The Early Days:
A Sourcebook of Southwestern Region History — Book 3


The following paper was found without date and unsigned. From the record of service, however, it has been determined to have been written by Sam A. Sowell. It is presented as found.

The original ranger station on the Aravaipa District of the Crook National Forest was located in Four-Mile Canyon approximately 1 mile west of the Klondyke store and post office. This was of adobe construction and consisted of two rooms and a screened-in porch, which was used as the ranger's office. The water system consisted of a 3/4-inch pipeline 4 miles in length connected with the Four-Mile Spring in the canyon above. The water line ran to a hydrant at the back of the dwelling, but was never piped inside. Due to the friction on this small pipe during the heat of the day, the water would cease to flow. In order to get any water through the pipe line the numerous vent pipes along the line would have to be opened at night. This operation would usually take from three to four hours and then you could not expect the flow to continue past noon the following day. This eventually proved to be too much of an undertaking, and water was hauled from Klondyke in barrels. Since the ranger was in the field the greater part of his time, this was quite a burden on the wife and family.

This station was finally abandoned and a house in Klondyke rented for this purpose. The well at this location went dry, and along in 1928 or 1929 the Forest Service purchased a 10-acre plot in the Aravaipa Canyon about 5 miles from the post office and constructed a ranger station.

Materials for this station were salvaged from an old ranger station in Frye Canyon on Mt. Graham. This station was torn down with contributed labor, and the material hauled to the Aravaipa. I did all the hauling with a Dodge screened-in truck of about a 1920 vintage. By leaving at 4:00 A. M., two round trips could be made before midnight. All the sand and rock for the foundation of this station was hauled by the ranger with a borrowed dump truck.

At this time Mr. Lash was the maintenance man on the Gila National Forest and was assigned to the Crook to help build the new station. Mr. Lash and I did all the work during the winter, with very little cost to the Government except our wages. A shallow well was dug by hand and a pump installed. The large mesquite trees around the building were grubbed out by hand at nights and on weekends by the ranger. This building was abandoned and a new station constructed during CCC days.

Mr. Lee Kirby was probably the first district ranger on the Aravaipa, and Ted Swift was Supervisor with headquarters at Safford, Arizona. The record of the various rangers after Mr. Kirby's time could, no doubt, be secured from the old records but I do not have them. As I recall, there were several rangers there for a short duration of time. Just prior to my time Mr. Hugh Chipman was ranger and resigned in 1925.

The district was assigned to me in April 1925 and I was transferred to the Paradise District on the Coronado in November 1930. At this time Mr. Jim Girdner was transferred from the Clifton District to the Aravaipa and served until his retirement. Later, a young ranger by the name of White, and then Carl Schoefield and perhaps others, that are of record.

The district was comprised of three separate mountain ranges, — the Galiuro, Winchester, and Santa Teresa Mountains. The terrain was extremely rough and only accessible by trails, therefore, the mode of travel was by horseback and afoot.

My equipment consisted of two saddle horses and two pack mules, privately owned, as you had to pack your provisions and horse feed, and camp out at various places within the forest. With the exception of prospectors, no one lived within the forest boundaries. A three-week pack trip was necessary to cover the Winchester and Galiuro Divisions and one week for the Santa Teresa Division. Later I constructed a four-horse trailer to transport my horses and mules around the edge of the forest in order to save many miles of riding. This was not too successful as the trailer was easily turned over. Later I built a two-horse trailer which served the purpose and gave me much more time with the permittees. All equipment including horses, trailer and car was personally owned.

Grazing was the principal activity and practically all the ranger's time was devoted to grazing and range improvements. Some mining activity, principally gold, was carried on throughout the district which constituted quite a problem in the early days.

Livestock grazing was all yearlong, and since much of the forest boundary was unfenced, checking and controlling numbers was a major problem. Many of the permits were on an on-and-off basis which necessitated following the spring and fall roundups in order to get any kind of an estimate, and this was an estimate at the best. Unpermitted horses became a problem and several hundred head were removed and disposed of during my time.

Due to the topography of the country, most of the grazing was confined to the mesas at the base of the mountains. The interior of these ranges was so steep, rough and brushy, livestock could not be worked. However, many wild cattle used these areas and lived and died there.

The accessible parts of the district was good cattle country and in fair condition.

A three-day a week mail service was provided between Wilcox and Aravaipa. Safford and Wilcox were the shopping centers for this area and the ranger usually made a trip once a month for supplies. No telephones or radios were provided. (A ranger's paradise and he didn't know it!)

Law and order in this isolated cow country was very limited, and over the years it was the scene of many gun battles. In the early days the Galiuro Mountains was a hide-out for the tough element around Tombstone and Charlestown. As late as 1925 to 1930, during my assignment on this district, range disputes and murder continued. During this time there were thirteen cold blooded murders committed, and only one man paid the penalty for his acts — and he committed suicide.

In the earlier days it was the custom for Forest Rangers to carry guns, but I soon learned that was a sure way to get into trouble, and discontinued this practice.

In June 1930, we were having Sunday dinner with the wife's family and someone called to me from the front of the ranger station. As I reached the door he called again and at that time I saw him fall from his horse. This was a young man about 25, and our nearest neighbor. I could readily see that he was badly hurt with his clothing saturated with blood. Although shot through the body with a Winchester carbine he was able to relate the entire story to us and remained conscious for 45 minutes. Within a matter of minutes the assailant and his son drove up in a car, got out with gun in hand, walked over to the dying man, looked the crowd over, and left.

This incident happened approximately one mile below the ranger station, along the stream bed of the Aravaipa, and he rode his horse across country through a dense stand of mesquite to the ranger station. The assailant was following him by car, but had to go around the mesquite ticket to the highway, which took him a few minutes longer to reach the station. It was assumed he was following him to finish the job as he was not aware he was mortally wounded until he saw he was shot through the body and dying at the time.

Within a matter of only a few hours the entire community arrived at the scene, besides the tourists passing, and a very large crowd assembled. The victim was very popular in the community and the citizens were worked up to a point of a lynching party. A posse was quickly formed and organized to prevent the culprit's escape and had he been encountered the results would, no doubt, have been serious.

He, no doubt, realized the situation and drove direct to Safford, the county seat, and reported the killing. Self-defense, of course, but the young man was at the station before and after the incident, and was not armed. He and his son were placed in the county jail and during the night he committed suicide by cutting his throat with a dull pocket knife.

In the fall of 1926 or 1927 a herd of cattle were being driven to Wilcox for shipment. A Mr. Clayton quit the drive about five miles from his headquarters, and started home by horseback. En route home he was waylaid and shot from his horse. This was not discovered for several days as all the ranch hands were on the drive. His body was dragged by horseback several miles into the Galiuro Mountains and deposited in a deep arroyo. A neighbor found his horse and saddle several days later, and evidence of foul play.

The Sheriff's office formed a posse, of which I was a member, and his body was located a week later. Indian trailers were employed from the San Carlos Indian Reservation. However, due to heavy rains the trail was impossible to follow but some evidence such as hat, spurs and other articles were found. A Government trapper located the body with the help of his hunting dogs.

Circumstantial evidence pointed strongly toward a neighboring rancher who was tried and acquitted, but it was never learned who killed him. This trial lasted two weeks and all indications were that a conviction was very evident. At the time of the murder I was making a range inspection with the accused, and it occurred to me that my official diary would have a bearing on the case. I drove to Klondyke at night and produced the diary as evidence the following morning. A verdict of "Not Guilty" was given by the jury that day.

The old Powers gold mine located 25 miles from Klondyke, by a rough winding trail, in the heart of the Galiuro Mountains at the head of Rattlesnake Canyon, has been the scene of many bloody battles. This mine was good property and very rich in gold and silver, but inaccessible except by horseback or afoot. For several years before World War I the mine was owned and operated by John Powers, his three sons and a daughter.

The girl was raised in a man's environment and grew up to be as rough and tough as her brothers. The family was born and raised in the mountains without any schooling or education. However, they were excellent cowboys and hard workers and, according to oldtimers, attended strictly to their business. It is reported that the girl's neck was broken and she died as a result of a wrestling match with her brother.

Shortly before World War I, an ex-convict by the name of Tom Sessons joined the Powers and worked in the gold mine. Tom and John Powers were of draft age but refused to go to the county seat and register. This was partially due to ignorance and partially through counsel given them by Tom Sessons. At any rate, the Sheriff's office was instructed to bring these boys in.

Figure 1. The old Powers Cabin in the Galiuro Wilderness, photographed by Mary Farrell in October, 1986.

Although advised against a Sheriff's posse by all the local ranchers and Forest ranger, the posse was formed including the Sheriff, his two deputies and the U.S. Marshal from Globe, Arizona. Horses and equipment were secured in Klondyke and the four officers rode to the head of Rattlesnake Canyon that day and made camp about a mile above the Powers' log cabin. During the night the officers walked down to the log cabin and before daylight two men were stationed at each end of the cabin.

According to all reports and testimony, the elder Powers awoke at daylight and as he opened the door to step outside, the officers opened fire, wounded Mr. Powers, who died later in the day. Tom Sessions and two of the Powers boys were still in bed at the time, the younger brother was out working for a cow outfit. Within seconds the three men in the cabin had their guns and opened fire. Apparently the U. S. Marshal saw what was going to happen and left the scene immediately. He walked back to his horse and left for Klondyke for help, but it was too late.

As mentioned above, two officers were at one end of the building and the remaining one, which was the Sheriff, was at the other. The old log cabin was old with cracks an inch or so between the logs and the officers standing on the outside were easy prey for the boys inside. The battle did not last long, but they did not know there was a fourth man. As soon as the smoke cleared and all was quiet, the men carried their father to the mine tunnel and sent for a neighbor miner a mile or so away to care for him.

Sesson and the Powers boys took the officers' ammunition, horses and equipment, and headed for Old Mexico. They cut across the mountain to the San Pedro River, followed the river bottom for several miles, crossed the Sulphur Springs Valley to the Chiricahua Mountains.

Posses were organized all over the country, and according to reports, over a thousand men were hunting the outlaws.

The outlaws' horses were abandoned on the west side of the Chiricahua Mountains and they took it afoot, traveling by night and avoiding the posses by day. Their trail led across the Chiricahua a short distance south of the Portal Ranger Station across the valley into the Peloncillo Mountains and down this range to the Mexican Border.

During the fight in the cabin one of the boys broke a window glass to shoot out, and received a piece of glass in one eye. Several days after entering Old Mexico, the boys, sick, barefooted, and famished, walked into a ranch house for food and help. The one with the glass in his eye, which he lost, was sick and in terrible pain. The ranch was owned by a widow and she immediately telephoned the police and the men were picked up peacefully shortly after. The Mexican authorities escorted the prisoners to the International Border and turned them over to the U. S. soldiers. Public sentiment was such in Graham County that the prisoners had to be removed to Clifton, Arizona, for safekeeping.

Figure 2. Fort Valley Experiment Station, Flagstaff Arizona. The cabin is in an opening in Engelmann Spruce type. This June, 1919 photo was made by G. A. Pearson.

Mr. G. A. "Gus" Pearson was the man always identified with forest management in the Southwest. Gus started the Coconino Experiment Station, later known as the Fort Valley Experiment Station, and was closely associated with the work there until his retirement in 1945. He was the author of many publications; probably the most well known is his monograph, Management of Ponderosa Pine in the Southwest. Pearson prepared the following paper in 1936.

By G. A. Pearson

It was a sultry afternoon in August 1908. Raphael Zon, then Chief of Silvics in the Forest Service, had come to Flagstaff to select a location for what was to be the first forest experiment station in the United States. Zon, Willard Drake, and I were urging our phlegmatic livery stable cayuses over the road to Fort Valley to examine a site that had been recommended by Frank Pooler, Supervisor of the Coconino. Two miles short of our destination a thunderstorm crashed upon us in true Arizona style. The downpour was more violent than usual, so we took shelter in a large barn of the old A-1 Cattle Company. When we emerged an hour later, the normally dry Rio de Flag was running a hundred yards wide with a fluid whose color and consistency told plainly that the country was going to the dogs even in that early day. After crossing the "river," it was only half a mile to the area we had come to see — a beautiful stand of ponderosa pine. "Here," said Zon, "we shall plant the tree of research."

On the official record, the Coconino Experiment Station, as it was then called, began its existence January 1, 1909. A few years later the name was changed to the Fort Valley Experiment Station, and now it is the Fort Valley branch of the Southwestern Forest and Range Experiment Station.

A two-room guard cabin solved the housing problem for the first year. In fact, no one thought much about buildings. The only construction undertaken the first fall was the establishment of three meteorological stations.

Research got under way promptly. I had arrived in July 1908, assigned to the problem of ascertaining why western yellow pine failed to restock after cutting. After four busy months in the field I hauled a load of supplies to Fort Valley and settled down to figure out what it was all about. That winter was one of those in which the depth of snow was measured in feet. Between attending to my three meteorological stations and holding body and soul together I found some time for compilation and writing. Before the last inch of snow had vanished there emerged the manuscript of Circular 174 "Reproduction of Yellow Pine in the Southwest." This was my first literary effort; it was greeted with both brickbats and bouquets, but at least it escaped the fate of passing unnoticed.

An account of early Fort Valley history would not be complete without a word about the pink mules. Everyone who visited Fort Valley between 1909 and 1918 remembers Pat and Mike. With such accomplished mule skinners as Harrison Burrall, Jack Boyce, H. S. Betts, and Emanuel Fritz plying the "black snake," they were capable of doing the nine miles between Fort Valley and Flagstaff in one hour and 40 minutes. Without the pink mules, much of what is worthwhile in Fort Valley history would never have taken place. They transported men, supplies, and equipment to every planting area and sample plot, and since it was the custom then to camp on or near the job, the time required to go back and forth was not a serious matter. Of course the boys usually managed to get into town Saturday evenings, for in those days we were all young and quickly found our places in the social life of a small town such as Flagstaff.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the pink mule era was the establishment of a large number of sample cutting plots — glorified quadrants, if you please, for was not the "Forest Examiner in Charge" a disciple of Clements? The late Col. Woolsey was then Chief of Silviculture in Region 3. The idea made a big hit with him and in his energetic way he proposed that 50,000 acres be measured for sample plots. We finally compromised on 2,000 acres, and at that Region 3 is pretty well up in the "biggest" class as sample plots go.

Besides cutting plots, there were experiments in natural reproduction, planting, nursery work and slash disposal. Official visitors came often and didn't have to hurry back to fix the budget. All got a thrill out of seeing a successful plantation or a natural reproduction plot containing honest-to-goodness live pine seedlings. One of my early announcements was that less than 5 percent of the seedlings that germinate can be expected to survive. Newcomers periodically make this same discovery with minor modifications. It was while viewing the remains of my departed seedlings that Zon made this prophetic utterance: "Pearson, you may be building yourself a monument, but I am afraid you are digging your grave.

Buildings were erected under difficulties, not so much because funds were lacking as because of the cost limitations. In 1909, $500 was the deadline, and by 1918, it had risen only to $800. But the building problem had its interesting, not to say amusing, aspects. Fort Valley boasted the first Forest Service bathroom in Region 3. To be accurate, it was a bath "house." Since the dwelling in which this luxury was to be installed had already cost all the law allowed, the situation looked hopeless. But the Fiscal Agent and the Assistant to the Solicitor were resourceful and cooperative. Both went to the happy hunting grounds years ago, so my telling this will not get them into trouble. They decided that if the bathroom was not physically connected (nailed) to the main building it was legally a separate house. To keep well within this interpretation, the bath house was placed a full half inch away, and not a nail was allowed to violate the letter of the law.

Physical expansion was slow until rather recently. Up to 1927, Fort Valley could boast only four residence buildings and three or occasionally four technical men. When we had a clerk we were lucky and when we didn't, well, we got along somehow. More money has been spent for improvements since 1930 [i.e., in six years] than during the entire 20 years preceding. The addition of a Division of Range Investigations, together with emergency activities has trebled our technical personnel. Garage space for 16 cars still leaves some out in the rain. Gasoline lights gave way to a Koehler plant which in turn has been scrapped for an electric powerline. All this is recorded merely as history and not in a boasting vein for I know that Fort Valley is now rated as a small toad in the research pool.

In the field of research, the public and the Forest Service have a right to expect something from a station that has been in operation more than a quarter century. Silvical research men in this region were always a simple-minded lot who thought that forestry was concerned with forests, and so our accomplishments have been in the field of old-fashioned forest management.

I used to dream of the day when extensive areas of cutover lands would become waving fields of young pine; when pole stands would be thinned and pruned for maximum production; when the experiment station would be able to hand over reliable records of growth, yield and mortality to be used by administration in preparing management plans. These dreams have been realized in even greater measure than I had ever hoped.

Cut-over pine lands by millions of acres have restocked under my eyes; I have lived to see the "hoofed locusts" in full retreat before the advancing tide of pine thickets; I have lived to see thousands of acres subjected to timber stand improvement; I have lived to see yield tables for many-aged stands made from the records I started 25 years ago. Credit for these accomplishments belongs not to the experiment station alone, for Region 3 has contributed much in money, men and extensive demonstration.

The research tree that was planted at Fort Valley 27 years ago has made no phenomenal growth, but it is still a living tree whose leader points skyward. If its progress could have been measured from time to time, the record might read somewhat like that of the Forest plots which are its offspring. The records of these plots reveal vigorous growth mixed with stagnation and actual retrogression; and yet, every five-year measurement has shown positive increment.

Tucson, Arizona
April 13, 1936

Mr. Johnson [See pp. 16ff, this volume] mentions "timber rights" sections and agreement. All National Forests containing railroad-owned lands were concerned with these timber rights. The agreement under which these lands were harvested was originally called the "Seed Tree Agreement."

Mr. Homer German, for many years the top sales administrator on the Coconino National Forest, prepared the following brief paper:

Railroad Timber Rights Agreement: The "Seed Tree Agreement" was made about 1878 or 1880 with the Old Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. In order to get the railroad into the country the Government granted, within a 10- or 20-mile strip on each side of the Railroad right of way, timber rights on odd sections in certain townships. This timber was to be removed within 50 years.

Eventually the railroad's name was changed to the A.T. & S.F. R.R. Co., and this company sold all the timber on these sections to timber operators in order to obtain the necessary funds to build the railroad. These lands were sometimes called the "Perrin Lands," named after a man that acted as a go-between for the Railroad and the timber operators.

The Forest Service cruised these sections in 1905 or 1908, or earlier. The methods of cruising varied from a 10% strip cruise to a 100% cruise for each section. The Government could only retain 10% of the gross volume on each section, in the form of seed trees. No yellow pine over 20 inches D.B.H. could be left as a seed tree. Any yellow pine left, under 20 inches D.B.H. must have a green or dead limb within the first one third of the total height, or within the first 20 feet of the tree length. No Blackjack over 28 inches D.B.H. could be left, and any left over 20 inches D.B.H. must have a green limb within the first sixteen feet of the tree height. Only trees of twelve inches D.B.H. and above were considered. Trees to be left were marked with a white (white lead paint) spot at breast height and on the stump. Trees were measured with a Biltmore stick.

A Mr. Wayne Russell was in charge of the sales for the Forest Service from 1917 to 1920. He was very lax in enforcing the 10% leave volume, hence many sections were denuded to only 4% or 5% of the original stand.

Utilization was considered to the extent that the operators could leave a sixteen inch stump and cut down to a ten inch top log. Brush disposal consisted of dragging tops and slash for a distance of fifteen feet from a remaining seed tree.

To summarize, it was impossible, under these specifications, to get a good seed tree distribution. Markers had to often remark sections in order to retain the 10% of gross volume. The majority of these "Seed trees" were not good seed trees because of the specifications.

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Last Updated: 15-Feb-2011