Sep 26

Lumberjack Day

Rob Roy MacGregor
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"He's a lumberjack and he's OK!
He sleeps all night and he works all day."

~ Lumberjack Song, Monty Python, 1974

Lumbersexuals aside (young urban men who cultivate an appearance and style of dress typified by a beard and plaid shirt suggestive of a rugged outdoor lifestyle) , true" lumberjacks" do not refer to themselves as such. In the woods of the pacific Northwest, lumberjacks refer to themselves as"loggers" while any man who works in the woods might also refer to himself as a "timber beast" or a "savage"! Regardless of designation, if you are channeling your inner lumberjack or lumberjill today, Lumberjack Day is the day for traditional tall tales, log rolling, axe throwing, flapjacks and maple syrup, Paul Bunyan and Big Blue Ox stories, and Buffalo Plaid! Officially designated as the Rob Roy (MacGregor) tartan, this pattern is also known in the United States and Canada as the Paul Bunyan "buffalo plaid" or "buffalo check." In the mid-1800s, a clothing company from New England produced the checked-patterned shirt which immediately became popular with workers and outdoorsman, including lumberjacks. Allegedly, Native Americans called this pattern "plaid" after interacting with fur traders and outdoorsmen. And by the late 1880s, the term "plaid" had gone mainstream, referring to tartan patterns of all types. This buffalo check pattern was favoured by early 20th century silent movie cowboy hero Tom Mix and the mythical Marlboro Man! 🌲🪓🥞 🌲

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This pattern has come to be loosely associated with the giant mythological lumberjack of North American folklore, Paul Bunyan, whose legendary exploits revolve around tall tales of his superhuman labors which include creating Minnesota's ten thousand lakes (including Lake Bemidji, which resembles Paul's giant footprint), and digging the Grand Canyon, by dragging his axe behind him!

Paul is customarily accompanied in these exploits by his companion, Babe or Blue, a giant ox,  who was measured  seven feet (or seven ax-handles) between his eyes, and fourteen feet between his horns. 

The character of Paul Bunyan originated in the oral traditions of North American loggers, possibly related to a real person who figured in the 1837 Papineau Rebellion in Canada.


In the Two Mountain region in St. Eustache, Canada, the local French Canadians revolted against their new ruler, the Queen of England. Many local loggers joined the cause refusing to surrender to the English troops sent to quash the rebellion.   The loggers armed themselves with axes, mattocks and large wooden forks they had steam bent into hooks.   One of the rebels, a large bearded mountain man named Paul Bunyan, cut a wide swath amongst the Queen's troops.  This Paul survived the rebellion and became highly respected among the loggers of the region for his deeds in battle.  It is believed that exaggerrated tales of this Paul, along with those of other loggers, melded into the bunkhouse tales told by loggers to amuse themselves and impress tenderfoots.

Paul Bunyan tales were told by the fires of bunkhouses in the northern camps from Wisconsin to Maine, from Minnesota to Oregon, to Washington and California for decades.

It is believed that this particular tartan/plaid was introduced to North America by a descendant of Rob Roy -  'Jock McCluskey,' a sometimes lawman, bounty hunter, fur trapper, gold miner and eventually, Indian trader.

For more on the origins and etymology of the  "buffalo plaid,"  click Paul and Babe, shown in this 1996 USA stamp.  

Officially registered tartan graphics on this site courtesy of The Scottish Tartans Authority.  Other tartans from talented tartan artists may also be featured.

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