Paul Bunyan and John Henry

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

John Henry (sung by Wise Jones, Arkansas 1958)

Reading time: 4 minutes.

This recording of John Henry comes from the Max Hunter Folksong Archive, which is familiar to those of you who did the Child's Ballads a few weeks ago. Max Hunter recorded just plain folks singing in their kitchens or their parlors; this particular recording was made in Fayettville, Arkansas on March 25, 1958, and the singer is Wise Jones.


John Henry, he was a little baby
And he set on his mammy's knee
He would point his finger to a piece of steel
And that'll be the death of me, O Lawd
An' that'll be the death of me

Cap'n say to John Henry
Go'in a bring me a steam drill 'round
Go'na carry th round now of th hill
And put that steel on down, O Lawd
An' put that steel on down

John Henry, he say to the Cap'n
Aint go'na let no steel beat me down
Not as long as I got a hammer in my hand
Not as long as a hammer in hand, Lawd, Lawd
Not as long as a hammer in hand

O, th day was hot and burnin'
Sweat like water from a hill
That day John Henry let his hammer fall
O, when let his hammer fall

O, they carried 'im to the graveyard
And buried him in th sand
And every locomotive passin' by
Says, there lies a steel drivin' man, Lawd, Lawd
An' there lies a steel drivin' man

O, who's goin' shoe your footises
And who's goin' glove your hands
And who's goin' kiss them red rosy lips
An' who's goin' be your man, Lawd, Lawd
An' who's goin' be your man

O, my mamma, will shoe my footises
My papa, will glove my hands
And my sister will kiss my red rosy lips
I dont' need no man

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

  • what does John Henry say to his mother when he is little?
  • where is John Henry buried?
  • what does John Henry say to his woman in the last verses? what does she say in reply?

Source: John Henry, sung by Wise Jones (1958). 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