Some American myths and legends include John Henry, Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed. These folk heroes are some of the best known in American culture, and their stories are both enduring and influential.
John Henry, whose deeds feature in a classic song, was an African American folk hero said to be a “steel-driving man.” Henry worked for the railway, drilling holes into rock formations for dynamite demolition. The legend claims that Henry’s skill was tested against a steam-powered hammer. Henry beat the machine, but his heart gave out immediately after the contest. According to the legend, he died clutching his own hammer.
Paul Bunyan was a legendary lumberjack whose stories originate from the oral tradition of American loggers. Bunyan was said to be as tall as a giant, inhumanly strong and always with his companion, Babe the Blue Ox. Bunyan’s exploits, which included fighting mythical beasts and performing superhuman feats of strength, first came to prominence in the early 20th century thanks to writer William B. Laughead, who detailed them in a promotional pamphlet for a logging company.
The legend of Johnny Appleseed was actually based on the life of John Chapman, a 19th-century nurseryman who spread apple trees to large parts of the United States, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Indiana. Chapman became a legend in his own lifetime for his generosity, environmental conservation and association with apples.