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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dorothy & the Monster

Paul Bunyan and the Flathead Monster DOROTHY M. JOHNSON The fabulous Paul Bunyan and his even more fabulous blue ox, Babe, belong to the lore of lumberjacks and timber beasts from Maine to the Pacific. Legend has it that they also made a notable stopover in Montana. The western end of Montana bulges out, leaving northern Idaho only a thin panhandle. There is a tale to the effect that the Idaho-Montana boundary was laid out by a party of surveyors who got lost, but old-time loggers know better. They know that Montana and Idaho got into the shape they're in because of Paul Bunyan It happened when Paul was logging off eastern Montana. If you don't believe Paul Bunyan logged off eastern Montana, go take a look and see whether you can find any forests there. Eastern Montana used to be thickly forested, though. Big trees, millions of trees—just the kind of woods that Paul and his crew and Babe, the blue ox, liked to work in. In those days the Rocky Mountains went straight north and south and Idaho and Montana were both rectangular, square-cornered, as Wyoming and Colorado still are. But Paul's loggers had trouble in eastern Montana. Somebody imported the idea that a steam engine would get the job done quicker, so Paul brought in a steam engine. They stoked it and they stoked it, and they got up a hell of a head of steam pressure—and then the engine blew up. It exploded with such force that it blew the Rocky Mountains in a curve and bulged the western boundary of Montana way out. Naturally this mashed northern Idaho into nothing but a thin panhandle. If you don't believe it, look at the map. Paul finished logging off eastern Montana, though. Then he sent his crew back to Minneapolis to get drunk, and he took Babe, the blue ox, on west to do a little exploring. That Babe was really big. Some people say he measured forty-seven ax handles between the eyes, but that's just careless talk. Actually it was forty-seven ax handles and a plug of chewing tobacco. Paul and Babe took it easy, loafing wherever the country looked good. West of the Divide, in the Flathead Valley, it was raining and the Mission Mountains were half hidden by low clouds. "We'll stop here," Paul said to Babe, "and maybe tomorrow it'll clear off so we can get a look at them mountains." So Paul fixed himself some supper, a few poached grizzly bears on dough gods, while Babe grazed, and then he brushed his teeth with a lodgepole pine and crawled into his blankets. He heard Babe lie down with a big sigh, and then they both went to sleep. Next morning he was awakened by an awful bellering. Babe was stuck in the mud. The big blue ox was bawling so loud that it was heard way back east in Boston. Babe was bogged down in the rain-soaked ground where he'd been sleeping, and it took Paul half the morning to twist his tail enough to get him back on his feet. Then they took a good look at the Mission Mountains and traveled on west, but they left behind them a scenic feature that hadn't been there when they went to bed. In the depression that Babe had left behind when Paul yanked him out of the mud, there was Flathead Lake. If you don't believe it, take a good look. Flathead Lake is all shades of blue from the color that soaked off Babe. Some years later, when settlers had moved in around the lake, but before the tourists came, a peculiar story began to get around. This has nothing to do with Paul Bunyan or Babe—their work was finished. The story was that now and then somebody got a glimpse of a sea serpent swimming around in that immense lake. People are still seeing it. A couple of other lakes have mysterious monsters—Lake Okanagan in British Columbia and Loch Ness in Scotland. Flathead Lake's monster has been sighted occasionally ever since about 190o. ( Don't blame the Polson Chamber of Commerce—the monster was scaring the wits out of occasional viewers before Polson, at the south end of the lake, ever had a Chamber of Commerce.) In the summer of 196o several people got a glimpse of the monster. One of them was Mrs. G. F. Zigler, who lives in Poison. It is not a sturgeon or any kind of fish, she said. She described it as "a horrible-looking thing that would scare the daylights out of a brave man." And there's not just one, she insists. There are several. They stay around during July, August, and September and then disappear. Mrs. Zigler says the Indians still won't fish around Wild Horse Island in Flathead Lake because of the huge "devil fish" there. The Flathead Courier, weekly newspaper published at Poison, offered $25 reward to the first person who would bring in a photograph of the Flathead Lake monster. The trouble is, everybody who sees it runs for a rifle instead of a camera, and meanwhile the monster merrily swims away, leaving a wake behind it. (Me) (Blacktail Books)