Wednesday, March 9, 2011


A forest service pack string on the Cabinet National Forest, taking supplies to a trail camp. courtesy Norman and Betty Larson collection.
During the summer, temporary forest service crews engaged in building trails to lookout sites and stringing telephone lines along them. Crews camped out most of the summer, being allowed to go to town only infrequently during the fire season. This was one of the area with major employment opportunities for young men.

Walter Lake cooked in the trail camps in the Bull River valley until illness forced his retirement, along about 1922, just as his and Lula's son was entering first grade. The Lake family moved from the Bull River Ranger station into a house in Noxon.
After Walter Lake left the forest service employ and moved to Noxon, Walt McClung was Ranger Ben Saint's man at Bull River.
"McClung was a big, black Indian. Just as black as they come," Bob Saint said. "His brother was great big man, too, only he was blonde and blue eyed. Their dad was full-blooded Irish and their mother was full-blooded Indian.
"He built the road into the Heidleberg Mine with a pick and shovel and a box of powder. He worked for my Dad for years and years. He was an excellent worker as long as he kept sober. He had the Indian trait that he could not handle liquor.
"To me, the McClung kids were excellent people. I'd go up and stay with them and go fishing. Hilda and a little fella named Danny. They claim that Danny, at the time he was born prematurely, his mother made him a bed from a cigar box. McClungs moved into the Bull River Ranger Station.
"Clyde Scheffler lived just above the station, right at the mouth almost, or just up on the East Fork of Bull River.
"McClung used to tell about when they cameto town one time in the winter. They come in on the sled. And, of course, Scheffler got drunk. Walt said they started up the canyon (Bull River valley).
"'My God,' McClung said, 'about every half mile Clyde would fall off the sled. And he'd lay there and yell until I'd stop and go back, pick him up and help him up on the sled.'
"Walt simply got tired of it after about four times. About the fifth time he slipped off again an started yelling, Walt said he just took the axe off the front of the sled, you know, and went back and said, 'I might just as well kill the son-of-a-bitch here as anyplace'.
"Walt said, 'You know, Clyde got onto his feet and got onto the sled and no more problem until we got home.'
"It just tickled McClung to death. "McClung and Wes Wolf, at the end of the season, would take off a couple days, and just plain go get drunk.
"Fritz Coppage worked for my Dad, normally on trail crews. Well, McClung and Wes Wolf are the ones who carried Fritz Coppage out of Stevens Creek when he died. Fritz was cooking up there in a forest service trail crew.
"Fritz died of plain old age, I guess, anyhow, he just plain died. So dad sent McClung and Wes up to get him; pack him out. They took two saddle horses to ride and one to pack Fritz out on. And, of course, they got a bottle before they started up. By the time they got there they was definitely loaded.
"Fritz had laid there long enough that rigor mortis (stiffness of death) had set in. They was trying to figure out how they were gonna keep him on the saddle. I don't know which one had the bright idea, but he said, 'You just lay him over a log and then you break him.'
"So they just put Fritz body over a log and one got on each end, and they just broke him in two and flung him over the saddle.
"Well, I'm telling you, when they sobered up and figured out what they'd done, there was a couple of sick men! They felt real bad.
"I don't think old Fritz had a relative in the country, though, to the best of my knowledge. He mined, I think, up in Bull River; had some claims up in Bull River, but I wouldn't guarantee it."1.
The district forest service at Noxon was a major link to the county seat at Thompson Falls, and to the sheriff's office.
"Bob Iff, county commissioner, would get down to Noxon occasionally. Perry Heater, the sheriff would get down, maybe, oh, every six months. Something like that. There wasn't any particular reason to come down," Bob Saint said.
"If they wanted to know something they'd call the forest service who had the phone link-up in town, and talk to Dad. And I think there was a phone at the railroad. "The forest service had the linkup in town for years. The old hand crank phones and a switchboard. If anyone wanted to call, they came to our place and they could call out."2.
"I quit school in the spring, 1928, in my third year of high school," Carmen Moore said. "I ended my career in the school and didn't go anymore.3.
"Every year in the spring the forest service planted trees in different places. I hired out to Ben Saint to plant trees someplace up Pilgrim Creek. We had a camp way up on Pilgrim Creek. A tent camp. Stuff was all packed in with mules and so forth.
"It was a real thing. These young fellas went up there. I was probably 18-19 years old. I was as big and as husky as the rest of them. They always put a great big husky guy on the first part of the line.
"There was a line scratched out across the hillside. They put the lead man out in front. Boy, he had big heavy cork boots on and could climb and the brush was thick and they'd give you a bundle of small trees and a little sack hanging on your side with a hoedag, a small pick, and you drove that in the ground and pried it back and stuck the tree in the hole, tamped it back down again. That was the only time I worked on the forest service."4.
Howard Jenkins ran speeders for the Forest Service during the summer months to spot and put out fires along the railroad tracks, but he was paid by the railroad.5.

Ranger Ben's wages rose steadily, from $90 a month when he joined the forest service in 1917, to big wages of $175 a month, with a house provided. Plus he was given the use of a drag saw to cut wood.6.
"He didn't have a college education so they threw him out," Dan DeLong said. "He was a ranger 20 some years and a heck of a good guy."7.
"We left there the first of June in 1929, moving to Thompson Falls. Dad retired from the Forest Service and bought the W. S. McCurdy Lumber Company and the Continental Bulk Plant," Bob Saint said. "Roy Kramer, from Plains, replaced Dad at Noxon."8.

The annual influx of sheep to the valley arrived the day before Saint retired from the forest service. Shortly after the 1910 cleared whole mountainsides of timber and brush, native grasses turned them into lush, green pastures that sheep men took advantage of. Sheep pens were built at railhead towns in the valley.
May 29, 1929
"A trainload of sheep from Washington arrived in Sanders County Monday morning," stopping first at Trout Creek where George Harder of Council, Washington unloaded 2700 sheep. Next at Childs, Von Hollenbeck and Wakeley of Etopia, Washington unloaded 3573 head at Thompson Falls where they have brought sheep for past 5 years."

William Scholes of Noxon is the summer fire lookout at new fireman cabin and lookout tower completed on Government Peak in the Rock Creek country.9.

Everett Jenkins and Lee Parkland spend the week packing lumber from Noxon to Smead Peak and Stevens Peak for the Lookout houses being built at those places.
"Twelve head of mules were purchased from a Lumber company at St. Maries, Id for use as pack stock on the Noxon and Trout Creek ranger districts.
"Ranger A. J. Cramer of Noxon made a trip into the Dad's Peak country at the head of the East Fork of Bull River where a new lookout station is being established. Mr. Cramer also located a route for a telephone line, which will extend from the Bull River Ranger Station to the new lookout. A crew of men will begin the construction on the telephone line this week."10.
Forestry headquarters in Washington, DC are intensely interested in the success rate of the rather new idea of reforestation and management of burned over areas in western Montana and northern Idaho forests.
"Supervisor Fitting, Forest Inspector I. A. Fitzwater of Washington, D.C., Elers Koch, Assistant Regional Forester and D. S. Olson, Chief of Planting from Missoula...." made an "inspection trip of the planting areas on Deep Creek and Pilgrim Creek ... An area of 5,000 acres has been planted to white and yellow pine on Pilgrim Creek. The Cabinet has been the most active forest in the region in matters of reforestation..."11.
Fitzwater brings with him word that the Forest allotments for Fiscal Year 1931 will include approximately $120,000 for the Cabinet to meet it's expenditures ...
"Plow units, consisting of horse crates, plows, etc., have been received at Plains and Trout Creek for use in fire fighting. Pack stock can be loaded into crates and transported on motor trucks to where needed on fires. Draft stock will be used for plowing fire lines and thereby facilitating this kind of work."12.
Fire started on Marten Creek July 29, burning out of control and spreading over 2,000 acres. By August 4th over 375 men were on the fire line when it was controlled. Nineteen miles of trench construction completely surrounded the fire. Five plow units were used. Several dry camps required the use of numerous pack strings, supplying water, food and equipment to the camps.

A string consists of nine pack animals, a saddle horse and a packer. Five strings were sent from the Forest Service remount station at Nine Mile, Montana. Motor trucks especially arranged to carry six pack animals and equipment transported most of the pack strings. In some instances the stock was available at fire camps within ten hours after placing the order for them.

An estimated 2300 acres burned from the mouth of McNeely creek, extending up the South fork of Marten creek to the Idaho divide.

By Sunday, the fire was on patrol basis and most of the firefighters released except for 50 men for patrol work during the week.13.

While Charles May, who has a farm near Noxon, spent his summer cooking for the Forest service trail crews someone broke into his cabin and took all of his clothes, guns and other articles of value.14.

Fire expenditures for the Cabinet forest will be in excess of $35,000 this year. A Small fire on Pilik Ridge was quickly controlled.15. The Forests remained closed to recreationists until September 13, after a light rain had fallen. Lookouts came down by September 15th.16.

Four ready cut lookout houses were up on peaks; Squaw Peak, Noxon District; Seven Point Peak, Trout Creek; and Big Hole and Penrose in Plains district.17.

After Ranger Kramer replaced Saint, timber man, Clifford Weare began to dicker with the forest service over a timber stand that interested him. He'd looked over the Marten Creek country,
"where all three of the different outfits went broke. There has been a pile of money spent there, but I believe if I can use the railroad and take out nothing but the white pine I can do this work on a paying basis," Weare informed the new ranger.
"At least I would be willing to try it for a year. I believe there are several million of Whitepine that can be taken out at a profit, but I must have the cooperation of the Forest Service as much as possible.
"I would not put in a very big crew until I got the lay of things. I would gypo everything under a contract that would meet your approval and would have the brush piled in the opening away from the timber.
"I would go in on two or three gulches first, and build a truck road right to the timber. This can be done on first right hand branch of the railroad, which goes up that gulch a short distance, also on Rabbit Run. I would commence up the creek and make a gradual climb to get away from the bottom, when you get some distance up those creeks the ground is more level and in some places a shoot (chute) will work. But all these things will have to be worked out on the ground.
"The main thing is, I want to know what you people will do. Some of this timber is pretty faulty and we cannot afford to cut a big tree to gat (sic) a log or two out of the top. Of course when our road is made into this timber we would want to take everything on the road that would give us a profit.
"As soon as I hear from you I will try for a market for these logs. Write me fully what you can do, if possible, so that I can get your letter Monday, and I will get busy at once."18.
A few weeks later, after the fires in Marten Creek were out, Weare notified Mr. Fitting, forest service,
"I did not get the mill on Martin Creek. So the timber deal is all off.
"I had your letter. But it did not state that you would make a price of $5.00 on the white pine, and cut out the mixed, and they said after we had bought the mill and got investments made in there the Forest Service would hold us up and make it so hard for us that we could not make anything.
"And I know from experience I had on Bull River that that is the way they done with me. They charge me $10.00 for timber that was blown down, and I salvaged it for them and wanted to charge me for landing room on the river. Charge for everything that they can think of, and then claim all improvements and charge one for them besides.
"As I told you here at my place, the Forest Service made me a price on timber up Bull River of one dollar for dead white pine and $5.00 for green. As soon as I cleaned out the river and they saw I could get the logs out, up went this price to $2.50 and $10.00 and I had to quit the job. Then they sold it to Doyle for $5.00."19.
Frank J. Jefferson, Forest Supervisor, Kootenai National Forest, sent Weare advertisement of the cedar chance on approximately 600 aces located on Yaak River.
"... [it] will be a haul of approximately sixteen miles to Leonia, or twenty-three miles to Troy, on a fair dirt road, which will allow two trips daily for ordinary trucks of two to three ton capacity, carrying six to seven hundred feet per load." Two-three miles of "ordinary dirt road" will have to be built. Timber is about 1/3 old growth and 2/3 second growth. Cedar previously cut in locality has cut sound.20.
1. H. R. Bob Saint, tape-recorded oral history, November 18, 1983.
2. H. R. Bob Saint, tape-recorded oral history, November 18, 1983.
3. Carmen Moore, tape-recorded oral history January 1988.
4. Carmen Moore, tape-ecorded oral history March 16, 1988.
5. Ellen Jenkins Innes, letter November 30, 1986. This job was abolished in the 1930s.
6. H. R. Bob Saint, tape-recorded oral history, November 18, 1983.
7. Dan DeLong, tape-recorded oral history May 26, 1987.
8. H. R. Bob Saint, tape-recorded oral history, November 18, 1983. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 15 and May 22, 1929.
9. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 25, 1930.
10. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 25, 1930.
11. Sanders County Independent Ledger, July 9, 1930.
12. Sanders County Independent Ledger, July 9, 1930.
13. Sanders County Independent Ledger, August 13, 1930.
14. Sanders County Independent Ledger, September 25, 1929.
15. Sanders County Independent Ledger, September 3, 1930.
16. Sanders County Independent Ledger, September 17, 1930.
17. Sanders County Independent Ledger, September 21, 1930.
18. Clifford R. Weare papers, August 24, 1929.
19. Clifford R. Weare papers, September 16, 1929.
20. Clifford R. Weare papers, October 2, 1929.

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