This week we are exploring resources that celebrate South Carolina music . Johnny Thomas Fowler, author and member of the SC Humanities Speakers Bureau , joined us this week to share the story of George Mullins (AKA Trotting Sally).
Tall Tales with Johnny Thomas Fowler
Johnny Thomas Fowler is a storyteller, musician, and author. He is the recipient of the prestigious Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award. His published works are Trotting Sally: The Roots and Legacy of a Folk Hero (Kennedy Free Press) and a children’s book, The Great Train Race: The Day Trotting Sally Beat the Carolina Special (HTP). He hosts a very popular old-time music radio show, “This Old Porch”, on NC public radio station WNCW 88.7 FM.

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Tall tales are as American as apple pie. They are exaggerated stories about colorful characters doing unbelievable things that no human could possibly achieve or want to try. Some of our stories are based on fictional characters like Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill, while others are a celebration of American history and folklore like the stories of frontiersman Davy Crockett and pioneer Daniel Boone. One of the best known tall tales is the story of John Henry - the “steel driving man” - who raced and beat a steam-powered rock drilling machine, only to lay down his hammer and die of heart failure.
One of the most popular tall tale characters from South Carolina is George Mullins, better know as Trotting Sally, the dancing, fiddle playing, and energetic street musician from Spartanburg. Mullins was born on a plantation in Greenville, SC in 1856. After the Civil War, his father relocated the family to the west side of Spartanburg. By the turn of the century Mullins was a local legend; the man who could do the work of three men half his age, throw bricks over ten story buildings, and outrun horses, automobiles, and trains. His nickname, Trotting Sally, was given to him as a child when he raced and beat a horse named Sally.

Trotting Sally seemed to be everywhere traveling only by foot, yet he always carried his fiddle that he nicknamed “Rosa Lee”. During his sidewalk shows he would make her talk, saying, “Rosa Lee - you hungry?” Placing the bow on the strings he would swank out “Y-E-S.” He would then play a spirited version of, “My Darling Nelly Gray” all the while dancing, and then finish with his trademark dog bark or howl. His audience would applaud and often reward his talents with nickels and dimes dropped in a tin cup. Trotting Sally also kept a white ribbon tied on the headstock of the instrument, saying jokingly, “She ain’t no flapper!”

Mullins traveled from town to town playing music and entertaining. Since he was on the road so much, stories of him outrunning locomotives became common. A popular tale is that he would give his hat to the train engineer at the station, outrun the train to the next stop, and be waiting there to retrieve his hat. Another story comes from his days working in the fields. As the story goes, Trotting Sally would pick a roll of cotton ahead of the other workers and take out his fiddle and a play a tune while they caught up.

There are many stories that South Carolinians still share about the legendary Trotting Sally - our very own tall tale hero.