Tag Archives: lumberjacks

Paul Bunyan: A folk tale hero


“I think what’s not talked about a lot is Paul Bunyan.” The informant grew a smile on their face. “Paul Bunyan is an American folk tale. It’s just a guy that’s really big. So it’s this really big guy and he lives in the sort of upper-Midwest of the United States– near Canada, Minnesota. That area. And he has this big blue ox named Babe that he saved from the snow of one cold winter. That’s his pet.”

They looked up in thought for a moment. “There’s not really a single tale, he just is a folk figure. He was born big and then grew up to be even bigger. Once he was an adult he became a lumberjack, so he wore plaid and looked like, you know, the basic lumberjack with an axe made for his size. And by virtue of being big, he was very good at being a lumberjack. “

People don’t think of America having folk tales like that, but we do! And Paul Bunyan is the biggest one.”


“I don’t think of Paul Bunyan a lot, and the area he exists in isn’t one I’m particularly used to. I just have an appreciation knowing that he’s a specifically American thing.”

“I don’t remember specifically, but it’s a piece of Americana that you just absorb over time simply by being raised in the United States. Kind of like Uncle Sam and John Henry. It was just cultural osmosis.”

“He’s very much just representative of the lumberjacking culture. It’s an interesting folk tale because it’s something that was uniquely American. Folk tales are representative of the culture and Paul Bunyan uniquely represents individualism, the rugged American spirit, being self-made, and all ‘I pulled myself up by my boot straps.'”


I believe Paul Bunyan is very much representative of an average man with potential that’s larger than life. I think that a very important aspect of his character is the fact that, despite being so large and strong, his choice of work is very humble and is a huge part of his identity, marking its importance. It’s this aspect of him that makes him strangely relatable and human. Personally, I’m aware of Paul Bunyan’s tale being a result of fakelore– as it was created by lumberjacking companies, but the fact that my informant wasn’t aware of this, makes me think about the effectiveness of the tale. Maybe, since Paul Bunyan is representative of the American spirit, there’s something to say about the commercial value behind him.

Northern Californian Campfire Story: The Ring Man

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “The story of the Ring Man goes to back when I was growing up, and my dad and his best friend Jim Kaddy who used to go camping in the woods, around where our cabin is in Lassen. And up there, there would be when we were little; there are these trees with these rings on them. There were painted white rings, around various parts of the forest. And so what they told us was that the Ring Man paints a white ring on these trees. And the reason he does that, is that at night various campers are camping out in the woods and he comes to their tents when they are sleeping. And for the girls, he leaves them candy. But for the boys he finds, he kills them. And when he kills them, he puts a ring around the tree for each boy he kills. So you should never go out at night when you are camping, or the Ring Man will get you.”

Interviewer: “So the Ring Man only kills boys? Why?”

Informant: “Because boys are noisy. But you only tell that story at night, when you are camping.”


“The Ring Man” is a campfire story that is unique to the informant’s family.  The story is intended to be told as a campfire story, specifically to younger children.  The reason why the story is intended for children is because only children would believe that the rings on the trees indicate the murder of little boys.  Adults know that the rings on the trees actually indicate the lumber has been marked to be cut down by local logging industry, which has a strong presence in Humboldt County culture of where this story originated.  The high number of trees marked with rings makes the story more believable to the children, because the proof of the Ring Man’s existence is something you can really see.

The violence present in the tale indicates that the authors of the story had a dark sense of humor, and created the tale to playfully tease their children.  This tale also serves as an educational warning to the young audience, in that it warns them of the evils and violence that are present in the world that they should be aware of.  In this sense, “The Ring Man” tale is very similar to other folk tales that warn children of the evils present in the world such as “Hansel and Gretel”.  Another interesting aspect of this story is the idea that the Ring Man only kills boys, because they are noisy.  This comes from the stereotypical belief that girls are sweet and quiet, which is why the girls get sweet candy, and boys are loud and obnoxious.  Therefore the performer of this tale also uses “The Ring Man” as a warning to little boys that they should be well behaved and quiet or the Ring Man will kill them.  The fact that the story puts an emphasis on the importance of being well behaved also indicates that the authors of the story put a high value on manners.

I have heard this tale many times when my family and I would go camping. When I first heard “The Ring Man”, I thought the tale was real, and I became extremely upset when I saw three trees marked with the white rings by an elementary school.  After expressing this to the informant, he explained that the tale was not real and my anxieties were soon forgotten.  There is a sense of pride that comes from the story because it is unique to the informant’s family and a part of their traditions.

My informant was born in 1957 Arcata, California to a high school basketball coach and his wife.  After earning his undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of California, Davis, he moved to southern California to obtain his MBA in business from the University of Southern California.  He now a partner at Ernst & Young. He lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with his wife and has two children.