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New Book Explores Great Legends of Mid-America

Aug. 12,  1998

Why are residents of Indiana call "Hoosiers," Minnesotans called "Gophers" and Oklahomans known as "Sooners"?

That question is answered in the latest publication of the University of Wisconsin River Falls Press, "Great Legends and Stories of Mid-America" by Walker D. Wyman. Illustrated by Helen B. Wyman, it also answers the questions, "Why does Minnesota have so many Swedes and Missouri so many mules"?

Tales of legendary heroes (and, perhaps, villains) are included. They range from Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, Hiawatha, and Jesse James to Casey Jones. The story of the Hatfield-McCoy feud is recounted and the story of Mrs. O'Leary's cow and the Chicago Fire. The work also includes the tales of the origin of bourbon whisky and how Gen. Omar Bradley used it as a secret weapon when the Russian and American armies met toward the close of World War II.

Wyman also speculates on the origin of Missouri's "razorback hawgs." He tells of state songs such as "On the Banks of the Wabash" (Indiana), "That's Where the Tall Corn Grows (Iowa), and "Home, Home on the Range" (Kansas).

There are stories of hoaxes like the Cardiff Giant and, possibly, the Kensington Runestone. There are tales of "Indian John" who specialized in

finding the bodies of drowning victims during lumbering days when everyone else had failed, and of the belief that some people have the power to stop the flow of blood when an ax has severed a toe.

The legends and stories are from Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Wyman also is something of a legend. He joined the faculty of what was then River Falls State Teachers College in 1932 teaching American history and folklore. He remained at River Falls until his retirement in 1978 except for a five-year stint as President of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He was declared to be Wisconsin's first official folklorist.

His writings have been extensive, beginning in 1945 with publication of "The Wild Horse of the West," and that same year, "California Emigrant Letters." Other works have included "Nothing But Prairie and Sky," "Frontier Woman," "Mythical Creatures of the North Country," "Mythical Creatures of the U.S.A. and Canada," "The Lumberjack Frontier," "Witching for Water, Oil and Precious Metals," and "Charles Round Low Cloud, Voice of the Winnebago."

Copies of "Great Legends and Stories of Mid-America" are available for $1.50, including shipping and handling. They can be ordered through UW-River Falls Press, 410 S. Third St., River Falls, Wis., 54022

For more information, call 715/425-3505.

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