Born out of a time when the perils of Mother Nature tried the mortality of the North American woodsman; through the harsh winters their spirit shown through to befall something immortal. Little could they have dreamed that this same pioneer spirit was to be personified— into one of the most enduring characters of American fantasy . . .

PAUL BUNYAN is a household name that evokes connotations of size, strength and manhood. The Patron Saint of Loggers, Paul Bunyan has emerged beyond his humble beginnings into a true American icon. However, despite being the very emblem of the tall tale, he is the subject of notorious disputes. While some hail him as the only true American myth others contest him as a fraud. That he is not a legend, but the sole product of an advertising campaign. Here we come to set the record straight, to separate the mascot from the myth, and above all to vindicate the good name of Paul Bunyan.

          The year is 1863. In a logging camp over by the Little Onion River the snow topples the trees. Overnight it rises to a height of 6 feet, 30 yards. It is so cold that a hundred below would have looked like the 4th of July next to it. That was the “Winter of the Blue Snow,” so versed a woodsman to assess the gullibility of a new recruit. The old-time logger commonly employed such jests as a means to frighten tenderfoots as well as for leisure. What is more oral tradition supplied a means which to honor and commemorate the character and exploits of the logger. While many a town may lay claim to being birthplace of Paul. It is through such stories; colorful, exaggerated, oftentimes uncouth where ol’ Paul was truly “born.”

          Given that Paul Bunyan is an invention of folklore it is difficult to trace the exact period Paul Bunyan first sprang into existence; although, an anonymous 1904 article tells us—

His pet joke and the one with which the green horn at the camp is sure to be tried, consists of a series of imaginative tales about the year Paul Bunyan lumbered in North Dakota. The great Paul is represented as getting out countless millions of timber in the year of the ‘blue snow.’ ” (Duluth News Tribune, August 4, 1904)

With this one thing is certain. The above printing appears over a decade before any commercial use of the Paul Bunyan name. Evidently there must have been a Paul Bunyan of legend, but who was he? How closely did the Paul Bunyan of fable tie in with the figure we know him today?

          J. E. Rockwell in the nature journal The Outer’s Book introduces us to an eight foot, three-hundred pound, quick tempered, peerless smoking, lumber baron who ruled over his subordinates “with an iron hand.” He is a man of great might, resourcefulness, harder than rock, whose voice shook the earth and made his workers jump (not quite the jolly, kid friendly incarnation of Disney). Here the rigid Paul Bunyan is accompanied by his logging crew, his cook and a peculiar blue ox. This beast, here nameless, is of enormous proportions. The extraordinary creature, “measured eight ax-handles between the horns” and “hauled all the wood and water for the camp.” We are further acquainted with a setting: the Little Onion and the Big Tobacco rivers in Maine during the 1880s. There is even mention of Mrs. Bunyan, “a lady of leisure who waited in the city for her husband’s return,” and an arch-nemesis in the personage of rival timber boss “Old Drumbeater.”

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