7 Astonishing American Folk Heroes The History Books Shouldn’t Have Left Out

Published April 10, 2013
Updated January 10, 2018

American Folk Heroes: Cyrus Teed

Cyrus Teed was conducting an alchemy experiment when he was severely shocked by his equipment. While he was passed out and twitching on the floor, Teed claimed he was visited by a divine spirit who told him he was the messiah. When he awoke, he vowed to redeem humanity through science. Logically, he promptly changed his name to Koresh and began preaching Hollow Earth Theory.

Calling it “cellular cosmogony,” Koresh believed that life was contained within the earth, and gravity was illusion created by centrifugal force. During the 1870’s, Teed convinced enough people to form Koreshanity, which preached celibacy, communism, and Hollow Earth Theory. After jumping from New York to Chicago, the handful of Koreshans finally settled in Estero, Florida in 1894.

Estero had a power plant and printing press, and was extensively landscaped with imported plants. Though the commune enjoyed a few years of prosperity, it only ever grew a few hundred strong. During an altercation with some locals, Koresh was severely pistol whipped. He never recovered from his injuries, and died two years later in 1908.

Gideon Pillow

Gideon Pillow

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pillow joined the United States Army in 1846 as a brigadier general during the Mexican War. President Polk promoted him to major general less than a year later, but he quickly made enemies with General Winfield Scott. The following September, he penned an anonymous letter published in the New Orleans Delta, claiming credit for Scott’s recent victories. Pillow was arrested by Scott and court marshaled, but intervention by Polk and a friend’s false confession resulted in a relatively easy discharge.

After the start of the Civil War, Pillow, a native Tennesseean, was appointed brigadier general in the Confederate Army. His first battle was against the newly appointed Ulysses S. Grant, and resulted in a slim victory for the Confederacy. Following a brief resignation, Pillow was stationed at the crucial Fort Donelson with three other brigadier generals.

In February 1862, Union forces lay siege to Fort Donelson. Without permission from the commanding officer, Pillow had his left wing attack Grant’s army to clear an escape route. Initially successful, Pillow inexplicably pulled his troops back to prepare for their escape, yielding all their gains. The mistake was costly, and the next morning, the army surrendered the fort.

After his suspension for incompetence, Pillow was placed as an officer under John C. Breckenridge during Stones River. Breckenridge found him hiding behind a tree. Pillow would never receive combat orders again.

Forgotten American Cult Heroes: Tecumseh

When his father was murdered by pioneers ignoring a recent treaty, young Shawnee Tecumseh vowed to fight against American expansion until the end of his life. Siding with the British during the American Revolution, Tecumseh led raids on supply boats running through the Ohio River. He was only 15.

Following what he believed to be the illegal swindling of Shawnee land, Tecumseh reoriented his life to stopping the westward expansion of America. He traveled from tribe to tribe, recruiting warriors and leaders in his goal to establish a sovereign Native American nation. Conflicts between Tecumseh and America bled into the War of 1812.

Tecumseh and his confederacy of native tribesmen allied with Britain and joined in the Canadian campaign. He joined in the Siege of Detroit and was offered a commanding role in the British Army for his success. British support for Tecumseh’s reclamation of lands fell apart as momentum swung towards American forces. Tecumseh was killed October 5th 1813 in the Battle of the Thames, succumbing to a gunshot to the chest.

After this look at American folk heroes, read more about Annie Edson Taylor and Emperor Norton. Then, have a look at the ten most iconic Wild West figures.

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