Paul Runion Bunion

Ed C. Hemp. "Paul Runion Bunion."
The Lumberjack [Seattle, Washington] August 1918: 12-13.

Cutting timber

Paul Runion Bunion

An Interesting Reminiscence of a Former Well-known Oldtimer Who Was Once a Subject of Much Conjecture, Particulary in the Pine Camps of the Early Days

The original Bunion hailed from the State of Maine. There were two brothers, Paul and Bill. Paul Runion was six feet seven inches tall, Bill was five feet seven inches tall. Bill was always in trouble, getting into a fight every five minutes and oftener if the occasion offered. He always got the worst of it, but was immensely liked by all. He was a good sport and a mixer; sang and danced, and was something of a "wag," a name applied by the lumberjacks of Michigan to those quick of wit and handy with slang sayings. He was a hale fellow well met, would give you the shirt from his back at any time, except when under the influence of booze, and then it was fight. It was always Paul Runion, "Bunion", that had to step in and clean up the whole bunch.

Paul was of a different type, somewhat reserved, but under the spell of booze was a terrible man in strength, fighting, telling tales that were enlarged twenty-five times over, and always telling what he would do with his stake in the spring. He intended to buy an ox team, a big blue one that could pull the earth if only he could get a foothold. Poor Paul was doomed to have these things only in his wildest dreams. Paul had quite a head for business, and once took a small contract, about a million feet to log for S.O. Fisher Lumber Co. When interviewed by the lumberjacks, they all wanted to work for him. With his feet on the brass, he stated over the bar that he had a contract that would last ten winters. He said the tract was as large as hell's half acre, nothing but pine, the biggest, tallest and best that ever grew in the good old state, from Saginaw's most beautiful valley to Lake Superior's farther shore. This wild boast took the lumberjacks off their feet and brought everyone to the bar, crazy to buy the drinks to their new boss. All day and all night the merry crowd kept celebrating the advent of a new leader in the logging industry. But the prestige of Paul B. Runion was short-lived. Paul, being a champion top loader, was not next to laying out roads, skidding and decking ready for the sleigh haul, and so when the snows came on the result was a rank failure and the nonfulfillment of the contract.

Right here is where Paul "Bunion" was born. All of the lumberjacks snubbed him for his failure as a foreman. Some one asked his middle name, and he said it was Bunk. Then a wag saying that as his name was Runion and the middle name began with "B," that Bunion was a good name for him. So from then on it was Paul Bunion, he of the great fame. Straightway the crowd of oldtimers scattered and Paul sought other followers. These were easily found among strangers, for Paul had a pocket full of money and was willing to buy drinks for whoever would listen to his tales of wonderful feats of logging that had been performed that winter. He told of sleds with 24-ft. bunk, six corner binds and a peaker on every load. Let me state that at this time the 9- and 10-ft. bunk with two and three corner binds peaked out were big loads for an ordinary team of horses. It was a pony team for Paul that hauled this kind of load. A lot of listeners held their breath over these tales, and always the story of the big blue ox would loom up. Paul would launch out on this after getting about half full of liquor. He had not bought him yet, but had his eye on one. It was too early for the drive yet, so while waiting for this great event to turn up the only place was the saloon, and many a log was loaded here that never grew or saw an ax. But when the spring freshet came and the drive was on, Paul seized his pike pole and peavy and started for the drive under Jim Butler, he of the fame of a hundred drives and second to none but Jack Monroe.

For the benefit of a few oldtimers I will add the old song of Jack Monroe, and maybe some will recognize the lines. Paul Bunion was one of a few of the survivors of this smashing flood of logs and water on Gary's Rocks.

Jack Monroe

Come, all you jolly lumberjacks,
Wherever you may be,
And listen to my story
As I tell it now to thee:
It's of six true shanty lads
So manfully and brave,
That lost their lives on Gary's Rocks,
Their foreman's life to save.

It being on a Sunday morn
In the spring time of the year,
Our logs were piled up mountain high,
We could not keep them clear.
When our boss to us did say,
"Turn out, turn out, brave lads,
"With courage and no fear,
"We'll break the jam on Gary's Rock
"And for Aginstown we'll steer."

Now, some of them were willing,
While others would hang back,
All for to work on Sunday,
They knew it was not right.
Till six of those brave shanty lads
Did volunteer to go
And break the jam on Gary's Rock
With their foreman, Jack Monroe.

They hadn't rolled off many logs,
When their boss to them did say:
"I would have you ever ready, boys,
For this jam will soon give way."
The words were scarcely spoken, when
The jam did break and go,
And carried away those shanty lads,
And their foreman, Jack Monroe.

And when the other shanty lads
The sad tidings they did hear,
In search of those dead bodies
To the river side did steer.
In search of their dead bodies
To their sad grief and woe,
All cut and mangled on the beach,
Lay the corpse of Jack Monroe.

There was a fair maid among them,
A girl from Aginstown;
Her moans and cries rose to the skies,
For her true love that was drowned.
Now Miss Clara did not live long,
She could not withstand the blow,
And the last request she made on earth
Was to be laid by Jack Monroe.


Paul Bunion is accused of being the composer of this song. He was one of the shanty boys who was in Jim Butler's gang of river hogs. Jim Butler was walking boss and Jack Monroe foreman of as jolly a gang as ever thrust a peavy in a log or broke a rollway. But whether or not Paul wrote the song, the writer is unable to say. It is a good reminder of the old days and also is one of the gems held dear to the hearts of the old-time lumberjacks.

It is said that after the drowning of Monroe, Paul took charge of the drive and brought to the mills the largest single drive that was ever put into one stream. When the drive was over Paul and Bill, with many others, laid aside their cares for the pleasures of the dance halls and the saloons. It was then that Paul Bunion painted in glowing colors his big drive down the river. This drive according to Paul was 65 miles long, with logs 40 feet deep and a mile wide in many places. When the boys could not sack the logs, the big blue ox was brought forth, and with the huge log chain which took twenty men like Bill to handle would clear the sack at one haul. The big blue ox always had to come to the rescue. Once the chain broke on account of the hook, which was 6 feet in diameter, getting caught on the rocks in the river bed. Paul Bunion had eight yoke of cattle or oxen and the big blue one weighed twenty-eight hundred pounds in the lead. Whenever hung up, the old blue boy had to haul them out. After the breaking of the hook, according to Paul's story, twenty blacksmiths were gathered together with sixteen helpers and seven steam hammers, to forge the new hook. All of this was done over the bar, with glasses full of sparkling fluid and the cup that cheers. Everything being cleaned up, Paul must need look for other fields to conquer.

While waiting for the June freshet to bring up the rear logs that were left behind on account of low water, Paul hiked to the sawmill for a job to repair his shattered finances and accumulate the grand stake that was to feed the blue ox until winter set in. Paul hied himself to the boarding house for feed, after securing a job in the mill in the grand vocation of piling slabs-not much for a logging contractor-at the fabulous price of $1.50 per day of twelve hours. He fell in love at first sight with Maggie O'Connor, the table waitress and dishwasher, but Maggie had another beau that stood in Paul's way, Pat McGill. Pat was a good-natured Swede from Erin's fair shore close to the lakes of Killarney, and took Paul's interference all in good part. It was right here that Paul's vocal powers with the "con talk" took Pat and Maggie off their feet listening to the tales of our hero of the great load of logs and the feats of strength of the big ox.

Things went on this way for a month or more. Then Paul was called to take the job as foreman to finish the drive, the June freshets having arrived. So Paul and his bunch of river hogs hiked away up the old Tobacco river to bring down the drive that was to tide the mill through to the end of the cutting season. In the good old days, when old Michigan was in the flower of her pride amid the tall pines, the mills only run in the summer months.

After the drive was well under way, Paul needed more men. Who should show up but Pat McGill. Paul immediately handed him a peavy and set him to work on the "lead." The drive went well for several days, until the junction of Fuss creek was encountered. Here the rocky bottom caused a fearful jam which took days to clear. Just as one lot was cleared rain would fall and a new lot of logs would come. At last every one thought that all the trouble was over. About two o'clock in the afternoon a mighty roar of thunder and a heavy rain brought a rush of water and logs. Paul and his men who were in midstream on the rock, made a rush for the shore. All but three mean reached the shore, but those three clung to the rock and the broken logs. Paul, seeing their danger, rushed to the rescue. Taking a man under each arm and one on his back, he made for the shore and though nearly exhausted reached it in safety. From this time the name of Paul Bunion was hailed with high praise and the name of Runion was completely forgotten.

The rains had swelled the river to overflowing, and as the drive of logs had been coming for some time, many people had come to the shore to see the logs which had filled the pond about the mill. The boom sticks were taxed to their utmost. Paul sent Pat McGill with some others to hold the boom and strengthen the logs backing. This placed Pat and the others in a bad place. All at once there was a crash and the boom sticks broke in the center. Pat was left to the mercy of the waters and logs which were moving swiftly in the lower pocket, to be caught by other boom sticks. The two men with Pat reached shore in safety. Pat started but slipped and landed in the water, holding on to a log. One long scream was heard and Pat looked over his shoulder to behold Maggie O'Connor throwing both arms around Paul's neck. She begged him to save Pat.

It is told that Paul made a few flying leaps and dived in the water, remaining under for fifteen minutes, returning to the top with Pat in his arms. With the help of the others both men were landed and Paul Bunion carried Pat up the bank and laid him at the feet of Maggie O'Connor alive, to receive her caresses. Paul Bunion knew that he had lost his first and only love.

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