Copyright notice

This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Is anything in this article factually incorrect? Please submit a comment.

Printer-friendly page

Gander Pulling

by Marilyn Wright, 2006A Gander Pull - Harper's Weekly. 1887. By Frederick Remington.

Viewed from the perspective of contemporary Virginians and South Carolinians, North Carolina in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries seemed to exhibit a rough, "backwoods" character with no well-defined culture to smooth the rough edges. The sport of gander pulling, as well as similar rural pastimes such as horse racing, gambling, cockfighting, and "gouging" fist fights, reinforced this image. Gander pulling was particularly popular around Easter time. An old, tough gander (male goose) was hoisted up by his heels with his neck well greased. Each contestant, sufficiently fortified by ample amounts of homemade corn liquor, mounted his horse and galloped by the swinging goose. He reached for the neck and struggled to yank its head from its body. There were frequent failures in this contest. The combination of alcohol, flapping goose, and uneven horse gait easily threw contenders off their mounts.

The event offered a holiday outing for nearly everyone. Female spectators-who seem to have enjoyed gander pulling as much as men-cheered the crude "knights" on their sturdy mounts and encouraged them to "seize the day" (or gander). Each competitor hoped he would tear the prize from the body and nobly present a battered, bloody trophy to the lady of his choice. Although this entertainment seems cruel by modern standards, daily life itself in those days could be quite difficult and barbarous.

Around 1810 many North Carolinians experienced a strong religious revival movement as Evangelical Christians preached to their congregations the need for a disciplined life, free of frivolous entertainment and drunken amusement. Entertainment began to take on a more benevolent form. Corn shucking and barn raising were still acceptable, while gander pulling came to seem a little too brutal for society's new sensibilities. Voting day, however, remained a good excuse for public drunkenness.


Hugh T. Lefler, ed., North Carolina History Told by Contemporaries (1965).

Harry L. Watson, An Independent People: The Way We Lived in North Carolina, 1770-1820 (1983).

Image Credit:

A Gander Pull - Harper's Weekly. 1887. By Frederick Remington.



Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia provides the comments feature as a way for viewers to engage with the resources. Comments are not published until reviewed by NCpedia editors at the State Library of NC, and the editors reserve the right to not publish any comment submitted that is considered inappropriate for this resource. NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, note that some email servers, such as public school accounts, are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at