These accounts, while differing on a few points, provide us a consistent image. Paul Bunyan is a goliath sized lumber boss of great might and expertise, but one of very human character. He is short-tempered, rugged, a heavy drinker, smoker and brawler (among other things). He possesses the triumphs and fallbacks definitive of a rugged outdoorsman and all the more celebrated for it. A very different kind of Paul Bunyan than we know today. He certainly was nothing of a bad guy, but wasn’t at all a pushover.

          The apocryphal, Gulliver-sized, patently inoffensive Bunyan first materialized in the offices of the Red River Lumber Company in 1916. A staffer named William Laughead was tasked out with the responsibility of devising a suitable gimmick to help boost sales. Familiar with the basic story of Paul Bunyan, he transformed the timber giant into just the marketable character the enterprise was looking for. The end result was an advertising pamphlet entitled, “Introducing Mr. Paul Bunyan of Westwood, California.” The booklet opens up on how Paul by notice of Red River Lumber came to The Golden State to do some hefty logging. Afterward the leaflet relates several of his exploits some new and others loosely familiar.

          Many critical of Bunyan have taken this to construe that Paul Bunyan is utterly a money-making invention, with no basis in myth. Whereas Paul Bunyan legends have been subjected to censorship or expounded upon, it fails to take in to light how we regard other “authentic” myths. To dismiss Paul Bunyan as a fraud by these grounds one would have to write off nearly every other legendary figure. Since the advent of popular media a faithful adaptation of mythology is extremely rare, and characters of myth seldom if ever are drawn from sources faithfully. (Just take a look at Robin Hood, Hercules, Sindbad, or King Arthur to name a few.) As with his counterparts Paul Bunyan is not immune from this kind of transformation. While the canonical Paul Bunyan would never lend himself to appearances in children's books; he probably would have never received the attention he did otherwise. For better or worse this kind of change is not simply how things are, but perhaps how they should be. Drawing to a close, here is a quote from Carl Sandburg who said it best in his book, The People, Yes:

WHO made Paul Bunyan, who gave him birth as a myth, who joked him into life as a Master Lumberjack, who fashioned him forth as an apparition easing the hours of men amid axes and trees, saws and lumber? The people, the bookless people, they made Paul and had him alive long before he got into the books for those who read. He grew up in shanties, around the hot stoves of winter, among socks and mittens drying, in the smell of tobacco smoke and the roar of laughter mocking the outsider weather. And some of Paul came overseas in wooden bunks below decks in sailing vessels. And some of Paul is old as the hills, young as the alphabet.” (Carl Sandburg, The People, Yes, 1936)

Paul Bunyan Tall Tales
Paul Bunyan Natural History

◇ Anonymous. (1904, Aug 4). “Caught on the Run.” Duluth News Tribune.
◇ James MacGillivray. (1906, Aug 10). “Round River.” The Oscoda Press.
◇ J. E. Rockwell. (1910, Feb). “Some Lumberjack Myths.” The Outer’s Book.
◇ Douglas Malloch; James MacGillivray. (1914, April 25). "The Round River Drive." American Lumberman. pp33.
◇ Paul Bunyan Fine Art. (2010). Tall Timber Tales. Retrieved December 31, 2010, from Paul Bunyan Fine Art. Web site:
◇ Botkin, B.A. (Ed.) A Treasury of American Folklore. (New York: Crown Publishers, 1955)
◇ Randolph, Vance. We Always Lie to Strangers: Tall Tales from the Ozarks. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1951.)
◇ Thomson. Cartoon. The San Francisco Call. Vol. 92. No. 13. San Fransico: Charles M. Shortridge, 1902. 14. Print.
◇ Anonymous. Cartoon. The San Francisco Call. Vol. 88. No. 136 San Fransico: Charles M. Shortridge, 1900. 16. Print.

"Paul Bunyan: His Story" by L. S. Sharpe
Created: 03/17/2011 --- Last Updated: 04/22/2014
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