America is full of wonderful tall tales that serves as great stories about the past of the United States. While most of us know that many of these tall tales are overly exaggerated stories, what is the truth behind some of them? Is the truth very different from the tall tale, or is the truth stranger than the fiction of the tall tale?
Here is the truth behind some of the most famous American tall tales.
Everyone knows about the man who apparently walked around the United States with a sack of apple seeds slung over his shoulder and an iron pot on his head. He would plant apples as he walked, he could talk to animals and he was friends with everyone that he met. He was Johnny Appleseed, but just how much of his tale is actually true?
The surprising thing here is that the tale of Johnny Appleseed is actually much grounded in reality. Johnny Appleseed was a real person named John Chapman, who was born in 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts. His father had fought in the Revolutionary War and Chapman himself was actually a good businessman. As the west opened up to settlers, Chapman would move ahead of the settlers to places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois. He would guess where the settlers would settle and then plant an apple nursery in the area. When the settlers arrived, he would sell small apple trees to him.
Chapman would plan the apple trees and move on and he would leave someone he knew in charge and they would share the profits. Now, while he was a good business in the sense that he knew how to make money, he was not a good businessman in that he did not work to hard to collect the money. Often he would take old clothes, cornmeal and simply a promise that the customer would one day pay.
Now, as for being able to speak to animals, no that is not true in the least. He was a deep animal lover though and always treated animals well. Many stories have been told of him purchasing old horses and giving them a pasture so that they could live out their days in peace and quiet. If the horse was not old, he would sell the horse to someone after he cared for it, on the promise that the horse would be treated humanely. Chapman was very charitable but even so he was relatively well-off. He left his sister a 1,200 acre property that was made up of his nurseries, as well as four plots of land in Indiana that had a total of 15,000 trees.
Johnny Appleseed-Chapman died in Fort Wayne, Indiana on March 18, 1845. He left behind many acres of orchards in Ohio and Indiana, and one remaining apple tree still exists and continues to yield fruit.
Paul Bunyan is often considered to be the greatest of all American folk heroes. He was a mythological lumberjack who was as tall as a giant and was a lumberjack of unbelievable skill. According to legend, Paul Bunyan created such landmarks as the Grand Canyon, the Great Lakes and Puget Sound. In the tall tale, Paul Bunyan was born when five very tired storks delivered him to his parents in Bangor Maine. As a child, he was given a pet blue ox named Babe who grew so incredibly large that he would eat 30 bales of hay in the middle of the day. Paul grew so large that he was able to carry a giant axe that allowed him to clear an entire forest with just a single swing.
Obviously most of what revolves around Paul Bunyan is a fabrication since we now know that a giant lumberjack did not create the Great Lakes, but ice sheets in the last ice age did. The legend seems to be based on a French-Canadian lumberjack named Fabian “Joe” Fournier, who was born in Quebec, Canada in 1845. He moved to Michigan after the Civil War because it paid so well and he was hired as a boss logger who was very strict. He was a very tall and strong man who could easily wield a double-bit axe that made him a legend in the area as the top “feller” in the entire forest. Fournier was a rough man who drank a lot and fought even more. Eventually, he was murdered in 1875 when he was hit in the head by a mallet.
It was in 1906 that journalist James MacGillivray wrote a Paul Bunyan story for a newspaper, which gave the legend of Paul Bunyan, who at that point was the accumulation of the Fournier legend and other minor local legendary figures. W.B. Laughead who worked in marketing for the Minnesota Red River Lumber Company began to promote their lumber with Paul Bunyan as a mascot.
Most historians now believe that the legend of Paul Bunyan was created as a 20th century advertising campaign as there seems to be no documentary evidence of any Paul Bunyan story before the story by MacGillivray. In those stories, Bunyan is not even mentioned to have a blue ox. It was apparently Laughead who apparently gave Bunyan his famous blue ox.
Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier! We all know the song, and we all know about the legendary figure of Davy Crockett, but how much of his life is actually true? In the tall tales, Davy Crocket was the image of a frontiersman who always wore a coon-skin cap on top of his head.
Born on August 17, 1786, in Tennessee, Crockett spent much of his time shooting a rifle and becoming an excellent marksman. When he was 20, he got married and moved to the mountains of East Tennessee. A few years later as the Creek War broke out; he joined the military to defend the area. As time went on, he became interested in politics, and eventually became a congressman.
This is where many of the tall tales about Davy Crockett come from. His push to help get affordable land to people in Tennessee connected him with the Whig political party. The tall tales were published as political propaganda that favored the politics of the Whig party. This helped take the image of Davy Crockett to the level of folk hero. Some of the stories included that he braved a raging river to get gunpowder, that he hunted and killed many bears (the numbers vary) and that he nearly died from malaria. Davy Crockett even said of some of his ‘tales’, “I know’d this was a whopper of a lie, as soon as I heard it’.
The fact of the matter though is that Davy Crockett was a hero, but maybe not the legendary outdoorsman that he was portrayed to be. He died a hero defending the Alamo with 139 other defenders in 1836.
Author: Craig Baird — Copyrighted © roadtickle.com