Early Days in the Forest Service
Volume 2

January 1955

By G. I. Porter
(Retired 1942)

The Major: Frank A. Fenn, of blessed memory.

The Miner: Read on!

Major Fenn was Superintendent of Forest Resources in that part of Idaho in which this scene was located.

Forest Reserves and the Bureau of Forestry, and the officials thereof, were not popular in those days and those places. Many residents, particularly small stockowners, miners, and others whose activities had not been restricted in relation to the cutting of timber, grazing of livestock and location of land, considered the new regulations as infringements upon their liberties and, the pursuit of profits, and bitterly resented any interference therewith.

The results of one controversy, however, were beneficial to ranchers' interests, and did much to bring about a better understanding of the principles and policies of the new administration of the public lands.

A mining company, of which the Miner was resident manager, had located under the mining laws, several hundred acres of meadowland, as placer mining claims, and two dredges of rather primitive design (although up to date at that time) had been erected on the meadows. Both had failed to make a profit, and were left to the mercy of the elements. The first, brought by pack animals over the old Nezperce Trail in 1893, was a total loss. The other, constructed in 1899, had the benefit of wagon road transportation, and was of later model, but not more successful in bringing up paydirt from bedrock than the first.

The company, however, with the hope that time would develop better methods of gold saving, made the effort to protect its long-range interests by applying for patent to several 160-acre tracts of the meadow.

For a number of years prior to and during the operations of the mining company, several farmers had been cropping the land. Hay was the principal crop, for which there was a good market. They operated on sufferance of the mining company, which claimed surface - as well as mining - rights to the land. Since withdrawal of the lands from settlement, about 1897, the farmers had not been able to establish any rights to the land as agricultural land, but in the hope that future legislation would correct the existing laws, entered protest against issuing patent to the mining company.

The decision of the General Land Office of the Department of the Interior hinged upon the relative value of the claims as mineral or agricultural in value. Local administrators of the Forest Reserve took the part of the farmers, and the fun began. The case was decided in favor of the company in the local office of the Register and Receiver in Lewiston, Idaho, but upon appeal to the Commissioner of the General Land Office this decision was reversed, pending final proof by contending parties of the primary value of the land.

Here is where the Major stepped into the picture, having been a side line observer, but with his own ideas on the subject up to this time. The company, having protected its rights by performing the required "assessment work" on the claims, prepared to continue this work in the spring of 1901. Men and a steam engine and pump started digging to try to locate the pay channel in the meadow. The Major was preparing to do the same sort of work to prove or disprove the mineral values, and here was his chance to achieve results at a minimum cost to the Bureau of Forestry.

Bureau funds were low, and such investigation to a point of definite decision as to value was impossible with funds and manpower available. So, what to do?

The Major and the Miner already were good friends. They combined forces. The Major supplied manpower to equal that of the Miner, and had the benefit of the power and pump. It is impossible to dig to bedrock at a depth of ten or twelve feet or more without a pump to keep the water down. During that summer they worked together, and determined, to the satisfaction of both, that gold-bearing gravel profitable to work did not exist.

The company abandoned its claims, application for patent was denied, the farmers gloated and the Miner lost his job. Later, the meadow was settled under the Forest Homestead Act of June 11, 1906, the Miner being one of the settlers, and later receiving title to his homestead claim.

A sidelight: The local ranger, a bitter enemy of the Miner, threatened state's prison to the Miner, holding that the Miner's sworn statement as to the mineral value of the land when applying for patent, and his sworn statement as to the agricultural value when applying for homestead constituted justification for prosecution for perjury. But the ranger lost his job, through political action, the Miner took it over several years later (through Civil Service examination) and the Major and the Miner remained good friends forever after.

And in after years the Major took great pleasure in relating the story of the only instance in his long official career in which one whose activities were under investigation assisted the investigating officer in proving the case to his own disadvantage.

The Major: Major Frank A. Fenn - may he rest in peace.

The Miner: Your relator.

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Last Updated: 15-Oct-2010