Paul Bunyan and John Henry

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

Paul Bunyan Out West

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

You will see the the folks at Red River Lumber were careful to emphasize Paul Bunyan's exploits in the logging fields of Minnesota, while also describing his exploits in his new home of California and the Northwest, where the Red River Lumber company itself had relocated in 1913, right around the time that they started publishing the Paul Bunyan pamphlets.

In the early days, whenever Paul Bunyan was broke between logging seasons, he traveled around like other lumberjacks doing any kind of pioneering work he could find. He showed up in Washington about the time The Puget Construction Co. was building Puget Sound and Billy Puget was making records moving dirt with droves of dirt-throwing badgers. Paul and Billy got into an argument over who had shoveled the most. Paul got mad and said he'd show Billy Puget and started to throw the dirt back again. Before Billy stopped him he had piled up the San Juan Islands.

When a man gets the reputation in the woods of being a "good man" it refers only to physical prowess. Frequently he is challenged to fight by "good men" from other communities.

There was Pete Mufraw. "You know Joe Mufraw?" "Oui, two Joe Mufraw, one named Pete." That's the fellow. After Pete had licked everybody between Quebec and Bay Chaleur he started to look for Paul Bunyan. He bragged all over the country that he had worn out six pair of shoe-pacs looking for Paul. Finally he met up with him.

Paul was plowing with two yoke of steers and Pete Mufraw stopped at the brush-fence to watch the plow cut its way right through rocks and stumps. When they reached the end of the furrow Paul picked up the plow and the oxen with one arm and turned them around. Pete took one look and then wandered off down the trail muttering, "Hox an' h'all! She's lift hox an' h'all."

Paul Bunyan started traveling before the steam cars were invented. He developed his own means of transportation and the railroads have never been able to catch up. Time is so valuable to Paul he has no time to fool around at sixty miles an hour.

In the early days he rode on the back of Babe, the Big Blue Ox. This had its difficulties because he had to use a telescope to keep Babe's hind legs in view and the hooves of the ox created such havoc that after the settlements came into different parts of the country there were heavy damage claims to settle every trip.

Snowshoes were useful in winter but one trip on the webs cured Paul of depending upon them for transcontinental hikes. He started from Minnesota for Westwood one Spring morning. There was still snow in the woods so Paul wore his snowshoes. He soon ran out of the snow belt but kept right on without reducing speed. Crossing the desert the heat became oppressive, his mackinaws grew heavy and the snowshoes dragged his feet but it was too late to turn back.

When he arrived in California he discovered that the sun and hot sand had warped one of his shoes and pulled one foot out of line at every step, so instead of traveling on a bee line and hitting Westwood exactly, he came out at San Francisco. This made it necessary for him to travel an extra three hundred miles north. It was late that night when he pulled into Westwood and he had used up a whole day coming from Minnesota.

Paul's fast foot work made him a "good man on the round stuff" and in spite of his weight he had no trouble running around on the floating logs, even the small ones. It was said that Paul could spin a log till the bark came off and then run ashore on the bubbles. He once threw a peavy handle into the Mississippi at St. Louis and standing on it, poled up to Brainerd, Minnesota. Paul was a "white water bucko" and rode water so rough it would tear an ordinary man in two to drink out of the river.

Johnny Inkslinger was Paul's headquarters clerk. He invented bookkeeping about the time Paul invented logging. He was something of a genius and perfected his own office appliances to increase efficiency. His fountain pen was made by running a hose from a barrel of ink. One winter Johnny left off crossing the "t's" and dotting the "i's" and saved nine barrels of ink. The lumberjacks accused him of using a split pencil to charge up the tobacco and socks they bought but this was just bunkshanty talk (is this the origin of the classic term "the bunk"?) for Johnny never cheated anyone.

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

  • where did the San Juan Islands off Washington come from?
  • what were the risks of riding on the back of Babe the Blue Ox?
  • how did Johnny Inkslinger save on ink?

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