Skip to toolbar
Press "Enter" to skip to content

Babbitts and Butterfields

Archivist note: This article is from an older recovered archive and might be obsolete or in need of updating.

Most recent revision is shown below, by Galactic Baroque.


”'”Like Babbitts and Butterfields” is a rural phrase referring to things that are too similar to be sorted out. The origin of the saying comes from the history of two farm families who are part of the Dairy Cooperative.”’

The Babbitts are a well-regarded family in the Dairy Cooperative with prolific herds of cows, stockyards filled with weaner pigs and rich fields of sweet alfalfa. One of the original families in the cooperative, they have an odd relationship with another founding family: the Butterfields. A generation before, as the story goes, Noah Babbitt and Silas Butterfield were best friends who married the twin Crenshaw sisters of Bump (Lisbeth and Elizah). All was going well for many years, each man building his livestock wealth, extending his property holdings and fathering children just as fast as those Crenshaw girls could mother them.

At some point though, Lisbeth, who was Noah Babbitt’s wife, broke down weeping and revealed that she had been having an affair with Silas Butterfield, and that some of Noah’s children were likely Butterfields. Naturally Noah showed up at Silas’ door with a loaded shotgun and a tearful wife, demanding to know if her story was true. Silas looked dazed. He gently pushed the barrel of the shotgun away from his person and called to his wife, Elizah, who was also in red-eyed from crying. It seems that Elizah had just confessed to the same crime, only that her beau was Noah himself. Naturally this puzzled the men so they sat their women down, sent all the children out of the house, and waited for the real story.

This is when Lisbeth and Elizah revealed that they had actually been trading places with one another since the beginning, and that by this time, their lines of Butterfields and Babbitts were inextricably entwined. No one could say which child belonged to which father, and only the women could say which belonged to each of them. The men were enraged and demanded that the women stay where they were. Noah and Silas walked down to the creek and took a growler of moonshine out of the hollow tree, as was their tradition when they needed to escape the demands of being patriarchs. After a good many shots, Noah finally spoke.

“Well, Silas, a fine return we got on these girls.”

“Ayup,” said Silas.

“Whattaya figure we gonna do?” Noah asked. “Can’t let it go on like this now.”

“Nope,” said Silas.

Night fell, and it wasn’t until the wee hours of the morning that the men finally returned to Silas’s house. Finding both of the women there playing pinochle at the kitchen table, they announced their plan. Lisbeth was to keep her hair cut short, and Eliza was to let hers grow long. In the morning, they were to line up the children and attempt to pick them apart by resemblance, and those who couldn’t be identified would be evenly split between the fathers, who would take turns picking. The last-picked sons would inherit the greatest share of their (perhaps new) father’s wealth to make up for being the last-picked.

The last picked son of Silas Butterfield had previously been known as Samuel Babbitt.

The last-picked son of Noah Babbitt had already been known as Jamison Babbitt, a boy of whom Noah had never been particularly fond. Still, Jamison Babbitt proved himself a capable farmer in spite of the fact that as he grew older he resembled neither father.

Unfortunately for all, Jamison fell in love with Emmaleen Butterfield, who had been born after the Great Picking. Her mother swore on a stack of hammers that she hadn’t been Jamison’s mother, but Noah and Silas still didn’t trust their Crenshaw women so the two young ones were forbidden to marry. Late one August, however, the two of them disappeared for a week and then came home driving a brand new ass-cart. They had filled the bed of the cart with bottles of fine liquor from New Babbage, where they had just been married by one of the Brothers in the big cathedral. They gave their fathers all of the liquor, plied their mothers with flowers and kisses, and waited for the blessings of their families.

Stunned, the fathers stared at their children, not knowing what to do.

Finally, Noah shrugged and said, “what were done be done.”

“Ayup,” said Silas.

The two men carved an adjoining parcel of land out of their vast holdings and gave it to the newlyweds as a gift. It was on this homestead that Jamison Babbitt and Emmaleen Butterfield grew their own herds and raised their own children. Never forgetting the honor done them by the big church in New Babbage, they sent two of their own boys to be raised by the clerics and be the first of their people to be educated in the city.

”-Junie Ginsburg”

Spread the love