The mythologies of Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Vikings, and even England go back thousands of years, so isn't the United States just too young for that sort of thing? Not so! In our relatively short history of just over 200 years, several "tall tales" have arisen in our culture. This book provides competent retellings of eight American folk heroes. They include some fictional characters like lumberjack Paul Bunyan, cowboy Pecos Bill, sea captain Alfred Bulltop Stormalong, and steelworker Joe Magarac; a few real individuals about whom many legends have sprung up, such as riverboat man Mike Fink, frontiersman Davy Crockett, and pioneer Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman); and one semi-historical person, railroad hammerman John Henry.
Some of the stories are fairly familiar, while others are not so well known. Concerning John Henry, in Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend, Scott Reynolds Nelson, an associate professor of history at the College of William and Mary, contends that the John Henry of the ballad was based on a real person, the 20-year-old New Jersey-born freeman, John William Henry (prisoner #497 in the Virginia penitentiary), who might have come to Virginia to work on the clean-up of the battlefields after the Civil War, was arrested and tried for burglary, but was among the many convicts released by the warden to private contractors to work as a leased laborer on the C&O Railway. A couple of common euphemisms (blast it, tarnation) occur, and there are some references to tobacco use and to dancing. However, these accounts are an important part of our society's heritage. One reader reviewer wrote, "I don't remember Johnny Appleseed being quite as silly," but please note that this isn't intended to be a biography of the actual John Chapman but a picture of Johnny Appleseed from American folklore.show more
by Wayne S. Walker