The History and Folklore of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox
“He rode through the woods on a big blue ox, He had fists as hard as choppin’ blocks, Five hundred pounds and nine feet tall… that’s Paul.” If you live in North America, there is a big chance that you’ve heard of Paul Bunyan and his pet, Babe the Blue Ox. Around the country, there are extremely tall statues of Paul, a giant lumberjack with tons of folklore tales surrounding his mysterious story. Not much is known about the origin of the tale, except that it was started by North American loggers. Today, we celebrate Paul on June 28… National Paul Bunyan Day.
The story was popularized by writer William B. Laughead in a 1916 promotional pamphlet he wrote for the Red River Lumber Company. The craze of Paul Bunyan continued on in literature, music, commercials, and these days, you could plan an entire vacation around visiting his statues. After people started learning more about Paul and his ox, a student named K. Bernice Stewart worked with Laughead to gather stories from woodsmen that they heard or made up about Paul Bunyan and created a scholarly anthology about him.
Many legends say that he was seven feet tall with a stride of seven feet. He was as strong as they come, made the Grand Canyon with his ax, and created the Great Lakes for Babe to have some drinking bowls. Other stories say that the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota were created by Paul and Babe’s footprints. As the years went on, these tales got taller and taller. Originally, he was strong and tall but still human, later on, he is heard to have grown taller than trees and has superhuman strength and might. Of course, with any folklore, eventually, people created stories of Paul finding a wife and having a daughter.
If you’ve ever wanted to take a fun road trip, you might want to add in some places to see Paul Bunyan in person. There are dozens of statues and roadside attractions of Paul and ones of Paul and Babe around the country. The tallest known statue is at the Trees of Mystery in Klamath, California at 49 feet tall. Other large statues that are 31 feet tall are located in Portland, Oregon (pictured below), and Bangor, Maine (pictured above). Smaller statues can be found in Connecticut, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and New York. Here are a handful of attractions we dug up.
Built of steel and concrete and erected Paul is 18-foot-tall and was completed while Babe didn’t come around til 1939. It is the oldest still surviving statues.
Portland, Oregon SW corner of N Denver Ave. and N Interstate Ave
Built in 1959 is 31ft tall and made of concrete and metal.
Family style Cook Shanty with up-Northwoods feel including gift shop
While Paul started as a story told by loggers and woodsmen, he became somewhat of a children’s character over the years. He has been featured in children’s series and movies such as Disney’s Paul Bunyan, Tall Tales, and most recently Bunyan and Babe, in which he is voiced by John Goodman.
The first line is part of a poem about Paul Bunyan by Shel Silverstein.