The toughest lady in the Wild West and other American folktales


Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind was the prettiest, sassiest, and toughest woman in the Wild West. She fought alligators, lived with a family of bears, and could out-run and out-wrestle any of the boys in Tennessee by the age of seven. She even married Davey Crocket, king of the wild frontier, after helping him out of a tree with a lasso made of rattlesnakes.

At least, that’s what American folklore has to say about her.

That’s what Emily Francisco ’14 wrote about her, too, while working as an assistant editor with Danielle Dattolo Smith ’15 and English Prof. Chris Fee on American Myths, Legends, and Tall Tales: An Encyclopedia of American Folklore.

“I was really drawn to writing about Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind. She’s the wife of the fictionalized Davy Crockett, who is this well known, popular, and almost whimsical figure, yet not everyone knows about her,” Francisco said. “She is this really strong female figure in the American frontier, and because of that, she was one of my favorite entries that I was able to work on.”

Both Francisco and Smith were invited to join Fee’s research team after taking his course on Medieval and Renaissance literature. In fact, when publishing company ABC-CLIO first approached Fee about the three-volume encyclopedia, he accepted it on the condition that he could bring a few students on board as assistant editors and give them appropriate credit for their work.

Chris Fee standing in front of a chalkboard.

“This is the type of work that lends itself to being able to engage students,” Fee said. “Both Danielle and Emily had editorial experience, so I knew they would be able to handle the work and could work with me as colleagues.”

The project started simply enough—Francisco and Smith compiled a list of terms that they wanted the encyclopedia to cover. The range was impressive—it covered everything from Native American myths and traditions to tall tales of the Founding fathers, legends of pioneers on the American frontier, urban myths, and often-marginalized stories from African American and Asian American cultures.

The next step?

Soliciting scholars from across the country to submit entries on each of the topics.

As the entries poured in, the hard work began.

“We reviewed every entry that came in and were doing so much more than reviewing the entries for grammatical accuracy and clarity,” Smith explained. “We had to do our own research on each topic, as the writers were using all of these different sources to synthesize whatever facts could be gleaned about these myths and tall tales. We had to find which facts were the most accurate.”

They were even offered the chance to expand their role in the creation of the three-volume encyclopedia by submitting their own entries for the project. Francisco wrote about Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind, Boney Quillan, pirate captain John “Calico Jack” Rackham, and Star Husband Tale.

“There was this mutual respect that we had for each other that made the work very fulfilling and very fun,” said Francisco.

A picture of the three volume encyclopedia Prof. Chris Fee worked on with his students.

By the end of the two-year project, both Francisco and Smith had graduated from Gettysburg College and were taking the next steps in their careers. They’ve found countless connections between the work they did on this project and the work they do now, too.

For Francisco, that meant pursuing a double Masters in Art History and Museum Studies at Syracuse University, with a focus on 20th-century American art. In her courses, she is constantly challenged to view artwork from an interdisciplinary perspective, and having a background in American storytelling, sociological traditions, and history has been invaluable to that goal.

She’s also served as a graduate intern in Publishing Office at the National Gallery of Art, and has served as a curatorial intern at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, both in Washington, D.C.

“It all built very progressively for me,” explained the art history and English with a writing concentration double major and studio art minor. “As someone who is fairly young and about to launch my own career, having all of this professional editing experience has been invaluable to me and the opportunities I’ve been able to pursue.”

For Smith, that meant relocating to Las Vegas, Nevada, to work as an account coordinator for Kirvin Doak Communications, an award-winning company offering public relations, marketing, and social media solutions. With clients including MGM Resorts International and several other properties along the strip, her editing expertise and publishing background is often called upon to better promote her clients.

“You always want to feel valuable when you are on a team, like your skill set is making an impact,” said the English with a writing concentration major. “I’m fortunate to be on a team that can regard editing and my skillset that way.”

Fee’s found a way to build on this project, too. He has sign a second contract with ABC-CLIO to produce a two-volume encyclopedia, Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories in American History. This new deal will allow him to engage three of his students as assistant editors, and also to solicit students in his course “The Truth about Tall Tales: Saga, Myth, and Orality from the Lost Gods of Britain to Contemporary Conspiracy Theories” to submit essays written for class for consideration as scholarly entries for the encyclopedia.

“In my career, I’ve proven what I want to prove,” Fee said. “Now I want to help my students reach the same level in realizing their dreams.”