Paul Bunyan

by James Stevens

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Paul Bunyan

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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

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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...

(This entire section contains 1188 words.)

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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 loggers’ day.

Paul’s loggers amused themselves at night by listening to songs and stories. Shanty Boy, of Bunkhouse 1, was the best storyteller in the camp. Once, when the men were feeling sad, Shanty Boy ran out of stories to cheer them up, and he told them some lies. The men believed all Shanty Boy’s lies until he told the story of Jonah and the whale. Then Paul had to be called in to keep the men from beating up Shanty Boy for telling what they thought was a whopper. Paul told them that the story was true. They believed Paul, but from that time on, no logger ever told another lie.

Paul took his camp to Utah to cut down the stonewood trees there. The men grew so tired, and their axes got so dull, that they almost gave up. In disgust, Paul himself started cutting down the trees. He worked so hard that he sweated tremendous drops of water, which later became Salt Lake.

His men, frightened by the flood Paul’s sweat caused, ran away to Kansas. There everything was perfect. All anyone did was gamble and drink. One day, a duke planned a revolution against King Bourbon of Kansas. He had all the bars serve very strong drinks, and everyone but the duke and his friends fell down in a stupor. The duke, who wanted to get rid of drink and gambling forever, told all the men, including Paul’s loggers, that they had sinned mightily. Paul finally turned up and forgave his men for running away. He also hitched Babe to Kansas and turned it over. He left Kansas flat and hid forever the wonderful cigarette grass, beervines, and whiskey trees.

One day Babe became ill. Johnny Inkslinger tried several cures. He took the camp to the West Coast, where they captured whales and fed Babe whale’s milk, but the treatment did little good. Finally, Johnny whispered over and over in Babe’s ear that Babe was really well. Johnny drank whiskey to keep his voice clear. After a few days, he fell in a faint. Babe drank some of the liquor and began to get well. Whiskey, not whale’s milk, was the medicine for the Blue Ox.

Next the camp went to New Iowa, where Paul left them. The scenery was so beautiful that the men did nothing but write poetry. Paul had to come back and take them to the He-Man country to get them out of the habit. In the He-Man country, it was so cold in the wintertime that words froze in the air, and one could not hear them until they thawed out in the spring. The men grew so virile after a winter of that hard life that all they did was fight one another. One day, they stopped fighting because they seemed to be kneedeep in blood. After a while, Paul discovered that it was not blood but red rain which had fallen up through the earth from China.

After the rain from China, the gang moved into the Nowaday Valley. There Paul discovered that the men were singing about women, a subject he could dimly remember having heard mentioned before. Paul also had trouble with one of his workers, who discovered machines which could do what only Paul and the Blue Ox had been able to perform before. Paul was afraid that his days were over. At last women appeared near the camp, and Paul’s men disappeared. Paul went to look for them and met a woman. He picked her up in his hand and looked at her. Completely unconcerned, she powdered her nose. Paul was dumbfounded. Late that night, he started out across the hills with his Blue Ox. He was never heard from again.