Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Shank’s Mare


Over the weekend I was flipping through my Cades Cove Cookbooks and it got me to thinking about Mildred Cable. She grew up in the Hazel Creek area of Swain County NC. The location is interesting because although it wasn’t covered by the TVA lake Fontana, it was isolated.

Anyway getting back to Mildred.

Mildred told me every year her family walked over the mountain to Cades Cove to visit family. She said it was about a twenty mile trek and that when they went they’d usually stay a week. I told her I guessed so after all that walking!

shank’s mare noun in phrs go by shank’s mare, ride shank’s mare = to walk
1967 DARE ride shank’s mare = go on foot (Maryille TN). 1992 Bush Dorie 154 Fred and Pa showed no interest in the car and still went by Shank’s Mare (walking) or in the jolt wagon. 1994 Montgomery Coll. go by shank’s mare (Shields).

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

Thinking of Mildred’s trip over the mountain reminded me of the saying about Shank’s Mare. Funny in Mildred’s day walking was the norm and in Dorie’s day her people didn’t even want to ride in one of those new fangled cars. Today, I walk on a treadmill for my exercise. I’m not sure if I’ve come a long way or went a long way back.


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  • Reply
    October 26, 2021 at 2:18 pm

    WellI haven’t heard Shank’s mare before but I have heard the expression “ankle bone express” used for walking as transportation
    A different topic-
    Have you ever heard the expression -goin around by Laura’s house? My Nanny used this a lot and I inferred that it meant that we went the long way or maybe got a little lost.
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Stephen Addison
    September 12, 2021 at 7:07 pm

    Just started reading your blog. While I have lived in Arkansas for the best part of 40 years, I grew up in Wales in the United Kingdom. I know and understand lots of Appalachian vocabulary because it, or something similar is used in Wales, my father always referred to walking as taking Shank’s pony – so I would have immediately know what was meant.

    • Reply
      September 12, 2021 at 7:29 pm

      Stephen-thank you! So interesting that you’re familiar with the phrase too. I’m sure that’s where the usage here came from 🙂

  • Reply
    January 16, 2018 at 11:48 am

    I am very interested in learning more about Appalachian history, food, traditions and so on. Any information on the Appalachian that you could recommend would be greatly appreciated. Their recipes, food preservation, food storage , life style, hunting and trapping methods interest me very much. Thank you for any help you can give me!

    • Reply
      January 23, 2018 at 11:49 am

      Andrea-you can poke around this site for tons of information about Appalachia. I also recommend the Foxfire books as a resource. Hope this helps!

  • Reply
    January 10, 2018 at 1:58 pm

    Hadn’t heard of “shanks mare” but have heard the term “jolt wagon” used as a metaphor; always thought the original “jolt wagon” must have been something akin to a “buckboard”.

  • Reply
    Sherry Whitaker
    January 9, 2018 at 9:34 pm

    I have never heard that expression, but I like it! My doctor asked me today if I had shortness of breath when I exerted myself…I told him no because I don’t exert myself much. So sad….I need to get on my shanks mare.

  • Reply
    January 9, 2018 at 9:32 pm

    Grandma must have brought that expression to WI from KY. I quite often heard my mother use it, but it was not a common expression. We did do a lot more walking than the kids of today. We never rode a bus until rural schools closed and small towns consolidated together.
    Question: I’m not seeing a lot of people’s names. What’s up?

  • Reply
    January 9, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    Hoofing it I guess is the same as Shank’s Mare, now that I’m familiar with, all tho back in my time we rode the bearings out of a bicycle most of the time, but did hoof it through the woods to save time.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 9, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    When in High School I played football for four years and not being able to afford a car many days after a three hour practice I rode “Shanks Mare” fourteen miles home. I usually arrived about 10:00 PM to milk a cow or two, feed several head of hogs and numerous chickens. I then ate my supper and sacked out to arise at 5:00 AM to tend the stock before catching the School Bus, I was glad I didn’t have to walk to school in the mornings but did have to pole our boat across the Little Tennessee river after a flood washed the Needmore Swinging Bridge out in the mid-sixties. The funny thing is that I thought nothing of doing this until I was older. Sadly we didn’t realize what a great gift youth was until we lost it.

  • Reply
    January 9, 2018 at 12:45 pm

    My grandpa (Daddy’s dad) was the walkenist fellow I knowed. One of his sons got the croup and Thee (Theodore) knew the Druggist in Murphy. He walked all the way down there and back just to get Howard (we called him Rhone) some cough syrup. He lived at the lower end of Topton and it was several miles to Murphy.

    He also walked to Franklin to visit his relatives. He’d stop in upper Nantahala and rest, sometimes overnight. …Ken

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 9, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    Another thang… I heard when growing up from my mountain kinfolks….If one had to climb into the rugged steep terrain of Laurel hells….one better put “pine-pitch” on their booths so they would stick to the side and not fall off the mountain while taking “Shanks Mare”!… being nicknamed “TAR HEELS!”
    I would love to hear others family stories of why folks like us born in North Carolina are called Tar Heels…I have read the encyclopedia reasons…lol
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 9, 2018 at 11:52 am

    In response to Angie Siddall’s statement about the north forty….I’ve heard many a time at my Mars Hill grandpas in Appalachia…”Which lot did you plant that last ‘backer patch Pappy?” “Down on the “lower forty” near the crick!” he would exclaim! It could also be the ‘upper-side 10 or ‘upper side six near the barn etc. etc.. But not much good plantin’ land on the hills as down on the “lower forty”! …..
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 9, 2018 at 11:36 am

    I never heard Shanks Mare until I started reading your blog. We always just called it Hoofing or Hoofing it. I remember a long time ago when I worked in Hickory and lived in Valdese. My brother took me to work one night and my wife was supposed to pick me up at 7:00 AM. When 8:00 rolled around and she hadn’t showed up I decided to start hoofing it. I took the route I thought she would take if she came looking for me. She never came. I walked every step. Almost 13 miles.
    It wouldn’t have been so bad but I had to hurry home so I could eat and sleep a little. I had to be back at work at 10:00 PM. I got home at 11:40 AM.
    20 miles wouldn’t be that bad for a person who had never known anything but to walk. It would take all day but it was the equivalent of a day trip in an automobile. If I was 40 years younger I’d strike right now!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 9, 2018 at 11:27 am

    My favorite example of shank’s mare came with a fellow I knew as a boy by the name of George Monteith. He walked everywhere he went, even though at the time I knew him he was well along in years. But one of his feats of walking was legendary. When President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Newfound Gap, George decided he wanted to hear his president’s address. He set out from his home on lower Forney Creek well before daylight, hiked to the head of the creek and then out the main spine of the Appalachians to Newfound Gap, listened to FDR’s address, then turned around and walked home, arriving well after dark. That day he “rode” shank’s mare for well over 50 miles, some of it covering really rugged terrain.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    January 9, 2018 at 11:24 am

    I never heard that expression or a jolt wagon. My parents walked everywhere when they were growing up in the country. I grew up in town and walked to school, to church, to the grocery store, movie theater, etc. We did have a car but I use the word traipsed because my mother always used that word. We traipsed all the way down to the Molly Harmon Spring and had a dipper full of that cold clear mountain water. I have used the treadmill for exercise too, Tipper, but I would prefer traipsing down a country road where I can enjoy all of God’s creation.

  • Reply
    Angie Siddall
    January 9, 2018 at 11:20 am

    I’ve not heard any of those expressions up here in Canada, but I find the read interesting, just the same. In the comment about your treadmill tipper, it made me think of the saying – “the hurrier I go the behinder I get”. I am certain you and your readers have heard that quote before.
    Interesting to hear the different names people call things. I guess if one was in Australia, you’d be saying, I’m going to take a walk about in the “outback”, here in Canada we say I’m going to the “north forty”.
    Thank you Tipper for the education and knowledge your site brings to me each day.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 9, 2018 at 10:57 am

    This brought back a long ago memories….One of the time I took my Mom to the doctor for one of many check-ups in her eighties she was. They had taken the usual, weight, height, fever check, blood pressure, pulse, etc. When the doctor was looking her over, leg check, skin check, heart check, nose/throat check and then read his sheet of notes….he took a long breath…(which scared us to death) and said, “Well, all looks great” but could I ask you something before you leave…”Sure”, we said. Where were you born and where did you grow up! Mom told him on a hill in NC…He said, “I figured you were a mountain woman, I’ve never seen a woman of your age with calves on their legs as firm and shaped like yours…and great heart and I can tell you are strong willed and very dependent!” He went on to say, “You don’t have to tell me…I’ve heard it before…you took Shank’s mare ten miles to school and climbed hills both ways!” He was a flat-land Appalachian man..but he had heard the term “Shank’s mare” many times through the years…He winked at me and said, “Your mountain mama is going to be here at least until she’s a hundred!” and passing at ninety-three, she almost made it. I blame the shorter life than some of her relatives due to the change of her married environment….The big C brought her down and I think from a contaminated, smoky city, a more worrisome, busy life style and truly less climbing and walking in the mountains on “Shank’s Mare”!
    thanks Tipper,

    • Reply
      b. Ruth
      January 4, 2020 at 12:19 am

      The word here should have been independent…LOL…

  • Reply
    January 9, 2018 at 9:23 am

    We never had to walk to school, but seems the bus only stopped every mile or so. The bus stop was usually at one of those little white shelters that used to dot the highways, especially at the mouth of the hollers.I never heard walking called Shank’s Mare.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    January 9, 2018 at 8:56 am

    We have traveled to several countries on vacation and it seems there is a reason so many people are overweight in the US and it isn’t just fast food. No one walks anywhere. In European countries, public transportation use is almost mandatory and to use it you walk to bus stops or metro stops. Once you get off you, walk to your final destination.

    Where did the term Shank’s mare come from? I didn’t see an explanation as to original term.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    January 9, 2018 at 8:16 am

    I too walked to school. We walked home for lunch also . I don’t think we had an over weight kid in my class.
    If it was raining we did carry a lunch. I don’t remember ever having a 2 hr. delay or a snow day.
    I do remember one day it started snowing while we were in school and the teacher checked to see what kind of footwear we all had. Those without boots were allowed to leave. The rest of us stayed til the end. I know I was mad at my Mother because she had heard on the radio it might snow so had made me take boots in a bag.
    Thanks for the memories Tipper.

  • Reply
    a.w. griff
    January 9, 2018 at 8:08 am

    I said that to my Grandson some time back and he had no idea what I was talking about.
    I’d like to have a dollar for evertime I’ve heard that something rides like a jolt wagon.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 9, 2018 at 8:03 am

    I am reading “Call Me Hillbilly” by Gladys Trentham Russell. She grew up where the Sugarlands VC is now. She gives a different expression for the same meaning, “We went on walker’s hack.” I had never heard that one but I’ve ridden shank’s mare a many a mile. It is still my preferred way of going.

    I wonder if Mildred’s family camped out or stayed with someone for one night on the trail. Seems 20 miles would be too far with children in the group. But that’s about average for AT thru-hikers.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 9, 2018 at 5:49 am

    That’s the truth, Tip. Sometimes I think we are making great progress but were going in the wrong direction. I used to walk to school a couple of miles and think nothing of it, everyone walked, that’s just the way life was.
    I am quite familiar with shank’s mare as an expression as well as a way if life. We had a car but it was for my dad to go to work or when we visited family, but I always walked to school till I was in high school.
    I wonder if we were healthier when we walked outdoors more.

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