As the coffee kicks in after a very fine Thanksgiving meal I am pondering the clues of how a story might have traveled from Europe to the US.
Originally I found a tale in Vance Randolph's Who Blowed up the Church House? entitled "White-Bear Whittington." The title had caught my attention, since there is also the English legend of "Dick Whittington and his Cat," though this is legend connected to a 14th century Mayor of London.
And none of the later tales have anything to do with a cat.
The Ozark story bears a very loose resemblance to East of the Sun West of the Moon and The Black Bull of Norway.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Bull_of_Norroway). The Ozark version, though, doesn't have the husband shape shift - he simply wears a white bearskin coat. His bewitchment occurs when he is entranced from his family by a sorceress.
My curiosity was reawakened (though not solved) when I came upon William H. Hooks' picture book, Snowbear Whittington: An Appalachian Beauty and the Beast. It is very similar to East of the Sun West of the Moon. I found a interesting website, AppLit
(http://www2.ferrum.edu/applit/bibs/tales/whitebear.htm), which offers an excellent overview of the American variations, and learned that the tale is also known as, "The Three Golden Nuts." And I also learned that Mr. Hooker based his story upon oral performances that started off very like Beauty and The Beast.
I, however, have not yet learned why the name, "Whittington" has had such staying power with the tales.
I am a Springfield, IL based storyteller with a fascination for how folklore travels, and for history.