Introduction to the Study of American Tall Tales

Tall tales began in the 1800's as a way for pioneers to understand the greatness of the American west. There were huge forests, ferocious animals, deserts, and mountains. The pioneers were trying to conquer these elements, and that was a scary business. The heroes and heroines in the tall tales were also huge and often ferocious. They made the taming of America a little easier to handle.

Some of the heroes and heroines in tall tales are real people like Davy Crockett and Johnny Appleseed. Their stories got exaggerated a lot. Other tall tale characters were not real people. Characters included sea captains, loggers, railroad workers, cowboys, and firefighters. Tall tale tellers combined information about what was really happening at the time with wild tall tale fantasy.

There were a few bad things about tall tales. In general, they were very negative towards African Americans, Native Americans, women, and animals. They also took a pretty dim view of the enviornment. After all, the people in the tales were trying to conquer the wilderness of American. The best way to do that, they thought, was to cut down every tree in sight, take whatever land they needed, and use people to help the country grow. We know today that the approach used in the nineteenth century was not a good one.

Some of the tall tales we'll read will be a little bit more human than others. There is still some violence, but that was part of America in the 1800's. The tall tales you'll read will have great metaphors and similes. The amount of exaggeration is immense, but that's what makes them fun to read. Go Ahead Now..., Read, Learn, Laugh, and Imagine!

Unit Introduction

Assignment from American Tall Tales

Student Work

Assignment from Cut From the Same Cloth

Student Work

This unit was created by Emily Rubinfield, with technical assistance from Carol Siwinski, for use in the fourth grade at Germantown Academy