My belief that Dunnavant, AL, has a better claim on the historic John Henry than any other location is based on documented facts that agree with the story C. C. Spencer told Guy Johnson in the late 1920s. Here are some of Spencer's claims.
(1) He was a teenager working in Alabama on the construction of the Alabama Great Southern line in 1880-82. He carried water and tools for the laborers.
(2) He knew John Henry personally.
(3) He was an eye-witness to John Henry's contest with a steam drill, which occurred on September 20, 1882.
(4) John Henry drove steel at Cruzee Mountain.
(5) John Henry's last name was Dabner.
(6) He was born a slave on a Dabner plantation in Mississippi. He took the Dabner name from his slavery-time owners.
(7) He was from Holly Springs, MS.
(8) One of the contractors for whom he worked was named Dabner.
Two other "Alabama" informants placed John Henry at Cursey Mountain and Oak Mountain. One of these said that John Herny worked for a contractor named Dabney and a "Jamaica" informant said that he worked for a man named Dabner.
Here are some of the documented facts. As the man said, draw your own conclusions.
Oak and Coosa Mountains are about 16 miles east of Birmingham. They are parallel soutwest-to-northeast ridges, with Oak being north of Coosa by 2-3 miles. In 1887-88 the Columbus and Western (C & W) RR line was put through from Goodwater, AL, to Birmingham. Tunnels were put through Oak and Coosa mountains. Portal-to-portal the distance between Oak and Coosa Tunnels is almost exactly two miles.
The Chief Engineer, and the man in charge of construction, for the C & W was Captain (Civil War rank) Frederick Yeamans Dabney, born in VA but raised in Raymond, MS. Frederick's uncle Thomas Smith Gregory Dabney had owned a plantation, Burleigh, between Crystal Springs and Raymond, MS, with 154 slaves in 1860, several of whom are candidates to have been John Henry (right sex and approximate age, names not known). Captain Dabney maintained his family and official residence in Crystal Springs, MS, while he took temporary accomodations wherever his work in RR construction led him. In 1887-88 he stayed at the Florence Hotel in Birmingham.
Coosa Tunnel was a problem. In mid-1887 the tunnelers encountered a layer of rock that was very hard to drill and blast. The completion of the line was delayed by this difficulty by about 6 months (to July 1, 1888, instead of some time in late 1887).