Paul Bunyan and John Henry

Week 14: American Folklore - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

John Henry (Harold B. Hazelhurst, Florida)

Reading time: 3 minutes.

From the NPR website: "Listen to Harold B.Hazelhurst sing "John Henry," a work song he learned in a logging camp railroad in central Florida. (Southern Recording Expedition sponsored by Joint Committee on Folk Arts WPA and the Library of Congress, Herbert Halpert in charge, May 12 - June 30, 1939)." There is a fascinating interview at the beginning of the song, which is not transcribed here; I did the transcription for the song lyrics and cannot figure out what John Henry had to be rocked in when he was 6 months old - any suggestions on what he is saying there? email me.

AUDIO VERSION (at the NPR website) - look for it in the list of music files to the left.

When they brought John Henry to this country
They brought him through by land
The people came from far and near
Just to see a steel-drivin' man
Just to see a steel-drivin' man

When John Henry was but 6 days old
You could hold him in the palm of your hand
But when he got to be 6 months old
You had to rock him in a [?]

John Henry told his captain
That a man ain't nothin' but a man
Before I let this hammer outdo me
I'll die with the hammer in my han'
John Henry
I'll die with the hammer in my han'

John Henry had a little woman
And the dress she wore was red
She looked down the track and she never looked back
Says I'm goin' where John Henry fell dead
I'm goin' where John Henry fell dead

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • why did the people come to watch John Henry?
  • what was remarkable about John Henry when he was a baby?
  • what did the woman in the red dress do when John Henry died?

Source: Harold B.Hazelhurst, "John Henry" (recorded in 1939). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM