Popular Heroes of the 1800s

Popular Heroes of the 1800s
Abigail Fillmore: Sports and Popular Culture

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: Two class periods


Just as there are popular cultural heroes in the twenty-first century, the 1800s had cultural heroes, too. Often raised to the status of legend, these men and women served as examples to a young nation.  As a teacher and librarian, Abigail Fillmore would have told some of these stories and worked with written material about them.


The purpose of this lesson is to allow students to explore the myths and legends of popular cultural heroes of the 1800s and begin to compare their exploits and adventures with today’s heroes.  

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to print materials about American legendary heroes


1.  Using the websites below, and others as may be useful, ask students to select a "hero," male or female, and research that person, looking for reasons why he or she might have become a "legend." Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, John Henry, Calamity Jane, "Stagecoach Mary," and others are some examples.

2.  Ask students how they know these stories are not true.  Develop a list of characteristics of tall tales:

  • The hero is larger than life, superhuman;
  • The hero has a specific job to do;
  • A problem is solved in a funny way;
  • Details are exaggerated and things are greater than they really are;
  • The characters use everyday language

3.  Have students develop their own “tall tale” and illustrate it.

Extending the Lesson:

If some students are especially technologically literate, they may prefer to create their personal tall tale on the computer or create a computer game featuring their hero.

Sources & Resources:


Heroes and Legends of the 19th century 

Women Heroes and Legends of the 19th century


This lesson was developed by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.