Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Out of the Northwoods: The Many Lives of Paul Bunyan
By Michael Edmonds
304 pages, 45 b/w photos and illus., 6 x 9"; E-book also availableBuy
A Midwest Connections Pick for January 2010 by the Midwest Booksellers Association
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, or the extent to which this mythical hero is rooted in Wisconsin.
"Out of the Northwoods" presents the culture of 19th 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By sifting through the unpublished manuscripts of early editors of the tales, Michael Edmonds unearths dozens of authentic Bunyan stories told aloud by lumberjacks between 1885 and 1915.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 ofthe Wisconsin Historical Museum who lifted 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.
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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 inWisconsin History" portion of the Wisconsin Historical Society website.
2009 ForeWord Reviews' Book of the Year Award
Bronze Medalist in the Reference Category
2010 American Folklore Society
Winner of the Wayland D. Hand Prize
2010 Independent Publisher Book Awards
Bronze Medalist in the Great Lakes Best Regional Nonfiction Category
2010 National Indie Excellence Awards
Finalist in the Regional Nonfiction Category
2010 PubWest Book Design Awards
Bronze in the Historical/Biography Book Category
Follow this link to listen to Glen Moberg interview author Michael Edmonds on the radio program "Route 51." This interview originally aired on Wisconsin Public Radio on Thursday, October 15, 2009.
Click on this link to listen to Larry Meiller interview author Michael Edmonds on Wisconsin Public Radio's Ideas Network. This interview originally aired on Tuesday, November 3, 2009.Praise
"Long left for dead by folklorists as the largely fake creation of timber industry ad men and bombastic fiction writers, the real Paul Bunyan of lumber camp storytelling lives through Michael Edmond's superbly researched, richly illustrated, and engagingly written study. The last and best word on Bunyan!" —James P. Leary, Professor and Director of the Folklore Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"Through exhaustive research and sound reasoning Michael Edmonds makes a convincing case to move Bunyan's birthplace from New England or Canada to the logging camps of northern Wisconsin. In the process, he introduces readers to a largely unfamiliar, un-sanitized, pre-print Bunyan known only to woodsmen of a bygone era. This is an important contribution to the study of folklore and, at the same time, something new and fun for the Bunyan fan in all of us." —Professor Kurt Kortenhof, Saint Paul College