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I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when looked at in the right way did not become still more complicated - Poul Anderson

Author Topic: John Henry  (Read 28933 times)

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Offline jphauser

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #120 on: September 21, 2016, 10:59:56 AM »
Yesterday in my searchings I stumbled upon a site for the 'Kentucky Alan Lomax Recordings' [http://lomaxky.omeka.net]
Also, not sure if this has been touched on in this thread or not, but I've recently noted two instances of old time performers claiming that John Henry and John Hardy are in fact the same person, a claim which definitely seems incorrect and yet is really interesting. The first I heard of it was in an interview Joe Bussard conducted with Buell Kazee where Buell very emphatically makes the claim for the two men being the same person. Then I noticed a letter from Ernest Stoneman reprinted in 'People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs' which makes the same claim.

A little searching found this:
From Alan Lomax:
"John Hardy was an actual person, a black man, working in the tunnels of West Virginia (just like "John Henry"). In fact, as Alan Lomax remarks, "the two songs ["John Henry" & "John Hardy"] have sometimes been combined by folk singers, and the two characters confused by ballad collectors....")."

Looking forward to reading through the rest of this thread for more insight into this American literary treasure.

I believe that Louis Chappell is credited with settling the argument, at least according to an article in the summer 2004 issue of Southern Cultures titled John Hardy: a desperate Little Man.  The two paragraphs below are an excerpt from it.  (I believe you can access the back issues at no charge on the Southern Cultures website.)

The confusion between John Henry and John Hardy was deeper than the similarity of names. Even W. A. McCorkle, the former governor of West Virginia, mixed up the two. In a 1916 letter, McCorkle wrote that John Henry, the famous steel driver of the 1870s, had gone bad and killed a man in the 1890s.

The facts established by Louis Chappell in the 1920s proved something else altogether. John Hardy, "a desperate little man," was hanged at Welch, West Virginia, on January 19, 1894, after killing a man in a gambling dispute in the Shawnee coal camp. He was described by those who saw him as a small, tough man still in his twenties at the time of the crime, making it impossible that twenty-two years earlier he had been the hero of Big Bend Tunnel.

Jim Hauser
« Last Edit: September 21, 2016, 12:19:44 PM by jphauser »

Offline TenBrook

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #121 on: September 21, 2016, 11:26:44 AM »
Thanks Jim. That article looks really interesting. Seems like you can only access Southern Cultures issues online if you're a student or otherwise in academia. But, it seems you can order back issues online so I'll give that a shot. Would definitely enjoy reading an updated account of the link (or non-link as it were) between these two men/folk legends.

Offline Stuart

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #122 on: September 21, 2016, 12:03:09 PM »
I checked the Project Muse site and they list "John Hardy: A desperate little man" by John Douglas, but the article is actually, "John Henry: Take this hammer, it won?t kill you? by John Douglas. So I guess someone wasn't paying attention when they put the article and the cover page together for MUSE.

Offline jphauser

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #123 on: September 21, 2016, 12:30:28 PM »
Thanks for the title correction Stuart.

Regarding getting a copy of the article, I had a memory lapse about articles from Southern Cultures back issues being available at no charge on its website.  You might check your local public library though.  I believe mine is where I've gotten free copies of articles from that publication  through an  electronic database called Infotrac.

Jim

Offline Johnm

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #124 on: September 21, 2016, 12:49:21 PM »
Hi all,
Several years ago, uncle bud found and posted a picture taken at John Hardy's execution, along with a newspaper account of the events leading up to the execution.  You can find the thread at:  http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=6027.msg48160#msg48160 .  Despite the song's lyrics, John Hardy may have been desperate, but he certainly wasn't little, nor was the crowd of onlookers at his execution.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: September 21, 2016, 03:40:45 PM by Johnm »

Offline Stuart

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #125 on: September 21, 2016, 02:15:15 PM »
Thanks for the reminder, John, and the tip on Infotrac, Jim.

I edited this post to eliminate possible confusion, and not in an attempt to cover up my general incompetence which is already well known in these parts!
« Last Edit: September 21, 2016, 03:18:57 PM by Stuart »

Offline Stuart

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #126 on: September 21, 2016, 03:14:07 PM »
Bonehead Alert!

It looks like I really boneheaded this one. Although Southern Cultures and MUSE list "John Hardy: A desperate little man" by John Douglas as a separate article, it is a section within the "John Henry" article by John Douglas under the same title (on page 77) in the MUSE archives. Although Jim quoted an excerpt from it, here it is as it appears in the "John Henry" article:

John Hardy: A desperate little man
It?s hard to believe, but one of the puzzles that early-twentieth-century folklorists spent time sorting out was whether John Henry and John Hardy were the same man. John Hardy was the villain of a murder ballad that also originated in southern West Virginia. Though ?John Hardy? isn?t quite as well-known as ?John Henry,? the song is also part of both black and white musical traditions. Lead Belly often performed it in the 1940s. Odds are, he learned it from the Carter Family?s 1928 record.
    The confusion between John Henry and John Hardy was deeper than the similarity of names. Even W. A. McCorkle, the former governor of West Virginia, mixed up the two. In a 1916 letter, McCorkle wrote that John Henry, the famous steel driver of the 1870s, had gone bad and killed a man in the 1890s.
    The facts established by Louis Chappell in the 1920s proved something else altogether. John Hardy, ?a desperate little man,? was hanged at Welch, West Virginia, on January 19, 1894, after killing a man in a gambling dispute in the Shawnee coal camp. He was described by those who saw him as a small, tough man still in his twenties at the time of the crime, making it impossible that twenty-two years earlier he had been the hero of Big Bend Tunnel.

Offline TenBrook

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #127 on: September 22, 2016, 05:39:37 AM »
Thanks to Stuart I was able to check out the Southern Culture article and learned quite a bit (including finding out about two early books on John Henry that sound great).

After reading the evidence against John Henry & Hardy being the same person I decided to look further into John Hardy and found an article originally printed in the Journal of American Folklore in 1919 which contains some eye witness accounts that John Hardy was actually in his 40s at the time of his hanging. But, of course, as the article states, no one knows for sure. Still, it makes me wonder if John Douglas had read the Journal of American Folklore article at the time he wrote his John Henry piece. Interested parties can find the article at https://www.jstor.org/stable/535190

All in all it's intriguing to find, after years of knowing the tales of both men, that it's possible (though maybe not probable) that they are actually one man who lived a life that inspired two separate legends and countless renditions of his story in song.

Offline Johnm

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #128 on: September 22, 2016, 11:34:23 AM »
There is not actually any doubt that John Henry and John Hardy were two different people, is there?  They lived at different times.
All best,
Johnm

Offline jphauser

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #129 on: September 22, 2016, 11:40:54 AM »
Thanks to Stuart I was able to check out the Southern Culture article and learned quite a bit (including finding out about two early books on John Henry that sound great).



I imagine those two books are Guy B. Johnson's John Henry: Tracking Down a Negro Legend and Louis Chappell's John Henry; A Folk-Lore Study.  You might also check out a relatively recent book by Scott Reynolds Nelson titled Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend.   Nelson's book is important because it brings out the darker side of the legend--the use of convict lease labor to build some tunnels.  Another researcher named John Garst has written a book, but it has not yet been published.   Garst and Nelson have conflicting theories about who the historical John Henry actually was.  Neither one of them believes the race with the drill took place at Big Bend Tunnel. 

Joseph Scott has summarized Garst's research in the comments section to this Youtube post of Furry Lewis's version.  You can't get to the comments from the WeenieCampbell site.   But you should be able to easily find the video in Youtube and read the comments from there.  (I can't vouch for the correctness of Scott's summary.)


Jim


 
« Last Edit: September 22, 2016, 11:56:18 AM by jphauser »

Offline TenBrook

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #130 on: September 22, 2016, 12:29:27 PM »
Jim,
Thanks for the heads up on Nelson's book and Garst's research. I checked out the summary in the youtube comments. Definitely adds more layers to dissect in tracking down the true story. In this day and age of instantaneous information overload it's nice to spend some time exploring events and people that, despite tireless research, still retain some mystery.

Lew

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #131 on: September 22, 2016, 12:37:18 PM »
Did anyone post this masterpiece from "The Other Side Of The Tracks"? Simultaneously elegiac and uncomfortable, but I think kind of great:
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline Stuart

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #132 on: September 22, 2016, 10:10:46 PM »
Chasing John Henry in Alabama and Mississippi - John Garst

https://www.ibiblio.org/john_henry/alabama.html

Offline Stuart

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #133 on: September 25, 2016, 08:54:01 AM »
Here's the link to Paul Garon's article at the ILAB site:

https://www.ilab.org/eng/documentation/57-john_henry_the_ballad_and_the_legend.html

In it he mentions that that John Harrington Cox later discarded his opinion that John Henry and John Hardy were the same person, but I couldn't find a citation about where Cox states this.

Paul's site: http://www.beasleybooks.com/
« Last Edit: September 25, 2016, 09:12:07 AM by Stuart »

Offline TenBrook

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #134 on: September 26, 2016, 08:43:00 AM »
The more you search, the more you find. Here's a link to a pdf of a
lecture presented at the John Henry Day Celebration in Leeds, Alabama by John Garst on September 15, 2007. Its fairly lengthy but a few pages in I find that it's an illuminating read and I very much enjoy Garst's method of laying out the 'facts'.

http://alabamafolklife.homestead.com/John_Henry_Garst_paper.pdf