Sunday, May 28, 2017


What did people on the prairie do for their special needs children? It must have been so hard on families, trying to do the right thing for their children who were deaf, sight-impaired, or with other special needs that, at that time, the world was unequipped to deal with. This is an article about two remarkable women who opened schools for the blind and the deaf with little to no funding for these projects. Take a look at what they accomplished!

The Oklahoma School for the Blind was truly a pioneer institution. In 1897 Miss Lura A. Rowland, a graduate of the Arkansas School for the Blind and "a frail wisp of a girl," solicited funds and undertook to establish a school for the blind children of Indian Territory at Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. She operated the school without any government assistance for ten years, though there are reams of correspondence indicating she implored governors, congressmen, and other public officials to assist her struggling organization. She did present a case sufficient to be permitted the use of the old Barracks Building to house her school.

Concurrently, a Territorial School for the Deaf had been established in Guthrie in 1897 under a five-year contract to care for deaf children under boarding school regulations.


Miss Rowland traveled all over Indian Territory, appearing before the various tribal councils, presenting her needs. Since few Native Americans were blind until Europeans brought diseases causing blindness to the tribes, there was not the acceptance that might have been the case otherwise. During the first four years the institution was supported solely by contributions from the people of the Indian Territory and sympathizing states. In 1900 the Choctaw and Cherokee Nations each made appropriations for the education of blind Choctaw and Cherokee children. Repeated but unsuccessful efforts were made to have Congress aid the school through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1907 the school became a state-supported institution. For "reasons variously stated," it was moved to Wagoner but soon returned to Fort Gibson.

Miss Rowland, now Mrs. Lowery, had used her own resources, begged for furniture, and convinced other teachers it was their patriotic duty to help her with her project. In addition, schools from various parts of the United States had helped her from time to time. So frugal was her operation that her financial statement upon her retirement indicated that she had operated the school the first ten years on a total of $15,048.44, besides contributions by various persons, including herself. In those ten years she had held eleven school terms from six weeks to nine months long for a total enrollment of fifty pupils.

Oklahoma's first legislature appropriated $5,000 on May 29, 1908, for the maintenance of the "Lura A. Lowery School for the Blind," and provided in the same act that the school be under the control of the State Board of Education. As a state institution the school was supported by legislative appropriations, varying from twenty to thirty thousand dollars yearly. A headline in the Muskogee Times-Democrat March 11, 1911, read: "Perry Miller Saves Blind School." Miller had authored a bill in the State House of Representatives to move the Oklahoma School for the Blind. Slid Garrett of Fort Gibson had introduced a similar bill in the State Senate. Mr. Miller knew that if the school was not moved to Muskogee, it would be moved to Tulsa. It remained in temporary quarters at Fort Gibson until June, 1913, when the fourth legislature acted to move it to Muskogee, Oklahoma.

Upon moving the school to Muskogee in 1911, first in a couple of temporary locations locally, the state began construction on several beautiful buildings of English architecture with steep roofs. The tornado of 1945 destroyed most of those roofs, demolished the gymnasium, in which three girls were killed, and wounded several others. In the rebuilding, flat roofs replaced the originals.

The school is outstanding in the annals of education, and brave little Lura Lowery deserves a great deal of credit for initiating and carrying on such a program. Helen Keller honored the school with a visit February 17, 1915 and was very complimentary of its administration. Superintendent Mrs. O.W. Stewart was voted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1943 as a result of the outstanding record of the school. When Richard Carter retired as superintendent of the school in June 1979, after being associated with the school since 1939, he had completed the longest tenure of any like position in the nation and was considered an authority in the care and the teaching of the blind.

Following is a list of additional historical highlights:

1897 - 1907 Superintendent Mrs. Lura A. Lowery

1907 - 1911 Superintendent Mr. G.W. Bruce

1911 - 1925 Superintendent Mr. O.W. Stewart

1913 Oklahoma School for the Blind was moved to its present location in June in accordance with an act of the fourth Legislature. An 80 acre tract of land was donated by Governor C.N. Haskell.

1917 The Oklahoma Commission for the Adult Blind was established. The funds and services of this Commission were quite restricted and the primary thrust of the early program was the provision of limited home teaching services to the blind.

1920 The civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Program developed out of the effort to rehabilitate disabled veterans during and after WWI. On June 29, President Woodrow Wilson signed Public Law 66-236, creating the civilian rehabilitation act. This early program was limited in scope with primary services being counseling, guidance, job training and placement.

1920 Fifty acres of land south of the school was donated to the Oklahoma School for the Blind. This land is currently leased by the city of Muskogee and is known as Civitan Park.

1925 The Oklahoma Legislature passed enabling legislation empowering the State Board for Vocational Education to operate with the Federal Board of Vocational Education in the administration of an Act of Congress related to the promotion of vocational rehabilitation of persons disabled in industry or other, and their return to civil employment. However, this program was not funded by state appropriations until 1927.

Source Documents
"A History of the Oklahoma School for the Blind, 1897 - 1969", a document by Cleo Bowman Larason in 1953.
"A School History, 1897 - 1937, of the Oklahoma School for the Blind."

Friday, May 26, 2017


Susanna Wilkerson Dickinson (also spelled Dickerson), survivor of the Alamo, was born about 1814 in Tennessee, perhaps in Williamson County. Her first name has also been recorded as Susan, Susana, and Suzanna. Her maiden name is sometimes given as Wilkinson. She could neither read nor write but gave oral accounts of what had transpired at the Alamo.

Almaron Dickinson

According to Don Blevins, author of FROM ANGELS TO HELLCATS, Almaron (Almeron) Dickinson  attempted to court Susanna but was rejected. He turned to her friend, who accepted Almaron’s proposal and asked Susanna to be a bridesmaid. When Almaron called on Susanna to take her to the home of his fiancée to stay until the wedding, something momentous occurred. Instead of going to the home of his fiancée, they stopped at the county clerk’s office in Bolivar, Hardeman County, Tennessee where they got a marriage license. They were wed there by a justice of the peace on May 24, 1829.
Almaron was fourteen years older than Susanna. He was adept in many fields, including blacksmith, ferrier, veterinarian of sorts, and dentist. Imagine having the ferrier pull your tooth! The Dickinsons arrived at Gonzales, Texas, on February 20, 1831 after a trip by schooner from New Orleans. They traveled in company with fifty-four other settlers in the Green DeWitt Colony. On May 5 Dickinson received a league of land from DeWitt on the San Marcos River in what became Caldwell County but he and Susanna didn’t settle there. He received ten more lots in and around Gonzales in 1833 and 1834. The Dickinsons lived on a lot just above Gonzales on the San Marcos River, where Susanna took in at least one boarder. A map of Gonzales in 1836 shows a Dickinson and Kimble hat factory in Gonzales.
Susanna and Almaron's only child, Angelina Elizabeth Dickinson, was born on December 14, 1834. Susanna and her daughter may have joined other families hiding in the timber along the Guadalupe River in early October 1835, when Mexican troops from San Antonio demanded the return of an old cannon lent to Gonzales four years earlier. The resulting skirmish, the battle of Gonzales, was the first fight of the Texas Revolution.
Susanna said goodbye to her husband on October 13 when the volunteers left for San Antonio under command of Stephen F. Austin. She remained in Gonzales through November, when newly arriving troops looted her home. She joined Almaron in San Antonio, probably in December 1835, and lodged in the home of Almaron’s Masonic friend Ramón Músquiz. Músquiz was once political chief of Bexar, which later became San Antonio, and still had a great deal of influence. Susanna opened the home to boarders and did laundry. Davy Crockett was one of her boarders.

Attack on the Alamo by Santa Anna's forces

          On February 23, 1836, the family moved into the Alamo because Almaron thought the family would be safer there. What a terrible decision for Susanna and Angelina! During the battle, Colonel William Travis took off his cat’s eye ring (a gift from his betrothed, Rebecca Cummings). After threading a string through the ring, he tied it around Angelina’s neck. This ring is now in the Alamo Museum, courtesy of Douglas McGregor, who had inherited it.

Travis' Cat's Eye Ring

After the battle of the Alamo on March 6, Mexican soldiers found Susanna—some accounts say in the powder magazine, others in a small room of the church—and took her and Angelina, along with the other women and children, to Músquiz's home. Don Blevins asserts that Señora Músquiz asked Santa Anna to spare her friend Susanna. Santa Anna declared he “had not declared war on women and children”. Some accounts say the women were later interviewed by Santa Anna, who gave each a blanket and two dollars in silver before releasing them. Santa Anna was so enchanted by Angelina that he offered to adopt her and take her to Mexico and give her a good education. Susanna declined the man who had killed her husband and his comrades.

Angelina wearing Travis' ring

Santa Anna sent Susanna and her daughter, accompanied by a servant named Ben, to Sam Houston with a letter of warning dated March 7. On the way, the pair met Joe, William B. Travis’s slave, who had been freed by Santa Anna. The party was rescued by Erastus “Deaf” Smith and Henry Wax Karnes. Smith guided them to Sam Houston in Gonzales, where they arrived after dark about March 12.
Susanna Dickinson probably followed the army eastward in company with the other Gonzales women. Illiterate, without family, and only twenty-two years old, she petitioned the government meeting at Columbia in October 1836 for a donation. The proposed $500 was not awarded because politicians feared doing so would open the way for claims from other war widows.
By June 1837 she was cohabiting with John Williams, whom she married about November 27, 1837. He beat her and Angelina, and she petitioned in Harrisburg (later Harris) County for a divorce. The decree was granted on March 24, 1838—one of the first divorces in the county.
By 1839 Almeron Dickinson's heirs had received rights to 2,560 acres for his military service. They sold the land when Angelina reached twenty-one. Subsequent requests to the state legislature in November 1849 were turned down.
Susanna tried matrimony three more times before settling into a stable relationship. She wed Francis P. Herring on December 20, 1838, in Houston. Herring, formerly from Georgia, had come to Texas after October 20, 1837. He died on September 15, 1843. On December 15, 1847, Susanna married Pennsylvania drayman Peter Bellows (also known as Bellis or Belles) before an Episcopalian minister. In 1850 the couple had sixteen-year-old Angelina living with them. But by 1854 Susanna had left Bellows, who charged her with adultery and desertion when he filed for divorce in 1857. Susanna received praise from the Baptist minister Rufus C. Burleson for her work nursing cholera victims in Houston, where he baptized her in Buffalo Bayou in 1849.

Susana Dickinson

Susanna left Houston in 1857 for Lockhart, a small community near Austin in Caldwell County. This move gave her the opportunity to get away from the troubles and bad reputation she had endured and put them behind her. In Lockhart, she established a reputable boarding house.
Not long afterwards, she married Joseph William Hanning, who was sixteen years younger than she. Hannig (or Hannag), was a native of Germany. He was honest, a hard worker, and a shrewd businessman.

Susanna sold her land holdings to help Joseph set up a cabinet shop in Austin. The couple moved to a small, plain house on what is now Fifth Street. While in Austin, the Hannigs invested wisely in land, flour mills, a furniture store, and even ran a mortgage operation for a while. They joined the social life of the burgeoning city.
In the late 1870s the Hannigs built a two-story frame home at what is now Duval and Thirty-Second Streets in Austin. Finally, Susanna was financially secure with a loving husband. The bleak spot in her life was the death of Angelina on July 13, 1869 at the age of thirty-five.
Susanna became ill in February 1883 and died on October 7 of that year from what was listed as hemorrhage of the bowels. Was it cancer, an ulcer, or something else? Hannig buried her in Oakwood Cemetery. Even though he married again, he was buried as he requested next to Susanna after his death in 1890. He had placed on her grave a marble marker that said "Sacred to the Memory of Susan A. Wife of J. W. Hannig Died Oct. 7, 1883 Aged 68 Years". The state of Texas added a marble slab above their graves on March 2, 1949. A cenotaph honoring Susanna Wilkerson Dickinson was placed in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, Texas.

The house her fifth husband Joseph William Hannig built in Austin, Texas in 1869 became a museum, The Joseph and Susanna Dickinson Hannig Museum, dedicated to Susanna Dickinson and the other Alamo survivors.
Susanna Dickinson's witness accounts
·        There were very few casualties before the final assault. She didn't know the number.
·        She confirmed the legendary "line in the sand" incident, where Col. William Travis gave defenders the choice of staying or leaving, did happen. However, she said that it happened the day before the final assault, when it is believed to have happened on either March 3 or March 4.
·        On the morning of the assault, her husband ran into where she'd hidden, made his final statements to her and revealed that the Mexicans were inside, then returned to his duty. She never saw him again, nor did she ever see his body.
·        She hid inside the chapel, and did not see the actual battle. One defender ran inside during the battle, attempting to hide, but was killed by Mexican soldiers.
·        When she was discovered, a Mexican officer intervened. She believed he was a British mercenary named either Black or Almonte. He actually was Col. Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, who spoke perfect English, having been educated in New Orleans, Louisiana.
·        Outside there was a single survivor, found hiding, who unsuccessfully begged for mercy and was killed. Joe also reported this, claiming the man's name was Warner. However no Warner is listed as being at the Alamo. The most similar name is Henry Warnell, who departed the Alamo as a courier, probably on February 28, 1836, and died in Port Lavaca, Texas, of wounds received either during the battle or his escape in June, 1836.
·        She saw the body of Davy Crockett between the chapel and the barracks building.
·        She saw the body of Jim Bowie with two dead Mexican soldiers lying beside him.
·        She was taken to a house where she'd previously lived, and from there could see the pyres of the dead being burned.
·        The next day she was taken before Santa Anna, and Almonte, or Black, convinced Santa Anna to release her rather than imprison her.
·        She was sent east with Joe, and on the way to Gonzales, Texas, she was intercepted by a party including Deaf Smith.
·        At some point after the battle, she had no recollections, only that she wept for days.
Other survivors, including Enrique Esparza (the son of Alamo defender Gregorio Esparza) confirmed some of Dickinson's account.
One account says that since Mrs. Dickinson was an intelligent and well spoken woman, Santa Anna had her identify all the bodies of all the commanders and main players, including her husband. Other accounts say the bodies were being piled on already burning pyres when she left the chapel and she didn’t see her husband’s body. When she asked to see it, Santa Anna told her the body had already burned.

Caroline Clemmons writes historical and contemporary western romance. Her latest release is the historical western romance, LORRAINE, Bride Brigade series book 6, available now at Amazon

Lorraine Stuart escapes marriage to an odious man by leaving the state. She joins with six other young women going to Tarnation, Texas. Grant Pettigrew sets her heart aflutter but he is infuriatingly stubborn. 

Like Caroline’s Amazon page here and be alerted when she has a new release. 

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FROM ANGELS TO HELLCATS: Legendary Texas Women 1836-1880, Don Blevins. Mountain Press Publishing, 2001

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The First Boot Hill

Often the name Boot Hill is associated with a cemetery in Dodge City, Kansas due to the town’s recognizable history made more notable by the Gunsmoke radio and TV series. However, there are/were many cemeteries named Boot Hill throughout the old west, with the most notable located in Tombstone, Arizona due to famous gunfight. That particular Boot Hill Cemetery was closed five years after the gunfight at the O.K. (Old Kindersley Livery) Corral and became known simply as the old city cemetery which was grossly neglected for years. (The gun fight actually took place in an empty lot six buildings away from the livery, but a 1950 movie set it at the corral so despite accuracy, the corral became marked as the location.)  

These graveyards were spelled either Boothill or Boot Hill, but ultimately had the same meaning—most of the ‘occupants’ had died with their boots and usually violently whether in gun fights, hangings, or some other rough and unnatural death. 

 Deadwood, South Dakota also has a rather famous Boothill Graveyard, so does Tilden, Texas, as does Skagway, Alaska.  Other states that also have/had cemeteries named Boothill include (but not limited to) New Mexico, Iowa, Montana, California, Idaho, Oklahoma, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Nevada, Michigan, and Utah. 

So who had the first Boot Hill? That was Hays, Kansas.  Fort Hays was established in 1867, the same year the Kansas Pacific Railroad planned to lay tracks through central Kansas. William F. Cody, (Buffalo Bill Cody) was a buffalo hunter for the railroad. An enterprising man, Cody partnered with another man named William Rose and founded the settlement of Rome, which quickly grew because of the railroad depot that was promised to arrive soon. A third man wanted in on the deal of creating the settlement, but Cody and Rose refused Webb’s involvement. Unknown to them, Webb had authority from the railroad to established towns for them. 

Webb set the roots of his town, Hays City, a mile east of Rome and on the other side of Big Creek. Trying to hold onto their town, Cody and Rose gave away lots in Rome, but even that failed. Within a year, there was nothing left of Rome and Hays was a bustling city. If they’d built a building in Rome, people moved the entire structure to Hays, including a hotel and general store. By the time the railroad arrived in Hays rather than Rome, over a thousand people lived in Hays. Until five years later, when the railroad built a line to Dodge City, Hays was the point for people from the west and southwest to obtain supplies.  

Hays never became a major cattle market landmark, but did have its heyday. Being an outfitting station for wagon trains following the Smoky Hill Trail, and a railhead, brought people to town in groves, including notorious characters. Structures appeared overnight, and by the dozens. At the first County Commissioners meeting, thirty-seven licenses to sell liquor were granted.
Despite the trials of some to make Hays a reputable community, it soon became one of the deadliest places in the West. Saloons and brothels flourished and the sheer number of desperadoes who placed very little value on human lives marred Hays City’s early days with bloodshed. 

Wild Bill Hickock was hired as a ‘Special Marshal’. The law-abiding town’s people thought Hickock’s reputation of getting the ‘drop’ on his opponents and his deadly aim would protect them from the outlaws overtaking their community. However, Hickock walked his own line, which could be on whatever side of the law he chose at that moment. After he’d killed two soldiers, two civilians, and wounded several others, Hickock, evading military authorities, fled town.    

Many other unsavory characters spent time in Hays, creating mayhem and stepping over dead bodies as they sauntered onward without remorse. The cemetery on the edge of town grew as quickly as the town. Bodies were often buried without ceremony, and considering 45 men were buried with their boots on within the town’s early days, the graveyard was named Boot Hill.  

Many of the enterprising entrepreneurs who’d set up shop in Hays moved on when the railroad expanded. Dodge City inherited many of them along with the cattle drives. Several fires that destroyed entire city blocks calmed some of the rough and wild days of Hays, and the arrival of German settlers also contributed to the change in the city. The Germans were from Russia and brought along winter wheat that flourished in the area. Grain elevators and churches were erected and soon outnumbered the saloons and brothels, making Hays a welcoming community for farmers and families. 

A new cemetery was created, and Boot Hill became nothing more than on overgrown piece of property that wasn’t renowned until Old Fort Hays was turned into a museum in the 1950’s.

My June release takes place in Kansas, in a small fictional town of Oak Grove located along the Smoky Hill River. The Mail Order Brides of Oak Grove is a duet that includes two separate stories of twin sisters Mary and Margaret McCary. It’s also the first in a series of Mail Order Brides who find their happily ever after in Oak Grove. 

Twin sisters say "I do" in the Wild West! 

Mary McCary never wanted to be a mail-order bride, but falling off the Oak Grove train into Steve Putnam's lap changes everything… Could he be the cowboy to tempt her down the aisle?

Running from trouble, Maggie McCary signs up to be a mail-order bride. She doesn't intend to actually marry…until she shares one sensational kiss with Jackson Miller!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Memorial Day Reminiscences

On Memorial Day weekend when I was a child in Minnesota, my parents and I often traveled down to Montgomery, a small town about fifty miles southwest of our home in Minneapolis. My mother grew up on a farm outside of Montgomery and most of her family still lived in the area. Along with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, we attended a memorial service at the Czech National Cemetery a couple miles from town. (Montgomery was and is home to descendants of Czech immigrants.) I remember my mom placing flowers on several graves.
Four Czech descendants: Grandpa Novotny, me with baby son & my mom Sylvia
The service always featured a color guard, probably soldiers from Fort Snelling in Minneapolis. There was a prayer and no doubt a speaker who talked about honoring our war dead. I don’t really remember that part, except that I was expected to stand quiet and be respectful.
As a teenager, I also visited the military cemetery at Fort Snelling with my mom and her cousin Lydia, whose husband was buried there. He died fighting in the Pacific during World War II. By this time, I realized my duty to honor those who fought and died for our country.
Fort Snelling National Cemetery; public domain photo
Decades later, after moving to Texas with my husband and children, I was shocked to learned the local school district did not recognize Memorial Day as a school holiday. Steamed up over this, I called the superintendent and demanded to know why. He informed me that Memorial Day was begun after the Civil War to honor Union dead, and that it wasn’t a Texas holiday. He also gave me a version of “When in Rome do as the Romans do.”
Perhaps you can imagine my reaction. I told him the day was now meant to honor all the nation’s war dead and that I couldn’t believe his attitude. I also happened to know not all of Texas held to such a stance, since my kids had attended schools in a different district the year before, where Memorial Day was an official holiday. I am happy to report it became one the following year in the offending district. Score one for a mad mom!
However, I must thank that officious superintendent for wising me up about the history of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it used to be called. I did not know it originated after the Civil War. I have since researched the topic and would like to share a little of what I learned.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs:
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

“The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

“The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.”
Robert E. Lee mansion pre-1861; public domain
Arlington House c. 1897-1924, from postcard; public domain
The article goes on to mention several places where earlier local observances were held to honor those who died in our nation’s bloodiest war. One occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, just one year after the war ended. A group of women gathered to place flowers on the graves of Confederate soldiers killed in the battle at Shiloh. Noticing the bare graves of Union soldiers, the women also placed flowers on their graves.

“Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried,” the article states.

Memorial Day ceremonies were held on May 30 throughout the nation by the end of the 19th century. After World War I, the day became an occasion to honor those who gave their lives in all American wars. In 1971, Congress designated Memorial Day a national holiday to be observed on the last Monday in May.

Many Southern states also have special days for honoring the Confederate dead. Most are held during the spring, but Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day January 19. Surprisingly, I have never heard the day mentioned on newscasts here in Fort Worth.
Major General John A. Logan statue in Washington, D.C.: Creative Commons Attribution-share Alike 3.0
In 1868, General Logan ordered soldiers’ graves to be decorated “with the choicest flowers of springtime” and urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

About 5,000 people attended the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. A small American flag was placed on each grave — a tradition followed to this day in many cemeteries.
Arlington National Cemetery flags for Memorial Day
The National Moment of Remembrance Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by the president in December 2000. Under this law, “all Americans are encouraged to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.”


Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and romantic suspense novels, all spiced with paranormal elements. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West  Begins” - with her husband and a gaggle of very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged children.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

PAUL BUNYAN: Fact or Fiction? The Answer May Surprise You! by Sarah J. McNeal

Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox 

Most of us have heard of Paul Bunyan from our childhoods. There was that delightful Disney movie about the giant lumberjack and Babe his blue ox and how they made the Rocky Mountains when they wrestled with each other one day. Just like a baseball player sliding into home base, they slide and pushed until they kicked up some dirt. That dirt piled up until they created those big ol’ mountains from their play. It was said one drag of the mighty lumberjack’s massive ax created the Grand Canyon, while the giant footprints of his trusty companion, Babe the Blue Ox, filled with water and became Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.
But here is my question: was Paul Bunyan an exaggerated version of some real man that grew into a legend, or was Paul just a myth someone made up in their head and told often enough around the loggers’ campfires to imprint in the minds of others. He certainly makes for good story telling especially after a hard day’s work.Let’s just start at the beginning of this imaginative story. Legend has it that Paul Bunyan was delivered to his parents in Bangor, Maine by five storks (since he was already too big for one stork to handle). At some point he traveled to the west into Minnesota, Wisconsin, and beyond accompanied by his gigantic companion, Babe, the blue ox. All along the way they had fantastic adventures, made some mountains and created some lakes among other things. Pretty unbelievable I would say.
However, some historians believe Bunyan may have been an actual lumberjack named Fabian Fournier, a French-Canadian timberman who moved south and got a job as foreman of a logging crew in Michigan after the Civil War. At a time when most men were barely five feet tall, Fournier had a six foot frame with huge hands. Fournier went by the nickname “Saginaw Joe.” It was believed he had two complete sets of teeth, which he used to bite off hunks of wooden rails, and in his spare time enjoyed drinking and brawling. One November night in 1875, Fournier was murdered in a notoriously rowdy lumber town of Bay City, Michigan. His death, and the sensational trial of his alleged killer (who was acquitted), fueled tales of Saginaw Joe’s rough-and-tumble life—and his lumbering prowess—in logging camps in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and many others.
The Statues of Paul Bunyan & Babe, the blue ox, in Bemidji, Minnesota
Over time, Fournier’s legend merged with that of another French-Canadian lumberman, Bon Jean. Jean had played a prominent role in the Papineau Rebellion of 1837, when loggers and other working men in St. Eustache, Canada, revolted against the British regime of the newly crowned Queen Victoria. The French pronunciation of Jean’s full name is believed to have evolved into the surname Bunyan.
Like any gathering of fishermen or hunters, the stories grew a little with each retelling. A mythical logging camp was created for Paul as well as a host of loggers to work in the camp. Paul became an inventor, an orator and even a diplomat, all rolled into one. It seemed the more impossible the job became, the more it became a job for Paul Bunyan—the logger who could do it all!
By the late 1880's and early 1890's, the Paul Bunyan Tales had spread to most of the logging camps in North America. Paul had finally reached legendary status, at least in the logging camps. Yet among the general public, Paul Bunyan was almost unheard of.
The first Paul Bunyan story, “Round River,” made it into print in 1906, penned by journalist James MacGillivray for a local newspaper in Oscoda, Michigan. In 1912, MacGillivray collaborated with a poet on a Bunyan-themed poem for American Lumberman magazine, earning Paul Bunyan his first national exposure. Two years later, an ad campaign for Minnesota’s Red River Lumber Company featured the first illustrations of the larger-than-life lumberjack. Combined with pamphlets spinning the tales of his exploits, his prominent appearance as Red River’s mascot would help turn Paul Bunyan into a household name—and an enduring American icon.
                              Disney's Paul Bunyan and Babe
Walt Disney further heightened Paul Bunyan’s fame when he made the animated movie about him back when I was a child. Even now, there is a statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox that stands in Bemidji, Minnesota built in 1937. When my sister did a travel nurse assignment there some years ago, she brought back gifts she bought there. My gift was Christmas ornaments of Paul and Babe.

Whether Paul Bunyan was real or not, I think it’s wonderful to have these legendary characters from our culture who can perform fantastic feats with bravery and kindness.

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media: