Most of us think that the defining element of the frontier was the wilderness. In fact, the most important thing on the frontier was the people who bravely came out to face the wilderness.
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It is also true that whenever people get together, whether in the wilderness of the frontier or in more civilized environs, pretty soon they will begin telling stories, and it will not take long before those stories begin to test the limits of believability. Which is not to say they become fiction or lies, but sometimes the truth can get a bit stretched. Stretch it far enough, and the story becomes a Tall Tale. Just because a story gets labeled as a Tall Tale does not necessarily mean that it is a myth or legend.
Whether tall tales of history lessons, WSM Nashville is a good source. It may not be obvious to people who grew up in the Midwest or on the West Coast, but in colonial times, Tennessee was the frontier and the edge of the wilderness. Even when the Nation began Westward expansion in earnest, there were still areas in the hills of Tennessee that were effectively cut off from civilization. The broadcast of WSM has been a "clear channel" station reaching most of North America at least during the late night hours since The Opry broadcast from the WSM studios on the fifth floor of the National Life building until , by which time there simply was not enough room for all the fans who wanted to see the show.
Tall Tales features a narrator, a folk singer, a "yarn spinner", and actors to present stories from the history of Tennessee. Some of the tales include the breakaway State of Franklin, memories of the Marquis De Lafayette who rode with George Washington and later visited Tennessee, the earthquake of when the Mississippi ran backwards, Davy Crockett and how he sought a wife, the story of Jenny Lind and P. Select from suggested archival materials in the various lessons that you will use in your classroom discussions. Bookmark them, if practical; download and print out the archival documents you select and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
The culminating activity in this unit is the student creation of tall tales. Such tales are built by combining the fictional element of exaggeration with historical elements of nostalgia about the past and anxiety about the future.
John Henry, for example, accomplishes superhuman feats but ultimately cannot stop the changes the steam drill will bring to his profession. Mike Fink works, fights and brags his way up and down the river, but ultimately keel boatmen disappear as steamboats become omnipresent. Ask your students how many have heard of Davy Crockett. What "facts" do they know about him? How many of the students believe Crockett was a real historical figure? How many believe he is a fictional character? Note: Several print resources on tall tales are listed under "Other Resources" at the end of this unit.
Next, lead the students in a discussion of the "tall" elements of the story and the elements that might have a basis in history. Based on the discussion, create a chart of characteristic elements of tall tales that students will use to analyze other tall tales they encounter in this unit. What literary elements are present in this tale? What exaggerations are present in the tale? What historical elements labor disputes, for example do students notice?
Do the students consider Big Fred's story a tall tale? As students discuss these stories, refine the list of tall tale characteristics as desired. David Crockett lived. He was born in Tennessee; he did die at the Alamo. But even these events have become clouded by the tales, some created by the publicity machine of an ambitious man, that have grown up around Crockett, a potential candidate for President of the United States.
If desired, use a map to help the class understand the location of Tennessee, Alabama where Crockett fought in the War of , Washington, D. Discuss briefly what elements in Crockett's life made him a good candidate to be the hero of tall tales in the s. The students have read a tall tale about Crockett and they have read a brief biography. Now, they can analyze some documents to determine whether they are factual, tall tales or a combination of the two.
Working in small groups with a strong reader in each, students should attempt to answer the following about each document:.
Ghost Comforts Couple in Bicknell Haunted House - Folklore Legends Tall Tales
Okay, a million is an exaggeration, but there are many tall tales the class can analyze for comparison. Stories about Johnny Appleseed or Mike Fink such as those from the Stoutenberg book are fruitful for comparison because both Appleseed nee John Chapman and Fink were historical figures. It would also be productive to share a tale about a completely fictional character such as Pecos Bill. Use the opportunity to help students distinguish between the fictional and factual elements of these tales.
Though Pecos Bill probably did not exist as an individual, elements of his tales e. The unit culminates with students creating their own tall tales in either a pioneer or contemporary setting. A tale set in the present time would be particularly relevant, as we are presently undergoing rapid technological change, and an era about which many people are nostalgic—the 20th century—has recently ended. During the time period when students are working on their stories, read tall tales aloud to the class every day.
Encourage students to share their stories when they are completed. Consider ways to publish your students' original stories—from creating a tall tale book for distribution in your school to posting them on your school's website or submitting them to other children's websites. Moore, John Trotwood. Audience: Adult.
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Featuring Robin Williams. NTSC format U. Color, HiFi Sound. Skip to main content. Lesson Plan. Photo caption. Wikimedia Commons. What are the characteristics of tall tales? How do they reflect the historical moment? Lesson Plan Details Preparation.
In the first half of the 19th century, America was undergoing rapid change. Would the frontier spirit, closely associated with the American character at the time, disappear with the frontier itself? Tall tales harked back to an era of rugged individualism. What is gained and what is lost when a frontier disappears? During the late 20th century, America was once again undergoing rapid change.
Who could be our contemporary tall tale heroes? As an example of a literary genre, tall tales will exhibit some of the following characteristics, to which you should introduce your students ahead of time in list format: The main character accomplishes great feats using strength, skill and wits.
The main character is helped by a powerful object or animal. The story starts when the hero is a child e. The story explains how some familiar things began e. The hero has a colorful way of speaking. The hero has one or more companions e. Famous people and places show up in the story. The hero tries hard to be a good person but sometimes fails. The hero does not like what others call progress e. More often than not, the hero dies or disappears. National Archives Educator Resources , available through EDSITEment, offers a series of worksheets for analyzing primary source documents , including written documents and photographs, that you may wish to use or adapt to help students in reviewing the materials presented in this unit.
Activity 1. Activity 2. He's Alive! Working in small groups with a strong reader in each, students should attempt to answer the following about each document: Does the document seem factual or is it an exaggeration? Is the author simply trying to be factual or to enhance or demean Crockett's reputation? Is the portrayal of Crockett that comes through in the document consistent with the historical Crockett? The tall tale Crockett? Captain Potter says that the story of Crockett being captured with a gun barrel in one hand, and a huge knife in the other, and a semicircle of dead Mexicans about him is pure fiction.
Bowie was ill at the time of the fight, and was found murdered in his bed; and a single bullet-hole in the forehead of Travis tells the whole tale of his death. Nothing else, he adds, can be known. Have your students look at the entire text, or this excerpt which starts after Crockett has won a shooting contest. He reluctantly agrees to a second, more difficult contest. He misses the target completely, but he's prepared himself for such a possibility. What did he do?
The Faithful Ghost and Other Tall Tales
They examined it all over, and could find neither hair nor hide of my bullet, and pronounced it a dead miss; when says I, "Stand aside and let me look, and I warrant you I get on the right trail of the critter. They searched for my satisfaction, and sure enough it all come out just as I had told them; for I had picked up a bullet that had been fired, and stuck it deep into the hole, without any one perceiving it.
Your students should probably be aware of this. Much of the other writing attributed to Crockett was actually penned by ghost writers presumably due to Crockett's lack of formal education and was approved by Crockett before publication. Have your students look at the entire text, or this excerpt: "When the day of election approaches, visit your constituents far and wide.
Treat liberally, and drink freely, in order to rise in their estimation though you fall in your own. True, you may be called a drunken dog by some of the clean shirt and silk stocking gentry, but the real rough necks will style you a jovial fellow, their votes are certain, and frequently, count double. Do all you can to appear to advantage in the eyes of the women. That's easily done—you have but to kiss and slabber their children, wipe their noses, and pat them on the head; this cannot fail to please their mothers, and you may rely on your business being done in that quarter. Offer to build a bridge or a church, to divide a county, create a batch of new offices, make a turnpike, or anything they like.
Promises cost nothing, therefore deny nobody who has a vote or sufficient influence to obtain one.
Tenn.'s oldest town alive with tall tales
Crockett presented a petition of three citizens of the Cherokee nation of Indians, by W. Coodey, their agent, stating, that, by treaties concluded between the United States and said Cherokee nation in the years and , the petitioners became entitled each to a reservation of acres of land, that they were forcibly dispossessed of said land by white men, that they sued out writs of ejectment, but from poverty were unable to prosecute said writs, and that judgments have gone against them by default; and praying indemnity for their losses from the Government of the United States.
The records of the United States House of Representatives for Tuesday, December 17, , show Crockett's effort to pass a bill granting land to squatters in Tennessee H. Crockett presented a petition of inhabitants of the Western District of Tennessee, praying that the lands lying within said district, and belonging to the United States, may be given for the support of common schools within the same. NOTE: Though this particular narrative is said to be the most likely to have been written, all or in part, by Crockett himself, that does not make it true.
Have your students look at the entire text, or this excerpt: "When I got up the hill, I found I had passed the dogs; and so I turned and went to them. I found, when I got there, they had treed the bear in a large forked poplar, and it was setting in the fork.