06 September 2006

Bunyan's Progress

On 10 August, the governor of Michigan celebrated Paul Bunyan Day. I regret to say I missed that news entirely, instead writing about Jules Feiffer and driving to New Jersey (not at the same time).

Why did the state choose 10 August? Because that was the one-hundredth anniversary of the first published Paul Bunyan tale, according to recent claims from a small Michigan newspaper. (Other regions, such as Minnesota, have also laid claim to being a source or setting of Paul Bunyan stories, but Michigan's claim has the best documentation.)

The Straight Dope column is one of the more reliable sources around, and certainly one of the most enjoyable. Its discussion of Paul Bunyan traced the first printed Bunyan story back only as far as 1910, to a story in the Detroit News. But that was in 2002.

Since then, the Oscoda Press has trumpeted itself as the original source of the "Round River" story later reprinted with some changes in the Detroit News. The article appeared on "an inside page of the Aug. 10, 1906 edition," the paper reported about itself. I'd like to see an image of that page or a transcription of the article. (Call me a skeptic. It's part of my job.)

Michael Gilleland has transcribed the 1910 Detroit version here, with some format changes.

Scholars still debate about what parts of the Paul Bunyan stories we know were based on actual loggers' tales, and what was massaged or completely made up by reporters and publicists. James McGillivray, putative author of the 1906 story and bylined author of the 1910 version, worked in lumber camps. So did William B. Laughead, who wrote pamphlets about Bunyan for the Red River Lumber Company from 1914 through 1922. But they weren't folklorists; they were working writers out to entertain. And that they did.


tem2 said...

My folklore professor quite pointedly referred to Paul Bunyan as "fakelore". Fun stories, though.

J. L. Bell said...

As it turns out, there's a Paul Bunyan Days celebration in September, too, somewhere in northern California. The that-ain't-livin' blog offers photos and commentaries—twice.