Tall Tales

Tall tales began in the 1800's as a way for pioneers to understand the greatness of the American west. There were huge forests, ferocious animals, deserts, and mountains. The pioneers were trying to conquer these elements, and that was a scary business. The heroes and heroines in the tall tales were also huge and often ferocious. They made the taming of America a little easier to handle. Like comic book super heroes today deal with problems we face, these tall tale heroes dealt with problems that people faced during the 1800's.

Some of the heroes and heroines in tall tales are real people like Davy Crockett and Johnny Appleseed. Their stories got exaggerated a lot. Other tall tale characters were not real people. Characters included sea captains, loggers, railroad workers, cowboys, and firefighters. Tall tale tellers combined information about what was really happening at the time with wild tall tale fantasy.

American Storyteller - The Real Story of Johnny Appleseed

After hearing this story, think about what parts of it were exaggerated to turn the story of John Chapman into the "tall tale" of Johnny Appleseed.

The American West - Davy Crockett
Here's a short biography on Davy Crockett, a pioneer and soldier from Tennessee. These are true stories about his life. Now, once you've read that, read this story of a speech Davy once gave to Congress about just how awesome he was. Keep in mind, there is no evidence that he actually said this, but it shows how the real Davy Crockett became a tall tale character after he died:

"I'm that same David Crockett, fresh from the backwoods, half-horse, half-alligator, a little touched with the snapping turtle; can wade the Mississippi, leap the Ohio, ride upon a streak of lightning, and slip without a scratch down a honey locust [tree]. Who-Who-Whoop — Bow-Wow-Wow-Yough! In one word I’m a screamer, and have got the roughest racking horse, the prettiest sister, the surest rifle and the ugliest dog in the district. My father can whip any man in Kentucky, and I can whip my father. I can outspeak any man on this floor, and give him two hours start. I can run faster, dive deeper, stay longer under, and come out drier, than any chap this side the big Swamp. I can outlook a panther and outstare a flash of lightning, tote a steamboat on my back and play at rough and tumble with a lion, and an occasional kick from a zebra."

Davy definitely knew how to exaggerate!

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