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  • Writer's pictureFolkloristan

John Henry

John Henry knew from the time he was a little boy that he was going to be a steel drivin’

man. In those days, the railroads were being built, great steel lines that cut through the

mountains. Many men got jobs building the railroads.

John Henry grew up big and strong and became a steel drivin’ man. Day after day, he

swung his great big hammer. Rain or shine, sun or snow, John Henry worked with his hammer in his hand. And everyone said he was the best steel drivin’ man.

But one day a white man invented a steam drill, said the steam drill could do the work of a steel drivin’ man. John Henry and every man like him would be out of a job.

John Henry said that he’d die before he’d let a machine beat him. He swore that he

could drill deeper into the mountain with his hammer than the white man’s steam drill could. He hammered til the sun hung low in the sky. They say he hammered fifteen feet into the rock, but the steam drill only hammered nine feet.

But John Henry hammered so hard he broke his heart, so he laid down his hammer and

died with a hammer in his hand. And everyone said he was the best steel drivin’ man.


This is an African-American tale from North America, and has been contributed by the Fairy Encyclopedia.

It is a part of our series, Folklore Worldwide. With so much cruelty in the world, it is now more important than ever to keep our humanity alive with our stories. #FolkloreAgainstFascism

We are currently open to submissions from around the world, and you are welcome to send us your stories!

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