Early Days in the Forest Service
Volume 2

January 1955

By G. I. Porter
(Retired 1942)

From some stories and from other sources, and particularly from my own experience, I have gained some knowledge of the part played by the wife of the early forest ranger. Many such wives made history, many more by their courage, initiative and steadfastness enabled the ranger-husband to achieve a measure of fame they could not have accomplished alone.

Unlike the modern housing conditions available to field men, the wife was often (most often) required to inhabit a decrepit, inadequately furnished remote cabin or shack, lacking in all facilities of sanitation and convenience; frequently located on side roads, unpaved-mud, ruts, dust, snow-year-round conditions, all nonconducive to neighborly or social contacts, miles from town; no telephone, no motorcar, no radio, no anything to take the curse off loneliness and household cares.

Alone, or with only the children for company, while husband-ranger was away on his travels through the remote portions of his district, sometimes for weeks without means of communication with home. All this, with the further hazards to him due to bad winds, waters, an occasional bad actor of a horse, more unusual (but still to be considered) - bad men. This for the ranger.

For his wife, the uncertainty as to his safety, the ever-dreaded illness or accident to the children, the labor incident to procuring water from perhaps a distant well or stream, the handling of wood and building of fires, the care of horses and perhaps a cow. Another worry was the absence of medical facilities; sometimes even of neighbors. Also to vex the wife, the long-range shopping by catalog, the dearth of culinary accessories, the shortage of supplies, sometimes through carelessness in laying in long-term supplies. But above all, the anxiety about her husband away from home for how long or to what distant places.

Like Gilbert and Sullivan's constabulary in the "Pirates of Penzance" her lot was "not a happy one." Such, in the early years of the century, was the life of one wife - that of the narrator. Some wives had a happier lot, some a worse, but all were pioneers in a life that has continued to become easier and more liveable. Sometimes she took over the duties of the ranger in his absence. She hired and fed fire fighters and other employees, routed these to their jobs and stations, and, after telephones became available, transmitted orders and messages. In fact, when the ranger was absent the wife acted as unpaid, able assistant and was often required to assume responsibilities and act with initiative and discretion. Tell me, what other helpmate of a worker with the responsibilities of a ranger, inadequately (at that time) remunerated, could or would assume or accomplish such duties? But they did all this, and more.

More power to the ranger's wife!

Mr. and Mrs. Louis W. Shevling on the doorstep of the Valley Creek Ranger Station at Harding, South Dakota. This building was originally a log henhouse which Mr. Shevling converted into an office when he was first appointed guard on the Short-Pine Division of the old Sioux Forest. Custer National Forest. 1938.

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