Out of the Northwoods: The Many Lives of Paul Bunyan

Out of the Northwoods: The Many Lives of Paul Bunyan
Out of the Northwoods: The Many Lives of Paul Bunyan
Hardcover: $24.95
288 Pages, b/w photos, maps, 6" x 9"
ISBN: 9780870204371

Published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press

Orders for Trade, Library or Wholesale
Price: $24.95
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By Michael Edmonds

Every American has heard of the lumberjack hero Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox. For 100 years his exploits filled cartoons, magazines, short stories, and children’s books, and his name advertised everything from pancake breakfasts to construction supplies. By 1950 Bunyan was a ubiquitous icon of America’s strength and ingenuity. Until now, no one knew where he came from—and the extent to which this mythical hero is rooted in Wisconsin.

Out of the Northwoods presents the culture of nineteenth-century lumberjacks in their own words. It includes eyewitness accounts of how the first Bunyan stories were shared on frigid winter nights, around logging camp stoves, in the Wisconsin pinery. It describes where the tales began, how they moved out of the forest and into print, and why publication changed them forever.

By sifting through the unpublished manuscripts of early editors of the tales, Michael Edmonds unearths dozens of authentic Bunyan stories told aloud by lumberjacks between 1885 and 1915. Edmonds recounts a saga of lies, hoaxes, thefts, and greed that transformed the private jokes of working-class loggers into mass-market picture books for toddlers. The central characters include a genial northern Wisconsin con-man who claimed he invented the lumberjack hero, a spunky University of Wisconsin co-ed who collected the tales in logging camps in 1915, and a mild-mannered curator of the Wisconsin Historical Museum who lived federal documents to keep the truth alive. Part bibliographic mystery and part social history, Out of the Northwoods explains for the first time why we all know and love Paul Bunyan. An appendix includes more than 100 original tales about Bunyan, his camps, his crew, and his adventures taken directly from loggers early in the last century.

Michael Edmonds joined the staff of the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1982 and helped lead its effort to mount rare books and manuscripts on the Web, stumbling on the mystery of Paul Bunyan's origin while looking for lumberjack memoirs to share online. He holds degrees from Harvard University and Simmons College. He received a 2007 American Local and State Historical Society Award for his pioneering work on the "Turning Points in Wisconsin History" portion of the Wisconsin Historical Society website. He is also the author or editor of numerous Society Press titles including: Risking Everything: A Freedom Summer Reader, Warriors, Saints, and Scoundrels: Brief Portraits of Real People Who Shaped Wisconsin, and Taking Flight: A History of Birds and People in the Heart of America