Was Paul Bunyan Based on Real Person?
William (Bill) Hood of Indiana Was a Likely Candidate.
[Note: There was evidently an earlier article relative to “William (Bill) Hood” in the Winfield Courier, which unfortunately could not be found. MAW]
Judge D. M. Hill of Indiana tells story of William (Bill) Hood...
Winfield Courier, May 25, 1882
Giant of the Nineteenth Century.
BEAVER TOWNSHIP, May 10, 1882.
I noticed an article in the COURIER, copy of a telegram from Seymour, Indiana, relative to the death and burial of Wm. Hood, near that place. Also some remarkable feats of his physical prowess.
His real name was Francis. I was personally acquainted with “Bill Hood,” as he was popularly known, when I was quite a boy—from some time before 1840 until about 1849—when he was in the prime of life, and a most remarkable man for strength. He was, I am pretty sure, one-eighth African blood, and not very dark at that. He wooed and won the heart and hand of a charming widow who had been twice married before. To overcome a difficulty arising from a clause in the law, forbidding inter-marriage between the African and Caucasian races, they conceived the idea of performing a surgical operation upon the arm of Hood, by opening a vein, out of which flowed the life-blood, which she drank, enabling her to depose an oath that she had African blood in her; whereupon the necessary papers were obtained, and the twain were made one flesh. Mrs. Hood had two children by a former marriage. A son of one of them has been in this county; was in the employ of one of our County officials, and is popularly known about Winfield. They also had some Hood children, one of which was a pretty, blue-eyed, fair complexioned, and straight haired girl that would pass for strictly white anywhere where not known.
My grandfather had a vicious bull, a terror to the barnyard, which he sold to Hood to replace one he had lost from his yoke. When the process of yoking took place, Hood caught him by the horns and held him, while my grandfather and other help secured him in the yoke. I have seen him take a large ox by the horn with one hand, and punish him with a whip in the other, as easily “apparently” as I could handle a yearling lamb. In freighting along Neils Creek, on a hot day, his cattle made a dive into the water, upsetting his wagon. He took hold of one wheel at a time and set it back, and with a few impressions from his lash, was in the road again, on his wending way. When his team “got stuck,” he would lift it out by main strength.
The most remarkable exhibition of his strength that I ever heard of, was in the process of turning a flat-boat upside down, in the Ohio River at Madison. It was a pre-concerted plan among the hands that when they got the boat up and Hood well under it, for all hands to let go and crush him beneath its weight, which they accordingly did; but to their great astonishment, he stood there in his strength supporting the whole weight until they got ashamed of their conduct, took hold again, and helped turn the boat.
Judge D. M. Hill of Paris, Jennings County, Indiana, was a man of extraordinary physical powers, who had much to do with Hood, in testing his strength. I herewith append the Judge’s own language, of incidents that came under his own observation. CHANT.
SHARPSVILLE, INDIANA, February 16, 1882.
Lucius Walton, Esq.
DEAR SIR: Your letter went to Paris and was forwarded to me at the above named place, where I have been for almost a year.
You write me concerning the exploits of Bill Hood. I will endeavor as best I can to give you what I know about him. His first great deeds, in which he manifested such wonderful power and strength, took place in Vernon. While I was Judge of the Court, he was indicted for an assault and batter with intent to kill John Loyd, a colored man. The State had six negro witnesses and they (three negroes) testified that Bill Hood threw John Loyd over the top of an apple tree. From the examination of the witnesses it appeared that one of the negroes had struck Bill upon the head with a heavy hoe. This “addled” Hood and Loyd rushed at him. Hood caught Loyd and threw him over the apple tree. The jury found him not guilty, as they believed him to be acting in self-defense.
Hood’s weight, when in health, was about 225 pounds. He was 6 feet, 1 inch high, and raw-boned, and the strongest man I ever saw. He was not clumsy.
The case of this ox is this. He bought a wild ox four years old. I, with four other men went with him to help yoke the ox with a gentle one. We hemmed him in the corner of the field. He made a rush to get away and I caught him by one horn, which checked his speed. Hood caught him by the hind leg and held it high up until he was yoked.
Now as to the iron shaft. The shaft lay with each end on a small log at the mill, where it was to be placed in position, about one foot from the ground. Joseph Higgins and Hiram Twaddle were trying to lift the end with a hand spike, but failed. I then took hold of one end of the shaft and lifted one end. At this time Hood came up. I told these men that he could lift the shaft with both of them on it. Bill said he could lift the whole thing by himself. He got as near the center of the shaft as he could and lifted it clear off the logs.
My weight was 218 pounds. I was much quicker and more active than Hood. He could lift one-third more than I could.
In regard to the saw log. I sold 100 logs to the millers and Hood was hauling them. They sent to me for a log twenty feet long, 2½ feet at the butt. We cut it and I helped roll it on the wagon. It went too far forward. Hood said, “Hill, take hold of it and let us move it back.” I said, “We cannot lift it.” He replied, I can lift the big end.” It was just high enough for me to help lift with my knees. We lifted it clear off the wagon and slipped it back one foot.
At another time W. W. Dixon was boating plank from Rodman’s mill, and the three Rodmans were helping. They were all large men; they ordered Hood around until he got mad and went out on shore. They then tied up the boat and all went ashore. They here got to quarreling and the largest Rodman struck Hood over the shoulder with an oar. Hood caught him by the collar and seat of his breeches and raised him up and brought him down to the earth and would have beaten him to death if Dixon and Chambers had not begged him not to kill Rodman. Hood walked out and offered to fight all of them, but they would not accept his offer.
Hood while hauling goods from Madison and Paris, coming up the hill near the stone quarry, was met by two men who ordered him to give the road for their wagon, and one of them struck his horse on the head with a whip. Hood caught the man and threw him over the cliff. The man did not touch the ground for more than 30 feet; then Hood ran for the other man, who was afraid of him and jumped off the cliff. Hood then went on his way victorious.
Respectfully yours, D. M. HILL.