Some say his heart gave out.
Others say it was the silica dust that blew up from the rock in clouds.
We’ll never know what killed John W. Henry, but his persistence has become legendary.
John Henry worked on the railroads, raising his hammer against the rock, smashing tunnels through the mountain.
As tall as two men and stronger than an Ox, his hammer swung harder and longer than any other man’s.
When the Railroad Company brought in a clunking, smoking steam drill, John took exception to it.
“John Henry wanted to drive against the steam drill,” one local reminisces. “He took a lot of pride in his work, and he hated to see a machine take the work of men like him.“
So they set up a contest: John Henry and his hammer against the might of a modern steam drill.
John Henry swung that hammer harder and faster than he’d ever swung it before.
The mountain crumbled before him.
The steam drill churned and caught, bits snapping off as it struggled to keep up with John’s mighty hammering.
John beat the steam drill, but only just.
Then he laid down and died with the hammer in his hand.