Paul Bunyan Day: Getting to Know the American Legend

Tue, May 31, 2016 at 11:05AM

Paul Bunyan Day: Getting to Know the American Legend

Paul Bunyan: whether you grew up hearing his stories or spent time at one of the numerous natural landmarks he’s credited with creating, he’s an American legend who resonates with millions across the country.

In honor of Paul Bunyan Day on June 28th, we are taking a look at the story—and some of the most famous “tall tales”—behind this icon of giant proportions.

The origins of Paul and Babe

Being a larger-than-life lumberjack himself, it only makes sense that the legend of Paul Bunyan was first spread among lumberjacks working in North America during the late 1800s—although Paul never made it to publication until early in the next century. 

There are several different variations of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe. Some stories would establish Paul as an especially large, tall man; others, on the other hand, would paint him as the impossibly enormous figure most of us are familiar with today.

While Paul Bunyan is traditionally seen as an American legend, elements of his name and story are likely borrowed from the French culture (a large presence in the Canadian lands Paul is often said to have worked in). His name is sometimes suggested to be Québécois (or Quebec French) in origin— “bon yenne,” for example, is a phrase in that language used to show surprise, which those who saw Paul Bunyan in person might certainly feel!

Modern touches

If the legend of Paul Bunyan is to be believed, many of our natural landmarks were created or influenced by the famous lumberjack—and you may have even been to a few! They include…

  • The Finger Lakes: This famous group of lakes located in New York is a popular vacation spot—and according to the folklore, they were created when Paul Bunyan tripped and used his large hand to break the fall.
  • Mount Hood: Oregon’s beautiful mountain is often tied to Paul Bunyan, who is said to have used a pile of rocks to put out a fire he made while camping there. That pile of rocks turned out to be the mountaintop we’re familiar with today.
  • The Grand Canyon: Some say that the Grand Canyon, one of America’s most famous natural landmarks, was created by Paul Bunyan dragging his large axe behind him while searching for firewood.
  • The Mississippi River: According to Bunyan legend, this famous river was first created when Paul accidentally spilled a heavy tank of leaking water onto the land.

While these folk tales may be just that—tales—we think they’re as fun and enjoyable to recount now as they were back in the 18 and 1900s. Keep Paul and his blue ox, Babe, in mind as you cruise the Mississippi River, fish in the Finger Lakes or spend time in the Grand Canyon this summer.

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