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A folk hero is type of hero, real, fictional, or mythological. The single salient characteristic which makes a character a folk hero is the imprinting of the name, personality and deeds of the character in the popular consciousness. This presence in the popular consciousness is evidenced by mention in folk songs, folk tales and other folklore. Folk heroes are also the subject of literature and some films.

Although some folk heroes are historical public figures, they generally are not. Because the lives of folk heroes are generally not based on historical documents, the characteristics and deeds of a folk hero are often exaggerated to mythic proportions.

The folk hero often begins life as a normal person, but is transformed into someone extraordinary by significant life events, often in response to social injustice, and sometimes in response to natural disasters.

One major category of folk hero is the defender of the common people against the oppression or corruption of the established power structure. Members of this category of folk hero often, but not necessarily, live outside the law in some way.

Historically documented folk heroes

  • Johnny Appleseed - United States, he introduced the apple to large parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois
  • Arminius - Germany, was a chieftain of the Cheruski who defeated the Roman army in the battle of Teutoburg Forest
  • Billy the Kid - United States, a 19th-century American frontier outlaw and gunman
  • Black Hawk - Midwestern United States, a Sauk Indian warrior who resisted white settlement
  • Bonnie and Clyde - United States, bank robbers who evaded retribution in the 1930s
  • Daniel Boone - An American pioneer in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
  • Brian Boru - Ireland, Irish High King who “drove the Danes out of Ireland” at the Battle of Clontarf.
  • John Brown, - United States, attempted to lead a slave revolt in the south by raiding Harper's Ferry, sparked the Civil War.
  • Aylett C. Buckner - United States, an Indian-fighter of colonial Texas
  • Calamity Jane - United States, a tough Wild West woman
  • Lady Ch'iao Kuo - China, warrior, politician, queen of the Hsien
  • Joseph Cinqué - West African man of the Mende tribe, leader of the Amistad slave rebellion.
  • Gregorio Cortez, Mexican-American folk hero
  • Carmine Crocco, - South Italian folk hero
  • Davy Crockett - United States, an Indian-fighter, Congressman, and died as a hero fighting in the Alamo
  • Nils Dacke - Sweden, leader of a 16th-century peasant revolt
  • Zerai Deres - Ethiopia and Eritrea, Eritrean-born man lionized for his act of vengeance against the Italian Fascists in Rome during an imperial celebration
  • Pier Gerlofs Donia - Frisia, legendary giant warrior, freedom fighter and leader of the Arumer Black Heap
  • Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson - Sweden, rebel and temporary regent in the 15th century
  • Guy Fawkes - Roman Catholic restorationist from England who planned the Gunpowder Plot
  • Richard Feynman - Renowned physicist most famously known for his lectures and who won the Nobel Prize for physics
  • Mike Fink - United States, the toughest boatman on the Mississippi River and a rival of Davy Crockett
  • Eppelein von Gailingen - Germany, robber baron
  • Geronimo - United States, Apache warrior
  • Lazar Hrebeljanovic - Serbian, ruler of Moravian Serbia, who fought and perished at the Battle of Kosovo, to which his name and life are inextricably tied.
  • Genghis Khan - Mongolian ruler of the Steppe during 13th century, founder of the Mongolian empire
  • Tomoe Gozen - Japan, woman samurai warrior
  • Husein Gradaščević - Bosnia, called "Dragon of Bosnia", led the resistance of Bosnians and uprising for autonomy of Bosnia against the Ottoman Empire
  • Che Guevara - Argentine Marxist revolutionary, politician, author, physician, military theorist, and guerrilla leader.
  • Nathan Hale - United States, a captain in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War
  • Simo Häyhä - A legendary Finnish sharpshooter in the Winter War with some 700 alleged kills.
  • Wild Bill Hickok - United States, lawman, gunfighter, gambler, scout, Civil War soldier, stage coach driver, performer, abolitionist
  • Piet Hein - Netherlands, captured the Spanish treasure fleet.
  • Hone Heke - Māori chief who chopped down British flagpole three times
  • Joe Hill - United States, union leader and songwriter wrongfully convicted of murder in 1915.
  • Andreas Hofer - Austrianmarker and particularly Tyrolian hero who resisted the Bavarians and Napoleon.
  • Jesse James - An Wild West outlaw who supposedly robbed from the rich and gave to the poor (in reality his crimes only profited himself and his gang).
  • Juraj Jánošík - Slovakia, outlaw living in the Tatra mountains, defending Slovakia peasants from the tyranny of Austrian landlords
  • Casey Jones - United States, railroad engineer who remained in his locomotive and died in a collision while braking in order to save his passengers and sounding the whistle to warn the crew of the other train
  • Kaluaiko'olau - United States - Hawaiian who evaded deportation for leprosy by hiding in the Hawaiian rain forests
  • Ustym Karmaliuk - Ukrainian counterpart of Robin Hood, who led a peasant rebellion.
  • Ned Kelly - Australia, outlaw
  • Lam Sai-wing - China, martial artist and student of Wong Fei Hung
  • Lampião - outlaw, leader of a Cangaço band in Northeast Brazil
  • Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States during the Civil War.
  • Ned Ludd - Britain, leader of the Luddites in the 1810s
  • Jack Mary Ann - a folk hero from the Wrexham area of north Wales whose fictionalised exploits continue to circulate in local folklore.
  • James Mckenzie - New Zealand, Outlaw and inspiration to landless immigrants in early colonial New Zealand
  • Miyamoto Musashi - Japan, a skilled swordsman, soldier, philosopher, and author
  • Miloš Obilić - A Serbian knight from Zeta that killed the Ottoman ruler Sultan Murad I in the Battle of Kosovo, 1389.
  • Redmond O'Hanlon - Irish, rapparee of the 17th century
  • Philippe Petit - Tight rope artist that walked between the two towers of the World Trade Center
  • Louis Riel - Canada, founder of Manitoba, led two rebellions against the Dominion of Canada
  • Dorus Rijkers - the Netherlands, sailor and savior of over 500 men, women and children as the captain of a rescue-boat, in the late 19th century and the early 20th century
  • José Rizal - Philippines, a critic of the Spanish Colonizers, was gun-fired by the Spanish Guardia Civil in Bagumbayan (now Rizal Park)
Rizal, Philippine National Hero
  • Rob Roy - Scotland, outlaw whose word was his bond
  • Laura Secord - Canada, heroine of the War of 1812
  • Daniel Shays - An American farmer who led Shay's Rebellion in the late 1700s over debt and taxes.
  • Skanderbeg - Albania, National Hero, led the resistance of Albanian people against the Ottoman Empire
  • Soapy Smith - Infamous nineteenth-century Colorado and Alaska bad man.
  • The Smith of Kochel - Germany, especially in Bavaria a famous National hero
  • Spartacus - Thrace, led the largest slave revolt against the Roman Republic
  • Tipu Sultan - Indian, a Muslim who fought and defeated the British in the Mysore wars
  • Tamanend - United States, an Indian Chief who became the source of many folk legends that propelled his fame to mythical proportions during the time of the American Revolutionary War
  • Yermak Timofeyevich - Russia, Cossack leader who began the Russian conquest of Siberia.
  • Nat Turner - Leader of Nat Turner's Rebellion (also known as the Southampton Insurrection), a slave rebellion that took place in Southampton County, Virginiamarker during August 1831
  • Dick Turpin - England, highwayman
  • Viriathus - Portugal, the leader of the freedom fighters of the confederated Iberian tribes who resisted colonial Romemarker
  • William Wallace - Scotland, knight who led a rebellion against England in the early 14th century
  • Wong Fei Hung - China, doctor, martial artist, and revolutionary

Possibly apocryphal folk heroes

  • Cúchulainn - Ireland, folk legend and the pre-eminent hero of Ulaid in the Ulster Cycle
  • Fionn mac Cumhaill - Ireland, warrior, leader of the Fianna. Primary figure in the Oisin cycle.
  • Till Eulenspiegel or Tijl Uilenspiegel - Germany and the Low Countries, trickster
  • Fong Sai-Yuk - China, martial arts folk hero
  • John Henry - United States, mighty steel-driving African American
  • Robin Hood - England, outlaw usually associated with the motto "Steal from the rich, give to the poor"
  • Rummu Jüri - Estonia, outlaw who stole from the rich to give to the poor
  • Hua Mulan - China, heroine who disguised herself as a man in order to join an army
  • Molly Pitcher - United States, heroine of the American Revolutionary War
  • William Tell - Switzerland, began the rebellion against the Austrians
  • Pazhassi Raja - India, fought against British Raj in south India (Kerala) with guerrilla war tactics

Folk heroes known to be fictional

  • Tony Beaver - United States, lumberjack and cousin of Paul Bunyan
  • Pecos Bill - United States, giant cowboy who "tamed the wild west"
  • Taylor Bradshaw - Canada, possibly a variant of Paul Bunyan
  • Paul Bunyan - United States, giant lumberjack of the North Woods
  • Febold Feboldson - United States, farmer who could fight a drought
  • Martín Fierro - Argentina, hero of the eponymous poem by Jose Hernandez
  • Koba - Georgia, folk hero whose legend bears a resemblance to Robin Hood
  • Joe Magarac - United States, steelworker made of steel
  • Siegfried - Germany, the legendary dragon-slaying hero in Nibelungenlied
  • Alfred Bulltop Stormalong - United States, immense sailor whose ship was so big it scraped the moon

See also


  1. About Kaluaiko'olau

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