The National Forests of the Northern Region
Living Legacy—
USFS Logo

Chapter 3
Forests and Forestry in the Northern Region

Early travelers in the northern Rocky Mountains encountered great forests of conifers as they probed the headwaters of the Missouri River and sought usable passes across the Continental Divide to the Columbia River system. In the canyons and on the mountain slopes, old-growth white pine, Englemann spruce, Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, larch, and cedar grew in fine stands of commercial quantity and quality. Indeed, the western third of the region that was to become Montana and the northern part of Idaho abounded in these choice species. But this area was remote, isolated, and largely unsettled, with no roads and few trails. The northern winters were long and severe, making survival difficult. Periodic destructive fires seemed to be a regular feature of the forests, and the region was home to numerous well-organized Indian tribes, including the warlike and powerful Sioux. [1]

Golden Harvest

Wandering prospectors discovered gold in western Montana's Alder Gulch in 1863. The yellow metal has a way of attracting people, and soon the territory was teeming with gold-seekers and others who were certain they would become rich. By 1865, 10,000 people lived or camped in Virginia City, and miners produced about $30 million in Alder Gulch alone during the first 3 years. Prospectors reported rich finds in other streams and canyons, and as a result the population boomed and new towns appeared almost overnight. Montana City, Jefferson City, and Helena (site of Last Chance Gulch) all were important boomtowns. [2]

This sudden population growth led to a great demand for timber and lumber of all types. A.M. Holter, from the Pike's Peak area in Colorado, was among the first on the scene to help meet the great demand for lumber—and to make handsome profits for himself. He and a partner bought a secondhand sawmill and arrived in Virginia City in December 1863. [3]

While assembling the mill, Holter discovered that several parts were missing, especially belting and gears. To compensate, he constructed a device for moving the log carriage back and forth, later known as a "rope feed," and made belts out of untanned ox hide and later from canvas. Despite his difficulties, Holter completed the mill and began production in the spring of 1864.

The mill was initially a water-powered, sash-saw outfit that cut about 5,000 board feet per day. Once the mill was operating smoothly, Holter opened a lumber yard in Nevada City, where he sold flume lumber for $140 per thousand board feet and building lumber for $125. Later, he opened a yard in Helena; here, too, the demand was greater than the supply, and $150 per thousand was not an unusual price to pay. So great was the demand that some of the larger companies sent men to waylay the wagons from the mill, take the lumber, and then have a man with a gold bag go to the yard and explain to Holter what they had done and pay for the lumber plus a premium for their purchase.

Holter later brought in a steam boiler and a small circular saw. He eventually established mills at six additional locations. All of the mills cut for the gold camps, with Helena becoming the principal market. Holter's sawmills prospered better than most of the prospectors in Montana Territory during the 1860's. [4]

In like manner, the discovery of gold in northern Idaho along the Orofino Creek and its tributaries led to a rush of settlers and prospectors to that area. Captain E.D. Pierce, one of the first discoverers, spent the summer of 1860 whip-sawing lumber for sluice boxes and cabins. To meet the demand for lumber, two small water-powered sash mills were constructed in 1861 near Pierce, which enjoyed boomtown status as 5,000 people rushed into the diggings. These apparently were the first commercial sawmills in northern Idaho. Two years later, new gold discoveries near Elk City led to the building of a somewhat larger mill powered by a turbine waterwheel that cut lumber for flume construction. [5]

All of these early sawmills sold only rough lumber to the local market. Transportation by water was precarious, and travel by road was almost impossible. (Mullan's Road, built in the 1860's by the Army to connect the headwaters of the Missouri with the Columbia River system, was the only wagon road in the region.) One of Holter's mills near Helena shipped lumber on the upper Missouri as far as Ft. Benton, but that was a rare exception. Although the canyons and slopes of the northern Rocky Mountains held magnificent stands of valuable conifers, entrepreneurs waited restlessly for railroad transportation to become available before building larger mills in the "Inland Empire." [6]

The Transcontinental Railroads

To provide three transcontinental routes to the west coast, following the chartering of the Union Pacific-Central Pacific Railroad, Congress passed the 1864 Act, which directed the Northern Pacific Railroad route from Lake Superior to Puget Sound and/or Portland, Oregon. The proposed route was largely unsettled country, with mountain ranges, severe winter snowstorms, and home to large and well-organized hostile Indian tribes—so Congress made the land grant doubly attractive. In addition to 20 sections of land for each mile of track built in the two States (Minnesota and Oregon), the act offered 40 sections per mile through the territories.

As in earlier grants, the land was to be surveyed, with alternate sections (checkerboard fashion) going to the Northern Pacific and the other sections being retained by the Government. To compensate for land previously homesteaded, preempted, or in Indian reservations, Congress set aside an additional 10 miles on each side of the right-of-way for the Northern Pacific. Still later, Congress authorized more "in lieu" land certificates, which enabled the railroad to acquire lands beyond even these princely boundaries. Eventually, the Northern Pacific acquired about 44 million acres of land, of which 17 million lay in Montana Territory and perhaps 3 million in northern Idaho. [7]

But the proposed transcontinental was slow in becoming reality. Graft and internal rivalry delayed the initial construction, and the Panic of 1873 forced the banking firm of Jay Cooke (which had become the principal owner) and the Northern Pacific into bankruptcy. Not until after its reorganization in 1875 did the Northern Pacific resume building the mainline westward under the leadership of Frederick Billings, the president of the railroad. In 1881, Henry Villard, who had large interests in the Pacific Northwest, displaced Billings as president and pushed construction rapidly from both east and west until the line was completed. The last spike was driven in September 1883 at Gold Gulch, Montana. What was to become Region 1 had its first transcontinental railroad. [8]

During the same years, a group of Mormon investors headed by a son of Brigham Young organized the Utah and Northern Railroad to connect Ogden, on the Union Pacific, with the gold field near Butte, Montana. It was initially a 3-foot, narrow-gauge line, which struggled northward slowly, but construction ceased during the Panic of 1873, to be reorganized later by Union Pacific investors. The Utah and Northern built across eastern Idaho and reached Butte in December 1881. A short line from Garrison to Butte provided a connection with the Northern Pacific and an alternate route for shippers. [9]

A second transcontinental line went through the northern Rocky Mountains just south of the Canadian border. In St. Paul, Minnesota, James J. Hill and associates acquired the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, which was described as "two streaks of rust and a land grant." Hill reorganized the St. Paul and Pacific and formed a new corporation—the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad, known as the "Manitoba." He pushed construction north and west, reaching the Canadian border with one branch and thrusting through Dakota Territory via Devil's Lake and Minot on what was to become the main line. Consolidating his holdings into the Great Northern Railway in 1889, Hill built rapidly into Montana, keeping well to the north of the Northern Pacific. The discovery of Marias Pass (just south of present-day Glacier National Park) at an elevation of only 5,200 feet allowed for a direct route to Puget Sound at Everett, Washington, via Kalispell, Bonner's Ferry, and Spokane. Hill also constructed a branch line (the Montana Central) from Assiniboine through Great Falls to Helena and Butte.

The Great Northern was a well-constructed and well-run railroad; at once, it offered serious competition to the Northern Pacific. Known as the "Empire Builder," Hill was an aggressive and hard-driving executive who, according to contemporaries, "hated the sight of an empty freight car." To encourage industry and farming, he reduced rates on eastbound traffic, which forced the Northern Pacific to follow suit. The completion of the railroad network in the late 19th century provided the transportation and communication facilities needed for the forest products industry in the northern Rocky Mountains to thrive and grow. [10]

The transcontinentals opened up the region for new and experienced lumber operators. Branch lines brought logs to the mills by rail, and the finished lumber could be shipped both east and west on the Northern Pacific and the Great Northern. The railroads also were great consumers of forest products. The need for ties, timbers, pilings, and lumber for constructing company structures, in addition to thousands of cords of wood to fuel the locomotives, caused many small sawmills to spring up along the route to supply the rail giants. Some sawmill owners negotiated contracts with the Northern Pacific or Great Northern and concentrated on making ties alone. It was estimated that the original 4,000 miles of construction had required more than 10 million ties. Thus the railroads alone provided a never-ending demand for timber and lumber of all types. [11]

Early Sawmills and Lumber Entrepreneurs

Col. Henry C. Merriam built one of the earliest commercial-type sawmills at Ft. Sherman (first called Coeur d'Alene) in 1878. It was described as a small circular saw outfit with a steam power-plant. The mill cut lumber for Army barracks, assembly and mess halls, a steamboat, and at least one school in the area. The commanding officer later added a shingle mill and a planing mill to make the Ft. Sherman mill a complete finished-lumber manufacturing plant. [12]

Two years later, Frederick W. Post built the first general-purpose sawmill at Post Falls, Idaho. This was a water-powered mill with a sash saw operating in a wooden frame. Post later replaced this with a circular saw and a steam powerplant. Shortly afterward, his nephew built a second mill at Rathdrum, and Glassford T. Hawley built a steam-driven mill at Coeur d'Alene.

The discovery of gold on Prichard Creek brought several short-lived boomtowns and new sawmills into operation. From 1880 to 1900, some 79 sawmills cut lumber for varying lengths of time, some for only a few months. The Ft. Sherman mill ran continuously until the fort was decommissioned in 1898. The Post Falls mill continued to operate until after the turn of the century. [13]

In Montana, successors to the pioneering Holter built steam-powered mills equipped with circular saws to supply the growing needs of Helena, Butte, and Missoula. Around 1881, the firm of, Eddy, Hammond and Company built or bought a number of small, sawmills strategically located to meet the lumber needs of the Northern Pacific as it built through western Montana. This company secured an agreement with the railroad to supply it with all sorts of provisions, including clothing, blankets, and food staples, as well as ties, timbers, and building lumber. According to one writer, the company did about $180,000 of business in 1880, and 2 years later, the gross income rose to $450,000. In 1884, the company built a new and larger mill at Bonner (just east of Missoula) and consolidated its holdings under the name of the Montana Improvement Company. This became the largest sawmill operation in the territory. [14]

The history of sawmilling throughout much of the United States has been that smaller mills gave way to larger mills, and then great entrepreneurs consolidated their holdings into diversified corporations. The lumber story in Idaho and Montana followed this pattern. In 1900, Frederick Weyerhaeuser became interested in the white pine, spruce, and Douglas-fir in northern Idaho. Weyerhaeuser, who was already the largest lumber manufacturer in Minnesota, had startled the lumber world with the purchase of 900,000 acres of timberland in the Washington-Oregon region using Northern Pacific script. In the same year, again using Northern Pacific script, he had agents survey and file for 40,000 acres of white pine lands on the upper reaches of the Clearwater River. Farther north, Weyerhaeuser and associates purchased lands in the Pend Oreille-Kootenai area and on the headwaters of the St. Joe River. On these holdings, the group organized the Edward Rutledge Timber Company, the Clearwater Timber Company, the Potlatch Lumber Company, the Bonner's Ferry Lumber Company, and the Humbird Lumber Company. Each of these was among the larger lumber manufacturers in Idaho, capable of producing 50 to 70 million board feet of finished lumber per year. Later (around 1930), Weyerhaeuser and his associates merged their holdings into a single corporation, Potlatch Forests, Inc. Thus consolidated, the Weyerhaeuser interests were by far the largest lumber manufacturers in Idaho. [15]

In Montana, large and small sawmillers had supplied the Anaconda Copper Mining Company with great quantities of fuel wood for the smelters and timber for the mines. About 1900, Marcus Daly, Anaconda president, began to buy large tracts of timberland until the company owned more than 1.1 million acres. Then, in 1905, he purchased the Montana Improvement Company with all of its lands and resources and organized it as the "lumber division" of the Anaconda Corporation. In the next decade, Anaconda cut nearly one-half of the total timber cut in Montana. [16]

Worker greasing the log chute, Meadow Creek, Pend Oreille National Forest (Idaho) in 1923.

Harvesting the Timber

Most lumber entrepreneurs came to the Northern Region from the East and the Lake States, they sought to use the streams and the rivers in the same way they used them in the East. The streams in Idaho and western Montana were too swift and the course of the water too precipitous and violent for such use. Logs sent down the creeks smashed against rocks and each other, producing a "brooming effect" that greatly reduced the value of the logs and resulting lumber. The terrain was often too steep for railroads, and a horse or mule was soon worn out dragging logs up and down the mountainous slopes. [17]

To get the valuable white pine and other desired species out of the forests, loggers developed chutes and flumes to carry the logs down the mountainside. A chute was a trough made of timbers (usually of cheaper wood) in a shallow —V— shape. Side chutes extended like fingers to each cutting area and ran into the main chute, where workers rolled or skidded the logs into line. Workers used grease to speed the logs and sand to slow them down. On portions of the chute, such "gravity" was not sufficient to keep the logs moving, so horses or mules on a towpath pulled the logs along. At the end of the chute was a landing where the logs were yarded for loading on logging train flatcars or were made into rafts and sent down a navigable river. Sometimes a chute met a flume.

Chuting was an uncertain and dangerous operation. Runaway logs might jump the chute and kill or injure the workers along side. There were several hundred miles of chutes in the Coeur d'Alene area alone, and other companies in Idaho and western Montana used the same techniques. [18]

A flume was a larger, more elaborate structure and required a head of water. The flume was also in a —V— shape but was larger and deeper, with 1-inch boards forming the inner facing and overlapping to hold water. A dam would be constructed at the head of the flume and often an auxiliary dam along its course. Apparently, flumes generally followed the route of a creek and emptied into a larger river or stream. Workers assembled the logs and opened the gates of the dam, and down the mountainside went the logs, with a great rush of water and anything that got in the path. When the water ran out, they closed the gates, and no more logs were put into the flume at that time. Stories were told of men and animals going down the flume, but it was always a risky and dangerous stunt. One worker recalled that an escaped convict who had been hiding in a logging camp was recaptured but escaped again by leaping into the flume and going downstream on a crest of water. Apparently, he made his escape. [19]

The Beaver Creek Flume was a late (1930) addition to the logging resources of Potlatch Forest, Inc. It was similar to flumes built soon after the turn of the century. It was about 20 miles in length and emptied into the North Fork of the Clearwater River. In its 15 years of use, the Beaver Creek Flume carried more than 170 million feet of logs (mostly white pine) down to the mill. [20]

Where they could be operated profitably, mill owners built logging railroads that connected with the transcontinentals or their branches. The Weyerhaeuser interests built a shortline railway called the Washington, Idaho and Montana (WIM), which ran from just inside the Washington State boundary to Potlatch and Bovil, passing a number of way stations bearing such academic names as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and other colleges. The WIM doubled as a logging road, bringing logs to the Potlatch mills and transporting finished lumber to the transcontinental terminals. [21]

Most of the larger lumber companies had logging railroads, some of which held charters as common carriers. The Anaconda Copper Mining Company ran the Big Blackfoot Midland Railroad west from Anaconda and also a logging road out of Bonner. The Edward Rutledge Timber Company built an "Incline Railroad" in the St. Maries River area, which rose about 1,000 feet on a 70-percent grade with compensating engines. With this unusual transportation, the company was able to harvest more than 200 million feet of lumber damaged by fire. The Ohio Match Company built the "Burnt Cabin Railroad," which ran over a spectacular mountain range to transport timber purchased from the Coeur d'Alene National Forest. Most of these roads used small-geared locomotives, such as the Shay or Heisler, which could thresh their way up a steep grade—slowly and noisily—but economically and dependably. [22]

As in other new timber-rich territories, veterans from older lumber centers rushed to the area to exploit the virgin white pine, spruce, and Douglas-fir that were in short supply in the East. Frank Blackwell came from Pennsylvania, Frank Herrick from Wisconsin, Frederick Post from Germany, Marcus "Dick" Wright from Kentucky, Marcus Daly from Ireland, and A.B. Hammond from Canada. Weyerhaeuser, as well as many of his associates, came from Minnesota. [23]

Production figures trace the course of the early lumber boom from its rise to the Depression decline. In 1879, the two territories reported only 40 million feet harvested. By 1899 (after the completion of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern with branches), the reported cut jumped to 320 million feet.

In 1910, production reached 1 billion feet. The cut continued above 1 billion for most of the next two decades, reaching a peak of 1.5 billion feet in 1925. Then production declined, mills closed, and mill towns became ghost towns. In 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, the cut fell to 360 million feet, the lowest production of the 20th century. [24]

During the period from 1880 to 1930, loggers were not particularly careful or mindful of the forest. Most preferred to clearcut as they went, and they carelessly damaged much young timber. Because the entire region was still raw and sparsely populated, there was little public outcry at these cutting practices. As most companies harvested, at least in part from Federal reserves, they also were often careless about the limits of the agreed-on cutting areas. [25]

Empty log cars on narrow gauge railroad. Photo by K.D. Swan.

When Congress created the territories of Idaho and Montana (1863-4), the Federal Government held title to all of the land. The General Land Office (GLO) in the Department of the Interior administered these lands with the long-range purpose of transferring them to private ownership. The Preemption law, the Homestead Act, the Timber Culture Act, the Timber Cutting Act, and the Timber and Stone Act all were enacted to facilitate and hasten this process. The Federal land grants to the Northern Pacific Railroad cut an enormous swath through the territories. In Montana and Idaho alone, the railroad held about 20 million acres, making the Northern Pacific the largest landowner in the territories next to the Federal Government itself. [26] These grants would later greatly affect the protection and management of the national forests in the region.

Forest Reserves and the Forest Service

The subsequent assault on the valuable timber on the slopes and watersheds of the mountains brought the realization that many regions of the West and Northwest should be kept in the hands of the Federal Government. To achieve this, Congress in 1891 passed the Forest Reserve Act as an amendment to the General Revision Act. Using this authority in 1897, President Grover Cleveland set aside, in what was to be Region 1, the Bitterroot, Lewis and Clark, Black Hills, Priest River, and Flathead Reserves. The present-day Lolo and Flathead National Forests and Glacier National Park stem from some of these early reserve lands. [27]

Hall's sawmill following a fire, Sioux National Forest, Montana, 1907. (Custer National Forest)

The director of GLO appointed J.B. Collins as superintendent, with headquarters in Missoula. There were four rangers under Collins, with four more appointed in 1899. GLO rangers earned $60 per month and supplied their own horses, clothing, bedrolls, and food. They frequently were gone from headquarters for weeks at a time because they patrolled such a large area for fires and marked trails. In 1903, Major F.A. Fenn replaced Collins as superintendent of the forest reserves in Montana and Idaho. [28]

Among the early forest supervisors was Captain Seth Bullock, who (from 1903 to 1906) was responsible for the area that later consolidated as the Custer National Forest. He was a big game hunter and a friend of President Theodore Roosevelt. Later he was a U.S. marshal at Deadwood, South Dakota. [29]

The period from 1898 to 1906 was important; the forest reserves were reorganized and professional forestry made impressive advances. In 1898, President William McKinley appointed Gifford Pinchot (the first American professional forester) head of the Division of Forestry in the Department of Agriculture. Although Pinchot had no forests to supervise (the forest reserves were then under the Department of the Interior), he at once sent young professional foresters to cruise and map the Federal timberlands in the West.

Pinchot had the wholehearted support of Theodore Roosevelt, who succeeded McKinley after his assassination in 1901. Roosevelt used the Forest Reserve Act to set aside more than 140 million acres of western forests as new reserves. Five of these new reserves were in Idaho and Montana. Then, in 1905, Roosevelt transferred the forest reserves from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture and placed them under the supervision of Pinchot, who was named Chief Forester of an enlarged Forest Service. Many of the old GLO personnel transferred to the Forest Service, where some continued successful careers. Others were weeded out as the Forest Service established higher professional standards and placed all positions under civil service. [30]

One professional forester who participated in the reorganization and expansion was Elers Koch. He grew up in frontier Montana, where he learned to shoot, hunt, track, and manage a string of packhorses on long treks. He attended the State College at Bozeman and then earned a master's degree in forestry at Yale in 1903. There he met Pinchot, Henry S. Graves, J. Garvin Peters, and others who later held important positions in the Forest Service. He took the civil service exam and, after a brief orientation in Washington, DC, went west to inspect, map, and report on the forests that should be added to the reserves rather than be cut by the advancing loggers.

Koch first worked in California, where he mapped the Mt. Shasta area and turned over the reports and maps to Pinchot, who then urged the President to add that acreage to the forest reserves. He later cruised Montana and Idaho, administered the first ranger and supervisor exams in Missoula, and, in 1906, became supervisor of the Lolo forest reserves.

The next year (1907), Congress changed the term forest reserves to national forests. In 1908, Pinchot announced a general reorganization and decentralization of the Forest Service. [31] This reorganization placed northern Idaho and Montana with portions of North and South Dakota in Region 1 (District 1 until 1933) of the Forest Service.

Pinchot picked William B. Greeley as the first regional forester and sent him west to Missoula. Greeley, a New England Puritan by birth, had grown up in California amid the forests and the Sierra Nevada. He had graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and then proceeded to Yale, where he completed his master's degree in forestry in 1904. [32] As with other first-generation Yale Forestry School graduates, Greeley became one of "Gifford Pinchot's Boys," but unlike some he differed with Pinchot on many issues.

In later years, Greeley doubted whether Federal regulation of private forests would be the best course to pursue in protecting the forests and ensuring an ongoing supply of forest products for future generations. He had known many loggers in California and elsewhere; he found it difficult to equate the epithet of "land skinner" with many of the men he knew. He thought that a policy of mutual cooperation and education that would demonstrate that "good forestry was also good business" would produce better results. Though somewhat opinionated, Greeley was an effective speaker, worked well with groups, and set high standards for his fellow workers. He also was a rugged individual who enjoyed nothing more than hiking and camping in the remote wilds. [33]

The men who Greeley gathered around him as the initial headquarters team for Region 1 were an interesting group and included Ferdinand A. Silcox (Assistant Forester), R.H. Rutledge (Chief, Operations), Robert Y. Stuart (Assistant Chief, Operations), A.W. Cooper (Chief, Silviculture), David T. Mason (Assistant Chief, Silviculture), and C.H. Adams (Chief, Grazing). The clerical staff for Region 1 had moved from Washington to Missoula and were joined by local personnel. By 1910, there were 50 people employed in the Missoula office; 15 years later there were 75. [34]

This was an unusually able staff. From the headquarters team at Missoula, Greeley, Silcox, and Stuart rose to become Chiefs of the Forest Service. Rutledge became head of the Grazing Service of the Department of the Interior in Washington. Mason became a nationally known authority on sustained-yield management of privately owned forest land and held a variety of important positions—professor of forestry at the University of California, Berkeley, manager of the Western Pine Association, and a member of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's governmental family as lumber code administrator with the National Recovery Administration. [35]

Under the regional forester were the supervisors of the 17 or so national forests (the number changed with consolidations and realignments). Among the men who served under Greeley were F.A. Fenn, Charles A. Fisher, Wilfred White, Glen A. Smith, C.C. Hall, Charles Ballinger, and Elers Koch. Under the supervisors were rangers, assistant rangers, forest guards, various forest workers, and clerical personnel.

The position of supervisor of a forest was important and much sought after. These individuals were on the land—in touch with conditions and with people who wished to buy timber or graze animals on the respective national forests. If the supervisors enjoyed the outdoors, the streams, the mountains, and wildlife (and if they entered the Forest Service for a career, they probably did), the post of supervisor gave them authority over local matters, independence, and freedom to improve their forests under their direction—and to watch the growth and development.

With the position also went responsibility. As David Mason, who for a time was supervisor of the Deerlodge National Forest, recalled, the duties included directing the personnel and managing the finances of the forest, organizing a fire protection program, appraising standing timber, arranging timber sales and preparing contracts, overseeing logging operations, leasing grazing privileges for about 50,000 head of livestock, and supervising the construction and maintenance of forest improvements such as telephone lines, lookout towers, trails, and the like. Many foresters, like Aldo Leopold and Elers Koch, to their contemporaries in Region 1, have evidenced the delight and pleasure of being supervisor of "their own" national forests. Many have looked back at their time as supervisor and concluded that it was the very best job in the entire Forest Service. [36]

The forest ranger's job also was attractive to many outdoor-minded individuals. Here the representative of the Forest Service met the public on a one-to-one basis, and to many local citizens, the ranger was the Forest Service. It was the ranger who had to sell the Forest Service to a sometimes suspicious and hostile public—one distrustful of the whole idea of forest reserves and of a Federal Government presence in the local community. Yet, with tact and diplomacy plus hard work during its first decade, Forest Service personnel changed most of these attitudes to a positive appreciation for the work being done. Many ranchers and loggers who had been outspoken critics became staunch supporters of the Forest Service and its programs. Perhaps one of the most important achievements of the Forest Service during its first decade was the recognition of it and its personnel as members of the community. [37]

There were also important physical accomplishments during these early years. Rangers built cabins and lookout towers, cleared forest trails, and strung telephone wire. They also reviewed timber claims and were the contacts who prevented timber or grazing trespass. At the same time, the rangers were expected to use common sense and tact. As Pinchot wrote to Ranger J.B. Seeley, "[I]f you are out on the forest and come across a man who has broken his wagon tongue and cut a fir sapling to fix it, don't prosecute him for timber trespass, but get off your horse and help him fix it." [38]

The Alta Ranger Station on the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, built in 1899, is the first/oldest in the Northern Region. Photo by USDA Photo Service.

In the winter, a ranger's work in the Northern Region seemed twice as hard, trips were twice as long, and the danger of injury or even loss of life was twice as great. As Elers Koch explained, in the summer, 15 or even 20 miles from a road or railroad was not a matter of concern; an easy half-day's hike or ride would take you back to civilization. But with below-zero temperatures and 4 or 5 feet of snow on the ground, 10 miles was a long way from anywhere. A broken leg, sprained ankle, or even a broken snowshoe might prove disastrous or even fatal. A man was much closer to the primitive life in winter than he would be in the same country in summer. Yet the forest ranger and even the supervisor were constantly on the go all year. The ranger became adept with snowshoes and later cross-country skis, which were often needed to patrol a district. Many rangers had stories to tell of accidents, avalanches, blizzards, or encounters with hungry bears and the like. [39]

Despite the hard work, responsibilities, and frequent dangers, the salaries in the Forest Service remained very low. Forest supervisors received $1,500 to $2,000 per year. A ranger's pay ran from $900 to $1,400. The fact that Chief Pinchot in Washington had an annual salary of only $3,600—he made no effort to have it increased, being independently wealthy, and each year he gave away to charity and foundations more than his forester's salary—effectively put a lid on the Forest Service payroll from the top down. Yet there were other compensations. Many rangers put in entire careers with the Forest Service in one place or in the same region. For example, N.E. "Than" Wilkerson joined the Bitterroot Forest Reserve as a ranger in 1899 (under the Department of the Interior), continued in the service until retirement, and later recalled with pleasure his adventures and experiences as a forest ranger in the Northern Region. [40]

The year of a forester was divided into two parts—the fire season and the rest of the year. [41] In a bad year, the forester could expect nothing but fire, and more fire from June until the September rains came. Then the balance of the fall until the next spring would be spent making plans for the next fire season. There were bad fire years in 1902 and 1905. The year 1908 was troublesome along the route of the Milwaukee Road, which was building westward through the central part of western Montana.

The 1910 Fire

These experiences were but a prelude to the great "blowout" of 1910. According to the reports of the forest rangers, the spring of 1910 was unusually dry and the month of July intensely hot. Fires had broken out in many parts of the region, but forest rangers plus some 3,000 additional firefighters had contained and extinguished them by prompt action. The situation was potentially so dangerous that President William Howard Taft had authorized the use of the Army as firefighters in the northern Rocky Mountains. Then on August 20, the wind rose to gale strength and little fires turned into big ones:

For two days the wind blew a gale from the southwest. All along the line, from north of the Canadian boundary south to the Salmon, the gale blew. Little fires picked up into big ones. Fire lines which had been held for days melted away under the fierce blast. The sky turned a ghastly yellow, and at four o'clock it was black dark ahead of the advancing flames....[T]he air felt electric as though the whole world was ready to go up on spontaneous combustion. The heat of the fire and the great masses of flaming gas created great whirlwinds which mowed down swaths of trees in advance of the flames. [42]

Firefighting brigades found themselves surrounded and sometimes overwhelmed. So great was the disaster that trains were crowded with refugees fleeing the region. The fires continued until a general rain on August 31 brought the situation under control. An accounting showed that 80 firefighters and dozens of settlers died as victims of the rampaging flames. More than 3 million acres of timber were destroyed, and smoke had darkened the skies as far away as Denver and Kansas City. The fire had burned out many sawmills and villages and destroyed about one-half of the town of Wallace. Scars of the 1910 fire remained visible a generation later. [43]

Greeley himself spent many days on the fire line, plugging weak spots and arranging relief for exhausted rangers. With approval from the executive officers, Greeley even pressed men from the construction crews of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern into the struggle to contain the holocaust. [44]

The 1910 fire hastened steps to coordinate and expand the fire prevention facilities of the region. Greeley actively encouraged timber owners to organize a formal body, and they established the Northern Montana Forestry Association to provide protection for more than a million acres of industrial timberland outside the national forests. The State of Montana had created a State Forestry Board in 1908 and appointed Charles W. Juneberg as the State Forester. He supervised some 200,000 acres of State land and was directed to cooperate with the Forest Service and private landowners. In Idaho, timber owners organized the Western Forestry and Conservation Association in 1909. The 1910 fire generated new members and new funds for these organizations and associations. One lumber company official explained the necessity for cooperation succinctly and simply: "[I]f the fire wasn't on my land it soon would be if I didn't put it out." [45]

The next year, Congress passed the Weeks Law, which provided Federal matching funds for States that established effective State organizations to protect their forests from fire. The great fire of 1910 provided an imperative incentive for Federal, State, and industry agencies to band together to fight the constant fire menace in the Northwest. [46]

The famous Ballinger-Pinchot controversy in Washington, D.C., resulted in the removal (1910) of Pinchot as Chief of the Forest Service and the appointment of Henry S. Graves, Dean of the Yale Forestry School, as his successor. Graves supported the first Chief's position favoring Federal regulation of the cutting practices on industrial forest land. But Graves was not a crusader like Pinchot; he pursued his goals in a more quiet and diplomatic way. In 1911, Graves brought Bill Greeley from the Northern Region to Washington to be his assistant and serve as the head of the Office of Forest Management. Here Greeley had charge of the administration of the Weeks Law (which he helped push to enactment) and could test his own belief that cooperation and education would produce more and better forests than strong-armed Federal regulation. [47]

Burned-over area, St. Joe National Forest. Photo by J. B. Halm (Idaho Panhandle National Forest).

Reference Notes

1. Michael P. Malone and Richard B. Roeder, Montana: A History of Two Centuries (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1976), passim.

2. Ibid, pp. 50-55.

3. For the record, the first sawmill in the Northern Region was the work of a missionary, the Rev. Henry H. Spalding, who built a small waterpowered mill on Clearwater River (Idaho) in 1840. Five years later, Father Anthony Ravalli built a similar mill in the Bitterroot valley of Montana Territory. Both of these were small, largely homemade outfits whose sash saws produced boards only a little more quickly than the old whip saw method. Both of these pioneer mills disappeared long before the gold rush of 1863. See Bob Hewitt, "Early History of Montana's Lumber Industry," historical files, Region 1, Missoula; and S. Blair Hutchinson, "A Century of Lumbering in Northern Idaho," The Timberman 39 (August 1938): 30.

4. E.F. Rapraeger, "Frontier Sawmill," The Timberman 42 (May 1941): 14-5, 36.

5. Hutchinson, "A Century of Lumbering," 20-21.

6. Rapraeger, "Frontier Sawmill," 14-15.

7. Robert E. Riegel, The Story of the Western Railroads (New York: Macmillan, 1926), pp. 120-128; Malone and Roeder, Montana, pp. 129-130.

8. James Blaine Hedges, Henry Villard and the Railways of the Northwest (New York: Russell & Russell, 1930), pp. 18-55; Riegel, Western Railroads, pp. 203-208.

9. Howard Fleming, Narrow Gauge Railways in America (New York: 1875), edited by Grahame Hardy and Paul Darell, facsimile edition (Oakland, CA: Grahame H. Hardy, Publisher, 1949), appendix; Malone and Roeder, Montana, pp. 130-131.

10. Albro Martin, James J. Hill and the Opening of the Northwest (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), pp. 207-398; Riegel, Western Railroads, pp. 212-214; Malone and Roeder, Montana, pp. 133-136.

11. Clarence C. Strong and Clyde S. Webb, White Pine: King of Many Waters (Missoula Mountain Press, 1970). pp. 21-22.

12. Ibid., pp. 12-17.

13. Ibid., pp. 22-23.

14. Shirley Jay Coon, "Economic Development of Missoula, Montana," unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Chicago, 1926, pp. 99-103; Hewitt, "Early History".

15. Ralph W. Hidy, Frank Ernest Hill, and Allan Nevin, Timber and Men: The Weyerhaeuser Story (New York: Macmillan, 1963), pp. 248-268; Strong and Webb, White Pine, pp. 66-67; S. Blair Hutchinson, "A Century of Lumbering in Northern Idaho," Part II, The Timberman 39 (September 1938):15, 28.

16. Hewitt, "Early History of Montana's Lumber Industry," historical files, Nine Mile Ranger Station, Lolo National Forest, Missoula; Malone and Roeder, Montana, pp. 253-254.

17. Strong and Webb, White Pine, pp. 103-110.

18. Hewitt, "Early History"; Strong and Webb, White Pine, pp. 111-115.

19. Strong and Webb, White Pine, pp. 115-119.

20. Gerald C. Franc, "The Beaver Creek Flume," Clearwater National Forest, Forest Service (n.d.). Note: Potlatch employee Al Roeben supervised the construction of the Beaver Creek Flume and provided most of the information for this account.

21. Hidy et al., Timber and Men, pp. 257-258.

22. Michael Koch, Steam and Thunder in the Timber: Saga of the Forest Railroads (Denver: World Press, 1979), pp. 388-393; Strong and Webb, White Pine, pp. 121-125.

23. Strong and Webb, White Pine, pp. 133-158.

24. Henry B. Steer, Lumber Production in the United States, 1799-1946 (Washington: USDA Forest Service, 1948), pp. 1-16. For a comparison with leading lumber-producing States for the selected years, the figures are as follows: Michigan—4,178,610,000 in 1879; Wisconsin—3,389,166,000 in 1899; Washington—4,097,492,000 in 1910; and Washington—7,027,323,000 in 1925. The U.S. total ranged from 35 to 40 billion board feet for most years between 1899 and 1929. Note: Northern Idaho produced about one-half of Idaho's reported cut.

25. Hidy et al., Timber and Men, pp. 388-392; Strong and Webb, White Pine, pp. 25-32.

26. Malone and Roeder, Montana, pp. 129-151; Strong and Webb, White Pine, pp. 25-34.

27. See Elers Koch, "Early History of the Forest Service in Western Montana," typescript, historical files, Region 1.

28. Ibid.

29. "Early History of the Custer National Forest," historical files, Custer National Forest, Billings, Montana.

30. Harold K. Steen, The Forest Service (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1976), pp. 52-102; Thomas R. Cox, Robert S. Maxwell, Phillip Drennon Thomas, and Joseph J. Malone, This Well-Wooded Land (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985), pp. 183-188.

31. Elers Koch, "Forty Years a Forester," historical files, Region 1.

32. George T. Morgan, Jr., William B. Greeley: A Practical Forester, 1879-1955 (St. Paul: Forest History Society, 1961), pp. 1-17; William B. Greeley, Forests and Men (New York: Doubleday, 1951), pp. 61-64.

33. Morgan, Greeley, pp. 14-17; Greeley, Forests and Men, pp. 73-81.

34. Koch, "The Forest Service in Western Montana"; Coon, "Economic Development of Missoula," p. 166.

35. See Steen, The Forest Service, passim; Rodney C. Loehr, Forests for the Future (St Paul: Forest History Society and Forest Products History Foundation, 1952), p. 23.

36. Loehr, Forests for the Future, pp. 24-25; Koch, "Forty Years a Forester."

37. N.E. Wilkerson, "Historical Material: Bitterroot National Forest," historical files, Region 1.

38. Koch, "Forty Years a Forester."

39. Ibid., pp. 115-121.

40. Ibid.; Wilkerson, "Historical Material: Bitterroot National Forest."

41. Koch, "Forty Years a Forester," p. 68.

42. Elers Koch, When the Mountains Roared, Stories of the 1910 Fire (Coeur d'Alene, ID: Idaho Panhandle National Forest, n.d.), p. 3.

43. Ibid., pp. 1-37; Ralph R. Widner, Forests and Forestry in the American States (Washington, D.C.: Association of State Foresters, 1968), pp. 178-79, 255.

44. Greeley, Forests and Men, pp. 16-26.

45. Widner, Forests and Forestry, p. 256.

46. Ibid., pp. 179, 253-56. Unfortunately, the two States did not take full advantage of the Federal program until after the passage of the Clarke-McNary Act in 1924 (pp. 261-62, 294).

47. Morgan, William B. Greeley, pp. 30-31.



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

history/chap3.htm
Last Updated: 10-Sep-2008
Forest History Society Electronic edition courtesy of the
Forest History Society.