Tales from The Morning Oregonian

DeWitt Harry. "The Listening Post."
Morning Oregonian [Portland, Oregon] 7 February - 2 April 1922.

Portland Bunyan

The Morning Oregonian
"The Listening Post"
February 7 - April 2, 1922

"Have you ever heard how Paul Bunyan built the Palouse country," asks J.H. Hoagland of Astoria. "It was the spring after the winter of the blue snow. I was working for Paul at the time, driving an eight-horse team hauling prune pits away from the cook shanty. Old Man Palouse had heard of Paul's prowess in logging and induced him to take the contract to build the Palouse country. Paul went to work and hauled out the dirt and dumped it around in piles. Everything went fine and dandy and he was about through with the hauling when he had an offer from Old Man Puget to go over and dig the sound, so that night he did a little figuring to see where he was coming out on the job.

"He discovered that if he went to the expense of leveling off he was going to lose. So he got up early next morning, hitched up the blue ox and hauled out an extra load and dumped it in a pile. That same pile is now called Steptoe butte. He then proceeded to fill up old Palouse up on sage-brush whisky. When he had succeeded in getting him pretty well stewed, he got him up on top of the pile to look at the job and of course it all looked level to Palouse; so he paid Paul off and Paul lit out for Seattle to see Mr. Puget. That's why the Palouse country is so hilly.

"There are some good stories of Paul's work in digging the sound, but I wasn't with him then. I was pretty well fed up on prunes and quit. I heard Paul finally went broke when he took the job of digging The Dalles-he never could get it deep enough."

"Please allow me to make a correction," write E.L. Ruth of Chehalis. "Mr. Hoagland of Astoria gives one the impression that my old friend Paul Bunyan was dishonest, which I assure you is not so.

"It is a fact that Paul did do a hurry-up job of the Palouse country, and that the Palouse country has not been on the level since, but it was not the year of the blue snow. I well remember we all wore green-colored goggles that winter to keep the sand out of our eyes.

"To clear the implied impression in regard to Paul's dishonesty, I will state the facts, as I was associated with him in the moving business at that time, in the capacity of treasurer and snap-team man.

"Paul bid on a contract for old Billy Rainier, to build a monument in the northwest that the people of Seattle might be proud of. Now Paul had already signed up with Mr. Puget to dig the sound, so, like a good business man, saw a chance to kill two birds with one stone, and make some extra cash. So the result was, as he dug the hole for the sound he piled the dirt and stones in one place and thus was built Mount Rainier.

"While working at this job Paul's conscience began to prick about the way he had flim-flammed Palouse, and he and the blue ox, in sympathy, shed so many tears that the sound was filled with salt brine.

"Billy Rainier was pretty sore. He claimed his mountain was not high enough by four and three-quarter inches, but as Paul's plow, instead of going to the bottom of the sound, would only float on top of the brine, he couldn't dig any more.

"As to reports that Mount Hood is steaming. No sir-e-e. I well remember, on returning from his last trip to Mount Hood, Paul complained of losing his pipe in a hole in the rocks up there and we never did find it-but it is still smoking."

The Paul Bunyan department is loaded for bear, and interest seems on the increase. The story of how Paul and the blue ox filled Puget sound with salty tears has aroused some spirited discussion, one writer holding that it was Paul who really put the salt in the ocean-yet another lucidly explaining that the salt in the sound is there by reason of the bull cook's activities, as this cookee insisted on washing the salt pork in the sound each morning before breakfast. There is nothing like competition to stimulate yarning.

Explanations of many of the geographic freaks of this country are pouring in. A man just returned from Seaside dropped in to inform us that Saddle mountain is a depression caused by Paul as he sat considering ways and means for logging off the area at the mouth of the Columbia. This man says that Paul was offered a contract at this same time to take out Tillamook head, but refused it for some unknown reason.

Then an engineer on the city forces explains how Paul created Flat lake, east of Spokane in the Palouse country. His version is that the residents of the interior desired a salt water harbor and hired Paul. Flat lake is the remains of his first furrow, plowed by Paul and the blue ox, before congress forced them to stop for fear that a flood of salt water might ruin the fertile inland empire for farming.

We have been wondering if the Bunyan department is growing tiresome. If it is will some one let us know? Such a flood of letters have come in that it has been impossible to publish them all. Most of these accounts are of Paul's feats after he came to the Pacific coast. From Eugene came the following letter signed by an "Old Logger Out of a Job."

"Having worked with Paul Bunyan on some of his biggest jobs, it gets under my skin to read some of the atrocious suggestions that have been written about him of late. Any one with half an eye can see that they are absolutely impossible. Back in 1820 I was with him when he wrecked the Bridge of the Gods, because it had been condemned as a menace to river traffic.

"The biggest job I ever saw him do, though, was in a contest with an Irish woods boss from one of the southern pine camps. This Irishman had worked up a local reputation and thought he was riding astride the world until he sent a challenge to Paul stating that he was the better faller of the two and demanding a match. They decided to meet in the redwoods. Thousands flocked there to see these two supermen.

"The referee picked out two big redwoods, each 34 feet in diameter and 240 feet high, and the men took their places. The starter's pistol popped and before the echo died away Paul had burned out three saws and flattened the edges of five axes putting in his undercut. Grabbing a new 40-foot saw he started putting her down. So fast did he saw that it took 17 men to keep him supplied with saws, and there was a stream of melted steel pouring out of the saw cut. As fast as one melted Paul put in a new one. He perspired so much that the spectators had to take to the trees to keep dry, and finally when the tree cracked the sweat was so deep that Paul was treading water and sawing.

"Well, when that tree leaned to an angle of 65 degrees Paul grabbed a bucking saw and ran up it 20 feet and bucked off a log, then another 20 feet, and by the time the tree was down it was all bucked up into 20 foot logs, and Paul had done a swan dive from the last one 80 feet in the air. They looked around and were surprised to see the Irishman's tree still standing with a cut about 20 feet deep in it, and him missing. However, he had written on a paper the following: 'As a logger I'm a good bullcock.'"

At the Orpheum theater this week a mental phenomenon begged members of the audience to ask questions. "Who was Paul Bunyan?" called a voice from the gallery, and the brain shark didn't know. Didn't know who Paul Bunyan was! To make certain that Paul gets proper credit for his deeds, this column is unearthing a few facts connected with his past life that will clarify some puzzling historical questions. Bert Geer, ex-sheriff of Lincoln county, writes of a momentous discovery of a portion of Bunyan's diary.

"Stanley Anderson of Toledo, a one-time logger, has unearthed from his grandfather's trunk an authentic record which does not dispute but rather coincides with facts already published concerning Paul's trip west after he had logged off about all the timber in Michigan and the mid-northern states. The record, blue in color, written with the blood of the blue ox in Paul's own handwriting, on the inner bark of a spruce tree, says:

In the fall of 1869, having observed that the corn was growing tight on the cob and that the migratory geese were flying backward, and knowing by these signs that a severe winter was at hand, I decided to come west, where, I had been told, there remained unlimited timber and there maintained a mild climate.

Everything went well on the trip until we struck Spokane Falls, where the blue ox became frightened at the roar of the water and ran away with the provision sled and the swamp hook. After tearing some terrible gashes in the face of the earth, the swamp hook finally stuck in the top of the Cascade mountains and I was able to catch up with that frightened ox. We are now in the depth of the Siletz river forest, where the timber is so big and thick that every time the blue ox starts to run he falls down. I intend to stay here until Babe gets thoroughly familiar with the roar of the ocean.

"Mr. Anderson says his grandfather was Paul Bunyan's shoer for the blue ox, that the record was written in blood out of the ox's foot, which was hurt in the runaway and that out of the wound Paul caught several barrels of blood to use for writing purposes, his supply of ink having been among the losses from the provision sled. Mr. Anderson vouches for the facts, handed down by his grandfather, that the ox running away with the swamp hook resulted in gouging out the Columbia river gorge, the tearing down of the bridge of the Gods, and where the big steel hung up in the Cascades and Paul pulled it out, Crater Lake remains as a permanent mark of the point of the hook. Blood from the wound on the ox came off the hook in the ground and turned the water in the lake the color of indigo. When the swamp hook was lifted, water began pouring in at the bottom of the hole and Paul started to throw in some rocks to stop the leak. He had dropped one rock when he noticed Babe growing nervous at the roar of the ocean and had to abandon the job. The Phantom Ship is the one rock Paul dropped."

"I am, indeed, glad to see that finally Paul Bunyan is receiving the recognition which is his by right, for Paul was always right, as he could prove by might," writes one of his old friends, who is assisting us in hunting out some romantic feats of the greatest of loggers.

"I recall as if it were yesterday the time the big blue ox broke out of his corral. Paul was coming out of the front door of the house as the blue streak was going by. He grabbed the ox by the tail and threw him over the house and he landed in the corral from which he had just escaped.

"Later Bunyan had trouble with one of the men whom he accused of not being honest. It was then that he originated the saying, 'I wouldn't trust a man as far as I can throw a bull by the tail.'

"Paul was the most kind-hearted man it has ever been my privilege to know. Race, creed or color made no difference to him. He it was who built all those underground railways so popular with the colored population of the south just before the civil war. He later went back and made the tubes smaller so that the Standard Oil company could use them in transporting crude oil from the wells to the refineries.

"I have seen many monuments to Paul Bunyan and they are all more or less of uniform design, consisting of an exuberance on the great toe."

One of the epic tales of Paul Bunyan's woods days was that of the "Great Round River Drive." Of course, many western loggers and other old timers knew Paul Bunyan after he came to the coast, but his earlier history is fascinating. 'Gene Shepard of Rhinelander, Wis., was one of Bunyan's closest friends in the old days, and we quote from his poem that appeared in the American Lumberman, as follows:

"We didn't know the river's name,
Nor where to someone's mill it came,
But figured that, without a doubt,
To some good town, 'twould fetch us out
If we observed the usual plan
And drove the way the current ran.

"Well, after we had driven for
At least two weeks and maybe more,
We came upon a pyramid
That looked just like our 40 did.

"Some two weeks more and then we passed
A camp that looked just like the last
Two weeks again another, too,
That looked like our camp came in view.
Then Bunyan called us all ashore
And held a council-like of war.

"And then we realized at last
That every camp that we had passed
Was ours. Yes, it was then we found
That the river we was on was round.
And though we'd driven for many a mile
We'd drove a circle all the while!
And that's the truth as I'm alive,
About the great 'Round River Drive.'"

Fred B. Norton of Corvallis recently had a talk with a man he knows as P.O. Stamp, who claims to be one of the earliest settlers in the Willamette valley. In the course of their conversation, Norton writes, Stamp mentioned Paul Bunyan and told of meeting this ex-Michigan lumberjack after he came to the Pacific coast. Norton says Stamp wanted, above all things, to have Bunyan placed in the proper light. Stamp was his constant companion for a number of years and at one time managed the ball team that won the famous 2 1/2-to-2 game in 47 innings, so he knew the facts of many of Bunyan's adventures. Stamp then says:

"After Bunyan had finished Puget sound he went to central Oregon and fell in love with one of three sisters in a prominent family, but she refused him. This made Paul so mad that he swore vengeance upon the three of them and tied them to big trees to let them die. When he had done this he got timid and thought that he had better give up the idea. This made the blue ox purple with rage and he backed up to the trees and started pawing dirt upon the sisters. Before Paul realized what had happened the sisters had been completely covered up and there was only the three peaks of dirt to show where they had been.

"Paul was very angry at the ox for what he had done and for many days would not speak to him. The ox finally repented of his deed and Paul forgave him, but Oregon people and our visitors can still see the monuments and recall the terrible tragedy of the three sisters.

"I hope you will print this to show the people of this state that they really should think of the three mountains with the greatest interest, both out of respect to the deceased and for admiration of that pioneer of the plains-the man who did so much to make this country the beautiful land that it is."

In compiling the immortal biography of Paul Bunyan the writer wishes to thank the many contributors. Gradually the life of this astounding character is assuming shape and it seems the more provocation offered the more results achieved. No sooner is one episode of his history written than half a dozen other versions are received, helping cloud up the subject. P.O. Stamp's version of the construction of the Three Sisters and his heart-rending tale of this blasted romance was no sooner printed than we hear from Vera A. Richardson of Salem, as follows:

"It was the summer before the blue snow and Paul Bunyan had taken the contract to level off central Oregon after Mount Jefferson had got through spitting lava all over the country in heaps. As you know, there isn't much water over there and it became a big job to haul water from the Willamette river every day for the blue ox, so Paul decided to dig a well closer to his work. Just to make things easier for the men who were to dig the well, one noon hour Paul hitched the blue ox to the scraper and took three scrapersfull off the top and the Three Sisters are these three heaps of dirt just as he dumped them.

"The well saved a lot of time for Paul. The next winter the blue snow came and when it went off, the water in Paul's well was left blue. The settlers have since named it Blue lake."

Once again turning to the fascinating adventures of Paul Bunyan on this coast and his intimate connection with so many of the natural marvels now existing, we have what is vouched for as the true reason for the Japanese current, that warm stream that keeps the north Pacific almost like a tropical sea. Perhaps this explanation of a phenomenon that has baffled so many mariners and scientists will be of interest. A local man, who sells agricultural implements and therefore is in a position to know, relates it as follows:

"The Toledo, Or., explanation of how the waters of Crater lake became blue from the blood of the blue ox may be correct to a certain extent, but I heard, from a man who saw one of the big ox's footprints, a different story altogether. He said that the winter of the blue snow, when the great blue blanket lay 50 and more feet deep on the Cascades, Bunyan and the blue ox were sent to remove the snow. Paul lost the ox several times when he would fall into drifts and could not be seen on account of the blending of the color. Bunyan had to have a place to dump the snow, so put it all in Crater lake, the blue ox dragging a huge scraper that held 29 tons at a time, and the waters have remained blue in the crater from the melted snow.

"This was hard, exhausting work, and Paul and the ox would go out each night and cool off in the ocean. On one of their swims the ox went out so far that he lost sight of land and as Paul had forgotten his compass, they started to swim, knowing that they would reach some country if they kept it up long enough. Paul held onto the ox's tail and Babe swam so fast that he scorched the water and it boiled and steamed behind them. My authority says that swimming is just like walking-if you go long enough you'll travel in a circle, and this is just what Paul and the ox did, for they came in sight of the Cascade mountains the next morning after having been in the water all night, came ashore and had to go right to work without any rest."

So in this one tale we get the explanation of the blue water in Crater lake and of the warm Japanese current.

W.A. Schaffner of the Hood River Laundry, says:

"There has been considerable said about Paul Bunyan digging Puget sound but no one has offered the true reason. I am probably the only living person who can truthfully relate just why he should dig this hole.

"Paul had taken the contract for the construction of Mount Rainier, Mount Hood and one or two other Pacific northwest scenic resorts and having several large crews of men working on these different jobs he was rather hard put on just how to handle the weekly wash.

"At this time I was engaged in the laundry business in Seattle and we being on rather friendly terms, Paul came to me and told me of his dilemma. I explained to him that my facilities were altogether too limited to handle such a large contract and told him about what size vessel it would take to take care of such a wash as he would have. He thought for a moment and then said 'I can easily take care of that.'

"He motioned for the 'Big Swede' to bring the Blue Ox to him and then and there dug the Puget sound.

"I explained to him that the vessel he had so easily contrived was plenty large for the purpose and that the cold water with which it immediately filled would be all right for the breakdown and rinsing purposes but that we would have to have warm water for suds. He immediately walked over and kicked out the partition between the sound and the Pacific, making what is now called the straits of Juan de Fuca. We used the cold water in the sound during the day for the breakdown and at night when he watered the Blue Ox he drove him a little farther out into the Pacific and diverted the Japan current into the sound. Thus we made our suds at night and rinsed our clothes during the day, having hot and cold water alternately.

"This scheme didn't work very long until we began to hear complaints from countries bordering on the Pacific. The men worked so hard at their tasks that they perspired freely and the continual rinsing of this perspiration from their clothes made the water thick with salt and as our tub was flushed out daily the Pacific was in turn made salty which rendered it no longer fit for drinking purposes. This was one of the topics the Japanese had up with Charley Hughes during their last conference. They blamed us for the salt being in the Pacific and wanted us to remove it.

"To make a long story short we had to give up handling this contract and the men had to do their own washing or get married and let their wives do it. When down at the beaches you have undoubtedly noticed the snowy white caps and breakers. The foam on these is the last remnants of the suds from our big wash for Paul Bunyan in Puget sound."

Much of the early history of Paul Bunyan, hero of all woodsmen, is shrouded in mystery. Who were his parents? Were his manifold talents inherent or were they developed by the hardy woods life? Did he have any advantages when a boy or did he just grow up?

These are but a few of the many questions most frequently asked about this immortal logger. A letter from an old lumberman, who does not want his name mentioned, may shed some light on Paul's earlier days:

"Paul Bunyan (accent on last syllable) was of French descent and was born on the banks of the Chippewa river, Canada. Quite young he developed traits that have since gained for him notoriety. It is said, when only 9 years of age, he could catch a squirrel on the frame of a barn.

"In the early '50s Battise Doe was rafting logs across the lakes, then down the river. There was great strife among the loggers as to who would get their drive into Quebec first. Sometimes, with adverse winds, they would cross the lakes with the aid of a windlass anchored ahead and turned by the lumber jacks as they joyfully sang their chanty songs.

"Battise Doe was apparently losing in the race and an employee, Joe La Fleur, asked permission to secure the service of Bunyan. Request was granted and young Paul hastened to the raft. Taking a batteau and anchoring it behind Battise Doe's raft, he blew against the raft with such force that it crossed the lake ahead of all rivals, reaching Quebec far in the lead."

"By yee, De Witt, Ay hope you ban
Bote through with yarns of Paul Bunyan.
I har you ban vishing to know
If people lak dem, Yas or No?
Val, Ay ban used to gude big lies,
But dis har Bunyan stuff tak prize.
Ay ban gude oldtime lumber-yack
An' all my life har' timber crack.
But nefer vunce, Ay tel you, boys,
Ay efer har such hal of noise
As folks ban making bote das man
Your paper calling Paul Bunyan.
Ay tank dos guys ban spin dis yarns,
Ban nefer slept in cattle-barns,
Or having dose of gude graybacks,
Or mak dar bed in bunkhouse shacks.
Dey yust ban sit in office char
An' tank up lies an' scratch dar har,
An' tank us poor ol' lumber-yacks
Ban laking har dem mak such cracks.
Ay bat you not skol having laff
Ven Ay tal you das thing ban chaff,
An' lumber-yacks don't know das man,
Or how dis stories skol began."
-Ole Olesson.

One of our steady customers from way back in Lincoln, Neb., writes that he could read about Paul Bunyan for the next ten years, and then goes on to tell of Paul's feat of putting up a new north pole after the old one had been rubbed down by polar bears scratching themselves on it. E.J.'s tale runs like this:

"Paul, on securing the contract, went to Alaska, where the pole was cut and ready. He took with him, in addition to the big Swede, his famous cook, who had been with Paul ever since he built the Alps, and his four equally well-known French-Canadian river men. With the help of the blue ox everything went well and the pole was set up in good shape. The worst difficulty encountered was the intense cold, which caused the north side of the kettles containing the pea soup for the Frenchmen and the beans for the rest of the crew to freeze solid while the south side was boiling.

"Paul, however, got around this by hiring a gang of Esquimaux, giving them peavies, pike-poles and caulk shoes and teaching them to ride the beans and pea-soup icebergs to the south end of the kettles. The beans were, needless to say, specially grown for Paul, and measured from 10 to 15 feet in length."

Old Michigan loggers who read Ole Olesson's poem assailing Paul Bunyan as a mythical character are astounded at the temerity of the Oregon rhymester. They admit that Olesson is a good mechanic with words, but hold that he is short in historical accuracy. An intimate friend of Bunyan says:

"Young Paul with Battise Doe came to Michigan in '66, and became widely known on the Cass and Flint rivers, as well as in the Saginaw lumbering country.

"I recall many instances of Paul and his blue ox, Babe, whom he gained possession of in Tuscola county, Michigan.

"At one time Paul was in my employ getting out green oak logs at Smith's crossing, on the Pere Marquette railroad, near Midland, 22 miles west of Saginaw.

"During our operations there a log of certain dimensions was required, and I sent Paul and his blue ox to the woods for it. He found one log only that would do, and it was buried beneath several others. With no hesitation Paul hitched old Babe by a chain to the butt and called to him. No effort whatever, and old Babe gave his tail a twist and settled down. Another call and the chain cut through the sap to the heart. Out came the heart of that log-107 feet 7 inches long, leaving the shell beneath.

"Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe, were some team. There are a few Michigan lumbermen living in Portland today who will remember the old Brooker mill, three miles below Midland, which was the scene of this exploit."

Paul Bunyan, rest his soul, will leave this column with this last explanatory ode, received yesterday:

"De Witt, Ay lak to tal you vy
Ay got no use for Bunyan lie.
Ay tank dose man from Michigan
Ban gude big liars lak Bunyan.
Ay com right straight from Sveden har.
Ay not ban laking Michigan air.
Gude many years Ay vork, by Yee,
With all gude Sveeden fallars, see?
Out har, not many French Cannucks,
An' Ay ban glad not have to mux
With fallars laking mak such lies
As Frenchy tal, an' not half tries.
It ban all right if Michigan
Ban vanting claim dis Paul Bunyan,
But lumber-yacks out har ban sore
Ven laundry vorkers drop dar chore
To tank up lies abote Bunyan
An' trying ban Paul Bunyan fan,
An' vomen clerks ban doing same-
Dos not ban any loggers' game!
You got dos people talking lak
Dey all yust being lumber-yack.

"De Witt, Ay tank dat you skol know
Ve not ban laking har dem blow,
An' trying feed ol' Sveedes dis stuff,
Das ban so sheap Ay tank it's 'nuff."
-Ole Olesson.

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