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Tall Tales

GEORGE WASHINGTON stood seven feet tall when everyone else was five or shorter. He could chop down trees with his teeth – but only cherry trees. He could wrestle bears. Not that he would win, of course. When crossing the Delaware, he swam. Enemy soldiers were so astonished that they surrendered. Hailed as first victory for colonists.

 

DANIEL BOONE stood eight feet tall and could cover five hundred yards with a single step. This was when roads in America were rare and poor, so he wound up off-road all the time, and sometimes he got lost. Once wound up far into the interior; when he managed to get back, he claimed he had been exploring. Last seen cursing civilization and walking off to the wild horizon, saying he would be back when people regained their sense of wonder. Seen on the horizon in 1850, 1957, 1969. Not seen since. Some people say they can see him in the stars. But only those with the sense of wonder have ever seen him, and until we all feel like that again, he’ll be forever out of reach.

 

JOHN CHAPMAN stood about five feet tall. Could appear to be seven feet when he got angry. Accounts vary. Some say he was the spirit of the wilderness, come to give settlers aid and apples; others say he was a sharp businessman. Former people say that latter people are trying to cover up his true nature; Accused of being naive; Fistfights.

They say that Chapman still walks these hills, planting apple trees. I don’t know who they are. Their words are like whispers on the wind, and when I try to find them, they vanish with faint laughter, and all that’s left is the wind in the trees. Chapman is mocking me.

 

DAVY CROCKETT stood three feet tall, but this was perfect for hitting people in the knees. You felt like you’d been hit by George Washington. Did in fact wrestle gators and catch comets, but didn’t like to  talk about it. Boasting played up after his death at battle of the Alamo. Proved surprisingly effective; he was short enough that everyone shot over his head, and he kneecapped five hundred enemy soldiers before being overwhelmed. Would have helped if there had been someone else fighting with him, but Crockett started the whole thing when he insulted Santa Ana’s mother. So it was his gig, and his death.

 

MIKE FINK was a wealthy riverboat owner who portrayed himself as a former flatboat captain. Was pretty believable, because he could lift five hundred pounds and regularly wrestled bears on deck. Eventually it was discovered that the bear was a man in a suit. This man could also lift five hundred pounds, so the matches were even anyway. One wonders what the wrestling was really about.

 

SALLY ANN THUNDER ANN WHIRLWIND stood as tall as she liked, which varied. Began as an Indian goddess, either of the Delaware or the Mandan, not sure; some say she was actually a Thunderbird in human form. Well, she could throw lightning, that was for sure. Especially when anyone threatened Mike Fink. Which was often. They had some beef against all that wrestling. Maybe they thought it was homoerotic? Except Fink would wrestle Sally all the time too. And lose. Who knows.

            Sally was last seen standing atop the riverboat in a thunderstorm, saying she was going to find Daniel Boone, and not come back till she did. But you can still hear her voice in the thunder, and they say the whirlwind is her footsteps on the earth.

 

STORMALONG began his career on a merchant vessel, and later became captain, but what his family later sought to cover up is that he spent a decade in the China Sea as a pirate. Was the terror of the waves for years, until he too heard the call of Daniel Boone. Search led him through English Channel. Decided to paint a mural to his hero on the Black Cliffs of Dover; locals called it graffiti and whitewashed the whole thing. To give them credit, the mural wasn’t very good.

Heartbroken, Stormalong declared that he would no more bend his mast to let the moon and sun go by, for he was going to sail to the moon, and quit this straight-laced place that had no more room for him.

  Upon landing, the Apollo 17 mission found an inscription in the rock: “Even the moon is too small. I go now to sail among the stars, in whose glittering company I may find peace.”

 

RICHARD NIXON was so sneaky that he managed to write himself into this list. Somebody get him out of here. I’m not having his stench around this place again.

 

JOHN HENRY Stood twenty feet tall and could eat five chickens in one sitting. Tended to deplete the chicken supply wherever he went, but paid fair price for all of it.

            Standard story is that John Henry managed to beat the steam drill and died in the process. A poignant fabrication. What actually happened is uncertain – Mr. Henry’s spike-holder said that he saw the two contestants fusing into some kind of machine man. The operator of the steam drill said that Mr. Henry got so far ahead that they lost sight of him, and he never came out. Either way, Henry seems to be drilling to this day. One wonders where he will come up, and what he will look like.

            Others say this is all nonsense, and he actually faked his death to avoid paying debts for the amount of chicken he ate. But Henry’s wife lived without financial trouble after his death, so where was the debt? Of course, if John Henry was never proclaimed dead, then his debt couldn’t pass on. And he never was proclaimed dead – Henry’s wife saw to that. I don’t want to know how.

            Others say the whole contest was a ruse, so that Henry could cover up what he was really doing: Going to look for Daniel Boone. Why Boone would be underground, I don’t know. Maybe that’s only part of the plan.

                Put your ear to the ground sometime and listen for the tell-tale sound of drilling. It may be John Henry passing by.

 

JOE MAGARAC was, in fact, a machine-man, and he only stood ten feet tall. But what power in those ten feet! They only ever made one of him, as a result. He got real mad when he heard about this. Said he’d like to have somebody of his own kind to talk to. But they said, what would happen if these machine-men were everywhere?

            So Magrarac worked away his days at the steel mill, making more steel and more money than anyone else. Enough that he could pocket some, and nobody would know the difference. Enough steel that he had more than enough to build whatever he wanted, and that wouldn't be missed either.

          Eventually he said that he, too, wanted to find Daniel Boone, and to do it he would spread himself throughout the land – to this end, he melted himself down and was made into steel. But some say he wasn’t looking for Boone at all. He seemed pretty angry in his final days, after all – he sounded like he wanted justice. So maybe it wasn't about Boone.

            Still, the machine uprising hasn’t happened yet, and there aren’t any more machine-men either.

            Yet.

 

THE BOWERY BOYS were eventually made into a company of fire fighters, but the truth is, they were all water-spirits. They said they’d come to Brooklyn because the bay was getting filthy, and also because they’d heard they could find Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind there. No such luck.

              They did act as fire-fighters for a while, but once the fire companies began to work better, they decided they weren’t needed. So they packed up shop and left for an exciting new settlement called Chicago, along the shores of the home of their ancestors, the Great Lakes. There they reigned as Supreme Mayors until 1871, when a revolt saw them driven into the lake. That was the year the city burned. Coincidence?

 

FEBOLD FEBOLDSON stood about yea high, was about yea wide, and once caught a fish about yea big. With a contraption made of spoons. He was a genius, was Feboldson. Could put together anything to solve a problem. Like way to catch fish, stop mosquitoes, and harvest the corn quickly. Once there were no more problems, he would move on, always moving westward. Until he came to the Midwest, and there he met a fellow named Nikola Tesla, who seemed even more of a genius than him. But Feboldson had to convince Tesla to use such talent for good – it was too easy for Tesla to abuse his power.

            Feboldson had tried being a mentor before. The result of that experiment was Thomas Edison. An utter disaster. So he was more careful with Tesla. But Tesla still would not agree to help mankind.

 Edison kept trying to kill them both, but they always saved each other, and had many a daring escapade. Feboldson eventually died in an assault on Edison’s laboratory, and Tesla, grief-stricken, finally vowed to build devices only for the betterment of man.

            And then Edison stole all his designs and took credit for them.

            Life back then wasn’t very fair.

 

PECOS BILL was beautiful and strong, and made the Pecos River his home. He’s always drawn as a white man, but the Mexicans know: he was a Chicano through and through. He was the first cowboy, after all. The first Vaquero. he taught the cattlemen everything they knew, on both sides of the Rio Grande.

            He had a catamount for a mount, and a snake for a lasso, and oft times he would roam up and down the Pecos, killing the giants that lived there. For there were giants, in those days. The Pecos was their home too. But Bill wanted a place his fellow Chicanos could go, away from the white landowners, away from the bandits.

            He lassoed a whirlwind, once, only to find Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind up in his face. Something about how grabbing people’s feet was rude. And she didn’t like him anyway, because these giants had been in the Pecos longer than anyone, even her. But Bill wouldn’t clear off. So they had a titanic battle, all up and down the river, Sally trying to strike Bill with lightning, Bill trying to catch Sally and bring her down. In the end, she threw him clear into Arizona, and took the remaining giants up into the sky, saying they’d be better off where all the other gods had gone.

            Bill returned to the Pecos, only to find the white folks moving in. They’d stayed out because of the giants, see. So Bill left the Pecos, and said he was finished with the whole business. Said he had better things to do than make life easy for white folks. He was last seen riding off into the sunset.

             Most folks don’t remember that part about him. Just the lasso and the whirlwind. But the snakes know, and the cougars know, and some of the Chicanos know. But they don’t know what he intended to do, and since nobody has seen him since, no one can say.

 

PAUL BUNYAN took a while to become an effective tree-chopper. He started out four feet tall, for one thing, and could only swing a small axe. So he ate lots of food, and stretched each morning, and built up his body, until he stood high above the trees.           

He became the enemy of many of the heroes that had gone before him. Sally Ann Thunder Ann whirlwind appeared to him, once, and told him that Daniel Boone wouldn’t appreciate all this tree-chopping. He didn’t listen. She told him about the legend of John Chapman. He didn’t listen to that either. So she struck him with lightning, and that laid him low for a while; still he was up cutting trees as soon as he could.

            The reason the country isn’t completely denuded is twofold: first, the trees eventually began to spring up as fast as he could clear them, and then faster. Secondly, his blue ox eventually ran off, and he found that without Babe, he couldn’t get all the lumber to the mill. Too heavy, even for him. So he had to give up chopping trees, and run off in search of Babe – which he never did find.

            Some say he run up northeast, to the place where Babe had come from. Others say he run northwest to Alaska, where there was good timber, and where Daniel Boone might be. Still others point to the stars, and say, why there’s Babe in the sky right now, and Bunyan following him for eternity.

 

 

If you see Daniel Boone someday, tell me. It means we’re finally coming out of the woods.

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