Dale Calhoun

Reelfoot Lake boat-builder, Tiptonville
National Heritage Fellowship (1998)

For the last fifty years of his life, Dale Calhoun (1935-2007) was the principle maker of the unique Tennessee watercraft associated with Reelfoot Lake in the northwest corner of the state. The “lakeboat” or “stumpjumper” evolved in the 1800s to navigate this flooded cypress swamp created by earthquakes early in the century. Dale’s great-grandfather Joseph was a blacksmith who’d become involved in boat-building by the early 1900s. By Dale’s lifetime the Calhoun shop dominated this local tradition, and the pirogue-like boat had attained its modern features, with an unusual forward-facing oar system, inboard motor, and lever-operated rudder. Dale constantly built boats in his spare time during a long career with the Tennessee Department of Corrections. He was featured in the Tennessee program at the 1986 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife, and for over twenty years he served as a cultural ambassador for Reelfoot by doing demonstrations of his craft at events throughout Tennessee.

Further Reading

  • Andrews, James G., “The Reelfoot Boat-Builders,” Memphis Commercial Appeal Mid-South Magazine (December 30, 1973): 4-6.
  • Caldwell, Russell H., “Boats by Calhoun,” in Reelfoot Lake: History-Duck Call Makers-Hunting Tales (Union City, TN: Caldwell’s Office Outfitters, 1988), pp. 68-71.
  • Cogswell, Robert, “Dale Calhoun & the Reelfoot Lake Boat,” Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin 59, #2 (1999): 48-60. Reprinted in Ted Olson and Anthony P. Cavender, eds., A Tennessee Folklore Sampler: Selections from the Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin, 1935-2009 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2009): pp.29-41.
  • ——-, “Dale Calhoun, 1935-2007,” Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin 63, #1/2 (Spr-Fall 2007): 57.
  • Conover, Robin, “Calhoun’s Reelfoot Lake Boats,” Tennessee Magazine 35, #3 (Mar 1991): 24-25.
  • Creason, Joe, “The Boats That Go Hind-End Fore: They can dodge Reelfoot Lake’s snags,” Louisville Courier-Journal Magazine (October 26, 1963), pp. 35-38.
  • Dupree, Spence, “The Calhouns: Three Generations of Boatbuilding,” The Jackson (TN) Sun (June 30, 1975), p. 6C. Gammerdinger, Harry, “The Reelfoot Stumpjumper: Traditional Boat Building in Tennessee,” in Robert E. Walls and George H. Schoemaker, eds., The Old Traditional Way of Life (Bloomington, IN: Trickster Press, 1989), pp. 78-95.
  • Garth, Gary, “Reelfoot Revisited,” Field & Stream 102, # 4 (August 1997): 68-71.
  • Govenar, Alan, Masters of Traditional Arts: A Biographical Dictionary (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2001), pp. 95-97, 706-7.
  • Pomeroy, Maurice, “The Stumpjumper of Reelfoot Lake,” Tennessee Conservationist 40, #9 (Sep 1974): 18-20.
  • Tuberville, Jack, “The Reelfoot Lake Boat: A Tennessee Original,” Tennessee Conservationist 53, # 6 (Nov/Dec 1987): 3-5.
  • ——-, “A Well-Used Boat: The Reelfoot Lake Stumpjumper,” Wooden Boat 82 (May/Jun 1988): 19-20, 23, 25.
  • Wilson, George Tipton, “Reelfoot Stumpjumpers: A Family Tradition,” Tennessee Conservationist 61, #5 (Sep/Oct 1995): 26-29.