Paul Bunyan was a hero of American lumberjacks, who has been immortalized in traditional American stories of tall tales. He was a giant of a man who possessed enormous strength and superhuman abilities. Legend says that Paul Bunyan let his giant ax drag behind him while passing through Arizona. And that’s how the Grand Canyon was made. Meanwhile, the footprints left by him and his companion, Babe the Blue Ox, created the 10,000 Lakes of Minnesota.
Paul Bunyan was indeed a 19th-century folk hero as he was healthy and bright, and could tame the wilderness. He was the ideal pioneer of the era of Westward expansion. The Bunyan stories reflected the hope that hard work and intelligence could conquer the land.
The character of Paul Bunyan first originated in the oral traditions of North American loggers. Freelance writer William B. Laughead later popularized it in a 1916 promotional pamphlet for the Red River Lumber Company.
The Bunyan stories were believed to have evolved around a campfire, where the lumberjacks sat down to tell stories of tall tales after a hard day’s work. It was a time when there were no radios, television, or digital media. The stories kept them entertained from the daily angst of existence. The stories were larger than life itself, and it was ridiculously exaggerated, which made them funny.
Birth of Paul Bunyan
Most folks believed that Paul Bunyan was born in the North-Eastern American state of Maine. It took five broad strokes to deliver an eighty-six pounds baby. Paul was such a big baby that it took seven storks to carry him to his parents. The baby would gobble up seventy-four buckets of oatmeal with five gallons of maple syrup on them and then drink fourteen gallons of milk.
Every time he rolled over, the earth moved. This shook the entire neighborhood, who was asleep. Baby Paul would even go and knock down trees, barns, and houses. He started rolling so much that he demolished five acres of timberland every time he snoozed.
His father built a wooden cradle for him and put it in waters along the coasts. This time, he rolled over and sent huge waves that came crashing the coastal towns.
All the fish along the coasts were so discombobulated by Paul’s yowling that they popped out of the water to escape the rocket.
Babe the Blue Ox
Once, Maine saw a terrible winter coming. Paul put on his snowshoes and went out to see the unusual weather of a blue snowfall. While walking, he came across an animal lying all blue in the snow. He took the ox home and warmed it up near the fireplace. When the ox got warmer, his hair remained blue. Paul decided to keep him and named him Babe. Soon, they became an inseparable duo, and Babe followed Paul whenever he went and gave a mighty helping hand in his forest exploits.
Traditions say that Paul Bunyan dug out the Great Lakes to provide drinking water for Babe.
Paul was shipped to Minnesota, where there were far fewer people and lots of lands. This place acted as a catalyst for the natural-born lumberjack because there were lots of trees. It was said that Paul could cut down ten or more trees with a single swing of his giant ax.
The Logging Camp of Paul Bunyan
After settling near the Orian River in the state of Minnesota, Paul opened his lumber camp. It was considered the largest in the country. The field was so large that men had to carry a week’s supply of food when walking from one side of the camp to the other. His working crew came to be known as the Seven Axeman, who stood 2 meters tall and weighed more than one hundred sixty kilograms. All of them were named Elmer by Paul. That way, they will all come running whenever Paul called them.
Every weekend, Paul and his crew ate hot cakes. Each cake was so vast that it took five men to eat one. Paul usually had ten or more hotcakes. The table where the men ate was so long that a server regularly drove to one end of the table and stayed the night. The server drove back in the morning, with another load of food. Sounds amusing?
The man who cooked for the group was named Sourdough Sam. He was a great cook, and he made almost anything- except coffee – from sourdough, a substance used in making sourdough bread.
Paul and Finances
Paul was practically wrong in math. He needed someone to help with the camp finances. That’s when John Inkslinger came to the rescue. He kept a record of almost everything, including the wages and costs of feeding Babe. Nine containers of writing fluid were emptied a day for writing daily documents.
The Attack of the Mosquitoes
Big mosquitoes were a problem in the camp. The man attacked them with their axes and long sticks. Paul even ordered his men to get big bees to destroy the mosquitoes. But soon, the bees and mosquitoes fell in love and got married. The new offsprings started to create even more significant problems. One day, the insect’s obsession with sweets caused them to attack a ship that was bringing sugar to the camp. They ate so much that they could not move in the end. It was a victory for Paul and his crew.
Green Glasses for Babe the Blue Ox
When winter came, Babe had trouble finding enough green leaves to eat. Snow-covered almost everything in the landscape. Ole, the blacksmith, came up with a solution by making huge green glasses for Babe. When Babe wore them, he chewed on the snow, thinking it was grass.
The story gets bigger and bigger as it is retold over the years and passed down to the generations.
The Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians
Paul and his crew were hired to dig a canal across the middle of the country, which would make logs float back and forth. Paul started digging the trench whistling as usual. In no time, he shoveled enough heap of dirt to the right and one on the left. And that’s how the Rocky Mountains came to be on one side of the United States and the Appalachians on the other. When Paul finished digging the canal, Babe kicked in a massive bucket of water and turned Paul’s canyon into the Great Mississippi River.
Paul Bunyan even carved out the Grand Canyon while dragging his giant ax behind him while crossing Arizona. He also dug out St. Lawrence River.
One year, Paul’s camp grew so cold that men let their facial hairs grow very long. When they spoke, their words would freeze in the air. Everything they would say, remained frozen the entire winter and did not melt until spring.
Where did Paul Bunyan Disappear?
Each lumberjack camps had their version of stories. Paul and Babe logged their way through California and Canada until they reached Alaska. Some say that Paul was last seen in Alaska or even the Arctic Circle. Another tradition says that he still returns to Minnesota every summer.
It is said that Paul buried his old friend Babe the Blue Ox in South Dakota. There are numerous theories regarding the cause of his death. It is believed that Babe ate too many hot cakes. Today the burial place is known as the Black Hills.
Others believed that Paul had retired from logging and now lives a solitary life deep in the northern woods.
Was Paul Bunyan a Real Person?
Historians try to trace Paul Bunyan to a real-life person. Some believed that he was based on a French-Canadian logger named Fabian Joe Fournier. After the Civil War, Fournier left his home in Quebec to grab a job at the high paying logging industry of Michigan. He was a fearsome looking man who stood 6ft tall, and his supposed two sets of teeth made him stand out of the crowd.
Another French-Canadian who got intertwined with Paul Bunyan goes with the name Bon Jean. He took part in the Papineau Rebellion when loggers of St. Eustache in Canada revolted against the newly crowned Queen Victoria. It is believed that the French pronunciation of Bon Jean gave rise to the surname Bunyan.
The tall tales of Paul Bunyan have gained popularity ever since the publication of pamphlets by Laughead. Bunyan stories have also secured its place in the kid’s classrooms. Various statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox have been set up across the United States to attract tourists.
Paul Bunyan and his exploits were soon adapted in cartoons.
Paul Bunyan was the greatest lumberjack that ever lived in history. Traditions believe that he had logged most of the virgin forests of North America. And he had geographically carved what is now, America. His movements around the country began to explain how American landmarks were formed, like the Grand Canyon and Great Lakes.
Today, if you are ever out in the deep woods and you hear loud footsteps that syncs along with the earth-shaking, be ready to greet the giant lumberjack!.