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It is often said that someone is larger than life. This phrase means that the person has such an interesting life or personality that it almost seems unreal. In the case of the legendary figure Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe, the phrase larger than life might refer to his physical body as well as his life. You see, Bunyan and Babe are characters of legend who were supposedly known for their great size, strength and appetite. 

According to the legends, Bunyan “was a powerful giant, with a stride of seven feet.” While Babe the Blue Ox was so powerful that he the legend claim that he (along with Bunyan) created the North American Great Lakes with his footprints. In addition to their great strength, Paul Bunyan and Babe were known for their courage and valor.

Paul Bunyan strides through the North American forest with his trusty ox, Babe.

The origin of the legend of Paul Bunyan

 Just how did the legend of Paul Bunyan and Babe begin? Most likely, the legend was started around the campfires of lumberjacks (a lumberjacks is a person who cuts down trees, cuts those trees into logs, or transports the logs to the sawmill). Apparently, lumberjacks in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and the Northwest (Washington or Oregon) were familiar with the legend even before George MacGillivary printed the stories in the “Round River Drive” in 1910.

After his exploits were written down by MacGillivary, Bunyan went from regional folk hero to national. When  W.B. Laughead published a series of advertising booklets about Paul Bunyan for the Red River Lumber Company, he helped to make Bunyan known to audiences all over the country. The booklets also inspired other writers to tell the tales of Paul Bunyan and by 1925, Bunyan and Babe were national legends.

The tales of Paul Bunyan and Babe

 There are many exploits (exploits means adventures) of Bunyan and Babe, but a few of these stand out more than others. Of course, Bunyan was a large baby – it took five storks to deliver him to his parents according to the stories. When baby Paul clapped his hands, he shook houses; when he laughed, he could break windows.

There is the story about how Bunyan created the Puget Sound in Washington State using Babe to pull a glacier for a plow. Another legend tells of how Bunyan created the Grand Canyon by dragging his ax along behind him when he walked. In addition to these natural marvels, there are stories of Bunyan creating the Great Lakes with his footprints and the Black Hills in South Dakota and Wyoming when he buried Benny the Baby Blue Ox after his little friend died while eating too many pancakes.

Image of the Black Hills in South Dakota. Paul Bunyan accidentally made these hills when he buried Benny the Baby Blue Ox.

Paul Bunyan and Babe in popular culture

It did not take long after the first tales reached print for the legend of Paul Bunyan to capture the imaginations of Americans. In 1939, statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe appeared at the World’s Fairs in New York and California. The stories of Paul Bunyan and Babe have been told in American cartoons and comic books and were particularly popular in the mid 20th century.

Along with the stories of Paul Bunyan, there are still statues of the giant lumberjack and his bright blue ox at various spots in the United States. A 31 foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan can be found in Bangor, Maine; this statue weighs nearly 3700 pounds. In Klamath, California, there is a 49 foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan at the Trees of Mystery Park. This is said to be the tallest statue of Bunyan anywhere in the United States.

Statues of Bunyan from California (L) to Maine (R).

Paul Bunyan Fun Facts

  • Another legend says that Paul Bunyan was 63 ax handles tall, while Babe was 42 ax handles tall.
  • Paul’s frying pan covered one acre.
  • It took a crow one day to fly from the tip of one of Babe’s horns to the other.
  • Paul carved out the Great Lakes so that Babe could have watering holes for drinking water.
  • One winter, all the snowflakes were blue and this changed the color of Babe permanently to blue.