Granville Gordon family tent camp moving into Bull River area 1905. Courtesy Granville and Pauline Gordon collection.
Early in 1906 the same newspaper that had so promisingly encouraged the creation of forest reserves was shouting foul as loudly as were its readers.
"To say that the people of Sanders County were displeased when they became acquainted with the boundaries of Cabinet Forest Reserve would put it mildly. There were very few of us who were not hot under the collar and getting hotter still," said the February 2nd edition of the weekly paper.
Granville Gordon, first Forest
Service Ranger on Bull River.
Courtesy Granville 'Granny'
and Pauline Gordon collection.
Pauline Gordon. Courtesy Granville
and Pauline Gordon collection.
Caption: Augustus Ferdinand Silcox, first Assistant Forest Supervisor at Noxon. Circa 1912. Courtesy Granville and Pauline Gordon collection.
Two members of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West
Show troupe, taken in Wyoming, probably
before 1900. Courtesy Granville and Pauline
Most of the settlers who'd already located land treated Silcox with cautious courtesy. All were soon aware that he could challenge their right to remain. Homestead laws stipulated the land must be suitable for agriculture. This was timberland. Mountainous land; steep and rocky in many places. Their applications to homestead would need the new forest supervisor's approval. With Silcox' arrival tales of earlier settlers in the Idaho lands to the west who had been driven from their lands by other such government men brought sleepless nights. Years of struggle and work could be lost overnight if he decided to deny their claims.
"So we went over by the water tank on the Northern Pacific Railroad where Silcox, Gordon, VanDyke, and Buckhouse were frying eggs over a campfire, preparing to eat their noonday meal. Mickey vouched for me as good sound material. Soon we had the job landed.
"Silcox informed me I would receive the Official Appointment from Washington in due time. I should report September 22 at Noxon with Bed and proper clothing to last several weeks and they would take me out on the job. Mickey and I were Pals from then on and Rolled our Blankets together.
"After putting a stop to the timber stealing, Silcox picked a crew of men for the Forest, mostly local men who had participated in the timber stealing."
Forest Service camp at Bull River circa 1907-08. Courtesy Granville and Pauline Gordon collection.
"The work was new to all and there were numerous tangles and snarls that had to be ironed out. However Silcox succeeded in getting the idea across to all that it was the duty of each and every one to protect the natural resources of Uncle Sam. It was progress catching up with wanton waste and the people of the United States had been promised that in due course of time we would have a workable organization that would get results. Silcox wielded the 'big stick' with such prudence and discretion that he won over many converts for conservation."
Others said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. It's just the government stealing the people's land."Michael Roddy was the first forest guard on the newly created National Forest. Other temporary men in 1907 were J. J. Blythe, A. E. Comstock, C. C. Chisholm, Roscoe G. Dingle, E. Roy Engle, Isaac Engle, George Gardner, Chas. J. Kress, Andrew Leopold, Chas. M. McCauley, Chas. Mercer, Chas. E. Munson, and B. F. Saint.
|Forest Service Crew circa 1907-08. Courtesy Granville and Pauline Gordon collection.|
The trail to Squaw Peak can be seen in the background. Courtesy Wallace 'Wally' Gamble collection.
"At breakfast we were informed that we had started our trail work in the wrong direction and would have to move camp up into the Bull River country," Saint said.
Expecting to catch up to the Pack train at their lunch stop, the two men started walking the old Tote Road trail but the crew forgot to stop for lunch. Nine miles into the valley they caught some of the other men following the pack train. A mile further they passed the first settler near the road and inquired about the pack train, learning it had gone by an hour before."Mickey and I were selected to go some two miles down the Old Kootenai Trail and pick up the tools and then come on up Bull River to the new campsite at Star Gulch. Neither of us had ever been up Bull River but that didn't matter."
"Along about dusk we found the outfit. Or at least part of it. They were on one side of the river and we were on the other. Then I learned something about this Montana water. You cannot estimate the depth by standing on the bank - if it looks to be two feet deep, multiply by four and get ready to swim!
"We had plenty of money. Uncle Sam was liberal with cash then, and it was up to us to make something of it. The Public didn't like the idea of conserving the Forests and demanded that we show a profit at an early date with the new scheme, or else. Well, we were there to make good.
"Two men were designated foreman: Issac Engles and Andy Leopold. Mickey and I drew Andy, the Big Polander. Jean Comstock was cook and general advisor. Both Leopold and Comstock had served in Uncle Sam's Regular Army so Mick and I got off to a bad start. I don't know what saved us, unless it was because we both liked Silcox so well.
"The Cabinet Forest had some mighty fine men at the helm to see that the old ship kept her course and Silcox was the finest.
"Our crew went to the top of Squaw Peak and worked down building trail while Engle and his crew started at the bottom and came up to meet us. Leopold and Comstock cautioned Mick and I that Uncle Sam did not expect too much from his men and that we would work ourselves out of a job if we didn't slow up. Mick and I reasoned that Old Dad Engle and his crew of four men were working. And somebody had to make a showing on our end.
"Mick and I held up on our end for mileage, however not so wide for tread, but good enough, so we were told."
1907-09 on land taken from Marion Cotton, where first Ranger Station is to be built. Unidentified Forester by bridge in foreground. Courtesy Caspar Berray collection.
Those proposed in the area included,"To serve the people in a community in the greatest degree possible, stations are constructed at ten mile intervals or less, even in sparsely populated regions (railroad) the same principle is also applicable to the Forest Service business, hence the necessity of ranger stations or administrative sites."5.
- BULL RIVER, Section 7, 120 acres
- HORSE THIEF Bull River, 80 acres
- GRASSHOPPER, Section 3, 100 acres
- LOST GIRL, Section 10, 92 acres
- NOXON, Section 24, 108 acres
- ROCK ISLAND, Section 10, 103 acres
- SMEADS, Sections 4 and 9, 152 acres.6.
Frank Berray said, "You'd be surprised how homesteaders had divided that part of the valley. They was all squeezed together. But when the Forest Service run the survey they just started shoving them out. Someone had to get out. The valley was not wide enough ...
Bull River homestead fences. Circa 1906-08.
"We dodged around and got in there and the ceiling was starting to fall. We grabbed her sewing machine and here come the ceiling down. That's all we saved. There was a cellar and it filled up with all the burned stuff from the house.
"We (Caspar Berrays) had a cabin, about 16'x 34' right over next to the other creek. We got it cleaned up so they could move in there. Greens came up and stayed with us in it for about three or four weeks. That was the last house Greens had in Bull River valley. They moved to Noxon into Buck's old store building."
Jim and Caspar Berray homesteads.Courtesty William Finnigan collection.
Jim and Caspar Berray homesteads.
Courtesy William Finnigan collection.
"August 1907, Heron, MT. Dear Mr. Pinchot ... I settled on my claim in 1903. I made an application to the forestry for 160 acres commencing at James Berryes (sic) line and run down Bull River. Now Mr. Silcox has run out a rangers quarters at the lower end of my claim. They took in part of my improvements, land that I have been cutting hay from and buildings that I have used for hay and fed my cattle there even last winter.
"I have oats and barley sown on the land now. Would it not be a matter of justice for the forestry to improve their own land than to take improvements that virtually belongs to me and cut me short of my 160 acres of land?
"I have been here on this piece of land four years and I claim that I have an American's citizen's right, a preferred right as there is plenty of land for the rangers quarters after I get my 160." Signed, Marion Cotton. (*USFS archives, Washington, DC.)
Grandma Gordon's cabin sat across the road from the Bull River Ranger Station. Courtesy Granville and Pauline Gordon collection.
"Sweet little Mrs. Green and her kids in the spiders home. Not long until that pea green uniform was seen out walking with Mrs. Green. And others liked to walk with her, and soon the bubble burst. She left the valley with one of the (forest service) crew for parts unknown. Three or four months later her husband received a letter, to come and get her, and please forgive. He replied, 'you made your bed, you sleep in it.' Next letter said, 'When you get this letter I'll be dead'. She shot herself but didn't die right off, so her brother went after her.
"Coming over the mountains the wound got to bleeding, her lungs filled with blood and she died in the hospital in Bozeman."
Nineteen-year-old Ben said, "Silcox was one of the few men that I have met and known in my short life to whom I felt that strange attachment that is indescribable. To have known him was a pleasure and to have worked with him during the early days among the trials and hardships of the Forest Service is something worth living for.
"He possessed a great understanding of human nature and was so fair and honorable about his feelings with mankind that men whom he penalized for timber trespass were afterwards staunch friends and admirers. Men who worked for or with him would work their daylights out for him. No man ever went farther or did more in a day than he. It is no wonder the Cabinet Forest got off to a flying start and kept right on going thru the years to come. We took a lot of hard knocks and many jeers from the general public but never quit fighting until the battle was over."
"It will be remembered that some time last spring one Pat Moran disappeared - it was thought he had either been done away with or killed accidentally in the mountains. He owned one half interest in a ranch, 50 head of cattle, farming machinery, etc.- which were about to be sold.
"It seems that Marion Cotton was an equal partner and he claimed Moran had given him his (Moran's) interest but could show no bill of sale which tended to reflect some suspicion on Cotton. But sometime in September the public administrator received a letter from Erie, BC. Addressed to James Hylent, Trout Creek, MT, it read,
"Marion Cotton has informed me that you have entered a suit against him for selling my stuff off my place on Bull River. I wish to inform you that he is justified in doing so and ask you to drop it at once as I am here and well.' Signed Pat Moran."1b.
USFS Ranger Granville 'Granny' Gordon out to catch the horses.
Courtesy Granville and Pauline Gordon collection.
USFS Ranger Granville 'Granny' Gordon with two pack
horses and his saddle horse. Note his distinctive chaps,
worn when he performed in Bill Cody's Wild West Shows.
Courtesy Granville and Pauline Gordon collection.
Bull River Ranger Station. Circa 1910. Courtesy Granville
and Pauline Gordon collection.
Noxon Ranger Station. Circa 1909. Clark Griffin was Ranger there in 1908. Courtesy William and Nettie Ellis collection.
"The cabin (ranger's office\house) is 20' x 34', five room frame structure boxed with 12" boards and bevel siding and ceiled with 4" flooring in a vertical position over 12" boxing laid horizontally, building paper being used both in and outside. Single 4" flooring, single partitions of 4" flooring and beaded ceiling. The total cost of the cabin to date with two coats of paint is $510.24.
"The barn is 20' x 24' x 14' to the square, four stalls with a feedway in front, cinder floor, an 8' x 10' feed room, side with surfaced boards and bats. The cost of material for this was $129.23, and labor, which was Ranger labor exclusively, amounted to $105. A 12' x 18' tool house and store room cost $80.91 for material, and Ranger labor $66.25. This building is 10' to the square, 12" board floor and boxed with surfaced boards and bats. $21.44 was expended for material for the cellar and $57.50 for labor. It is built of cedar logs and set in a bank of earth, which protects it to its full height and length. The interior is 6' x 8' with 6' walls and a double front wall with dirt between and also double doors. The roof is double boarded and covered with dirt, which has been sown with clover to prevent washing.
In the Bull River valley, another cabin a couple miles upstream from the Berray's got tagged with the name, THE HORSE THIEF RANGER STATION, from an incident that occurred there during the early administration of the Forest."One important improvement of this station is a water system which furnishes the Ranger with water for house use, stock, garden and fire protection. Three users of our townsite Special Use are adjacent to the station also secure water for house use only from our system. The source of supply is a spring 86 feet above the cabin and 1,330 feet from it. The water is conducted from the spring to a reservoir seven feet deep and five feet in diameter and from here a 3/4" galvanized pipe carries it to the station. The reservoir is placed in the ground below the level of the spring and is built of brick and lined with cement. Material cost $99.62, labor $42.50. The entire system, after a few minor changes, has given all that was expected. The entire station is enclosed with a three-wire fence on posts one rod apart. The cost of fence material was 16 cents, and labor, 28 cents, per rod."9.
"During the summer of 1907 four Forest officers, who at that time comprised the whole force of the Cabinet, were camped in an old cabin on this site. The one lone packhorse of the outfit was picketed near the cabin.
"Sometime during the night one of the officers heard a noise as if someone was talking in low tones in the vicinity of the horse. He immediately awakened his bedfellow and together they went to a small window in the side of the cabin to watch and listen. The night was dark, but their keen eyes could distinguish the figure of a man moving about the horse.
"They were satisfied that it was a horse thief about to depart with the horse and that prompt action was necessary. Where upon the second officer, the only one of the crew who had a gun, went to the head of his bed to secure his six gun while the first officer secured an axe which was handy and returned to the window to watch further developments.
"The second officer, while securing his gun, grabbed hold of the third officer, who was a sound sleeper and had not heard the horse thief, and by hard shaking managed to awaken him sufficiently to inform him that someone was trying to get away with the horse.
"About this time the first officer, who was guarding the window with an axe, whispered that the thief was coming around the house towards the door, when "SLAM" a heavy body is thrown against the door, which binds on the floor in opening, and the outline of a man is seen entering.
"The third member of the party was becoming interested by this time and immediately challenged, "Who's there?" "It's me," came in disgusted tones from the fourth member of the party who had been out untangling the horse which had become tangled in the picket rope."9.
Horse Thief Ranger Station. Circa 1909. Mare named Pet; colt named Fred. Courtesy Howard and Hazel Ellinwood collection.
"OK. We started right in," Saint said.
"We were all green men but learning fast. The tree toping did not appeal to us at first but after a day or so it was not bad.
"They didn't ask if you could do it. They talked as though we'd been doing it all our lives and after the first few days no one even suspected but what we had. Later they adopted what was then known as the split tree insulator which allowed the wire to pull thru and keep the wind falls from breaking the line."10.
"It was a long journey and while enroute I had considerable foreboding as to what I was going to do about it. I knew how to fight a prairie fire but a forest fire was different.
"I brought up the rear after having walked and lead a packhorse loaded with supplies some fifteen miles. The camp had moved from Twin Creek to the top of the mountain so I kept going, eating berries and worrying what was I going to do with that fire when I got there. God knew, I suppose, for I didn't.
"It turned out to be easy as pie when I got there. All I had to do was pack the supplies from the end of the road to the fire camp. Had a lot of packing experience? Well, no one asked me about that. I had a Diamond hitch on the packhorse and the pack was on him when I got there, was all."A week later the wind came up a second time creating more fires than experienced men. Saint was sent off to a spot fire in charge of a crew of experienced fire fighters but lacking a cook or a packer.
"All I had was a time book and a badge. Again God came to the rescue. We made camp and I asked who could cook. The men all looked blank. If you never saw a bunch of firefighters look that way you have missed something!
"One fellow, more bold than the rest, looked me over and said, 'Hell, we don't know anything about cooking! What you say we put out the fire and you do the cooking and packing?' Saint put him in charge of the crew and became camp cook himself until a week later when the Cabinet Forest recalled him and Van Dyke for fire fighting near home.
"After a ten mile ride, me on the pack saddle, we got into Heron at eight p.m. We waited for the train that came in at midnight with a six man crew for the new fire then started for the fire thirty miles away through the mountains with a trail only part of the way. I picked up another crew of 20 men enroute from another fire, all out of grub."Two days later the twenty-six men reached the fire but had only a weeks rations for six men. Twenty men were released when a light rain hit the twenty-acre fire shortly after their arrival. Saint and five men to finish putting it out. Expecting to be supplied with rations by the ranger from Noxon, they stretched their one-week's rations as they fought the fire two weeks before the fall rains came.
"We stuck around two days in the rain then we started for home with what we could pack on our backs. Van Dyke and a packhorse load of supplies met us about half way out.
"Mel wanted to take the supplies back to the store but we were six hungry men. We unloaded the supplies and ate what was the best meal I ever ate!"The government agency began having labor difficulties with the hiring of fire crews. Saint recalled, "In every fire crew we seemed somehow to draw an agitator or trouble maker whose wails were numerous. Kicks on hours allowed and poor food furnished, it was quite a problem for the ranger to solve.
"We were instructed to keep these men on the job if possible for many of the fires were far back in the forest and it was hard to get men to replace them. This continued as time went on."
"Throughout this region the underlying rock is sedimentary in origin and made up of sandy deposits which have been changed by pressure and heat into sandstones, shales, conglomerates and quartzites. All formations, pre-Cambrian in age. Few of the strata are much folded; faulting has been very extensive; the courses of larger streams have been determined in part by faults. Strata are the same age as the formation in the Coeur d'Alene mining district. Extensive faults and occasional appearance of igneous intrusions indicate presence of ore bodies is possible. Copper, gold, silver and antimony are minerals exposed by prospectors. Several mills have been constructed but all have been idle for a number of years. Agriculture is confined to the narrow creek bottoms and low benches bordering the Clark's Fork River."
"The Rolling Rock and Mt. Silcox are used as lookout stations exclusively, both being connected by telephone with the Supervisor's office as well as with the Dist. Rangers. No cabin was constructed on the Rolling Rock because of the scarcity of building material. A log cabin, 16' x 18' was built on Mt. Silcox at a cost of $209.12; $171 being for Ranger and guard labor. The excessive cost is explained by the fact that it was necessary to pack material and supplies over seven miles of trail and that it was difficult to collect building material from the alpine species. Both stations are above the 6,000 feet elevation, command an excellent view and have proven the efficiency of lookout points during ordinary fire seasons."11
Second Trout Creek Ranger Station. Circa 1912. The first station burned in the 1910 fire before it was completed. Courtesy Benjamin F. Saint collection.
The Noxon and Bull River ranger stations had been built and the Trout Creek station was being improved with a view of making it a Forage Ranch as well as a district headquarters. Architecture was directed to some extent by the government. Plan No. 16 of the Forest Service Standard Plans was under roof and ready for finishing, at a cost of $208.48 for material, and $96.25 for labor, when the 1910 fire' gripped the fledgling agency, sweeping away their hard won achievements.
"The replacement station at Trout Creek was built according to plans similar to the Noxon cabin but with a half pitch roof, 10 foot walls and double 4" vertical grain flooring making it more attractive than the Noxon building. Material-$389.02; labor-$196.12."11.
Gordon's Christmas tree in Bull River
Ranger Station. Circa 1909. Courtesy
Granville and Pauline Gordon collection.
"the original cabin on this station was on it when withdrawn as an administrative site but was burned during the 'Big Fire'."11.
Rock House built for the forest service on Squaw Peak
to servce forest lookouts. Pauline Reithmiller Gordon
and Paul Meagh, circa 1910-12. Courtesy Granville
and Pauline Gordon collection.
Pauline Reithmiller Gordon atop Squaw Peak Lookout. Ca. 1910-12.
Courtesy Granville and Pauline Gordon collection.
1a. Sanders County Ledger, Feb. 2, 1906. 1b. Sanders County Ledger, June 7, 1907.
2. Ben Saint story on Forest Service days.
3. Bob Saint tape-recorded oral history 1983.
4. Ben Saint diary.
5. April l, 1911 Cabinet Forest Service Journals.
6. Cabinet Forest Service Journal 4/1/1911: Places for ranger stations or administrative sites withdrawn, or requested to be withdrawn from homestead entry:
- BUNNIE-S.24,T21N,R30W 40 acres
- BUSTER BROWN-S.34,T21N,R31W 134 acres
- BAKER-S.23,T28N,R33W 89 acres
- BULL RIVER-S.7,T27N,R32W 120 acres
- EDDY-S.24,T21N,R28W 80 acres
- ELK CREEK-Elk Creek 69 acres
- GRASSHOPPER-S.3,T26N,R33W 100 acres
- GRAVES CREEK-S.25,T23N,R30W 149 acres
- GOAT CREEK-S.5,T1N,R28W 20 acres
- HORSE THEIF-Bull River 80 acres
- H.J.-S.17,T23N,R31W 80 acres
- HOBO-S.31,T27,R33W 160 acres
- LONE MAN CREEK-S.26,T22N,R26W 40 acres
- LOST GIRL-S.10,T28N,R22W 92 acres
- LAKE-S.28,T22N,R29W 160 acres
- McGREGOR LAKE-S.10,T26N,R26W 80 acres
- MT SILCOX-S26,T22N,R29W 160 acres
- NOXON-S.24,T26N,R22W 108 acres
- ROCK ISLAND-S.10,T25N,R32W 103 acres
- ROLLING ROCK-T 27N,R342 4 acres
- SMEADS-S.4 & 9,T26N,R33W 152 acres
- SWAMP CREEK-S20,T25N,R32W 160 acres
- SQUAW PEAK-Squaw Peak, 7 acres
- THOMPSON RIVER-S7,T21N,R28W 160 acres
- TROUT CREEK-S.24,T24N,R32W 160 acres
- WOODCHECK-S.5,T20N,R27W 52 acres
- WEEKSVILLE-S.24 & 26,T21,R27W 80 acres.
8. Cabinet Forest Journals 1911.
9. 1911 Cabinet Forest Service Quarterly Report.
10. Benjamin F. Saint's Forest Service Story. Saint took and passed his Ranger's Examination, getting his first Assistant Ranger appointment in 1910, just in time to get some real fire fighting.
11. I. S. Murphy, Forest Assistant in 1908.