Paul Bunyan — The myth and reality behind the legend


The giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan’s story is a lasting tall tale in North America and throughout the entire world. This folktale has gained favor in kids’ classrooms, tourist attractions across the United States, and in immortalized cartoons. But what’s the real story of Paul Bunyan?

The myth

Paul Bunyan, according to the legend, was already so gigantic at birth that five exhausted storks partook in delivering the infant to his parents in Bangor, Maine. When the child was barely one week old, it is said he could share clothes with his father. He could also finish up to forty bowls of porridge in one day.

The tales describe that when Paul grew older, one drag of his massive ax built the Grand Canyon. On his first birthday, he got a trusty blue ox as a companion companion named Babe, whose giant footprints filled with water and became the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota. Both Paul and his companion Babe the Blue Ox created a team of unbeatable loggers who could clear forests in a jiffy.

Paul Bunyan — The myth and reality behind the legend

The reality

According to Juliana L’Heureux’s story, Paul Bunyan’s legend was actually centered on a real person. There was a renowned French-Canadian logger called Fabian “Joe” Fournier, who was born around 1845 in Quebec. When the Civil War ended, Fournier headed to Michigan because logging had a considerably higher pay than the same job in Canada at that time.

Fournier was tremendously huge and strong, and could niftily handle a double-piece ax. He had enormous, powerful hands and stood six feet tall. D. Laurence Rogers also cemented Juliana’s claim in his writing that suggested a connection between Paul Bunyan and the exploits of Fournier. Lawrence suggested in his written work that Fournier was employed at the H.M. Loud Company in Grayling, Michigan from 1865 to 1875.

Thanks to his fascinating height and colossal hands, Fournier earned the nickname “Saginaw” during the time that he worked as a foreman of a logging crew in Michigan. Rumor had it that Fournier had two complete sets of teeth which helped him bite off chunks of wooden rails.

Paul Bunyan — The myth and reality behind the legend

He died in November 1875 i death fueled numerous tales revolving around his rough-and-tumble life and his lumbering prowess in the logging camps of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and beyond. Years later, Fournier’s legend merged with that of Bon Jean, another renowned French-Canadian lumberman. Historians say Jean had played a vital role in the 1837 Papineau Rebellion when loggers and other workers in St. Eustache, Canada revolted against the newly crowned Queen Victoria’s British regime. It is believed that the French pronunciation of the name Bon Jean gave rise to the surname Bunyan.

In 1914, the Red River Lumber firm, in their quest to spice up their advertising effort, hired William Laughead to draw pamphlets about a story of a gigantic man called Paul Bunyan. It is Laughead who embellished the story by adding lots of imaginative details to it. And suddenly, Paul Bunyan’s story became hugely popular across the country. The “birth” of Paul Bunyan is truly credited to Laughead.