Paul Bunyan and John Henry

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

Axes and Ants

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

Since the 1922 booklet that we are reading this week is a compilation of previously published Paul Bunyan stories, there are sometimes references here to stories that you have not gotten to yet - but you will soon! For example, in this page you will find a reference to Paul Bunyan's success with the bees and the mosquitoes (although it was not exactly a success, as you will see later!). Based on his experimenting with those insects, Paul Bunyan went on to breed a race of ants to work in his logging camps: "a breed of Ants that stand six feet tall and weigh 200 pounds." Ants big enough to stand up to the likes of Little Chore Boy and the Axemen!
The Little Chore Boy led a strenuous life. He was only a kid and like all youngsters putting in their first winter in the woods, he was put over the jumps by the oldtimers. His regular work was heavy enough, splitting all the wood for the camp, carrying water and packing lunch to the men, but his hazers sent him on all kinds of wild goose errands to all parts of the works, looking for a "left-handed peavy" or a "bundle of cross-hauls."

He had to take a lot of good natured roughneck wit about his size for he only weighed 800 pounds and a couple of surcingles made a belt for him. What he lacked in size he made up in grit and the men secretly respected his gameness. They said he might make a pretty good man if he ever got any growth, and considered it a necessary education to give him a lot of extra chores.

Often in the evening, after his day's work and long hours put in turning the grindstone and keeping up fires in the camp stoves - that required four cords of wood apiece to kindle a fire, he could be found with one of Big Ole's small 600-pound anvils in his lap pegging up shoes with railroad spikes.

It was a long time before they solved the problem of turning logging sleds around in the road. When a sled returned from the landing and put on a load they had to wait until Paul came along to pick up the four horses and the load and head them the other way. Judson M. Goss says he worked for Paul the winter he invented the round turn.

All of Paul's inventions were successful except when he decided to run three ten-hour shifts a day and installed the Aurora Borealis. After a number of trials the plan was abandoned because the lights were not dependable.

"The Seven Axemen of the Red River" they were called because they had a camp on Red River with the three-hundred cooks and the Little Chore Boy. The whole State was cut over from the one camp and the husky seven chopped from dark to dark and walked to and from work.

Their axes were so big it took a week to grind one of them. Each man had three axes and two helpers to carry the spare axes to the river when they got red hot from chopping. Even in those days they had to watch out for forest fires. The axes were hung on long rope handles. Each axeman would march through the timber whirling his axe around him till the hum of it sounded like one of Paul's for-and-aft mosquitoes, and at every step a quarter-section of timber was cut.

The height, weight and chest measurement of the Seven Axemen are not known. Authorities differ. History agrees that they kept a cord of four-foot wood on the table for toothpicks. After supper they would sit on the deacon seat in the bunk shanty and sing "Shanty Boy" and "Bung Yer Eye" till the folks in the settlements down on the Atlantic would think another nor'wester was blowing up.

Some say the Seven Axemen were Bay Chaleur men; others declare they were all cousins and came from down Machias way. Where they came from or where they went to blow their stake after leaving Paul's camp no one knows but they are remembered as husky lads and good fellows around camp.

After the Seven Axemen had gone down the tote road, never to return, Paul Bunyan was at a loss to find a method of cutting down trees that would give him anything like the output he had been getting. Many trials and experiments followed and then Paul invented the two-man Saw.

The first saw was made from a strip trimmed off in making Big Joe's dinner horn and was long enough to reach across a quarter section, for Paul could never think in smaller units. This saw worked all right in a level country, in spite of the fact that all the trees fell back on the saw, but in rough country only the trees on the hill tops were cut. Trees in the valleys were cut off in the tops and in the pot holes the saw passed over the trees altogether.

It took a good man to pull this saw in heavy timber when Paul was working on the other end. Paul used to say to his fellow sawyer, "I don't care if you ride the saw, but please don't drag your feet." A couple of cousins of Big Ole's were given the job and did so well that ever afterward in the Lake States the saw crews have generally been Scandinavians.

It was after this that Paul had Big Ole make the "Down-Cutter." This was a rig like a mowing machine. They drove around eight townships and cut a swath 500 feet wide.

Paul Bunyan's Trained Ants are proving so successful that they may replace donkeys and tractors on the rugged slopes of the Sierras. Inspired by his success with Bees and Mosquitoes, Paul has developed a breed of Ants that stand six feet tall and weigh 200 pounds.

To overcome their habit of hibernating all Winter, Paul supplied the Ants with Mackinaws made with three pairs of sleeves or legs. They eat nothing but Copenhagen Snuff. The Ants (or Uncles as they prefer to be called) can run to the Westwood shops with a damaged locomotive quicker than the Wrecking Crew can come out. They do not patronize bootleggers or require time off to fix their automobiles.

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

  • how big was Little Chore Boy?
  • what did the Seven Axemen use for toothpicks?
  • what did Paul Bunyan use his Trained Ants for?

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