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Paul Bunyan

From Academic Kids

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Paul and Babe in Bemidji, Minnesota

Paul Bunyan is a mythical lumberjack in tall tales. French Canadians gave birth to the tales during the Papineau Rebellion of 1837, when they revolted against the young English Queen. In the Two Mountains area near St. Eustache, Québec, loggers stormed into battle, among them a fierce and bearded giant named Paul Bunyan. American loggers gave him Babe, the ox, and the mythical logging camp. By 1860, Paul Bunyan had become an American legendary hero, on the scale of Hercules or Asterix.

A lumberjack of huge size and strength, Paul Bunyan has become an old folkloric character in the American psyche. It is said that he and his blue ox, Babe, were so large their footsteps created Minnesota's ten thousand lakes. Babe measured 42 axe handles and a plug of chewing tobacco between his horns. He was found during the winter of the blue snow; his mate was Bessie, the Yaller Cow.

Like many myths, this explains a physical phenomenon. Bunyan's birth was strange, as are the births of many mythic heroes, as it took seventeen storks to carry the infant (ordinarily, one stork could carry several babies and drop them off at their parents' home). Paul and Babe dug the Grand Canyon by dragging his axe behind him. He is a classic American "big man" who was popular in 19th century America as an exemplar of a minority group. What is little known about the Bunyan myth is that it was propogated by lumber interests as a public relations tool. Further, the Bunyan myths sprang from lumber camp tales that were baudy to say the least. In one such tale, it was so cold that bears were looking for food when one wandered into a lumber camp. He chased the lumberjacks up a tree on which they had a ladder. To keep the bear from getting them they kicked down the ladder. Now they had no way down. The brutal cold a reminder, they urinated in unison and created a pole down which they slid. Such tall tales, though later toned down, were transferred to the one character, Bunyan, and became the stories we know today.

The myth of Paul Bunyan can be traced back to James MacGillivray, a reporter for the Detroit News. He collected the stories from actual lumberjacks, and began disseminating the legend with the July 24, 1910 printing of The Round River Drive which included the following, concerning Dutch Jake (another mythical lumberjack of great strength) and the narrator participating in a Bunyan-sponsored contest to cut down the biggest tree in the forest.

"Dutch Jake and me had picked out the biggest tree we could find on the forty, and we'd put three days on the cut with our big saw, what was three crosscuts brazed together, making 30 feet of teeth. We was getting along fine on the fourth day when lunchtime comes, and we thought we'd best get to the sunny side to eat. So we grabs our grub and starts around that tree.
'We hadn't gone far when we heard a noise. Blamed if there wasn't Bill Carter and Sailor Jack sawin' at the same tree. It looked like a fight at first, but we compromised, meetin' each other at the heart on the seventh day. They'd hacked her to fall to the north, and we'd hacked her to fall to the south, and there that blamed tree stood for a month or more, clean sawed through, but not knowin' which way to drop 'til a windstorm came along and throwed her over."

Statues of both Bunyan and Babe exist in Bemidji, Minnesota, Del Norte County, California, and in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Statues of Bunyan exist in Bangor, Maine; Ossineke, Michigan; Brainerd, Minnesota; Portland, Oregon and Shelton, Washington. Bunyan is depicted on the world's largest wood carving, at the entrance to Sequoia National Park in California. There is a group called the Mystic Knights of the Blue Ox in Bayfield, Wisconsin.

Paul Bunyan has at least four towns vying for being considered his home: the above mentioned Bemidji, Brainerd, and Shelton; and Westwood, California.

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