Tell Me a Story

Paul Bunyan Plants Corn (An American Tall Tale)

Sometimes Paul Bunyan had to think hard to come up with new things to do because most of the time, things came so easy for him. One day, after he and the boys had rerouted one of the Great Lakes, they were sitting around and wondering how to pass the time.

"Sure hope the moisture's in the soil now," Paul said mindlessly, for that had been the whole idea of rerouting the lake, and suddenly his eyes lighted up.

"Looks like you're thinking of some new idea, Paul," Fiddlin' Jimmy said, because he recognized that gleam in Paul's eye.

"Let's test our success," Paul said.

"How'll we do that, boss?" Slim asked.

"We'll plant some corn and see how she takes to the earth now," Paul said. He stuck one of his fingers in the dirt, and with that finger -- which was a Paul Bunyan-sized finger, after all -- he dug a deep, deep hole. If he'd wanted to, he could have planted a whole field just using his fingers, but he was only planning a little test.

So Slim tossed one kernel of corn into the hole.

Pretty soon the men could see that that land was pretty moist because that kernel began to grow right away. In just a few seconds, a sprout of corn was shooting up out of the earth.

The men cheered, and Paul smiled, and he turned to Ole and said, "Looks like we succeeded," but he'd only managed to say that many words, when Fiddlin' Jimmy said, "Why, that cornstalk's the size of a regular man." And by the time Paul and Ole and Slim and Babe and all the others turned to look, that cornstalk was taller than any regular man. It was up to Paul's knees, and that is tall!

"Better stop that corn from growing too tall," Paul said, but by the time he'd said that, that cornstalk had shot right up into the sky, and the men lost sight of it in the clouds.

"What'll we do, Paul?" Slim asked, and Paul looked around and pointed at Ole because Ole was a sturdy fellow, and Paul had lots of faith in his strength. "Ole," Paul said, "climb up to the top of that stalk, will you? We'll have to lop off its top to stop it from growing forever."

Well, Ole was happy to oblige, so he climbed onto that cornstalk, which was no ordinary cornstalk, mind you. It was, by this time, as thick as an old tree, and Ole began to shimmy up, and up, and up. Everyone watched him climb.

After a while they lost sight of Ole because he, too, was lost in the clouds.

"You OK, Ole?" Paul shouted up to him, and they listened hard and heard Ole call back, "I'm fine, Paul, but I can't reach the top. She just keeps growing."

"Well, then," Paul said, and he was scratching his head, trying to figure out another plan. "You better come down, Ole, and we'll figure out another plan."

"Can't do that!" Ole called, and his voice was fainter now, he was so far away. "I've been trying to climb down, but she's growing so fast, I can't climb down fast enough either. And I have to say, I'm getting hungry up here."

Now Slim didn't like to hear his men were hungry. He prided himself on his cooking, and so he cooked up a few dozen pancakes, and Paul shot those up in the air with a giant slingshot so Ole could eat.

"Mmmmm, mmmm," Ole called. "Thanks, boys. Now I sure hope you can get me down soon."

Now Paul had a thought. "She's growing so fast because of all the moisture in the ground, so if I can just choke off the moisture," and he looked at Babe, his blue ox, and he grinned, and Babe grinned back at him because Babe knew just what old Paul was thinking.

The two of them went to the railroad, and there they grabbed a few dozen steel rails, and together they hurried back to the men and the cornstalk, pulling those rails behind them.

Now Paul went to work. He picked up those rails and bent them and twisted them and tied them tightly around the stalk. Not many men can tie steel rails, but Paul Bunyan could. And once he did that, he trapped the moisture down below, and none of it could rise up through that stalk. So pretty soon the cornstalk stopped growing, and it started to get dry.

"Wowee," Ole called, "wait'll you see what's coming," and soon enough all the men saw.

You see, when the sun hit the top of that dry stalk, the corn kernels began to pop, and thousands and thousands of popped kernels began to tumble down out of the sky. That was the first popcorn anyone had ever seen, and some of the cows were so startled at the sight, they were sure it was snow and began to shiver, and some say that the whole herd nearly froze to death at the sight.

Luckily, though, the stalk itself began to curl up and wither, and as it did, it slowly crumpled, and Ole rode that stalk right back to the ground. And after that, everyone always talked about the day Paul Bunyan and his men invented popcorn.

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