Paul Bunyan

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Winning Nomination

A lumberjack of tremendous size and strength, Paul Bunyan has become a folkloric character in the American psyche. It is said that he and his blue ox, Babe, were so large their footsteps created Minnesota's 10,000 lakes. Since the inception of the legend in the mid-1800s, the mythic hero has made his way into a variety of art forms, including song, theater, and children's books. His local importance is also evidenced by the giant roadside statuary found in the towns of Bemidji, Akeley, and Brainerd, Minnesota.
~Amy Pence-Brown, Boise, ID


Runner-up Nominations

The Paul Bunyan legend: Be it folklore or fakelore, the story of Paul Bunyan looms large in the Minnesota mind. Even large enough to make the list of 150.

While there have been many articles and discussions of the origins of the Bunyan stories, no definitive answer has been reached. There is, however, a strong Minnesota connection. Starting in 1914, Paul Bunyan stories were printed and illustrated in publications of the Red River Lumber Company.

Whether invented by entrepreneurs or passed in the form of oral tradition among timber workers, these stories have become part of the American tradition.
~Steve Trimble, St. Paul, MN

Paul Bunyan and Babe The Blue Ox: What Minnesota-bred child can't remember hearing the tall tale of how Paul Bunyan's steps across the state formed the nationally-known 10,000 lakes?
~Jillian Aho, Cook, MN

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: Paul Bunyan's footprints created all of the lakes in Minnesota. Dragging his axe created the Mississippi River. Babe was his good friend.
~Virginia Meyer, Edina, MN

Paul Bunyan and Babe: He was a Minnesota icon. When I was growing up we would go to Brainerd. It was fun to see him and to sit on Paul's lap and he would say hello to you using your name.
~L.K., Prior Lake, MN

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are the primary icons of northern Minnesota. Countless travelers can be seen taking photographs at the base of the famous statues in Bemidji as well as other sites around the state. This is a tradition that has carried over many generations and will continue with each tourist season that is so essential to the up-north economy. The legend of the formation of our heralded lakes via Paul's giant feet cannot be forgotten in the remembrance of our state's history.
~Sara Stodgell, Bemidji, MN

Paul Bunyan
He is the symbol of Minnesota's lumberjacks and one of the things that makes our state so special.
~Chanho, Minnetonka, MN

Paul Bunyan helps to tell the tales about many of our cities, rivers and lakes. He is our history. When we had a 17-year-old from France come and stay with us, Paul Bunyan was a good way to tour the northern cities and show everything Paul left behind. The stories were fun to read and remember my Minnesota childhood. Here's to Paul.
~Rhonda Swanson, Coon Rapids, MN

Paul Bunyanland in Brainerd: It has been a Minnesota landmark forever and I hope it stays that way. The new location is even better than before. The Paul Bunyan legend should live on and on.
~Bonnie Holte, Harris, MN

Paul Bunyan and Babe statues in Bemidji: These statues have been an icon of the region and state for almost a century as a symbol of the myth and magic of Northern Minnesota.
~Michael O. Rak, Laporte, MN

The Talking Paul Bunyan Statue in Brainerd: Children in many different states enjoy visiting him and talking with him.
~Aubrey Nelson, Maple Grove, MN

I nominate the folktales of Paul Bunyan as the thing that shaped Minnesota. When those stories were told people found out about the beautiful lakes and forests of Minnesota!
~Amy Falkenborg, Richfield, MN

Paul Bunyan statue in Akeley, MN: The largest statue of Paul Bunyan in the world makes Akeley a famous tourist attraction.
~Alex Hastings, Bloomington, MN

Paul Bunyan is to Minnesota like the longhorn is to Texas or cheese is to Wisconsin.
~Diane Kelson, Anoka, MN

Paul Bunyan and Babe: Paul and Babe may have cut timber in many states, but they created Minnesota. Without the famous duo we wouldn't have 10,000 lakes (Paul and Babe's footprints when they got lost in a fog one wet spring), the Mississippi River wouldn't be straight (they pulled the loops out of it), Lake Superior wouldn't be great (they dug out that marsh) and worst of all, we'd still have mosquitoes the size of pigeons (Paul bagged 'em up and sent 'em to the Arctic Circle). Imagine what life would be without them!
~Scott W. Roemhildt, Janesville, MN


Contents

History

Minnesota's biggest booster

Forget what you've heard about the glaciers. Minnesota's lakes were formed when Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox, stomped across the region. The Grand Canyon? Same story. The Black Hills? Ditto.

Paul Bunyan's exact origins remain a mystery. Did he start out as "Jean Bonjean," hero of stories told by French-Canadian lumbermen? Was he originally Paul Bunyon, supersized hero of the Papineau Rebellion of 1837, in which French-Canadians revolted against their English queen? Or was he the invention of James McGillivray, who in 1910 wrote a story for a Detroit newspaper about a heroic lumberjack?

Ever since 1914, when William Laughead wrote and illustrated the first in a series of Paul Bunyan advertising pamphlets for Minneapolis's Red River Lumber Company, Minnesotans have embraced Paul and his cohorts. Laughead reported that he based some of his stories on tales he had heard in a Bemidji lumber camp; others were based on his own experiences, no doubt greatly exaggerated. Laughead's first two pamphlets were reasonably successful, but his third, published in 1922, was a hit at home and abroad.

In 1937, a giant statue of Paul was built in Bemidji. Soon after, Paul loomed large near Brainerd. A twenty-five-foot Paul bends down to greet visitors in Akeley. His sweetheart, Lucette, stands tall in Hackensack, where a copy of the pair's marriage license is displayed in the Chamber of Commerce office. Paul's anchor is in Ortonville, his rifle is in Blackduck, and he is buried in Kelliher. Whatever his origins may be, one thing is clear—Paul Bunyan may not have been born in Minnesota, but he certainly found a warm welcome here.

Resource Links

Children's story about Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan - The Lumberjack Legend

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