“Deceptive Land Purchase: Ox Hide Measure”

Jarrett Moran created “Deceptive Land Purchase: Ox Hide Measure” from a variety public domain sources: New-York Historical Society Collections (1841), John Conington’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid (1866), Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker’s History of New York (1809), William Strachey’s “True Reportory of the Wrack and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates Knight” in Samuel Purchas’ Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625), M. Barbeau’s Huran and Wyandot Mythology (1915), and J. O’Donoghue’s Humor of Ireland (1894). Please click here to read.

About the poem and the process of composing it, Jarrett writes:

For years, I collected examples of stories about settlers cheating Indigenous people with a particular trick, a story widespread and common enough to have been given a label by folklorists, “K185.1, Deceptive Land Purchase: Ox Hide Measure.” The stories go something like this: Strangers arrive, usually on a boat, and ask for only as much land as can be covered with the hide of an ox, so that they can rest and repair their ship. Having reached an agreement, they then cut the hide into a tiny strip and encircle enough land to found a colony. Dido was said to have founded Carthage in this way, and these stories were also told in many of the places where European traders and settlers founded colonies, in South Africa, Southeast Asia, and North America. The deceptive land purchase stories, with their layered voices and unruly recursiveness, resisted any particular project that I tried to build around them, until one day, some of them fell together into this poem.