As most know, Minnesota is home to all things Paul Bunyan. There are several statues of him, along with his artifacts, his girlfriend, his gravestone, his boat anchor, his marble, and the list goes on. But I’d guess that most Minnesotans are unaware that out on the plains of North Dakota in the heart of the Oil Patch is a concrete statue of “Earl Bunyon,” his cowboy brother.
Unlike the legendary logger, Earl Bunyon is a cattle wrangler, said to have herded tens of thousands of cattle back in his day, across the state. Earl dates back to 1957, where he was dreamed up by Fred and Berd LaRocque. They had an idea of a cowboy-version of Paul Bunyan, a skinny cattleman who carries a branding iron in one hand and a cane in the other. It’s unclear if the spelling variation of “Bunyon” was to distinguish Earl from Paul, or purely accidental.
Earl stands about 12 feet tall, and he was built out of welded oil drill pieces and wagon wheels. Chicken wire was used to hold it all together and a coat of cement was then applied. He was completed in 1958 and has stood in New Town since. Fred and Berd both passed away in the 1960’s, and as they requested, they were cremated and the ashes buried underneath Mr. Bunyon. He underwent a full restoration in the 1990’s (and could probably use another coat of paint in the near future).
A closer look at the base of the statue shows another headstone, for Jene LaRocque, as well. Jene was the son of Fred and Berd, and it was also his wish to buried underneath Earl Bunyon, right there with his parents. When he passed in 2003, he was cremated and later entombed beneath Earl.
Like much of western North Dakota, New Town was a pretty quiet little place until the recent oil boom came along. Now it’s busy as all hell, with the constant rumbling of tanker trucks and workmen and oil barons alike. I went on a tour of the area in the fall of 2013 and wrote about it here. It’s amazing how much things have changed. If only Earl could talk…..
While in the area: A tour of the Bakken Oil fields is an experience in itself, with Williston, ND being at the heart of it. Or, head south and check out North Dakota’s pride and joy, Medora. Maybe take in the Enchanted Highway as well!