Round River Drive
Wisconsin, Tall Tales
S. E. Schlosser
Well now Paul Bunyan scouted around the north woods of Wisconsin for quite a while afore he found the perfect spot for his winter lumber camp. It was right next to a fast river, and Paul figured they could pile the logs up right next to it and come spring time it would be mighty easy to tumble the logs into the river and float ‘em down to the mill.
Soon the woods beside that mighty river were bustling with activity, and calls of “timber!” as the lumberjacks felled the huge trees. Babe the Blue Ox and his cousin Little Benny were kept busy from dawn to dusk hauling logs to the river, and Sourdough Sam the cook hardly stepped foot outside his cooking shanty neither, working all day and most of the night to keep all them lumberjacks fed. Took about twenty cooking assistants alone just to make enough flapjacks for Paul Bunyan!
Well, by the time spring rolled around, they had logs piled up so high folks passing through Wisconsin mistook them for a mountain range and thought they’d reached the Rockies. The mighty river was free of ice, and Paul declared himself ready to take the first big batch of logs down-river to the saw mill the very next morning.
In preparation for his journey to civilization, Paul struggled out of his huge red long johns and took a bath in Lake Superior. Then he washed the long johns and strung them up to dry on the flagpole. When they flapped in the breeze, it scared the migrating birds so much they turned around and went back South.
Paul Bunyan, the shanty cook Joe Murphy, and the other river drivers all piled up onto the log raft and set off down the river. It was a pleasant ride overall, and it didn’t take more than three days for them to spot smoke rising above the woods.
“Can’t be the saw mill,” Paul Bunyan told his men. “That’s still a couple weeks away. Must be another lumber camp. I thought we were the only ones up this far. ”
The fellers watched awhile as the camp drew nearer and nearer. It had a huge cooking shanty more than an acre long and a great big barn and a fellow that looked jest like Sourdough Sam came out and rang the dinner bell to call the lumberjacks in to supper. There was even a pair of red long johns hanging from the flagpole.
“Looks like a nice place,” Joe Murphy said. “Just like our camp. Funny how they’ve got a pair of red long johns up on their flagpole, jest like us.” And the men all agreed. It was too bad they couldn’t stop and rest awhile, but they needed to get to the saw mill lickety split, so they jest kept going.
The river drivers were kept busy fighting the rapids and portaging over shallow spots for the next couple of days. On the third day they spotted smoke coming over the top of the trees.
“Another lumber camp!” Paul Bunyan exclaimed in irritation. “Jiminy! If this keeps up Wisconsin will be lumbered out in no time!”
The log raft floated past a huge cooking shanty more than an acre long, and a fellow what looked jest like Sourdough Sam waved to them from the doorway. Then they floated beside a huge barn big enough to fit Babe the Blue Ox. Finally, they rounded a bend and saw a tall flagpole with a pair of red long johns strung up at the top.
“These lumber camps all look alike,” Joe Murphy complained. “You’d think they’d have some variety or something!”
“And there’s too many of them,” Paul Bunyan replied as they floated on down the river toward the saw mill. “They are gonna put us out of business. I’ll have to look into it when we get back from the mill!”
At that moment they hit some rapids, just like they had right after seeing the first lumbercamp, and they were too busy working to say anymore about it.
But three days later, when they spotted yet another lumber camp, Paul Bunyan got mad. He was the first scout in these spots. How dare all these lumberjacks invade his territory without talking to him first! After all, the north woods were only so big.
“This dad-gum camp is jest like the rest!” exclaimed Joe Murphy as they poled the raft toward shore. “Same cooking shanty, same big barn, same flagpole with the long johns on top. Jiminy! Get some variety, folks!”
Paul Bunyan jumped out as soon as they reached the bank and went storming toward the main building to complain to the boss. But halfway there, Sourdough Sam himself came out of the cooking shanty to ring the supper bell.
“Sourdough! What are you doin’ here?” Paul Bunyan asked in astonishment.
“I work here,” said Sourdough Sam. “And so do you!”
“Dad-gum! You mean this is my camp?” asked Paul Bunyan.
“Sure ‘tis!” said Sourdough Sam. “We’ve been watchin’ you fellers floating past the camp every couple of days with the lumber and we’ve been wondering where you think yer going! I though you was headed south to the saw mill!”
“So we’ve been going round in a circle all this while,” mused Paul Bunyan. Then he started laughing and slapped his leg with his huge hand. “We musta been logging next to the Round River! I heard there was a big ol’ river in the north of Wisconsin that ran in a perfect circle with no way out. Guess this must be it!”
“That explains why we never reached a saw mill,” Joe Murphy said as he and the boys from the lumber raft came ashore to see what was keeping Paul Bunyan. “And why all the lumber camps looked the same!”
All the lumberjacks laughed heartily when they realized that Mother Nature had played a good joke on them. Who’d have ever guessed they were working on the only round river in the world!
Then they went into the cooking shanty and ate flapjacks until they were ready to burst. And Paul Bunyan went scouting around ‘til he found a river that really did run south to the saw mill, and they took the logs out that way instead. The next year Paul Bunyan was careful to avoid the Round River when scouting out a camp for the winter logging. Once was enough.
You can read more Wisconsin folklore and ghost stories in Spooky Wisconsin by S.E. Schlosser.