Paul Bunyan and John Henry

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

Logging Jobs

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 1000 words.

In addition to these "tall tales", you will also find that Paul Bunyan is presented as a sort of "culture hero", someone who invents new technlogies, previously unheard of. As far as the folks at Red River Lumber are concerned, it was Paul Bunyan who invented the whole process of logging timber: "When Paul invented logging he had to invent all the tools and figure out all his own methods."
It was always thought that the quality of the food at Paul's Camps had a lot to do with the strength and endurance of the men. No doubt it did, but they were a husky lot to start with. As the feller said about fish for a brain food, "It won't do you no good unless there is a germ there to start with."

There must have been something to the food theory for the chipmunks that ate the prune pits got so big they killed all the wolves and years later the settlers shot them for tigers.

A visitor at one of Paul's camps was astonished to see a crew of men unloading four-horse logging sleds at the cook-shanty. They appeared to be rolling logs into a trap door from which poured clouds of steam.

"That's a heck of a place to land logs," he remarked.

"Them ain't logs," grinned a bull-cook, "them's sausages for the teamsters' breakfast."

At Paul's camp up where the little Gimlet empties into the Big Auger, newcomers used to kick because they were never served beans. The bosses and the men could never be interested in beans. E. E. Terrill tells us the reason: Once when the cook quit they had to detail a substitute to the job temporarily. There was one man who was no good anywhere. He had failed at every job. Chris Crosshaul, the foreman, acting on the theory that every man is good somewhere, figured that this guy must be a cook, for it was the only job he had not tried. So he was put to work and the first thing he tackled was beans. He filled up a big kettle with beans and added some water. When the heat took hold the beans swelled up till they lifted off the roof and bulged out the walls. There was no way to get into the place to cook anything else, so the whole crew turned in to eat up the half cooked beans. By keeping at it steady they cleaned them up in a week and rescued the would-be-cook. After that no one seemed to care much for beans.

It used to be a big job to haul prune pits and coffee grounds away from Paul's camps. It required a big crew of men and either Babe or Benny to do the hauling. Finally Paul decided it was cheaper to build new camps and move every month.

The winter Paul logged off North Dakota with the Seven Axemen, the Little Chore Boy and the 300 cooks, he worked the cooks in three shifts - one for each meal. The Seven Axemen were hearty eaters; a portion of bacon was one side of a 1600-pound pig. Paul shipped a stern-wheel steamboat up Red River and they put it in the soup kettle to stir the soup.

Like other artists, cooks are temperamental and some of them are full of cussedness but the only ones who could sass Paul Bunyan and get away with it were the stars like Big Joe and Sourdough Sam. The lunch sled - most popular institution in the lumber industry! Its arrival at the noon rendezvous has been hailed with joy by hungry men on every logging job since Paul invented it. What if the warm food freezes on your tin plate, the keen cold air has sharpened your appetite to enjoy it. The crew that toted lunch for Paul Bunyan had so far to travel and so many to feed they hauled a complete kitchen on the lunch sled, cooks and all.

When Paul invented logging he had to invent all the tools and figure out all his own methods. There were no precedents. At the start his outfit consisted of Babe and his big axe.

No two logging jobs can be handled exactly the same way so Paul adapted his operations to local conditions. In the mountains he used Babe to pull the kinks out of the crooked logging roads; on the Big Onion he began the system of hauling a section of land at a time to the landings and in North Dakota he used the Seven Axemen.

At that time marking logs was not thought of, Paul had no need for identification when there were no logs but his own. About the time he started the Atlantic Ocean drive others had come into the industry and although their combined cut was insignificant compared to Paul's, there was danger of confusion, and Paul had most to lose.

At first Paul marked his logs by pinching a piece out of each log. When his cut grew so large that the marking had to be detailed to the crews, the "scalp" on each log was put on with an axe, for even in those days not every man could nip out the chunk with his fingers.

The Grindstone was invented by Paul the winter he logged off North Dakota. Before that Paul's axemen had to sharpen their axes by rolling rocks down hill and running along side of them. When they got to "Big Dick," as the lumberjacks called Dakota, hills and rocks were so hard to find that Paul rigged up the revolving rock.

This was much appreciated by the Seven Axemen as it enabled them to grind an axe in a week, but the grindstone was not much of a hit with the Little Chore Boy whose job it was to turn it. The first stone was so big that working at full speed, every time it turned around once it was payday.

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

  • where did the killer chipmunks come from?
  • why did Paul Bunyan build new camps and move every month?
  • how big was the millstone?

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