Paul Bunyan

(Great Characters in Literature)

Characters Discussed

Paul Bunyan, the gigantic hero of exaggerated yarns first told along the Canadian border about 1837. Bunyan first saw Babe, the Blue Ox, the winter the blue snow fell. Together, they set up a lumber camp. Bunyan invents the multiplication table, the cube root system, and algebra so that he can keep the records until he meets Johnny Inkslinger and makes him his bookkeeper. When ordinary logging methods fail, he shoots the trees off the slopes of the Mountain That Stood On Its Head. He sweats so hard cutting the stonewood trees in Utah that he creates Salt Lake. With the coming of machinery, however, there is no place for him, and he and Babe disappear forever over the hills.


Babe, a huge Blue Ox, brought up by Bunyan from a calf. When whale milk will not cure his illness, whiskey does the trick.


Niagara, Paul’s moosehound.

Hels Helsen

Hels Helsen, a giant who fights a savage battle with Bunyan and then becomes his friend for life.

Johnny Inkslinger

Johnny Inkslinger, who loses his job as surveyor when Bunyan cuts down the trees he uses for stakes. He then becomes the camp bookkeeper.

Sourdough Sam

Sourdough Sam, the camp cook, who loses an arm and a leg when some sourdough, put into Johnny’s ink, explodes.

Hot Biscuit Slim

Hot Biscuit Slim, Sam’s son and successor, who makes meals the high point of a logger’s day.

Shanty Boy

Shanty Boy, whose tall stories amuse the loggers until he tells them of Jonah and the whale; then he is beaten for lying.

King Bourbon

King Bourbon, of Kansas. He is overcome by a rebellious duke who gets everybody drunk. Bunyan hitches Babe to Kansas and turns it upside down to quiet things, leaving Kansas flat and rid of cigarette grass, beervines, and whiskey trees.

The Stories

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

That winter, the blue snow fell. It frightened the moose so that they fled from the section of Canada where Paul Bunyan lived to the far North. The herds made so much noise that all the bears woke up from their hibernation and fled too. Some of the bears went so far North that they turned white and became polar bears. Some only went far enough to turn gray, and some were merely so frightened that they stayed small. When Paul Bunyan discovered the blue snow on the ground, he was surprised, but not as surprised as he was to find that his moose hound, Niagara, had followed the herds, and was no longer there to bring his food for him. Walking around, he saw a blue calf of an amazing size. Because it seemed ill, he took it home to his cave and fed it. Shortly afterward, he dreamed that he and the calf were to invent and practice the art of logging.

With the help of Babe, who had grown up to be a huge Blue Ox, Paul Bunyan set up a lumber camp. When Paul had to do the paperwork for the camp, he invented the multiplication table, the cube root, and algebra. As boss of the logging, Paul was lucky to meet a man, almost as big as he was, named Hels Helsen. Hels was a wonderful worker and Paul’s friend, but they fought after Paul decided to cut the trees on the Mountain That Stood On Its Head. When Paul found that his men could not hang upside down from the sides of the mountain and cut the down-growing trees with ease, he loaded his gun with plates of iron and shot it at the overhanging sides. The discharge cut off the trees so that they fell down and buried their tops in the plain below. Hels got angry at Paul for being so smart, and the two of them had a terrible fight on the top, which was really the bottom, of the mountain. Paul won, and from then on, there was never any trouble between them.

Then the camp moved to a place where Paul found trees planted in perfect rows, and all of the same size. Paul’s men cut down the trees. Soon afterward, Paul met Johnny Inkslinger, the great surveyor, and learned that Johnny had planted the trees for surveying stakes. In recompense, Paul made Johnny, who also was almost as big as Paul, his bookkeeper.

Feeding the huge lumber camp was a great problem. At first, Paul had a cook who would serve only pea soup. One day, he threw the peas in a lake and boiled the lake water to make the soup. Then Paul got a new cook named Sourdough Sam. Sam served only sourdough, and he was convinced that it was good for everything. He advised it as a shoe polish, an emetic, liniment, and toothache medicine. Once he put some sourdough in Johnny Inkslinger’s ink, in the hope that it would treble the amount. Unfortunately the ink blew up, and Sourdough Sam lost an arm and leg. Sam’s son, Hot Biscuit Slim, then took over the cookhouse, and after demanding and getting a tremendous amount of equipment from Paul, he made mealtimes the happiest hours of the...

(The entire section is 1188 words.)