Paul Bunyan and John Henry

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

All Kinds of Characters

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

In this section you will get introduced to all kinds of characters - including Paul Bunyan's wife and his son, along with his cow Lucy, and his dog Sport (the "reversible dog").
Lucy, Paul Bunyan's cow was not, so far as we can learn, related to either Babe or Benny. Statements that she was in any way their mother are without basis in fact. The two oxen had been in Paul's possession for a long time before Lucy arrived on the scene.

No reliable data can be found as to the pedigree of this remarkable dairy animal. There are no official records of her butterfat fat production nor is it known where or how Paul got her.

Paul always said that Lucy was part Jersey and part wolf. Maybe so. Her actions and methods of living seemed to justify the allegation of wolf ancestry, for she had an insatiable appetite and a roving disposition. Lucy ate everything in sight and could never be fed at the same camp with Babe or Benny. In fact, they quit trying to feed her at all but let her forage her own living.

The Winter of the Deep Snow, when even the tallest White Pines were buried, Brimstone Bill outfitted Lucy with a set of Babe's old snowshoes and a pair of green goggles and turned her out to graze on the snowdrifts. At first she had some trouble with the new foot gear but once she learned to run them and shift gears without wrecking herself, she answered the call of the limitless snow fields and ran away all over North America until Paul decorated her with a bell borrowed from a buried church.

In spite of short rations she gave enough milk to keep six men busy skimming the cream. If she had been kept in a barn and fed regularly she might have made a milking record. When she fed on the evergreen trees and her milk got so strong of White Pine and Balsam that the men used it for cough medicine and liniment, they quit serving the milk on the table and made butter out of it. By using this butter to grease the logging roads when the snow and ice thawed off, Paul was able to run big logging sleds all summer.

The family life of Paul Bunyan, from all accounts, has been very happy. A charming glimpse of Mrs. Bunyan is given by Mr. E. S. Shepard of Rhinelander, Wis., who tells of working in Paul's camp on Round River in '62, the Winter of the Black Snow. Paul put him wheeling prune pits away from the cook camp. After he had worked at this job for three months Paul had him haul them back again as Mrs. Bunyan, who was cooking at the camp, wanted to use them to make the hot fires necessary to cook her famous soft-nosed pancakes.

Mrs. Bunyan, at this time used to call the men to dinner by blowing into a woodpecker hole in an old hollow stub that stood near the door. In this stub there was a nest of owls that had one short wing and flew in circles. When Mr. Shepard made a sketch of Paul, Mrs. Bunyan, with wifely solicitude for his appearance, parted Paul's hair with a handaxe and combed it with an old cross-cut saw.

From other sources we have fragmentary glimpses of Jean, Paul's youngest son. When Jean was three weeks old he jumped from his cradle one night and seizing an axe, chopped the four posts out from under his father's bed. The incident greatly tickled Paul, who used to brag about it to any one who would listen to him. "The boy is going to be a great logger some day," he would declare with fatherly pride.

The last we heard of Jean he was working for a lumber outfit in the South, lifting logging trains past one another on a single track railroad.

What is camp without a dog? Paul Bunyan loved dogs as well as the next man but never would have one around that could not earn its keep. Paul's dogs had to work, hunt or catch rats. It took a good dog to kill the rats and mice in Paul's camp for the rodents picked up scraps of the buffalo milk pancakes and grew to be as big as two year old bears.

Elmer, the moose terrier, practiced up on the rats when he was a small pup and was soon able to catch a moose on the run and finish it with one shake. Elmer loafed around the cook camp and if the meat supply happened to run low the cook would put the dog out the door and say, "Bring in a moose." Elmer would run into the timber, catch a moose and bring it in and repeat the performance until, after a few minutes work, the cook figured he had enough for a mess and would call the dog in.

Sport the reversible dog was really the best hunter. He was part wolf and part elephant hound and was raised on bear milk. One night when Sport was quite young, he was playing around in the horse barn and Paul, mistaking him for a mouse, threw a hand axe at him. The axe cut the dog in two but Paul, instantly realizing what had happened, quickly stuck the two halves together, gave the pup first aid and bandaged him up. With careful nursing the dog soon recovered and then it was seen that Paul in his haste had twisted the two halves so that the hind legs pointed straight up. This proved to be an advantage for the dog learned to run on one pair of legs for a while and then flop over without loss of speed and run on the other pair. Because of this he never tired and anything he started after got caught. Sport never got his full growth. While still a pup he broke through four feet of ice on Lake Superior and was drowned.

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

  • why did Brimstone Bill give Lucy snowshoes and green glasses?
  • how did Mrs. Bunyan fancy up Paul Bunyan's hair?
  • how did Sport the dog get twisted around?

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