… [H]e will coordinate for each student all the possibilities for his development” at the School. 

RICHARD CHASE: Other Occupations

Chase also worked closely with the Conference of Southern Mountain Workers. As a representative of the Institute of Folk Music, University of North Carolina, he was chosen as the itinerant recreation leader for the Conference in 1936. He succeeded Frank H. Smith, a noted folk dance instructor, in this role. He was funded by the Kappa Delta Phi Sorority for six months. [Mountain Life & Work, January 1936, vol. 11 no. 4, p. 25.]

Richard Chase is well-known for his publications, particularly those that represent regional folktales of the Appalachians. As a folklorist he had a large repertoire of folk tales and games, especially Appalachian folk games, many of which he learned in the Pine Mountain valley. His books include Grandfather Tales: American-English Folk Tales (1948), Hullabaloo, and Other Singing Folk Games (1949) and, his most famous work, The Jack Tales.

RICHARD CHASE: Pine Cone Articles

One of Chase’s earliest visits to the School is recorded by a student [Kitty – Senior ?] in the November 1939 Pine Cone:


“I’m going to tell you about Mr. Ward, the man to whom we owe most of these old tales, and end up by whirlying off one myself,” said Richard Chase to the audience as he stood before them after the school movie recently. 

Mr. and Mrs. Chase visited Pine Mountain on one of their tours over the southern states, and finding it a very pleasant place, decided to remain a few days. 

The American Magazine described Mr. Chase among its ‘Interesting People’ as the “Sagaman” saying, “In olden days knights and ladies counted on traveling troubadours for their news and entertainment, instead of on newspapers, magazines, and movies. These minstrels played new songs, and told ancient folk tales as well, then went on their way with a purse full of gold.

Today, 500 years later, just such a troubadour, Richard Chase, wanders through the South. Mountain folks call him a sagaman, because he recites the old sagas which have been handed down from generation to generation, but never recorded in print. He plays the old mountain songs, too, and calls the figures for the country dances — “Nancy’s Fancy,” the “Grapevine Swing,” and the “Ocean Wave.”

Instead of a palfrey, Chase rides in an old jalopy, and he plays on a homemade bamboo pipe instead of a lute. Sitting on a hillside with his back to a birch Chase holds a whole village spell-bound, then moves on his way. Children often follow him, Pied-Piper-like, to the neighboring town. He still has one ancient troubadour trick — slaps white horses for luck.” 

Another of Richard Chase’s visit to PMSS was described in this article, published in the October 1948 issue of Pine Cone (pages 12-13). It is based on another student interview by name — Kitty – Senior.

An Interview with Richard Chase

We had on our campus recently a very distinguished author of folk tales and mountain lore. To most people who read his books without any understanding of mountain folk with their dialogue and their sense of humor, h e must seem like quite a spinner of tall tales. However, to the students, he’s just Mr. Chase, always ready with a smile and a yarn for anyone interested, and his visits here are looked forward to by students and staff alike.

Beyond the fact that he is very good at writing and telling folk stories, little is known of his background by most of us here, but this is the way Mr. Chase tells it……

“Though my family are all from New England,” he says, and from his deep-South drawl, you know what is coming next, “I’m from the South. Yep, I was born in Alabama in 1904, lived there quite a while, but was raised mostly in Tennessee.” A question was asked, “Where did you go to school?”

“School? Well, let’s see. Whole lot of ‘em, no need in telling them all, but I did go to an old-fashioned Latin and Greek prep school my family saw fit to send me to.” “See that you take that down,” he says behind his hand. “Sounds impressive.”

This done, another question comes up. “Tell us, Mr. Chase, just what started you on your writing career.”

And from here on the story is solely Mr. Chase’s.

“Well,” he started out, “This is sort of an anniversary for me, for twenty-four years ago was the first time I ever visited Pine Mt. Quite different then, too, but the songs and dances are just about the same. You know those songs and dances were the cause of my becoming interested in folk arts.”

“How did you ever happen to bring Mr. Punch into your career, Mr. Chase?”

“Mr. Punch is not part of my work,” he says. “He’s just a sideshow, a kind of tradition. You see, my work is like a three-ring circus, singing songs, helping people with dances and telling tales. But for twenty years I’ve wanted to edit songs, not those new versions, but real songs, as I hear them from the old folk, back in places like this.” “Yep,” he said, “You might say that was my life’s ambition.”

“I hear you’re going to write another book, Mr. Chase. What’s it going to be about?”

“Well, besides the ‘Grandfather Tales’ and the ‘Jack Tales,’ Houghton-Mifflin Co. has ordered me to write my fourth book, on folk-dancing. I’d like to write a mummer’s play, too, for kids like these here.”

“And what does Pine Mt. mean to you, Mr. Chase?” I asked as he prepared to leave.

“Well now,” he said, “You’ve hit on a subject I could talk on for some time, more time, in fact, than I have right now.”

And so we said goodbye to Richard Chase and Mr. Punch, until we see them again on their next visit to Pine Mountain in Dec.


See Also:
RICHARD CHASE Correspondence

Richard Chase

Title Richard Chase
Identifier  Permalink:
Creator Pine Mountain Settlement School
Alt. Creator Ann Angel Bissell ; Helen Hayes Wykle
Subject Keyword Richard Chase ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; education ; Appalachian music ; Appalachian dance ; Progressives ; folklorist ; folklore ; Council of the Southern Mountains ; Conference of the Council of the Southern Mountains ; Mountain Life and Work ; Jack Tales ; folk tales ; tales ; recreation ; University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill ; Kappa Delta Phi Sorority ;
Subject LCSH Chase, Richard, — February 15, 1904 – February 1988.
Smith, Frank H.
Pine Mountain Settlement School — History.
Rural schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region.
Date original
Date digital 2007-06-26 ; 2014-08-08 ;
Publisher Pine Mountain Settlement School
Contributor  n/a
Type Collection ; text ; image ;
Format books; correspondence ;
Source Series 09: Personnel/Staff ; Series 22: Community, Guests and Visitors ;
Language English
Relation  Is related to: Series 09: Staff/Personnel ; Series 22: Community, Guests, and Visitors ;
Coverage 1936-1988; Harlan County, Kentucky
Rights Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Donor n/a
Description Core documents, correspondence, writing, and papers of Richard Chase held at Pine Mountain Settlement School.
Acquisition n/d ; 1930s and early 1940s
Citation “[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.
Processed by Helen Wykle ; Ann Angel Bissell
Last updated 2007-07-12 hhw ; 2014-08-09 hhw ; 2016-07-23 aae ;
Historical Context
Biography Richard Chase (February 15, 1904 – February 1988), an American folklorist, was an authority on English-American folklore. He was born near Huntsville, Alabama, and graduated from Antioch College in 1929.
Bibliography Sources

“Chase, Richard.” Staff Directory 1913 – present. Series 09: Staff/Personnel and Series 22: Community, Guests, and Visitors. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

Ferrum (VA) College in Historic Virginia.  [] accessed 2016-07-22. Internet resource.

What They Are Doing.” Mountain Life & Work, January 1936. vol. 11 no. 4, p. 25. [] Accessed 2016-07-23. Internet resource.


Chase compiled and edited several books of folktales and folk games (especially Appalachian), including Grandfather Tales: American-English Folk Tales (1948), Hullabaloo, Other Singing Folk Games (1949) and The Jack Tales. []

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