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Paul Bunyan (lumberjack)

Paul Bunyan is a lumberjack figure in North American folklore and tradition. One of the most famous and popular North American folklore heroes, he is usually described as a giant as well as a lumberjack of unusual skill, and is often accompanied in stories by his animal companion, Babe the Blue Ox.

The character originated in folktales circulated among lumberjacks in the Northeastern United States of America and eastern Canada, first appearing in print in a story published by Northern Michigan journalist James MacGillivray in 1906. The stories then found widespread popularity after being reworked by William Laughead for a logging company's advertising campaign beginning in 1914. The 1922 edition of Laughead's tales inspired many others, and the character thereafter became widely known across the United States and Canada. As Bunyan's popularity came only after the stories appeared in print, some commentators consider him an inauthentic "fakelore" character.[1]


According to writer James Stevens in his 1925 book Paul Bunyan, French Canadians gave birth to the tales during the Papineau Rebellion of 1837, when they revolted against the young English Queen.[2] This, some have thought, would explain the origin of Bunyan's last name, since "Bonyenne" is a colloquial French-Canadian expression of surprise and astonishment meaning "Good grief" or "My goodness". But as John Brown's detailed study of the 17th-century writer John Bunyan showed, Bunyan is a well-known English surname, Norman in origin (Buignon), of a family first recorded as living in the Bedford area in the late 12th century. The name is also found in Normandy in the early Middle Ages.

One legend says that at the mouth of the river in the Two Mountains area near Saint-Eustache, Quebec, loggers stormed into battle against the British. Among them was a fierce and bearded giant named Paul Bonjean, or "Bonyenne". (Another series of related legends are based on the feats of an actual man having lived in logging camps in the Ottawa Valley named Big Joe Mufferaw or Joseph Montferrand.) The legends about this defender of the people moved upriver from shanty ("chantier" in French) to shanty. His name was anglicized and the stories were modified and elaborated upon from storyteller to storyteller.

Much of the Paul Bunyan legend, and specifically the idea of Bunyan as a giant lumberjack with a giant blue ox sidekick, was created in the 20th century for an advertising campaign. Although it is claimed in some sources that "there is no documentary evidence of any Paul Bunyan story being told before James MacGillivray's story 'The Round River Drive,' published in 1910," [3] MacGillivray had published some stories in the Oscoda, Michigan, Press on August 10, 1906, and Governor of Michigan Jennifer M. Granholm proclaimed the centennial of that date as "Paul Bunyan Day".[4]

MacGillivray's story does not suggest that Paul Bunyan was a giant and contains no mention of a blue ox companion.[5] But J.E. Rockwell had written about lumberjack tales of Paul Bunyan, and mentioned the (unnamed) blue ox in the February 1910 issue of the magazine The Outer's Book. According to one tale noted by Rockwell, Bunyan was "eight feet tall and weighed 300 pounds."[6] Historian Carleton C. Ames (whose son Aldrich Ames would later become a notorious spy)[7] claimed in a 1940 article[3] that Paul Bunyan was a 20th-century invention rather than a 19th-century lumber camp folk hero.[8] William Laughead, an advertising copywriter who had once worked in lumber camps, took the stories of an old lumberjack and reworked them into the modern character. He sold his character to the Red River Lumber Company, which published "Introducing Mr. Paul Bunyan of Westwood, California" in 1916 as an advertising pamphlet.[9] Among other things, Laughead gave the name "Babe" to the blue ox, originated the idea that Paul Bunyan and Babe were of enormous size, and created the first pictorial representation of Bunyan. Authors Richard Dorson and Marshall Fitwick cite Paul Bunyan as an example of "fakelore", or a modern story passed off as an older folktale.[10][11]


Bunyan's birth was somewhat unusual, as are the births of many mythic heroes, as it took five storks to carry the infant (ordinarily, one stork could carry several babies and drop them off at their parents' homes). When he was old enough to clap and laugh, the vibration broke every window in the house. When he was seven months old, he sawed the legs off his parents' bed in the middle of the night.[12] Paul and his companion Babe the Blue Ox dug the Grand Canyon when he dragged his axe behind him. He created Mount Hood by piling rocks on top of his campfire to put it out.

Babe the Blue Ox, Bunyan's companion, was a massive creature with exceptional strength.[13] Most imagery of Bunyan shows Babe the Blue Ox as of proportionate size (meaning massive compared to typical oxen). Among other subjects, a myth about the formation of Great Lakes was centered around Babe: Paul Bunyan needed to create a watering hole large enough for Babe to drink from.[9] There are also stories that Minnesota's 10,000 lakes were formed by Paul and Babe's footprints while they wandered blindly in a deep blizzard. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett were said to have given Babe to Paul, because they were all woodsy pioneer types.

Paul Bunyan has dozens of towns vying to be considered his home. Several authors, including James Stevens and D. Laurence Rogers, have traced the tales to the exploits of French-Canadian lumberjack Fabian "Saginaw Joe" Fournier (1845–1875). From 1865 to 1875 Fournier worked for the H. M. Loud Company in the Grayling, Michigan area, where MacGillivray later worked and apparently picked up the stories.

The state of Michigan declared Oscoda, Michigan, as the official home of Paul Bunyan because it had the earliest documented published stories by MacGillivray. Other towns such as Bemidji, Brainerd, Shelton, and Westwood; Bay City; Wahoo; Eau Claire; and even Bangor also claim the title.

Kelliher, Minnesota, is the home of Paul Bunyan Memorial Park, which contains a site purporting to be Paul Bunyan's grave. Another legend claims that Rib Mountain in Wausau, Wisconsin, is Bunyan's grave site.

The Paul Bunyan Council of the Boy Scouts of America was active in Midland, Michigan, from 1951 to 1971 and two Order of the Arrow lodges have their original roots tied into the fable of Paul Bunyan. OA Lodge 196, Mesabi, from Hibbing, Minnesota, used Paul Bunyan as its lodge totem from 1941 to 1995. OA Lodge 26, Blue Ox, from Rochester, Minnesota, has used the Blue Ox (Babe) exclusively as its lodge totem and on nearly all patches and neckerchiefs since 1927.

Popular culture

  • Bunyan is the subject of one chapter of the second volume of John Dos Passos's U.S.A. trilogy.
  • Paul Bunyan is an operetta in two acts and a prologue composed in 1941 by Benjamin Britten to a libretto by W. H. Auden.
  • Bunyan is featured in the 1958 Disney animated short Paul Bunyan. Paul (voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft) is described as "63 ax handles high". As the average ax handle is about 18 inches long (45.72 cm), that would make Paul about 94.5 feet (about 29 meters) tall.
  • Paul Bunyan was featured in Disney's 1995 film Tall Tale, portrayed by Oliver Platt.
  • He is mentioned in The Magnetic Fields song "Grand Canyon", from their album 69 Love Songs.
  • In the Simpsons episode "Simpsons Tall Tales", the story of Paul Bunyan is told, with Homer Simpson playing Bunyan.
  • In the 2006 animated film Hoodwinked!, one of the police officers refers to Kirk (Jim Belushi) as "Paul Bunyan". When Kirk is interviewed by Nicky Flippers, it is revealed that he is working on a callback for his appearance in a Paul's Bunion Cream commercial (a foot cream that "has the soothing formula to make the bunions head for the hills").
  • In That '70s Show, Jackie Burkhart refers to Donna Pinciotti as Paul Bunyan
  • Dr. McNinja features a disease called "Paul Bunyan's disease", causing people to grow into axe-wielding giants. The eponymous doctor cures a lot of these cases, but also holds an anti-antidote which he may give to people when an army of giant lumberjacks comes in handy.
  • In Professional Wrestling, a move in which a wrestler puts his opponents legs on either side of the ringpost, then pulls them, forcing the opponents' groin into the post, is sometimes called a "Paul Bunyan."
  • In "Short Tall Tales", a story in an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Babe is depicted as a large female ox in a white dress similar to the one Marilyn Monroe wore in The Seven Year Itch.
  • Paul Bunyan is mentioned in Disney's Recess episode "Big Ol' Mikey"
  • Paul Bunyan is mentioned in Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods.
  • Paul Bunyan is mentioned in Stephen King's novel IT.
  • Paul Bunyan is seen on the first few seconds of the Gravity Falls Theme song
  • Paul Bunyan is seen on the packaging of "The Paul Bunyon giant loggers express electric train set" on The Angry Beavers Season 1 Episode 03A "Gift Hoarse". His last name was spelled wrong, however.
  • The 8th track of the album Danza IIII: Alpha and Omega by extreme metal band The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza is titled "Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox."
  • In the Kick Buttowski episode "Dead Man's Roller Coaster" a Paul Bunyan statue holding letters appears in an abandoned parking lot.
  • In the Phineas and Ferb episode "My Chariot Race", Norm The Minitar wore a Babe head attachment
  • On the spoken interlude track "Paul - Skit" from the Eminem album The Marshall Mathers LP, Paul Rosenburg is credited as Paul "Bunyan" Rosenburg.
  • In Marvel Comic's "Avengers" #10, (1960s) Immortus summons Paul Bunyan to fight the Executioner.
  • There is a Bugs Bunny episode called Lumber Jack-Rabbit that states that Bugs knew Paul Bunyan.
  • In the MMORPG Guild Wars 2, there is a gathering axe called the Bun Yan Axe.
  • Paul Bunyan is the antagonist in the movie Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan.
  • Each year the two Universities, University of Michigan and Michigan State University play a football game, famously known as the "Battle For The Paul Bunyan Trophy", where the winner is awarded the "Paul Bunyan Trophy".

Tourist attractions

  • The most famous statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are in Bemidji, Minnesota as part of the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Other cities include Bangor, Maine; Rumford, Maine; Westwood, California; Del Norte County, California; St. Ignace, Michigan; Ossineke, Michigan; Enchanted Forest Water Safari, New York; and in Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin; and Minocqua, Wisconsin.
  • Paul Bunyan Land, a popular amusement park 7 miles (11 km) east of Brainerd, Minnesota, features a talking statue of Paul with a statue of Babe. Previously located in Baxter, the original Paul Bunyan Land park closed in 2003 to make room for new commercial development. The moving, talking, seated Paul Bunyan was then moved east of Brainerd to its current location at This Old Farm. A fictional Brainerd statue of Paul Bunyan was featured in the 1996 film Fargo, but was filmed in Bathgate, North Dakota and not Brainerd.
  • Trees of Mystery, a roadside attraction in Klamath, California, features a 49 ft (15 m) tall statue of Bunyan and a 35 ft (10 m) tall statue of Babe. It also features carvings and characters from stories of Paul. In November 2007 the statue of Babe's head fell off, owing to rain and old, rotted materials giving way. It has since been repaired.[14]
  • The State of Michigan has designated Oscoda, Michigan as the official home of Paul Bunyan due to the earliest documented publications in the Oscoda Press, August 10, 1906 by James MacGillivray (later revised and published in the Detroit News in 1910).[15]
  • Statues of Bunyan (alone) exist in Old Forge, New York; Akeley, Minnesota; Tucson, Arizona; Minocqua, Wisconsin; Bangor, Maine; Rumford, Maine; Oscoda, Michigan; Manistique Township, Michigan; a recently moved pair of statues sit in Ossineke, Michigan with a neutered Babe the Blue Ox,[16] Portland, Oregon; St. Maries, Idaho; Shelton, Washington; Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin; Aline, Oklahoma; and also on top of a Vietnamese (May Cafe 111 Louisiana Blvd. SE 87108) restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  • Bunyan is depicted on the world's largest wood carving, at the entrance to Sequoia National Park in California.
  • There is a 30-foot-tall (9.1 m) Paul Bunyan at the Paul Bunyan's Northwoods Cook Shanty in Minocqua, Wisconsin. This restaurant opened in 1961 and has become a tourist destination for this Wisconsin tourist town and its popularity continues to grow.
  • There is another 30-foot-tall (9.1 m) Paul Bunyan at the Paul Bunyan's Northwoods Cook Shanty in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. This restaurant opened in 1958 and has become traditional stop for Wisconsin tourists visiting this popular vacation town.
  • Two college football trophies have a connection to the legendary lumberjack. The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and University of Wisconsin Badgers have played for Paul Bunyan's Axe since the 1940s. Each year since 1953 the Paul Bunyan-Governor of Michigan trophy has been awarded to the winner of the football game between the University of Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State University Spartans.
  • The unincorporated town of Union Lake, Michigan, previously held an annual Paul Bunyan Festival every year in July. The festival was sponsored and run by several local charitable and civic groups, including the Jaycees and the Chamber of Commerce but was discontinued in the 1990s.
  • Hackensack, Minnesota is the home of Lucette, Paul Bunyan's sweetheart. The park downtown has the statue of Lucette and their son, Paul Jr.
  • The character of Paul Bunyan features prominently in Jon Ludwig's Paul Bunyan & the Tall Tale Medicine Show at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Georgia[17]
  • The City of Fort Bragg, California has been celebrating "Paul Bunyan Days" since 1939. It takes place Labor Day Weekend and includes rock shows, ugly dog contests, tricycle races, a huge logging show, and a Labor Day Parade. Fort Bragg's Paul Bunyan, who presides over all the activities is Norm Shandell, who has been Paul since 1969. Paul Bunyan spends the Fall in Fort Bragg, but leaves his Blue Ox, "Babe" in Comptche, California, so it won't make too big of a fuss.
  • St. Maries, Idaho holds a 4 day celebration of logging history in St. Maries, Idaho on Labor Day Weekend for the annual "Paul Bunyan Days Celebration". There are several food and craft vendors, a carnival (Davis Shows North West), logging and pool events, bed and outhouse races, Tug of War, Motor Cycle Enduro Cross, Lawn Mower races. What is possibly the largest Labor Day Fireworks display in the inland North West occurs on Sunday evening, which draws an estimated crowd of 12,000 spectators. On Monday, there is a Parade, which is over 1 mile long and growing each year. The city park boasts "The Biggest Topless Bar in Idaho" called the Blue Ox (the beer garden doesn't have a roof). {17}
  • There is a big statue of Paul Bunyan in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada.
  • The Log Chute flume ride (formerly known as 'Paul Bunyan's Log Chute') at the Nickelodeon Universe Park (formerly Knott's Camp Snoopy) at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, features large animatronic Paul Bunyan and Babe statues, as well as associated characters from the legend, including cooks making oversized pancakes.
  • There is a statue of Paul Bunyan holding a Hot Dog in Atlanta, Illinois. Although originally he did hold an axe, the axe was replaced with the hot dog due to its use as a symbol for Bunyon's restaurant in Cicero, Illinois.[18] The statue was moved to Atlanta, Illinois when the restaurant closed down in 2003.

See also

Folklore portal

Further reading

  • Edmonds, Michael. Out of the Northwoods; the Many Lives of Paul Bunyan, the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2009.
  • Bélanger, Georges. La collection Les Vieux m'ont conté du père Germain Lemieux, s.j.: Francophonies d'Amérique, Ottawa. Presses de l'Université d'Ottawa, no. 1, 1991, pp. 35–42.
  • Germain, Georges-Hébert. Adventurers in the New World: The Saga of the Coureurs des Bois, Montréal: Libre-Expression, 2003.
  • , Historical Press, 1993.


External links

  • Forest History Society Library and Archives, Durham, NC
  • Paul Bunyan History
  • "The Story of Paul Bunyan", Paul Bunyan Trail
  • Roadside statues and other tributes to the Great Tree-Biter, Paul Bunyan, Roadside America
  • Animated stories of Paul Bunyan
  • Paul Bunyan's Northwoods Cook Shanty, Minocqua & Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
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