Paul Bunyan is a mythological lumberjack who appears in tall tales of American folklore. The character originated in the work of American journalist James MacGillivray. Historically, the character has been popular in the northern region of the United States, around Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Bunyan's birth was strange, as are the births of many mythic heroes, as it took 5 storks
to carry the infant (ordinarily, one stork could carry several babies and drop them off at their parents' home). When he was old enough to clap and laugh, the vibration broke every window in the house. When he was 7 months old he sawed the legs off of his parents bed in the middle of the night. Paul and Babe dug the Grand Canyon
by dragging his axe
behind him, and created Mount Hood
by piling rocks on top of their campfire to put it out.
He is a classic American "big man" who was popular in 19th century America. Further, the Bunyan myths sprang from lumber camp tales, sometimes bawdy ones, to put it mildly. In one such tale, extreme cold forced bears to look for food; one wandered into a lumber camp. It chased the lumberjacks up a tree on which they had a ladder. To keep the bear from climbing after them (despite the fact that bears do not need ladders to climb trees), they kicked down the ladder. This saved them from the bear, but trapped them in the tree. To escape, the lumberjacks urinated in unison and created a frozen pole, which they slid down. Such tall tales, though later watered down, were attributed to a single character, Bunyan, and became the stories known today.
The earliest published versions of the myth of Paul Bunyan can be traced back to James MacGillivray, an itinerant newspaper reporter who wrote the first Paul Bunyan article in 1906, and an expanded version of the same article for the Detroit News. He is alleged to have collected stories from lumberjacks, combined them with his own embellishments, and began disseminating the legend with the July 24, 1910, printing of The Round River Drive which included the following, concerning Dutch Jake (another mythical lumberjack of great strength) and the narrator participating in a Bunyan-sponsored contest to cut down the biggest tree in the forest.
- "Dutch Jake and me had picked out the biggest tree we could find on the forty, and we'd put three days on the cut with our big saw, what was three crosscuts brazed together, making of teeth. We was getting along fine on the fourth day when lunchtime comes, and we thought we'd best get to the sunny side to eat. So we grabs our grub and starts around that tree.
- 'We hadn't gone far when we heard a noise. Blamed if there wasn't Bill Carter and Sailor Jack sawin' at the same tree. It looked like a fight at first, but we compromised, meetin' each other at the heart on the seventh day. They'd hacked her to fall to the north, and we'd hacked her to fall to the south, and there that blamed tree stood for a month or more, clean sawed through, but not knowin' which way to drop 'til a windstorm came along and throwed her over."
The popularization of the myth started with William B. Laughead's "Introducing Mr. Paul Bunyan of Westwood, California", one of a series of Bunyan advertising pamphlets for the Red River Lumber Company. Some of the pamphlet tales were based on Laughead's recollections of stories he had heard ten years earlier in a Minnesota lumber camp. Others were highly exaggerated tales of his own experiences.
Overall, Paul Bunyan was considered to be a strong brave man who feared nothing including his beloved pet, Babe, the blue ox.
Laughead, through the ad pamphlets, created much of the Bunyan "canon", including the blue ox and Johnny Inkslinger.
Paul Bunyan has dozens of towns vying to be considered his home. Several authors, including James Stevens and D. Laurence Rogers, have traced the tales to the exploits of French Canadian lumberjack Fabian "Saginaw Joe" Fournier, 1845-1875. Fournier worked for the H.M. Loud Company in the Grayling, Michigan
area, 1865-1875, where MacGillivray later worked and apparently picked up the stories. The state of Michigan has declared Oscoda, Michigan
as the official home of Paul Bunyan because of the earliest documented published stories by MacGillivray. Other towns such as Bemidji, Brainerd, Shelton, and Westwood, Minnesota Bay City, Michigan
, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
, and even Bangor, Maine
also claim the title.
Kelliher, Minnesota is the home of Paul Bunyan Memorial Park, which contains a site purporting to be Paul Bunyan's grave. Another legend claims that Rib Mountain in Wausau, Wisconsin, is Bunyan's grave site.
Furthermore, two Boy Scouts of America Order of the Arrow lodges have their original roots tied into the fable of Paul Bunyan. OA Lodge 196, Mesabi, from Hibbing, MN used Paul Bunyan as its lodge totem from 1941-1995. OA Lodge 26, Blue Ox, from Rochester, MN has used the Blue Ox (Babe) exclusively as its lodge totem and on nearly all issues of patches and neckerchiefs since 1927.
- Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are statues of both Bunyan and Babe in Bemidji, Minnesota. Other statues exist in Brainerd, Minnesota; Westwood, California; Del Norte County, California; St. Ignace, Michigan, Ossineke, Michigan; and in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
- Paul Bunyan Land, an amusement park east of Brainerd, Minnesota, features a talking statue of Paul with a statue of Babe (its original Baxter location was cleared in 2003 to make room for new commercial development). There are two other (smaller, non-talking) statues located in Brainerd.
- Trees of Mystery, a roadside attraction in Klamath, California, features a 49 ft (15 m) tall statue of Bunyan and a 35 ft (10 m) tall statue of Babe. It also features carvings and characters from stories of Paul. In November of 2007 the statue of Babe's head fell off, owing to rain and old, rotted materials giving way.
- The State of Michigan has designated Oscoda, Michigan as the official home of Paul Bunyan due to the earliest documented publications in the Oscoda Press, August 10, 1906 by James MacGillivray (later revised and published in the Detroit News in 1910).
- Statues of Bunyan (alone) exist in Old Forge, New York; Akeley, Minnesota; Tucson, Arizona; Woodruff, Wisconsin; Bangor, Maine; Rumford, Maine; Oscoda, Michigan; a recently moved pair of statues sit in Ossineke, Michigan with a neutered Babe the Blue Ox,Portland, Oregon; St. Maries, Idaho; Shelton, Washington; Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin; Aline, Oklahoma; and also on top of a Vietnamese (May Cafe 111 Louisiana Blvd. SE 87108) restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
- A statue depicting Bunyan's wife can be found in Hackensack, Minnesota. Her name is Lucette
- Bunyan is depicted on the world's largest wood carving, at the entrance to Sequoia National Park in California.
- There is a group called the Mystic Knights of the Blue Ox in Bayfield, Wisconsin.
- There is a 25' tall Paul Bunyan at the Paul Bunyan's Northwoods Cook Shanty in Minocqua, Wisconsin
- The unincorporated town of Union Lake, Michigan, previously held an annual Paul Bunyan Festival every year in July. The festival was sponsored and run by several local charitable and civic groups, including the Jaycees and the Chamber of Commerce. It included a carnival, exhibits, sporting contests, and various events. At its height, local community groups, churches, businesses, and other organizations participated with tie-in events. The highlights of the festival were a three-mile (5 km) long parade from Highland Lakes Campus of Oakland Community College (which frequently hosted the carnival as well) down Cooley Lake Road and Union Lake Road, featuring a celebrity "Grand Marshall" who was typically a politician, sports figure, or other local celebrity, including several Michigan governors, and, on the last night of the festival, a fireworks display. Unfortunately, the Paul Bunyan Festival was gradually downsized and ultimately discontinued due to budget constraints and the price of liability insurance -- the parade was discontinued in the early 1990s, and the fair and festival itself was discontinued in the late 1990s when the Jaycees, the primary sponsor, could no longer afford the costs of liability insurance and increased rental fees for the fairgrounds at the community college.
- The log flume (attraction) at Nickelodeon Universe located in The Mall of America in Bloomington, MN has a Paul Bunyan theme. It is called the "Log Chute".
- Stephen King makes reference to a Paul Bunyan statue located in his fictional town of Derry, Maine in the novels It, and Insomnia.
- Paul Bunyan makes an appearance in the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
- In Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods, Paul Bunyan is ridiculed as a fake mythology.
- A fictional Paul Bunyan statue in Brainerd, Minnesota is seen in the Coen brothers' 1996 movie Fargo.
- He is the subject of an opera by Benjamin Britten called Paul Bunyan, libretto by W. H. Auden (1941).
- In the comic book The Badger, the title character meets Bunyan and Babe (First Comics # 42, 1998). The story was called "Tall Tale".
- He is the subject of "Paul Bunyan and the Photocopier" by Larry Hammer.
- The story is a subject of the Simpsons episode "Simpsons Tall Tales", in which the Simpsons board a train to Delaware and meet a hobo who tells them a selection of "tall tales".
- In the webcomic "The Adventures of Dr. McNinja", the "Paul Bunyan's disease" causes people to turn into giant lumberjacks.
- Paul was briefly shown in the 1954 Warner Brothers' only 3-D animated short Lumber Jack-Rabbit. In the cartoon, Bugs Bunny stumbles upon Bunyan's giant carrot patch, which is guarded by Smidgen, a dog.
- Paul Bunyan is alluded to as the name "The Tall Man With The Big Axe" in the novel Summerland by Michael Chabon.
- In the 70's TV series Land of the Lost, in the episode "Snowman" from third season, Uncle Jack calls Will "A regular Paul Bunyan" when the boy chops a tree in order to make a bridge over a big cliff
- Paul Bunyan appears in the one-act play "Mr Charles, currently of Palm Beach" (1998) by Paul Rudnick in the line "A gay woman is not simply Paul Bunyan with a cat."
- The Woodsman character voiced by James Belushi in the animated film Hoodwinked! (2005) auditions for the part of Paul Bunyan for an advert in the film.
- Paul Bunyan is mentioned in the lyrics to the Kid Dakota song "Ten Thousand Lakes" from the album "The West Is The Future".
- Paul Bunyan appears the film Tall Tale: The Adventures of Pecos Bill (portrayed by Oliver Platt) along with John Henry and Pecos Bill
- In 1958, Disney released an animated short about Paul's life directed by Les Clark.
- Paul Bunyan is a recurring character in the Vertigo comic book Jack of Fables
- Paul Bunyan is mentioned in the lyrics of the Magnetic Fields song "Grand Canyon" from the album "69 Love Songs Vol.2".
- Bélanger, Georges. La collection Les Vieux m'ont conté du père Germain Lemieux, s.j.: Francophonies d'Amérique, Ottawa. Presses de l'Université d'Ottawa, no. 1, 1991, pp. 35-42.
- Gartenberg, Max (1949). "Paul Bunyan and Little John". Journal of American Folklore 62
- Germain, Georges-Hébert, Adventurers in the New World: The Saga of the Coureurs des Bois, Montréal: Libre-Expression, 2003.
- Maltin, Leonard Of Mice and Magic - the History of American Animation. Rev. ed., Plume Books.