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Paul Bunyan Legends On Postcards

Paul Bunyan is the most famous of American folklore characters. Many books have been written describing the feats of Paul Bunyan, his big blue ox Babe, and associated lumber camp characters. Some of the oldest and most typical legends have also been illustrated and printed on postcards. If you read through all these legends, you may notice some inconsistencies. Details tend to be changed or embellished when stories are retold.

©1942 W. A. Fisher Co. Virginia, Minnesota

As noted on the back of this large (10-1/16” X 6-13/16”) Paul Bunyan Historical Yarns postcard, "The stories of Paul Bunyan are endless because he is a mythical character of northern lumbering camps. New ones are told almost daily about him." This postcard has five typical Paul Bunyan tales:

  • The source of the Mississippi was no mystery to Paul, for it was one of his water wagons that sprang a leak in Itasca State Park. It hit the ground with enough force to create Lake Itasca. The overflow cut the channel for the Mississippi River.

  • The St. Croix River (between Wisconsin and Minnesota) came into existence, when Paul enroute to his southern camps permitted his peavey hook to drag after him.

  • People marvel at the irregular shapes of many northern lakes. The only explanation hot stove historians can offer is that Babe, Paul’s blue ox, dug these by pawing the earth. The small nearly round lakes are his hoof prints.

  • Johnny Inkslinger required so much ink, in keeping Paul’s books, that he had it piped to his pen with a rubber like substance made from old sour dough and spruce gum.

  • The winter of the blue snow was also the year of Paul’s greatest griefs — he lost his shirt in the stock market, the bottom fell out of the lumber market and Babe, his blue ox, deserted him because of poor feed. He cursed the air blue — thus blue snow.

Another large (9-1/4” X 7”) card has the legends arranged around a map of the area of Minnesota known as "Paul Bunyan Vacationland":

ca. 1940 © Curt Teich & Co., Inc.

  • Axes were so big it took a week to grind them

  • Lucy, Paul’s cow, gave enough milk to keep six men busy skimming the cream

  • Big Ole, the blacksmith, cut the holes in the donuts

  • The bees’ and mosquitoes’ offspring had stingers fore and aft

  • Some of the men had to tuck their beards in their boots so they could swing an axe

  • Babe tipped over the water tank at Lake Itasca. This was the beginning of the Mississippi river

  • Sausages were hauled from the cookhouse in four horse logging sleds.

  • When Paul’s pipe was going good, the clouds of smoke looked like a forest fire

Two postcards with a blue background, one large (9-1/8” X 7”) and the other standard sized, have the same seven legends arranged in rectangular boxes:

©1939 Ray Bang

  • Sour Dough Sam made every thing except coffee from sour Dough

  • Paul’s trained Ants did the work of 5 men and ate nothing but snuff

  • Spot the Reversible Dog — cut in two by an axe, he wassewed up wrong

  • Ole the Blacksmith opened a new Iron Mine every time he made shoes for Babe the Ox

  • The 7 axemen sharpened their axes by holding them against stones rolling down hill

  • Johnny Inkslinger the bookkeeper saved 12 barrels of ink in one winter by not crossing his “t’s” or dotting his “i’s”

  • It took 5 unusually large storks to deliver Paul to his parents

The next postcard has a long (445 word story) crowded onto the front and continuing on the back:

Pub. By C. E. Anderson, Service News, Brainerd, Minn

Paul Bunyan, His Playground, Northern Minnesota

Paul Bunyan is the patron saint of all woodsmen and lovers of outdoors: America’s legendary hero. Several select “tall stories” follow about him.

Paul’s parents used an old lumber wagon for a baby carriage. His feet dangled over the end of the wagon tearing up the roads. In school Paul used a slab of lime stone for a slate and a big white pine tree for a pencil. The teacher’s inability to read Paul’s huge script discouraged him and he decided to become a logger.

The 10,000 lakes in this state are the footprints of Paul’s gigantic Blue Ox, Babe who measured forty-two ax handles wide between the eyes. He hauled a whole section, 640 acres of timber at one time. Paul then would cut the timber and Babe would haul another section. Everytime Babe was to be shod, Paul opened a new iron mine. Babe ate in one day as much food as one crew could tote to camp in six months.

One extremely cold winter, blue snowflakes as big as a baseball submerged even the tallest trees. Paul had to tie a red stag jacket on Babe, his color being exactly like the snow. So cold it was that Paul’s coffee pot froze solid to the back of the stove. When the blue snow melted, Babe’s footprints were filled with blue water. Then Paul called his playground, “The Land of Sky Blue Water”.

Johnny Inkslinger, Paul’s bookkeeper was about his size. He was a whiz at figures and efficiency. His fountain pen was connected by a hose to a barrel of ink. By not dotting “i’s” and crossing “t’s” he saved nine barrels of ink on the payroll alone in one winter.

Paul’s cook, Sourdough Sam, had only one leg and one arm but he and 267 flunkies fed Paul’s lumbering crew. Pancakes were made on a griddle so large that you couldn’t see across it. Sixteen colored boys with bacon tied to their shoes greased the griddle. The enormous pancakes were carried to tables on conveyor belts. Big Joe, the master cook, made sausages as large as logs to go with the pancakes — fifty-fifty rabbit and horse meat. Huge doughnuts were carried on long poles by two men.

Big Joe called Paul’s lumberjacks to meals by blowing Paul’s dinnerhorn. The first time he blew so hard that he knocked down several sections of timber and blew some of the lumberjacks so far away that it took them a day to get back to camp.

In the early days, Paul had his troubles. Mosquitoes weighing a pound, wingspread 12 or 14 inches, mated wit6h giant bees, produced offspring having stingers fore and aft.

A postcard from Hibbing, Minnesota shows Paul and Babe at the "Future Site of Hibbing Minn." On the back is a local legend:

Hibbing Daily Tribune

Paul Bunyan was here with his blue ox “Babe.” Here the churning hooves of the great ox, as he pulled the kinks out of the Mesaba Range, gouged out the Hull-rust pit. The filings from the knives and axes at the Bunyan logging camp filled the great pit with a mighty reserve of iron ore which has provided the backbone of the U. S. defense effort in two world wars.

A card printed on paper with a birchbark look deals with fishing in the Paul Bunyan Playground area:

Even the mighty Paul Bunyan fishing with a pine tree for a pole sometimes met his match with the whoppers he hooked in the beautiful lakes in his playground.

The most unusual (and oldest) Paul Bunyan legend postcard I have is a 4-7/8” X 7” wooden card. This card is printed in blue on 1/8" thick plywood. On the back is imprinted "From: ___________ who is having a grand time at Ashland in the heart of Wisconsin’s Paul Bunyan country at the 1938 State Convention American Legion." The legend is in the form of a verse:


Folks, this is Babe, my big Blue Ox,
Big as a mountain and smart as a fox,
Cut down here to one-billionth his size;
When it came to bulk, Babe was sure some prize.

Nineteen ax handles and a plug of tobaccy
He measured between the eyes, by cracky!
His footprints made the lakes of the middlewest;
In Gitche-Gumme he wallowed when at rest.

He made the Mississippi run uphill
When he stood at the source and drank his fill.
A crooked tote road he could pull out straight.
He could hall standing timber at a steady gait.

A section at a time, and that was the way
We logged the Dakotas, in about a half-day.
This is Babe, my ox. He sure could pull!
And believe me, folks,





  ©2005 Brown Cat Design