Will M. Maupin’s Nebraska Tall Tale

Exaggeration Card

This “Exaggeration” postcard boasted of Nebraska cabbages

The career of Nebraska newspaperman Will M. Maupin (1863-1948) lasted for more than sixty years and included employment on at least twenty different newspapers around the state. His widely read “Limnings” column appeared in the Omaha World-Herald during the late 1890s. Maupin’s “limnings,” brief descriptions of persons or events, consisted of reminiscences, anecdotes, editorial comment, and verse on local culture, politics, history, and folklore. He sometimes repeated Nebraska tall tales. 

From “Limnings,” Omaha World-Herald, July 17, 1897: “Herb Leavitt of the Union Pacific legal department is willing to go on record as declaring that irrigated Nebraska beats the world for productiveness. A few days ago an Ohio man was boasting of the productiveness of Ohio soil and told some stories of large and quick yields. Being a lawyer and an honest man, Mr. Leavitt could not allow the Buckeye to hold first honors.

“‘Speaking about large and quick yields,’ said Leavitt, ‘we have just received a report from a section boss on the North Platte division that shows what Nebraska can be in this line. The section boss and his crew started out one morning, and when about four miles from Sidney discovered that a pumpkin vine had created havoc with the track. It had grown up in the night and headed itself at right angles with the rails. Some of the vine’s tendrils had wound around the rails, and they were dragged eighty feet out of plumb.’

“‘Of course, this made the track impassible, and the section boss prepared to straighten it out. Just as he began he happened to think that the east-bound limited was here in forty-nine minutes, and he realized that he did not have time to get the track in shape with the small force at command. He thought for a moment and suddenly recalled that he had a few pumpkin seeds in his pocket. He turned over a spadeful of the rich Nebraska soil, dropped in a couple of pumpkin seeds, and emptied the handcar water cask upon the spot. When the vine came up he trailed it across the track in the direction of its original location. That vine grew so fast and exercised such great power that it yanked the track back into place just six and a half seconds before the limited shot by without a jar.'”

In later years tall tales such as Maupin’s, boasting of Nebraska’s superior agriculture, were represented in pictorial form on “exaggeration” postcards, used to advertise facetiously the products of the state. Samples from the History Nebraska’s collection of exaggeration postcards-depicting everything from oversized vegetables to giant grasshoppers and rabbits-are posted on its website.

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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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