Paul Bunyan and John Henry

Week 14: American Folklore - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Babe, the Big Blue Ox

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

Babe the Big Blue Ox is surely just as famous as Paul Bunyan himself, and the two of them now seem to be inseparable (you can see Babe on the commemorative stamp honoring Paul Bunyan as an American folk hero). Babe's fame is apparently due to the ingenious efforts of Langhead and the other copywriters working for the Red River Lumber Company!
Babe, the big blue ox constituted Paul Bunyan's assets and liabilities. History disagrees as to when, where and how Paul first acquired this bovine locomotive but his subsequent record is reliably established. Babe could pull anything that had two ends to it.

Babe was seven axehandles wide between the eyes according to some authorities; others equally dependable say forty-two axehandles and a plug of tobacco. Like other historical contradictions this comes from using different standards. Seven of Paul's axehandles were equal to a little more than forty-two of the ordinary kind.

When cost sheets were figured on Babe, Johnny Inkslinger found that upkeep and overhead were expensive but the charges for operation and depreciation were low and the efficiency was very high. How else could Paul have hauled logs to the landing a whole section (640 acres) at a time? He also used Babe to pull the kinks out of the crooked logging roads and it was on a job of this kind that Babe pulled a chain of three-inch links out into a straight bar.

They could never keep Babe more than one night at a camp for he would eat in one day all the feed one crew could tote to camp in a year. For a snack between meals he would eat fifty bales of hay, wire and all and six men with picaroons were kept busy picking the wire out of his teeth.
A long pole fitted with a spike or hook, used in logging and fishing

Babe was a great pet and very docile as a general thing but he seemed to have a sense of humor and frequently got into mischief. He would sneak up behind a drive and drink all the water out of the river, leaving the logs high and dry. It was impossible to build an ox-sling big enough to hoist Babe off the ground for shoeing, but after they logged off Dakota there was room for Babe to lie down for this operation.

Once in a while Babe would run away and be gone all day roaming all over the Northwestern country. His tracks were so far apart that it was impossible to follow him and so deep that a man falling into one could only be hauled out with difficulty and a long rope. Once a settler and his wife and baby fell into one of these tracks and the son got out when he was fifty-seven years old and reported the accident. These tracks, today form the thousands of lakes in the "Land of the Sky-Blue Water."

Because he was so much younger than Babe and was brought to camp when a small calf, Benny was always called the Little Blue Ox although he was quite a chunk of an animal. Benny could not, or rather, would not haul as much as Babe nor was he as tractable but he could eat more.

Paul got Benny for nothing from a farmer near Bangor, Maine. There was not enough milk for the little fellow so he had to be weaned when three days old. The farmer only had forty acres of hay and by the time Benny was a week old he had to dispose of him for lack of food. The calf was undernourished and only weighed two tons when Paul got him. Paul drove from Bangor out to his headquarters camp near Devil's Lake, North Dakota that night and led Benny behind the sleigh. Western air agreed with the little calf and every time Paul looked back at him he was two feet taller.

When they arrived at camp Benny was given a good feed of buffalo milk and flapjacks and put into a barn by himself. Next morning the barn was gone. Later it was discovered on Benny's back as he scampered over the clearings. He had outgrown his barn in one night.

Benny was very notional and would never pull a load unless there was snow on the ground so after the spring thaws they had to white wash the logging roads to fool him.

Gluttony killed Benny. He had a mania for pancakes and one cook crew of two hundred men was kept busy making cakes for him. One night he pawed and bellowed and threshed his tail about till the wind of it blew down what pine Paul had left standing in Dakota. At breakfast time he broke loose, tore down the cook shanty and began bolting pancakes. In his greed he swallowed the red-hot stove. Indigestion set in and nothing could save him. What disposition was made of his body is a matter of dispute. One oldtimer claims that the outfit he works for bought a hind quarter of the carcass in 1857 and made corned beef of it. He thinks they have several carloads of it left.

Another authority states that the body of Benny was dragged to a safe distance from the North Dakota camp and buried. When the earth was shoveled back it made a mound that formed the Black Hills in South Dakota.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • who was Babe? what was Babe able to do?
  • what problems were caused by Babe's size and appetite?
  • what problems were caused by Benny's size and appetite? what finally happened to Benny?

Source: The Marvelous Exploits of Paul Bunyan as Told in the Camps of the White Pine Lumbermen for Generations During Which Time the Loggers Have Pioneered the Way Through the North Woods From Maine to California Collected from Various Sources and Embellished for Publication. Text and Illustrations By W. B. Laughead. Published for the Amusement of our Friends by The Red River Lumber Company Minneapolis, Westwood, Cal., Chicago, Los Angeles - San Francisco. 1922. Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM