Tall tales in Moravia

Sure, Moravia is known for its Czech heritage and girls basketball champions, but the town has another – and much taller – claim to fame.

James Stevens, the guy who cooked up the legend of Paul Bunyan, was born just north of town in 1892. RAGBRAI riders stopped for photos next to a towering wooden cut-out of the famous lumberjack and Babe the Blue Ox in the middle of the town square.


As Maxine Jones of nearby Darby and local Deena Hoffman tell it, the young Stevens hung out with miners who worked the coal mines outside of town – until his Baptist grandmother kicked him out of the house at the age of 9.

“Apparently, he chewed tobacco and swore too much,” said Jones, whose dad remembers him. “She couldn’t cope with him. Probably, that hasn’t changed much over the years, with other grandmothers and grandchildren.”

After Granny gave Stevens the boot, he went to live with his lumberjack father. The boy grew up in the logging camps – and so did his stories. By the time he wandered out to Washington state, he had skipped so much school that he had to learn how to write in public libraries.

“Paul Bunyan,” his first big collection of tall tales, was published in 1925.

— Michael Morain

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