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Stories of Kansas and the Great Plains
Johnny Kaw - Kansas Tall Tale Hero
 
Johnny Kaw statue

Johnny Kaw Statue
City Park
Manhattan, Kansas
Photo copyright Jerri Garretson
 

Johnny Kaw book cover

<>Johnny Kaw
The Pioneer Spirit of Kansas
Color Edition 2011
Purchase Here

Kansas Tall Tales CD cover image

Kansas Tall Tales
audiobooks on CD

Kansas Tall Tales cover image

Kansas Tall Tales
Anthology
Purchase here.

A Kansas Giant
He stands thirty feet tall in the Manhattan City Park, a statue towering over the traffic as he looks south across Poyntz Avenue.  A landmark this large shouldn’t be anonymous, shouldn’t be ignored, especially with such an interesting backround and stories behind it. Yet for over 25 years, information was hard to find.  Not even a postcard of the big fellow was available, much less the original slim volume of stories by George Filinger, which has been out of print since the late 1970s.

Copies of the original Filinger book, Johnny Kaw: The Pioneer Kansas Wheat Farmer,  are still available for checkout at Manhattan Public Library or may be seen at the Riley County Historical Society.  For more information about George Filinger and his book, click here.

But Who Was Johnny Kaw?
As head children’s librarian for Manhattan Public Library, Jerri Garretson fielded questions about why “Paul Bunyan” was in the Manhattan City Park.  Telling people that he was “Johnny Kaw” usually drew a blank stare or a question, “Who’s that?”  She thought it was too bad that Kansas children didn’t know the story of their very own tall tale hero, particularly with so many teachers looking for Kansas books and finding very few of them, and classes doing tall tale units every year without their local giant.  What a shame that the children who climbed on the statue had no idea who he was, a figure as large as Paul Bunyan who even “got the better of him.”

The Idea for a New Book and a New Website
When the Kaw Valley Heritage Alliance began planning a “Rolling Down the River” festival in 1997, Jerri was invited to be on the planning committee for the Manhattan events.  One of the things she suggested was reprinting the Filinger book about Johnny Kaw, since his first grand act was creating the Kaw River Valley by pulling his family’s covered wagon west.  However, the question of who owned the copyright to the book was unclear and the committee lacked funds to print the book.  As a way to offer the information about the history of the statue and the book, Jerri created a Johnny Kaw page on the Manhattan Public Library website but it has since been removed.

Johnny Kaw - The Pioneer Spirit of Kansas
Jerri and local artist Diane Dollar had been talking for a couple of years about collaborating on a children’s book about Manhattan history, but this seemed like the perfect opportunity to create a children’s book using the Johnny Kaw story and present it in conjunction with the river festival. 

<> Johnny Kaw - The Pioneer Spirit of Kansas used themes from the Filinger book that Jerri thought would appeal to children, told as a picture book narrative in a colloquial tone.  Jerri and Diane created  the book in only four months and it was ready for the festival in September 1997.  The book was in print for eight-and-a-half years, but sold out in February 2006.  It is now out of print and a Kansas collector's item.

Jerri and Diane's original 1997 version is now reprinted in its entirety in the 2008 anthology, Kansas Tall Tales, which features all three of Jerri's Kansas tall tales.

In September 2011, Ravenstone Press published a new color edition of Johnny Kaw - The Pioneer Spirit of Kansas, with Diane Dollar's original line drawings colored in colored pencil. Internet resources and new photos of all of the Johnny Kaw creators were added.

Kansas Tall Tales CD
There is an audio book CD of all three of Jerri's Kansas Tall Tales, including Johnny Kaw, read for you by the author.  For more information, click here.  Just $9.95.


Johnny Kaw Links
More about  the book: Johnny Kaw - The Pioneer Spirit of Kansas
More about the statue of Johnny Kaw
Tall Tale Bibliography
Diane Dollar   |   Jerri Garretson     |      Teacher Resources
Johnny Kaw themes - links     |     Kansas links
 Manhattan, Kansas links
Johnny's home was the whole state of Kansas, but the Flint Hills prairie area was where his creator, George Filinger, lived, and where his statue guards the Manhattan City Park.  Take a walk on the Konza Prairie Nature Trail in the Flint Hills near Manhattan and see the area Johnny and his family loved when they came west.  This is not the Kansas of wheat fields, so giant Johnny had to travel to grow his famous wheat. 

Konza Prairie Trail in June
Konza Prairie Trail in October

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Last Updated October 7, 2011