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March 16, Get Widget. Tweets by ReadingRockets. Literacy Apps Find the best apps for building literacy skills. Seriously, an s hippie who walks around the country barefoot, wearing dirty old rags, and planting apple trees everywhere? Well, the exciting truth is that John "Johnny Appleseed" Chapman not only was a real guy, but he was exactly the same cheerful, vegetarian, garden-loving eccentric everyone thinks he was.

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According to Mental Floss , Chapman was a fervent animal rights activist who really did carry a sack of apple seeds everywhere he went. He was also a clever businessman: The reason everyone loved him was because those apples trees he planted weren't used for apple pies, but instead for hard cider, the most popular alcoholic beverage of the day. As if Johnny wasn't already awesome enough, he's also credited with inventing some of today's apple varieties, including the golden delicious. Needless to say, this guy would've fit perfectly into the s, but back in the s, he was quite a weirdo.

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He probably didn't always wear a pot on his head, though, according to Metro. It's more likely that he preferred actual tin hats, though assuming that he did carry around a cooking pot on his travels, he might've popped it on his head from time to time. For generations, the hammer-wielding, superheroic railroad worker John Henry has been an African Ameican folk hero, a civil rights symbol, and a rallying figure for labor unions.

Folktale and Fairy Tale Resources in the CRC: American Tall Tales

Was the famous steel-driving man a real person, though? Well, there have been a few guys named John Henry who worked on railroads during the s, so pinpointing the correct one is a bit tricky. According to the New York Times , this John Henry worked for the Union Army when he was a teenager, until an unfortunate run-in with the law scored him a year prison sentence.

Sadly, there are no records of his release, so he probably never made it back to freedom. During his imprisonment, though, John Henry was enlisted as a construction worker in West Virginia, where he earned 25 cents a day for hard labor. John Henry was a hammer man, and while constructing the Lewis Tunnel, Henry and his coworkers were tested against steam drills, a fact that lines up with the famous ballad.

The real John Henry likely died from this work, just like his mythic counterpart, but probably not from a heart attack: Instead, lung disease was the likely culprit. Fasten your seatbelt for some meta-craziness. The famous Wild West gunslinger Deadwood Dick was originally created as the fictional protagonist for a series of pulp novels written by Edward Wheeler, according to The Mythical West.

These Deadwood Dick novels were the overnight Netflix binges of their day, until the author died in Usually, that would be the end of the story. Instead, though, a number of men suddenly came forward claiming to be the "real" Deadwood Dick who had supposedly "inspired" Wheeler's character.

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Only one of these guys truly earned the pseudonym, though, and that was Nat Love. Born a slave, Love grew up to become a free cowboy, and reportedly got the nickname Deadwood Dick after winning an roping contest in Deadwood. Though Nat Love certainly lived the sort of life they make movies about, NPR says a lot of the myths associated with the Deadwood Dick character today were probably playful tall tales told by Love himself.

Feeling dizzy? Have you ever met a 6-year-old boy who would do something wrong, get accused of doing it, and then proudly admit to his father that "I cannot tell a lie" before fessing up? It'd be nice if all first graders were so forthright, but the oft-told parable of little George Washington and the cherry tree sounds an awful lot like historical revisionism According to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association , the cherry tree story was dreamed up by minister Mason Locke Weems, who published a biography of the first U.

American Folktales and Tall Tales for Kids

The cherry tree wasn't part of Weems' original manuscript, quietly inserted five editions later in It wasn't the only saintly story Weems made up about old George, but for some reason, this particular tale never died. Yes, this famous little story about the benefits of honesty is, in fact, as dishonest as a car salesman.

At least Mr. Weems didn't claim that he could "never tell a lie.

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  • Forget about fighting bears as a kid, valiant wartime efforts, or his alleged reputation as a defender of Native American rights: According to Time , Crockett's participation in the Creek War wasn't a big deal, and the one major "battle" he bragged about was really just a ruthless, mass slaughter of Native Americans. The New Yorker also points out that Crockett, as well as all those other guys who got killed at the Alamo, were slave owners, not heroes.

    To Crockett's credit, during his time as a U. Congressman, he did vote against Andrew Jackson's horrific Indian Removal Act, which forced the Native Americans to relocate against their will. For the most part, though, Crockett's time in Congress was seen as ineffectual, and after three terms he was voted out. How did this guy get so ridiculously glorified? Well, according to History , his colorful personality as a symbol of the "wild frontier" made him a pretty unique politician. He had a lot of charisma, and he liked telling tall tales about himself, particularly in his autobiography.

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    Pulp novelists found him a fun protagonist to work with, and their fictional stories eventually got conflated with the real person. It would be one thing if a kid named Kristen Doctor became a physician, or if Kyle Painter became an artist. But honestly, what are the odds that a woman named Molly Pitcher would become famous for carrying pitchers of water to a bunch of bloody, sweaty soldiers in the American Revolution?

    If this woman was real, according to Biography , historians are pretty sure "Molly Pitcher" was just a nickname. It's been argued that the mythic figure might be a composite of several women who assisted in wartime efforts, including Margaret Corbin — who soldiers often referred to as Captain Molly — and particularly Mary Ludwig Hays, who is often credited as "the real Molly Pitcher. One witness claimed to have seen a cannonball blast right between Hays' legs, ripping up her petticoat, at which point Hays simply commented that she was glad that the shot hadn't passed a bit higher.

    Hays' bravery in wartime was honored in , a decade before her death. Between cacti and coyotes, the Arizona desert can be a scary place.

    Tall Tales

    But to Wild West cowboys, the scariest thing of all was a demonic monster they called the Red Ghost. Described as a foot-tall behemoth, the Red Ghost devoured humans, grizzly bears, and anything else in its path. Rumors of its viciousness spread all the way to the East Coast.

    Here's the thing, though: according to the Smithsonian , the Red Ghost was actually just a bunch of camels. If you're wondering why the heck camels got into the southwest United States, well, good question. Secretary of War thought it'd be a marvelous idea to import camels to transport goods for the Army. The experiment was expensive and unpopular, so most of the camels ended up getting auctioned off. A few of them escaped to the wild, where they could roam the Arizona wilderness and freak out the locals.

    Considering how weird it would be to see a camel stride through your yard in the s, we can excuse some of this Red Ghost silliness. The whole human-eating part, though?