Monday, April 29, 2002 (Image #1).jpg
Log House with Cordwood Pete and his pet donkey Tamarack

Cordwood Pete

While in Fosston, be sure to visit the Cordwood Mini-Park, featuring a life-size statue of Cordwood himself, located in downtown Fosston on N. Johnson Ave!


The Story of Cordwood Pete
(Written by Mayor Arvid Clementson)

Early Fosston Lumberjack is Paul Bunyan's Kid Brother!!

(A true story embellished)

In the spring of 2001, during the demolition of the Hartz store, one of Fosston's oldest buildings, a time capsule was found that has revealed an amazing fact.  Paul Bunyan had a kid brother and he lived and worked as a lumberjack in the Fosston area.

The Hartz store was constructed in the late 1800's.  At the time it was built, it was known as the Opera House.  It was the cultural center of the community during those early years.  Traveling magicians, minstrel shows, local plays, musicals, dances and celebrations of all kinds were held in this building.  At the time of its construction, unknown to us, a time capsule was placed in the corner stone of the building.  This time capsule was found during the demolition.  Many artifacts were found in this capsule, but the one that has created a sensation is an article that was written about one of Fosston's early lumberjacks, Cordwood Pete.  This article has confirmed a rumor that has floated around these many years.  The rumor was that Cordwood Pete was the kid brother of the world-renowned lumberjack, Paul Bunyan.  This is what we have learned thus far...

At the time Fosston was founded in 1883, the railroad ended here.  This was the jumping off place to the great forests of Northern Minnesota.  Lumberjacks would come by rail to Fosston, and then would go into the forests to cut logs for the timber industry.  Most of these lumberjacks were big, burly men who worked hard and played hard.  This influx of lumberjacks made Fosston a very lively and wide open town.  It was a typical lumberjack community with several saloons, hotels, and other businesses to provide for the loggers needs and entertainment as they came and went into the forest to make their livelihood.

Among the lumberjacks who came to Fosston at that time, was one by the name of Peter DeLang, but everyone knew him only as Cordwood Pete.  He was much different in appearance from any other lumberjack.  Because of this, he stood out in the crowd, or more realistically, beneath the crowd.  The reason for this was because Cordwood Pete was only 4 feet, nine inches tall and weighed less than 100 pounds, not your typical lumberjack.  However, he proved to be one of the best lumberjacks of them all, and could cut more wood than any of the rest.  Like most lumberjacks of that era, when not in the woods he spent a lot of time in the local pubs.  Normally, he was a mild mannered person, but after spending some time in one of these places, imbibing a bit, he would sometimes get a mite belligerent, and would loudly proclaim that he was the strongest man in Minnesota for his size.  This was probably true, since there was no other lumberjack as small as he.  However, along with that statement he would then challenge, one and all who were there to a fight.  Then he would threaten them with all kinds of bodily harm if they didn't accept his challenge.  No one ever took him up on his demands.  Most likely, since they were all so much bigger, they felt they might hurt him.  Most of the lumberjacks liked the little guy and all his spunk.

However, since no one really knew for sure whether he might somehow be a threat, the local constable, Gust Holt decided to do a background check on him.  Cordwood had mentioned to some of his friends that he had spent his younger years in Bangor, Maine, which was also where Paul Bunyan had grown up.  Constable Holt contacted the law enforcement in Bangor and what he learned changed this area forever.  Constable Holt gave the Bangor officials a description of Cordwood, and they informed him that the description fit that of a kid brother of Paul Bunyan, by the name of Peter.  This kid brother had left Bangor several years prior and no one had heard from him since.

With this information, Constable Holt confronted Cordwood Pete, and after hearing what had been learned, he confessed his true identity.  He told Constable Holt, that yes, he was Paul's younger brother.  He said the reason he had left home was because he was overwhelmed by Paul's size and his many feats.  He knew that he could never compete with Paul and do the things he did, and so he left to start a new life and had changed his name.  He also blamed Paul for his small size.  He claimed that when they were growing up, Paul ate all the food and so he never received enough nourishment to grow.

When the other lumberjacks found out that he was Paul Bunyan's kid brother, they began to tease and taunt him about not being able to do all the things that Paul could do.  This really bothered Cordwood, and so one day he decided that somehow he was going to prove them wrong.

Cordwood found out that Paul was working in the area.  Paul was building some of the area lakes, such as Cross, Turtle, White Fish, Sand Hill and Poplar.  One night he sneaked into Paul's camp and stole his brother's huge ax.  The next morning he got up early and went into the forest, dragging Paul's ax behind it.  After struggling for some time, he finally managed to lift the ax high enough to swing it.  The weight of the ax, and his small size, put him into perpetual motion.  He was unable to stop, and went in circles for one whole day.  When he finally collapsed, he had cleared 100 acres of forest.  Word of his feat spread throughout the area, and his accomplishment made him a celebrity.

Railroad officials heard of his feat and contacted him.  They asked him to clear the forests to the east so that they could lay more railroad tracks and develop his brother Paul's home-town of Bemidji.  Cordwood accepted the challenge, and in just two days, with Paul's ax, cleared 50 miles of railroad right of way.  He was credited with helping develop the city of Bemidji much sooner than it would have been without his help.

After that task however, he spent the rest of his life working and clearing land in this area.  He was too small to handle an ox like Babe, so instead he bought a small donkey that he named Tamarack, after an old lumberjack friend.  Also, because of his size, he preferred cutting cordwood, instead of logs.  So, during his lifetime he lived up to his name of Cordwood Pete, clearing the land in this area, so that it eventually became farm country.  Tamarack helped him do this by hauling the cordwood that he cut.  Together, over the years, they performed many other amazing tasks.  He never returned his brother's ax, and over the years became quite proficient in handling it. 

Visit Cordwood and His Authentic Log Home

Searching the archives we have learned of many of his achievements over the years.  During his latter years Cordwood Pete lived in a little log cabin located in Hill River Township.  Cordwood lived to be 84 years and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery located in east Fosston.  After his death the cabin was moved into the farmyard of the Lowell Sandeen Family where it stood for close to fifty years.  After hearing that we had revived the legend of Cordwood Pete, Mrs. Jean Sandeen donated this cabin, along with its furnishings, to the Heritage Center where it is now on display.  A while back, a wood carver artist was commissioned to do a statue of Cordwood Pete and his Donkey Tamarack.  These statues are also on display at the Heritage Center. 

For more fun, we offer the following stories about Cordwood Pete for your reading enjoyment!