Technical Report

A History of Native Elk in Mount Rainier National Park
Paul Schullery


Indians and Elk in Mount Rainier

The prehistory and history of Indian use of Mount Rainier has been thoroughly presented by Smith (1964), Daugherty (1963), McIntyre (1952), and Thompson (1981). Tribes from all directions made occasional use of the park, some frequenting the same areas in great numbers every year. Most use was concentrated around "hunter-gathering camps near important huckleberry fields at an altitude between 3,000 and 5,500 feet" (Thompson 1981). Though we can assume that use of this intensity must have had some effect on the numbers of whatever wildlife was being hunted, there is virtually no evidence that these Indians were hunting elk specifically. The record is vague and inconclusive on the point, though both deer and goats are mentioned specifically in some accounts. For that reason I will mention only one specific elk reference, one of some consequence because it occurred at the very beginning of white involvement with Mount Rainier itself.

In 1833 Dr. William Fraser Tolmie received permission to leave Fort Nisqually for ten days to make "a botanizing excursion to Mount Rainier" (Tolmie 1833). As has already been pointed out, along the way he visited Indians whose dwellings contained much elk meat. More important, his guides accompanied him to the vicinity of the mountain because they wished to hunt for elk:

We were 6 in number–I have engaged Lachalet for a blanket & his nephew Lashima for ammunition to accompany me & Nuckalkut a Poyallip (whom I took for a native of Mt. Rainier) with two horses to be guide on the mountain & after leaving the horse track & Quilniash his relative, a very active strong fellow has volunteered to accompany us–The Indians are in great hopes of killing Elk, Chevreuil & Lachalet has already been selling & promising the grease he is to get–It is in great measure the expectation of finding game that urges them to undertake the journey (Tolmie 1833).

Though this statement is by no means incontrovertible proof of elk presence on the slopes of Mount Rainier in 1833, it is suggestive of the presence of elk near the mountain at that time. The party followed a route up the Puyallup and the Mowich to the present park boundary and beyond. They found no elk (or at least Tolmie reported none, and as a scientist we could expect him to have done so), and we are left to wonder where along the way the Indians actually expected to encounter them. When they were still some miles from the present park boundary Lachalet–perhaps because of bad weather, perhaps because of poor hunting–attempted to persuade Tolmie to turn back, but later, when Tolmie was considering turning back, the Indians encouraged him to continue (Haines 1962). Their failure to find elk on this trip is no proof that elk were not there; judging from the reported enthusiasm of the Indians, they were accustomed to finding elk somewhere near the mountain. The effort they were willing to expend would suggest the strength of their confidence; one must wonder that even at that early date they would travel so far and be willing to carry elk meat back so far.

Ultimately, Tolmie's account leaves us uncertain. The elk they sought could have been known by the Indians to occur only halfway to the mountain, rather than on the slopes of the mountain itself. The Indians did not seem to go out of their way, once near the mountain, to hunt. The Tolmie reference is significant for putting elk near the mountain at this early period, but it is not conclusive proof of elk presence within the park.

Indian Elk Legends Involving Mount Rainier

There is one persistent legend relating elk to the slopes of Mount Rainier, a legend that has been used to support contentions that elk were present within present park boundaries during some time remembered by native tribes (Smith 1964). The legend involves a great hunter who sought "hiaqua" (a type of shell money) high on the slopes–perhaps at the peak–of Mount Rainier. He was guided at the beginning of his quest by a spirit, in some accounts an "elk deity," and was, according to some accounts, accustomed to hunting elk on the mountain slopes. While on the mountain top he encountered an elk-head-shaped stone monument, near which he was able to discover a great quantity of hiaqua. When he attempted to return to the low country with this treasure, storms (and sometimes earthquakes) held him motionless until he threw the hiaqua away (Winthrop 1862; Lyman 1905; Williams 1911; Ballard 1929).

Smith (1964), referring to the earliest version of this legend, suggested that the ultimate value of it as evidence of elk presence is in its obvious implications: that a Nisqually (Winthrop's 1862 account called him a "frowzy ancient of the Squallyamish") named Hamitchou would not have told a story so intimately involving elk with the mountain itself–not only an elk deity but the regular hunting of elk "on the flanks of Tacoma"–were there not some basis in fact for these elements of the story. As I have suggested earlier, Winthrop is not the most reliable of sources. This legend must be examined in greater detail.

The transcription, or creation, or publication of native American legends has been conducted quite as often by popular writers as it has by trained historians. The results have ranged from good to terrible, but one need only examine modern children's literature to see how often "Indian legends" are merely convenient literary devices for fiction writers. None of the four versions of this legend that I have located seem altogether trustworthy, since it is possible all four are derived from Winthrop to some extent.

Winthrop's "Hamitchou's Legend" ran twenty-three pages in his book Canoe and Saddle (1862) and is a remarkably elaborate retelling of what was supposedly translated for him by Dr. William Tolmie (at Fort Nisqually) from the original statement by Hamitchou. As with his description of the hardships he faced during his trip over Naches Pass, Winthrop's original journal is revealing. His journal entry for the encounter with Hamitchou is worth quoting in its entirety:

Dr. Tolmie told the Indians at Squally that I wanted to go up Mt. Rainier to see Tamanous (as Moses and other seers did). There was a peculiar kind of shell money which they say (Cook or) Vancouver brought to the country. A wise old man, who killed many elk, made a sort of pick of their horns and went to the top of a high mountain to find some of this money, which Tamanous gave him to understand was there. He arrived at the top and found a great lake with much otter, but giving no thought to these he set himself to digging this wampum or hiaqua. He dug twenty strings of it and started down the mountain a rich man. (But riches take to themselves wings, etc.) On his way down he was overtaken by a violent snow-storm, and was in danger of death. To propitiate the tamanous, angry, he threw away one string after the other (the Indian described this with action), but the storm did not abate until he had cast away the very last. He then returned sadder and wiser, sure that the tamanous of the mountain did not wish his hoards to be taken. Work up artistically (Winthrop 1913).

From the parenthetical remarks and his final sentence it is clear that Winthrop intended to develop these notes into a chapter in his book. We are left, however, with some uncertainties. We cannot tell, for one thing, how much of what he added to this basic outline was merely "artistic" and how much was part of his greater memories of what he actually heard from Hamitchou (even his name is not mentioned in the notes). This brief summary of the legend contained no references to elk on the flanks of the mountain; it only describes the hero as a good elk hunter. Furthermore, though Winthrop initiated the conversation by telling Hamitchou that he wished to go to the top of Mount Rainier, he gives his story only as relating to a "high mountain." We cannot be certain, though it does seem probable, that Hamitchou was actually speaking of Mount Rainier.

Lyman (1909) retold this legend, adding a number of new names for deities and portraying its hero as living on the Cowlitz River. Williams (1911) also placed his home on the Cowlitz. According to Ballard (1929) the story was told by a Puyallup.

From these sources we get an unreliable tradition–hardly even a good solid legend. It would seem unwise, however, to totally discount the legend as historical evidence. Winthrop may indeed have been told by Hamitchou that elk were hunted on the flanks of the mountain. We cannot establish his exact words from the available evidence (any more than we can establish his reliability as a knowledgeable source of information about the mountain), so we must at least entertain the possibility that the original story supported Winthrop's final "artistic" version on that key point. Hamitchou's legend provides no quantitative proof of the presence of elk in the present park area, but it must be taken into account, however cautiously, in the final assessment of elk presence there. In company with corroborative evidence from other sources, such as Tolmie's rather less problematic account of Puyallup elk hunting near the mountain, the legend may have some usefulness after all.

Elk Presence Since the Beginning of White Exploration of the Mountain

The exploration and development of Mount Rainier before 1900 has been studied by Haines (1962), Thompson (1981), Nadeau (1983), Molenaar (1979), and McIntyre (1952). The surviving records of the exploration, settlement, and recreational use of the mountain have some limitations as ecological evidence, especially regarding the possible presence of elk in the eastern half of the park.

Most early visitors, at least those who left a record of their visits, traveled to the park by one route: up the Nisqually River to Longmire's Springs and on by trail to Paradise. Smaller numbers entered the park at other points on the east side, particularly by way of the Carbon and Puyallup Rivers. Of the twenty-eight known ascents or near-ascents of the mountain that occurred before 1894, twenty-five approached the mountain from the southwest corner of the park, most camping at Paradise or in Indian Henry's Hunting Ground. It may be significant, as we will see momentarily, that three of the very few pre-1890 accounts of the north side of the mountain have given us our only mentions of elk during this period. It must be assumed that, if elk were present in the Nisqually Valley during this period they would have been shot at rather frequently, especially after settlement began. Though there was confidence a good road would soon exist to Longmire's as early as 1893 (Tacoma Ledger 1893), the following year a travel writer concluded that "to behold the park's beauties one must undertake a genuine 'roughing it' expedition" (Snyder 1894). This latter remark remained true for the park itself for many years, but in 1893 the locally famous climber P.B. Van Trump pointed out that the route to the mountain was by no means isolated any more:

The tourist to the mountain can now find entertainment for man, if not for beast, nearly all the way along the route from Mishell to the Longmire Springs. The settlers in the district of the Mishell River and along the Mishell mountain and throughout the Succotash Valley now number about 300. Ranches in various stages of development and numerous timber claimants' cabins are seen all along the route from Eatonville to the Rainier Fork of the Nisqually, a distance of twenty-seven miles. When the writer made his first journey to the mountain, in 1870, the whole country was a vast uninhabited wilderness (Van Trump 1893).

These were not the best of circumstances for elk, of course; hunting, cattle grazing, and human population pressures may all have contributed to the disappearance of any elk in the immediate area of the travel route. We must also not forget that only short-term travelers, rather than residents, were in the habit of recording their reminiscences. Furthermore, many travelers had a sort of tunnel vision for the mountain, and seemed in a hurry to get to Longmire's, or Paradise, before settling in to enjoy themselves. Still, they did occasionally mention other large animals in their accounts, and elk are suspiciously absent from those same accounts. They are also absent from the reminiscences of early settlers in the area, as mentioned earlier. On the other hand, only one visitor account came to light from the period before 1900 (Twitmeyer 1891) that said that elk were not present, and even that account suggested that they once were. Appendix III presents early sightings of other large animals taken from many visitor accounts; by comparison, virtually no one reported elk.

One issue here, and to an even greater extent in the lesser traveled and therefore lesser reported eastern parts of the park, is what has been called "negative proof." Historian D.H. Fischer has defined "the fallacy of negative proof" as "an attempt to sustain a factual proposition merely by negative evidence. It occurs whenever a historian declares that 'there is no evidence that x is the case,' and then proceeds to affirm or assume that not-x is the case..." Fischer continues, "but a simple statement that 'there is no evidence of x' means precisely what it says–no evidence. The only correct empirical procedure is to find affirmative evidence of not-x..." (Fischer 1970). By this line of thinking, we are hard pressed to prove that elk did not exist in Mount Rainier before 1890, because virtually all the evidence we have is negative. Of course as Fischer points out this does not permit us to assume that elk did occur; we have only negative evidence that the mountain supported a relict population of woolly mammoths at the same time, but no one is assuming it did.

A search of accounts of the park before the introduction of Rocky Mountain elk provided little positive evidence of elk there. We will turn to that evidence soon, but first we must evaluate the quality of the negative evidence.

Of greatest interest to modern managers of the park is the status of native elk on the eastern side of the park. Here the evidence prior to the introductions is extremely sketchy. Hunting parties and climbers who left records traveled various parts of the eastern half of the park infrequently before 1912 (for example McWhorter 1917, Brown 1920, and McIntyre 1952). Of the known early accounts the one most impressive as evidence against elk presence was the one produced by Brown, who came from the Yakima Reservation in 1886 with a small band of Indians and, during a break in their hunting, climbed to the main dome by way of Summer Land and Ingraham Glacier. The trip occurred in "the fall," possibly at a time when elk, if present, should have made their presence known along the route traveled, either by sight, sound, or sign. The failure of this party to find game has been used as evidence that elk were not present in the area (Bradley 1982). Again we must deal with negative evidence, but Brown's account is perhaps more revealing than it at first appears:

We crossed the Cascades through what was then known as Packwood Pass, going north up the Ohanapecosh Valley to the Cowlitz Divide country, a region which the Indians considered one of their best hunting grounds. Finding no game here, we were forced to hunt near the snow line (Brown 1920).

We learn more from this than that elk were not seen. We learn that this was a prime hunting ground for the Indians, who had every expectation, based on previous experience, of finding game of some sort. Not unlike the best hunters anywhere, the Indians sometimes did not find game. It just happened that on this unsuccessful occasion there was a recording witness. It is not clear from the account what kinds of game they expected.

A persuasive reason for not totally trusting negative evidence in this case was provided by the National Park Service in 1962. The present concern over elk numbers in Mount Rainier National Park may be said to date most certainly from census flights conducted by Forest Service Biologist John Larsen in September of 1962. After his flights he notified the Chief Park Naturalist that he counted 466 elk along the eastern boundary of the park, a number all out of keeping with the park administration's ideas of the size of the park elk population (Bender 1962a). The park's response was one of almost total disbelief. The Chief Naturalist remarked that "the Park could not possibly support that many animals" (Bender 1962b). To support their disbelief, park service personnel flew over the same general area on October 16, 1962 and counted "between 25-30 animals" (Bender 1962b). Of course the passage of several weeks in that season was sufficient time for the elk to have moved out, and Larsen's count was eventually substantiated (Twight 1965). The point is that in 1962, when Mount Rainier National Park received over 1.9 million visitors and had a full-time year-round staff of considerable size, many elk were present without people noticing it. Even when the park was presented with evidence, disbelief ruled the day for quite a while. How reliable then, can a few early hunting or climbing accounts–the most accidental sort of historical record–be for this same region?

Unfortunately, we have little more to go on even into the early 1900s for the eastern part of the park. The U.S. Biological Survey team that studied the park in 1897 confined its work to the southern and southwestern portions of the park (A.K. Fisher 1897a; 1897b; 1897c; 1897d; V. Bailey 1897a; 1897b; W.K. Fisher 1897), where they saw no elk. The various surveys conducted shortly after the turn of the century were simple statistical recitations of landmarks, with no regard for wildlife (Zug 1905; Thorn 1908).

By the late 1890s climbing the mountain became more popular, with large groups being organized (Ross 1898; Montgomery 1898; Wilbur 1898; Brown 1898; Fay 1905; Colby 1905; Brooks 1905; Glascock 1905; Rodman 1906; Curtis 1909; Ingraham 1909; Sensenig 1909). Their numbers were far greater than in earlier days, but most stuck to the established routes, and much of the east side stayed relatively unvisited until well after the introductions of elk from the Rocky Mountains. As numerous as these later parties were, they left much country unexplored and could easily have missed elk in many portions of the eastern half of the park.

The known references to elk within Mount Rainier National Park must, then, be viewed in light of the uncertain historical context that has been outlined above.

Historical references to elk within the boundaries of Mount Rainier National Park are rare enough that they can be reviewed here in their entirety. The first was the result of visits to the mountain in 1881 and 1882 by Bailey Willis, a geologist with the Northern Transcontinental Survey. Willis gave the following account of the country above 4,000 feet in the vicinity of Crescent Mountain (near Crescent Lake in the Carbon River drainage):

The lower slopes are heavily timbered, but at an elevation of 4,000 feet juniper and dwarf pine are dotted over the grassy hillside. Elk, deer and white mountain goats find here grassy pasture; their trails look like well trodden sheep paths on a New England hill (Willis 1883).

The next account occurred two years later, resulting from a trip made in 1884. A party of three men on their way to an eventually successful climb of the mountain camped briefly in Spray Park. One of the three, J. Warner Fobes, made these remarks at that point in his published story about the trip:

These mountain-tops are by no means an uninhabited desert. The hundreds of park-like valleys furnish pasturage for elk and deer, and the mountain-goat follows the melting snow to crop the freshest herbage (Fobes 1885).

The third account is found in a manuscript left by Judge Everett Smith of Seattle, who made an unsuccessful attempt on the mountain in August of 1886 by way of the Carbon River and Carbon Glacier. His discussion of wildlife was not related particularly to any one spot on the mountain, though it is clear from the context that he meant to include elevations at least as high as the meadows referred to by Willis, above:

Game is plenty on the mountain, although we have not seen many animals because of our numbers and noise. Tracks of goat, sheep, bear, deer, elk, badger and cougars are often seen fresh (Smith 1886).

In these few years in the 1880s, the first decade when the mountain attracted visitors and climbers with any frequency at all, are grouped the only visitor-produced mentions of elk on the mountain that have been located. They are imperfect evidence for several reasons. First, it is difficult to tell if any of the three actually observed elk; the references are very general. Second, their reliability at identifying tracks is unknown. All three were writing for popular audience, or with an informal tone, and were probably not terribly worried about details; they could have mentioned elk solely on the basis of personal assumption that it looked like a nice place for elk to live. Also, in light of their limited knowledge of the region's wildlife (Smith apparently was confusing badgers and marmots, as many early visitors did, and also made the questionable observation that sheep were present; Willis, elsewhere in his article, was also unfamiliar with marmots), we might wonder how good they were at judging any evidence–track, trail, or dropping–they saw.

We cannot discount them out of hand, though. They constitute a consistent conviction among some early visitors that elk were indeed living on the northern flanks of the mountain. If we cannot establish the trustworthiness of the writers, neither do we have any reason to doubt their integrity or their desire to report accurately; one was a scientist and one was a judge. All three accounts involved a relatively localized part of the park, which may be additional reason to believe them, as they seem to reinforce each other.

After these early mentions of elk, no record has been found of additional discussion of them until the beginning of the formal administration of the park (established in 1899). It is regrettable that the park's first administrator was a forest supervisor stationed at Orting until about 1907, because the park was rarely under the scrutiny of its managers. Not until 1906 were rangers (two in summer, one in winter) assigned to duty in the park. They spent most of their time on or near the west side of the park, patrolling Spray Park, Carbon River, Paradise, and Indian Henry's Hunting Ground (Allen 1907).

As with the earlier references, these administrative references do not often include first-hand reports of observed elk or elk sign. The reports are numerous and responsible enough, however, to leave little doubt of the presence of at least a few elk.

The Report of the Secretary of the Interior for 1903 gave the following information:

A small band of elk, driven from the forests at the head of the Skookumchuck River, are now in and about the park, apparently with their young, and an effort should be made to protect them (U.S.D.I. Secretary of the Interior 1903).

No explanation was given for the elk being "driven" a distance of twenty or more miles into the park, nor is a source given for the information on their movements. As Driver (1973) has noted, the park's wildlife observation cards give essentially the same information on this group, stating that "elk and young, a small band, have come into the park from head of the Skookumchuck River." This reference does not say they were "driven."

The park observation cards also parallel a 1905 report from the Secretary, noting that "there are a few elk in the park about the headwaters of the Puyallup..." (U.S.D.I. Secretary of the Interior 1905).

Reports from this period reflect a great concern over illegal killing of game in the park and excessive killing of game in winter near the park. Any elk using the park in the early 1900s was obviously in serious jeopardy. Forest Supervisor Allen strongly recommended establishing a no-hunting zone along the west boundary, specifically to protect the animals (he mentioned only deer and bear) when they left the park (Allen 1907). Stronger words came from Eugene Ricksecker, the Engineer assigned to work on the road up the Nisqually to the park:

Owing, in great measure, to the high altitude of the Park generally, the first fall of snow and approach of cold weather drives the large game out of the Park to the lower lands in the surrounding Forest Reserve where, under inadequate protection of State laws it is, all too frequently, slaughtered. I am advised of one case where an Indian killed 16 deer in one day, less than a mile outside the Park boundary.

The presence of game in the Yellowstone National Park, becoming more and more noticeable under the protection afforded by the United States, is a feature of that Park and a source of much enjoyment to tourists. The noticeable scarcity of game in the Rainier Park is a subject of comment. I have made some forty trips into this Park during the last five years and have seen but one lynx, one deer, and two or three ptarmigan. A small herd of elk are said to frequent some portions of the Park; deer and bear signs are visible here and there and several bands of mountain goat, fast disappearing, have been seen. Quite recently a goat weighing 300 lbs. was killed by a person in the Park who is said to have shot it just outside the boundary.

It is, I think, important that game be further protected and encouraged to show itself, and two suggestions are made with that end in view (Ricksecker 1907).

Ricksecker then proposed that the park be enlarged in all directions to take in some winter range, and further proposed that the game laws of the park apply to the new area, eliminating all hunting (Ricksecker 1907).

Proposals similar to this one appeared in the Superintendent's Reports for several years, as did occasional mentions of suspected killing of game in the park and excessive deer harvests near the park.

In 1908 Alden Sampson reported his understanding of the status of elk in the park for the Sierra Club Bulletin:

There are no elk on the flanks of Mt. Rainier. We were told of the presence of a few still to be found in the Tatoosh Range to the south, and on Goat Mountain, both close to the southern limits of the park. The question of winter range for these animals, in case they were established here, is one that would have to be carefully studied. No tract obviously suited to that purpose was noted by us. Should such exist, elk could be brought from the Olympic Forest Reserve to form the nucleus of a herd here. There are now in the Olympics 2,500 or 3,000 elk of the Cervus occidentalis, or Roosevelti, almost the sole survivors of the vast bands which once ranged the Pacific Coast. Were an attempt made to bring to Mt. Rainier individuals of the Olympic herd, it would probably be necessary, in order to accomplish their transfer without injury and to retain control of them afterwards, to hold them first segregated for several months under constant supervision and care, and thus partially domesticate them, before attempting to accomplish such removal to their new home. It is not, however, believed that the conditions are favorable for their presence here (Sampson 1908).

The confidence of Sampson's assertion that there were no elk on the flanks of the mountain does not seem justified considering how lightly traveled some of the park was in those days, but it does reflect the general opinion that elk were scarce at best.

In 1909 the Superintendent added to the customary expression of concern over illegal hunting the suggestion that "cougars and wild cats" might be hunted in the park to reduce their predation on deer. No mention was made of elk in a Superintendent's Report until 1911, when Edward Hall first suggested a transplant of Yellowstone elk:

It is believed that elk would thrive in the park, and I wish to recommend that some of these animals be transferred to this park from the Yellowstone National Park. Elk are protected by State laws in Washington (Hall 1911).

1912 is of course the year of the first transplant of elk to near Mount Rainier. After this date and subsequent early plantings it quickly becomes difficult to determine whether elk being seen were native or introduced animals. In 1912 Hall repeated his transplant proposal in identical words (Hall 1912). His successor, Ethan Allen, continued to suggest an expansion of park boundaries in 1913 and 1914 (Allen 1913; 1914), reporting in 1914 that "a small herd of elk have recently been observed in the central east portion of the park."

Driver (1973) summarized some sightings of elk in the park between 1915 and 1919. In all cases it seems possible that the animals were introduced individuals that found their way into the park.

During his 1919 season with the U.S. Biological Survey, Walter P. Taylor worked in Mount Rainier. He compiled extensive notes on the park mammals, submitted as a handwritten "Special Report." The following are his remarks on elk in or near the park. It is apparent that these notes were made over the course of the season and then simply reorganized species by species, with no especial regard for revising the earliest notations even when later information contradicted them.

Mt. Rainier Park, 1919–A few, introduced, may occur on White River; but G.F. Allen says these have for the most part been killed off.

White River district, Mt. Rainier, July 25–John Anderson saw tracks of a cow and calf near Glacier Basin, and believes a good many elk still in this section.

Rainier Park, 1919–Sherman Combs, Park Ranger, reports elk tracks seen last year between Owyhigh Lakes and Ohanapecosh Hot Springs. They are said to occur still in White River.

Fairfax Wa. Aug. 27, 1919: Park Ranger O.W. Curtis believes a few still remain in the White River district. He saw tracks of 3 last March below the White River Ranger Station in 2 ft. of snow. Indians and others have shot a good many.

Paradise Sept. 26 Superintendent Toll should be asked to submit details concerning elk track seen by him near Wauhaukaupauken Falls last week.

Ashford Sept. 30 C.A. Stoner says that the track Toll saw was undoubtedly an elk track, as a few elk still range on the east side of the Park.

The St. Helens band of native elk, he says, is spreading, its range now extending as far as Lewis, Wa. Three, I think he said, were seen not far below Hot Springs, on the Lewis trail.

Ashford, Sept. 30 Stoner He complained that the Snoqualmie and Enumclaw introductions of elk were wrongly handled. The elk, it seems, were kept under fence in ranches near the settlements for some time instead of being liberated immediately in the woods far from the settlements. He reports that the bull elk mount the cattle; bothering considerably about stock ranches in this way (Taylor 1919b).

These notes are significant for several reasons. Toll's mention of the elk at Wauhaukaupauken Falls, or at least the track of an elk, is a possible cause for Toll's 1919 Report reference, as follows:

Elk have been reported from the park. Their horns have been picked up in several different localities. No authentic report has been made on elk in recent years (Toll 1919).

Though in this case and in some of the others mentioned by Taylor it is difficult to distinguish native from non-native elk, his notes provide accounts of elk in several parts of the park. The intent of the individuals who were discussing the White River area is unclear; they may have meant natives were still present or non-natives had not been wiped out by poachers yet. Of course Stoner's meaning is clear; he believed native elk occurred in 1919 on the south and east sides of the park as well as in it, as described. Stoner was also quoted by another member of the Survey that same summer, elaborating on his beliefs:

The possibility of elk being found in the park at the present rests on the statement of C.A. Stoner of Ashford, Wn., who says, "I have occasionally noted in summer, elk tracks along the southern borders of the park, and think small bands of half a dozen or so stray into the park at times from the Mt. St. Helens elk range" (Cantwell 1919).

Stoner, in this case, was not suggesting a continual presence of native elk in the park so much as a restocking of the park by native elk from elsewhere.

In the decades immediately following the transplants of elk from the Rocky Mountains a few other writers expressed their opinion that native elk had used the park before the transplants began. Some of these are worth reviewing because they have figured prominently in current discussions of elk presence in the park.

Taylor and Shaw's Mammals and Birds of Mount Rainier National Park was published in 1927. It contained a number of reports of elk in or near the park, reports that are illuminated by Taylor's 1919 "Special Report," from which excerpts were just quoted. In the 1927 book there were several references to information given the authors by individuals, references that precisely parallel statements recorded by Taylor in 1919. This is important because statements quoted in the 1927 book appear to be current when, considering their appearance in the 1919 report, they may actually be nearly a decade old. Comments by Curtis, Combs, Toll, Allen, and Stoner all appear to be from the earlier report. There may have been a great time lag between preparation of the manuscript and final publication, a problem not unknown with the Government Printing Office (known in some circles as "Limbo Press"), or the authors may have simply failed to put the quotations in proper context. In any event, here is the 1927 review of elk sightings and information, deleting only a discussion of transplants:

G.F. Allen, of Tacoma, Wash., supervisor of the Rainier National Forest, asserts that a short while ago a number of elk were found in the park in the White River section, but, in his opinion, they have all, or nearly all, been killed off, for they drift back and forth over the park boundary and have been subjected to illegal shooting by Indians and whites as well. R. M. Daugherty saw three in Grand Park in 1915. Former Park Ranger O.W. Curtis saw tracks of three elk in 2 feet of snow below White River Ranger Station in March, 1919. Sherman Combs, also a former park ranger, reports elk tracks seen last year between Owyhigh Lakes and Ohanapecosh Hot Springs. Supt. Roger Toll saw a track, much too large for a deer, near Wauhaukaupauken Falls about the middle of September. C.A. Stoner, of Ashford, whose experience in the Rainier region is extensive, is of the opinion that a few elk still range on the east side of the park.

William Sethe, of Lewis, Wash., reports the persistence of a limited number of elk west of the Cascade summit in the headwaters of the Cispus and Cowlitz Rivers, in Skamania and Lewis Counties. C.A. Stoner thinks elk observed southerly within and near the park belong to this group, which he believes to be increasing in numbers. Alden Sampson was told in 1906 of the presence of a few elk in the Tatoosh Range and on Goat Mountain (Mount Wow), but nether he nor any members of the Mazama or Sierra Clubs actually saw any of the animals (Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. 6, 1908, p. 32).

It is hoped that the elk may become a permanent feature among the wild living resources of Mount Rainier. If further introductions are provided for, however, the Roosevelt elk of the Olympic Mountains rather than the elk of the Yellowstone region should be utilized, for the Roosevelt elk is probably the species which formerly occurred throughout the Cascade Mountains (Taylor and Shaw, 1927).

Any time following the first introductions it becomes difficult to establish the origin of elk sighted or reported. By the 1920s it may also be difficult to determine which elk, even if native, were using the park as they would have before the arrival of white men. Elk may have been in the park because of pressures elsewhere; witness the elk said to have been "driven" up from the Skookumchuck. The reports gathered by Taylor (1919b) were made only a few years after the first introductions, however, and were gathered from trustworthy observers. If Toll did see an elk track near Wauhaukaupauken Falls in 1919, it would have been made by a native or by a Rocky Mountain elk from the group introduced many miles to the east, near Yakima, in 1913. An elk ecologist could better judge the likelihood of the Yakima elk moving that far that quickly. If Sethe and Stoner are to be trusted, native elk were present along the south boundary, well within range of the Falls. If Stoner is to be further trusted, native elk were using the eastern portion of the park regularly. It is less clear if Curtis, as quoted in Taylor (1919b), believed the elk inhabiting the White River were native or from the introductions made north of the park starting in 1912. Bradley (1982) has assumed that the elk seen by Curtis in 1919 (he says "Coombes," but the description he gives, of elk tracks near the White River Ranger Station, matches a sighting reported by Curtis) were animals from the Grass Mountain introduction in 1912. Bradley (1982) also assumed that the animals reported by Daugherty in Grand Park in 1915 (as reported by Taylor and Shaw in 1927) were from the Grass Mountain introduction. He attributed these and other appearances of elk in the park in the first few years following the introductions to the "very rapid dispersal" of elk from the sites of the introductions. Considering the opinions of Sethe and Stoner, caution may be in order in judging these sightings to be introduced elk.

Whatever the origins of the animals involved in these reports, in no case were elk thought to occur in the park in great numbers. Sightings in the park would remain limited to small groups and individuals for many years. It would appear, however, that these reports to the U.S. Biological Survey, made by apparently reliable observers, are good evidence that there were some native elk inhabiting Mount Rainier National Park at the time of the first introductions of Rocky Mountain elk near the park. The reports indicate a high likelihood of native elk occurring along the south and perhaps the east boundaries, and a lower likelihood of them also occurring in the White River drainage. Earlier reports (Ricksecker 1907; U.S.D.I. Secretary of the Interior 1905) indicate a few elk on the western side of the park as well. The evidence for the presence of elk in these various parts of the park is not so absolute that a skeptic could not deny it, but it is persuasive, coming as it does from several sources of the most trustworthy kind.

Perhaps the best known of later comments on native elk were made by Park Naturalist Floyd Schmoe in the 1920s. Schmoe wrote widely, including newspaper columns, books, and regular production of the park's in-house newsletter. The first of his recorded comments appeared in the Mount Rainier National Park Notes for March 1 1924:

The lower slopes of the mountain were formerly within the range of the western or Olympic elk. Only a few years ago shed antlers were found within the park. These bands of elk were practically wiped out some years ago by persistent hunting except in the Olympic mountains where the ruggedness of the country protected them (Schmoe 1924a).

The next appeared in the same publication later that year. While discussing attempts by the State Game Commission to reintroduce elk to the area around the park, Schmoe observed that "with the generous support of the State Game Commission these splendid animals are being reestablished on their former range" (Schmoe 1924b).

The next appeared in his book Our Greatest Mountain:

At one time elk ranged through the forests and parklands of the reservation in large numbers. Before the park was established they were almost exterminated by hunting but recently they are reappearing in small bands (Schmoe 1925).

The final reference appeared in the Mount Rainier Nature News Notes for February 1, 1926. It appeared in a discussion of Indian uses of the park:

To the east beyond the low crest of the Cascades were the Yakimas and Klickitats, a breed of lithe, upstanding, handsome men, great horsemen and famous runners, but who were, perhaps, too busy trying to eke out a living from a semi-arid country, to develop any remarkable crafts. These came into the high valleys each summer, the women to gather berries, and the men to hunt the goat, deer, elk, and bear that abounded, but never to make homes (Schmoe 1926a).

These comments about the presence of native elk in Mount Rainier National Park were, according to the author, based on the widespread belief that elk were in fact native to the area, rather than on any personal observations or research (Schmoe pers. comm.). They have perhaps been given more weight than the author originally intended. As evidence they are no better or worse than the local traditions upon which they are based, and Schmoe was not alone in his acceptance of the traditions. Macy (1934) reported that "local game enthusiasts declare that elk abounded in this section twenty-five or thirty years ago and that some evidence remained to show that they were still present, however none have been seen for years." This is supposed to be a reference to the park proper, but it is similar to a comment reportedly made by W.L. Parsons about the Eatonville area in 1933: "W.L. Parsons, local game enthusiast declared that elk abounded in this section 25 or 30 years ago, but had since been exterminated" (Engel and Halvin 1954). In 1935 E.A. Kitchin made two comments on native elk in Mount Rainier:

There is no doubt in referring to early history of the region now comprising the Rainier National Park, that the Roosevelt Elk (Cervus canadensis occidentalis) was a native of this region. It is very doubtful, however, that there are any of these native elk left in the park. There may have been a few when the Yellowstone elks were introduced. If so, the two now form one strain (Kitchin 1935a).

Elk - no recent records in the area: Formerly common. Yellowstone elk are in the forests north of the park and might occasionally wander over the boundary (Kitchin 1935b).

The second comment was part of a report on a proposed primitive area in the north central part of the park, and the report referred specifically to that part of the park rather than to the whole park.

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Last Updated: Monday, 18-Oct-2004 20:10:54
Author: Natural & Cultural Resources Division

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