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Anthology of Louisiana Literature

Alcée Fortier
“Jean Sotte.”

There was once a fellow who was so foolish that everybody called him Jean Sotte. He was so simple that every one made fun of him. He would light the lamp in daytime, and put it out at night; he would take an umbrella with him only when it was very dark. In summer he would put on a great coat, and in winter he would go nearly naked. In short, he did everything contrary to common sense. King Bangon, who loved to play tricks, heard of the sayings and deeds of Jean Sotte, and sent for him to amuse his friends. When Jean came to the king all began to laugh, as he looked so awkward. The king asked him if he knew how to count. Jean replied that he knew how to count eggs; that yesterday he had found four and two. “How much does that make?” said the king. Jean went to count the eggs, and on returning said there were four and two.

“Exactly,” said the king, “But tell me, Jean Sotte, they say that Compair Lapin is your father?”

“Yes, he is.”

“No, no,” said some one else; “I think it is Compair Bouki.”

“Yes, yes,” said Jean Sotte; “it is he also.”

“No, no,” said an old woman who was passing; “it is Renard who is your father.”

“Yes,” said Jean Sotte, “All of them; they are all my fathers. Every time one of them passes by me he says, ‘Good-morning, my child.’ I must believe, then, that they are all my fathers.”

Everybody laughed at Jean Sotte; then the king said: “Jean Sotte, I want you to bring me to-morrow morning a bottle of bull's milk. It is to make a drug for my daughter, who is sick, and has a sideache in her back.”

“All right,” said Jean Sotte, “to-morrow morning early I shall bring it.”

King Bangon then said :—

“On the first of April, in one month, you will come. I want you to guess something. If you guess, I will give you my daughter in marriage, but if you try three times, and do not succeed, my executioner will have to cut your neck.”

“All right,” said Jean Sotte, “I will try.” And then he went away, pretending to go and get the bull's milk.

When he reached home, he related to his mother all that had happened, and the old woman began to cry, and could not be consoled, because, however foolish her boy was, she loved him, as he was her only child. She forbade him to go to the king, and threatened to tie him in her cabin, or to have the sheriff throw him in prison. Jean Sotte paid no attention to his mother, and started before daybreak, with his axe on his shoulder. He soon arrived at the house of the king, and he climbed into a big oak-tree which was before the door. He began, “caou, caou, caou,” to cut down the branches with his axe, and he woke up everybody in the house. One of the servants of the king came out to see what was the matter; and when he saw Jean Sotte on the top of the tree, he said: “But what is your business there? Fool that you are, you are disturbing everybody.”

“It is not your business, — do you hear?” said Jean Sotte. “Are you the watch-dog to be barking thus in the yard? When your master, King Bangon, comes, I will tell him what I am doing here.”

The king came out, and asked Jean Sotte what he was doing there. He replied that he was cutting the bark to make some tea for his father, who had been delivered the day before of two twins.

“What!” said the king, “For whom do you take me, Jean Sotte. Where did you ever hear of a man in childbirth? I think you mean to make fun of me.”

“How is it that yesterday you asked a bottle of bull's milk? If you were right, I am also.”

The king replied: “I believe that you are not so foolish as you want to make people believe. Go to the kitchen, and they will give you your breakfast. Don't forget to come on the first of April, that we may see which of us will be the April fool.”

On the first of April Jean Sotte mounted his horse and went out without his mother seeing him. Compair Bouki, who is deceitful and evil-minded, said: “I shall prevent Jean Sotte from going, because I know he is so foolish that they will cut his neck and keep his horse. It is better that I should profit by it, and take his horse. Don't you say anything; you will see what I shall do.”

He took a large basket full of poisoned cakes, and put it on a bridge where Jean Sotte was to pass. “If he eats those cakes, he will die, and I shall take the horse.”

Bouki knew that Jean Sotte was greedy and that he would surely eat the cakes. Compair Lapin liked Jean Sotte, because one day, when he was caught in a snare, Jean Sotte had freed him. He did not forget that, and said: “I want to protect the poor fellow,” and before daybreak he waited on the road for Jean Sotte. When he saw him, he said: “Jean Sotte, I am coming to render you a service, listen to me: don't eat or drink anything on your way, even ifyou are dying of hunger and of thirst; and when the king will ask you to guess, you will reply what I am going to tell you. Come near; I don't want anybody to hear.”

Compair Lapin
Compair Lapin.

Compair Lapin then told him what to say. “Yes, yes, I understand,” said Jean Sotte, and he began to laugh.

“Now,” said Compair Lapin, “Don't forget me when you marry the king's daughter; we can have good business together.”

“Yes,” said Jean Sotte, “I shall not forget you.”

“Well, good luck, pay attention to all you see, look on all sides, and listen well.”

Then Jean Sotte started, and a little while afterwards he arrived at a bridge on the river. The first thing he saw was the basket full of cakes which Compair Bouki had placed there. They smelled good and they were very tempting. Jean Sotte touched them and felt like biting one, but he remembered what Compair Lapin had told him. He stopped a moment and said: “Let me see if they will do harm to my horse.” He took half a dozen cakes and gave them to his horse. The poor beast died almost immediately and fell on the bridge. “See, if I had not been prudent, it is I who would be dead instead of my horse. Ah! Compair Lapin was right; a little more and I should have been lost. Now I shall have to go on foot.”

Before he started he threw his horse into the river; and as the poor beast was being carried away by the current, three buzzards alighted on the horse and began to eat him. Jean Sotte looked at him a long time, until he disappeared behind the point in the river. “Compair Lapin told me: ‘listen, look, and don't say anything;’ all right, I shall have something to ask the king to guess.”

When Jean Sotte came to the king nobody was trying to guess, for all those who had tried three times had been put to death by the king's executioner. Fifty men already had been killed, and every one said, on seeing Jean Sotte: “There is Jean Sotte who is going to try, they will surely cut off his head, for he is so foolish. But so much the worse for him if he is such a fool.”

When he saw Jean Sotte the king began to laugh and told him to come nearer. “What is it,” said he, “That early in the morning walks on four legs, at noon on two, and in the evening on three legs?”

“If I guess, you will give me your daughter?”

“Yes,” said the king.

“Oh! that is nothing to guess.”

“Well, hurrah! hurry on if you don't want me to cut your neck.”

Jean Sotte told him, it was a child who walked on four legs; when he grew up he walked on two, and when he grew old he had to take a stick, and that made three legs.

All remained with their mouths wide open, they were so astonished.

“You have guessed right; my daughter is for you. Now, let anybody ask me something, as I know everything in the world; if I do not guess right I will give him my kingdom and my fortune.”

Jean Sotte said to the king: “I saw a dead being that was carrying three living beings and was nourishing them. The dead did not touch the land and was not in the sky; tell me what it is, or I shall take your kingdom and your fortune.”

King Bangon tried to guess; he said this and that and a thousand things, but he had to give it up. Jean Sotte said then: “My horse died on a bridge, I threw him into the river, and three buzzards alighted on him and were eating him up in the river. They did not touch the land and they were not in the sky.”

Everybody saw that Jean Sotte was smarter than all of them together. He married the king's daughter, took his place, and governed the kingdom. He took Compair Lapin as his first overseer, and hanged Compair Bouki for his rascality. After that they changed Jean Sotte's name and called him Jean l’Esprit.


  1. Compair Lapin. Brother Rabbit.
  2. Compair Bouki. Brother Hyena.
  3. Renard. A trickster fox.
  4. "Caou, caou, caou." An onomatopoeia, similar to "chop, chop, chop."
  5. “That early in the morning walks on four legs, at noon on two, and in the evening on three legs?” The classic riddle asked by the sphinx guarding the city of Thebes. Oedipus successfully answered it, as Jean Sotte does for King Bangon in this story.


Fortier, Alcée, trans."Jean Sotte." Louisiana Folk-tales in French Dialect and English Translation. Ed. Alcée Fortier. Boston: American Folk-Lore Society, 1895. 63-69. Internet Archive. Web. 25 March 2013. < http:// archive.org/ details/ ajs8769. 0001.001. umich.edu >

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