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Home > History > Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan

This page describes the legend and possible reality of folk hero Paul Bunyan.

Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan

The Legend

Paul Bunyan is a fictional, giant lumberjack in American lore. Said to have been born with a full beard, Paul Bunyan could fell a dozen trees with a single swing of his oversized ax and could outperform “machines” that, at the time, threatened the livelihood of lumberjacks. Together, with his 5,000-pound blue ox named Babe, whose footsteps allegedly became Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes, the legendary pair accomplished superhuman feats that involved clearing the land of trees. Most of the tales involved the oversized Bunyan and his ox fighting fearsome creatures, clearing wide swaths of land, or fighting off severe weather. The tale of Paul Bunyan was similar to other folktales of the time that involved the settlement, growth, or industrialization of America such as those of John Henry and Johnny Appleseed.

The History

The legend of Paul Bunyan was thought to have been born in the lumber camps of Minnesota in the late 1800s, though some historians insist the legend of Paul Bunyan is nothing more than “fakelore,” a literary invention that claims to be authentic folklore. Paul Bunyan was first mentioned in print in the Duluth News Tribune in 1904. His legend grew as part of a promotional campaign for the Red River Lumber Company. In 1958, Disney produced the successful musical Paul Bunyan, making him a household name.

Was he Real?

Historians are not in agreement whether or not Paul Bunyan, as a regular human actually existed. Some believe Paul Bunyan was born from a tough French-Canadian logger nicknamed “Saginaw Joe.” Others believe he was derived from a different logger named Bon Jean and that Paul Bunyan was born from the merging of the legends of Saginaw Joe and Bon Jean. Whether he existed or not, the spirit of Paul Bunyan and his ox live on. Numerous “larger-than-life” statues of the pair exist today, including a 49-foot-tall Paul Bunyan in California.

Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe

Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe

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