THE MARVELOUS EXPLOITS OF PAUL BUNYAN
THE MARVELOUS EXPLOITS OF PAUL BUNYAN
Text and Illustrations
W. B. Laughead
Published for the Amusement of our Friends by
The Red River Lumber Company
Minneapolis Westwood Cal. Chicago Los Angeles - San Francisco
The Red River Lumber Company takes its name from the Red River of the
North down which the Walkers drove their logs to Winnipeg before the
railroads had reached their forest holdings in northern Minnesota. Later
on they built a sawmill on the Red River at East Grand Forks which was
followed by the mills at Crookston and Akeley Minnesota. Their last
Minnesota log was cut at Akeley in 1915.
The first edition of Paul Bunyan and His Big Blue Ox appeared in 1922
with ten thousand copies followed in the same year with a printing of
five thousand. Subsequent editions were printed in 1924 1927 and 1931.
Since the first edition copies have been sent out only on request.
With this printing January 1934 the size of the book has been changed
and the supplementary text has been revised. The stories are the same as
in the preceding editions and include material used in small booklets
issued by The Red River Lumber Company in 1914 and 1916. So far as we
know this was the first appearance of the Paul Bunyan stories in print.
The student of folklore will easily distinguish the material derived
from original sources from that written for the purposes of this book.
It should be stated that the names of the supporting characters
including the animals are inventions by the writer of this version. The
oral chroniclers did not in his hearing which goes back to 1900 call
any of the characters by name except Paul Bunyan himself.
Investigators have failed to establish the source or age of the first
Paul Bunyan stories. One of our correspondents a man of advanced years
wrote us in 1922 that he had heard some of the stories when a boy in his
grandfather's logging camps in New York and that they were supposed to
be old at that time. A distinct Paul Bunyan legend has grown up in the
oil fields evidently originating with lumberjacks from the northern and
eastern white pine camps who came to work with the drillers.
Scholars Say He is the Only American Myth.
Paul Bunyan is the hero of lumbercamp whoppers that have been handed
down for generations. These stories never heard outside the haunts of
the lumberjack until recent years are now being collected by learned
educators and literary authorities who declare that Paul Bunyan is "the
only American myth."
The best authorities never recounted Paul Bunyan's exploits in narrative
form. They made their statements more impressive by dropping them
casually in an off hand way as if in reference. to actual events of
common knowledge. To overawe the greenhorn in the bunkshanty or the
paper-collar stiffs and home guards in the saloons a group of
lumberjacks would remember meeting each other in the camps of Paul
Bunyan. With painful accuracy they established the exact time and place
"on the Big Onion the winter of the blue snow" or "at Shot Gunderson's
camp on the Tadpole the year of the sourdough drive." They elaborated on
the old themes and new stories were born in lying contests where the
heights of extemporaneous invention were reached.
In these conversations the lumberjack often took on the mannerisms of
the French Canadian. This was apparently done without special intent and
no reason for it can be given except for a similarity in the mock
seriousness of their statements and the anti-climax of the bulls that
were made with the braggadocio of the habitant. Some investigators
trace the origin of Paul Bunyan to Eastern Canada. Who can say?
Paul Bunyan came to Westwood California in 1913 at the suggestion of
some of the most prominent loggers and lumbermen in the country. When
the Red River Lumber Company announced their plans for opening up their
forests of Sugar Pine and California White Pine friendly advisors shook
their heads and said
"Better send for Paul Bunyan."
Apparently here was the job for a Superman -
quality-and-quantity-production on a big scale and great engineering
difficulties to be overcome. Why not Paul Bunyan? This is a White Pine
job and here in the High Sierras the winter snows lie deep just like
the country where Paul grew up. Here are trees that dwarf the largest
"cork pine" of the Lake States and many new stunts were planned for
logging milling and manufacturing a product of supreme quality - just
the job for Paul Bunyan.
The Red River people had been cutting White Pine in Minnesota for two
generations; the crews that came west with them were old heads and every
one knew Paul Bunyan of old. Paul had followed the White Pine from the
Atlantic seaboard west to the jumping-off place in Minnesota why not go
the rest of the way?
Paul Bunyan's picture had never been published until he joined Red River
and this likeness first issued in 1914 is now the Red River trademark.
It stands for the quality and service you have the right to expect from
When and where did this mythical Hero get his start? Paul Bunyan is
known by his mighty works his antecedents and personal history are lost
in doubt. You can prove that Paul logged off North Dakota and grubbed
the stumps not only by the fact that there are no traces of pine
forests in that State but by the testimony of oldtimers who saw it
done. On the other hand Paul's parentage and birth date are unknown.
Like Topsy he jes' growed.
Nobody cared to know his origin until the professors got after him. As
long as he stayed around the camps his previous history was treated with
the customary consideration and he was asked no questions but when he
broke into college it was all off. Then he had to have ancestors a
birthday and all sorts of vital statistics.
Now Paul is a regular myth and students of folklore make scientific
research of "The Paul Bunyan Legend".
His first appearance in print was in the booklets published by The Red
River Lumber Company in 1914 and 1916 these stories are reprinted in
the present volume with additions. Paul has followed the wanderings of
pioneering workmen and performed new wonders in the oil fields on big
construction jobs and in the wheat fields but the stories in this book
deal only with his work in the White Pine camps where he was born and
raised. Care has been taken to preserve the atmosphere of the old style
So now we will get on with Paul's doings and in the language of the
four-horse skinner "Let's dangle!"
Babe the big blue ox constituted Paul Bunyan's assets and liabilities.
History disagrees as to when where and how Paul first acquired this
bovine locomotive but his subsequent record is reliably established.
Babe could pull anything that had two ends to it.
Babe was seven axehandles wide between the eyes according to some
authorities; others equally dependable say forty-two axehandles and a
plug of tobacco. Like other historical contradictions this comes from
using different standards. Seven of Paul's axehandles were equal to a
little more than forty-two of the ordinary kind.
When cost sheets were figured on Babe Johnny Inkslinger found that
upkeep and overhead were expensive but the charges for operation and
depreciation were low and the efficiency was very high. How else could
Paul have hauled logs to the landing a whole section (640 acres) at a
time? He also used Babe to pull the kinks out of the crooked logging
roads and it was on a job of this kind that Babe pulled a chain of
three-inch links out into a straight bar.
They could never keep Babe more than one night at a camp for he would
eat in one day all the feed one crew could tote to camp in a year. For a
snack between meals he would eat fifty bales of hay wire and all and
six men with picaroons were kept busy picking the wire out of his teeth.
Babe was a great pet and very docile as a general thing but he seemed to
have a sense of humor and frequently got into mischief He would sneak
up behind a drive and drink all the water out of the river leaving the
logs high and dry. It was impossible to build an ox-sling big enough to
hoist Babe off the ground for shoeing but after they logged off Dakota
there was room for Babe to lie down for this operation.
Once in a while Babe would run away and be gone all day roaming all over
the Northwestern country. His tracks were so far apart that it was
impossible to follow him and so deep that a man falling into one could
only be hauled out with difficulty and a long rope. Once a settler and
his wife and baby fell into one of these tracks and the son got out when
he was fifty-seven years old and reported the accident. These tracks
today form the thousands of lakes in the "Land of the Sky-Blue Water."
Because he was so much younger than Babe and was brought to camp when a
small calf Benny was always called the Little Blue Ox although he was
quite a chunk of an animal. Benny could not or rather would not haul
as much as Babe nor was he as tractable but be could eat more.
Paul got Benny for nothing from a farmer near Bangor Maine. There was
not enough milk for the little fellow so he had to be weaned when three
days old. The farmer only had forty acres of hay and by the time Benny
was a week old he had to dispose of him for lack of food. The calf was
undernourished and only weighed two tons when Paul got him. Paul drove
from Bangor out to his headquarters camp near Devil's Lake North Dakota
that night and led Benny behind the sleigh. Western air agreed with the
little calf and every time Paul looked back at him he was two feet
When they arrived at camp Benny was given a good feed of buffalo milk
and flapjacks and put into a barn by himself. Next morning the barn was
gone. Later it was discovered on Benny's back as he scampered over the
clearings. He had outgrown his barn in one night.
Benny was very notional and would never pull a load unless there was
snow on the ground so after the spring thaws they had to white wash the
logging roads to fool him.
Gluttony killed Benny. He had a mania for pancakes and one cook crew of
two hundred men was kept busy making cakes for him. One night he pawed
and bellowed and threshed his tail about till the wind of it blew down
what pine Paul had left standing in Dakota. At breakfast time he broke
loose tore down the cook shanty and began bolting pancakes. In his
greed he swallowed the red-hot stove. Indigestion set in and nothing
could save him. What disposition was made of his body is a matter of
dispute. One oldtimer claims that the outfit he works for bought a hind
quarter of the carcass in 1857 and made corned beef of it. He thinks
they have several carloads of it left.
Another authority states that the body of Benny was dragged to a safe
distance from the North Dakota camp and buried. When the earth was
shoveled back it made a mound that formed the Black Hills in South
The custodian and chaperon of Babe the Big Blue Ox was Brimstone Bill.
He knew all the tricks of that frisky giant before they happened.
"I know oxen" the old bullwhacker used to say "I've worked 'em and fed
'em and doctored 'em ever since the ox was invented. And Babe I know
that pernicious old reptyle same as if I'd abeen through him with a
Bill compiled "The Skinner's Dictionary" a hand book for teamsters and
most of the terms used in directing draft animals (except mules)
originated with him. His early religious training accounts for the fact
that the technical language of the teamster contains so many names of
places and people spoken of in the Bible.
The buckskin harness used on Babe and Benny when the weather was rainy
was made by Brimstone Bill. When this harness got wet it would stretch
so much that the oxen could travel clear to the landing and the load
would not move from the skidway in the woods. Brimstone would fasten the
harness with an anchor Big Ole made for him and when the sun came out
and the harness shrunk the load would be pulled to the landing while
Bill and the oxen were busy at some other job.
The winter of the Blue Snow the Pacific Ocean froze over and Bill kept
the oxen busy hauling regular white snow over from China. M. H. Keenan
can testify to the truth of this as he worked for Paul on the Big Onion
that winter. It must have been about this time that Bill made the first
ox yokes out of cranberry wood.
Feeding Paul Bunyan's crews was a complicated job. At no two camps were
conditions the same. The winter he logged off North Dakota he had 300
cooks making pancakes for the Seven Axemen and the little Chore-boy. At
headquarters on the Big Onion he had one cook and 462 cookees feeding a
crew so big that Paul himself never knew within several hundred either
way how many men he had.
At Big Onion camp there was a lot of mechanical equipment and the
trouble was a man who could handle the machinery cooked just like a
machinist too. One cook got lost between the flour bin and the root
cellar and nearly starved to death before he was found.
Cooks came and went. Some were good and others just able to get by. Paul
never kept a poor one very long. There was one jigger who seemed to
have learned to do nothing but boil. He made soup out of everything and
did most of his work with a dipper. When the big tote-sled broke through
the ice on Bull Frog Lake with a load of split peas he served warmed
up lake water till the crew struck. His idea of a lunch box was a jug
or a rope to freeze soup onto like a candle. Some cooks used too much
grease. It was said of one of these that he had to wear calked shoes to
keep from sliding out of the cook-shanty and rub sand on his hands when
he picked anything up.
There are two kinds of camp cooks the Baking Powder Bums and the
Sourdough Stiffs. Sourdough Sam belonged to the latter school. He made
everything but coffee out of Sourdough. He had only one arm and one leg
the other members having been lost when his sourdough barrel blew up.
Sam officiated at Tadpole River headquarters the winter Shot Gunderson
After all others had failed at Big Onion camp Paul hired his cousin Big
Joe who came from three weeks below Quebec. This boy sure put a mean
scald on the chuck. He was the only man who could make pancakes fast
enough to feed the crew. He had Big Ole the blacksmith make him a
griddle that was so big you couldn't see across it when the steam was
thick. The batter stirred in drums like concrete mixers was poured on
with cranes and spouts. The griddle was greased by colored boys who
skated over the surface with hams tied to their feet. They had to have
colored boys to stand the heat.
At this camp the flunkeys wore roller skates and an idea of the size of
the tables is gained from the fact that they distributed the pepper with
Sending out lunch and timing the meals was rendered difficult by the
size of the works which required three crews - one going to work one on
the job and one coming back. Joe had to start the bull-cook out with the
lunch sled two weeks ahead of dinner time. To call the men who came in
at noon was another problem. Big Ole made a dinner horn so big that no
one could blow it but Big Joe or Paul himself. The first time Joe blew
it be blew down ten acres of pine. The Red River people wouldn't stand
for that so the next time he blew straight up but this caused severe
cyclones and storms at sea so Paul had to junk the horn and ship it East
where later it was made into a tin roof for a big Union Depot.
When Big Joe came to Westwood with Paul he started something. About
that time you may have read in the papers about a volcanic eruption at
Mt. Lassen heretofore extinct for many years. That was where Big Joe
dug his bean-hole and when the steam worked out of the bean kettle and
up through the ground everyone thought the old hill had turned volcano.
Every time Joe drops a biscuit they talk of earthquakes.
It was always thought that the quality of the food at Paul's Camps had a
lot to do with the strength and endurance of the men. No doubt it did
but they were a husky lot to start with. As the feller said about fish
for a brain food "It won't do you no good unless there is a germ there
to start with."
There must have been something to the food theory for the chipmunks that
ate the prune pits got so big they killed all the wolves and years later
the settlers shot them for tigers.
A visitor at one of Paul's camps was astonished to see a crew of men
unloading four-horse logging sleds at the cook-shanty. They appeared to
be rolling logs into a trap door from which poured clouds of steam.
"That's a heck of a place to land logs" he remarked.
"Them ain't logs" grinned a bull-cook "them's sausages for the
At Paul's camp up where the little Gimlet empties into the Big Auger
newcomers used to kick because they were never served beans. The bosses
and the men could never be interested in beans. E. E. Terrill tells us
Once when the cook quit they had to detail a substitute to the job
temporarily. There was one man who was no good anywhere. He had failed
at every job. Chris Crosshaul the foreman acting on the theory that
every man is good somewhere figured that this guy must be a cook for
it was the only job he had not tried. So he was put to work and the
first thing he tackled was beans. He filled up a big kettle with beans
and added some water. When the heat took hold the beans swelled up till
they lifted off the roof and bulged out the walls. There was no way to
get into the place to cook anything else so the whole crew turned in to
eat up the half cooked beans. By keeping at it steady they cleaned them
up in a week and rescued the would-be-cook. After that no one seemed to
care much for beans.
It used to be a big job to haul prune pits and coffee grounds away from
Paul's camps. It required a big crew of men and either Babe or Benny to
do the hauling. Finally Paul decided it was cheaper to build new camps
and move every month.
The winter Paul logged off North Dakota with the Seven Axemen the
Little Chore Boy and the 300 cooks he worked the cooks in three shifts
- one for each meal. The Seven Axemen were hearty eaters; a portion of
bacon was one side of a 1600-pound pig. Paul shipped a stern-wheel
steamboat up Red River and they put it in the soup kettle to stir the
Like other artists cooks are temperamental and some of them are full of
cussedness but the only ones who could sass Paul Bunyan and get away
with it were the stars like Big Joe and Sourdough Sam. The lunch sled -
most popular institution in the lumber industry! Its arrival at the
noon rendezvous has been hailed with joy by hungry men on every logging
job since Paul invented it. What if the warm food freezes on your tin
plate the keen cold air has sharpened your appetite to enjoy it. The
crew that toted lunch for Paul Bunyan had so far to travel and so many
to feed they hauled a complete kitchen on the lunch sled cooks and all.
When Paul invented logging he had to invent all the tools and figure out
all his own methods. There were no precedents. At the start his outfit
consisted of Babe and his big axe.
No two logging jobs can be handled exactly the same way so Paul adapted
his operations to local conditions. In the mountains he used Babe to
pull the kinks out of the crooked logging roads; on the Big Onion he
began the system of hauling a section of land at a time to the landings
and in North Dakota he used the Seven Axemen.
At that time marking logs was not thought of Paul had no need for
identification when there were no logs but his own. About the time he
started the Atlantic Ocean drive others had come into the industry and
although their combined cut was insignificant compared to Paul's there
was danger of confusion and Paul had most to lose.
At first Paul marked his logs by pinching a piece out of each log. When
his cut grew so large that the marking had to be detailed to the crews
the "scalp" on each log was put on with an axe for even in those days
not every man could nip out the chunk with his fingers.
The Grindstone was invented by Paul the winter he logged off North
Dakota. Before that Paul's axemen had to sharpen their axes by rolling
rocks down hill and running along side of them. When they got to "Big
Dick" as the lumberjacks called Dakota hills and rocks were so hard to
find that Paul rigged up the revolving rock.
This was much appreciated by the Seven Axemen as it enabled them to
grind an axe in a week but the grindstone was not much of a hit with
the Little Chore Boy whose job it was to turn it. The first stone was so
big that working at full speed every time it turned around once it was
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
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
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
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
"The Seven Axemen of the Red River" they were called because they had a