Rocky Mountain Front's First Ranger (Part 2 of 3)
Winter snow blankets the Rocky Mountain Front north of Augusta. (Rick & Susie Graetz photo)
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.
The Sun River country comprises some interesting and spectacular topography. The river comes out of the mountains in a due east and west course for some 8 or 9 miles and breaks through a series of five sawtooth-like reefs, ranging in elevation from 6,000 to 8,000 feet, with the river at 4,500 feet. The reefs are perpendicular on the east face and at a 45- to 60-degree angle on the west. They look just like a row of sawteeth. At the junction of the North and South Forks, the river runs due north and south for some 45 to 50 miles and forms a beautiful valley with many open parks and side streams that head up against the Continental Divide on the west, part of which is known as the Chinese Wall –as spectacular a piece of country as you will see anywhere.
Natives of the area are brown, black and grizzly bears; blacktailed deer; elk; moose; mountain sheep and goats; and the usual run of mountain small fry. Cattle grazing was permitted on all the Sun River Ranger District except the West Fork of the South Fork and Pretty Prairie, which was reserved for winter elk feed. In May 1908, I counted and estimated that 500 to 600 elk wintered on the West Fork licks and vicinity. That was about all the elk in that area at that time.
The business of the district, which included all the forest from Deep Creek on the north to Ford Creek on the south, included 10 or 12 grazing permits for cattle on the upper North Fork, Beaver Creek, Woods Creek, Ford and Willow Creeks and along the boundary south of the North Fork. Also there were a few free use permits for wood on Willow Creek. A typical entry in my diary for Aug.13 reads: “Rode up Beaver Creek road to Willow Creek, crossed over to Ford Creek and then rode NE to Witmers ranch. Range along Beaver Creek getting short. Posted 4 fire warnings on Beaver Creek. No fires. 8 to 5.”
On Sept. 30, notice was received from Supervisor Page S. Bunker of Kalispell that a ranger meeting would be held at the mouth of White River on the South Fork of the Flathead River from Oct. 14 to 18 inclusive. The supervisor had just returned from a six months detail to the Washington office, and I guess he wanted to find out if his rangers could get around in the mountains satisfactorily. Eustace A. Woods, who was the ranger on the old Dearborn District and on occasion known as “Useless” to his close friends, was in town the same time I was and we agreed that, in company with four others, we would assemble at the mouth of the West Fork of the South Fork on the North Fork of the Sun River and trail over the Continental Divide together. Only one of the group had been over the route with a hunting party and was to be the guide. I call it a “route” advisedly, because there was no such thing as a located trail except along the main river. The appointed day of our meeting for departure was Oct. 8, but due to circumstances I could not get there.
On the morning of Oct. 9, Linc Hay, the ranger from Teton District and I left Hannan and camped at the beaver dams on the West Fork. The others had not waited for us, so it was a case of finding our own trail over the divide. My diary for Oct. 10 reads, “moved up West Fork Trail, camped on top of the divide under the cliffs. Jumped about five miles of logs. Bum trail.” The next day we pulled down to the mouth of White River to be the first arrivals at the meeting site. Woods and the others had stopped to try to get some elk meat but failed to do so.
All in all, nearly 20 rangers and guides gathered here to meet with Supervisor Bunker and Inspector D.C. Harrison from Washington, D.C. Like all its successors, the ranger meeting on White River was mostly talk. We also did a Ranger Station survey under the direction of Inspector Harrison and on the third day, all moved down the river to Black Bear, where a new cabin was being built for the ranger headquarters.
Snow was beginning to cover the high country so those from the east side – some nine of us – pulled out for home. No one wanted to buck the logs on the West Fork, so we went up to the Danaher Ranch and crossed through Scapegoat Pass and some 16 or 18 inches of snow.
On Nov. 6 I received a notice from the Civil Service Commission that I had passed the ranger examination and was eligible for appointment. On July 1, I had been appointed a forest guard at $720 per annum, promoted to $900 on Aug. 1, appointed an assistant forest ranger on Nov. 11 at $900 and on Jan. 1, 1908, promoted to deputy forest ranger at $1,000.
The Hannan Ranger Station consisted of an old log cabin, 16x20, and dirt roof, a 14x16 hewn-log cabin with box corners, a log barn, corral, hay meadow and pasture – all taken from a former homesteader or squatter named Jim Hannan, who allegedly operated a station on the old Oregon-Montana horse rustling trail. The story is that Jim also liked beef steaks and occasionally butchered a steer, regardless of whose brand it might bear. Seems like the neighboring ranchers, led by one of the largest cow owners in the Sun River country, surrounded Jim in his old cabin and convinced him with a few “Winchester salutes” that it would be advisable to do a Iittle dickering if he wanted to continue life's journey. Bullet holes were still evident when I occupied the cabin. Old Jim agreed to leave the country and not come back. Shortly after that, maybe 2 or 3 years later, the Government pre-empted it for use of us Forest Rangers.
Compiled/Edited by Rick and Susie Graetz | University of Montana | Department of Geography