Mr. Paul Bunyan

Charles Albert Albright [P.S. Lovejoy]. "Chronicle of Life and Works of Mr. Paul Bunyan."
American Lumberman 17 June 1916: 40-41.

Artist Unknown

Excerpt from:
Chronicle of Life and Works of Mr. Paul Bunyan

Editor American Lumberman,

Dear Sir: A number of years ago while, as a graduate student, I was prosecuting researches in American history, with special attention to biographical details, a chance visit to a loggery led to a peculiar discovery. I discovered that a personage of marvelous interest, an American of the first order of magnitude, a citizen of incomparable usefulness, one famous from the Atlantic to the Pacific, was as yet unheralded, his biography as yet unwritten. I refer, of course, to Mr. Paul Bunyan. You, being an authority upon all matters pertaining to loggery and woods-ship, will recognize-as my somewhat provincial brother historians have failed to recognize-that there is today no timbering camp in America in which the name, adventures and accomplishments of Mr. Paul Bunyan are not a matter of daily reference and quotation. You will understand the peculiar situation in which such a condition can obtain with only the most casual and inadvertent published accounts being available where such a vast field of verbal references is so common. Such was my original impression-such is my profound conviction after carrying on my researches for, now, these many years.

Abandoning my earlier work, I have been devoting myself to the collection of material for the biography of Mr. Paul Bunyan. That I am unworthy to attempt such a task, I am well aware. But may I briefly list my qualifications that you may judge as to the quality of my intentions? Upon securing my doctor's degree I entered upon a period of field apprenticeship under my respected mentor, Mr. Helly Frost, of the Mid-West Lumber Company. By his advice and upon his suggestion I became an expert "swamper" and was later able to qualify as assistant to the chief in charge of the wood-preparing crew of yarder donkey No. 3. Later I was whistle-boy and still later was permitted to grease the skids in the same camp. In the meantime I was permitted to elect a correspondence course in logging engineering and forestry at the State agricultural college, and pursued at the same time advanced work in various lines which I hoped would still further prepare me for the great task at which I had set myself.

For years I have been searching out the details of the life of Mr. Bunyan and have now, I feel sure, completed the only reasonably accurate and dependable collection of Bunyanisms yet available.

But, Mr. Editor, the collection is far from complete. Although I have traveled from the St. Regis to the Humptulips and from the Little Quaquetchee to the Peace River camps; although I have accumulated a vast amount of material, the tale is yet incomplete and my health is failing. Only one thing more can I accomplish. With the assistance of your world-reaching columns I can hope to secure assistance from the host of timberites whom it has not been my fortune to interview. There must be great funds of detail concerning Mr. Bunyan which I have not yet been able to list.

So, Mr. Editor, I propose to offer to you for publication a synopsis of the chapters so far compiled, with the explicit understanding that your powerful pen will assist me in the further assembly of the necessary data. Precious remembrances and anecdotes which constitute the warp of the fabric of life of the incomparable Bunyan must be added to my present collection for the emulation of the world and the benefit of posterity.

With full appreciation of my lack of fitness for this monumental task and, be it said, humbly, and with fear that my incompetence may mar ever so slightly the luster of the narrative, I hereby submit to you the substance of my labor: in short, the tentative biography of Mr. Paul Bunyan. At its head, publish, I entreat, the request that all details that have escaped me, no matter how seemingly slight, be mailed to me in your care. They will receive the most faithful investigation and the most prompt attention and, if suitable, will be included, with appropriate acknowledgments, in the subsequent chapters now in process of compilation.
Charles Albert Albright, Ph.D., L.E., M.S.F.

Chapter 1

Antecedents and Early Life of Mr. Paul Bunyan

[Author's Note: A most perplexing absence of detailed information on this phase of Mr. Bunyan's life seems to exist. This is probably due to a natural reluctance on the part of his intimates to inquire as to these matters, on the principle that glass may be damaged by too great a precipitation of stones upon it. Vague rumors as to the location of his birthplace and early youth are sometimes found but the most that can be certainly reported by his historian is that the birthplace of Mr. Bunyan is today unknown. As to his early youth it seems certain that it was spent at some point east of Lake Michigan, and quite probably in Michigan. There is some doubt as to whether or not the Adirondacks of New York State, especially the region neighboring to Tupper Lake, were not the scene of his youth. Information concerning Mr. Bunyan's youth will be gratefully received.

As to his parentage, even less can be said. It has been assumed that his parents were poor but honorable and of much more than average ability and stature, Paul deriving from them in high degree the superior attributes of each, so fortunately combined. While this is a natural assumption it should be suggested that the entire subsequent series of events discredits this theory. To his scribe there appears no doubt but that Mr. Paul Bunyan represents an extreme of the biological "sport"-a mutant or saltation of most extraordinary character and one which might, perhaps, have been derived from the most humble of origins. (The hypothesis that Mr. Bunyan was more than human, that he was derived spontaneously as the scrub oak of the jack pine plains of the Lake States, can be attributed wholly to ignorance and misinformation. The scrub oak comes from seed trees unnoticed amid the virgin forests. There can be no possible doubt to this. The report may be dismissed as preposterous. Paul had parents.)

Concerning his schooling even less can be reported. Absolutely nothing of dependable character has come to my attention. It seems probable that only the force of his native genius was required to raise him to the heights to which he attained. It is hard, truly, to assume that he was not fortunate in some of his early associations or that he had not the advantages of working with persons of extreme competence in various lines, but even this assumption, reasonable as respects the usual individual, is not required to explain the development of Mr. Bunyan's constructive ability. It can not be "explained" on any usual or normal grounds and all precedents may be considered as useless to an extreme. The only safe assumption is that Mr. Bunyan represented the American super-lumberman. Information leading to a more clear definition of the nature of his training in youth should by all means be secured and forwarded if it exists.

Period of His Activities

"Shrouded in mystery" is the only report which can certainly be made. Judging from the reported locations of his work, the early '80s or late '70s of the last century appear as the more likely dates for the beginning of his works. He is known to have performed work in the vicinity of Ambersant Brook and on the St. Regis. This was at its height about twenty years ago. His work certainly antedates this period, if indeed he labored in that exact vicinity at all. The richest field of anecdote appears to be in the Lake States and the regions supplied by Lake State lumberers in later years. From this it may be assumed that Mr. Bunyan was largely interested in this field. But again exact localities can not be with certainty reported, nor safely assumed. The Cass River and the Muskegon, the Au Sable and Tawas Bay, even Grand Rapids and Roscommon, are reputed sites for his camps, but faithful research has failed to substantiate the reports. Later reports indicate that he was certainly active about Puget Sound and this may be assumed without question. Coos Bay and the Mendicino region have also distinct traces of his influence. More can not now be said. The exact or even the approximate locations of his camps and works, together with their dates, even roughly, should be sent to me at once, if available. I am exceedingly anxious to substantiate certain suspicions I have formed about the main thread of my major hypothesis-(which can not now be properly disclosed).

Mr. Bunyan's Fate

In many respects this is the most mysterious of all the many strange features of the whole case. Nothing whatever can be definitely alleged as to this and the most painstaking efforts seem to derive not even vague intimations as to his fate or even his demise. Should by any chance any information, even vague, be available among the lumberists of the country, it should be at once transcribed, quoting carefully the authority, if any, and forwarded for my consideration.

Let me again urge that the most unselfish devotion to details and the freest possible assistance be rendered me in my task. If they are not so rendered I can only fear that a great mass of essential matter may escape me and escaping, be forever lost to the full record of American loggery, lumbery and history. End of author's note.] [We heartily endorse the author's request.-Editor.]

Chapter 2

[Biographer's Note: Many more or less unrelated incidents are to be discovered in the chronology of Mr. Bunyan's works but the major opus was undoubtedly that to be here related. Without doubt other items in the affair are yet to be reported and it is urgently requested that they at once be reported to "The Biographer of Mr. Paul Bunyan, care American Lumberman." (We desire to add our request of that of the biographer.-Editor.)]

"This is exceedingly large operation, is it not?" I inquired of a gentleman attired in overalls and a red undergarment, as we sat upon the bench parallel to and in front of the sleeping accommodations, and locally known as the "deacon's seat." I referred of course to the timbering camp in which I happened to be prosecuting my investigations.

"Just middlin' to fair," he replied politely, as he inspected me with some show of interest. "They's bigger tho'-quite a lot."

"Your log put-out is about how much, would you estimate?" I asked, producing my notebook, without which I am unable to carry on a pertinent conversation, owing to worry that some item of value may, perchance, be lost.

"Mebbe some hundred an' fifty thousand a day," he answered me.

This I noted down and then inquired, "Logs by the piece, sui sibi, or otherwise: that is, by the measurement in scaling?" He seemed to look startled at my simple question but smiled kindly and involved a neighbor in our conversation.

"Wouldja guess we got out mebbe so much as a hundred an' fifty thousand logs each an' every day, Bud?" The gentleman addressed seemed also somewhat surprised at the query but, glancing in my direction, he pondered shortly, then shook his head and answered: "No, not hardly. Paulson to the Harbor he puts in about half a million a day they tell me. An' Smith, to Marshfield, he get out quite some too. Not hardly that much, I jedge. Only one feller ever got out more than hunnred an' fifty thousand logs a day, I reckon."

Bunyan's North Dakota Camp

My first acquaintance nodded his head confirmingly. Both spat. Each looked at the other. They nodded again and pondered. I encouraged them by voice and gesture. "Another camp of which you know was of even greater capacity, you say? May I inquire concerning it with more particularity?"

"You thinking of that there North Dakota camp of Paul's?" asked the gentleman with the red undergarment of him addressed as Bud.

"I were," answered Bud (I afterward learned that his last name was Smith and Jackson-peculiar-C.A.A.).

"Maybe this here gentleman"-indicating me-"would love to hear tell about that there camp," suggested my acquaintance.

"Nothing would give me such great pleasure," I replied, making certain that my supply of pencils was adequate, for I anticipated much valuable information, having previously heard rumors as to this identical camp of Mr. Bunyan's, but not having been able to secure specific details. My chance had come. Placing my stenographer's pad upon my knee and poising a pencil, "Pray continue, I am more than interested," I requested. Bud Smith-Jackson seemed unaccountably flattered by my attention, hemmed and hawed, then proceeded very carefully. As he began, others in the lodging house, drew near, from time to time adding some valuable suggestions to the narrative, which proceeded, according to my note as follows:

"'Twer' right after the Chicago fire, and the folks there was after buildin' materials, lumber an' such. They couldn't git enough, hardly. So they asked could the Government help 'em out some. The Senator he come up for election again pretty soon so he seen the Government about it and they told him this here State of North Dakota what was level and fine logging ground that they wanted to git cleared agin the time Minnesota would be filled up and they wouldn't be no more room for the fellers from Sweden and Norway what liked farmin' better nor regular Army work. So they tell the Senator he kin advertise for a contract to log off the whole works. He done it but they warn't many bidders, the time limit bein' so short. Paul he hern tell about the contract an' send out some lookers an' they cruise it and come back an'-"

"Pardon me," I interrupted, "but how could they cruise it if it was farming land and timbered forest?"

"Quite a lot of it were swamp timber," explained one of the members of the circle. Making a special symbol which I had adopted to indicate that further information should be secured when practicable, in order to clear up a point of interest, I permitted Bud to resume.

"He used to travel mostly with his light mule team, you know," continued Bud. "They was so fast an' frisky he couldn't make any regular wagon travel on account the brakes don't hold, so he has a special sort of stone-boat made, sort of flat-bottomed wagon with no wheels. When the mules was goin' good and hit a patch of water like, mebbe pond or somethin' like that, whole shebang acts just like a skipper-stone, an' naturally jest flips across, yunno."

"But, my dear sir, a stone boat? Of course the specific gravity of steel is greater than that of water and nevertheless steel vessels may be navigated, but stone seems most peculiar. I..."

"I says stone-boat, don't I," insisted Bud. There was a confirmatory murmur from the circle of listeners, so I subsided, inserting yet another query symbol.

"Well, Paul he liked the terms all right-they was to log her slick and clean and deliver the drive into Chicago inside a year. So he takes it and signs a bond and starts in an'..."

"Pardon me a moment-did I understand that the pieces of timber were to be driven by water driving, from Dakota to Chicago, Ill.?" I was forced to ask.

"That's what I was tellin'yu-wa'n't I? Missouri River runs near North Dakota, don't it? Missouri and Snake heads near together, don't they? Snake runs into Columbia don't it? Columbia she runs into the Pacific don't it?"

"Sure, and it's all free water from there clean around to the Atlantic and the St. Lawrence runs into the Atlantic and connects the Lakes with it and Chi' is located on Lake Michigan. Everybody knows about that. Go on, Bud," exclaimed Mr. Smith-Jackson with some rancor, as I thought, wonderingly. So Bud proceeded as follows: "Fust thing was to git his camps located and built up and his junk in an' ready and his railroad runnin', of course. She was some camp. He calculated to put in five million foot of timber each and every hour and that there means some camp-an' she was that."

"The cook house was first and the eatin' house was next, then the bunk-house was built-an' then the rest of it. Men was so thick around there for a while that Paul he had um make up a lot of little tables with legs about a foot long to carry on their backs while workin'. Bunch of fellers git to carryin' a big timber of suthin, foreman hollers 'bellies down,' then everybody in the way just flops down flat an' the tables makes a nice sort of sidewalk for the fellers with the timber on their shoulders. It was real handy. Never seen it did before." (To this the entire circle agreed.)

At this point the person who acted as lodging house footman began to turn out the lights and the conference disbanded to be resumed the next evening.

Query and Comment to MightyBUNYAN at