Rocky Mountain Front's First Ranger (Part 1 of 3)

Ranger Clyde Fickes sits atop his horse, with another pack horse, in a meadow near the ranger station

Clyde Fickes, in the early 1900s, with horses near Hannan Gulch Ranger Station.

Authors’ Note: This piece is excerpted from a report Clyde Fickes wrote in May 1944. It appeared in “Volume 1 – Early Days In The Forest Service.” His words are excerpted with light editing. Fickes retired from the U.S. Forest Service in 1947. He died at age 103 on Dec. 29, 1987 – from an accident on the dance floor.

I applied for work on the old Lewis & Clark National Forest in the spring of 1907. Appointed a Forest Guard on July 1st at $60 per month and supplying two horses, and myself I was assigned to a survey party on the Swan River. On July 23rd and 24th I took the Forest Ranger examination at Kalispell and was directed to go to the Hannan Gulch Ranger Station on the North Fork of the Sun River. It has always been my impression that I was not considered a very promising candidate for ranger by Acting Supervisor A.C. McCain, so he figured, “I’ll give this kid an assignment that he won’t want to accept, or else he will never get to Sun River and we will be well rid of him.”

They gave me a badge, a Use Book and a Green Book and told me, “When you get to Hannan, you can take charge of the Sun River District.” That's how I became a forest ranger in 1907.

Well, I fooled McCain. I had discussed with Ranger Jack Clack the possible routes to follow. He had suggested the best route for that time of year was to go up “Big River,” the Middle Fork of the Flathead, follow the railroad until I reached the east side, and then south across country until I reached Sun River.

Leaving Kalispell on July 26th, with saddle and packhorses, I swam the South Fork (of the Flathead), which was high, and camped the first night at the old Fitzpatrick homestead about where the present highway bridge is located.

Most of the trail followed the tote road used in building the railroad back in the ’90s, and there were places where the trail lay between the iron rails, which made travel by horse a little hazardous at times, as one never knew when a train would want to use the tracks. That second night on the trail, I camped about 3 or 4 miles east of Belton (West Glacier) on the old tote road grade near some cabins where there was good grass for the horses. The next day, I made it to Essex and camped for the night with Ranger Dick Bradley and his family.

In the morning the horses and I forded the “Big River,” and even though the current was rather fast, we made it to the other side all right without much difficulty and proceeded up Bear Creek. Camped at the Phil Gypher place at his invitation, as there was good horse feed, and we were tired.

From Bear Creek we rode to the Lubec Ranger Station. Flies were real bad, giving the horses no rest, and I stayed over the next day to catch our breath. This was July 31, 1907. The problem now was to get across the Blackfeet Indian Reservation without having to go to Browning for a pass, therefore saving myself 2 days time. I camped at Wolf Plume’s place on the Little Badger that night. I had worked on the cow roundup on the reservation the year before and knew these Indians. They were camped on Wolf Plume’s personal allotment putting up the hay. There were 5 or 6 tepees of them.

A couple of years before that, the government had built for Chief Wolf Plume a two-room log cabin and partially furnished it, and it had never been used-even one night. The old man took me over and showed me the cabin and told me to camp in it for the night. I thanked the Chief and he said to me “You got pass?” I shook my head. He grinned, shook his head, and left me to make camp. There was a new six-hole Majestic stove in the cabin, and it had never had a fire in it. I didn’t disturb its virginity!

I finally pulled into the little town of Dupuyer late that next night. We were tired; it had been a long, hot day. A manger full of hay looked good to my horses. I went looking for a steak for myself.

Late the next afternoon, we arrived at Ranger Linc Hoys ranch on Blackleaf Creek, spent the night and in the morning headed to the Godwin Ranch at the forks of Deep Creek. The horses had a good roll and spent the night in knee-deep grass.

Left Godwin Ranch about 9:30 a.m. and arrived at last at the Hannan Gulch Ranger Station at about 2:30 p.m. It was quite a climb down into the Sun River Canyon on a narrow winding trail, across bare slide areas made by deer and elk on slopes as steep as 60 degrees and more.

According to my diary, I had traveled some 190 miles in 10 days to reach my post of duty.

At Hannan, I found Assistant Ranger Henry Waldref in charge. He was an old-timer who had been appointed to patrol the forests and watch for forest fires for 6 months each year. He had a mining claim near Lincoln, and his 6 months’ wages from the Forest Service were his winter’s grubstake. Henry was camped in a tent along the creek, and I joined him there. To him the job was just a summer's outing. He had been in the hills for years, and I sure picked up a lot of handy ideas from him about life in the mountains and living off the back of a packhorse that have been useful to me all my life.

At that time, the Sun River Ranger District, with headquarters at the Hannan Gulch Ranger Station, included all of what is now called the Sun River drainage (then called the North Fork), the Deep Creek drainage to the north and the Willow and Ford Creek drainages to the south. At that time, the stream running through the town of Augusta was known as the South Fork of the Sun River. What is now known as the South Fork of the Sun River was then known as the South Fork of the North Fork, and we also had the West Fork of the South Fork of the North Fork of the Sun River.

Compiled/Edited by Rick and Susie Graetz | University of Montana | Department of Geography