January 21, 2020

Maine among those claiming fabled hero

The origin of Paul Bunyan has perplexed writers, folklore experts and storytellers for years. Readers young and old have wondered about the origin of the fabled hero. Was he from Maine, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, California or perhaps the Canadian provinces of Quebec or Ontario. Some new insights about the tales have surfaced, and a new book says all of those localities played a part in Bunyan’s creation.

Bunyan is based on a real lumberjack, a brawny brawler who tamed the woods with his axe and saloon bullies with his fists. With hands like meat hooks, a powerful jaw with a double row of teeth and an iron-thick skull, he was King of the Lumberjacks until his fateful murder in 1875.

Author D. Laurence Rogers traces Bunyan’s lineage in old newspaper stories, poems, and articles in magazines and books that made Bunyan the premier folklore figure in America.

“The tales began with Native American and lumberjack storytellers and date to the 1860s,” says Rogers. “But the Paul Bunyan tales we know today began in a newspaper in 1906 and grew to a giant size in countless imaginative versions afterward. Almost every place where timber was cut got in on the Bunyan story.”

H.L. Mencken popularized Bunyan with fantastic stories in his American Mercury magazine and books. Poets Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg and musical composers glorified Paul Bunyan in their works.

“If you think Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are totally imaginary, you’re in for a surprise: Both are based in reality,” writes Jon Kartman in Booklist for American Library Association. “It’s all very worthwhile for those seeking the roots of our country’s greatest tree feller,” he writes, rating the book good reading for both adults and young adults.

Readers curious about just where Bunyan came from and who he is based on may order the book, Paul Bunyan: How a Terrible Timber Feller Became a Legend (Historical Press).

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