Paul Bunyan and John Henry

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

The Mosquitoes

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

You've already heard mention of the business with the bees and the mosquitoes back in the section that described Paul's breeding of giant ants. Well, you can imagine how things went when his giant mosquitoes and giant bumble bees started to interbreed...

Have you ever encountered the Mosquito of the North Country? You thought they were pretty well developed animals with keen appetites, didn't you? Then you can appreciate what Paul Bunyan was up against when he was surrounded by the vast swarms of the giant ancestors of the present race of mosquitoes, getting their first taste of human victims. The present mosquito is but a degenerate remnant of the species. Now they rarely weigh more than a pound or measure more than fourteen or fifteen inches from tip to tip.

Paul had to keep his men and oxen in the camps with doors and windows barred. Men armed with pikepoles and axes fought off the insects that tore the shakes off the roof in their efforts to gain entrance. The big buck mosquitoes fought among themselves and trampled down the weaker members of the swarm and to this alone Paul Bunyan and his crew owe their lives.

Paul determined to conquer the mosquitoes before another season arrived. He thought of the big Bumble Bees back home and sent for several yoke of them. These, he hoped would destroy the mosquitoes. Sourdough Sam brought out two pair of bees, overland on foot. There was no other way to travel for the flight of the beasts could not be controlled. Their wings were strapped with surcingles, they checked their stingers with Sam and walking shoes were provided for them. Sam brought them through without losing a bee.

The cure was worse than the original trouble. The Mosquitoes and the Bees made a hit with each other. They soon intermarried and their off-spring, as often happens, were worse than their parents. They had stingers fore-and-aft and could get you coming or going.

Their bee blood caused their downfall in the long run. Their craving for sweets could only be satisfied by sugar and molasses in large quantities, for what is a flower to an insect with a ten-gallon stomach? One day the whole tribe flew across Lake Superior to attack a fleet of ships bringing sugar to Paul's camps. They destroyed the ships but ate so much sugar they could not fly and all were drowned.

One pair of the original bees were kept at headquarters camp and provided honey for the pancakes for many years.

If Paul Bunyan did not invent Geography he created a lot of it. The Great Lakes were first constructed to provide a water hole for Babe the Big Blue Ox. Just what year his work was done is not known but they were in use prior to the Year of the Two Winters.

The Winter Paul Bunyan logged off North Dakota he hauled water for his ice roads from the Great Lakes. One day when Brimstone Bill had Babe hitched to one of the old water tanks and was making his early morning trip, the tank sprung a leak when they were half way across Minnesota. Bill saved himself from drowning by climbing Babe's tail but all efforts to patch up the tank were in vain so the old tank was abandoned and replaced by one of the new ones. This was the beginning of the Mississippi River and the truth of this is established by the fact that the old Mississippi is still flowing.

The cooks in Paul's camps used a lot of water and to make things handy, they used to dig wells near the cook shanty. At headquarters on the Big Auger, on top of the hill near the mouth of the Little Gimlet, Paul dug a well so deep that it took all day for the bucket to fall to the water, and a week to haul it up. They had to run so many buckets that the well was forty feet in diameter. It was shored up with tamarac poles and when the camp was abandoned Paul pulled up this cribbing. Travelers who have visited the spot say that the sand has blown away until 178 feet of the well is sticking up into the air, forming a striking landmark.

The Winter of the Deep Snow everything was buried. Paul had to dig down to find the tops of the tallest White Pines. He had the snow dug away around them and lowered his sawyers down to the base of the trees. When the tree was cut off he hauled it to the surface with a long parbuckle chain to which Babe, mounted on snowshoes, was hitched. It was impossible to get enough stove pipe to reach to the top of the snow, so Paul had Big Ole make stovepipe by boring out logs with a long six-inch auger.

The year of the Two Winters they had winter all summer and then in the fall it turned colder. One day Big Joe set the boiling coffeepot on the stove and it froze so quick that the ice was hot. That was right after Paul had built the Great Lakes and that winter they froze clear to the bottom. They never would have thawed out if Paul had not chopped out the ice and hauled it out on shore for the sun to melt. He finally got all the ice thawed but he had to put in all new fish.

The next spring was the year the rain came up from China. It rained so hard and so long that the grass was all washed out by the roots and Paul had a great time feeding his cattle. Babe had to learn to eat pancakes like Benny. That was the time Paul used the straw hats for an emergency ration. When Paul's drive came down, folks in the settlements were astonished to see all the river-pigs wearing huge straw hats. The reason for this was soon apparent. When the fodder ran out every man was politely requested to toss his hat into the ring. Hundreds of straw hats were used to make a lunch for Babe.

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

  • what happened when Paul Bunyan brought in bees to fight the mosquitos?
  • how did the bees drown in Lake Superior?
  • what did Babe eat when the pancakes and other food ran out?

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