A folk hero or national hero is a 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.

File:Grotepier TN.JPG

Statue of Pier Gerlofs Donia, a Frisian folk hero

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 Because the lives of folk heroes are generally not based on historical documents, the characteristics and deeds of a folk hero are often exaggerated to mythic proportions.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[edit | edit source]

  • 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
  • Sitting Bull – shaman leader of the Hunkpapa Lakota
  • Bonnie and Clyde – United States, bank robbers who evaded retribution in the 1930s
  • Boudica - Great Britain - Warrior Queen who led an Uprising against the Roman Empire in Britain
  • 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, helped spark the Civil War.
  • Aylett C. (Strap) Buckner – United States, an Indian-fighter of colonial Texas
  • Calamity Jane – United States, a tough Wild West woman
  • Lady of Ch'iao Kuo – China, warrior, politician, queen of the Hsien
  • Joseph CinquéWest African man of the Mende tribe, leader of the Amistad slave rebellion.
  • Gregorio Cortez – Mexican-American folk hero
  • Carmine Crocco – Italy, shepherd, fought the Savoy's Royal Army after the Italian unification.
  • 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
  • Anton Docher - United States, Roman Catholic missionary and defender of the native Americans in New Mexico, he fought for five years in the French colonial army
  • Pier Gerlofs Donia – Frisia, legendary giant warrior, freedom fighter and leader of the Arumer Black Heap
  • Ahmad Shah Durrani – The founder of the Afghan Durrani Empire
  • Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson – Sweden, rebel and temporary regent in the 15th century
  • Guy Fawkes – Roman Catholic restorationist from England who planned the Gunpowder Plot
  • Mike Fink – United States, the toughest boatman on the Mississippi River and a rival of Davy Crockett
  • José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia - First consul of Paraguay
  • Eppelein von Gailingen – Germany, robber baron
  • Geronimo – United States, Apache warrior, fought United States army for years defending his people and homeland
  • 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
  • Owain Glyndŵr - Wales, nobleman who led a rebellion against the Kingdom of England
  • Tomoe Gozen – Japan, female 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 505 confirmed 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 – Austrian and particularly Tirolian hero who resisted the Bavarians and Napoleon
  • Ishikawa Goemon – Japan, bandit hero notorious for robbing the rich and giving to the poor, though some accounts suggest he may have kept much of his ill-gotten gains. Before being boiled in oil, he saved his infant son at the cost of his own life.
  • Jesse James – A 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 and Poland, outlaw living in the Tatra mountains, defending Carpathian peasants from the tyranny of Hungarian 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[1]
  • Ustym Karmaliuk – Ukrainian counterpart of Robin Hood, who led a peasant rebellion
  • Ned Kelly – Australia, outlaw
  • Martin Krpan – Slovene smuggler, strongman
  • Lam Sai-wing – China, martial artist and student of Wong Fei Hung
  • Ten Tigers of Canton – China, group of ten fighters in southern China
  • Lampião – outlaw, leader of a Cangaço band in Northeast Brazil
  • Abraham Lincoln – President of the United States during the Civil War
  • Francisco Solano López - President of Paraguay during the Paraguayan War
  • Ned Ludd – Britain, leader of the Luddites in the 1810s
  • Louis Mandrin - France, bandit of the 18th century liked by the population because he attacked the tax collectors
  • Prince Marko – Serbia and Bulgaria, a Macedonian prince during Ottoman rule, known for opposing the conquerors in his sovereign lands, and a source of many epic poems
  • 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
  • Juan Moreira - Legendary Argentine outlaw, famed as a skillful knife fighter he is considered one of the most important figures in Argentine history
  • Maharana Pratap – India, a 16th-century Hindu ruler and Rajput hero
  • Miyamoto Musashi – Japan, a skilled swordsman, soldier, philosopher and author
  • Miloš Obilić – A Serbian knight from Zeta who killed the Ottoman ruler Sultan Murad I in the Battle of Kosovo, 1389
  • Redmond O'Hanlon – Irish, rapparee of the 17th century
  • Philippe Petit – Tightrope artist who walked between the two towers of the World Trade Center
  • Pazhassi Raja – India, fought against British Raj in south India (Kerala) with guerrilla war tactics
  • 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
  • Mir Chakar Rind - Pakistan, a 15th century Baloch chieftain and folklore hero found in the Hani and Sheh Mureed tale
  • José Rizal – Philippines, a critic of the Spanish Colonizers, was gun-fired by his executioners in Bagumbayan (now Rizal Park)
  • Rob Roy – Scotland, outlaw whose word was his bond
  • Juan Santamaría – Costa Rican national hero
  • Sarutobi Sasuke – Japan, incredibly acrobatic spy said to have been raised by monkeys and trained in the Ninja heartland of Iga and Koga provinces during the golden age of the Ninja.
  • Laura Secord – Canada, heroine of the War of 1812
  • Daniel Shays – An American farmer who led Shays' Rebellion in the late 18th century over debt and taxes
  • Skanderbeg – Albanian national hero who led the resistance of Albanian people against the Ottoman Empire
  • Soapy Smith – Infamous 19th-century Colorado and Alaska bad man.
  • The Smith of Kochel – Germany, a well-known national hero, especially in Bavaria
  • Spartacus – Thracean gladiator led the largest slave revolt against the Roman Republic
  • Tipu Sultan – Indian, a Muslim who fought and defeated the British in the Mysore wars
  • Ivan Susanin – Russian peasant who saved the tsar in the early 17th century's Time of Troubles
  • Tamanend – United States, an Indian chief who became the source of many folk legends during the American Revolutionary War
  • Yermak Timofeyevich – Russian Cossack leader who began the Russian conquest of Siberia
  • Joseph Trumpeldor – Israel, leader of the Jewish forces at Tel Hai
  • Nat Turner – Leader of Nat Turner's Rebellion (also known as the Southampton Insurrection), a slave rebellion that took place in Southampton County, Virginia in August 1831
  • Dick Turpin – England, highwayman
  • Vercingetorix - France, chief of the Arverni tribe, who united the Gauls in a revolt against Roman forces of Julius Caesar
  • Viriathus – Portugal, the leader of the freedom fighters of the confederated Iberian tribes who resisted colonial Rome
  • William Wallace – Scotland, knight who led a rebellion against England in the early 14th century
  • Wong Fei Hung – Chinese doctor, martial artist and revolutionary
  • Huo YuanjiaChinese martial artist
  • Jan Žižka – Czech knight, commander of Hussite armies in 15th century
  • Mohamed Bouazizi - Tunisian fruit vendor who immolated himself in protest of government mistreatment and sparked a successful revolution in that country and the 2010–2011 Middle East and North Africa protests
  • Paul Revere - an American silversmith and a patriot in the American Revolution whose 'Midnight Ride' warned of the arrival of the British.
  • Son Tinh - a Vietnamese God of Mountain who defeated Vietnamese God of Sea. Son Tinh represents the desire of defeating natural disasters.
  • Thánh Gióng - a Vietnamese young soldier who defeated invaders. Thanh Giong represents the spirit of patriotism and nationalism of Vietnam.
  • Chữ Đồng Tử - a Vietnamese marsh boy who married a princess of Hung King without his approval. Chu Dong Tu represents love, family and wealth.
  • Liễu Hạnh - a Vietnamese Mother Goddess. Lieu Hanh represents morality and mental life.
  • Samuel Steele - Canada, an mountie who bring peace to Canada West, and the Yukon for laws and order.
  • Big Joe Mufferaw- Canada, a larger than life French Canadian woodsman took his life as a lumberjack in Ottawa.

Possibly apocryphal folk heroes[edit | edit source]

Folk heroes known to be fictional[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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