The Early Days:
A Sourcebook of Southwestern Region History — Book 1


The original purpose of this study was to write a comprehensive history of the Forest Service in the Southwest. It soon became evident, however, that such an ambitious project would require much more than the portion of a year allotted for it. An abundance of information was available from such sources as official records, even from the General Land Office days prior to the start of the Forest Service; and from newspapers, books, and periodicals; and from the men themselves. Since it was these men and others like then who, by living it, have shaped the history of the Forest Service, I tape recorded interviews with many of them, including several who served in the very early days. It has been my purpose to select from these sources such material as is generally representative of its kind or is unique to the conditions, problems. happenings, or thinking of the era. These selections were edited to present not only the spirit of the times, but also the special "flavor" that was a quality of the individual involved.

I entered the Forest Service during the period when many pioneer conditions still prevailed in the Southwest. I've known many of the old-timers; have worked closely with some of them. But I am also a contemporary of the newer, technically trained, men — the professional foresters. My career has thus bridged the transition period in the development of the Service in the Southwest, and enabled me to bring to this study both objectivity and understanding. I have gained two distinct impressions.

First, the Forest Service organization of today has developed through a tremendous evolution, an evolution guided, step by step, by new conditions and changing needs. To what degree could Gifford Pinchot or "Teddy" Roosevelt have anticipated the extent of the influence of their foresight in setting aside forests for conservation purposes? (Indeed, can we, even today, anticipate its eventual extent?) Preserving a heritage of forests (basically through fire control); saving vegetation (basically through grazing control) — from these ideas of simple protection has evolved the monumental concept of multiple-use management; harvesting timber, saving soil, protecting watersheds, providing forage for domestic livestock and wildlife, and providing recreation. It grew because of the need.

Second. as the needs became evident, so were men developed to meet them. However spectacular the changes in the Service, they were nevertheless possibly only because of the kind of men involved; men who responded to the challenge of their particular environment and times. In the earliest days, for example, the men for the times were necessarily tough; they had to be to survive. At that stage, ruggedness and resourcefulness, not technology, were the requisites. Despite the newness of the concept of natural resources conservation, despite public apathy and users' antagonism to regulations (sometimes violent); in the face of political pressures, in the absence of guidelines and, for the most part, with little formal education, the earliest Rangers and Supervisors did the job that was needful at the time. They performed their work with exceptional devotion and loyalty, and with a surprising awareness of the problems of that era and their relation to the future.

In this year of my preoccupation with the story of the Forest Service in the southwest, culminating in both the establishment of a Museum and this written record of some facts of historical significance, I have found it a distinct privilege to examine the old records and to talk personally with men whose experiences form a part of the history. These records and interviews have given me an appreciative understanding of the formative years of the Service. With each succeeding year, the perspectives broadened, responsibilities increased, and the steps taken to meet these challenges were direct and effective. Dedication to the basic, overall Service philosophy and goal — the realistic use of natural resources to the greatest degree compatible with true conservation — is clearly evident as the theme running through all the interviews. These ideas and ideals explain the prestige which the U. S. Forest Service enjoys today, and the quality of its people and its work. They also justify my pride in being a part of it.

Edwin A. Tucker
Albuquerque, New Mexico
November 10, 1965

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Last Updated: 15-Feb-2011