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THAT BIG BLUE OX
That Big Blue Ox Real Photograph
One of the few photographs of Paul Bunyan's big, blue ox, then just a calf, taken the spring after the Winter of the Blue Snow. Digitally colorized and enhanced. Courtesy of Lumberwoods, Unnatural History Museum
As inseparable as a shadow and steadfast as a mountain stream, you can find Paul Bunyan's colossal companion virtually anywhere you can find Paul. As fact would have it, the bovine behemoth is such an integral part of his story that some might not even recognize either if the two parted ways. But did you know he never had a name?! The old-time lumberjack never troubled himself to give him one, and it presently exists only as an afterthought by advertisers. Admen like names, but the logger didn't much care either way for it change nothing. For Paul without his big, blue ox, by any other name, did not feel much like Paul at all.

TO SAY PAUL HAD AN OX, NOW, THAT'S AN UNDERSTATEMENT.

Call it a big ox or blue ox still misses the mark. But if you stick it all together, at least, it right has some momentum. Still, to do the beast any real justice, you need a tote load more momentum top that. Anyone and everyone who has stood in spitin' distance with some kind large, lumbering animal, be it a buffalo, orca, or some nondescript, can well appreciate raw power. The same, some sort of Billy Puget or Sans Sanchez what might come toe-to-toe with those kings of the animal kingdom right would understand what is meant by the word, “presence.”

Well sir, Paul, his big, blue ox didn't just bring “presence,” he hauled it.

What you need realize, what you need imagine is not found in your imagination. See, the old-time lumberjack weren't no stranger t’ th’ “wild” in wilderness. Back then, it was the horses or the oxen, not machines, what went and pulled those big log sleds, huge sleighs towerin' up touchin' the sky with logs, some forty feet high. Between the weather that beat them, the beasts that might toss them and rivers or canyons what right could swallow them whole, weren't nothin' more real t’ th’ lumberjack than that force called nature. So, a logger he hear tell of a big, blue ox, see, he ain't thinking nothin' what don't exist but an animal as real as the wild, wild woods, itself.

While Paul Bunyan, he personified the power of man, his ingenuity, his strength, it was that big, blue ox what represented the other side of that coin. The full might of the holy mother of creation all rolled up in a single, breathing, living mountain of muscle. Don't believe me? Just you take a turn at this:

“Bunyan was assisted in his lumbering exploits by a wonderful blue ox, a creature that had the strength of nine horses and that weighed, according to some accounts, five thousand pounds, and according to others, twice that. The ox measured from tip to tip of his horns just seven feet, exactly his master's height. Other accounts declare that the ox was seven feet-or seven ax-handles-between his eyes, and fourteen feet between his horns. Originally he was pure white, but one winter in the woods it snowed blue snow for seven days (that was the winter of the snow-snakes) and Bunyan's ox from lying out in the snow all winter became and remained a brilliant blue. Many of the Bunyan legends are connected with the feats performed by the ox. Bunyan's method of peeling a log was as follows: He would hitch the ox to one end of the log, grasp the bark at the other end with his powerful arms, give a sharp command to the animal, and, presto, out would come the log as clean as a whistle. On one occasion Paul dragged a whole house up a hill with the help of his ox, and then, returning, he dragged the cellar up after the house. Occasionally, as might have been expected from so huge a creature, the ox got into mischief about camp. One night, for example, he broke loose and ate up two hundred feet of tow-line.”

— K. Bernice Stewart and Homer A. Watt, “Legends of Paul Bunyan, Lumberjack.”
Loggers with their oxen pulling logs
Have no doubt that the respect those men of days gone by gave to Paul, it weren't on no small account on him having tame a creature quite like that. Oh, by mercy, there is more, tote-loads more. For the legacy of that big, blue ox is as old as the days are long. Brings to mind some letters we come across. Back in the day, a “Miss Tenderfoot”wrote into the papers askin' about ol' Paul and his big, blue ox. And, well, to speak in our own words would be an exercise in futility. So, here are the lumberjacks in theirs:


*   *   *
[The Following was Taken From Select Letters Published by the The Seattle Star from Janaury 20, 1913 to Janaury 25, 1913]

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“Dear Miss Gray: Among the loggers in all parts of the country there is a story about Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox.

Can you or any of your readers give any information concerning him?

MISS TENDERFOOT.”

*   *   *
“Dear Miss Grey: Please print the following information for the benefit of ‘Miss Tenderfoot.’

I am surprised, astounded and chagrined to think that you, a Western girl, don't know about Paul Bunyon's ox.

Paul had a mill. In order that you may know where it was located, I will say he used the Pacific ocean for a log pound. Everything done at this famous mill was on a large scale. He had a 16-mule team skidding pickles, while nine — on roller skates greased the pancake griddle. I could occupy hours repeating the loggers' mythology of the Bunyan camp, but you asked about the ox.

Well, the crowning glory of this camp was the old blue ox, which measured 32 feet between the eyes. He has a chain made for this ox every link of which weighed 40 pounds. The first pull the ox made straightened this out into a solid iron bar, and the next pull brought the trunk of the tree and left the bark and limbs there. Yours truly,

OSCAR MOSSBACK.”

*   *   *
“Dear Miss Gray: In answer to ‘Miss Tenderfoot,’ will say that Paul Bunyan was an old-time logger in this neck of the woods.

Paul had a team of blue oxen that he used to log with, and they were big oxen, too. They ate nine bales of hay and drank three barrels of water every meal. It took a log off a five-foot tree to make a yoke for them. When they were hauling a log and it "hung up" on a three or four-foot stump, they would pull it right over.

Paul Bunyan logged off North Dakota before he came to Washington; that's why there is no timber or woods in that state. In other words, it is only a fable that the loggers like to tell a greenhorn. Truly yours,

W.J.H.”

*   *   *
“Dear Miss Gray: May I have the privilege of enlightening ‘Miss Tenderfoot’?

Paul Bunyan logged about 20 miles from the headwaters of the Big Onion river. In the winter we had the blue snow and white snow snakes. Now, that was some ox Paul had. It measured 7 feet between the eyes, and all he ate was sour pickles. Paul had six teams working day and night hauling sour pickles for his ox. The sleigh had 40 foot bunks, and they would build the loads so high they had to feed the top-loaders on toy balloons.

Paul had to put in a billion feet of logs that winter, and in the spring, just as he got the last load of logs to the landing, he ran out of sour pickles and the ox died.

‘ONE OF THE TOP-LOADERS.’”

*   *   *
“I see the answers given by numerous loggers, lumberjacks and woodmen regarding Paul Bunyan's Blue Ox. These are entirely erroneous.

History does not state where or when this Blue Ox was born. When first spoken of in history, he was owned by one Robert Keagan who lived on the ‘Flowery banks of Bay Shilore.’ Bob Keagan having only 40 acres under cultivation, which being insufficient to keep this Ox, was obliged to sell him.

He was sole to Paul Bunyan, the ‘winter after the fall of the short oats.’ Paul Bunyan was logging at the time of the French river, on the north shore of Lake Huron.

It seems that this Blue Ox was more adapted for logging than farming. He lived on the underbrush, swamping his own roads, hauling from 75 to 160 logs a load, making trips to the banks of the river with such regularity that it was nothing for Paul Bunyan to log 26 million feet in one winter, only using the Blue Ox and the men necessary for falling and bucking.

Many men working in Washington at the present time have worked for Paul when he was logging with this Blue Ox and can vouch for this.

In the place of its being 32 feet between the eyes as Oscar Mooseback says, it had only one eye in the center of its head. Many of the eastern loggers were surprised at hearing of this Blue Ox being used here by Mr. Hood for digging the canal and being owned by Mr. Puget. This is a mistake, and I, for one, am ever ready to contradict such false assertions. This Blue Ox was never used in Washington, having died the ‘winter of the yellow snow’ in Michigan.

EASTERN LOGGER.”

[ DISCLOSURE: THE FOLLOWING IS REAL!believe me—READER INDISCRETION IS ADVISED! ]


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