It wasn’t that long ago that most fellers who took to their boats for a spell of uninterrupted fishing were seen using fish-attracting contraptions like Lazy Ikes and Daredevils. Sometimes they’d hook on a red and white striped metal mini-plank they called a Spoon. Oh, sure, everybody knew somebody who’d swear by minnows only; had to be stone-rollers or shiners or maybe chubs. And now and then you’d hear of some old guide who’d spit tacks if somebody suggested using crawlers, for land’s sakes!
This is a great spot to fish. And it was right here that I once caught the most cantankerous fish in the North Country— Ike the Pike.
No hook could ever catch that fish. But I used a bathtub with a ship's anchor chained to it. Hung it under a big bobber and just kinda popped it along. For a fishin’ pole, I used a 100-foot balsam tree. They’re the bendiest. I had a reel made outa big wagon wheels, and for line, I used drag cable. It was a good outfit.
– Paul L. Bunyan
The exact truth about the birth of the legendary logging tales of Paul Bunyan is clouded in the mist of history and may never be known.
The True Story of the Paul Bunyan Legend
by Wayne Chamberlain, 2008
(photo of Wayne Chamberlain, 2006)
Most folks back in the late 1800’s knew it took a hearty set of muscles to work as a logger. “Always has and always will,” they’d say. And most knew that when the logging was good, the pay was good too.
So, it wasn’t unusual for young folks looking to fill their wallets to set their sights on getting in with a good logging company. Some were born loggers; big and burly, sturdy and steady, from the day they took their first step. Lucky fellers, those.
Big twirling sawblades, trees falling, overloaded lumber wagons on ice-tracks…well, any yay-hoo can figure there’d be a cut finger now and again, maybe a bump on the head. “Go to the cook!” the Head Sawyer’d holler, cooks being well-versed in handling small cuts and headaches, as they were.
But being a camp foreman’s daughter and once cross-dressing as a Bull Cook, Miss Maggie Bunting set her sights on the camp-doctoring opportunities outside of cuts and headaches.
Hilmer had a bit of a mischievous streak that he’d worked hard to keep under control, but this particular spring, the streak took a powerful lurch and Hilmer lost control of it. Yep, right there in the garden, the streak took over.
Snickering quietly, he rolled those garden seeds over and over in his hands. Then, out of a little pocket inside the flap of his shirt, he pulled out a burlap pouch he’d bought from a hobo who swore it was straight from Johnny Appleseed’s secret collection.
Everybody knows about Paul Bunyan creating the Kingdom of North Dakota. Yessir, seems ol’ Paul’d been hired by the King of Sweden to clear the trees and rid the place of stumps so as to make a good farming place for Swedish fellers wanting to grow crops here in America. Ol’ Paul never could tell what the King’s name was, so scribbly was his writing, and it looked different every time Paul got a letter from him. Paul took to calling him ‘the King of Fifty Names’.
Nobody in the logging camp really had much to say about it, being thoughtful fellas like they were, but most had spent a good bit of time rolling the whole darned thing around in their heads a few times, that’s for sure!
When Thorvald first joined the camp, he’d seemed like a regular Scandihoovian, but then came the day he started befriending that scampy renegade turkey. Yessir, Thorvald had that danged gobbler eating mealy bugs out of his hand, pecking lice out of his leg hair and even sitting up in the buckboard seat with him.
All manner of cantankerous sorts seemed to find their way into the big logging camps; drinkers, chewers, fighters, braggarts, gamblers and even a few flim-flammers, although their hornswogglin’ ways usually made for a short stay at any camp.
Competitions among loggers and between logging camps helped keep spirits lively, no doubt about that. But, lively spirits took on a whole new feel when snappy dresser, Sandy McNab, dreamed up a new mid-winter competition he called Dancin’ Jacks.
Well-known for his fine Scottish checkered pants, Sandy warn’t shy about pontificating on how his pants could make his legs move like dancing miracles. They might be looked upon as near-magic pants, he was heard to say.