Is Paul Bunyan a fraud?

If William B. Laughead created Babe and Johnny Inkslinger, I think you missed an opportunity to comment on his pseudonym. I don’t mean to be a loggerhead, or to start a thread that puts us at loggerheads, but Billy be laughing his head off in his grave if we be believing it’s his real patronym.

A link to the column is appreciated. Providing one can be as simple as pasting the link into your post, making sure to leave a blank space on either side. Like so:

Mr. Laughead didn’t exactly create Babe and Johnny, but he did name them. A clerk and a big ox appeared in earlier Bunyan yarns, but they generally went without names. The ox appears to have been at least occasionally called Buck before Laughead’s time, though.

Remember, always provide a link to the column being discussed.

BTW: I did a search to see if there are any of the original Paul Bunyan trademarks still on file. There is one from 1931 if anyone cares to look:

Cecil sez that “Petit Jean was Petite.” But isn’t it quite likely that “Petite Jean” is related to the trickster Little John of Robin Hood fame, a renowned giant?


And how come the adjective “petite” must be used in its feminin form? Petit Jean is “petit” Jean, isn’t he?

There’s a little bit about Paul Bunyan on this page

It says that a model for Paul Bunyan was a logger boss named Fournier and that Bon Jean is “a name given to a French Canadian hero in the 1837 Papineau Rebellion. It means good John or brave John and was a name often given to tough, strong woodsmen.” (!!) Doesn’t mention any connection to Ti-Jean

As for “Ti-Jean”, aside from the French-Canadian folktales, it seems often used as a nickname for anyone named Jean or Jack - Jack Kerouac, Jean Carignan (a fiddler), and I’ve even heard Jean Chretien being called Ti-Jean (in a belittling sort of way, though)

I have read the book that that article is based on (How A Terrible Timber Feller Became a Legend), and all I can say is that the author failed to convince me Joe Fournier contributed much of anything to the Bunyan legend, except perhaps a few inconsequential details.

The connection between the Papineau Rebellion and Paul Bunyan is a pure invention by James Stevens, one of the most famous of Bunyan’s popularizers.

That link doesn’t work. Try this page instead:

Is that the trademark referred to as “looking like Shirley Temple with a moustache”? It sure don’t look like Shirley Temple to me. It looks more like a Norwegian Groucho Marx.

That, or something like it. It doesn’t look like Ms. Temple to me either, but there you have it.

There are apparently a number of “Petit Jean”'s. There’s a mountain (and I use that term loosely) in Arkansas named Petit Jean, after a French explorer. As part of the French exploration (prior to the Louisiana Purchase), a woman disguised herself as a man in order to go along. So in that case, the “Petit” was not meant ironically.

OK. Reading Cecil’s column, I get the impression that the Paul Bunyan stories–or their precursors–were being told in logging camps.

Now maybe (although the column doesn’t actually even imply this) the name “Paul Bunyan” was added by the outfit that wrote it for publication. The Red River Lumber Co. seems to have been the force behind collecting these tales as a unified series. That doesn’t mean these stories didn’t have folkloric beginnings.

It’s only natural that if the Paul Bunyan tales (or what we now know as Paul Bunyan tales) were to spread beyond logging camps, it would be through popularizers. Writers, whether embellishers, collectors, redactors, or all three, can turn a loose collection of simple stories into popular literature; & a publication system isn’t such a bad idea, either. :rolleyes:
And then there’s the whole not-copyrighting-the-stories. What was up with that? Maybe (though not necessarily) it’s because the stories came from somewhere else.

Congratulations, Cecil & bibliophage! You just wrote an article claiming that Paul Bunyan is not folklore, while your presentation of evidence in the article would indicate that, originally, it was.

And before you claim that later stories invented out of whole cloth by non-loggers render the original Paul Bunyan stories non-folkloric, try that argument with, oh, King Arthur stories. Or Robin Hood. Doesn’t work, eh?

Now maybe Paul Bunyan as we know him was a commercial corporate creation. But Cecil’s column doesn’t prove that. Or even make a convincing case.

I think you misunderstand the point of the column. Cecil didn’t say Paul Bunyan wasn’t based on folklore. He said that some folklorists have called the Bunyan tales fakelore. Quoth the Master

Even those folklorists (such as Richard Dorson, who invented the term fakelore) have had to admit there there was at least a little true folklore behind the Bunyan tales. Quoth the Master

I happen to believe there is more than just a little bit of true folklore behind the Bunyan yarns. I would prefer to see the term fakelore limited to folklore-like stories that have absolutely no true oral tradition behind them, which is not the case with the Bunyan legend. I haven’t researched Pecos Bill and Joe Magarac, but Dorson always claimed those stories had no oral tradition behind them. I think in those cases, “fakelore” is an appropriate tag (assuming Dorson was right about there being no oral tradition behind them).

The real issue ought to be who cares if others have embellished the stories? Every folkloric hero has been embelished, for reason of national pride or profit or moralizing or whatever, depending on the demands of the era.

I would not be surprised if some have converted Bunyan into a member of EarthFirst! and we will see stories about him chopping up logging camps rather than forests.

Sorry about that, I guess it expired.

I’ve wondered about this ever since I read about Laughead and Bunyan in Legends, Lies, and Cherished Myths of American History. My first thought was that, if “there is a trickle of real folklore behind this” in the form of real logger’s tales, they wouldn’t be the kind of stories that you could tell around the family campfire. Rough and tough loggers, out in the woods for weeks at a time without women? Hah!

I’m glad one of the cites above acknowledged that the original stories were somewhat “ribald”.