On Making a Legend

Fabian Fournier, as his name suggests, was from Canada. After the American Civil War, he moved south of the border to the US to work in the lumberyards and the camps of the woods of the north county there. And Fabian was the stuff of legend. Across the northland, through Michigan, Wisconsin, and into Minnesota, his prowess with his fists, his drinking ability, and his axe became quite well known rather quickly.

It’s not that Fabian was quarrelsome or picked his fights. It’s that people–men, particularly–with chips on their shoulders or axes to grind (pardon the intended pun) saw the tall, muscular Canadian as someone they could take on and prove their manhood or mettle by having fought and beaten him. The problem was, Fabian almost never lost the fights that these low-ego lumbermen picked with him. The other reputation he earned was for how he would often hold back his temper and the hits to the opponents’ faces when he had them beat. A lesser man would continue to fight even when the other person was done, but Fabian wasn’t like that.

In an era when the average man was not quite 5 1/2 feet tall, Fabian was well over 6 feet (2 meters). It was rumored that he could hide an axe head in one fist. He could cut more trees than any two other men in a day’s work, and he worked longer and harder than any of the others in the camp. His work ethic was so good that the lumber camp owner made him the foreman of the wood cutting operation.

And Fabian played as hard as he worked. His appetite for food and women was voracious. Sadly, it was this last predilection that would lead to Fabian’s death. In a lumber camp in Michigan in the late 1870s, he met a woman who stole his heart. What she didn’t tell him was that she was already married. This husband came home early and caught the couple in bed together. The man shot Fabian and killed him. The jury at the ensuing trial found the husband innocent, and nobody really mourned Fabian. However, his legend endured.

Some time in the ensuing years, the stories of Fabian got conflated with another French Canadian wood cutter, a man named Bon Jean, and the stories were complied and published in the early 1900s in newspapers in the Michigan and Wisconsin area. Somehow the name of the other Canadian lumberjack got changed from Bon John, but the stories were purely the legend of Fabian Fournier.

You know him as Paul Bunyan.


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