Figures and Legends in American Folklore

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
  • Appleseed, Johnny (John Chapman, 1774-1847): Massachusetts-born nurseryman; reputed to have spread seeds and seedlings out of which grew the apple orchards of the Midwest.
  • Billy the Kid (William H. Bonney, 1859-1881): Desperado who killed his first man before he reached his teens; after short life of crime in Wild West was gunned down by Sheriff Pat Garrett; symbol of lawless West.
  • Boone, Daniel (1734-1820): Frontiersman and Indian fighter, about whom legends of early America have been built; figured in Byron's Don Juan.
  • Buffalo Bill (William F. Cody, 1846-1917): Buffalo hunter and Indian scout; many of the legends about him stem from his own Wild West show, which he operated in late 19th century.
  • Bunyan, Paul: Mythical lumberjack; subject of tall tales throughout timber country (that he dug Grand Canyon, for example).
  • Crockett, Davy (1786-1836): Frontiersman, congressman, and defender of the Alamo, his backwoods humor and larger-than-life adventures made him synonymous with the Wild West.
  • Henry, John: Hero of a popular African American folk ballad. John Henry drilled through more rock than a steam-powered drill but died with his hammer in his hand. The story, which originated about 1870, may have a historical basis.
  • James, Jesse (1847-1882): Bank and train robber; often portrayed as the American Robin Hood.
  • Jones, Casey (John Luther Jones, 1863-1900): Example of heroic locomotive engineer given to feats of prowess; died in wreck when his Illinois Central “Cannonball” express hit a freight train at Vaughan, Miss.
  • Ross, Betsy (1752-1836): Member of Philadelphia flag-making family; reported to have designed and sewn first American flag. (Report is without confirmation.)
  • Uncle Sam: Personification of U.S. and its people; origin uncertain; may be based on inspector of government supplies in Revolutionary War and War of 1812.

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