Trails of the Past:
Historical Overview of the Flathead National Forest, Montana, 1800-1960



For many years the U. S. lumber industry was migratory. Centered in the Northeast and upper Midwest until the 1890s, the industry next moved to the Southeast and then to the West Coast. The Rocky Mountain states were the last to develop. The shortage of good white pine in the Great Lakes states led the logging industry to relocate to the West. The construction of railroad lines, plus increased mining, agriculture, and fruit-growing in the West all helped create a demand for and a way to market timber (Bolle 1966:14; Hudson et al. ca. 1981:184).

The lumber industry was active in the Flathead Valley on a small scale beginning in the 1880s, increasing greatly when the Great Northern Railway reached the valley. Timber trespasses - the stealing of timber from the public domain - were common in the 1890s in the accessible wooded valleys of the Flathead. Although there was generally a large number of sawmills in the Flathead, a handful of the largest companies tended to dominate the market, notably the Somers Lumber Company (1901-1948). One of the main timber products of Flathead County were railroad crossties, generally cut from Douglas-fir or western larch and either hewn in the woods or milled in portable or permanent sawmills.

Flathead National Forest timber sales were infrequent and small-scale until after World War II (the major exception was the 1913-19 sale of almost 90 million board feet in the Swan Valley to the Somers Lumber Company). Logging on national forests around the country increased dramatically in the 1940s and 1950s, and the Flathead National Forest was no exception.

Until the 1930s, most logging in the Flathead was done by men who lived in the woods in logging camps. Horses, logging railroads, and river drives were used to transport logs in the early years, later supplemented or replaced with tractors and trucks. Similarly, the two-man crosscut saws gave way to chainsaws. There were a number of labor strikes among woodworkers and sawmill workers in the Flathead Valley in the early years. The most notable of these strikes were organized by the I. W. W. (the Wobblies).

Over the decades, the timber industry in northwestern Montana has changed dramatically. The locations of sales have shifted to less accessible areas, the species harvested have changed, harvesting methods have been mechanized, the number and size of mills have varied, and contract logging has replaced company crews.

Although there was generally not much logging on the Flathead National Forest until the 1950s, evidence of earlier sales can be found. Good examples are the logging railroad grade and remains of logging camps in the Swan Valley, which were built by the Somers Lumber Company in the 1910s. High stumps with springboard notches carved in them in the more accessible parts of the Forest evoke the era of the crosscut saw.

1800s to 1905

In the 1860s eastern Montana had more logging activity than western Montana. There were, however, a number of early mills in the Missoula area and in the Bitterroot Valley, mostly associated with gold camps. In the 1870s and early 1880s many small mills failed. They recovered within five years, though, due to large-scale quartz hardrock mining replacing smaller placer operations and the construction of railroads through the area (the Utah Northern came to Butte in 1881 and the NPRR crossed Montana in 1883) (Moon 1991:4-5).

By 1884, mills west of the Divide were supplying the Anaconda Copper Mining Company (ACM) with 300,000 cords of wood a year for smelter fuel alone. In the mid-1880s, the ACM's Anaconda mine was the most productive copper mine in the United States, and the company was influential for decades in state politics and media. In 1888, the ACM was using 4,000 board feet of timber a day in its mines. Once the importance of timber to mining was recognized, mining corporations formed their own sawmilling operations. For example, the ACM bought the Big Blackfoot Milling Company to stabilize its lumber supply (Moon 1991:5; Toole 1968:353; Schutza 1975:54).

Railroad construction and maintenance created a tremendous demand for lumber. In the early 1900s the nation's railroads consumed about 1/5 of the timber harvest. Railroads needed over 2,500 crossties per mile to support their tracks. They also needed timber for bridges, pilings, telegraph poles, snow fences, fuelwood for the camps, cribbing, tunnel timbers, fuel, corduroy roads, and railroad buildings. Many small sawmills sprang up along railroad routes. By the late 1800s, huge permanent and also portable mills were operating 24 hours a day all over northwestern Montana to meet the demand (Olson 1971:4; Moon 1991:5).

In the Flathead Valley, the construction of the Great Northern Railway led to a great deal of logging along the line. In 1891, while the railroad was being built across the Divide, portable saw mills were set up at McCarthysville and at the junction of Summit Creek and the Middle Fork to saw Douglas-fir timbers for bridges. Several million feet of dimension timber were used for bridges and tunnels. The benchlands along the line were cut over, some extensively. The construction crew cleared the line for the tracks, using that timber for ties, and then cut the remaining ties needed from nearby stands of timber. Several hundred thousand hewed ties were used. In the Summit and Bear Creek areas, over 100 buildings were constructed for the grading camps. In building the tote road paralleling the line, the path had to be cleared and 122 bridges and several corduroy roads were made (Inter Lake 13 March 1891; Ayres "Flathead" 1900:312, 315-16; Green 1969:I, 16; Ayres "Lewis & Clarke" 1900:47).

The coming of the Great Northern to the Flathead Valley encouraged the conversion of small mills to larger steam plants using circular saws. The first large mills in the area were built when the railroad came through. The Great Northern did not receive a government land grant in Montana, but it did purchase enough timber land in the Flathead to make it one of the largest landowners in the valley. Montana lumbermen had a difficult time competing effectively with eastern lumber until the GNRR arrived and introduced lower freight rates (Bolle 1959:63-64, 68; Burlingame 1957:11, 6).

One of the first sawmills in western Montana was built in 1856 by the Jesuits at St. Ignatius. Foy's Mill was one of the earliest mills in the upper Flathead. The water-powered mill was built in 1884 and had a capacity of 10,000 board feet a day. Another relatively small early mill was the Jessup mill located on the east side of the valley. Other sawmills were built in the late 1880s and early 1890s. The largest mill in the valley for many years was that built by the John O'Brien Lumber Company, which began operating in 1901. Many small mills near the Great Northern line produced only railroad timbers (Schutza 1975:28-29, 31, 55; McDonald 1936:5).

The early mills generally depended on water for power and for transporting the logs to the mills, but this shifted as steam-powered mills and railroad lines were established.

Whitefish Lake was logged in the late 1880s. The Baker Brothers Company built a mill at the outlet of the lake to saw lumber that was floated down the lake or hauled by sled across the ice. This mill was later sold to the John O'Brien Lumber Company, and the Somers Lumber Company operated the business until 1918 (see Figure 78) (Schafer 1973:2, 13-14).

Figure 78. Sawmill on Whitefish Lake (courtesy of Stumptown Historical Society, Whitefish).

The early small mills of the 1880s in the Flathead Valley had very little effect on the "vast forests" of the valley. In the late 1880s, much timber was available free to the small mills as many settlers were glad to have it taken off their land. Some homesteaders even girdled the trees on their land and left them to die standing (Johns 1943:IX, 157; Flathead County Superintendent 1956:22).

Lumber was the first product exported from the Flathead Valley after the railroad was completed in 1891. The ACM's Butte & Montana Company (BM) mill was built at the mouth of the Stillwater and Whitefish Rivers east of Kalispell in the early 1890s; its main purpose was to produce lumber and fuel for the mines and smelters in Silverbow County. It sawed and planed lumber floated in on the Stillwater, then sold it for shipment on the railroad to the east. Flathead timber was also shipped by railroad to Great Falls to supply fuel for the smelter there. The Flathead operations were competitive with Missoula mills because the GNRR kept its rates the same as the NPRR. The BM also exported lumber to eastern Montana and to North Dakota for sale. In 1904 the GNRR increased its freight rate, and the BM could no longer compete for the Butte market; the ACM sold it at a loss (see Figure 79) (Butcher 1967:73-74; O'Neil 1955:70, 82).

Figure 79. Butte & Montana Commercial Company mill yard, ca. 1895 (Great Northern Railway Country 1895).

One of the early logging sales on land that later was included in the Flathead Forest Reserve took place the winter of 1890-1891. George Chilson, a former buffalo hunter, ran a logging camp on Logging Creek (on the east side of the North Fork of the Flathead River). As many as 30 men were paid $50 a month to work on the sale. Under contract with the Columbia Falls Mill Company, they cut several hundred thousand board feet of ponderosa pine, but Chilson ran out of money by February. Some of the logs were decked along Logging Creek but never driven down the river to a mill; others rotted on skids in the woods (Ayres "Flathead" 1900:283; Vaught Papers, 1/UV; Vaught ca. 1943:385-389).

After the financial panic of 1893 and the accompanying low agricultural prices, the economy of the Flathead improved. There was such a great demand for lumber and for labor in logging and sawmilling that residents sent a delegate East to recruit laborers, and several thousand reportedly came as a result. At that time a train load of lumber left the area daily. In 1898, according to a national survey, Montana had only 24 stationary sawmills, 3 portable sawmills, and 11 shingle mills. At that time there was only one logging railroad in the state (Mauritson 1954:5D; Fernow 1899:119).

In approximately 1899 the prices for lumber were still low. Some of the "best timber" - ponderosa pine - within two miles of Columbia Falls sold for $1 per thousand board feet on the stump; it sold from the mill for $7. By 1908, however, rough lumber was worth $11-12 per thousand board feet (Ayres "Flathead" 1900:258; Elwood 1980: 158).

By 1900 the mines and the railroads dominated Montana's timber industry. Beginning in 1900 a timber boom hit the state. The first big sale of public-land timber was from the Bitterroot National Forest ca. 1910. In general there was a low demand for national forest timber because the more accessible bottomlands were privately owned and because the larch and Douglas-fir on the higher land (such as on national forests) were not considered desirable species. The market at the time was for white pine and ponderosa pine (Bolle 1966:17).

Timber Trespasses

When Montana Territory became a state in 1889, federal grants of land from the public domain were given to the state to sell or use in support of schools, usually sections 16 and 36 of each township. Granville Stuart came to the Flathead in the summer of 1890 to select the lands granted to the state. At that time, the Flathead Valley, which he described as having few natural meadows, was being cleared of its timber and the cutover lands converted to agricultural use (1 August 1891, vol. 2, RS 29, MHS). Much of the land had already been conveyed to settlers, railroads, and so on, so the state had to choose lieu lands instead of sections 16 and 36 where appropriate. Granville Stuart recommended that the state survey timbered sections that had not yet been too heavily settled. In the process, he reported on the state-related timber trespass activities going on in the Flathead Valley at that time.

For example, Stuart reported on a steam mill cutting western larch, ponderosa pine, and Douglas-fir on a school section by men who "well knew it was school land." Stuart estimated they had cut between 2 and 2.5 million board feet of logs on the section. He continued, "It is high time the cupidity and reckless disregard of law of these timber thieves received a check." He mentioned that a man representing the Butte & Montana Commercial Company, which had a sawmill in the area, was requesting a permit to cut 80 square miles of selected state land around Whitefish Lake. Stuart commented, "Verily these sawmill men have their gall with them all the time." He recommended they should be limited to cutting only two sections (1,280 acres) at any one time (24 July 1891, vol. 2, RS 29, MHS).

Stuart also recorded many examples of farmers who were leasing State land and cutting timber on the State sections which they then hauled to sawmills and sold. He commented that the people were mostly poor and were struggling to make ends meet but felt that efforts should be made to stop the trespasses (May 1897, vol. 1, RS 29, MHS). As historian John Ise said, "fraud was a frontier way of life" (quoted in Steen 1976:25).

Much of the land in the Flathead Valley was turned over to private ownership through the Timber and Stone Act of 1878. Sometimes the claimants were fairly obvious about their fraudulent intentions. For example, seven members of the Eckelberry family filed on separate tracts of land north of Ashley Lake in the early 1900s. James Eckelberry stated that he did not have an interest in a sawmill, but that he bought the timber as an investment. He patented 320 acres of land in 1906 and the next month sold the land to C. I. O'Neil, owner of a lumber company in Kalispell. Those acres are now owned by Stoltze Land and Lumber Company. At the same time, Eckelberry was purchasing outright many hundreds of acres in the area and selling them to lumber companies. In that same section, Louretta and Emma Eckelberry each patented 160 acres in 1912, sold the land the same year to the Conrad National Bank, and the land later passed to the American Timber Company. This half-section is now once again national forest land (FNF Class; Flathead County plat records).

In 1908 three Flathead Valley lumber companies (J. Neils Lumber, Somers Lumber Company, and the Northwestern Lumber Company) were brought before a hearing for using "dummies" in securing title to timber claims. Somers and Northwestern were asked to return to the state certain lands for which they had negotiated (Schutza 1975:67; Morrow n.d.:37).

The government generally won timber depredation cases in the lower courts and lost on appeal; it was more successful in prosecuting small individual trespassers who could not afford to hire well-paid lawyers to appeal the cases to higher courts. According to historian K. Ross Toole, "timber depredation in Montana is more typical than extraordinary." In total, nearly 64,000 acres of Montana forest land passed into private ownership through the Timber and Stone Act (Toole 1968:360; Butcher 1967:110; Schutza 1975:67-68).

One of the major timber trespass cases in the Flathead Valley involved the ACM-owned Butte & Montana Commercial Company. In December of 1890 the BM started building a dam at the outlet of Whitefish Lake to have enough water to drive logs to a sawmill in the area of what later became Kalispell. The dam raised the level of the lake by 8'. The company purchased forested land in the Whitefish Lake area, and in the fall of 1891 it contracted with Taylor & Fogg for logs. The loggers cut only the good timber and skidded it to the lake, and the larch lumber was sold in Great Falls. The next year the federal government brought action against the company for timber trespass. In the spring of 1894 a special agent came to the area, and settlers estimated the company had cut a little over 6 million board feet from the public domain rather than land they owned. The case was dropped, however, when the company declared bankruptcy (Schafer 1973:12-13; Whitefish Pilot 20 October 1960; O'Neil n.d.; Schutza 1975:67).

Logging on Private Lands, 1905-1942

By 1914 the two largest landholders in Montana were the NPRR and the ACM, and they earned revenue from the land by their logging operations. In approximately 1900 the ACM began to buy large tracts of timberland from the NPRR and from private holders. Eventually it owned more than 1.1 million acres. In 1905 the ACM bought the Montana Improvement Company (including its land and resources) and converted it into the lumber division of the ACM. Over the next ten years the ACM cut nearly half of the timber cut in Montana (Morrow n.d.:32-33; Baker et al. 1993:43).

In 1917 the Somers Lumber Company owned 60,000 acres and the Northern Pacific Railroad owned 140,000 acres in Flathead and Lincoln Counties. In fact, only four owners controlled 51% of the private holdings ("General Summary of Timber Situation," 2400 - Timber - Historical - General Corr, RO:4-5, 13).

The ACM had permits to cut free timber for its mines in Butte for many years, but the company also used these permits to cut timber for retail sale of lumber throughout the state. The ACM was operating in Columbia Falls under the name of Daly & Co. by 1897. In 1898 it was the ACM, Lumber Dept., of Columbia Falls, and soon the business went under the name of the Big Blackfoot Milling Company, the timber subsidiary of the ACM. The ACM bought enormous tracts in northwestern Montana in the 1890s as a timber source for the Butte mines; in 1910 the Big Blackfoot Milling Company owned over 176,000 acres of land in Flathead County. The ACM purchase of timber at Seeley Lake in 1905 was the first stumpage sale that the Forest Service made to that company (Kerlee 1962:37; box 5, folder 5, MC 169, MHS; box 51, folder 18, MC 169, MHS; Bolle 1966:15; Coon 1926:105; Sanders County Ledger, 25 March 1910:2).

In approximately 1909 there were 30 sawmills tributary to Kalispell, with an annual cut of 150 million board feet of lumber (see Figure 80). At that time the lumber mills were shipping about 3,500 railroad cars of lumber per year (see Figure 81). Most of the companies, like ACM, owned large tracts of timbered land along rivers that could be used for driving logs to the mills (Great Northern Railway, ca. 1909:21).

Figure 80. Interior of State Lumber Company sawmill, LaSalle, 1898 (courtesy of the Mansfield Library, University of Montana, Missoula).

Mill NameMill Location Daily Capacity (BF)Number of Men Employed
Northwestern Lumber Co.Kalispell70,000100
Boorman Lumber Co.
Enterprise Lumber Co.
Kalispell Lumber Co.Athens45,00030
Kalispell Lumber Co. planing millKalispell- - -55
T. B. Farrow (2 mills)Marion35,00050
W. F. KelseyMarion20,00025
John O'Brien Lumber Co.Somers240,000300
GNRR tie preserving plantSomers- - -75
Jessup Doe Milling Co. (3 mills)Montford70,000105
John O'Brien Lumber Co.Whitefish75,00050
Hutchison Lumber MillWhitefish35,00030
lath milleast of Whitefish30,000 lath
Eureka Lumber Co.Eureka40,00060
State Lumber Co.Columbia Falls500,00065
Hunt Tripet Lumber Co.Columbia Falls30,00040
John Olson Lumber Co.Columbia Falls35,00030
Parker Zorzie Lumber Co.Columbia Falls180,00030
A. O. WestbergColumbia Falls25,00020
Figure 81. list of some of the sawmills in Flathead County in 1907, with daily capacity and number of employees ("Montana Beautiful" 1907:65, 69, 71).

Much of the timbered land around the Stillwater River was logged in the early years because the river was drivable. A large block of private timber land that was harvested along the Stillwater River was later acquired by the Forest Service. The Northwestern Lumber Company mill outside of Kalispell sawed timber from the Stillwater until its mill burned in 1911. In 1916 the Somers Lumber Company bought all of its holdings (millsite, flowage, and almost 15,000 acres of timber on the upper Stillwater River). Another large mill during this period was the State Lumber Company, located on the Whitefish River northwest of the airport (in 1923 the mill was moved to Half Moon) (Taylor 1986; Elwood 1980:156, 158).

The Somers Lumber Company often had several large sales going at one time. For example, in 1912 the company contracted with Henry Good to harvest 35 million board feet of logs over the next two years on the Stillwater River, mostly on land owned by Good. This job employed about 300 men and 50 teams in a line of camps ("Somers Lumber Company" 1912.1).

The Empire Lumber Company bought up timber claims and homesteads in the Truman Creek drainage near Kila. One of the logging camps had a narrow-gauge railroad, the tracks following Wild Bill and Emmons Creeks. The company used V-shaped log chutes and a flume. When the mill closed, the equipment was moved to the mill at Half Moon (Elwood 1980:162).

Montana lumber mills have survived many cycles of economic depression and revival. From 1913 until 1915 Montana mills generally operated at less than half their capacity. In 1914, less than 50% of the lumber manufactured in Montana was used or marketed within the state. The main market outside Montana was in the prairie states west of the Mississippi River (Schutza 1975:55; Moon 1991:54).

In 1921, due to an agricultural depression, higher freight rates, and a glutted market, 38% of all the mills in Montana closed, but the post-war building boom led to the return of small mills. The peak of logging in northwestern Montana before World War II came in 1925, declining until 1927 and then rising again until 1929. Beginning in 1932 production in northwestern Montana began to rise, although nationally the timber industry remained low until World War II (Burlingame 1957:11, 8-9; Sundborg 1945: 14; Steen 1976:197).

Some timber harvested in Canada was milled in the United States. In approximately 1925 a semi-portable sawmill was set up in the Akamina Pass area just north of the international boundary, and some wood products were shipped east of Waterton Lake. The mill supplied timbers to the oil companies in the area for derrick construction in the early 1930s. There was also some logging in the North Fork north of the boundary with access to mills in the United States to the south. Poor transportation facilities and low market demands for small timber restricted logging activity north of the border until the 1960s, when timber was harvested extensively in response to the spruce bark beetle epidemic. The policy of sustained-yield management did not come into use on Crown-owned lands in British Columbia until the 1950s (Ringstad 1976:6; Fregren 1960:12).

The market for various species of trees changed over the years; this greatly affected which areas in the Flathead Valley were logged during which decades. Western white pine was for many years the most desirable species in the northern Rockies, but it was not well represented on the Flathead (see Figure 82). In 1926, ponderosa pine represented about 33% of the total cut in Montana. Western larch and Douglas-fir represented about 50% combined, and lodgepole pine over 10%. At that time, 64% was cut from private lands, 19% from state forests, and only 17% from national forests. Sixty per cent of Montana's timber was on national forest land, but it was less accessible than the private land, and only 11% of the timber was ponderosa pine. As one observer commented in the 1920s, "the cream is being skimmed at this time." He recommended developing markets for the less desirable species such as larch and lodgepole. Ponderosa pine was the mainstay of the large mill operators in the Flathead Valley, while railroad ties were the mainstay of the small mill operators. As the supply of ponderosa pine declined, the mills had to rely on a mixed species product (Cunningham 1926:21, 54, 58; Ibenthal 1952:52a).

Scientific NameCommon NameComposition (%)Elevation Range
Pinus monticolaWhite pine3.5-11.03000-5000
Pinus ponderosaPonderosa pine2.03000-4000
Pinus contorta var. latifoliaLodgepole pine1.0-14.03000-6500
Pinus albicaulisWhitebark pine0.5-1.04000-7000
Larix occidentalisWestern larch35.0-50.03000-5000
Larix lyalliiSubalpine5000
Picea engelmanniiEngelmann spruce20.0-23.03000-6000
Tsuga heterophyllaWestern hemlock1.03100-
Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glaucaDouglas-fir11.0-17.03000-6000
Abies grandisGrand fir1.03000
Abies lasiocarpaSubalpine fir1.03000-7000
Thuja plicataWestern red cedar17.03000-5500
Juniperus scopulorumRocky Mountain juniper3000
Juniperus communisCommon juniper3000-6500
Taxus brevifoliaPacific yew3000-6000
Figure 82. Timber types in the Flathead River drainage, 1922. White spruce (Picea glauca) was not listed in the 1922 chart (Kirkwood 1922:85).

During the Depression the demand for timber plummeted, and many mills shut down. Demand rose slowly in the late 1930s. The Somers Lumber Company continued to decline, marking a shift away from a virtual monopoly towards the leadership of several independent mills. Small mills continued to produce rough lumber for local use, and medium mills expanded somewhat because of the availability of public land. Montana sawmill production did not reach pre-Depression levels, however, until 1942 (see Figure 83) (Bolle 1966:18; Morrow n.d.:64).

Figure 83. Production of small mills relative to large mills in Montana, 1921-1948 (Kemp 1950:6).

Planed and kiln-dried finished lumber began to replace rough lumber as a Flathead export product in the 1930s. The demand for Douglas-fir and western larch products was rising. According to a 1934 report, the main forest products in western Montana were saw logs for lumber, railroad cross ties (western larch, Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine), poles (cedar), piling (Douglas-fir and western larch), mine timbers (western larch, Douglas-fir, and ponderosa pine), cordwood, local farm timbers, and pulpwood (white fir, Engelmann spruce, and western hemlock). Unemployed men often cut cordwood, bringing it in to sell at a designated area on Kalispell's west side known as Wood or Market Street (Bolle 1959:70-71; Brown 1934:217; Swan River Homemakers Club 1993:69; H. Elwood 1994).

Some mill owners found their own markets for "undesirable" tree species. For example, B. J. Boorman built a sawmill in 1899 west of Kalispell in a stand of western larch. He found a new and profitable market for this "unmarketable" timber in New York City, where it was used for finishing lumber. John O'Brien of the O'Brien Lumber Company promoted the use of larch for molding and siding. He used it in the interior of his own home and boasted that "Flathead larch is the best larch in the west" (Johns 1943:IX, 13; 1905 article in Flathead County Supt 1956:96).

Sawed mine timbers were used in the early years, but by the early 1950s round timbers were more in use because they were cheaper. In approximately 1916 the copper market of World War I created such a high demand for mine timbers that local suppliers could not provide enough, so some of the companies entered the larch/Douglas-fir forests for timber. ACM, for example, harvested most of its round timbers in western Montana (Hutchison 1952:31-32).

The needs of the building industry also affected area logging. Kalispell logging contractor George Slack returned from World War I to a building boom, and because the least available item was wood lath, he immediately began manufacturing lath (used in buildings for plaster-and-lath walls and for snow fences). Until then lath had been cut from slabs and waste material at the large mills. Slack set up two dedicated lath mills, one at Coram and one where Martin City now is (that mill later moved to Lake Five) (Green 1971:III, 128-129).

One of the companies that continued to produce lumber during the Depression was the J. Neils Lumber Company. Julius Neils founded the J. Neils Lumber Company in 1899 in Cass Lake, Minnesota. In 1906 the company began purchasing timber lands in Flathead County, buying even-numbered sections among the odd-numbered NPRR land-grant sections that were held largely by the ACM. They hoped to consolidate their holdings later by land exchanges with the ACM. Because of a rumor that a railroad line was going to be built up the east side of Flathead Lake, J. Neils purchased a mill site on Flathead Lake, but it was never used for that purpose. In 1914 the company bought the Dawson Lumber Company in Libby, moved there, and began to consolidate their timber holdings (P. Neils 1971:17, 25; Burlingame 1957:11, 9; Moon 1991:21).

By 1915 J. Neils' holdings in the Flathead included 12,640 acres in the Columbia Falls area and 22,496 acres east of Flathead Lake. According to George Neils, the company owned about 150,000 acres in the Flathead area, mostly on the North Fork, the main fork of the Flathead, and east of Kalispell. The company sawed its last lumber at Minnesota in 1923; this led its managers to try to manage the timberlands in their western operations so as to have permanent operations and stable communities (P. Neils 1971:28, 40; G. Neils 1976:10).

In the 1930s J. Neils got the contracts to log the white pine around Echo Lake (most local mills were not familiar with logging or marketing white pine). In 1935 a Forest Service inspector reported that the company was delivering 5 million board feet of white pine in 32' logs on trucks to the railroad. He commented that "the company is making an honest effort to get the most out of the timber," and that the white pine on the Flathead should all be salvaged immediately because the Forest was not included in the proposed blister rust control plans (G. Neils 1976: 14; Elers Koch, 26 August 1935, Flathead Inspection Reports Region One, RG 95, FRC).

The northwestern Montana Christmas tree industry was a product of the Depression and a welcome source of cash (see Figure 84). The trees in the area held their needles better than those in other parts of the country. During the Depression, 12% of the Christmas trees used in the United States came from Flathead or Lincoln County. In the early 1930s the first sale of Christmas trees on Forest Service land in the area took place on the Blackfeet National Forest. By 1954 Flathead County was producing about a million trees, mainly Douglas-fir. Some was grown on national forests; harvesting the trees was felt to improve the composition of the forest. In 1955, however, the amount of Christmas trees harvested on national forest land in the Flathead was negligible (just over 3% from federal land in 1955) (Cusick 1986:61; 31 March 1933, Flathead Inspection Reports Region One, RG 95, FRC; Montana Conservation Council 1954:51-52; "Area Lumber Output" 1956:4).

Number of Trees
Figure 84. Annual production of Christmas trees in Montana, 1936-1949 (Kemp 1950:32).

The shifting centers of the lumber industry from the Lake states to the South to the Pacific Coast led to concern about a timber famine, the fear that there was no new area (except Alaska) to which the industry could move. Professional foresters and citizens alike called for regulation of logging practices and the application of sound management practices on public and private lands (Cox 1985:191, 193-194).

During the 1910s and 1920s the country moved away from the government regulations common to the previous years and focussed instead on developing a cooperative approach between public and private sectors. With the Depression, government regulations returned and federal programs increased in importance. The Weeks Law of 1911 marked the beginning of extensive cooperation among federal, state, and private industry to protect the timber in the country's forests (Cox 1985:193-194).

The Weeks Law encouraged state participation by providing matching funds if a state set up a system to protect the forested watersheds of navigable streams. Under a general land administration act of 1909, a Montana state forestry board was created to manage the state forests on forestry principles, to encourage private owners to preserve and grow timber, and to conserve forest tracts on watersheds of the streams of the state. The Clarke-McNary Law of 1924 provided for federal-state cooperation in a variety of activities, including production and distribution of forest planting stock, cooperation in farm forestry education, and the federal purchase of lands necessary for the production of timber (Cox 1985:194; Kinney 1917:69; Winters 1950:16).

The Copeland Report, written under the authority of the Forest Service and completed in 1933, provided a blueprint for reorganizing the forestry practices of federal, state, and private owners. It also represented a rededication of the Forest Service to the principles of conservation and public welfare promoted by Gifford Pinchot. The report stressed public ownership of forest land and cooperation with private forest owners in managing private lands. Among other things, the Copeland Report addressed the modern concept of multiple use (Gates 1948:598; Steen 1976:202).

During the 1930s the concept of sustained yield changed to the need to coordinate public and private timber supplies to create a stable market. Article X of the National Recovery Act was mandatory for just one year (1934-35), but it was subsequently maintained voluntarily by industry and the Forest Service as a guide for good forest management. The Lumber Code was intended to revive the industry by reducing production quotas and requiring higher wages and a shorter work week. Article X prescribed sustained yield, a comprehensive fire prevention program, protection of young growth, and replanting after logging (Baker et al. 1993:123, 144-145).

Railroad Ties

Cutting railroad ties was a big business in the Flathead for decades, with the preferred species being Douglas-fir and western larch. Railroads used an average of 2,640 crossties per mile, with a varying rate of replacement. Between 1894 and 1898, after the completion of the Great Northern Railway line, 10,000 railroad ties and 1,000 telegraph poles were reportedly cut along the GNRR line in the Flathead area (Olson 1971:12; 1905 claim, 1905 Trespass Book, FNF CR).

Lumberman John O'Brien contracted with the railroad in 1901 to build a sawmill at the head of Flathead Lake with an annual capacity of 40 million board feet of lumber; he agreed to saw and deliver to the tie-treating plant 600,000 ties each sawing season for 20 years (see Figure 85). In return, the railroad built a spur track to the sawmill and agreed to loan the money and to place a certain amount of orders. The original tie plant was built in 1901 and was replaced by a new plant in 1927. The mill took in ties from Flathead logging operations, treated them, and then shipped them out as needed along the GNRR line. In 1906 John O'Brien sold his interest in the company to the GNRR, which became the sole owner, and in 1907 the name was changed to the Somers Lumber Company after the town (Somers was named for a Great Northern agent who looked out for the railroad company's interests in connection with the lumber company). Somers was a company town. In 1937 the mill employed 250-375 people, and it owned 122 dwellings that it rented to employees, providing the water and electricity. Many of the workers were immigrants from Italy, Germany, and Norway. The company also had retail yards in North Dakota, in Havre and Conrad, Montana, and ran a sawmill on Whitefish Lake from 1906-13 and a retail yard there until 1928 ("Corporate History" n.d.:1-3, 10; Elwood 1976:6-7).

Figure 85. Original Somers sawmill, built 1901 (courtesy of Henry Elwood).

By the winter of 1904-05 the O'Brien mill was manufacturing 60 million board feet of lumber, half of which were made into railroad ties and treated with creosote. The operation included a sawmill, planing mill, box factory, and a sash and door plant, and the mill could manufacture about 5,000 triangular ties a day (1905 article in Flathead County Superintendent 1956:95-96).

The railroad tried to save money and lumber by making the ties last longer. Between 1900 and 1915 the wood preserving industry grew dramatically, and the proportion of ties treated increased from less than 5% to about 30% of all ties. During this period the railroads switched from using zinc chloride to creosote as the preservative. Railroad ties treated after 1910 probably had an average life of 15-20 years. The average use of ties by all railroads began declining about 1908 (Olson 1971:44, 104, 122).

James J. Hill brought the idea of "self-tamping" three-cornered ties to the United States from Germany. Triangular ties had a 12" face and were 8" deep. These ties were sawed in the Somers mill and were used on the Great Northern line until the early 1920s (see Figure 86) (1905 article in Flathead County Superintendent 1956:95-96; Elwood 1976:24; Elwood 1994). The triangular ties were replaced by four-sided, rectangular ties.

Figure 86. Somers Lumber Company workers sitting in front of triangular railroad ties (courtesy of Henry Elwood).

"Tie hacks," the men who worked in the woods hewing cross ties, included many homesteaders who hewed ties for cash income. Often they lived in the woods during the week, returning home only on weekends. After falling the tree, the sawyer would cut the tree into 8' or 8-1/2' sections, depending on the desired length of the tie. An 11" diameter section would make one tie. A 24" diameter section would yield four ties. Teams of sawyers would follow the strip blazed by the cruisers. Some sawyers would work alone in order to earn more money (they were paid per tie). In order to be able to handle the two-man crosscut saw without a partner, the sawyer would use a makeshift tool called a "rubber man." He would drive a rod into the ground opposite his position by the tree and then would secure a "rubber band" made from an inner tube to the rod and to one end of the saw. The "rubber man" would pull the saw from one side, less efficient than another sawyer but workable. Tie hacks would then stand on the log and hew two sides, then peel the bark off the two sides that had not been hewed. A good tie hack could reportedly hew 20-25 cross ties a day (24FH466, FNF CR; Green 1969:I, 15-16; Swan River Homemakers Club 1993:54; Downes 1994).

Most of the railroad tie cutting in the Flathead was done on private land; the Forest Service often turned down tie sales. In 1907 Edward Dickey applied to cut 40,000 ties from an area near the railroad at Paola. The sale area was on gentle terrain, close to the railroad, and had good timber. The local administrators favored the sale, but the Washington Office rejected it because Dickey would be letting the larger trees stand (the large trees were not harvested for hewed railroad ties). In 1917, however, with the increased demand due to World War I, the tie timber was harvested, and in 1944 the larger trees were sold to a lumber company (Shaw 1967:123).

Railroad ties became a big item of production in Montana sawmills in the mid-1920s (see Figure 87). Most ties cut before then were hewn by tie hacks. In 1925 about 900,000 hewn ties were being cut annually, a little more than 40% of the total tie output. By 1931 hewn ties composed only about 1% of the total; all the rest came from sawmills. The shift to sawed ties brought a concentration of tie production to Flathead, Lake, Lincoln and Sanders counties, which had concentration yards, preservation plants, and good stands of larch and Douglas-fir, the preferred species for railroad ties in the West. Many railroad lines tried Douglas-fir and other species in order to avoid crosshauling railroad timber (Hutchison 1952:30; Olson 1971:124).

No. of sawed
railroad ties
- - -
- - -
- - -
- - -
- - -
- - -
Figure 87. Annual production of sawed cross ties in Montana, 1925-1947 (Kemp 1950:32).

Hewed railroad ties contained more wood; but sawed ties saved freight, had a more uniform absorption rate during pressure treating (making the treatment more effective), and were uniform bearing. They also produced marketable by-products - tie siding - instead of waste chips. The transition to sawing integrated tie production into the large lumber markets. The selection of trees for harvesting also changed. Hewed ties used only 11-15" diameter trees, but sawed ties used all sizes of trees (Olson 1971:112-113).

The next innovation in railroad tie logging was the development of portable tie mills located at the logging sites. After a December 1924 windstorm north of Columbia Falls, a portable mill was set up at the site to salvage the down timber for ties. In 1929 McMillan & Kerr bought a section of timber from Somers Lumber Company and cut the Douglas-fir and western larch into railroad ties with a portable mill (see Figure 88). They delivered the ties and a few sawlogs by truck to the Somers mill at the going price. This contract marked the real beginning of the switch to the use of portable mills in the woods (see Figure 89). By 1932 the success of the method had been proven; that was the last year the Somers sawmill produced cross ties. After that, it produced only a relatively small number of switch ties. When portable mills were used, all side cuts and waste materials (anything less than 6" in diameter) were left in the woods, which saved on transportation costs but wasted a great deal of wood. Woodsworkers later worked over and resawed the slab piles ("Corporate History" n.d.:6-7; Mansfield 1986).

Figure 88. McMillan & Kerr tie mill in Patrick gulch near Kalispell, on Flathead National Forest, 1930 (photo by I. V. Anderson) (courtesy of USDA Forest Service, Region One, Missoula).

Figure 89. Hauling railroad ties by truck, Eureka, 1929 (courtesy of the Mansfield Library, University of Montana, Missoula).

Flathead logger Clarence Saurey remembered the effect of the stock market crash of October 1929 on the portable tie mills in the Flathead, which were salvaging timber burned in the Half Moon fire of 1929:

Everything was a-running, you know, you could hear them sawmills a-singin' all over the woods. And it shut down overnight...Next morning there wasn't a thing running at all (Saurey 1983).

The change to sawed ties greatly increased the number of small portable circular mills in the Flathead; their number peaked at the height of tie cutting during World War II (see Figure 90). In the Kalispell Working Circle at that time, about 100 circular mills were in operation, plus three band mills. By the late 1950s, however, the market for ties was reduced because of improved preservative treatment and the reconstruction of railroad roadbeds (Ibenthal 1952:48->49).

Figure 90. Location and relative production of permanent, semi-permanent, and portable sawmills in northwest Montana, 1948 (from Helburn 1950). (click on image for a PDF version)

Ties treated at Somers were shipped as far as Minnesota on the Great Northern line. The record production at the tie plant was in 1944. The previous year, almost 1-1/2 million ties had been sawed at 36 small mills in the county and treated at the Somers plant. By the 1950s many railroads had reorganized their distribution systems to eliminate some of their treating plants. Other technological changes helped increase the life of ties, such as increasing their length from 8' to 8-1/2' or 9' (Elwood 1976:34; Olson 1971:165, 167). The demand for railroad ties, therefore, declined significantly.

The main companies cutting railroad ties in the Flathead were Somers Lumber Company, the Kinshellas, and the Olson Brothers. Some tie contractors had quite a large business in the Flathead. For example, in 1912 George Slack had a contract with the Great Northern to deliver hewn ties, and in the first year he delivered to the right-of-way 700,000 ties. In 1931 the Kinshella brothers and their father signed a 7-year contract to cut railroad ties and sawlogs on Somers Lumber Company land from Lupfer north. The 150 men at the camp received approximately 13 cents per tie (a little more for the larger ones). Workers earned $2 a day and were charged 90 cents a day board. The ties and logs went to the Somers sawmill and tie-treating plant (24FH466, FNF CR; "Personal Experience Record of Capt. George W. Slack," SC 126, MHS; "Large Logging Project" 1931; Cusick 1986:61).

Many railroad ties were cut in the late 1930s and through World War II in the Pleasant Valley area, which had literally dozens of portable tie mill sites. The Forest Service did not issue permits for mill sites on the national forest, but sometimes sales on private land trespassed onto national forest land (24FH154, FNF CR).

In the late 1940s, western larch and Douglas-fir railroad ties accounted for almost 20% of the total sawmill output of Montana. Small portable mills, with 6-8 men on their crews, were typical. They cut 2,500-12,000 ties a setting and moved rapidly from one tract to another. For each 1000 board feet of ties sawn, they could cut nearly 250 board feet of lumber. When prices for larch and fir boards were low, the tie siding went into the slab pile (Hutchison 1952:31).

Forest Service Logging, 1905-1942


Until World War II, timber sales on the Flathead National Forest were generally small scale. Most of the timber was harvested in those years from private lands, not federal lands, near rivers or in accessible areas. The main exceptions were sales designed to harvest scarce species, such as a sale of white pine on the lower North Fork and a cedar sale on Good Creek in the Stillwater area. In 1908, no national forest in Region One had an estimated timber harvest of more than 1% of the total amount of standing timber. Commercial sales of national forest timber did not exceed a billion board feet annually until 1924, but even then it still represented only 1% of the national timber market (Baker et al. 1993:65; Clary 1986:40).

In 1905, Forest Service policy held that the timber on the national forests was supplemental to, not competing with, private holdings, and that the timber should be harvested to meet local needs only. In 1907 early Forest Service timber sales peaked, but these sales represented only 2% of the 44 billion board feet total. Pinchot later claimed that the national forests existed for public welfare purposes, to stabilize local industry and to encourage development (Steen 1976:90-91).

The first administrative manual for the forest reserves was issued in 1902 by the Department of Interior. The section on timber began with regulations on the free use of timber. For sales, local demand had preference. After a potential purchaser requested a timber sale, the government would inspect it, mark the trees or area to be cut, and then advertise the sale to the public for bids. The Forest Service believed strongly in its mission to promote the wise use of forest resources. In a 1907 handbook, the Forest Service stated clearly, "The timber is there to be used, now and in the future...National Forests are made, first of all, for the lasting benefit of the real home builder. They make it impossible for the land to be skinned" (Steen 1976:59; Pinchot 1907:11, 17).

The first manual provided no appraisal formulas, but timber prices at that time were seldom over $2 per thousand board feet (the first appraisal manual was issued in 1914). Before 1910 the reproductive capacity of a forest was essentially a matter of guesswork. Then the Forest Service adopted allowable cutting levels in order to protect against over-cutting. The allowable cut represented the amount that would produce sustained-yield harvests (Wiener 1982:2; Clary 1986:30, 34).

In the early years, the Forest Service issued free-use permits for cutting timber. Settlers, miners, residents, and prospectors could harvest $100 worth of timber annually from forest reserves each year, provided it was used for domestic purposes, firewood, fencing, buildings, or mining. For example, in 1906 on the Lewis & Clark Forest Reserve one man was granted 10 cords of dead standing and down lodgepole near the junction of Upper Twin Creek and the South Fork to build a cabin in the vicinity. In 1905 the forest reserve issued 131 free-use permits that granted about 34,000 board feet and 215 cords of green wood, plus 71,000 board feet and 1,500 cords of dead wood (Wiener 1982:3; "Free Use of Timber, 1905" FNF CR).

Up to 1907 most of the timber harvested on the Flathead National Forest was on land that is now in Glacier National Park, mostly fuelwood and timber for building homes in the Lake McDonald area. The early timber sales on the Forest, few in number, were usually for $1 per thousand board feet, 3 cents for 30-foot poles, and 15 cents per cord for fuel wood. When the Park was designated in 1910, logging for revenue continued to be allowed within the Park. In 1911, the Park ordered a sawmill and shingle machine, and superintendent Logan stated "the cutting of fully matured timber will not in the least mar the beauty of the park, but will benefit the growing timber...Numerous inquiries for lumber have been received, and in a short time it is believed lumber will rank first among the sources of revenue" (Shaw 1967:1, 12; Logan 1911: 10).

The 1910 fires killed 5-10 billion board feet of mature timber in Idaho and western Montana and led to a glut of timber on the market in Montana. Salvage sales were offered, but only 1 billion board feet were actually sold and cut. The Forest Service even approved the cancellation of current contracts to allow firekilled timber to be used instead (Wiener 1982:33).

By 1923 each national forest had been divided into "working circles" to aid in timber management planning. The boundaries of these divisions were based on topography, transportation networks, management objectives, stand composition and condition, ownership, and the area needed to support local forest-based industries. The boundaries were reviewed and modified as needed. The allowable cuts were determined within that area, consistent with sustained yield over the working circle. Timber management plans were prepared on 10-year cycles (see Figure 91) (Preston 1923:582-585; G. Robinson 1975:62).

Figure 91. Boundaries of the working circles on the Flathead National Forest, ca. 1960. (click on image for a PDF version)

The 1920 Flathead National Forest timber management plan called for a sustained yield on each of the working circles to encourage established industries to continue on a permanent basis. It noted that private timber would be "dumped on the market as rapidly as possible" and that federal and state timber provided the only reservoir of timber for future use (see Figure 92) (FNF, "Preliminary Statement of Policy," 20 November 1920, box 85429, item 2, RG 95, FRC).

SpeciesBlackfeet National ForestFlathead National Forest
western white pine74260
ponderosa pine102270
lodgepole pine151379
western larch11131500
Engelmann spruce1079769
white and alpine fir81321
limber and whitebark pine434
total saw & tie timber30904750
cedar poles1200035000
Figure 92. 1924 estimates of timber on the Blackfeet and Flathead National Forests. Figures are in million board feet ("Forest Statistics for Region One, approximately 1925," RO).

In the fiscal year ending June 30, 1916, the Flathead and Blackfeet National Forests combined sold 46.5 million board feet of timber, and the sawmills in the same area and same period cut 191.0 million board feet. The percentage of the cut coming from the national forests was fairly significant at that time, and at least one local lumberman complained that the government, by putting the timber on the market, was depressing an already overloaded stumpage market. One of the reasons timber was logged more on private lands in the early years was because of the more stringent regulations on Forest Service sales, such as requirements to leave a 16" stump, dispose of brush, and so on (Charles I. O'Neil to H. H. Chapman, 9 February 1917, 2400 - Timber - Historical - Genl Corr, RO; Hannon 1970).

In 1917 there were complaints in the Kalispell area that the Forest Service was selling its timber at too low a rate ($1.25 per thousand board feet) to the Eureka Lumber Company, thus reducing the stumpage value of all private timber land holdings in the area. Forest Service competition, it was feared, would prevent private profits. Senator Myers, in response, introduced legislation that would prohibit the sale of any national forest timber for less than $3 per thousand. This conflict was apparently resolved by a consolidation of private land ownership, as in 1920 a Flathead National Forest report stated that the complaints had largely been silenced by "the absorption of a large part of the small holdings by larger owners who contemplate early exploitation" (Semi-annual report to the Forester, 1 May 1917, 1380 Reports - District 1, 1917; "Public Sentiment," 18 November 1913, in 1380 Reports - Historical - Public Sentiment, RO; FNF, "Preliminary Statement of Policy," 20 November 1920, box 85429, item 2, RG 95, FRC).

According to a contemporary Forest Service report, people were complaining about national forest stumpage prices because they speculated on timber lands and thought the value would go up, but they had actually paid too much for the land in the first place. If the federal government were to put a high price on the stumpage, then the opportunities of the small operator would be eliminated ("General Summary of Timber Situation," 2400 - Timber - Historical - General Corr, RO:4-5, 13). During the late 1920s, prices for Flathead and Blackfeet National Forest timber sales rarely were higher than $2 per thousand board feet (see Figure 93).

BuyerDateMBFTimber typePrice/MBFTotal Sale
L. R. Smith
2,000white pine2.004,000.00
F. Calkins3/10/2672larch & fir2.17156.24
J. Oxender5/18/26970larch & fir1.751,697.50
Nyack T&T1/8/271,931larch & fir2.144,132.34
Nyack T&T1/8/271,677spruce2.143,588.78
H. Good4/25/27200larch & fir1.50300.00
Johnson & Ramlow12/21/27250larch & fir1.65412.50
Julius Berg8/4/2755larch & fir1.5082.50
Johnson & Ramlow1/28/281,012larch & fir1.701,720.40
Julius Berg8/11/2880larch & fir1.50120.00
Julius Berg1/16/29200larch & fir1.50300.00
Julius Berg1/15/2920larch & fir1.5030.00
11 tie sales
8,467larch & fir1.9416,540.26
Figure 93. All timber sales on Flathead and Blackfeet National Forests, May 1926-January 1929 ("Appraisal" 1930:11).

World War I had a significant effect on the demand for lumber and on Forest Service resources. At the start of the war in 1914, foreign purchase orders were canceled, but then demand increased greatly because the Allies lacked the manpower to harvest timber in Europe. Under the War Powers Act, the Forest Service was permitted to sell timber without competition, and price ceilings were imposed. During World War I the U. S. Army required a great deal of lumber in Europe. Instead of shipping it overseas, the Army organized a regiment of experienced foresters and lumbermen, many of them Forest Service employees, to be stationed in Europe. In France, the regiment cut about 300 million board feet of lumber plus poles and firewood, operating about 90 sawmills. More than 30,000 American foresters, woodsmen, and mill men served in Europe, many returning home with a new respect for the conservation methods practiced in France and for the frustration with government controls felt by industry in the U. S. The war strengthened industrial trade associations and increased industry-wide cooperation necessary to allow the lumber industry to deal with the government on more equal terms (Cox 1985:205; Wiener 1982:112; Clary 1986:68-69).

Region One of the Forest Service helped out in the 1919 fuel emergency by allowing officials to obtain wood from the national forests for the use of those in need under free-use permits. The consumer paid only the actual cost of cutting and delivery (16 December 1919, 2400 Timber - Historical - General Corr, RO).

Commercial sales on the national forests remained low during the interwar period. In 1921, for example, the Flathead National Forest sold only 8 million board feet of timber in commercial sales ("Timber Sales Business" 1921:6-7).

In approximately 1929, the Flathead National Forest was still making "no push the sale of national forest timber. It is considered better management of public resources to preserve and protect this timber until such time as the private timber has been cut and a new source of supply is needed to perpetuate existing industries and meet the demand for forest products." At that time only about 10% of the annual production of 75 million board feet of lumber in the Flathead Valley came from the Flathead National Forest (USDA FS "Flathead National Forest" ca. 1929).

In 1931, during the Depression, President Hoover restricted national forest timber sales because of overproduction. The Forest Service prohibited timber sales over $500 except to supply mills dependent on the national forests, to supply domestic paper mills, or to salvage damaged timber (W. Robbins 1982:143).

As the prices for paper products rose, the Forest Service fielded inquiries about the possibilities of a pulp industry in Region One. The Forest Service considered the Engelmann spruce stands on the Flathead and Blackfeet National Forests as the most accessible timber of the kind desired by the Wisconsin pulp mills. The Blackfeet National Forest, under the supervision of supervisor Robert McLaughlin, did an extensive study in the late 1910s of the pulpwood resources of northern Montana, hoping to encourage the establishment of a paper industry there ("Robert P. McLaughlin" 1929:4; Silcox to the Forester, 10 May 1917, 2 Semi-annual Report, 1380 Reports - Historical - District 1, RO).

The Forest Service study focussed on Big Creek, Deep Creek, and Canyon Creek in the North Fork. The report indicated that 75% of the timber in that area was good for pulpwood, with a reserve supply to the north and south. It recommended a pulp and paper mill on or near Flathead Lake, with the fluming of logs down tributary streams to the North Fork. The report also stated that the Forest Service would establish new stands after harvest, as it was practicing forestry on the basis of sustained yield. In the 1930s Forest Service officials in the area were still recommending a pulp or paper operation in the Flathead that would be supported by 95 million board feet of spruce and subalpine fir annually. The controlling factor, they believed, would be developing a market for the associated western larch and Douglas-fir ("Possibilities" ca. 1920:3-6, 11-12; Ibenthal 1936:14).

Some flathead timber was shipped out of the area for pulp, although the proposed pulp mill was not built. In 1927 subalpine fir and spruce were being shipped in the log from Nyack to a Spokane pulp mill because the Somers Lumber Company would not accept the logs (Wilfred W. White memos, 11 & 15 August 1927, Flathead Inspection Reports, Region One, RG 95, FRC).

Montana's first pulp mill was built in the Missoula area in 1956 (Bolle 1964:11). Pulp and plywood mills helped stabilize the income of lumber mills. The industry, traditionally cyclic, was affected by ups and downs in the building industry and by fluctuations in the demand for and price of lumber.

Swan Valley

The public land in the Swan Valley was recognized early as an excellent "logging chance." At the turn of the century, when no commercial timber harvesting had yet been done in the Swan, H. B. Ayres recommended using an electric railway to log the Swan Valley, with a sawmill located at the mouth of the Swan River. In 1906, a Forest Service inspector commented that the Swan and the South Fork both offered excellent opportunities for the construction of roads to make large bodies of timber available for harvest (Ayres "Lewis & Clarke" 1900:79; 28 November 1906, entry 7, box 4, "Reports of the Section of Inspection," RG 95, NA).

The first large (and still the largest ever) timber sale on the Flathead National Forest took place in 1913, when the Forest sold timber in the Swan Valley to the Somers Lumber Company. The sale led to the first railroad logging on the Flathead National Forest (most railroad logging was done on private holdings). The 1913 and 1917 sales represented a total cut of 87 million board feet of sawlogs and 302,000 board feet of railroad ties. The logging took place between October 1914 and July 1919 (Shaw 1967:1, 123-124; J. C. Urquhart to Regional Forester, 4 February 1937, FNF Lands; Wiener 1982:35).

The Somers Lumber Company sale in the Swan Valley was located on over 9,000 acres in the Swan River drainage on the east side and at the head of Swan Lake. The Forest Service intended to list much of the land for settlement as soon as the timber had been removed, as it was considered of high agricultural value. The timber in the 1913 sale consisted of about 51% western larch, 25% Douglas-fir, 12% Engelmann spruce, 10% western white pine, and 2% red cedar. The company paid $2 per thousand board feet, regardless of species, which the Forest Service considered a good price ("100,000,000 Feet," 1913:418; F. A. Silcox to Thomas Cooper, 23 January 1917, entry 70, box 7, RG 95, NA; Wiener 1982:35).

The Somers Lumber Company called for bids from logging contractors on the Swan Valley sale in 1913, but none were accepted. Instead, the company hired James E. Craney and his complete logging outfit to run the operation (Craney had built the spur railroad line from Kalispell to Somers). Several logging camps were set up, including one made of modular units on skids located on the logging railroad line and another made up mainly of tents. The land was clearcut and slash was burned on the sale. After the logging slash was broadcast burned, according to a Forest Service report, the small streams in the area went dry regularly in the summer (Craney 1978; Seattle RG 95, Flathead 1920-23 Inspection Reports, 9/11/22 memo; 18 December 1937 memo, Inspection Reports, Region One, 1937-, RG 95, FRC).

The Forest Service ranger stationed at Swan Lake scaled timber the winter of 1914-15 and spent subsequent winters looking after free-use permits and the government horses. About 150 men were working in the camps near the head of Swan Lake in 1918. Twelve families lived near the post office at the head of the lake, using boats to travel the lake in the summer and the "ice road" in the winter. The rest of the year a 7-mile wagon/automobile road provided the main access to the Flathead Valley (24LA149, FNF CR; Elwood 1980:200).

In 1919 a lunch fire broke out and burned over the entire sale area. Only about 5,700 acres of the 9,000 sold had been harvested; the rest of the timber burned in the fire (Stevens & Westphal n.d.:1).

Middle Fork

In 1899 H. B. Ayres wrote that an electric railroad might be feasible in the Middle Fork for hauling logs. Despite a growing demand for lumber east of the Divide, he felt that at that time none of the timber on the Middle Fork could be sold "at any price on the stump" because of transportation difficulties (Ayres "Lewis & Clarke" 1900:51, 67).

One early cordwood sale on Flathead Forest Reserve land was at Summit. The government sold approximately 253 cords to the Cut Bank Mercantile Company for 55.5 cents per cord. Timber sales continued slow but steady in the area. By 1918, small timber sales kept one man employed almost exclusively year-round out of Coram Ranger Station (14 February 1905 and 5 June 1905, "Rangers 1-1-05 to 6-30-05" pressbook, FNF CR; FNF "General Report" 1918).

Before 1908, the Forest Service offered small sales of cordwood, fence posts, and house logs to settlers along the railroad line up the Middle Fork. Timber was also harvested for administrative use as well. Timber harvest peaked in 1917 and then dropped again by 1920. In 1920, according to a report, "The area around Belton and Coram, adjacent to the Great Northern Railway and the river...has been cut over several times for logs, ties, poles, and finally for dead poles and cordwood. At present these lands are practically clear cut of merchantable timber and support only a partial stand of production." On the Coram Working Circle through 1959, 957,000 board feet were logged (FNF "Timber Management, Coram" 1961:40-41).

South Fork

In the early years, no contractor would buy stumpage above Devil's Elbow on the South Fork of the Flathead (approximately where the Hungry Horse Dam is now located) because the river flowed through a Z formed by sheer rock walls. Any logs that floated through the canyon would be battered and thus unfit for lumber (Frohlicher 1986:29).

In 1933 the Forest Service established the Coram Experimental Forest in the South Fork drainage, 7,460 acres dedicated to research. This was one of only two experimental forests at the time (see Figure 94). Active research began in 1946 to study harvesting methods and the restocking of cutover land; later other resource management issues in western larch/Douglas-fir stands were also studied. The Flathead National Forest has remained responsible for fire protection, road maintenance, and timber sales within the experimental forest (Sneck 1977:7; "Facts about Coram Experimental Forest," box 3, folder 5, MSS 84, UM; Baker et al. 1993:149).

Figure 94. Location of Coram Experimental Forest.

In the early 1960s a feasibility study of a timber sale in the Bob Marshall Wilderness concluded that the area should remain a wilderness because of high costs of road construction and low timber demand (see Figure 95) (Merriam 1966:91, 96)

Figure 95. Hypothetical timber sale in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, mapped in 1960 (Merriam 1966:123). (click on image for a PDF version)

North Fork and North of Columbia Fails

The accessible timber on the private land in the south part of the North Fork was cut out in the early 1920s. The ranger district wrote the first timber management plan in 1925, but no development occurred (FNF "Timber Management, Glacier View" 1959:4).

One of the early timber sales on the Forest occurred in 1909 in the Canyon Creek area. The logs were hauled by four- and six-horse wagons to Columbia Falls. In a typical timber sale, the J. Neils sale on Cedar Creek north of Columbia Falls, the company cut the best and most accessible timber and then asked to be relieved of cutting the rest. A Forest Service inspector commented that "Neils has this habit" (Thayer 1979; 27 December 1937 memo, Inspection Reports, Region One, 1937-, RG 95, FRC).

Two mill sites selected in 1912 and withdrawn by the Blackfeet National Forest included one on Hay Creek (a small water-powered mill had been built there some years ago) and one on Red Meadow Creek (which had no value then because there were "no timber sale activities in this region"). In 1916 the Hay Creek site was recommended to be released because no mill man could be convinced to establish a mill there (FNF "General Report" 1918; FNF Lands)

Logging During and Shortly After World War II

The national timber industry expanded rapidly at the end of World War II. Overcutting on many private lands compelled private timber owners to turn to the national forests; the Forest Service entered the market economy. The public and Congress both pressured the Forest Service to produce more timber. In 1940 national forests still provided only 3.2% of the nation's timber, but by 1970, Forest Service lands accounted for 18% of the national harvest. During the war, the standards of forest practice declined because of the pressure for more lumber. The national forests were not ready to meet the demand and spent most of the war years rushing to get into production. Meanwhile, industry overcut its stands. By the end of the war, though, the Forest Service was oriented towards commercial timber sales on a scale larger than ever before (W. Robbins 1982:237; Dana 1980:175).

The Flathead National Forest's timber harvest increased dramatically during and after World War II. During the Depression, almost no timber had been sold. Shortly after the Depression, the Forest sold about 3-4 million board feet annually, but in 1944 the Flathead National Forest sold 31 million board feet. In 1955 the Forest sold 102 million board feet, representing just over 50% of the timber sold in the valley (see Figure 96) (Bolle 1959:73-74).

Figure 96. Volume of timber cut on the Flathead National Forest, 1935-1960. The prices of Douglas-fir and Englemann spruce lumber per thousand board feet are also shown (from Bolle 1959:120f).

Much of the valley bottom lands had been cleared of timber and planted to agricultural crops. From approximately 1900-1920 railroad logging and river driving brought logs to the large mills from the relatively flat benchlands of the larger drainages. The development of tractor skidding and truck hauling directly to the mill ponds allowed logging to be done on private lands all over the valley. At the same time, national forest stumpage came into demand, and the purchase of government timber to keep operating became accepted by all mill operators after the end of World War II (Ibenthal 1952:49, 52a).

As in other periods, desirable species shifted with availability and changing marketing and building construction techniques. In 1934 the value of various species was: western white pine, $8 per thousand board feet; ponderosa pine, $2-5 per thousand board feet; lodgepole pine, $1-4 per thousand board feet; other species, $0.25-2.50 per thousand board feet. In 1940 larch provided only 2.9% of the total cut of sawlogs in Region One, largely because of its weight and high shipping costs compared to Douglas-fir. By 1946 it was providing 21.9%; larch was used mostly in framing and concrete forms and had been approved for transmission line poles for the REA. By the 1940s, western larch was the leading species in northwestern Montana, and ponderosa pine had been increasing since 1935. Most of the ponderosa was being shipped to the midwest to be remanufactured into sash and doors. In 1946 the Forest Service announced a large sale of lodgepole from the Lewis & Clark National Forest. Before then it had been virtually unmarketable, but the demand grew (Brown 1934:209; R1 PR 963, 25 February 1946; Winters 1950:97; Sundborg 1945:14, 24; Baker et al. 1993:165).

During the war, the Forest Service offered timber sales in excess of normal sustained-yield limitations where forest products were needed to satisfy wartime requirements. To aid in the war effort, Congress made provisions for new access roads to open up new supplies of timber. Timber access roads built during 1943 and 1944 in Region One included two on the Flathead National Forest. The Emery Creek Project involved building 6 miles of road to gain access to a stand of white pine and larch. The road, built in 1944, allowed the harvesting of 10 million board feet of lumber in 1945; it was designed to run above the elevation of the flowage line of the proposed Hungry Horse Reservoir. The Skyland Road near Summit was also built in 1944 to harvest timber to meet wartime needs (Granger 1943:113; USDA FS "History of Engineering" 1990:420, 422).

The war-time boom led to the establishment of new small mills in the Flathead, many of them producing railroad ties because of the increased use of the railroads during the war (see Figure 97). The American Timber Company, for example, built a permanent mill on state land in the Lower Stillwater Lake area and cut ties during the war over a vast area. When the war was over, the portable mills switched back to cutting lumber (Cusick 1986:17).

Year Number of mills Total reported production
1869 - 13,000
1879 - 21,000
1889 - 94,000
1899 69 255,685
1904 36 236,430
1905 23 189,291
1906 84 328,727
1907 130 343,814
1908 173 311,533
1909 179 308,582
1910 140 319,089
1911 126 228,416
1912 118 272,174
1913 109 357,974
1914 124 317,842
1915 94 324,333
1916 103 383,884
1917 122 347,496
1918 98 335,811
1919 125 287,378
1920 124 409,667
1921 120 213,989
1922 100 303,458
1923 117 426,917
1924 100 350,335
1925 120 388,854
1926 122 378,698
1927 127 398,267
1928 119 387,879
1929 126 388,711
1930 114 296,990
1931 86 158,213
1932 72 111,048
1933 89 125,126
1934 105 171,841
1935 116 233,633
1936 126 295,233
1937 146 335,045
1938 140 221,579
1939 168 271,096
1940 168 325,338
1941 265 373,970
1942 249 433,089
1943 228 423,520
1944 256 448,498
1945 253 341,749
1946 401 413,859
1947 407 499,959
1948 434 597,944
Figure 97. Number of sawmills and lumber production in Montana, selected years 1869 to 1948 (from Kemp 1950:6).

Over 700 Region One Forest Service employees served in World War II. As in World War I, companies of Forest Engineers were sent overseas to provide timber for the troops they served. The Forest Service and other agencies contributed technical knowledge and personnel (Baker et al. 1993:163; Winters 1950:23-24).

World War II touched ground on Flathead National Forest land in a rather strange way in December of 1944. Two woodcutters working 17 miles southwest of Kalispell found a Japanese balloon on the ground containing a bomb that had failed to explode (Webber 1984:261).

On the home front, woods work was considered essential work, so local logging contractors did not face a shortage of workers during the war. Camps for conscientious objectors were located on various national forests. In the Flathead, conscientious objectors were based in Glacier National Park.

The building boom following World War II led to pressure for the increased harvesting of timber on national forest lands. After the war, the home construction industry boomed. Consumers' purchasing power had accumulated, and rehabilitating war-torn Europe also led to a market for American lumber. Timber management ceased to be largely custodial. At the end of the war, 57% of the commercial forest land in Flathead County was national forest land, and much of it was targeted for harvesting. As historian Harold Steen put it, "Following the war there was broad agreement for the need to step up the tempo of logging on national forests" (Steen 1976:280; Sundborg 1945, appendix 7).

The significant growth in the Montana timber industry began in 1946. The increase in logging was due to a national backlog of demand for housing, price increases for stumpage and lumber, and the depletion of timber in other regions. Five plywood mills moved into Montana between 1955 and 1964, three of them to the upper Flathead, partly because of the growing interest in western larch as a veneer species. The post-war timber boom ended at the end of 1956. In 1957, the number of operating mills dropped from 104 to 60 in one year (Bolle 1966:19-20).

The Flathead National Forest, like national forests around the country, increased its annual cut following World War II. The Forest reached the allowable cut it had set for itself of 60 thousand board feet for the first time in 1947. The allowable cut remained at this level until 1957, although it was exceeded some of those years. This allowable cut figure was later more than doubled due to better inventories and improved silvicultural and utilization practices. The timber program dominated the agency's workday as it never had before (Merriam 1966:70; Shaw 1967:124; Clary 1986:122, 125).

Roads had traditionally been amortized out of stumpage. The Forest Service gave priority to access road construction and later encouraged logging companies to construct access roads in return for discounts on the price of timber sales. The outbreak of war in Korea in the summer of 1950 intensified the demands for lumber and roads. Congress began to increase appropriations for road construction. In Region One, small operators could not afford to build even spur roads. The Forest Service argued that with an established road system, timber sales could be fair to large and small purchaser alike (Caywood et al. 1991:62; Steen 1976:283-84; Clary 1986:113, 117, 119).

In 1950, 40% of the sawmills in northwestern Montana depended on national forest timber in part or in whole. Generally they bought timber sales that supplied them for less than two years. The portable mills at the time moved once every 1-3 months. Most of the mills could be moved by truck or skidded by tractor and were usually located on 10-20° slopes (this helped with loading ties and lumber on trucks and allowed the waste piles to be bigger). Until 1941 they produced railroad ties only, but with World War II they all began cutting and selling lumber from the thick slabs (tie siding) that had previously been casually thrown away (Helburn 1950:31-35, 65, 68).

The Sustained Yield Management Act of 1944 authorized the establishment of sustained-yield units under which the rate, manner, and time of timber harvest would be managed in a coordinated way according to approved silvicultural practices. Mills could be provided with a constant supply of timber without resorting to competitive bidding, if required for community stability. Although much of the timber industry supported the idea, much of the public was opposed. The pressure of war-time demands for timber helped the act get enough support to be passed, but there never were any cooperative sustained-yield units in Montana (R. Robbins 1976:438; W. Robbins 1982:239; Steen 1976:250-252; Clepper 1971:284, 286).

In 1936 the Kootenai National Forest recommended that the Forest Service help support the J. Neils Lumber Company in Libby. A plan for a long-term agreement was drawn up, using national forest and private land, but it never went into effect. The J. Neils Company was one of the first to institute selective logging designed to perpetuate its forests, beginning in 1939. Because the Flathead Valley did not represent a monopoly situation similar to the J. Neils Company case in Libby, a sustained-yield unit based on the Libby example was never seriously proposed for the upper Flathead (Baker et al. 1993:145; Neils 1971:87; Bolle 1959: 172).

Insect, Disease, and Windstorm Damage to Timber

From 1910-1944 Montana's forests lost 25.6 billion board feet annually, half due to insects, one quarter to fire, and the rest to disease, windstorms, etc. The loss exceeded the cut during these years by 26%. The most severe insect infestation was that of the mountain pine beetle, first noted on the Flathead National Forest (in the Swan Valley) in 1909. It killed much lodgepole pine and also ponderosa pine. The infestation spread rapidly south, being found at Seeley Lake by 1913. This reportedly started the 1910-1918 epidemic in the Blackfoot River drainage that did a great deal of damage there (Hutchison 1952:42; Cunningham 1926:55; Moon 1991:85).

In the early 1910s the Forest Service did insect control work on the west side of Swan Lake. Ranger Baigrie Sutherland hired 14 lumberjacks for the project. They built their camp and cut and piled for burning 25,300 lodgepole trees. The infestation covered about 3,000 acres, and the cost was shared by the Forest Service, the State, and the ACM. A third of the crew were rangers who had been furloughed due to lack of funds; the rest were seasonal forest guards. They were paid $40 a month and board (Koch 1931:1; Clack 1931:13).

A 1928 infestation of mountain pine beetle in the Canyon Creek area destroyed about 70%, or several million board feet, of the white pine there. In the early 1930s, the Forest Service planned to offer white pine in the Nine Mile Lake area as a salvage sale because of the mountain pine beetle damage ("Insect Damage" 1931:6; "Result of Bark-Beetle" 1935:5; FNF "Timber Management, Glacier View" 1959:40).

In 1925 the mountain pine beetle was also damaging lodgepole pine on the upper South Fork. In 1927 Douglas-fir bark beetle had reached almost epidemic proportions east of Columbia Falls and a long way up the Middle Fork in the vicinity of a December 1924 blowdown. Mountain pine beetle was also present in the white pine north of Elk Park Ranger Station on the South Fork ("Summary of Forest Reports" 1926:21; Wilfred W. White memo, 15 August 1927, Flathead Inspection Reports, Region One, RG 95, FRC).

In the early 1930s large volumes of mature spruce were infested by insects and lost in Gregg and Alder Creeks, and some lodgepole pine was lost to mountain pine beetle in other years. Diseases took their toll too. By the late 1950s, white pine blister rust was killing white pine and whitebark pine in the Kalispell working circle. Also, Douglas-fir needle cast caused losses to the Christmas tree industry. Dwarf mistletoe was present in almost every pole and sawtimber stand in the working circle and causing serious losses (FNF "Timber Management, Kalispell" 1960:39; Ibenthal 1952:42).

Western spruce budworm affected the Swan Valley and the South Fork some between 1948 and 1971, but the damage was not as extensive as elsewhere in the northern Rockies. The host species are primarily Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, and western larch. The earliest outbreak on the Flathead National Forest was on Coram Ranger District in 1933. Some other forests were aerially sprayed to control spruce budworm, but the Flathead National Forest was not (Johnson & Denton 1975:1, 17, 26, 46, 89-90, 141-143).

There had been a number of severe windstorms on Flathead National Forest lands prior to World War II, such as one in 1923. The hardest-hit districts then were the Lower Swan and Lower South Fork, where trails, phone lines, and roads were blocked. In some areas, such as a 220-acre stand near Emma Creek, less than 5% of the timber was left standing. At that time, the Forest Service stated that it was simply impossible to salvage the timber because of the great expense. A successful salvage sale did occur in 1906 when the John O'Brien Lumber Company cut almost 1 million board feet along the east and west shores of Flathead Lake on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The sale had resulted from a blowdown earlier that year (Wolfe 1924:12; Historical Research Associates 1977:30-31).

By 1949, however, a number of conditions limiting blowdown salvage had changed, and after a severe windstorm in that year the Forest Service initiated a huge salvage logging program. On November 9, 1949, an event occurred that was soon known to foresters as "the '49 blow." High winds ripped through the forests of western Montana, northern Idaho, and eastern Washington, blowing over millions of board feet of sawtimber, mostly Engelmann spruce, Douglas-fir, and western larch. In the Lindbergh Lake area alone, for example, the trees on about 700 acres were blown down (Montana Conservation Council 1954:23).

In the summer of 1950 a salvage logging program got underway, aided by the slowing down of work on the Hungry Horse Dam. The Forest Service located blowdown areas by plane, mapped and cruised the affected areas, and scouted access routes on the ground. By that fall roads were being built. Timber was sold to the highest bidder, usually for less than the going price for standing timber. Logging companies found that Engelmann spruce that had been blown down in the 1949 windstorm was good lumber which - because of its lighter weight - could be shipped cheaper than fir and larch (Montana Conservation Council 1954:23; Whitney 1983).

The 1949 blowdown led directly to a severe spruce bark beetle epidemic in the northern Rockies. About 80% of the threatened spruce was on federal land. The first hints of the epidemic came in July 1951, when Fred Burnell was sent to Canyon Creek in the North Fork to locate roads for a proposed sale of spruce there. He found that about 25% of the mature trees were dead or dying. An entomologist reviewed the situation and "determined we were in trouble," finding that the spruce bark beetle had infested all mature spruce stands in Region One. As a result, said Burnell, "we in the West spent the next 2 or 3 years locating, designing, and constructing spruce bark beetle roads" ("Loggers Intensify" 1953:4; USDA FS "History of Engineering" 1990:538).

The Forest Service controlled the beetle by large-scale logging. Logging as a control method was based on the fact that beetle broods drowned in sawmill ponds or burned in slab fires. This logging led in turn to a flood of spruce on the market. The Forest Products Laboratory and the lumber associations helped obtain consumer acceptance of spruce by testing spruce and recommending it. The marketing of spruce was successful; the Flathead National Forest reported that the large mills in the valley were competing for spruce to "sweeten their larch-Douglas-fir diet." By 1959 spruce was competing with white pine and was being marketed as suitable for decking and "knotty pine" paneling (R1 PR 1114, 29 August 1952; Montana Conservation Council 1954:24; FNF "Timber Management, Kalispell" 1960:49; Bolle 1959:74, 128).

In 1953 Congress appropriated over $8 million to build roads to access stands of insect-infested or threatened spruce in northern Idaho and western Montana. Contracts under this program included 35.5 miles on the North Fork of the Flathead, 18 miles on Whale Creek, 6.5 miles on Teepee Creek, 6 miles on Coal Creek, 18.4 miles on Tally Lake, and 9 miles along Good Creek, all on the Flathead National Forest. By March of 1954 the Flathead National Forest was offering 120 million board feet of spruce in 18 sales at prices "set to expedite logging." By the fall of 1956 Region One, in cooperation with private industry, the U. S. Bureau of Entomology, and state foresters, had logged approximately 2 billion board feet of spruce and had constructed 437 miles of roads as part of the salvage program. The Engelmann Spruce Bark Beetle Salvage Program operated on the Kootenai, Flathead, Lolo, Kaniksu, and other national forests in cooperation with the wood-products industry. One participant felt that the program "welded the people in the Forest Service into a 'family' mode that...created an esprit de corps very seldom seen in public-sector organizations" (R1 PR 1141, 28 August 1953; R1 PR 1148, 11 March 1954; 3 October 1956, 1380 Reports - Historical - Reports to the Chief, RO; Baker et al. 1993:320-321).

In the North Fork, the spruce bark beetle reached epidemic levels between 1952 and 1957. Engelmann spruce in the North Fork represented 12% of the total spruce available in the state of Montana. In 1949 about 1.9 million board feet were cut on Glacier View Ranger District. In 1955 the harvest was 54.2 million board feet, but by 1956 it had declined to 33.1 million, reflecting the decline of the spruce bark beetle operations. In the North Fork, Ford Work Station and Ninko Cabin were used by timber cruisers in the winter of 1954-55 as part of the logging program there. Men worked 10-day hitches on snowshoes (Bolle 1959:23, 33; "North Fork History," GVRD, ca. 1981; Hutchens 1989).

The spruce bark beetle control logging program led to timber harvests well above the sustained-yield figures for districts. On Glacier View Ranger District, for example, the sustained yield was set at 14 million board feet a year, but in 1955 the district cut over 54 million board feet (see Figure 98) ("Area Lumber" 1956:4). The district had harvested well below the allowable cut, however, through the 1940s.

Figure 98. Relation of allowable cut to annual cut, Glacier View Working Circle, 1916-1957. Sharp increase in annual cut reflects salvage and insect control logging after 1949 blowdown (from Bolle 1959:53f).

The increase in the allowable cut in the North Fork in the 1950s was due to the reduction of the minimum merchantable diameter from 14" to 11", the development of markets for spruce, subalpine fir, lodgepole, and whitebark pine, technological advances in logging machinery, and adjustments in timber type acreages combined with changes in forested areas from non-commercial to commercial forest ("North Fork History," ca. 1981, GVRD).

At the first North Fork sale of dead spruce, only a few large operators were allowed to bid, and they were reportedly in collusion to submit no bids and force the government to let them take the spruce at zero stumpage just to haul it away. One of the operators did bid, however. He got the first sale, and after that there was a strong market for salvage spruce (Bolle 1959:75, 125).

In the late 1960s another spruce bark beetle infestation spread through most of the remaining stands of Engelmann spruce in the North Fork. Units that had been left standing along major stream bottoms were included in timber sales, often bordering clearcuts from the previous infestation. These blended together to look like continuous clearcuts. In addition, adjacent windthrows often converted units into clearcuts.

The spruce bark beetle program led to record-breaking timber sales on other Flathead National Forest districts besides the North Fork. For example, the Sullivan Creek sale on Hungry Horse Ranger District, completed in the late fall of 1958, was for 21 million board feet. On the Kalispell Working Circle, roads were built into many drainages to salvage blowdown after the 1949 storm and remove insect-infested timber. In the early 1950s insect control was tried by spraying the spruce bark beetle, but the results were inadequate. Trap trees also were ineffective. Control by logging worked best, except for occasional localized outbreaks (Arvidson 1967; FNF "Timber Management, Kalispell" 1959:4, 39-40).

Approximately 1,000 acres on the east slope of the Mission Mountains were also severely affected by the 1949 windstorm. Salvage logging operations were authorized, but the logging companies did not think it an economically viable proposition. By 1952 the spruce bark beetle was epidemic and was spreading to live trees in the area. The Forest Service and the Northern Pacific Railroad then carried out joint control-logging operations within the Primitive Area and along its eastern boundary. Eight roads entered the primitive area and were blocked after the logging was completed in 1958. The completion of Highway 209 through the Swan in 1959, and the development of a cost-share road construction agreement between the Forest Service and the Northern Pacific, led to increased timber harvesting and road development throughout the Swan. In the 1950s, the annual cut in the Swan averaged 14.6 million board feet per year. The beetle epidemic was under control by 1957, partly due to natural enemies (Wright 1966:18, 51-52; Craney 1978; FNF "Timber Management, Swan" 1960:14, 32, 40).

Logging in the 1950s

During the 1940s, small- and medium-sized mills continued to gain in importance relative to the large mills. In 1941 the Somers Lumber Company changed its name to Glacier Park Company, Somers Lumber Division. The mill was shut down and dismantled in 1948 or 1949. The president of the Great Northern at the time said it closed due to a diminishing supply of timber on company lands and the need to conserve remaining standing timber for the future production of ties and lumber (they had a 75,000-acre tree farm on cutover lands in the Flathead Lake area). After a few years the DeVoe Lumber Company started a mill cutting dimension material in the Glacier Park Company buildings, but the mill was destroyed by fire in 1957 (Elwood 1976:26-27, 36; FNF "Timber Management, Kalispell" 1960:49).

In 1952 the wood resources industry accounted for 12-15% of the total economy of the Flathead Valley. The small mills in the Flathead were cut off from the public timber by the cost of building access roads and the high cost of purchasing equipment to log the timber. With large sales, the government could capitalize the cost of construction out of the stumpage of the sale. The small mills depended on small private woodlots and on the limited local market for rough lumber, selling their excess to the large mills. The large mills, on the other hand, depended on sales of public timber and on buying from large private land owners, such as railroad companies, and some small land owners. Small mills were typically portable, operated in the summers only, used old equipment, and produced ties, 2 x 4s, and rough lumber for the local market or to sell to the larger mills for finishing (Bolle 1959:71-73; Ibenthal 1952:15).

The decline in lumber prices in the fall of 1957 closed down most of the portable mills. In 1959 the headsaw capacity of the sawmills in the Flathead was more than the computed sustainable cut for the timber lands. Lumber prices rose in the spring of 1959, and logging activity correspondingly increased. In 1960, the sawmill capacity was about twice that of the allowable cut on the Flathead National Forest. There were 36 sawmills and four plywood plants in the Flathead National Forest area in 1964 (Bolle 1959:8; FNF "Timber Management, Kalispell" 1960:49; Shaw 1967:1; FNF "Timber Management, Swan" 1960:14).

Logging Methods

Timber Cruising and Scaling

In the late 1890s timber inventories were done quickly in order to cover large areas of ground. In 1908 Region One issued instructions for reconnaissance work. "Extensive reconnaissance" selected areas for logging units and roughly calculated growth. "Intensive reconnaissance," on the other hand, provided data for future timber sales and working plans (Baker et al. 1993:61-62).

During and after World War I, rangers "cruised" (inventoried) potential timber sales on snowshoes in the winter. Cruising involved estimating the volume-per-acre, the age and quality of the timber, drawing a drainage map, and selecting locations for river landings, log chutes, and possibly flumes. Once truck hauling had been developed, cruisers started locating logging roads instead of river-drive features (Shaw 1967:126).

In the 1930s and 1940s, cruisers worked individually. Most used the line-plot method with a 10% coverage. The cruiser would pace his line, measuring tree diameters and estimating the number of 16' logs to an 8" top in each plot. He would also compile a map showing natural features, slope, timber types, etc. Cruisers were expected to finish their strips of 40-80 plots before coming in at the end of the day; many came in late. At night the cruiser computed his cruise data by using volume tables and completed his map to agree with the maps of other strip lines. In 1949, a Region One forester commented that the cruisers in the Swan Valley were "literally festooned with equipment" (Taylor 1981; FNF Lands).

Three-man crews were used for marking trees. One man did the blazing, using a tool with an axe blade on one side and a US stamp on the other. On trees to be cut, he would make a blaze 5' above the ground and another about 1' above the ground (the lower one was branded). Another man carried the diameter tape and called out the species and diameter. The third man was the recorder; he helped select the trees and estimated the number of 16' logs in each one. Later, one recorder worked with two measuring and blazing teams (Taylor 1981).

Tree scaling involved determining the board foot volume in standing trees (measuring the diameter at breast height and estimating heights). By the mid-1940s logging had increased so much that there was a shortage of scalers, so the Forest Service began doing some sales by the "tree scale" method. After the trees had been felled and bucked, 10% of the trees were checked. Scalers would add up their scale book by hand either in slack times or in the evening. Scalers recorded the tree species, log length, net scale, and deductions for defects in order to determine the price to charge for harvested timber. They worked where the tree fell before it was skidded, at the landing while the chokers were being unhooked, or on the slip at a mill deck. Later, some scaling was done on trucks, and then at the mill yards (see Figure 99) (Taylor 1981, 1986).

Figure 99. Scaling logs (courtesy of Henry Elwood).

When tree scale sales began, the trees had to be numbered the same as the recorders' numbers so that a random scale of 10% of the logs could be done. Marking methods evolved from writing on the trees with a lumber crayon, writing on the upper blaze, writing on waxed cardboard milk bottle caps and nailing them to trees, and using aluminum tags with embossed tree numbers, to the use of the paint gun beginning in the 1950s. Companies branded the logs with an identifying mark - the Somers Lumber Company brand was the Diamond N - and with the year (Taylor 1981; Elwood 1976:30; "Flathead Logger" 1978:16).


On private land, clearcutting was the general harvesting method. A writer in 1934 commented that traditional practices were generally "based upon immediate profits and the exploitation of the forest with little or no thought to the future." He cited the disadvantages of selective logging as: there was no marked advantage in cutting only the largest trees for some products (cross ties, poles, etc.); more care was needed to remove the timber; the immature timber had to be protected and taxes paid on it; it was not useful in even-aged forests or dense forests; and it could not be practiced in areas cut under enforced liquidation of standing timber assets. Heavy taxation encouraged liquidation of standing timber assets (Brown 1934:104, 111, 206).

On the national forests, selective cutting was practiced at first, largely because there were no markets for small trees. At the turn of the century, the waste of timber in the woods and in the sawmills was extremely high, as the emphasis was on sawlogs, not small-dimension material. Loggers then shifted to clearcutting because some species were shade intolerant - they would not reproduce under selective cutting - and were susceptible to windthrow because of shallow roots. In 1939, the Forest Service required contractors to leave behind trees no less than 15" in diameter in order to encourage reproduction and make a second cut possible in later years. Clearcutting was favored, however, when an area was being cleared of insect or disease, and to help with slash disposal. Clearcutting became the dominant method after World War II on private lands and by the mid-1960s on Forest Service land (Winters 1950:71, 93; G. Robinson 1975:76, 83; FNF "Informational Report" 1939).

Under its Chief, Gifford Pinchot, the Forest Service became a consulting agency working with lumber firms on matters relating to efficient usage of forest products. From the beginning, the Washington Office told the Regions to manage with a view toward subsequent harvests. The question of harvesting method (selective cutting versus clearcutting) was debated from the beginning. The reforestation of cutover and burned lands was given high priority because of the fear of timber famine and the belief that "wood was the foundation of civilization" (Little 1968:6; Clary 1986:47, 50, 52).

In 1915, Region One forest examiner Donald Brewster made the following recommendations for timber harvesting methods by species:

white pine - clearcut mature stands, shelterwood immature stands
larch/Douglas-fir - heavy selection or seed-tree clearcut
ponderosa pine - selection cut
Douglas-fir - clearcut with seed trees
cedar, hemlock, white fir - not merchantable (Wiener 1982:35)

Foresters advocated removing logging debris from timber sales early on because the removal would reduce fire danger. A 1913 logging manual recommended piling and burning the slash. Contractors were required to burn slash on most sales (Bryant 19 13:26, 28; FNF "Informational Report" 1939).

Dozer skidding of logs led to dozer piling of slash because dozers produced much more slash than did horses. It was learned that the scarification caused by dozer piling improved regeneration. Reportedly Art Whitney, who worked for the Flathead National Forest in the Swan Valley, discovered this by noticing that loading areas torn up by horses had good regeneration. In 1947 he first tried scarification as a deliberate technique, and soon it was being practiced all over the Region (Whitney 1983).

Planting trees after logging was first attempted on the Flathead National Forest in 1909, but it was not done to any great extent or very successfully until the 1930s with the influx of CCC labor. Most stands were reforested by natural seeding following selective cutting. Thinning also helped productivity and was practiced on the Flathead (Shaw 1967:2).

In 1907, Supervisor Bunker of the Lewis & Clark South National Forest held a ranger meeting at which one of the topics of conversation was a proposal from the Washington Office that old burns be seeded or replanted. According to one participant, "It was discussed all right, generally without the 'dis,'" and the rangers voted down the proposal. Despite this early protest, in 1908 five-year planting programs began on national forests, and in 1909 the first trees were planted at Essex. This planting consisted of 297,000 seedlings on 655 acres. By 1917, Region One was planting slightly more than 4,000 acres per year (Clack 1923a:7; Shaw 1967:3; Montana Fish & Game 1975:51; Clary 1986:52; Silcox to the Forester, 10 May 1917, 1380 Reports - Historical - District 1, RO).

Under the Knutson-Vandenberg Act of 1930, the Forest Service could require purchasers of timber to make cash deposits to cover the cost of planting, seeding, or thinning in order to improve the future timber stand. This helped with reforestation and improved silvicultural practices in the national forests. "KV funds" could only be used on the sale areas from which they were collected. The plan for reforestation or stand-improvement work was determined for each sale area as part of the presale planning (G. Robinson 1975:74-75).

In 1938 the first Federation of Women's Clubs tree planting in Region One took place on the Flathead National Forest on some 40 acres of burned area along Highway 2 west of Belton. The Savenac nursery provided the trees and any planting funds not contributed by the Women's Clubs ("Planting Progress" 1938:6).

Sawyers working in the woods had a variety of tools at their disposal, from felling axes and broadaxes to crosscut saws, wedges, mauls, and sledges. Sawyers working with cross-cut saws were paid relatively well for their skill, either by the amount cut or by the day. In the 1920s, a cross-cut team needed to cut 10,000 board feet a day to make good wages (see Figure 100) (Montgomery 1982).

Figure 100. Sawyers felling a Douglas-fir with a cross-cut saw, standing on springboards (Brown 1934:11).

On logging sales where the logs were destined to float down rivers to a mill, western larch was "long butted." The stumps were often left 3' high or higher because the butts were heavy and logs would sink otherwise (see Figure 101). Leaving a long butt by cutting from a springboard also eliminated the twisted grain, pitch pockets, and heavy sap that were more prevalent in the first few feet above the trunk (7 January 1924 memo, Flathead Inspection Reports Region One, RG 95, FRC; letter from Al Reid to Gary McLean, January 1985, FNF CR).

Figure 101. Larch butts discarded on ACM sale, Seely Lake, Montana, 1908 (photo by W. J. Lubken, courtesy of USDA Forest Service, Region One, Missoula).

Sawyers would first decide which direction they wanted to fall the tree. They would then cut two notches large enough to hold a springboard in place on each side of the tree at a 90° angle from the direction of fall, would make an undercut notch to guide the tree's fall, and then would fall the tree using a two-man crosscut saw. The use of the springboard eliminated at least one cut. As chainsaws came into use in the 1940s and 1950s, springboards were no longer used (24FH466, FNF CR). After the sawyers felled and cut the trees into shorter lengths, "swampers" would trim and limb the short logs with axes.

Skidding and Hauling

In the northern Rockies, a variety of methods were used to skid logs from the felling site to the railroad, river, truck, etc. In the 1930s, these methods included tractors, horse skidding, hand logging, cable skidding, chutes, flumes, and combinations. From there, the logs were transported to the mill via railroads, horse-drawn sleighs, "big wheels," drays, river driving and towing, trucks, chutes, flumes, and combinations (Brown 1934:119; "Personal Experience Record of Capt George W. Slack," SC 126, MHS). Logging was generally done during the fall and winter months. In the Flathead, logging companies typically could expect 40-60 days of good sleighing conditions per year.

At first mills were built near steep wooded slopes and the timber was slid down long chutes to the saw teeth; the mill was moved when the supply was exhausted. Next, the mills relied on log drives. Logging railroads gave access to more remote areas.

Log chutes were used to a great extent on private land, and some were built for national forest timber sales. The chutes were generally made of two hewed logs and were kept greased with axle grease, lard, water, ice, or snow. Chutes transported logs from skidways to a landing at or in a stream or to a railroad landing or log dump. They generally ran along the bottom of draws rather than cutting across sidehills. The logs were moved by gravity or trailed by horses and tractors on more level ground. Chutes were used extensively in the steep gulches common in western Montana, Idaho, and British Columbia. In other parts of Montana flumes with water running through them were often used to transport logs. At least one Flathead Valley operation used a flume, that of the Empire Lumber Company in the Smith Valley in the 1920s. In the early 1920s the Montana Lath Company reportedly used a 6'-wide flume between Half Moon Lake and Lake Five to move logs to their mill on Lake Five. By the end of World War II the use of flumes and chutes in the northern Rockies had almost disappeared (Brown 1936: 132, 134; Elwood 1980:162; Sztaray-Kountz Planning 1994:12; Winters 1950:95).

Slides, or channels used to transport logs, crossties, firewood, etc., were used frequently in Montana. They were built down the valleys of streams or down the slopes of mountains. Earth slides were used for short distances on steep grades (these were basically a furrow in the ground). Timber slides were made of round or sawed timbers supported on cross-skids. On low grades a path for the animals towing the logs would be cleared. Chutes were used as the terminus of a skid or pole road where the logs were dumped into a body of water (Bryant 1913:230-231, 235).

Sometimes the chutes were used for unanticipated purposes. In 1891, on a Butte & Montana Commercial Company sale, Frank Miles and two other men were cutting ties and sawlogs on a mountainside. One of the men was killed by a falling tree. The only way to get his body out was to put it in a coffin and run it down a log chute (Johns IV:118).

Horses were used almost exclusively in the woods in the Flathead, but there were some ox teams in the early years (see Figure 102). For example, the Baker brothers used both oxen and horses in the Trego area in the early 1900s. The bull skinner could talk to the oxen and simply tap them on the horn or head with a stick to direct them. Jim Sullivan drove an ox team to log in a swamp in the Swan in the winter of 1909-10 because horses could not work there. Horses seldom lasted as many as 10 years on a logging job. Ruts for the sleigh runners were watered so the resulting ice would help the sleigh move more easily. On corduroy roads, the logs were generally greased with axle grease. Horses also "snaked" logs over crude trails or skid roads to their destination. The use of horses persisted in the Inland Empire longer than elsewhere in the northwest, into the 1920s and 1930s (Wilke 1983; Simpson 1967:114; Elwood 1976:27; Craney 1978; Hudson et al. ca. 1981:189). Mules were not used because they were not big enough for logging.

Figure 102. Frank Motichka and logging crew, ca. 1910 (courtesy of Stumptown Historical Society, Whitefish).

Sleighs averaged about 10,000 board feet to a load, about 8-9 logs high. The longest logs hauled were 24'. In the early years, crosshaul teams pulled logs up into decks ready for loading on sleighs or railroad cars. They also loaded the logs onto the sleighs or cars. A good crosshaul team needed very little direction; they were trained to voice commands (see Figure 103). Sidejammers began to be used for loading in approximately 1913 (Wilke 1983; Craney 1978).

Figure 103. Loading logs on to GNRR 40 miles west of Kalispell, operation of Edwin Conrad, Somers Lumber Company contractor, 1939 (photo by E. F. Rapraeger, courtesy of USDA Forest Service, Region One, Missoula).

Logs were generally hauled in the winters over snow. Loggers hauled some logs in the summers, mainly on flat land using "big wheels." The big-wheel drivers, known as foggle knockers, used slip-tongue wheels, 8-12' in diameter, to haul the logs with the back ends dragging to the river (Elwood 1976:28).

On the Somers Lumber Company 1910s sale in the Swan Valley, horses skidded logs out of the woods. They hauled logs in small groups on one set of runners ("hot logging"). Cross-haul teams then decked the logs for loading on to a sleigh or a railroad car. Once at Swan Lake or the Swan River, the logs were decked along the shore or on the ice. Boom logs encircled the decks of logs when the lake opened, and they were then towed to the foot of the lake. From there, they floated 16 miles to the pond above the dam in Bigfork, were helped over the top, and then were boomed and hauled by barges to the mill at Somers (Steel 1981:4-5B).

One of the first logging railroads in Montana, built around 1900, was located in the Bonner area. Rather than relying on the weather (enough snow for hauling, enough water for river drives) to provide the mills with logs seasonally, railroads could deliver logs year-round. Railroads gave access to areas without streams, and the logs were delivered clean and unbattered (versus via chutes and river drives). By 1910 there were approximately 2,000 logging railroads in the United States with about 30,000 miles of track (Morrow n.d.:70; Hudson et al. ca. 1981:193-194).

The Somers Lumber Company sale in the Swan was the first sale on the Flathead that used non-horse power for skidding - the contractor used a Lidgerwood skidder for skidding logs and loading them onto the railroad. The Lidgerwood at Swan Lake was mounted on a flatcar. It carried a boiler that supplied the steam for two steam engines. One engine hauled logs in from 1000', while the other loaded logs on railroad cars. The loader used cables attached to spar trees and could log a circle 2000' in diameter (Craney 1978).

The topography of the Flathead National Forest generally did not lend itself to railroad logging. Private forest lands were generally on less steep terrain. In the 1910s and 1920s, the Stillwater, Whitefish, Smith Valley, and Swan drainages were logged by railroad. At least ten lumber companies in the Flathead Valley used a logging railroad. The J. Neils Lumber Company in Libby and its predecessor had approximately 25 miles of logging railroad track (see Figure 104) (Bolle 1959:48; Linrude 1981; Adams 1961:161).

Lumber Company Location of Sawmill Miles of Track Dates of Operation
W. H. Best Bigfork 28 1937-47
Columbia Lumber Co. Columbia Falls 1 1917
Empire Lumber Co. Kalispell 3 1926-30
Enterprise Lumber Co. Kalispell 2 1913 (possibly other years)
Hutchinson Brothers Lumber Co. Whitefish 2 1909-28
Isaacs Lumber & Lath Co. Kalispell - - 1928-29
Somers Lumber Co. Somers 47 1914-42
John O'Brien Lumber Co. Somers 12 1901-1906
F. H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co. Columbia Falls 20 1933-46
State Lumber Co. Columbia Falls 20 1913-33
A. O. Westburg Lumber Co. Columbia Falls 3 (1915)-1932
Dawson Lumber Co. Libby 8 (1910)-1911
Libby Lumber Co. Libby 23 1911-1918
J. Neils Lumber Co. Libby 25 1918-56
Figure 104. Logging railroads in Flathead Valley area. The miles given are the highest of record (from Adams 1961:161).

The Shay engine was the most popular geared engine in the West for logging railroads (see Figure 105). The company built 2,761 engines between 1880 and 1945. The Shay locomotive was favored in the Flathead because of its excellent pulling power. It ran well on poor tracks, it operated at about 6-12 miles an hour, and it carried about 6,000 BF of logs per car. According to Emmanuel Buck, who worked in the early 1920s on the Half Moon logging railroad, it took 6 men to load the cars pulled by the Shay: an engineer, a fireman, a brakeman, two "hookers" manipulating the jammer (loader), and the jammer engineer. The derrick-like jammer was skidded up and down the tracks loading one car at a time (Elwood 1980:160; Bryant 1913:308; Montgomery 1982; "Trains" 1987).

Figure 105. A Shay geared locomotive (Bryant 1913:309).

The Somers Lumber Company used a 42-ton Shay engine built in 1904 and flat cars on its large sale in the Swan Valley on national forest land. The engine was later used for logging at Dayton, then by Stoltze, and is now on display at the head of Nucleus Avenue in Columbia Falls (Stevens & Westphal n.d.:1-3; Kehoe 1982; Craney 1978).

During the Depression railroad logging almost disappeared because it was so expensive to operate. Bottomlands had been cut over, and the technology was still inadequate to log mountainous terrain. Horse logging continued to be popular in the Flathead up to World War II, however (Bolle 1966:18; Morrow, n.d.:72; Whitney 1983).

By 1913 several companies in Montana owned steam donkeys, which used steam power and cables to haul logs onto landings, sleighs, and rivers, but they were not used in the Flathead until 1923. Donkey engine is the term for all kinds of power logging machines (cable, high lead, etc.). Compared to horses, they had more speed and power, could work on rougher slopes, and could work in extreme heat and cold, but skidding with donkey engines was difficult on steep ground (letter from Al Reid to Gary McLean, January 1985, FNF CR; Morrow, n.d.:72; Hudson et al. ca. 1981:189-90: Brown 1936:34, 80; Elwood 1980:160).

River Drives

River drives in the Flathead area ranged anywhere from 10 to 100 miles in length (see Figure 106). The cost of stumpage varied according to the distance to driving streams and to mills. Mills such as Somers Lumber Company that were dependent on river drives would shut down for a time during the winter until breakup in the spring. There was generally no logging during the summers in the Flathead because the heat and hauling over bare ground would have killed the stock ("Personal Experience Record of Capt. George W. Slack," SC 126, MHS; "Corporate History" n.d.:4; Elwood 1976:27; Suchy 1978:11).

Figure 106. Logs in Stillwater River near Olney, 1924 (photo by K. D. Swan, courtesy of USDA Forest Service, Region One, Missoula).

When there was not enough snow (or water) for a river drive, splash dams were used to hold back the natural flow of water on the headwaters of streams. Splash dams used for logging were generally built of logs. Crib dams were built of buttresses and wings (which were usually filled with stone to hold them down). They had sluiceways designed to allow the complete drainage of the reservoirs in one big "splash" controlled by lift gates raised and lowered by prybars (see Figure 107) (Bryant 1913:350-351).

Figure 107. Splash dam on outlet of Whitefish Lake (courtesy of Stumptown Historical Society, Whitefish).

The splash dam at the outlet of upper Stillwater Lake was made of cribbed logs 8-14" in diameter. Logs would get stuck in the canyon below and block the stream, so men would be stationed along the canyon to release any log jams. They would use a phone to call the man at the boom to shut off the flow of logs, call the dam to shut it down, and then "blow out the log jam and then start swishing logs down through there again." Mother splash dam located on North Lost Creek in the Swan Valley was used during the Somers Lumber Company timber sale in that area in the 1910s. Splash dams on Good Creek (Trixie Dam) and on Tally Lake were built for Stillwater log drives. Dickey Creek below Essex had several splash dams to carry logs to the mill near the railroad crossing on Dickey Creek (24FH48, FNF CR; Cusick 1981; Shaw 1967: 126; Taylor 1986).

In 1905 the Northwest Lumber Company had logs lining the banks of the Stillwater River for 125 miles but did not have enough water to finish the river drive. The company increased the height of the dam at Tally Lake's outlet. To get the logs to the mill they ended up building another splash dam about 20 miles up the Stillwater. After this, company men scouted the Stillwater River, bought 320 acres near the mouth of the lower lake, and built a large dam there to ensure that they would have enough water on future river drives (C. I. O'Neil, "Kalispell, Montana" (1947), MSUA:30-31).

During the spring highwater river drives, "river pigs" would snake, blast, and guide the logs downnver. River pigs followed the drives every spring all over the area. Once the logs reached the millpond, they were sorted according to the bark marks stamped on the side of each log. On Flathead Lake each company's logs were sorted into a boom and then pulled to the mill by steam tugboats. The men used peaveys for rolling the logs. Other tools included a pike pole, used to guide the logs in a pond or river. In 1909 men working on Flathead area log drives received $3 and four meals a day (Hudson et al. ca. 1981:192; Wilke 1983; Elwood 1980:159-160).

One former river pig, John Huggins, wrote the following about his experiences on river drives in the Flathead:

Tent camps were used on the drives and an average day's work was 16 hours. We once drove 10,800 poles from [the] North Fork to Columbia Falls in 1924. They are harder to drive than short logs as the danger of a snag is increased. The longest drive I've ever been on [started] three miles above Nyack in 1916 (Huggins 1961).

A description of a 1916 river drive on the Middle Fork for the Somers Lumber Company mentioned that the men camped in a railroad boxcar while falling the trees. They started the log drive in May, using 32' bateaux with a boatman in each end and four 11' oars. The men in the boats kept the logs out of sloughs, off rocks, and away from the shore (see Figure 108). The drive from Nyack to Somers took 96 days. After the water went down, horses hauled any remaining logs back into the river (and some were gotten out with the high water of 1917) ("Tell" 1963:12).

Figure 108. Log drive on Middle Fork of the Flathead, showing bateau used by river pigs (courtesy of Henry Elwood).

Floating cookshacks on rafts, called "wannigans," followed the crews working on river drives and tied up at the bank for meals and at night (see Figure 109). The men were fed two lunches a day, plus breakfast and supper. Men would fill their plates on the raft and then sit on shore to eat. River pigs built fires at lunch so that they could dry out while the coffee was being made. Reportedly, most pots of coffee had a bit of snuff thrown in them (Hutchens 1968:131; Craney 1978; "Tell" 1963:12; Mercier 1989:71).

Figure 109. Wannigan on Stillwater River near the end of a log drive (Clifford M. Walter photo, courtesy of Henry Elwood).

Log jams were sometimes more than half a mile long in the Flathead area. Those on river drives were generally broken with dynamite. Some used a steam threshing machine engine with a cable and a stump-puller to free key logs. Most river pigs could "ride logs through rough water as easily as a squirrel could go up a tree" (Frohlicher 1986:33), but the job was quite dangerous (Craney 1978; Flathead County Superintendent 1956:22).

Hans Larson successfully ran a river drive on the North Fork in the 1920s during a flood crest, delivering ponderosa pine to Columbia Falls at a cost of $0.25 per thousand board feet (Bolle 1959:47). An early 1920s silent movie called "Where the River Rises" even featured a log drive on the North Fork.

The last river drive on the Stillwater was in 1927, and the last in the Flathead area was in 1931. In 1950, the last river drive in the nation took place on the Clearwater River in Idaho (Mercier 1989:70; Shaw 1967:7, 123; "Corporate History" n.d. :5; Renk 1994).

Mechanization of Logging

The increasing costs and decreasing supply of skilled manual labor combined with the demand for more efficient harvesting methods led to the mechanization of many phases of logging. After World War I, the development of the tractor and truck, the improvement of power skidding devices, and the virtual disappearance of animals except horses used in short distance skidding and log hauls changed logging dramatically. In the 1930s the logging technology changed from steam to internal combustion engines. Truck logging and tractor skidding allowed the logging of steeper areas than horse logging and skidding. Bulldozers came into use to build logging roads and to skid logs in the 1930s, greatly increasing the areas accessible for timber harvest. By 1940 the transition from horse logging and river driving to tractor skidding and truck hauling had occurred (Brown 1936:10; Bolle 1959:70; Hudson et al. ca. 1981:195; FNF "Timber Management, Swan" 1960:39).

Tractors and trucks replaced log chutes. The first tractor with full-length tracks appeared in 1911, and logging companies throughout the Northwest began using them instead of horses for skidding operations. World War I developed the tractor for reliable use. Trucks were first used experimentally for logging in 1913. By 1930 trucks were hauling 6% of the logs in the country. Trucks were used more frequently after 1932 because of the development of inexpensive, light, and powerful pneumatic-tired trucks and detached trailers. Contract ("gyppo") haulers would haul the logs from skidways, decks, or landings or directly from the woods to the destination at a flat price per thousand feet (Brown 1936:10, 135, 177, 181; Hudson et al. ca. 1981:195). The use of trucks allowed loggers to haul logs to the mills year-round, and they proved faster than railroads.

The earliest logging trucks in the Flathead Valley were used in the 1920s, but they were not common until about 1948. In 1924 truck logging began on a J. Neils sale of damaged timber north of Columbia Falls. Tie mills set up in the woods cut fir and larch railroad ties, which were then trucked to Columbia Falls. The company also cut white pine and spruce into logs, loaded them onto railroad cars in Columbia Falls, and shipped them to Libby. One of the earliest trucks used for logging in the Flathead was a 5-ton GMC that hauled lumber from Truman Creek to the Stoltz mill in Kila (see Figure 110). In the summer of 1923 a Flathead logger was hauling long poles in a surplus World War I army truck with a homemade trailer. J. Neils did its first hauling of long logs in 1933 on a sale in the Echo Lake area, and tractors were used to skid the logs. Despite these early examples, logging through the 1920s was done almost completely by horses in the Flathead, and logging trucks were not used to any great extent until World War II (Elwood 1980:160; P. Neils 1971:69; March 1981; Green 1971:III, 129; G. Neils 1976; Cusick 1986:21).

Figure 110. Willis March logging truck, 1920s (courtesy of Henry Elwood).

In 1956, logging in Region One was generally done by tractor skidding and hauling of logs to the road with winches and cables. Another less common method used mobile "jammers" that operated from a truck road. Jammer logging was usually supplemented by horse or small tractor skidding. Almost all the timber was skidded uphill (USDA FS "Watershed" 1956:51).

An important technological development was the gas-powered chainsaw. In 1937 the Flathead National Forest and others tested the Wolf Portable Timber Sawing Machine on fires. The unit weighed 85 pounds, much less than other models of power saws at that time. On the Flathead, it doubled the speed of a 25-man crew clearing a fire line through heavy windfalls, and it was used clearing trail between camp and fire line and on mop-up work. According to the Forest Service analysis, the new saw, improved by Region One, cost about 25 cents per cut versus about 61 cents per cut for a cross-cut saw gang (G. Duncan 1937:15).

Power saws came into common use in the area in approximately 1945. They allowed sawyers to make more money and reduced the number of men on a crew. During the construction of Hungry Horse Dam, sawyers used two-man chainsaws. One end weighed about 100 pounds; the other was so light the sawyer just had to balance it. By 1954, according to a Spokesman Review article, no one was using crosscut saws in the woods anymore (MacKenzie 1972:31-32; "Lumber Folks" 1954:69; 24FH466, FNF CR).

Logging Camps

One of the largest-volume logging contractors in the Flathead Valley was Henry Good, who often operated many separate logging camps at one time. Good became the main contractor for the Somers Lumber Company in approximately 1909. He logged 20-30 million board feet annually, mostly 16'-long saw logs from his own land in the Stillwater delivered to the river bank. His main camp was at Olney on Dog Creek. Between 1929 and 1935, during the Depression, he still took large contracts but gyppoed them all out. Another logging contractor, George Slack, reported that in the 1910s he usually established camps of about 80 men each that would produce about 5-6 million board feet per camp (Schafer 1973:5; Elwood 1980:166-167; "Personal Experience Record of Captain George W. Slack," SC 126, MHS).

Workers at a logging camp were housed in anything from tents, log cabins, railroad boxcars, or frame buildings (see Figure 111). Many camps were portable and would be moved as needed. A typical logging camp in the Flathead included a bunkhouse, office and store, cookhouse, stable, root cellar, and a shack for the foreman, sawfiler, and timekeeper (see Figure 112). The buildings were generally low log structures. The bunkhouse would be lined with two-story bunks with straw mattresses (loggers provided their own bedrolls in the early years). A barrel stove was located in the middle of the room, and wires stretched across the room on which the men hung their wet socks, mittens, and so on. The stock at a lumber camp was very well cared for. As one observer put it, "Horses cost money - but you always could get lumberjacks" (Frohlicher 1986:29-30; Bryant 1913:60).

Figure 111. Floor plan of railroad cars used at a logging camp in the Northwest, ca. 1934 (from Brown 1934:62).

Figure 112. Logging camp known as camp 3, Fortine, Montana (photo courtesy of Henry Elwood).

Crews went to work long before daylight, traveling along paths in the deep snow. They earned $30-75 a month plus board. The typical work-week was 10 hours a day, six days a week. The men usually played poker at night until lights out at 9 p.m. (10 p.m. on Saturday nights). Every camp had a chore boy who cleaned the buildings, cut firewood, built fixes, and carried water for the camp (Wilke 1983; Bryant 1913:68; Linrude 1981).

Many workers in logging camps were unmarried. In the Flathead, many of the early loggers were of Scandinavian, German or French-Canadian descent (and "foreigners" were often segregated from the "locals" in the bunkhouses). The loggers typically wore heavy wool shirts, a narrow-brimmed felt hat, long underwear, heavy wool pants cut off ("stagged") at the boot tops, and greased leather or rubber boots with caulks (spikes) in the soles (see Figure 113).

Figure 113. Loggers standing in front of load of logs (courtesy of Henry Elwood).

Many of the lumberjacks would stay in camp until the end of the season; others would go in to town after each payday. The lumberjacks wore their caulked boots in town; some stores had to replace their wooden floors every few years because of this (Frohlicher 1986:33; Suchy 1978:11; Montgomery 1982).

Many logging camp workers were footloose and migratory. Food was a critical item at a logging camp, and if a cook (often called the "belly robber") had a reputation for good cooking, workers would try to get jobs at his or her camp (see Figure 114). Logging camp cooks were generally men, although a few women cooked in Flathead camps. Cooks would generally get up at 4:30 a.m. to get the fire going and water heating for coffee. Breakfast featured bacon, sourdough hotcakes, eggs, hot cereal, and cornflakes. Some logging camps in the early years (before deer limits or hunting seasons) had a hunter who supplied the cook with venison. Many camps supplied fresh meat by keeping pigs to eat the garbage. At the Somers Lumber Company camp on Swan Lake, cattle were driven to the head of the lake from Flathead Valley, fattened, and then slaughtered. The company also raised potatoes and pigs and had a slaughter house. At a camp in the Trego area, there were pigs, beef cattle, and about 10 milk cows. According to logging camp rules, the men ate their meals in silence except to request the passing of food. If the work site was far from the camp, hot lunches were sometimes delivered to the workers by train, wagon, or sleigh to keep the men going during their 10-hour work day.

Figure 114. Interior of kitchen at the State Mill logging camp (courtesy of Henry Elwood).

Forester Bob Marshall studied 40 loggers in a northern Idaho camp. He determined that the average man ate breakfast in 10 minutes, lunch and supper in 12 minutes each (Mercier 1989:72-73; Saurey 1983; Simpson 1967:110; Craney 1978; Elwood 1980:164, 201; Suchy 1978:11; Marshall 1926: 15).

As soon as breakfast was finished the cook started preparing dinner, grinding his own sausage, baking bread, and making soap. With a crew of 15 men, a cook would have one flunkey. With between 80 and 100 men, there would be a head cook, a dishwasher, and two flunkies. In the early days few canned foods were used. The cooks relied on dried foods, beef, and pork products. All camps had root cellars to store their food, and meat houses. During Prohibition, moonshiners supplied some loggers with liquor (Elwood 1980:163-164; Montgomery 1982).

Logging camps were not known for their exemplary sanitary conditions. Garbage was usually dumped just outside the cookhouse door. Dry open toilets were located near the cookhouses, and in the early years there were no bath or laundry facilities (Elwood 1976:39-40; USDA FS "Early Days" 1976:199). One retail lumber yard owner commented, "It gagged me to eat at some camps, with flies on the food and in the coffee" (C. I. O'Neil, "Kalispell, Montana," 1947, MSUA). A Forest Service check scaler remembered that "the only time it was safe to go to the latrine was at mealtime, when all the flies were in the cook house" (Koch ca. 1940:82).

Some logging camp cooks prepared special foods for particular ethnic groups. For example, Mordy Johnson made pickled herring at an all-Scandinavian camp, and "they'd pin back their ears and they'd wade into that pickled herring and boiled potatoes...No use to put anything else on 'cause they didn't eat it" (Mercier 1989:73).

Elers Koch, long-time Forest Service employee, commented that:

years of work in the big timber do something to a man. The atmosphere in a logging camp is not a cheerful one. The lumberjack is rarely a light-hearted individual, but inclined to be silent if not morose, and the foremen take on pretty much the same characteristics as the men. One hears little of laughter or jokes in a logging camp. The men eat their enormous meals silently, and sit in the bunkhouses or outside them, tired from the heavy work (Koch ca. 1940:146-147).

There were still some logging camps in the Flathead in the 1930s. In 1936, however, it was reportedly "not uncommon" for lumberjacks to drive 15-20 miles to work and return home each night. During World War II, it proved cheaper to transport crews from their homes by bus than to maintain logging camps (Whitney 1983; McDonald 1936:6; Ibenthal 1952:16).

The IWW Strikes

The Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies, was founded in 1905 in Chicago as a labor union that appealed to seasonal, low-paid workers. Its members and organizers preached working-class solidarity and class warfare. Their program was based on an anti-political Marxism, and in the Pacific Northwest they were most active among woodsworkers and sawmill workers. In 1905 the newly formed International Brotherhood of Woodsmen and Sawmill Workers was granted jurisdiction over all loggers and sawmill workers. This union at its peak had only 1,200 members (most in western Montana), and in 1911 it was disbanded (Tyler 1967:4, 88).

The Wobblies early on organized free speech fights. They would converge on a town that did not allow street meetings and encourage their own arrest. Free speech fights in Missoula and elsewhere were also a good way to spread the word about the union to western workers. IWW organizers were active in Kalispell as early as 1906 among the loggers and millworkers.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, an American communist and an IWW agitator, came to Kalispell in 1909 during the lumber strike there. She reported the strike as successful, although she commented that the IWW organizer, Fred Heslewood, was embarrassed by an IWW music band wearing red uniforms that had set up camp in town "like gypsies." IWW union halls served as meeting places, social clubs, dormitories, mess halls, and mail drops. Kalispell and other towns in the Flathead had their own IWW halls (Tyler 1954:8; Dubofsky 1969: 174; Elwood 1980:161; Flynn 1955:101; Hudson et al. ca. 1981:200; Polk City Directories).

The Flathead Lumberman's Board of Trade organized in 1902 to prevent any attempt to organize sawmill workers or loggers. Some of the lumber mill owners and operators included in this group were the Smith Valley Lumber Company, State Lumber Company, Lake View Sawmills, B. J. Boorman Lumber Company, Flathead Valley Lumber Company, Enterprise Lumber Company, Northwestern Lumber Company, Kalispell Lumber Company, Athens Saw Mills, and the BM. The mill owners resolved not to recognize any labor union. At the same time, the Federal Labor Union No. 175 of Kalispell, with about 1100 members in the county in 1902, passed a resolution demanding $2.50 per day, overtime and Sunday pay, and 9-hour days (Elwood 1980:60, 161).

Many of the woods and mill workers in the Kalispell area in the early 1900s were transients. Often they found work through private employment companies who split the fee for finding a job with the foremen or employers. The Somers Lumber Company reportedly hired 3,000 men one winter in order to maintain a crew of 50 men. According to a 1910 writer, "As soon as a man had worked long enough to pay the shark's fee, the hospital dollar, poll tax, and a few other grafts, he was discharged to make room for more slaves, so that the fleecing process could continue. The different fees are split, or cut up with the bosses" (Elwood 1976:39; Venn 1971:19).

The first strike at the Somers Lumber Company mill occurred in 1906, with leadership from the Allied Workers of America. The 1906 strike at Somers lasted five days, and the wages of common laborers were subsequently raised from $2.00 to $2.25 a day. In the fall of 1906, after this strike, an IWW organizer from Missoula organized the workers in Somers. By 1907 IWW membership at the Somers Lumber Company was 250 (20 men were listed as non-union). On February 11, 1907, strikers shut the plant down, citing grievances such as the "overbearing manner" of the plant superintendent and protesting the required trading at the company store. On April 1, 1907, a compromise was reached whereby the foreman resigned and the mill was made an open shop. As a result, a number of Flathead Valley sawmill operators increased their wages (Elwood 1976:39-41).

Perhaps as a result of the IWW strikes, in 1907 the woodsworkers and Kalispell-area lumber manufacturers signed an agreement, one of the few at that time. The agreement, to last one year, gave the workers the right to unionize, with IWW workers to return to work at the wage scale recently adopted by the lumber manufacturers of western Montana. These wages ranged from $45 (common laborers) to $85 (cooks for more than 20 men) per month. A Forest Service employee in Kalispell commented to a Washington Office official, "Notice the high wages. Wouldn't they break the heart of a Maine lumberman?" (Item 7, Box 74590, RG 95, FRC).

The May 1909 strike that shut down the Somers Lumber Company mill was aimed at getting a 50 cent wage increase. This strike led to more bitterness and frustration among workers than the 1907 strike. Workers at the State Mill in Columbia Falls also struck for a short time, but the company soon banned IWW organizers from the plant. By the next month nearly all the Somers Lumber Company workers had returned to work, having won a 15% wage increase and other benefits such as lower rent and fuel costs. River pigs and log drivers stayed off the job in large numbers, however, and reportedly 15 million board feet of logs were left on the river banks that summer. Judge Erickson issued an injunction to send the men back to work, and this plus the threat of eviction from the company town of Somers caused the workers to return to their jobs (Elwood 1976:41-43; Kalispell Bee, 21 May 1909).

The IWW had difficulty reaching isolated lumber workers, so organizers went out on the job as camp delegates. Lumber mills, however, hired detectives and screened employees. The U. S. entry into World War I in the spring of 1917, however, aided the IWW cause because the labor market became suddenly tighter (Dubofsky 1969:334-335, 346).

In the spring and summer of 1917, IWW workers organized strikes in the wheat fields, the forests, and the copper mines, all industries essential to the war effort. IWW crews in the Northwest began striking intermittently in April of 1917 for an 8-hour day and higher wages. In July the IWW declared an industry-wide walkout, emphasizing passive resistance. This large strike partially paralyzed the lumber industry. That same month, lumber employers established the Lumbermen's Protective Association. The lumber men proclaimed that the strikes were caused by foreigners, pro-Germans, and thugs, and they refused to grant the 8-hour day. When the strike occurred, the nation needed lumber for army cantonments, railroad freight cars, and cargo ships, but the mills were operating at only 60-65% capacity. The lumber industry created a new organization, the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, pledged to support the United States in wartime (Dubofsky 1969:359, 362-63, 365; Hudson et al. ca. 1981:202).

In fact, the 1917 strikes in the lumber industry resulted from factors such as low wages, long days, no baths, plentiful bed bugs, and no clothes-drying facilities. The lumber industry in western Montana, always highly unstable, had just been through a four-year depression (between 1913 and 1915 the mills in the northwest were generally operating at less than half their capacity). About 150 small mills in Montana worked on contract with the ACM and the NPRR, and they paid relatively poorly for long hours. There was a high rate of labor turnover, reflecting discontent (Hudson et al. ca. 1981:202; Toole 1972:157, 160; Rader 1967:192).

The northwest lumber strike began in the Flathead National Forest area, in Eureka, just a few days after World War I was declared and just when the ice had broken on the rivers. About 100 men began the wildcat strike against the Eureka Lumber Company. In response, the Secretary of War ordered federal troops to Eureka to protect properties and the railroad. Troops were used as strikebreakers in Whitefish, Libby, and Columbia Falls. This represented the first use of federal troops in a labor dispute after the nation's declaration of war, creating a precedent for the use of troops to intimidate workers striking for a variety of trade union goals. The Eureka strike quickly ended, but its failure ignited a general lumber strike throughout the Inland Empire. The strike spread in the summer of 1917 to Washington, Idaho, and Oregon sawmill and woods workers. Of the 70,000 men working in the lumber industry, 50,000 were idle because of the strike; approximately 20,000 took an active part in the strike. The main force of the 1917 strikers were migrant workers, who were generally single, did not vote, and were often recent immigrants (Gutfeld 1979:34-35; Toole 1972:164; Rader 1967:193, 195, 197-198).

Federal troops raided the IWW hall in Whitefish and held Wobblies in the city jail for several weeks without charges. In Columbia Falls, troops forced IWW members to work on city streets, without charges being placed against them. The Kalispell City Council passed a sweeping sedition ordinance that made it illegal to advocate or incite disrespect for any law or city ordinance. Citizens' committees even drove IWW members from the area (Rader 1967:205).

In May of 1917 Region One Forester F. A. Silcox wrote the Forest Service Chief in Washington:

I am reliably informed that 90 to 95% of the lumberjacks in this region now belong to the I. W. W. organization. It is my personal opinion that there is a considerable amount of social justice in some of their demands. As in all movements of this kind there are extremists and ultra-radicals. There has been a decided tendency on the part of the lumbermen to judge the whole movement from the action of the radicals.

Silcox reported that the lumbermen were urging the Forest Service to help them suppress the "menace" of the IWW by not hiring any firefighters who belonged to the IWW. Silcox declined from taking such an action and commented that he saw it as a labor problem in which the Forest Service should not be involved (Silcox to the Forester, 10 May 1917, 1380 Reports - Historical - District 1, RO).

Silcox commented that the causes of the 1917 strikes were partly due to the conditions of the logging camps, which he described as "dirty, badly drained, poorly ventilated, crowded, unsanitary and generally vermin-ridden, with no facilities for bathing or for washing clothes, combined with long hours, comparative low pay, and an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion." He commented that the men were treated less well than work horses, "for usually there was more ventilation in the barns than in the bunk house." He called upon employers to deal with the workers' legitimate grievances. Other foresters in western Montana filed similar reports. Silcox later became Chief of the Forest Service, even though he had been accused of being a Wobbly himself (Gutfeld 1979:36; Koch ca. 1940:82).

The hysteria of the war led vigilantes, local governments, and the federal government to step in and interfere with the lumber strike of 1917. The strike stimulated intolerance in the state, represented by criminal sedition and syndicalism measures enacted by the state legislature. The public considered Wobblies pro-German sympathizers, and many were arrested and imprisoned. IWW organizer Frank Little was lynched in Butte as part of this general hysteria. The 1917 strikes were broken by the fall in Montana by a combination of the presence of federal troops, federal and state prosecutions, the patriotic mania infecting many Montanans, a newspaper campaign, and the isolation of the lumber workers (Tyler 1954:25, 27, 85; Gutfeld 1979:36; Rader 1967:206-07).

After the 1917 strike had formally ended, IWW members continued striking "on the job," using slow-downs and other methods to hinder production. In 1918, the government established the 8-hour day for Montana lumber workers, uniform wages for the industry, provision of bedding and regular changes of linen, and so on. The public tended to credit the industry-sponsored Loyal Legion with the reforms, however (Tyler 1967: 101, 107; Hudson et al. ca. 1981:202).

Montana lumbermen attracted men back to work by improving camp conditions, such as installing bathing facilities, steel bunks and springs, providing standardized menus and reading facilities, and so on. In 1923, however, practically every logging camp in the Flathead again went on strike. The strike began against the Somers Lumber Company and the Henry Good camps but soon spread (Rader 1967:206; McKay 1993:38).

For the Forest Service, the striking lumberjacks provided a large labor pool available for fighting fires in the bad fire years of the late 1910s. Elers Koch described the strength of their influence in fire camps in 1919 as follows: "Along the fire lines the fresh cut log ends were decorated with a big I. W. W. or a crude picture of a black cat sitting on the axe handle. Men were forced to take out a red card or get out of camp" (Koch ca. 1940:82). According to Silcox, the 1917 fire crews, most of them strikers, were the best the Forest Service had ever had. Silcox reportedly persuaded workers at IWW headquarters that it was in their interest to fight fires on public lands (Rader 1967:203; Baker et al. 1993:112).

Dissatisfaction was high among woods and sawmill workers in 1919 because there was not much work available in the lumber industry. Many men hired had worked for higher wages during the war, and they continued to feel that "their services were almost invaluable." Concerning IWW members, one writer mentioned that "a considerable and influential minority had and have no intention of giving value received for the wages paid." In some cases fire patrolmen "slowed down" on the job, letting the fire creep across the line. Men also would hire on to fight fire in order to get free transportation to some point along the railroad route and then would disappear (5100 Fire Management, 1919 Fire Season - General, RO:8-12).

Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act of 1960

In the 1950s the administration of the national forests changed from custodial to intensive management. The volume of recreation on the national forests tripled, timber sales climbed from 4 to 9 billion board feet, and so on. After decades of Forest Service propaganda talking about timber famine and devastation in order to justify federal regulation of logging, now the Forest Service was logging on a large scale (Clawson 1983:32, 38; Steen 1976:302).

The Forest Service acknowledged other responsibilities besides timber when it was established in 1905, as had its predecessor, the GLO. These non-timber resources included watershed, recreation, grazing, and mining. Multiple use developed out of legislative intent to broaden the mandate of the Forest Service and from a need to broaden public support for forestry. Most foresters, however, concentrated on increasing timber supplies, rather than on multiple use (Clary 1986:40).

In the 1950s the Forest Service defined the allowable cut as the upper limit of logging permitted during short periods. The sustained yield, on the other hand, set quotas over longer time spans. Sustained-yield units were based on economic and social factors. Conservationists viewed the post-war increase in logging as a shift to the poor land management practices that the Forest Service had been denouncing over the years in the name of impending timber famine (Steen 1976:285).

The Forest Service definition of sustained yield did not take into account the price of land, the value of the location, or other factors affecting the price of wood from year to year. It emphasized supply rather than demand, and efficient growth of wood rather than efficient use and service. Analysis in terms of multiple use, on the other hand, required analysis in terms of values, costs, and benefits (Olson 1971:189-190, 192, 198).

Before World War II, management of the national forests had revolved around allocating benefits. During the post-war boom, however, the agency had to assess and balance competing interests in a finite amount of land. The Forest Service wrote and lobbied for the passage of the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act of 1960, which reflected the transitions taking place in the postwar years. The act reflected the intention to manage the national forests for a variety of uses, including outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife (Cox 1985:240; Dana 1980:201).

The Forest Service defined multiple use as managed forests under sustained yield on the basis of multiple use. The term multiple use had been used by the Forest Service since its creation in 1905, but it became in vogue in the 1950s. Every acre did not have to sustain every use, and watershed protection ordinarily had first priority. The 1950s set the stage for the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act passed on June 12, 1960. District rangers were required to weigh the various pressures on the Forests' resources and allocate the resources such as timber, water, range, recreation, and wildlife in a consciously balanced manner, consistent with the public interest (Steen 1976:278, 301).

The act gave the Forest Service legislative authority to provide recreation facilities on the national forests. The act did not, however, provide clear guidelines for establishing priorities among resources. It only stated that it was not necessary to produce every good or service on every acre, and that economic yield was not to be the sole criterion for evaluating competing uses (Dana 1980:204).

During the 1950s public opinion began a shift away from conservation and use toward preservation, and the Forest Service, previously supported by conservationists, "began to lose some of its luster" (Steen 1976:277). In the 1950s, recalled retired Forest Service employee Bud Moore, "the public was really interested in their national forests but they had such trust in the Forest Service that they just almost worshipped it. They'd say, 'We know that you know what you're doing.' The big thing that changed this was the Forest Service pushing commercial timber at the expense of a lot of other things" (Moore 1989).

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 18-Jan-2010
Forest History Society Electronic edition courtesy of the
Forest History Society.