Chinquapin Hunting – fiddle lesson with Dakota Karper

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West Virginia fiddler Dakota Karper teaches the popular tune Chinquapin Hunting. This version is most closely related to that of Virginia fiddler Norman Edmonds. Chinquapin Hunting is played in the cross tuning AEAE (low to high) and has three parts.

(Find out more about Dakota’s music school The Cat and The Fiddle in Capon Bridge, WV.)

There are several different tunes with this name, seemingly unrelated. But the title itself refers to an edible chestnut found in the eastern United States: Chrysolepis sempervirens. None other than Ralph Stanley ended his autobiography, Man of Constant Sorrow, with this recollection of the chinquapin:

We were the last generation to grow up close to the land, when music was something to get you through the hard times. We take it for granted that we’ll always be around somehow, and that the world we knew, at least our memories of it, will be around, too. And then one day, it’s all gone, and the mountains bury that world forever.

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It set my mind t thinking about things you don’t see anymore. Like the chinquapins that used to grow wild up on Smith Ridge. When I was a boy, there was chinquapin bushes all around these parts. One of the first tunes my mother taught me on the banjo was the old mountain song “Chinquapin Hunting.” Around where I lived, though, you didn’t have to hunt for ’em, because they was everywhere.

Most folks have never heard of a chinquapin, so let me tell you a little about them:

They were little round black nuts, something like a chestnut, but smaller and sweeter. At the end was something like a burr, and you could bite into ’em and they were a real treat. They were a taste of heaven for a couple of brothers who had to forage for food many a time when we were hungry on our way to school. I remember Carter and me roaming the hillsides, picking chinquapins and gobbling handfuls down like they was going out of style. And don’t you know, they did.

Sometime or other, chinquapins just died out, for some reason or another, and there ain’t a one left on the ridge or hereabouts that I’ve seen or heard about for years. You just can’t find chinquapins anywheres. One day, they were as thick as huckleberries, and the next thing you know, they are all gone like they never was. That’s something that will set you thinking.

So I just drove on through the night down the Ralph Stanley Highway […] thinking about chinquapins and some other things that ain’t no more.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Allegheny chinquapin once had a range extending from Pennsylvania to Georgia and west to Arkansas. The common name is derived from Native American language and the species is closely related to American chestnut. In 1905 a disease, chestnut blight, was introduced to the New York Botanical Garden on European Chestnut seedlings. Both American chestnut and chinquapin were susceptible and by the 1940s the disease had spread throughout the range of both species explaining its mysterious disappearance referred by Ralph Stanley.

  2. Thanks so much for the great Chinquapin Hunting lesson. Format of the lesson was great for me–I was able to learn quickly a tune that had evaded me. Thank you Dakota!

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