By Marcy

The United States is a country rich in diverse cultures, and its folklore reflects this diversity.  Most of us know about the escapades of Br’er Rabbit, the fictional character immortalized by Joel Chandler Harris in his book, Uncle Remus: His songs and his sayings. Harris published Uncle Remus in 1880 and there he recorded much of the oral folklore of African-Americans.  Br’er Rabbit always outsmarted the other animals in the woods.

In the story, “Br’er Rabbit falls down the well,” the wily rabbit joined the other animals in planting a garden of corn for roasting.  Soon our rabbit friend tired of his task and pretended to have pricked his hand on a briar.  Sure enough, the other animals urged him to stop and take care of his hand.  Looking for a place to nap while the others worked, the rabbit saw a bucket dangling just above a well.  Jumping in to take a nice cool snooze, he soon found himself very low down in the well where his bucket rested on the water.  Although scared, he kept his wits about him.  When Br’er Fox asked why he was down in the well, the rabbit was ready with an explanation that he was catching all kinds of wonderful fish down at the bottom.  Soon the fox had climbed in the other bucket so he could fish too.  That sent Br’er Rabbit’s bucket back to the top, and off he ran leaving the unfortunate fox now stuck at the bottom of the well. He did come back to warn the fox that a thirsty hunter was on the way to get a drink of water, and the fox had better scamper away quickly when the hunter discovered he was hauling up more than a bucket of water.  When the startled hunter pulled up the bucket with the fox, the scared animal sprang out in a flash and ran to the safety of their garden where fox and rabbit resumed their work as if nothing had happened.

The fictional character, Paul Bunyan, was an unusually large lumberjack who could accomplish great feats of strength.  He began life as a favorite character of lumber camp folklore.  In the early 20th century, the adman, William B. Laughead, built a series of ads for the Red River Lumber Company around Bunyan, bringing the fictional giant national recognition.  He is now known through literature and music, and various statues represent him around the country.

Some well known figures of folklore are based on the lives of real people, such as Johnny Appleseed and Davy Crockett.  Johnny Appleseed, whose real name was John Chapman, is remembered for having planted great numbers of apple trees around the Midwest.  Davy Crockett was born in East Tennessee in 1786, and as a young man joined the Tennessee Militia.  He served in the Tennessee legislature as well as the United States Congress, but quit out of strong disagreement with President Andrew Jackson’s policies.  In time he moved to Texas where he fought and died at the famous Battle of the Alamo in 1836.  Prompted by his own exaggerated stories of his accomplishments, he became a popular character of literature depicting life on the American Western Frontier.  His fame continued into the 20th century with tales of his fabulous exploits shown in movies and on television.

This is just a small sample of our American folklore tradition in which we remember these interesting characters for their cleverness, brute strength, and contributions to American frontier life. Folklore, Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, Davy Crockett