Buried deep in American mythology is the legend of John Henry. As the story goes, John Henry was the biggest, baddest, strongest man ever worked for the railroad! Some say John Henry was born with a hammer in his hand. When he swung that 14-pound hammer down, the earth shook for miles around. Some days he pounded so hard his hammer heads melted plumb off the handles. Mighty John Henry was the only railroad worker tough enough to conquer Big Bend Mountain…until one day this slick-talking salesman showed up at camp. He claimed his steam-powered drill could out dig, out pound, and out last any man – including John Henry. Then the salesman challenged John Henry to a hole-drilling contest – Man vs. Machine. John Henry sweated and swung and pounded like he never had before. The drill machine hummed right beside him. When the dust finally settled, John Henry and his steel-driving hammer had beaten that slick machine. But the contest cost him dearly. As the other men cheered his victory, John Henry took his final breath. Then his mighty hammer hit the ground one last time.
This tall tale is part of the On My Own Folklore series for emerging readers that also features other folktale legends: Calamity Jane, Casey Jones, Mike Fink, Paul Bunyan, and Pecos Bill.
What do Harriet Tubman and John Henry have in common? They both worked on a "railroad"! To read about the woman they called "Moses", click on the book review link below.