Mystic Tales of Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan Evening Telegram Superior Wisconsin February 4 1935

Paul Bunyan
Evening Telegram – Superior Wisconsin
February 4 1935

[The famous Paul, who was on display at the Bunyan picnic near Bayfield, the most interesting of Bunyan relics was the painting of the artist’s conception of the legendary woodsman himself. It was done recently by Bert Vander Vender, an Indian born and bred in Bayfield, who never has had a lesson in the art. It was done on a canvas seven feet by five, and placed in a position against the green kitchen windbreak where all could see.] Evening Telegram, February 4, 1935]

Mystic Life Tale of Paul Bunyan

The Evening Telegram
Superior, Wisconsin
February 4, 1935

By John Conner

Bayfield Proves to the World That Legendary Paul Bunyan Used to Live There; Sun Salutes Paul Bunyan With an Eclipse As 500 Mystic Knights of the Blue Ox Honor Him At Bayfield; Ghost of Lumberjack Deity Appears for Fleeting Moment at Mid-winter Party to Clean 40 Acres of Snow for Party-Informality Reigns at Huge Outdoor Picnic read the subtitles on this date.

Another chapter has been added to the mystic life tale of Paul Bunyan, entitled “Paul’s Parties.”

Nearly 500 men in rough clothing gathered in Bayfield’s Bunyania Sunday afternoon to pay tribute to the redoubtable hero of lumbermen’s fantastic fireside fables, and the same number went home Sunday night members of Camp No. 1, Mystic Knights of the Blue Ox.

The now scrubby woods of Bayfield County in the Chequamegon Bay district shook to the tread of Paul again, and rang to the singing and laughter of his disciples. Even the sun was eclipsed in obeisance, and light, grey clouds were wont to hang low, the better to view the proceedings, perhaps to smell the cooking mulligan and beans.

But Paul was not seen, that is, not distinctly except in the brightly-hued painting of him set appropriately against the green background of young evergreen trees lined in a wall around the make-shift “dinner-out” kitchen, under a halo of potato-water steam.

Now, Here’s the Yarn

Getting back to the real Bunyan, there was one story, and a new one, mind you, that presented a stronger tone than the general run of tales that permeated the air in company with the odors of the cooking meal. The story goes like this, and for all anyone was able to say, it might be true.

It hasn’t been mentioned that the “dinner-out” to use the lumberjack term again, was held in the woodlot of S. [Sebastian] A. Feldmeier, which is located on highway No. 13, six miles north of the city of Bayfield, and about five miles inland and directly west of Lake Superior’s shores. That however, has nothing to do with this story, which, to continue, is that about 150 good yeomen set out in mid-morning to clear 40 acres for the picnic.

They were nearing the site of their operations when the leaders suddenly halted dead in their tracks. There had been what appeared to be a broad shadow and a huge cloud of smoke, they said, moving leisurely away in the opposite direction. They proceeded with pounding hearts to the place selected for the picnic, and lo, there was a “40” cleared of both trees and snow alike, as if by one fell swoop of a huge axe-Paul’s.

Be that as it may, Paul’s huge axe was found on the scene, together with many of his other belongings including a set of false teeth that would do credit to an elephant. Though many latecomers doubtless heard the story, none connected the incident with the partial eclipse or the low hanging clouds.

As the sun hove around to its winter noon-time position, cars began arriving thick and fast from various parts of the Northwest, including Superior, Duluth and the Twin Cities. Exactly 390 names were placed on the gigantic register at the gateway, but gate keepers avow that many got by without giving their names.

Second Bunyan Party: At no time did the program take on the aspect of formality or system until the last item, a pair of wrestling matches. The crowd was merry and loud, as merry and loud as any campful of the old, aged-in-wood lumbermen of Paul’s day could have been. A raw north wind failed to cool the crowd’s fervor.

It was the second of “Paul’s Parties.” The first was held two years ago, in January, 1933, on the same woodlot. At that time perhaps three men were more responsible for the get-together than any others. They were Mr. Feldmeier, Herman Sense, now deceased, and Gus Webber, one of Sunday’s chefs or “cookees.” In planning for the first picnic, Webber explained that 100 were invited so that 50 could be counted on, but things happened and 300 turned up. In such a manner has the Knights of the Blue Ox idea been caught up in Upper Wisconsin, and spread its fame the nation over.

  1. P. O’Malley, Bayfield, secretary of the camp’s executive committee, has received a letter from D. R. Drum, Green Bay fire chief, asking for a charter for camp No. 2, and he will get it.

The purpose of the second and subsequent picnics in the open is to raise enough money to erect a monument to Paul and Babe, his Blue Ox, on the lake shore at Bayfield overlooking the Apostle islands. “Thousands of dollars” will be needed, but it is expected that enough money will have been raised in a year to do it, members said. Among activities the camp plans will be a birthday ball for Paul. The date of his birthday has not been decided on yet, but it is fairly certain it will be on a Saturday. “Paul’s Parties” will be a long chapter.

Lumberjack Meal in Open; Now on to the “dinner-out” ceremonies. “Dinner-outs” are meals for lumberjacks working in the woods too far away from the camp to return at noon. A kitchen is set up within a circle of trees planted as a windbreak, and from a huge tripod are hung pots full of cooked food to be heated up.

Such was the case Sunday. The lumberjack fare consisted of beans, mulligan, boiled potatoes, tea, doughnuts, cookies and raisin pie. It’s always tea when lumberjacks “dine out” although both tea and coffee are served in camp. No talking is the rule laid down by the cook, knife in hand, in camp, but in the woods there are no restrictions. Sunday everyone lined up, received tin plates, tin cups, tin knives, tin forks and tin spoons, but the rattle of tin against tin could not be heard for the din. Few used the rustic seats, consisting of logs supported by logs, most of them standing to eat.

Preceding the serving of the meal was a parade designed to represent teams, teamsters and lumberjacks coming en masse for the noon meal. At the head of the column rode a famous local character, the veteran teamster and lumberjack, Jim Trainer. He sat on a small sled hauled by a goat. The coming of the parade into camp from a tote road was heralded by the blowing of the dinner horn by O’Malley. A dinner horn resembles an elongated dunce’s cap of tin.

Bayfield’s Jim Trainer, “the smallest lumberjack and biggest teamster” in that part of the country, was one of the most interesting figures at the picnic. Although he gives his age as about 77, his friends swear on the side, that he is all of 82. This five-foot, lumber-hauling expert, still active, is reputed for his ability to haul the biggest logs in the biggest loads, without ever getting stuck. He started as a lumberman in New York State when he was 13 or 14 years old, and came to this North Country better than 50 years ago.

He Likes the Woods: “If I had a young man for a son, I would have him go into the woods today,” he said to a reporter.

An Indian artist’s [Bert Vander Vendor] conception of Bunyan has him dressed in a red shirt partially open in front to expose a hairy chest, and ragged bottom trousers that reached the tops of regular lumberjack high boots. On the head is a wide-brimmed, felt hat, such as that often worn by lumberjacks in the summer. He stands in snow that has a suspiciously bluish hue, with one foot on a log and a cant hook in his hands. Bristling whiskers and a short beard gave him a belligerent look.

The inscription with a gargantuan red trout fly disclosed in proud fashion that the Giant Paul was also a fly rod devotee. The fly, the card said, was an imitation of a colossal insect that infested the Chequamegon Bay region during the period of the blue snow. The fly was found in the Ashland harbor during dredging operations. Paul, it was further disclosed in this museum history, used a 240-ounce Spinoza fly rod and a 25-mile line, but when a certain large fish struck, it snapped the leader. Had the finny monster stayed hooked, the level of Lake Superior would have gone down 10 feet. The feathers for the fly were obtained from huge sparrows, the hackle from an Alaska polar bear, and the long, black hair from the hide of a buck in the winter when the thermometer dropped 80 feet below zero.

In all the scrubby brush and second growth timber stood one majestic, if sad, relic of better forest days. A 30-foot stump survivor of some forest fire overlooked the scene that included two huge wood fires, the kitchen, wrestlers’ dressing room and log seats.

Bunyan’s Possessions Shown: Dragged out from their places of prestige in the various show windows of Bayfield, were a variety of Bunyan’s possessions. A large bottle labeled “3 stars” containing some suspicious looking liquor, was said to have been found near Kern’s lake, a popular rendezvous for Ashland sportsmen, by F. G. Falk of that city. Edward Johnson of Ashland had on show one of a Bunyan camp’s “lice” which, truthfully, closely resembled a tiny live turtle.

Paul was an exponent of cribbage, as the four-foot board testified to, and a grinning set of false teeth that some prodigious dentist of earlier days must have intended for an elephant, greeted the spectator. Other museum pieces included a smoking pipe measuring two and a half feet in the stem and a bowl one foot in depth; an eight-foot cant hook; two huge watches; an axe about six feet long in the handle, made by Henry Fiege of Ashland; a size 50 shoe made by the Schiller Shoe company of Ashland; a “mouse” trap resembling more a bear trap without teeth; and a “flea” trap more like a saw tooth bear trap; a huge piece of coal from a load of Bunyan screenings; a flashlight battery that would support a steam roller; a neck-size doughnut; and a five-foot tally stick that Bunyan used to measure timber the winter of the blue snow.

Officers of the camp besides Secretary O’Malley are Mr. Webber, chairman, and John R. Sayles, treasurer, and directors are Mr. Feldmeier, D.S. Knight and Lawrence Holm, all of Bayfield.

Several short, humorous talks were given in the afternoon with Mr. William Knight acting as toastmaster. Among those called upon was Mr. Webber, who informed his audience that they had consumed 5,000 pounds of food stuff in Bunyan style. It took three weeks to cook it, he averred. Among the other speakers were Mike Bartleme of Superior.

In calling for some diversion in the program, because “this is heavy stuff, try and lift it,” Mr. Knight called on Palmer Emerson of Ashland who played a mouth organ without use of his hands, and by blowing through a long rubber tube.

Superiorites at the picnic were Mr. Bartleme, Jack Murphy, Ed Skovald and Gail Cook. Ashland, Glidden, Cable and other communities in the Chequamegon bay region were represented besides Superior and Duluth, and St. Paul.

This history brief was written by Robert J. Nelson. Generously sharing our local history through his research and writing.