James Stevens
Paul Bunyan and the Frozen Logger (Jogger)

By Stewart Hendrickson


The CD, Songs of the Pacific Northwest, has songs contributed by sixteen regional musicians. Since logging played a big part in our history it is not surprising that a number of these songs are about logging. One of the most well-known of these songs is The Frozen Logger. It was written in 1951 by James Stevens, who lived in Seattle during his later years. Who was this guy and what other things did he do? How did Paul Bunyan fit into this? And what about the jogger?

James Stevens (1892 – 1971) was born on a rented farm in Iowa. His “gypsy father” decided to roam, and his mother worked as a hired girl for $12 per month, so he was raised by his grandmother. At age 10 he was sent to live with relatives in Idaho where he learned to handle horses and cattle. He left home at age 15 to work with horses and mules on construction projects. He also worked in logging camps where late at night around the bunkhouse stove he listened to the lore of the woods and tall tales of Paul Bunyan.

He served in World War I in France and later developed an interest in books. He characterized himself as “a hobo laborer with wishful literary yearning,” and became self-educated at public libraries, which he called “the poor man’s universities.” He settled in Portland, Oregon and began writing for H. L. Mencken’s American Mercury magazine. One of his stories was about the mythical giant Paul Bunyan, which later evolved into a best-selling book.

According to Stevens, “The Paul legend has its origin in the Papineau Rebellion in 1837.” This was a revolt by French-Canadians against their young English queen. Among them was a bearded mighty-muscled rebellious giant named Paul Bunyon (note the French spelling). His slaughters became legend. He later operated a logging camp where he became the most famous camp chief in Canada. At nights around the fire in logging camp cookhouses, songs and tall tales abounded.

By 1860 Paul Bunyan became a genuine legendary folk hero. Lumber companies used these legends in their promotional literature. But it was Stevens who, in his book Paul Bunyan (published by Alfred Knopf in 1925) and in later writings, established Paul Bunyan stories as a significant part of American literature.  

By the end of his literary career Stevens had produced nine books and more than 250 stories and magazine articles. Among his works were “Brawny Man” (1926), “Mattock” (1927), “Homer in the Sagebrush” (1928), “The Saginaw Paul Bunyan” (1932), “Paul Bunyan Bears” (1947), “Big Jim Turner” (1948), and “Tree Treasure” (1950). He became the dean of Northwest writers. He was also a protector of the Northwest forest industries and worked to preserve the rich heritage of the woods.

In his later years he moved to Seattle with his wife, Theresa Seltz Fitzgerald, where he was active in Plymouth Congregational Church, the local American Legion, and the public relations committee of the Chamber of Commerce. He retired in 1957 as public relations director for the West Coast Lumberman’s Association, and died in Seattle at age 79 on Dec. 31, 1971. Hear Jim Stevens talk about his books and songs and Don Firth singing The Frozen Logger

His song The Frozen Logger  was recorded by Odetta on Tin Angel (1954), Cisco Houston on Hard Travelin'  (1954), Walt Robertson on American Northwest Ballads  (1955), Jimmie Rogers on At Home with Jimmie Rodgers: An Evening of Folk Songs  (1960), and many others including The Weavers and Oscar Brand, and was even sung (although never recorded) by Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead. The original text from Stevens’ Bunk Shanty Ballads and Tales begins:

As I set down one evening in a timber town café
A six foot-seven waitress, to me these words did say
"I see you are a logger and not a common bum
For no one but a logger stirs his coffee with his thumb”

You can hear the rest of the song as sung by Andy Blyth.

After I moved to Seattle in 1996 I heard about a parody called The Frozen Jogger  from friends in Vancouver, B.C., although no one could remember all of the words. It took me a few years to track down this song, but I finally contacted its author, David Spalding in Edmonton, Alberta. Spalding said that he “wrote this in Edmonton at the height of the jogging craze, when people were really padding off into the snowy night, though not perhaps at forty-five below.” In his song our hero goes out jogging in shorts, forgetting his sweater, when the temperature hits forty-five below. It begins:

As I ran out one evening, along the snowy street,
A warmly bundled housewife I happened there to meet.
She said, “You are a jogger, for this I surely know,
That no-one but a jogger wears shorts at ten below"

He is not seen  "for many a weary year," although "once there was a rumor he was seen in Stanley Park" (in Vancouver). This song somehow migrated to Vancouver where my friend, the late John Dwyer heard it and added the final five verses to turn this into a broken-token song. You can hear this song as sung by myself, accompanied by Jerry Middaugh on guitar.