Told to me in the Late 1950's


Owen Picton

Written December 2023

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I worked in Idaho as a summer job for the US Forest Service while I was going to college during the late 1950's.  Two different summers while I was in college, I took a train to Idaho and worked on a survey crew in the Forest Service in Idaho. Some of this was on the Lolo Trail that Lewis and Clark used to crossed the mountains. We stayed an in old CCC Camp used during the 1930's. I made enough money in a summer in Idaho to go to college for most of the next year.   I heard many stories while in Idaho and this is how I remember them.

While in college, I heard of such jobs in the US Forest Service.  I went to the library and obtain the address of different US Forest Service Districts.  The Clearwater District in Idaho offered me a summer job.

The pay from the US government was about a dollar and quarter an hour.  Monday through Friday, I was paid regular pay.  Saturday, I was paid one and a half times pay (this was over time pay).  Sunday, I was paid regular hours pay, just to stay in camp and no work, in case there was a fire that we might need to fight. One summer, I was paid 40 straight days in a row.  

One Sunday we heard that the famous Kennedy Family was going by floating down the Clearwater River.  This was before John F Kennedy was president.

Lolo Trail and Lolo Pass

One of the places I worked on was surveying the Lolo Trail.  Sacagawea was an Indian women who guided the Lewis and Clark Exposition though the mountains on this Lolo Trail.

Chief Joseph

There is a story about the US government trying to put the Nez-Pierce Indians on a reservation after gold was discovered in Idaho. The Nez-Pierce, their chief name Chief Joseph and about 800 men, women and children fled on the Lolo Trail with there horses.  The braves went first, followed by  the Indian women and children, followed by any addition animals they had, followed by the US soldiers and horses, followed by the solders wives and women who did the laundry and any other animals they had.  The Lolo Trail was well used.  They tried to flee to Canada in a 1,170 mile retreat in what was called the Nez-Pierce War.  They were corned in Montana about 40 miles from the Canadian border and forced to live on an Indian Reservation.  Chief Joseph is considered by many to be the most brilliant American Indian Chief war tactician to have lived.

There are Lewis and Clark Exposition stories about how impressed the Nez-Pierce Indians were by Clark's black slave named York with his dark skin.  I heard there was a desire to get York's blood line into there tribe.  I do not know if this is true.  It was told to me that York had descendants in this tribe.  I would think that the same impressions would be true for Clark and his red hairClark's slave York is also report to have caught a very bad cold and was sick while visiting the Nez-Pierce Indians.

The Ridgerunner

While I was in the Clearwater National Forest , there was a man they called "The Ridgerunner" who people would see him in the distance on a ridge.  He did not get along with the Forest Service.  He would brake into Forest Service cabins during the winter, live there and take thing such as food.  He said the Forest Service owed him because of all the Forest Fives he put out.  Some thought he damaged some Forest Service bulldozers with dynamite one time.  It was said that he hid in the Clearwater Mountains to avoid the draft during WWII and remained.

I read a news article in about 1961 that they had caught The Ridgerunner.   The paper said that the Forest Service determined what Forest Service cabin the Ridgerunner was hiding at in the mountains.  They sent a helicopter in and caught him.  They found that he was in too poor a health to be jailed or convicted .  They ended up placing him into a nursing home where he quickly died.

There was a paperback book about the Ridgerunner  called:  Ridgerunner: Elusive Loner of the Wilderness by Richard Ripley (Author).  I do not know how good a book this is.

Moose City, Idaho

There is a ghost town name Moose City.  A tombstone at this ghost town is reported to be for a women who ran the saloon and her name was Moose City Molly.  They kept the bar cold during the summer by having a man go to a near by mountain top with a donkey each day and bring down snow.

1959 Yellowstone Earthquake

The 1959 Yellowstone Earthquake at Yellowstone National Park resulted in over 28 people dying.   I was about 120 air miles from Yellowstone National Park.  It woke me up because the windows were raddling.  I set up in bed and looked out the window.  I expected to see a storm outside but the moon was out, the branches of the trees were not moving and no wind. I could not understand how the windows could rattle and be no wind.  I decide to go back to sleep and worry about this in the morning.  Next morning, I heard about the earthquake and as I rode to work, one would see large rocks that had rolled down the mountain and lay in the middle of the road.  The earthquake woke only one other person in the bunk house and he decided that he must be drunk.

Chainman's Gulch and Chinese Hanging Tree 

There were Chinese racial discrimination laws in Idaho, even in the 1950's.  Idaho in 1964 remove laws that had previously banned marriage between a white person and "any person of African descent, Indian or Chinese.

Another story I heard was that their was a Chinamen's Gulch ( I think maybe this Chainman's Gulch was the source) dug by the Chinese looking for gold in the Clearwater area.  I do not know how much truth there was to the story but parts of the story most likely came from somewhere.

I heard a story of a Chinese Hanging near Pierce, Idaho of many Chinese.  My story goes that it was believed that the Chinese knew the location of the mother load for gold.  They hung many Chinese but no one could give a location.  After so many died, they had to finally give up.  Maybe this hanging tree article is the source of my story.

I do know that there were streams and rivers in the Clearwater District area that had all the rocks removed and neatly stacked as a wall along the edge.  This was for the purpose of finding gold.  I believed that the Chinese were hired to do this labor intense task.

snowshoe hare

About the first day when I arrived in June,  I saw this strange rabbit.  The top half looked like a normal wild rabbit and the bottom half looked like a tame white rabbit.  It was then I realize that it was a Snowshoe Hare, that was changing from is winter colors to its summer colors.

Time Zone

Idaho was in the Pacific Time zone.  The Idaho and Montana border was the time zone dividing line.  The Montana side was the start of the Mountain Time zone.  One day we worked on the border and the workers on the Montana side had already been at work for an hour.

President Glover Cleveland and a untrue rumor

A man who owned the move theater in Orofino, Idaho at that time who people told me was a son of President Glover Cleveland.  I have since found that this was not true.  President Glover Cleveland went on a fishing trip to Idaho and apparently this is how the confusion started..  

Forest Service Fire Lookout Towers

One Sunday, some of us went on a hike up to a Forest Service Fire Lookout Tower.  The tower was on a mountain and about 40 or 50 feet tall maybe.  We climbed the tower and there was a Forest service employee living up there.  He was to constantly look out for fires and report the location if he spouted one.  All food and water had to be carried up to the top of the tower.  He had to walk about a half mile to a stream for water.  Food was delivered to him by horseback on a scheduled bases.

We ask him if he felt the Earthquake.  He said the tower was shaking so bad that he thought that a bear was climbing the tower.

Dangers and Logging accidents

Working with trees is a dangerous occupation.

A logger cutting down a tree can have the tree fall in the wrong direction.  Then he cuts down a second tree to get both trees to fall right.  Then he cuts down a third tree to get all trees to fall right and it does not work.  Now he has a mess.  He can not leave because it is too dangerous.  Now it is real to make an error and get killed.

A logger cutting down a tree has the tree do what they call is a barber chair.  The tree splits, and half brakes off and the other half bends down.  It could pop back into you and kill you.

A man making a logging road could have the bank give way and his bulldozer could slid down the hill with a log going through the cab pinning him.  The crew I was on, came across such a situation when we were going to work.  The man lived three day and died.

One day someone downed in the Clearwater River.  That afternoon they had us all out looking for him.  His body floated to the surface of the river after about five days.

A full time year around US Forest Service employee got lost in the wood.  They had us all out looking for him.  It took two days for him to be found.

Myself and another man were sent to put out a fire that had been spotted on top of a mountain.  It had been started by lighting.  We put out the fire and started down.  We hit an area that had been burned over a few years before and was in a gully. The dead trees had fallen down, crossing each other and was over rocks.  Carefully we made it through without injuries.  A few days later another fire was spotted in the area.  They parachuted in smokejumpers.  The smokejumpers hit the same spot of previously burned trees from a few years ago while going down.  There was no other way down.  They fell down and broke legs and arms.  They had to be rescued.

CCC Camps

The old CCC Camp was on the banks of the Clearwater River and not that far from Pierce, Idaho.  Gold was discovered at Pierce, Idaho in about 1850.  The Clearwater River water was never very warm because much of the water came from snow melt.   The camp was run by a couple for the Forest Service.  The man was in charge of keeping everything in the camp repaired and ws called the Bull Cook.  His wife was the cook and a very good cook.  The Clearwater Forest District believed that if you are well feed then you will do a better job of working.  One could order anything and as much as your wanted for breakfast.  Supper was as much as you wanted to eat with the steaks as large as a dinner plate.  We had to fix our own lunch from the remains of the supper.  I would cut up the steaks and make steak sandwiches for lunch.

They only employed mostly young men and no women.  

1982 return

In 1982 I drove through the area and they had a new camp and also employed young women.  The roads had gone from dirt logging roads to pavement.

One thing I noticed in my trip back to this area in 1982.  A lot of small streams would have a group of people with a raft, generator, a vacuum strong enough to suck up rocks and gravel a shaker to remove the gold and diving equipment.  They told me that they came from California on a two week vacation and hope to strike a small gold fortune.

Owen Picton

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Blair, Nebraska 68008


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Last Modified December 2023

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