Paul Bunyan – Hero Lumberjack

Lucy was Paul’s cow, she supplied what milk and butter there was in his camps. One winter when there was a shortage of pasture Lucy started to eat spruce and balsam boughs. Then the men used her milk as cough syrup. The butter that was made from it was so tough that Paul used it to grease his tote roads. This enabled him to haul logs all summer. Paul had a little hunting dog called Elmer. One night lie thought that he heard a rat in the shanty. He flung an axe and cut his favorite dog in two. But, then he got up and .stitched the dog together again. This was done in the dark and he got the hind end of the dog the wrong way with the legs pointing up instead of down. When Elmer got well he was one of the smartest dogs in the north woods. He could catch any animal in the bush. He would run on one pair of legs until he was tired, then turn over and use the other pair.

When Paul was cutting big timber in the St. Croix River region his men were harassed by the mosquitoes. These were so large and strong that they carried away and devoured many a juicy lumberjack. Paul would have lost all of his crew had not someone told him of a race of big bumblebees down in the Gulf Country. He sent Jim Liverpool down to get some of them. Jim jumped all of the big and little rivers on the way and returned in record time. The bumblebees and the mosquitoes began to fight each other and many bloody battles occurred. After a time the two declared a truce. They became friends and intermarried. The offspring were far worse than either parent. They were armed with stingers at both ends. But Paul had finished his work and moved his camp to Minnesota.

Connected very frequently with the Bunyan tales were accounts of fabulous animals that haunted the camp. There was the bird who laid square eggs so that they would not roll down hill, and hatched them in the snow. Then there was the side-hill dodger, a curious animal naturally adapted to life on a hill by virtue of the circumstance that it has two short legs on the up-hill side. Of this creature, it was said that by mistake, the female dodger once laid her eggs wrong end around, with the terrible result that the little dodgers, hatching out with their short legs down hill, rolled into the river and drowned. The pinnacle grouse are birds with only one wing, adapted by this defect for flight in one direction about the top of a conical hill. There was little doubt that these animal stories existed outside the Bunyan cycle, and were simply appended to the central group of tales.

The story of Bunyan’s method of paying off his crew at the end of the season shows the hero’s craftiness. Discovering in the spring that he had no money on hand, Bunyan suddenly rushed into camp shouting that they had been cutting government pine and were all to be arrested. Each man thereupon seized what camp property lay nearest his hand and made off, no two men taking the same direction. Thus Bunyan cleared his camp without paying his men a cent for their labor.

Not all of the Bunyan stories were concerned with Bunyan’s life in the Round River or the Big Onion camps. There were several accounts of his exploits far from the forests of the north-central states. It was said that when he was once dredging out the Columbia River, he broke the dredge, and, sticking it into his pocket, walked to the nearest blacksmith shop in South Dakota, had it repaired, and returned to the Oregon camp before dark. Besides his blue ox, Bunyan had, according to some versions, so many oxen that their yokes, piled up, made twenty cords of wood. One day he drove all of these animals through a hollow tree which had fallen across a great ravine. When he reached the other side, he found that several of the oxen had disappeared, and, returning, he discovered that they had strayed into a hollow limb. Occasionally one would hear some account of Paul Bunyan’s boyhood exploits on his father’s farm. It was said that, on one occasion, he and his father went out to gather a huge watermelon which was growing on a side-hill above a railroad track. They carelessly forgot to prop the melon up before they severed the stem with a cross-cut saw, and as a result, it broke loose, rolled downhill, burst open on striking the rails, and washed out 200 feet of track.

Paul Bunyan’s folklore character originated in the oral tradition of North American loggers and was later popularized by freelance writer William B. Laughead in a 1916 promotional pamphlet for the Red River Lumber Company. Throughout the better part of the century, Paul Bunyan’s name and image continued to be utilized in promoting various products, cities, and services. He has also been the subject of various literary compositions, musical pieces, commercial works, and theatrical productions. Today his likeness is displayed in several oversized statues across the country. A significant portion of these were produced from the 1960s thru the 1970s by the company International Fiberglass as part of their “Muffler Men” series of giant, fiberglass sculptures.


Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated May 2017.

Primarily adapted from several versions of American Folk Lore – Paul Bunyan Tales, written in several editions by Charles E. Brown of the State Historical Museum in Madison, Wisconsin.

Paul Bunyan Gas Station in Minnesota

Paul Bunyan Gas Station in Minnesota

Also See:

Pecos Bill – A Legend of Frontier Spirit

Legend of Rip Van Winkle (Charles Skinner, 1896)

Jackalopes in Wyoming – Myth or Reality?

Legends, Myths & Campfire Tales (main page)



Stewart, K. Bernice and Watt, Homer A.; Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, Volume 18, Part 2, Madison, WI, 1916


Wisconsin Historical Society

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