Paul Bunyan and John Henry

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

Paul Bunyan the Hunter

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

If you read the Noah unit back earlier in the semester, you might remember "Nimrod, was a mighty hunter before the Lord." Well, Paul Bunyan is of course bigger and better than Nimrod by far: " As a hunter, Paul would make old Nimrod himself look like a city dude lost from his guide." Yet at the same time that Paul is some kind of wild man of the frontier, he is also all about business: "It is no picnic to tackle the wilderness and turn the very forest itself into a commercial commodity delivered at the market."

As a hunter, Paul would make old Nimrod himself look like a city dude lost from his guide. He was also a good fisherman. Old-timers tell of seeing Paul as a small boy, fishing off the Atlantic Coast. He would sail out early in the morning in his three-mast schooner and wade back before breakfast with his boat full of fish on his shoulder.

About this time he got his shot gun that required four dishpans full of powder and a keg of spikes to load each barrel. With this gun he could shoot geese so high in the air they would spoil before reaching the ground.

Tracking was Paul's favorite sport and no trail was too old or too dim for him to follow. He once came across the skeleton of a moose that had died of old age and, just for curiosity, picked up the tracks of the animal and spent the whole afternoon following its trail back to the place where it was born.

The shaggy dog that spent most of his time pretending to sleep in front of Johnny Inkslinger's counter in the camp office was Fido, the watch dog. Fido was the bug-bear (not bearer, just bear) of the greenhorns. They were told that Paul starved Fido all winter and then, just before payday, fed him all the swampers, barn boys, and student bullcooks. The very marrow was frozen in their heads at the thought of being turned into dog food. Their fears were groundless for Paul would never let a dog go hungry or mistreat a human being. Fido was fed all the watch peddlers, tailors' agents, and camp inspectors and thus served a very useful purpose.

It is no picnic to tackle the wilderness and turn the very forest itself into a commercial commodity delivered at the market. A logger needs plenty of brains and back bone.

Paul Bunyan had his setbacks the same as every logger only his were worse. Being a pioneer he had to invent all his stuff as he went along. Many a time his plans were upset by the mistakes of some swivel-headed strawboss or incompetent foreman.

The winter of the blue snow, Shot Gunderson had charge in the Big Tadpole River country. He landed all of his logs in a lake and in the spring when ready to drive he boomed the logs three times around the lake before be discovered there was no outlet to it. High hills surrounded the lake and the drivable stream was ten miles away. Apparently the logs were a total loss.

Then Paul came on the job himself and got busy. Calling in Sourdough Sam, the cook who made everything but coffee out of sourdough, he ordered him to mix enough sourdough to fill the big watertank. Hitching Babe to the tank he hauled it over and dumped it into the lake. When it "riz," as Sam said, a mighty lava-like stream poured forth and carried the logs over the hills to the river. There is a landlocked lake in Northern Minnesota that is called "Sourdough Lake" to this day.

Chris Crosshaul was a careless cuss. He took a big drive down the Mississippi for Paul and when the logs were delivered in the New Orleans boom it was found that he had driven the wrong logs. The owners looked at the barkmarks and refused to accept them. It was up to Paul to drive them back upstream.

No one but Paul Bunyan would ever tackle a job like that. To drive logs upstream is impossible, but if you think a little thing like an impossibility could stop him, you don't know Paul Bunyan. He simply fed Babe a good big salt ration and drove him to the upper Mississippi to drink. Babe drank the river dry and sucked all the water upstream. The logs came up river faster than they went down.

Big Ole was the Blacksmith at Paul's headquarters camp on the Big Onion. Ole had a cranky disposition but he was a skilled workman. No job in iron or steel was too big or too difficult for him. One of the cooks used to make doughnuts and have Ole punch the holes. He made the griddle on which Big Joe cast his pancakes and the dinner horn that blew down ten acres of pine. Ole was the only man who could shoe Babe or Benny. Every time he made a set of shoes for Babe they had to open up another Minnesota iron mine. Ole once carried a pair of these shoes a mile and sunk knee deep into solid rock at every step. Babe cast a shoe while making a hard pull one day, and it was hurled for a mile and tore down forty acres of pine and injured eight Swedes that were swamping out skidways. Ole was also a mechanic and built the Downcutter, a rig like a mowing machine that cut down a swath of trees 500 feet wide.

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

  • what did Paul Bunyan feed to Fido?
  • where did Sourdough Lake come from?
  • how did Paul Bunyan drive logs upstream?

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