The History and Folklore of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox

Wikimedia Commons

“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.

PAUL BUNYAN, Paul Bunyan, 1958

Everett Collection

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.

paul bunyan statue

Wikimedia Commons

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.

 Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.jpg More details Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox stand near the south shore of Lake Bemidji.


Boxy Bunyan and Babe Statues

Bemidji, Minnesota

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.

Paul Bunyan satue in Portland, OR


Paul Bunyan Statue

Portland, Oregon SW corner of N Denver Ave. and N Interstate Ave

Built in 1959 is 31ft tall and made of concrete and metal.


Paul Bunyan Cook Shanty Wi Dells

Paul Bunyan Cook Shanty

Wisconsin Dells, WI

Family style Cook Shanty with up-Northwoods feel including gift shop

BUNYAN AND BABE, from left, Paul Bunyan (voice: John Goodman), Babe the Blue Ox (voice: Jeff Foxworthy), Travis (voice: Johnny Orlando), 2017

Cinedigm/Everett Collection

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. 

Vintage Brands
Want More?

Vintage Brands

June 2023

Look back at memorable celebrity endorsements, network sponsorships and just plain bizarre ads over time

Buy This Issue
More Of This: