Paul Bunyan's birth as well as the legendary escapades of the mighty logger, Babe the Blue Ox and Paul's mighty loggin' crew are of a matter of public record and well publicized. But few know anything about how good ol' Paul got into loggin' in the first place.
Paul was large for his age to say the least. By the time Paul turned six, he was a 6 foot tall, 200 pound strapping young lad. After school one day Paul and some of his friends decided to stop at the general store and check out the candy counter before heading home. There on the post outside the store was a poster announcing that the Culpepper - Merriwether Circus would soon be coming to town. Excitedly they all headed for home.
For the next week, all Paul could talk about was wanting to see the circus. When Paul asked his parents they said they would see. Paul pleaded that all his friends were going! But it didn't seem to change things. All week Paul was on his very best behavior and helped out more than usual.
When the big day came, Paul asked again for the hundredth time. Laughing, his Mom said that they could use some sugar, flour and a couple other things. His Dad said a drive into town might be a nice break. And if Paul wanted to hitch up the team, they could check out the circus as long as they were in town. Paul whooped and hollered for joy and had the team all harnessed up in record time. He anxiously waited for his parents to get ready.
Paul thought it seemed to be taking forever to get to town. He wondered if they would ever get to town in time to see the circus. Finally they crested the hill on the edge of town and Paul spotted the biggest tent that he had ever seen. It was bigger than his parent’s log cabin or their barn. Bigger than the livery stable or any other of the buildings in town! It was even bigger than the church's steeple!
Paul was overwhelmed with excitement as they passed the tent and continued on down main street4 to the general store. It seemed everyone for miles was in town that day. Paul could hardly contain himself as his parents shopped. Thinking he would miss the circus show, Paul couldn't help get the wagon loaded fast enough. Finally done, they headed on down to the big top.
Paul met his friends and headed inside. Just inside the tent, they were greeted by a man ten feet tall walking on stilts. Paul had never seen such wonderful animals before and was spellbound by the lion, tiger, giraffe and the elephant. The trapeze act and the juggler, the strong man, the bearded lady and the clown acts all memorized him. He watched in amazement as a lady stood on the back of a horse and did tricks! White dogs with funny little balls of fur on their legs jumped through hoops and rings of fire and kept knocking down the clown. He had never seen anything like it in his life and laughed until his sides hurt. All too soon, the show was over and Paul and his parents were headed home.
Paul pleaded with his parents to let him join the circus. But his parents said he was way too young. Paul argued he was as big as most men and as strong as an ox! But his parents insisted that six was still way too young to join the circus!!! Paul’s hopes fell into the depths of his size 16 shoes as they headed for home in silence.
Paul couldn’t sleep that night as he thought of all the wonderful things he had seen. Somehow, he just had to join that circus before it left town. Gathering a few things in his blanket, he left a note for his parents and snuck out of the cabin disappearing into the darkness.
The sun was just coming up when he got to town. He was elated to find the circus had not left yet. Asking around, Paul finally found Mr. Tully the circuses owner. Paul explained he wanted a job and would do anything. Feeding or cleaning up after the animals, chopping wood or getting water. It didn't matter just as long as he could go with the circus.
" How old are you boy?" Mr. Tully asked as he give Paul the once over.
" Six….teen Sir." replied Paul as he watched his toe scrape a small hole in the dirt. For the first time in his life, Paul stretched the truth just a little. But he couldn't help it, he just had to get a job with the circus! The owner thought for a minute and then said they could use another strong backed roustabout around the place. So Paul was off on his big adventure with the circus.
A year went by as the circus pulled into yet another town to set up for a Friday afternoon performance. Paul helped setting up the big top as usual. He felt restless as he drove tent stakes with one mighty blow. Paul enjoyed his life as a circus roustabout, but wondered if this was the life for him. When the big top was up and ready for the performance. Paul headed into town till show time.
With the exception of being a little bigger than most, Paul found it as ordinary and dull as all the other towns the circus had pulled into since he left home. Headed for the edge of town, he sat down on the grass and looked off into the forest. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something out there seemed to be calling him. He laid back and watched the slowly passing clouds.
Paul returned in time to help moving the animals and props in and out of the big tops only ring during the show. After the show ended, he helped feed and care for the animals and get everything settled for the night. Paul restlessly wondered around the empty big top as a distant voice still called to him from the darkness.
He stopped in front of Santini's trunk. Opening the trunk, Paul checked out the assortment of knives and axes Santini used in the act. Often throwing them at his wife! Seeing the broad axe, he picked it up. It didn't feel the same in his hands as the hammer he used to drive tent stakes. Not even the axe he used back home to chop firewood felt this good in his hands. This axe felt like a extension of his own arm. Like it naturally belonged in his hands.
Paul swung it through the air and admired it's balance and the arc of it's swing. He looked at a tent pole and wondered. Stepping up to the pole, he took a half hearted swing at the foot thick pole. The axe sliced through the pole as easily as a hand through the air! Quickly stepping to the next pole, he once again swung the axe. The second pole parted as easily as the first. Paul quickly stepped and swung, stepped and swung. Within seconds, Paul had dispatched all but one tent pole.
As Paul stepped up to it, the last remaining pole snapped with a ear perching crack. The noise startled Paul from his trance. He realized what he had done as he crawled out from under the canvas to find most of the circus people gathering around the collapsed tent in disbelief.
"What in Blue Blazes happened? " cried Mr. Tully as he approached the shocked crowd. " Is any body missing or hurt?"
Everyone looked around and shook their heads no as they looked at Paul in disbelief. There was only one thing to do, the Saturday's performance would have to be cancelled! There was nothing else that could be done till morning. Slowly everyone slowly returned to their wagons wondering if the circus could survive the disaster. Paul was left standing alone in the silent darkness at the edge of the collapsed big top.
With tears in his eyes, Paul returned to his wagon and packed his belongings. He left a note on Mt Tully's wagon, saying he was very sorry but just couldn't look into the faces of his friends in the morning. He hoped everyone would understand and could forgive him. With tears in his eyes, Paul took one last look around and disappeared into the darkness a depressed and downtrodden man of a boy.
Paul finally stopped on the bank of a small stream and settled down for the night. Laying on his back, he gazed into the star filled sky. The fire crackled, the frogs croaked and the stream gently whispered to him. Suddenly jumping up, Paul cried out. Why should his friends suffer because of his mistake? He alone had ruined the circus and he alone was responsible for making things right! Dowsing the fire he headed back into town at a dead run.
Paul arrived at the circus camp just as the sun peeked above the horizon. Taking a deep breath he thundered out the circus warning signal, " JOHHNY CAKES!…..JOHHNY CAKES!.....JOHNNY CAKES!!!! " at the top of his lungs. The alert quickly echoed throughout the circus camp and repeated as the circus people poured from their wagons ready to deal with what had triggered the warning with clubs, tent stakes or whatever was handy.
Seeing no immediate threat, they gathered around Paul demanding an explanation. Paul explained his plan and finally convinced Mr. Tully as well as everyone else to let him try and correct his mistake. Paul headed down the road with a double bladed axe on his shoulder. He was followed by Tiny the elephant with a long heavy chain trailing from her trunk. Matma, her trainer, occupying his usual spot just behind her ears.
It wasn't long before Paul found what he was looking for and disappeared into the forest. He stepped up to and cut down a very tall, straight, fir tree. After it fell, he cut off its top and then the limbs. Paul stepped to another tall fir and repeated the process. In about an hour, Paul and Matma had two dozen cut firs trees laying on the road. Wrapping the heavy chain around the butt ends of the trees, he motioned to Matma. Paul hooked the chain to Tiny's work chain and gave Matma the signal. On the second try, Tiny got the bundle of trees moving.
A shout rang out as Paul, Matma, Tiny and her bundle of trees crested the top of the hill at the edge of town. Everyone chipped in and worked like they had never worked before. By 1 PM, the broken poles had been replaced with the new trees Paul had cut. The big top once again reached for the sky and the circus was back in business ready for their afternoon performance. The circus had been saved.
That fate-full Friday the 13th changed many things forever. Most circus people are still superstitious. Many people still believe that Friday the 13th is bad luck. And almost all of the remaining circuses have switched from wood to the new aluminum tent poles.
And Paul? Well, that was a very eventful day for good Ol' Paul Bunyan. He brought down the house, ruined the circus, lost his job and cost his friends their jobs. He had an epiphany, saved the circus restored his friends jobs as well as their faith in him. Paul would never forget as long as he lived that the consequences of his actions affect not only him, but other people as well!
While saving the circus Paul had realized his true calling as a lumberjack. He quickly returned home to see his parents and set things right with them before heading to the woods to start his new career as a logger, creating commercial logging. And no matter wherever Paul went, the circus would always have a special place in his heart And now as Paul Harvey would say, “Now you know the rest of the story.”