Ole Pete

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Henry "Ole Pete" Peterson (ca.1854-1934) is an American folk legend and "Big Man", who lived in Port Tampa, Florida. He is considered by some to be the "John Henry" of Florida.[1]


Ole Pete was either a roustabout, switchman or janitor employed by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in Port Tampa, FL.

According to the legend, Ole Pete had a skull one inch thick.[2] For 5 cents, he would permit coconuts to be cracked on his skull. For 50 cents, he would engage a goat in a headbutt contest.

One day, Ole Pete took a nap in a rail-car repair shed, using the track rail as a pillow to rest his head. A switch engine pushed two rail cars into the shed where Ole Pete was resting. The first rail-car in the shed ran over Pete's head causing it to derail. When workers rushed to Ole Pete's aid and dragged him out of the wreckage, to their astonishment not only was Pete unharmed, he was still asleep.

When the workers informed Pete what had happened, he allegedly said,"Dawg-gone, my haid do feel kinda funny."

Other powerful feats attached to Ole Pete include the use of a ship's anchor for a pickaxe and lifting a locomotive back on the rails. He is also reported to have uprooted a large tree, brought it home, and chopped it into four cords of firewood.

A Henry Peterson, 46 years old, black, male, appears on the 1910 United State Census for Hillsborough County, Florida. Sources cite that Peterson died in 1934.


  1. ^ Brewer, J Mason (1968), American Negro Folklore 
  2. ^ Florida WPA Writers (1965), Florida; a Guide to the Southern-most State, ISBN 1-60354-009-1