History of The Willamette National Forest

Chapter I
BEGINNINGS, 1891-1898

The movement for forestry and Federal forests in the period 1876-1891 was a complex one. It involved a variety of agencies, ranging on the Federal level from the Division of Forestry to the U.S. Fish Commission and included state activity. At least three western states, Colorado in 1876, California in 1885, and Oregon in 1889, asked that forest reserves be created within their boundaries. Motives for creating forest reserves, now national forests, varied; they included desire to preserve natural beauty; protection of city watersheds and watersheds of value for irrigation; preservation of game habitat; and hostility to land speculators, light burners, and sheepmen. Actually in the creation of each national forest there were a variety of motives, representing a wide cross-section of people. In this history a large amount of material is summarized, since the creation of the area in the middle Cascades, which became the Willamette National Forest, was a part of a broader movement to create the Cascade Range, Ashland, and Bull Run Forest Reserves. The story has been covered in greater detail elsewhere. [1]


People in western Oregon during the latter years of the 19th century were closely attuned to the intellectual currents of their time. A large share of the leadership came from the cities in the Willamette Valley—Portland and Salem, the economic and political centers of the state; and to the south Eugene and Roseburg. Urban dwellers who relied on the mountains for their recreation, read scientific reports dealing with the forests and became caught up in the demand for reform of the land laws. [2]

John Breckenridge Waldo, the son of an Oregon pioneer and former Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, was a mountain lover who spent his summers in the wilds of the Cascades. Inspired by the efforts of Colorado and California to establish forest reserves by legislative action, he developed an idea for a forest reserve along the spine of the Cascade Range. In January of 1889, he introduced into the Legislative Assembly of Oregon a memorial to Congress regarding reservation of the crest of the Cascade Range and two townships (12 miles) on either side. The House Joint Memorial #8 stressed the importance of the projected reserve for its wilderness values, scenery, forests, waterflow, and game.

The projected management of the forest reserve was an interesting attempt at state-Federal cooperation. The area was to be administered by a board headed by the Governor, and consisting of six men named by the Governor, and six appointed by the President of the United States. The members would also serve as state game commissioners. They would protect the game and make leases for resorts in the reserve, and report to the state legislature each session. Grazing except for saddle stock in transit would be forbidden; mines could be worked but would be forfeited if assessment work ceased for a two-year period; railroads crossing the area could use the timber and stone needed for construction but no more. Essentially it was a state park with a great deal of Federal supervision and management. In the House the memorial was modified first by eliminating the grazing land in the extreme south of the state, and second allowing a ten-year moratorium on the prohibition of grazing to allow stockmen already using the mountain ranges to find other grazing grounds. With these modifications, the bill passed the House. In the Senate, however, grazing interests mobilized their forces and succeeded in having the measure tabled. [3]


On March 3, 1891, Congress passed an act revising land laws and in the last section included a provision authorizing the President by proclamation to set aside public lands covered with timber or undergrowth, whether of commercial value or not. [4] States in the West suggested to the Federal government that certain lands should be protected because of their potential value for national parks, to protect city watersheds, to protect salmon spawning grounds, to preserve irrigation water, and to preserve amenity values. [5] In the Cascade Range of mountains in Oregon, two small reserves were established to protect the city watersheds of Ashland (the Ashland Forest Reserve) and Portland (the Bull Run). [6] The movement for a larger reserve was led by William Gladstone Steel, supported by a large and miscellaneous group of respectable and not-so-respectable citizens.

Steel had been instrumental a few years previously in having ten townships withdrawn from entry around Crater Lake, pending acceptance by Congress of a national park bill. [7] With the assistance of the Oregon Alpine Club, he began circulating plans to create a forest reservation around the Mt. Hood area. At the same time a group from Klamath County petitioned for withdrawal of further areas around Crater Lake. Both groups were in touch with the American Forestry Association, which strongly supported the reserve action.

Meantime a group of land speculators led by Stephen A. Douglas Puter saw an opportunity to profit by lieu land provisions in the bill. They took a copy of the Waldo proposal of 1885 along with a linen map showing the proposed boundaries, and suggested that Steel ask for the whole Cascade Range. Steel took the bait and rounded up petitions for reserving the entire range.

Petitions by the dozen came to the General Land Office signed by boards of trade, state officials, Federal and state judges, and members of the Oregon Alpine Club. A General Land Office official, R.G. Savery, investigated the area and found sentiment overwhelmingly for the reserve. By November 1892 a few protests were registered. They included protests from some homesteaders, and from the miners in the Bohemia Mining District near Cottage Grove. By January 1893, Steel became aware that the large reserve would aid speculators, and backed off from the larger proposal asking that the reserve be limited to the Mt. Hood and Crater Lake areas. The movement for the whole range had momentum however, and on September 28, 1893, the Cascade Range Forest Reserve reaching from the Columbia River nearly to the California border was created. [8]


In the period 1893-1897 the forest reserves were areas reserved from use rather than for use. Congress considered a variety of bills designed to open the reserve for use, but the bills failed on one account or another. Meantime, discontent grew. In Oregon this discontent was spearheaded by the stockmen, particularly the sheepmen.

The sheep industry in Oregon developed at an early time first in western Oregon and then on the range lands of eastern Oregon. Sheepmen wintered their flocks in the valleys of eastern Oregon, and after lambing season began to trail their flocks toward the mountains. They would enter the foothills in May or June, then move toward the higher elevations as the snow receded, and reach the alpine meadows by August. In September before the storms set in they would begin trailing their flocks out of the area. Usually a herder and his packer would herd a band of 1,500 to 2,500 sheep. They had established driveways and established ranges in the Cascades and the Sisters area; some sheepmen had used the same range in the Mt. Jefferson area since the 1880s. Sheepmen protested against their exclusion from the Cascade Range Forest Reserve and there were instances of trespass. However, government regulations dated April 14, 1894, forbade "driving, feeding, grazing, pasturing or herding of cattle, sheep or other livestock" within any of the reserves. In the summer of 1896 several arrests of sheep herders and owners were made; and suits were brought within the U.S. District Court against several owners to enjoin them from grazing within the reserve. [9]

There were other factions involved in the controversy. First sheepmen were often in the non-grazing areas of the West heartily disliked. Sheep herders were often the butt of jokes and pictured as individuals of low mentality and questionable morals. There is something of a paradox in this since in the Old World the shepherd was admired for his devotion to duty, and in literature from the Holy Bible to the novels of Sir Walter Scott he is idealized. But whereas in Scotland the townsman would remark "here comes the braw herd wi' his flock," the western townsman would remark, "here comes that damned herder with his stinking woolies." There is also a paradox in the tendency to idealize the cowboy, who is only a hired hand on horseback, and to denigrate the herder who with his dog has sole responsibility for the care of a large monetary investment. [10]

There was some opposition to sheep grazing in the reserve from recreational groups, who continued to use the reserve for their outings, mountaineering, hunting, and fishing. A great many members of the Mazamas, Oregon's most prestigious mountaineering club, were opposed to sheep grazing. There was also opposition from Indians and whites alike who utilized the huckleberry meadows, as the presence of sheep was considered incompatible with berry picking. [11]

The years 1896 and 1897 were momentous years of decision for the Cascade Range Forest Reserve. First the inertia of Congress in passing legislation regarding use of the lands in the reserve had brought about a wave of protest. Sheepmen in Wasco, Gilliam, Crook, and Sherman Counties petitioned the Department of the Interior to open the reserve to grazing; they also lobbied successfully in the state legislature. In June 1896, that body passed a resolution to the effect that the reserve interfered with development of the state, and that the reserve should be dismembered and cut into three smaller reserves: 900,000 acres around Crater Lake; 30,000 acres near Mt. Jefferson; and 30,000 around Mt. Hood. Except for these areas the reserves should be opened to grazing and settlement. [12] In the same year a National Forest Commission, appointed by the National Academy of Sciences to help "the inauguration of a national forest policy," made an extensive western trip. The members of the Commission were Charles S. Sargent (who served as chair), General Henry L. Abbot, Alexander Agassiz, Professor William H. Brewster, Wolcott Gibbs, Arnold Hague, and Gifford Pinchot (who served as secretary). While they were visiting Crater Lake, Henry S. Graves was in the Cascades to see portions of the Cascade Range Forest Reserve the Commission had missed, to study the growth rate of Douglas-fir trees, and to "make himself familiar with the effect of sheep grazing on the Forest." They were accompanied through part of the trip, including Oregon by John Muir, the California naturalist and writer who detested sheep; and the Commission's report reflected his viewpoint. [13]

In June 1897 the Organic Administration Act of 1897 was passed, which authorized the Secretary of the Interior to "make such rules and regulations" as were necessary to ensure the objectives of such reservations. [14] Acting on this authority, the General Land Office issued some tentative regulations on grazing, permitting pasturing on forest reserves provided that no damage was done to forest growth. However in lack of any scientific evidence about the effect of grazing, no permits were to be given except in Washington and Oregon, where ample rainfall allowed for rapid renewal of herbage; and no pasturage would be permitted in areas of public resort, such as Mt. Hood, the Bull Run area, and Crater Lake. The regulations were issued so late in the year that they were inoperative in 1897. [15]


However, scientific investigation was pending. Frederick V. Coville, a botanist working for the Department of Agriculture, conducted a botanical expedition across southeastern Oregon from the Snake River to the Cascade Range. On his return he delivered an address before the National Geographic Society, which was published in the National Geographic Magazine, December, 1896. In the speech and the article, he called attention to overgrazing on the public lands, and suggested remedies. Henry Gannett of the U.S. Geological Survey, which was then about to engage in mapping the reserves and collecting data on their resources, asked Coville if he would make an examination of the Cascade Range of Oregon and find out what could be done. This was followed by a formal request from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture and the request was granted. Thus the first crucial step was taken in formulation of grazing policy on national forest lands. [16]

Coville outfitted at Klamath Falls. His party, consisting, besides Coville, of E.I. Applegate as guide and collaborator and a camp hand with three saddle horses and five pack horses, entered the southern end of the reserve on July 23, and traversed the reserve until they emerged at The Dalles on September 6. They interviewed sheep owners, packers, cattle owners, recreationists, and public officials. Coville issued a preliminary report to the Secretary of the Interior on November 22, 1897, and a final report in February 1898.

Coville's report was a model of thoroughness and fairness. He described in detail the yearly routine in handling sheep, from the time they were brought in from their summer range in October through their wintering on the owner's ranch, lambing and shearing season, and the spring-summer trip to the mountains. He described the duties of herders and packers, and varied practices in handling sheep. He collected statistics on the number of sheep grazed on the reserve, and their ownership; the character of the grazing lands and their locations. This he divided into three districts; the Mt. Hood District, from the Columbia River to the northern boundary of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation; the Three Sisters District, from Mt. Jefferson to and including the southern headwaters of the McKenzie River; and the Upper Deschutes District, south to Diamond Lake. Each in turn he subdivided into ranges. These included in the Willamette National Forest, Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Fish Lake, Mt. Washington, McKenzie River, Horse Creek, Three Sisters, Davis Lakes, and Willamette Cow Pastures. He analyzed the forage favored by sheep. Overgrazing in the Cascade Range Reserve, he thought, was limited to a few areas near Mt. Hood and a part of the Three Sisters area, though there were small local areas of overgrazing on bedding grounds near the driveways. He thought that the widely held belief that sheepmen started fires to increase range was at best unproven and at worst exaggerated, and devoted several pages in his report to the causes of fire.

In dealing with the question should sheep be permitted to graze on the Cascade Range Reserve, he analyzed the problem in detail. One problem was the fact that sheep, on their way to their summer range, devoured grass necessary for the stock at ranches along their routes. Coville felt this was a matter to be solved by local regulation, and of mutual consent in using established driveways separated by a reasonable distance from ranches. Other difficulties were that sheepmen from Wasco County and Sherman County using the Three Sisters range, drove their sheep through Crook County, devouring forage belonging to stockmen of that county. Coville suggested a toll on sheep crossing county lines.

Coville believed that a new set of regulations would solve most of the problems. These would include closed areas to protect places of public resort by vacationers and sources of reservoir supply. Such areas would include the Bull Run watershed and other blocks near Mt. Hood and the Crater Lake area. Also huckleberry patches should be preserved. Ranchers and townspeople, following the aboriginal customs of Indians, were in the habit of taking their families to the mountains and camping out for a few weeks of hunting, fishing, and gathering huckleberries. Huckleberry patches, including several near Mt. Hood, Huckleberry Mountain near Crater Lake and just south of the Santiam-Prineville Road, should be closed to sheep grazing.

For grazing, a system of permits should be granted. This would allow an owner to graze on a given territory for a certain number of days, with a given number of sheep, such as the area could support without detriment; to give him an exclusive right to graze in that area, but request him to confine himself to the area. He would also be asked to keep the area free, so far as possible, from man-caused fires. The permit should be granted for a number of years—five, with privilege of renewal, Coville regarded as satisfactory—and there should be cooperation with the sheep owners in having them help recommend allotment of range, adjudicate disputes, and make recommendations; and finally, there should be a fee for permits to cover costs of administration.

Coville gave as an example the Fish Lake Range in the Three Sisters area. This range Coville divided into five smaller ranges, known as The Parks, Bald Mountain, Iron Mountain, Browder Ridge, and Blue River. These ranges would support, without overgrazing, six bands of 2,000 head each, one band on the first four, two on the last. In 1896 there were eight bands grazing (illegally) on the Fish Lake Range. This was a larger number than the range could support, and as a result, the sheep did not come out in good condition and there was general dissatisfaction. Under the Coville system, the Fish Lake Range would be limited to 12,000; each sheep owner was to be given a subdivision of the range with exclusive right to grass there. In return, he was to see that no man caused fire occurred in the area, and if fires did occur, would notify the Department of the Interior. If fires were set, the individuals responsible could be prosecuted under forest fire laws. [17]

Coville's regulations were put into effect. Various areas were closed to grazing, including the Bull Run watershed, and several huckleberry patches, including one near the headwaters of the McKenzie River. A flare-up of the controversy over grazing occurred in 1899, largely due to a visit by John Muir to the Northwest, but peace on the range developed and persisted. Clashes over range use developed, but these were largely confined to the eastern Oregon reserves, which are beyond the scope of this study. The early development of regulations, plus their capable enforcement on the Middle Cascades area by able men such as Cy Bingham, Smith Bartrum, and Addie Morris, brought about a highly cooperative attitude between the community and the forest administration. [18]


1 Lawrence Rakestraw, A History of Forest Conservation in the Pacific Northwest, 1891-1913 (New York, 1979), 1-69.

2 Rakestraw, History of Forest Conservation, 1-69; Lawrence Rakestraw, "Urban Influences on Forest Conservation," Pacific Northwest Quarterly, 46 (October, 1955), 108-111.

3 Waldo, John B., "The Cascade Forest Reservation," The Forester, 4 (May, 1898), 101-102; Rakestraw, History of Forest Conservation, 31-33.

4 There are a large number of books dealing with the passage of this Bill. Among the best are Andrew Denny Rodgers III, Bernhard Eduard Fernow: A Story of North American Forestry (Princeton, 1951), 155-157; Gifford Pinchot, Breaking New Ground (New York, 1947), 113-119; and Samuel Trask Dana, Forest and Range Policy (New York, 1956), 98-109.

5 Rakestraw, "Urban Influences"; Rakestraw, "Uncle Sam's Forest Reserves," Pacific Northwest Quarterly, 44 (October, 1953), 145-151.

6 Rakestraw, History of Forest Conservation, 37-42.

7 John Ise, Our National Park Policy: A Critical History (Baltimore, 1961), 128-130. Steel, a unique combination of outdoorsman, speculator, and public servant deserves a full length biography. A good appreciation is to be found in Jack Grauer, Mount Hood: A Complete History (privately printed, 1975), 109-112.

8 Rakestraw, History of Forest Conservation, 49-53. The story is a complex one, but this narrative is largely based on General Land Office files dealing with the creation of the Forest in the National Archives. Grauer, Mount Hood, 129-130, states that the Oregon Alpine Club died in 1891; however, the Club signature is on several of the petitions in the Land Office.

9 John Minto, "Sheep Husbandry in Oregon," Oregon Historical Quarterly, III (September, 1902), 219-239; Frederick V. Coville, Forest Growth and Sheep Grazing in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry, Bulletin No. 15 (Washington, 1898), 8-11; Lawrence Rakestraw, "Sheep Grazing in the Cascade Range: John Minto vs. John Muir," Pacific Historical Review, 27 (November, 1958), 371-382.

10 Archer B. Gilfillan, Sheep (Boston, 1928) defends sheepherding as a profession. Elliot Paul, Fracas in the Foothills (New York, 1940) is an entertaining Homer Evans mystery which repeats most of the "jokelore" about sheepherders' low mentality and unorthodox sexual proclivities, as does H.L. Davis in Honey in the Horn (New York, 1935). In his Kettle of Fire (New York, 1959) Davis deals with his own herding experience in Oregon.

11 Rakestraw, History of Forest Conservation, 115-121 gives some sampling of public opinion as expressed in letters to the Oregonian. See also Rakestraw "Sheep Grazing."

12 Rakestraw, History of Forest Conservation, 102-103.

13 National Academy of Sciences, Forestry Commission, Forest Policy for the Forest Lands of the United States (Washington, 1897); Gifford Pinchot, Breaking New Ground (New York, 1947), 101-103; for the effect of the commission report, and particularly John Minto's criticism of it, see Rakestraw, "Sheep Grazing."

14 The best summary of the provisions of the bill is to be found in Dana, Forest and Range Policy, 107-109.

15 Rakestraw, History of Forest Conservation, 110-111.

16 Frederick V. Coville to Gifford Pinchot, June 7, 1935, in Gifford Pinchot Papers, Library of Congress, Box 340. I am indebted to Gerald W. Williams for obtaining a copy of this item for me.

17 Frederick V. Coville, Forest Growth.

18 Rakestraw, "Sheep Grazing."



The founding of Oregon Alpine Club.


John B. Waldo's House Joint Memorial #8 introduced in the Oregon House of Representatives. The Memorial failed in the Oregon State Senate.


The Act of March 3 (26 Stat. 1095) repealed the Timber Culture Act of 1873 and the homestead Preemption Act of 1841; put a stop to auction sales of public lands except isolated tracts and abandoned military and other reservations; tightened up the requirements for improvement and cultivation under the Desert Land Act of 1877, and extended it to include Colorado; did not allow commutation under the Homestead Act of 1862 until fourteen months after filing; limited the time within which suit to annul patent might be brought; restricted withdrawals for reservoir sites to the area actually needed for that purpose; authorized rights-of-way for irrigation canals and drainage ditches through public lands and reservations; provided that in any criminal or civil prosecution for trespass on the public lands in any of the Rocky Mountain states or territories except Arizona and New Mexico and in the district of Alaska, it should be a defense if the timber had been cut for use in such state or territory by a resident thereof for agricultural, mining, manufacturing, or domestic purposes and had not been transported out of the same, and authorized the Secretary of the Interior to make rules and regulations for the carrying out of this provision; and empowered the President to set aside as forest reserves public lands covered with timber or undergrowth, whether of commercial value or not, The last provision (Sec. 24) was added by the conference committee and is often referred to as the Creative Act or Forest Reserve Act.


Joint Resolution by Oregon State Senate to create reserves.

Oregon Fire Law passed.


Mazamas founded in Portland.

Federal regulations published on April 14th which prohibited "driving, feeding, grazing, pasturing, or herding" of livestock in reserves.


Several petitions by sheepmen and Oregon delegation to Congress to reduce the forest reserves.

January 10th, legal proceedings instigated against illegal sheep grazers.

At the request of Secretary of the Interior, Hoke Smith, the National Academy of Sciences appointed a special committee—the National Forest Commission to investigate the forest reserve situation and recommend a national forestry policy. Charles S. Sargent was the chair and Gifford Pinchot the secretary. Sundry Civil Appropriations Act of June 11 (29 Stat. 413, 432) appropriated $25,000 to meet the expenses.

The Act of February 24 (29 Stat. 594) provided penalties for willfully or maliciously setting on fire any timber, underbrush, or grass on the public domain; carelessly or negligently leaving fire to burn unattended near any timber or other inflammable material; or failing to totally extinguish any campfire or other fire in or near any forest, timber, or other inflammable material before leaving it.


The Sundry Civil Appropriations Act of June 4 (30 Stat. 11, 34), since referred to as the Organic Administration Act of 1897, specified the purposes for which forest reserves might be established and provided for their protection and administration. After disagreement between the two houses, their differences were ironed out by a conference committee. The bill was approved by the President and became a law on June 4, 1897. In its final form, its main provisions were as follows:

1. It appropriated $150,000 for survey by the U.S. Geological Survey of forest reserves already created or to be created.

2. It suspended Cleveland's proclamations of February 22, 1897, until March 1, 1898, when they were again to become effective.

3. It authorized the President to revoke, modify, or suspend any executive order or proclamation pertaining to forest reserves.

4. It provided that "no public forest reservation shall be established except to improve and protect the forest within the reservation for the purpose of securing favorable conditions of water flows, and to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use and necessities of citizens of the United States."

5. It stated that it was not intended to authorize the inclusion within forest reserves "of lands more valuable for the mineral therein, or for agricultural purposes, than for forest purposes" and specifically authorized the restoration to the unreserved public domain of lands found after due examination to be better adapted for mining or agriculture than for forest usage.

6. It instructed the Secretary of the Interior to protect the forest reserves against destruction by fire and depredations and authorized him to "make such rules and regulations and establish such service as will insure the objects of such reservations, namely, to regulate their occupancy and use and to preserve the forests thereon from destruction."

7. It made any violation of the provisions of the act or of the Secretary's rules and regulations punishable by a fine of not more than $500 and imprisonment for not more than twelve months.

8. It authorized the Secretary of the Interior to sell so much of the dead, matured, or large growth of trees as may be compatible with the utilization of the forest, after advertisement, at not less than its appraised value, for use in the state or territory where the reserve is located, but not for export therefrom.

9. It authorized the Secretary of the Interior to permit the free use of timber and stone for firewood, fencing, buildings, mining, and other domestic purposes, within the state or territory where the reserve is located.

10. It provided for free egress and ingress of actual settlers, including the construction of such wagon roads and other improvements as may be necessary to reach their homes and utilize their property, under rules and regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior.

11. It authorized the prospecting, locating, and developing of the mineral resources of the reserves, and the entry of any mineral lands under the laws of the United States and the rules and regulations applying thereto.

12. It authorized the settler or owner of a tract covered by an unperfected bona fide claim, or by a patent, to relinquish it to the government and in lieu thereof to select a tract of vacant land open to settlement not exceeding in area the tract relinquished. With unperfected claims the requirements respecting settlement, residence, improvements, and so forth, must be complied with on the new claims, credit being allowed for the time spent on the relinquished claims.

13. It authorized settlers within the reserves or in the vicinity thereof to occupy not more than two acres of reserve land for each school and one-acre for a church.

14. It provided that civil and criminal jurisdiction over persons within forest reserves should remain unchanged except so far as the punishment of offenses against the United States is concerned, the intent being that states should not lose jurisdiction, nor inhabitants their rights, privileges, and duties because of the establishment of the reserve.

15. It provided that all waters on the reserves may be used for domestic, mining, milling, or irrigation purposes under the laws of the state or under the laws of the United States and rules and regulations established thereunder.

A Division of Geography and Forestry was established in the U.S. Geological Survey to handle surveying and mapping of the forest reserves and to collect data on their resources.

Frederick Coville investigation and report on damage to the Forest Reserves by sheep grazing. The Cascade Range Forest Reserve was reopened to grazing.

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