Cordwood Pete is a fictional character who was the younger brother of legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan. While Paul Bunyan is said to have been a giant of a man, his younger brother Peter Bunyan was a mere 4 feet 9 inches (1.45 m) in height. Pete's growth was apparently stunted by the fact that he could never get enough flapjacks at the breakfast table because Paul ate everything in sight.
According to legend, Paul Bunyan left his home in Bangor, Maine, to make his way in the world, and ended up in the north woods of Minnesota where he excelled as a lumberjack. Pete, tired of being mocked by lumberjacks in Maine because of his size, followed Paul to Minnesota, and despite his diminutive stature, found work as a lumberjack near Fosston, Minnesota.
Local lumberjacks nicknamed him "Le Dang Cordwood Pete" because his size suggested he was more suited to cutting cordwood than felling huge trees. Pete spent much time in the local saloons, and his fellow lumberjacks soon learned he was hot tempered and full of spunk, especially after imbibing. They came to admire his feisty spirit, and no one dared fight him.
Legend has it that he "borrowed" his brother's double-bladed ax one day. He swung the ax, and its weight kept the ax spinning round and round as if in perpetual motion. When the ax finally stopped spinning, 100 acres (0.40 km2) of timber had been felled. The railroad hired Pete the next day to clear a path for their tracks, and before the day was over, he had clear-cut fifty square miles of timber. Pete had to give his brother's ax back to him the next day, and he never again achieved such a lumberjacking feat.
After that Pete stuck to cutting cordwood which he hauled to market with the help of his little donkey named Tamarack. He died at the age of 84.
The story of Cordwood Pete had been all but forgotten until the spring of 2001 when a time capsule was discovered by a work crew demolishing one of Fosston's oldest buildings. Inside was the complete story of Cordwood Pete, younger brother of legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan.
Authors Richard Dorson and Marshall Fitwick cite Paul Bunyan as an example of "fakelore", or a modern story passed off as an older folktale. It is possible that the legend of Cordwood Pete may also qualify as "fakelore." Some suggest the legend was created by Arvid "Clem" Clementson who was the mayor of Fosston when he died at the age of 81.
- Weird Minnesota By Eric Dregni, Mark Moran, Mark Sceurman
- Fitwick, Marshall. Probing popular culture on and off the Internet. Routledge, 2004, ISBN 978-0-7890-2133-5, p. 114-118
- Dorson, Richard. American Folklore. University of Chicago Press, 1977, ISBN 978-0-226-15859-4, p. 216-226
- Obituary of Arvid "Clem" Clementson