American Folktales   7 comments

This week, the Open Book Blog Hop is focused on folktales. That’s a huge subject and I considered all the possibilities. I could have dug into my mother’s Wyandot Indian culture or my father’s Swedish tales or Alaska raven legends, but I decided to stick with what first came into my mind when the subject came up — Euro-American folktales.

My fellow bloggers are digging into their own folktales. Check them out … or join us if you have some of your own.

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Paul Bunyan, Brer Rabbit, the Jersey Devil, Pecos Bill and a boatload of pirates used to be standard fare around fireplaces and campfires. My brother, who is 12 years older than me, grew up with them. I learned them in old books. My husband stared at me blankly when I mentioned them. Oh, yeah, Paul Bunyan … wasn’t he a lumberjack? When our daughter was in high school, she wrote on a notebook “Why doesn’t America have any folktales like Europe?”

Image result for image of paul bunyanSo, this one is for you, Bri! These tales have become neglected by a culture that respects “the other” more. While I celebrate those other traditions too, some of which have deep roots in the North American continent, I like to celebrate all parts of my mixed heritage and if my kids haven’t heard these tales, then it’s time for them to be brought out and dusted off. Maybe we’ll revisit folktales sometime and I’ll dust off those Wyandot tales.

Paul Bunyan was a larger-than-life folk hero who embodied frontier vitality, self-sufficiency and independence. As a symbol of might, the willingness to work hard, and to resolve to overcome all obstacles, Paul Bunyan’s legends were told around campfires in the upper Midwest long before he was popularized by newspapermen in 1910 and has been a part of American culture ever since.

The story goes that Paul Bunyan was born in Bangor, Maine. It took five giant storks to deliver Paul to his parents. His first bed was a lumber wagon pulled by a team of horses. His father would drive the wagon from the northern border of Maine to the southern border of Maine to sooth the baby to sleep.

As an infant, Paul’s cries scared the fish out of the rivers and local frogs started wearing earmuffs so they wouldn’t be deafened. His parents had to milk two dozen cows morning and night to keep his milk bottle full and his mother had to feed him 10 barrels of porridge every two hours to keep his stomach from rumbling so loud that it would knock down the house.

Image result for image of babe and bessieWithin a week, Paul was wearing his father’s clothes. After three weeks, he rolled around so much in his nap that he destroyed four square miles of prime timberland. His poor parents were stressed to their wit’s end. They built a raft and floated it off the coast of Maine, but when Paul rolled over, it caused a 75-foot tidal wave in the Bay of Fundy. They had to send the British Navy over to Maine to wake him up. The sailors fired the fleet’s cannons for seven hours straight before Paul woke from his nap. When he stepped off the raft, Paul accidentally sank for war ships and he had to scoop sailors out of the water before they drowned.

After this incident, Paul’s parents moved the family to Minnesota because it was sparsely populated.

During a painfully cold winter when all the geese flew backwards and the fish migrated south, even the snow turned blue. Spoken words would freeze solid before they could be heard at night and people had to wait until morning to find out what folks were talking about the night before.


Paul Bunyan went walking in the woods during that Winter of Blue Snow. He was knee-deep in blue snow when he heard a funny sound between a bleat and a snort. Looking down, he saw a teeny-tiny baby blue ox hopping about in the snow and snorting with rage because he was too short to see over the drifts.

Paul Bunyan laughed when he saw the spunky little critter and took the little blue mite home with him. He warmed the little ox up by the fire and the little fellow fluffed up and dried out, but he remained as blue as the snow Bunyan had found him in, so Paul named him Babe the Blue Ox.

Well, any creature raised in Paul Bunyan’s camp tended to grow to massive proportions, and Babe was no exception. Folks that stared at him for five minutes could see him growing right before their eyes. He grew so big that 42 axe handles plus a plug of tobacco could fit between his eyes and it took a murder of crows a whole day to fly from one horn to the other. The laundryman used his horns to hang up all the camp laundry, which dried incredibly fast at that high, windy altitude.

To whet his appetite, Babe would chew up thirty bales of hay, wire and all. It took six men with picaroons to get all the wire out of Babe’s teeth after his morning snack. Right after that he’d eat a ton of grain for lunch and then pester the cook, Sourdough Sam, for another snack.

Babe the Blue Ox was a great help around Paul Bunyan’s logging camp. Paul often used him to straighten out the pesky, twisted logging roads. By the time Babe had pulled the twists and kinks out of all the roads leading to the lumber camp, there was twenty miles of extra road left flopping about with nowhere to go, so Paul rolled them up and used them to lay a new road into new timberland.

Paul also used Babe to pull the heavy tank wagon which was used to coat the newly-straightened lumber roads with ice in the winter.

Babe fell in love with Bessie the Yellow Cow who grew to the massive, yet dainty proportions that were suitable for the mate of Babe.

Twice a day, the Whistling River reared up to a height of 200 feet and let loose a whistle that could be heard for over 600 miles. The most ornery river in the USA took fiendish delight in plaguing the loggers who worked it. It would tie their logs into knots, flip men into the water then toss them back out onto the banks, and break apart whole rafts of logs as soon as the loggers put them together.

By itself, this might have have attracted Paul Bunyan’s attention, but one day Paul was sitting on a hill by the river combing his beard with a large pine tree when without warning the river reared up and spat 419 gallons of muddy water onto his beard. This startled Paul somewhat, but he figured if he ignored the river, it would go away and leave him alone. But that ornery river spat another 5019 gallons of muddy water onto his beard, adding a batch of mud turtles, several large fish and a muskrat into the mix. Paul Bunyan was so mad he jumped up and let out a yell that caused a landslide all the way out in Pike’s Peak.

So Paul sat for four days eating popcorn and trying to figure out how to tame that river. He ate so much popcorn that the air was soon filled with white bits and the ground for three miles around was covered with 18 inches of popcorn scraps. This caused several hundred small animals and a few dozen birds to conclude that they were in a blizzard and so they froze to death. This furnished the loggers at the camp with pot pies for several days.

Image result for image of paul bunyanPaul decided that the way to tame the river was to pull out the kinks. First he went to the North Pole to create a box trap baited with icicles. Then he and Babe wandered away and Paul started to throw icebergs out into the ocean so Babe could play fetch, but that threatened to swamp Florida, so he stopped. After lunch, Paul checked the trap. He had caught six young blizzards and an old nor’wester. He put two of the young blizzards in his sack and released the rest.

As he walked into camp, Paul yelled to Ole, the Big Swede to build him the largest log chain  ever built. He staked out the two blizzards, one on each side of the river. Right away, the river began to freeze. By morning, the river had a tough time rearing up to whistle because it was frozen solid for more than 17 miles. When Paul Bunyan finished his breakfast, he harnessed Babe and wrapped the chain 72 times around the foot of the frozen Whistle River. Babe pulled the chain into a solid bar and sank knee deep into solid rock, but that ornery river refused to budge. So Paul grabbed the chain and he and Babe gave such a yank that the river jerked loose from its banks and they dragged it across the prairie so fast it smoked. After a while, Paul looked back and saw the river was as straight as a gun barrel. But the river was much shorter with the kinks out, and all the extra lengths that used to be in the kinks were running wild out on the prairie. Paul took his cross-cut saw and a lot of baling wire and sawed the extra lengths of river into 9-mile pieces, rolled them up and tied them off with the baling wire. He later used them to float his logs when he logged out the desert.

Now straightened, the Whistling River refused to whistle, which annoyed everyone because they didn’t know when to wake up in the morning. Paul might have been in real trouble if Squeaky Swanson hadn’t showed up. Squeaky’s speaking voice was no louder than a whisper, but when he yelled, you could hear him as far away as Kansas. Squeaky was the alarm clock after that.

One winter, shortly after Paul Bunyan dug Lake Michigan as a drinking hole for Babe, he decided to camp out in the Upper Peninsula. One night, the temperature dropped to 68 degrees below zero. Each degree in the camp thermometer measured 16 inches long and the flames in the lanterns froze solid. No one, not even Paul Bunyan, could blow them out.

The lumberjacks didn’t want the bunkhouse lit at night, because they wouldn’t get any sleep, so they put the lanterns outside of camp where they wouldn’t disturb anyone. They forgot about the lanterns, so that when thaw came in the the early spring, the lanterns flared up again and set all of northern Michigan on fire! They had to wake Paul Bunyan up so he could stamp out the fire with his boots.

One spring day, the loggers on the Wisconsin River discovered a huge log jam, the biggest they’d ever seen. The logs were piled up 200 feet high and the jam went upriver for a mile or more. Those loggers chopped and hauled at the jam without much progress, so they called for Paul Bunyan to give them a hand.

Paul put Babe in the river in front of the log jam and began shooting his rifle, peppering the Blue Ox with shot. Babe thought he was being bothered by a particularly nasty breed of fly, so he began swishing his tail back and forth.

This agitated the river so the water began to flow upstream, taking the logs with it. Bit by bit, the log jam broke apart. Finally, Paul pulled Babe out of the water, and the river and logs began to float downstream again the way they should.

One winter, Paul Bunyan came to log along the Little Gimlet in Oregon, where they say his kitchen covered about 10 miles of territory. The stove was an acre long and when warmed, it melted the snow for about 20 miles around. When Paul wanted flapjacks, Cookie (the cook, of course) would send four of the boys up onto the stove with a side of hog tied to each of their snowshoes, and they’d skate around the griddle while Cookie and seven other men flipped flapjacks for Paul Bunyan.

The camp table was about 10 miles long, rigged with elevators to bring the food to each end, and some of the younger lads in the camp rode bicycles down the path at the center, carrying food to those who asked.

That winter, Babe accidentally knocked a bag of dried peas off the counter top when he swished his tail. The peas flew so far and so fast out of the kitchen that some landed in the hot spring, where they made a huge pot of pea soup.



Posted September 12, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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7 responses to “American Folktales

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  1. So many great stories about Paul Bunyan. And I’ve been to the Trees of Mystery where the statues of Paul and Babe guard the entrance to a redwood grove.


  2. What a lovely tale! Big Paul sounds an absolute delight!


  3. I love the exaggeration in tall tales. I should try to learn more about their origins. Like, why is the ox blue?
    It looks like some of your formatting might be broken.


  4. I always liked Paul Bunyan’s story. Thanks for sharing it with us.


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