Many places call themselves the birthplace of Paul Bunyan but he was actually born at the campfires and in the bunkhouses of the loggers. After a hard day of chopping trees the lumbermen needed to unwind. Stories were the mainstay of after work get-togethers. Paul Bunyan was the star of a large portion of the stories. He was a lumberjack like them. Each story was told and retold and with each telling the stories became more exaggerated.
Was Paul Bunyan a real person? It is believed that he was based on a real person. The most likely person was Fabian Fournier who was also called Saginaw Joe (although there are others). He was a French-Canadian lumberjack from Canada. As a matter of fact many of the lumbermen were from Canada in the beginning.
Chopping trees and getting them to market was a hard job. It took big men with a lot of stamina to be able to do the jobs. A hero to these men had to be bigger and stronger with more stamina than the lumberjacks they knew. Paul Bunyan was that larger than life man.
Lumberjacks moved from lumber camp to lumber camp so the Paul Bunyan stories traveled with them. As they traveled they became taller tales than before. Officials who were not part of the lumber business would visit the camps and be afraid of the huge lumberjack. Of course young men new to lumbering were enthralled by tales of this giant lumberjack, especially since so many of the older men they were working with seemed to know him personally. The experienced men often knew each other from Paul Bunyan's camps and greeted each other with "Do you remember the time...?" and "This is what happened to us." So let's get to know Paul Bunyan.
As we all know babies are delivered by a stork. Paul Bunyan was so big it took 5 storks to carry him to his parents. They needed 24 cows to provide enough milk for his bottle. 10 barrels of porridge kept his stomach from rumbling with hunger. The rumbling might shake the house down.
When baby Paul cried he shook and sometimes broke the windows of the house. His cries were so loud that the frogs had to wear earmuffs to keep from going deaf. His cries made the fish jump out of the water. His laughter had the same results. A peavy pole was his teething ring.
Paul's cradle was a lumber wagon. When he wouldn't sleep his father had to drive the wagon for miles and miles to rock him to sleep. One night he fell out of his cradle and knocked down 40 acres of trees. The impact of the fall caused an earthquake.
They made a huge raft so he could rock himself to sleep on the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately he rocked so hard that he caused a tidal wave. He was sleeping so soundly that they had to send Navy battleships to fire their canons to wake him. After several hours he awoke and was so scared that he sank three of the battleships.
When he was a week old Paul was wearing his father's clothes. As a young boy he helped his father clear the land by pulling trees up by their roots. He could not go to school because he was too big to fit in the school house. But he was smart and quickly learned the lessons his parents taught him.
Paul always had a fascination for saws and cutting things with them. He cut the legs off his parents bed (while they were asleep) when he was just a baby. As a young man he naturally turned to cutting down trees. He became known as the biggest and best of all the lumbermen. With one swing of his double-bladed axe he could chop down 25 trees.
He is described as an easy going man who loved animals. At the same time he was loud, determined to have things his way, and stubborn. He liked his tobacco. His pipe could hold a bushel of tobacco for his smoking pleasure. He liked to drink and do all the manly things.
Most of all Paul Bunyan liked to eat. Flapjacks were his favorite food. All lumberjacks were larger than most men and Paul was larger than them. To feed them took a lot of flapjacks. He had a cook called Sourdough Sam. Sam cooked flapjacks on a griddle so big that it took 4 young men to grease the griddle. They would strap a side of bacon onto each foot and skate across the griddle. Then Sam would follow with a huge barrel of batter dropping it on the griddle. Another man would follow to flip them over and yet another would flip them from the griddle to a wagon. The men would be served from the wagon while sitting at a table several miles long. A wagon with syrup would follow.
Winters were worse than hard in lumber country. Snow would fall and cover everything with several feet of white stuff. The temperatures would drop drastically. One winter it was so cold that when the men talked their words would freeze. They didn't know what they were saying until the words thawed in the spring.
There was a winter with so much snow that the Paul had to cut only the very tops of the trees. When spring came there was plenty of each tree left to cut for more logs.
One winter it was so cold that the snow was blue. Paul was out looking to cut down some trees when he heard a ptiful noise. Looking around he saw the tip of a horn belonging to a baby ox. He pulled it up from under the snow and took it back to his place to thaw it out and care for it. As it got warm it dried but the blue color remained. Paul named his new friend Babe the Blue Ox.
Babe grew to be big too. They say that between his eyes measured 42 axe handles and one plug of tobacco. Babe was used to haul logs to the water for transport. He pulled a huge barrel of water for camp use.
Babe was big animal and had a big appetite. He needed a large amount of food. He liked flapjacks but he liked normal ox food too. One winter when the snow was so deep that grasses could not be found. The lumberjacks made green goggles for Babe to wear. The snow looked like green grass and fed Babe until the thaw. Babe needed a lot of water to drink too. Paul Bunyan dug the Great Lakes and connected them to the St Lawrence Seaway to make sure Babe had plenty of water.
Paul Bunyan stayed busy cutting trees.When he got to the Dakota territory he cut down all the trees to make farmland. That was handy for his blacksmith, Big Ole. Big Ole was the only man who could shoe Babe and any other of Paul's oversized animals. But picking up their feet to put the shoes on took more manpower than could be spared. When the Dakotas were cleared Babe could lie down making the job much easier. Ole had to carry the shoes to Dakota to do the job. They were so heavy that with each step he sank into whatever he stepped on including solid rock.
Mosquitoes were a problem for the loggers. The insects were much, much bigger back then. The lumberjacks would attack them with axes and big sticks but there were just too many of them. Paul got the idea to bring in some of the giant bees to combat them. After a lot of careful manipulating the bees arrived. The bad news is that the bees and the mosquitoes not only got along, they began to mate. The new insect from these unions could bite from both ends.
The "beequitoes" had one weakness,,, they loved anything sweet. A ship carrying sugar came down the river. The insects flew out as fast as they could and ate all the sugar. They filled themselves so full that they were unable to fly back to land. They fell into the river and drowned.
One winter was so cold that the fires in the lanterns froze. The men couldn't sleep with the light in the bunk house so they took the lanterns to the woods and left them there. The spring thaw warmed the fires in the lanterns and they caught the forest on fire. Paul had to stamp out the fire with his giant boots.
In the spring one year the loggers found a log jam on the Wisconsin River. It was so big that they couldn't break it loose. They tried cutting it up but it was just too big. They called for Paul Bunyan. He brought Babe the Blue Ox and stood him beside the jam. Paul shot at Babe with a shotgun. Babe thought the shot was flies biting and began furiously swishing his tail. The motion of Babe's tail caused the river to flow upstream taking the logs with it. The jam broke up.
The Whistling River was known for rising up more than 200 feet and making a whistling noise heard for more than 600 miles. It would tie logs into knots, pull men into the water, throw men out of the water, and break rafts as soon as they were built. Paul Bunyan left it alone because it didn't bother him. One day as he was sitting on a hill combing his beard with a pine tree. The Whistling River spit muddy water so far that it covered him. Paul shrugged and thought that it was just a hiccup. Then the river did it again but with more mud, rocks, branches, fish, and even a muskrat. Paul yelled so loud the it made an earthquake that was felt all the way to Pike's Peak.
After a few days of considering what to do Paul took Babe to the North Pole. He made a box trap and baited it with icicles. Then he set the trap close to a trail that blizzards followed. While he was waiting he played fetch with Babe by throwing icebergs into the ocean but had to stop when they caused a tidal wave in Florida. When he checked the trap he found that he had trapped some blizzards. He kept the 2 youngest and released the rest.
Big Ole had been instructed to make a giant logging chain. Paul put a blizzard on each side of the river and stretched the chain in the river. The river froze for more than 17 miles overnight. After Paul had his breakfast he hitched Babe up to the river and had him pull out all the kinks. The river was no longer angry and became a peaceful river.
Forty Jones was the straw boss. When he saw a herd of about 200 deer he pulled the support pin from a pile of logs and let them roll down the mountain. The deer were killed by the logs and gave the camp meat for a week. The hides were used to make a harness for Babe to pull the logs from the forest to the river.
Babe was hooked up to the load of logs and set out for camp. It started to rain really hard. The rain made the harness wet and it stretched and stretched all the way from the logging camp to the river. While the loggers were eating lunch the sun came out and dried the harness. The drying harness began to shrink as Babe stood by the river and the logs came with it making them ready for transport.
Paul had occasional business setbacks. When a load of logs was delivered to new Orleans it was discovered that they were the wrong ones. Now logs will float down the river but not back up the river. But Paul had an idea. He gave Babe a huge ration of salt. Babe was so thirsty. Paul took him to the Mississippi River beginning and let him drink. Babe drank his part of the river dry and the river flowed backwards to fill in. The logs came up the river faster than they went down.
For years Paul had a crew that went with him wherever he went. They were called the Seven Axemen. They were all named Elmer which made it easy to call them. The eight of them cut down a lot of trees. Eventually the Seven Axemen drifted north and were not heard from again.
Paul had an idea to run three shifts of lumberjacks and not lose any of the hours day or night. He made the Aurora Borealis to give light for the men to work at night. Unfortunately the light given off by the Northern Lights was not consistent enough to work by.
Paul and Babe went for a walk in Minnesota. There was a terrible blizzard and they wandered aimlessly for a long time. Everywhere they stepped they left their footprints. The footprints filled with water making Minnesota the Land of a Thousand Lakes.
The pyramid forty is a stand of trees at the top of a pyramid shaped mountain. Paul and his crew cut all the trees from the pyramid forty and let them roll down to the water below. Then they set out to float the logs to market. Everywhere they went they found no way our. The river had no outlet. After a good amount of thought Paul had Sourdough Sam make the biggest batch of sourdough ever. Paul took it to the river and dumped it in. The water rose up and overflowed into a river that would take the logs downstream. That lake is now named Sourdough Lake and is located in the state of Minnesota.
There are a lot more tales about Paul Bunyan. I know you want to hear them so I'm going to tell you the rest next week.