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Since the early 1800s, people have made a living fishing and harvesting mussels in the lower Ohio Valley. These river folk are conscious of an occupational and social identity separate from those who earn their living from the land. Sustained by a shared love of the river, deriving joy from the beauty of their chosen environment, and feeling great pride in their ability to subsist on its wild resources and to master the skills required to make a living from it, many still identify with the nomadic houseboat-dwelling subculture that flourished on the river from the early nineteenth century to the 1950s.
Today’s community of fisherfolk is small and economically marginal, but their activities sustain a complex set of traditional skills and a body of verbal folklore associated with river life. In Flatheads and Spoonies, Jens Lund describes the activities, boats, gear, verbal lore, and sense of identity of the fisher folk of the lower Ohio River Valley and provides historical and ethnobiological background for their way of life. Lund connects the importance of river fish in the diet of inhabitants of the valley to local fishing activities and explores the relationship between river people and those whose culture is primarily land-based, painting a colorful portrait of river fishing and river life.
This book offers a look—historical and ethnographic—at a little-known aspect of traditional life in the American Midwest, still surviving today despite immense changes in environment, resources, and economic base.
Jens Lund is an independent folklorist, an instructor at Linfield College, and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Washington.
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Fishing, Fishing villages, Ohio River Valley, Folklore
Lund, Jens, "Flatheads and Spooneys: Fishing for a Living in the Ohio River Valley" (1995). Folklore. 5.