Early Days in the Forest Service
Volume 2

By Clyde P. Fickes
(Retired 1948)

Early in November of 1905, my cousin and I made a back-pack trip up the South Fork of the Flathead, looking for trap line prospects. We camped one night at Fish Lake and woke up in the morning to find about 18 inches or fresh snow and more coming down steadily. It looked like a good idea to take off for the lower country, which we did. At Beaver Park on the river we found a small tent standing and decided to occupy it for the night. Along about 9 p.m., having built up a good fire and lain down to try to sleep, we heard bells, yelling and horse noises. It turned out to be the Forest Ranger, Dan Sullivan, and his assistant, Frank Opalka, with a string of pack horses, bringing out the camps used during the summer. They were wet, cold and plenty tired and pleased to find a warm fire and some supper prospects. Also, Sullivan was suffering with an ulcerated tooth that was giving him plenty of grief. The next morning we helped to pack up and traveled with them down the trail to the railroad.

That was my first contact with forest rangers and their work, and the impressions received caused me to apply for work on the old Lewis & Clark National Forest in the spring of 1907. Appointed a Forest Guard on July 1 at $60 per month and supplying myself and two horses, I was assigned to a survey party on Swan River with D. C. Harrison of Washington, D.C. as Chief of party, and Forest Rangers Jack Clack and Ernest Bond, as well as a cook. On July 23 and 24, I took the Forest Ranger examination at Kalispell and was directed to go to the Hanan Gulch Ranger Station on the North Fork of Sun River. It has always been my impression that I was not a very promising candidate for ranger to A. C. McCain, Acting Supervisor, while Supervisor Page S. Bunker was on detail to Washington, D.C. so he figured, "I'll give this kid an assignment that he won't want to accept, or else he will never get to Sun River and we will be well rid of him."

They gave me a badge, a USE BOOK and a GREEN BOOK and told me "When you get to Hanan you can take charge of the Sun River District." That's how I became a forest ranger in 1907.

Well, I fooled McCain by making my way to Hanan Gulch on the North Fork of Sun River. Leaving Kalispell on July 26th, with saddle and pack horse, we traveled eastward along the Great Northern Railroad which was about the only feasible way in those days to get from Kalispell to Sun River. Swam the South Fork which was high, and camped the first night at the old Fitzpatrick homestead about where the present highway bridge is located.

Most of the trail followed the old tote road used in building the railroad, and there were places where the trail lay between the iron rails which made travel by horse a little hazardous at times. Arrived at the Lubec Ranger Station on the 30th, and leaving there on August 1st rode south along the foothills, arriving at Hanan on the 5th. According to my diary I had traveled some 190 miles in ten days to reach my post of duty. Several years ago I drove approximately the same route in a little over four hours.

At Hanan I found Ranger Henry Waldref in charge and the two cabins comprising the living quarters occupied by the A. C. McCain family of five. There were several acres of timothy meadow at the station and Waldref was putting up the hay, a job which I helped him finish during the next three days. Henry gave me a general outline of the conditions on the district as he understood them and some idea of what the job load was, although that expression was unheard of by either of us at that time. (His home was at Lincoln where he had a prospect that he worked winters since his appointment was only for the summer months. He had a black saddle horse and a span of bay mares, one with foal at side, that were the fattest pieces of horse flesh I believe I ever saw. And if one of them raised so much as one wet hair on the trail, he would stop until it had dried.)

The business of the district, which included all the forest from Deep Creek on the north to Ford Creek on the south, included 10 or 12 grazing permits for cattle on the upper North Fork, Beaver Creek, Woods Creek, Ford and Willow Creeks and along the boundary south of the North Fork. Also there were a few free use permits for wood on Willow Creek. A typical entry in my diary for August 13th reads: "Rode up Beaver Creek road to Willow Creek, crossed over to Ford Creek. and then rode NE to Witmers ranch. Range along Beaver Creek getting short. Posted 4 fire warnings on Beaver Creek. No fires. 8 to 5."

* * *

As a fledgling forest ranger on Sun River in the old Lewis & Clark National Forest, I had many interesting experiences. One of the most interesting was my first ranger meeting, held at the mouth of White River on the South Fork of the Flathead River from October 14 to 18 inclusive, in 1907.

On September 30th, notice was received from Supervisor Page S. Bunker at Kalispell that the meeting would be held. The supervisor had just returned from a six-months' detail to the Washington office and I guess he wanted to find out if his rangers could get around in the mountains satisfactorily.

E. A. Woods, who was the ranger on the old Dearborn District, was in town at the same time I was and we agreed that, in company with Waldref and Guards Nixon and Converse, we would assemble at the mouth of the West Fork of the South Fork of the North Fork of Sun River and all trail over the Continental Divide together. Nixon had been over the route with a hunting party and was to be the guide. I call it a "route" advisedly, because there was no such thing as a located trail except along the main river. The appointed day of meeting was October 8th, but due to an unforeseen circumstance I could not get there. A. C. McCain had been appointed supervisor of the Custer and I had agreed to see that his outfit was shipped to him. Lincoln Hoy, the ranger from the old Teton District rode into Hanan on October 3rd with Mac's saddle and pack horses which had been at Lubec. Hoy prevailed upon me, when he learned of the ranger meeting, to wait for him while he went home and got his outfit for the trail.

We left Hanan the morning of the 9th and camped at the beaver dams on the West Fork. The others had not waited for us so it was a case of finding our own trail over the divide. My diary for the 10th reads, "moved up West Fork Trail, camped on top the divide under the cliffs. Jumped about 5 miles of logs. Bum trail." I was riding the best mountain horse I think it was ever my pleasure to fork. A gray mare, 3/4 Arabian, 8 years old, that I bought from McCain, who had acquired her from Gus Mosier (once a supervisor) of Ovando, via a poker game, so I heard. Sure footed as a goat, never excited, could jump any log she could put her nose on and, best of all, was never known to leave her rider afoot. The next day we pulled down to the mouth of White River to be the first arrivals at the meeting site. Woods and the others had stopped on the head of the river to try to get some meat, which they didn't.

Jack Clack wrote a good account of this meeting for the Regional News several years ago. Insofar as I can remember, those present included Supervisor Bunker, Inspector D. C. Harrison of Washington, D.C., Rangers Bond, J. Clack, Sullivan, Dean, Woods, Tom Spaulding, Waldref, Guards P. Clack, Hale, Converse, Nixon, Fickes and several others.

* * *

Like all its successors, the ranger meeting on White River was mostly talk. We also did a ranger station survey under the direction of Harrison and on the third day all moved down the river to Black Bear where a new cabin was being built for the ranger headquarters.

Snow was beginning to cover the high country so those from the east side - some nine of us - pulled out for home. No one wanted to buck the logs on the West Fork so we went up to the Danaher Ranch and crossed through Scapegoat Pass and some 16 or 18 inches of snow.

The White River meeting was where I first met Tom Spaulding, who was later to be Dean of the Montana Forest School. Tom accompanied me to Hanan, as he had been sent from the District Inspector's office in Missoula to examine some June 11 claims and survey several administrative sites on Sun River and Dupuyer Creek. Tom was my first contact with anyone who even pretended that he knew something about forestry. He introduced me to Swappach and Pinchot's Primer of Forestry, books which I later acquired and read, or shall I say, devoured.

We arrived at Hanan on October 23rd, and during the next two weeks we surveyed administrative sites at Pretty Prairie and Palmers Flat, also June 11 claims at Big George Flat and Beaver Creek. Nixon, Converse and Waldref made up the survey party. Tom hired a team and light wagon from Nixon and we left Augusta on November 10th and drove to Dupuyer, camping at the Ranger Dick Dean ranch about 3 miles west of town on the 12th. Horses got away and I spent the next three days hunting them. On the 16th and 18th we surveyed a June 11 claim for a man named Riley. It was cold and windy and almost impossible to set up a compass or hold a chain without breaking it. On the 19th I put Tom on the train at Conrad and returned to Augusta and Hanan on the 22nd.

On November 6th I received a notice from the Civil Service Commission that I had passed the ranger examination and was eligible for appointment. On July 1 I had been appointed a forest guard at $720.00 per annum, promoted to $900.00 on August 1, appointed an assistant forest ranger November 11 at $900.00 and on January 1, 1908, promoted to deputy forest ranger at $1,000.00

By this time I had acquired five head of horses with necessary riding and pack equipment, some furniture and kitchen tools. The Hanan Ranger Station consisted of an old log cabin 16 by 20, and dirt roof, a 14 by 16 hewed log with box corners, cabin, barn, corral, hay meadow and pasture, all taken over from a former homesteader or squatter named Jim Hanan who allegedly operated a station on the old Oregon-Montana horse rustling trail. Hanan Gulch was ideal for such a purpose because a short stretch of fence sealed the gulch up to make a tight horse pasture from which there was no escape. For a ranger station no more isolated or lonesome spot could be found anywhere. Visitors were practically unheard of for months at a time. About all I had to do was rustle enough wood to keep warm, throw out a little hay for the horses on a stormy day and ride 25 miles to Augusta every two weeks to get mail and supplies.

So went the life of a forest ranger in 1907-08.

First Prefire Ranger Meeting, Bitterroot—Idaho National Forest. Major Frank Fenn, Supervisor. 1907.

Standing, from left to right: 1. Summer Rackliff; 2. W. Grant Litchfield; 3. Edward Clark; 4. Squires; 5. Patrick Kelly; 6. Squires; 7. Lew Brundige; 8. Louis Fitting; 9. Edward Thenon; 10. Lew Harrington; 11. Ray R. Fitting; 12. John Kirchner.

Kneeling, from left to right: 13. John Durant; 14. Bert Cressler; 15. James Garrison; 16. J. Arthur Brown; 17. George Trenary; 18. Jesse L. Gross; 19. Gardner I. Porter; Mascot?

Sitting, from left to right: 20. Alva Cox; 21. Thomas Crossley; (Ring's dog) 22. Major Frank A. Fenn; 23. John Chamberlin; 24. Shelton I. (Rene) McPherson.

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Last Updated: 15-Oct-2010