Reforestation Crossroads of the Early Forest Service at Halsey, Nebraska

Over the course of about four years, Gifford Pinchot received approximately 223 responses to his request for narratives. Among these responses were several dozen we might think of as "widows and orphans" in which the writer sent either a single page or sometimes just a paragraph saying that he or she was deeply grateful to hear from the Old Chief and pleased at the opportunity to share their stories. Naturally, Pinchot wanted more than just a single paragraph. 

One such response came from the Director of the Texas Forest Service, E.O Siecke, who started out with the Forest Service in 1904 and wrote Old Chief Pinchot on Texas State letterhead on October 7, 1940. Like many, Siecke, said he was too busy to reply immediately but would get back to Pinchot as soon as he could. Whether he did is unknown. 

Siecke's letter gives us two points of entry into our search for the information Pinchot might have appreciated: the Texas Forest Service and the Sand Hills of Nebraska. Many early rangers began their career training with the U.S. Forest Service in Halsey where the first government nursery was being constructed in 1902, thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt's establishment of the Niobrara Forest Reserve. In advance of that proclamation, several young forest assistants were enlisted and sent out to survey and investigate conditions on the ground. Their narratives sent to Pinchot provide a detailed description of who, what, where, when and how this "groundbreaking" work was accomplished. We can also determine who might have crossed paths with E.O. Siecke through the one-of-a-kind narrative of Charles Anderson Scott, who started work with the Forest Service in Washington, D.C. in 1902 and was sent to the Halsey nursery site shortly thereafter. Scott's narrative, sent to Pinchot in September of 1940, is filled with colorful detail, anecdotes, and an accompanying "Epic of Camp Chaug, in the Land of Ak-Sar-Ben," a classicaly-inspired tale of heroic revegetation efforts starring himself and fellow foresters L.C. Miller, Wallace T. Hutchinson, "Billy" Mast, Jacob Blummer, "Bobby" Reynolds, and others. Along with poetry and musical scores, Scott sent Pinchot a day-to-day description of their work which included surveying the boundaries of the Dismal River in 1902.


Texas Forest Service

E.O. Siecke, Director

Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas

College Station, Texas

October 7, 1940

Hon. Gifford Pinchot

Milford, Pennsylvania

Dear G.P.:

In formulating this letter I started to make an apology for my inexcusable neglect in delaying reply to your letter of June 14. However, I have no alibi except that I laid your letter to one side to permit me to analyze the situation and to determine if I had anything of material interest to contribute. In the press of quite a number of unforeseen responsibilities during the summer months, I proceeded to forget about your letter, and it did not come to my attention until yesterday. Needless to say I feel greatly embarrassed.

If the opportunity still remains there are a number of incidents in my experience that might be of interest. I started out as a laborer on the Dismal River Forestry Preserve in the sand hills of Nebraska in 1904. Perhaps some of my experience there and also in connection with early assignments in the Western States may be appropriate.

Very sincerely yours,

E.O Siecke



 "The Forest Service Nursery at Halsey, Nebraska as I left it on December 31, 1907" by Charles Anderson Scott. Photo courtesy of the Gifford Pinchot Collection, Library of Congress. 

"The Forest Service Nursery at Halsey, Nebraska as I left it on December 31, 1907" by Charles Anderson Scott. Photo courtesy of the Gifford Pinchot Collection, Library of Congress. 



"The role of women in the early Forest Service"

You might wonder where the women were in the early days of the U.S. Forest Service. Gifford Pinchot knew you would be curious so he gently demanded to know. He wrote Ranger Homer Ross in McMinnville, Oregon in the Spring of 1940:

Dear Ross,

My best thanks for your interesting story of March 20 which I have just finished reading. I certainly congratulate you on your escape from the bear and on your comprehensive experience.

But there is one more thing I want. If she will do so, I want Mrs. Ross to write her story. I am just as anxious for the stories of the wives of forest officers as for the stories of the men, and I would be greatly delighted if Mrs. Ross found it possible to tell what she lived through, and what she saw and did, and how the whole situation looked to her. I am looking forward to her story with a great deal of interest.

Faithfully yours,


Pinchot's request for stories from the women, or as he called them, the "wives of forest officers," makes a fascinating read through the Old Timers Collection at the Library of Congress Pinchot Collection. While we might not have a response from Homer Ross, other foresters addressed Pinchot's question with many pages of detail, and indeed, some of the women responded because their fathers or husbands had either died or were ill or indisposed. 

Ranger P.T. Coolidge of Bangor, Maine sent Pinchot 8 colorful pages describing not just the activities of the wives of forest officers but the lives of "women-folk among the users and permittees." Women were quick to take up the role of camp cook, certainly, but they also proved to be a critical linchpin in the mission. In describing Julia T. Shinn, wife of Forest Supervisor Charles Shinn, Ranger Coolidge wrote: "I think that the early history of the Forest Service would be incomplete without mentioning the important part the women of the Service played in that picture, and in my opinion, Julia T. Shinn, wife of my Supervisor, stands out head and shoulders above them all. Mrs Shinn was Clerk for Mr. Shinn in the days when the office first consisted of only one or two clerks, and late as the volume of clerical business increased, she served as Chief Clerk until Mr. Shinn's health, a short time before his death, made it necessary for her to give up her office position in order to devote her time and attention to Mr. Shinn. She had a lovable personality that endeared her in the hearts of everyone who had the good fortune to know her. She was most tactful in dealing with the general public, and had  fully as keen an insight in the field work and its problems of the entire personnel, and more often than not was able to figure out a way of lending suitable assistance. In fact her understanding of the field problems were more practical than Mr. Shinn's, and since she was always in the office it came to an established procedure among the Ranger personnel to ask for Mrs. Shinn rather than Mr. Shinn when they phoned into the office for advice and information."

Another compelling narrative that provides us with tentacles extending through literature and environmental history is that of Mrs. Elizabeth Flint who describes the work of her husband, Howard. Her correspondence with Gifford Pinchot is a tale of humility, sacrifice, and survival, of reaching for meaning following the death of two children as well as her husband. Mrs. Flint wanted to become an author. She also wanted to share the depth of her husband's commitment to not just the U.S. Forest Service but also to his hero, Gifford Pinchot. Despite the ups and downs that a life of service, of moving from one end of the country to the other, she wrote:

"We waited two years, then we were married and started out on the Minnesota (Chippewa) in the Cut Foot Sioux District, living in a little cabin that had been once abandoned even then by the Forest Service. Mr. Zon told me since that it was  the cabin you used when you came to lay out the job on the Minnesota--the first real test that was given to the young Forest Service, so I have understood. Nothing before or since has thrilled me as did those big woods through the the sand flats of the Huron (where our home was a tent) where the job was a planning one for some day--then but a dreary time marking fire-protection affair where there was little to protect; to the grazing forest; the Hayden in Wyoming, the Stream Flow Experiment at Wagon Wheel Gap in Colorado; to the Washakie at the head of the Wind River in Wyoming, where Howard had charge of the timber marking. Here we left the Service. A baby was coming in mid winter; we were 100 miles from a railroad and doctor, with snow six feet deep in the wood...our baby died out there, while the doctor we called could not get through; another came, died there."


Mrs. Elizabeth Flint's narrative to Pinchot continues, "....But it was all a grand adventure. Never during the 24 years in spite of hard things, other than a grand adventure." She wrote, "It was you who opened the door to us; it was also John T. Greenway who gave us the chance to choose. The chance to choose, that is the great luxury of life; its implication that man is his own sovereign, Saint Expury says in his splendid book, Wind Sand And Stars. Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking forward in the same direction. There is no comradeship except through union in the same high effort."

Fortunately for us, Elizabeth Flint went on to become an author, writing articles, (including an obituary on forester Bob Marshall,) and a book of fiction based on the life of a forest officer entitled "The Pine Tree Shield," published by Doubleday, Doran and Co. in 1943. It is not certain whether Gifford Pinchot read Mrs. Flint's book. He died in 1946.

For more on Mrs. Elizabeth Flint:

Flint - 11.jpg

Below: Ranger Howard Flint on the Cutfoot Sioux Ranger in Deer River, MN 56636 Itasca County. From the records of the Historical Marker Project.

Ranger Howard Flint on the Chippewa



"There never were any finer people since Noah came out of the Ark" wrote Gifford Pinchot to Ranger H.J. Tompkins

"There never were any finer people since Noah came out of the Ark" wrote Gifford Pinchot to Ranger H.J. Tompkins.

Forest Ranger H.J. Tompkins's narrative, sent on March 9, 1940, contained an astounding collection of photographs including an image of Franklin Reed, also a forester, standing beside an enormous bleached "root wad" or tree stump that had drifted up on the beach near the Quinault River in Washington state. We do not have much information about Mr. Reed though his name is noted in other narratives of the Old Timers, found in the Gifford Pinchot Collection at the Library of Congress.

Gifford Pinchot frequently attested to the valor of the forest officers he trained. Records indicate that he interviewed each one, hiring each for his character and sense of duty to the mission of the agency--forest restoration and protection of the watershed. Pinchot's response to each and every letter sent to him was a testimony to his own attentiveness and generosity. He wished to confirm that each man and woman who served had made a significant contribution to the organization and to the American people.

In his letter to Pinchot, Ranger Tompkins politely apologizes for a tardy response, and then launches into his alibi: "I had the misfortune to have a car fall on the back of my head (while working under it) and about the time your letter came I was leaving for the East for surgical treatment. Then I went to Portland, Oregon, (not wishing to slight any part of our great nation) and have just returned from there. I may expect plenty of "fun" for five or six weeks and then if everything goes o.k., be very nearly as good as new. If that is not too late I shall be more than pleased to start writing an account of my days with the Service. In so doing, however, it will be necessary that I depend entirely on recollections since my diaries from those days were lost when my trunk was stolen from storage in Somerville, Texas; shortly after I left the Service. I would have no difficulty remembering most of the men I worked with and in general what went on but cannot be exact as to dates. I can well recall that I began February 1, 1901 at Washington, D.C. went that summer to Tennessee with a party led by Fritz Olmsted; the next summer under Bill Hodge, and that fall to Texas under Tom Sherrard, etc. My brother, Harry, always said that it was wrong to withhold sincere admiration since everyone needed a little "bucking up" in life. Acting on that impulse, I must say that I have followed your career with much interest. I was pleased when you attained the Governorship of Pennsylvania and disappointed when it did not develop into an even higher honor. This I do know--that your splendid example of honesty and devotion to duty was an inspiration to scores of men who worked under you, and I have always been very proud of the fact that you were my chief for several years and that we were really friends."


H.J. Tompkins

Helena, Montana

Planting Sugar Pines



"Gifford Pinchot, Theodore Roosevelt, and a Helping Hand to San Francisco."

In his 1937 call for narratives, Gifford Pinchot implored the "Old Timers" to send him "anecdotes," remembrances that might serve to illuminate the past or fill the gaps in the historical record. Over and over, Pinchot received more than he could have imagined. The narrative of J.B. Lippincott sent to Pinchot in January of 1938 was a particular delight. Pinchot wrote, "I have read with keenest interest the two incidents you have so graphically described, and I am particularly delighted to have them. The details of both had gone out of my head, although the general outline was clear in my memory."

In two and a half pages, Lippincott, an early Forest Service hydrographer, recalls a decisive moment in the Oval Office in 1903 when President Theodore Roosevelt turned to Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot and said, "Gifford, is this all right?" Pinchot replied that it was. "It" was the decision to grant rights-of-way for water storage sites on public lands in the Hetch Hetchy Valley, at Lake Eleanor, and for power canal rights-of way down Cherry Creek (the outlet of Lake Eleanor) and in the main canyon of the Tuolomne River below the Hetch Hetchy dam site. These rights-of-way provided a new water source for the city of San Francisco. 

While subsequent generations debated and continue to debate the flooding of Hetch Hetchy, we learn from Lippincott's narrative that by 1903, San Francisco had outgrown its water supply and was seeking an additional new source "adequate in quantity and quality" to meet public demand. Lippincott writes, "The city was then being served by a private water company which naturally did not favor bringing in a new and superior water supply. Their opposition was by the indirect process of stimulating protests of "Nature Lovers" to the "desecration" of the Forest Reserve for utilitarian purposes."

Rarely a dull moment in the narratives of the Old Timers, Lippincott describes Roosevelt's reaction to Pinchot's approval of the memorandum that provided a new domestic water supply for the city of San Francisco, "It is all right with me," said the President, "except there are two r's in Cherry."



Gifford Pinchot, George Perkins Marsh, and Water Conservation


Gifford Pinchot's terrestrial "Bible" when he was not attending church on Sundays in Milford, was George Perkins Marsh's "Man and Nature," first published by Charles Scribner in 1864. Marsh's book was what might be called a best-seller at the time, describing the downfall of Mediterranean civilizations by not just over-expansion into foreign lands, but flagrant deforestation and neglect of water resources. A native of Vermont, Marsh had ample experience observing the desiccation of landscapes while serving as American Ambassador to both Italy and Turkey. He wrote: "the operation of causes set in action by man has brought the face of the earth to a desolation almost as complete as that of the moon."  

While most water consumption is attributed to large-scale agriculture and industry, we too can do our part in helping to conserve water at home. Please do your part. From the article below, we learn that water tables throughout the US are on the decline. With the increase in planetary temperatures, melting polar ice, and incumbent rise in sea-level causing erosion and sedimentation in streams and lakes, what we as individuals do is certainly important. "In 1990, 30 states in the US reported 'water-stress' conditions. In 2000, the number of states reporting water-stress rose to 40. In 2009, the number rose to 45. There is a worsening trend in water supply nationwide. Taking measures at home to conserve water not only saves you money, it also is of benefit to the greater community." 

Every drop counts on our drying planet. Thank you!


“I owe my first inclination toward forestry to an early passion for the study of birds.”


“I owe my first inclination toward forestry to an early passion for the study of birds.”

We learn from the foresters letters to Gifford Pinchot that there were many ways in which young men and women joined the U.S. Forest Service in the years 1905-1909. Some bumped into a ranger in the woods, others read an article in one of various newspapers and journals, while others learned about "this new thing called forestry" from an aunt, grandmother or grandfather. Others had an abiding interest in nature, like Earle K. Frothingham, who wrote Gifford Pinchot from Biltmore Forest in Asheville, North Carolina in the summer of 1940. Like so many of the Foresters letters, his was humble, perhaps to a surprising extent. He wrote: “I am mortified,” wrote Frothingham, “at the scantiness of what I can offer.”

What Frothingham's letter to Pinchot offers us today is a psychological insight that helps us to understand ourselves, our relationship to the world around us, and what inspires us to protect that which we deem precious in the natural world. In Frothingham's day, jobs were scarce and opportunities practically non-existent for a young man or woman outside factory work and professions that required significant resources to pursue. Work in the woods was something any young man of able mind and body could undertake. Education was provided on-the-job. Housing and food were included. The training and skills received lasted a lifetime, leading a young man or woman to a sense of stability and gratitude to not just Pinchot but the U.S. Government for the opportunity.

Frothingham, for one, was inspired to reflect on his experiences before the age of what has been called "nature deficit disorder," in which birds, wolves, whales, and wildlife are separate from us, not intimately connected, much less protected, from the assaults of unregulated development and resource extraction.

In each moment, we have an opportunity to look up and look outside at the wonder of nature herself. Frothingham, in his mild-mannered Clark Kent letter, reminds us that one species can be an inspiration that takes us from inspiration to action, and to gainful employment that lasts a lifetime. 


Do you know which states consume the most water? Please check the link below.

We might not be surprised to learn that California, Arizona, and North Carolina are the largest water consumers. However, it might be just as interesting to know which states' aquifers are most contaminated by industrial pollutants, pesticides, fertilizers, and other types and quantity of runoff. Please check out the link below to learn more about where and how water is being used.

Gifford Pinchot and his first foresters were dedicated to conservation of our natural resources so that future generations lived long and healthy lives. They thank you in advance!

Any comments and/or thoughts are appreciated.


"...Vision, progressiveness and scientific spirit." the testimonial of thornton p. munger in "my connection with the early days of Forestry."

"First Forest Service Nursery in District 6 located on the Columbia National Forest at Wind River. I assisted Mr. Miner for one season in 1914 at this nursery." Photo from the narrative of Albert K. Weisendanger, Mt. Hood National Forest.


In his 18-page narrative narrative sent to Gifford Pinchot from Portland, Oregon in the fall of 1940, Forest Ranger/ Old Timer Thornton P. Munger described himself as a "one-man research section" and a "one-man silvics section" sent to tackle various jobs in the field and forest. The work of the first foresters required a pioneering spirit with a willingness to experiment, particularly when it came to the planting of various tree species.

Answering Pinchot's request to give him "the reason or influence that made you go into forestry," Munger wrote:

"The first suggestion that I should choose forestry as a profession came to me from my sister Eleanor (Mrs. Philip P. Wells) when I was a freshman in Yale College. She said, 'Why don't you take up this new thing, forestry, that Gifford Pinchot is starting. You like the out-of-doors and he says the country needs foresters and it is a fine life for a young man.' The Yale Forest School, founded by the Pinchot family the year before, was only a few blocks from my home. It was attracting much attention as a new field of activity and with a natural bent towards studying and collecting flowers, and a love of the outdoor life it was natural that I should take her suggestion to heart."

In the summer of 1902, Munger attended an 8-week course in forestry held by Yale Forest School in Milford, Pennsylvania. His life story is representative of the history of a young man gifted with an opportunity to serve. After a summer of field excursions, lectures by Pinchot, Overton Price, and the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Munger applied for a position with the Bureau of Forestry. Pay: $25 a month to make a study of white birch and poplar in Maine. "I counted rings, made stem analyses, learned woodsmanship under our French Canadian ax man, and got my first real taste of primitive life in the Maine wilderness and liked it," he wrote.

In his youth, Munger, like many of the first foresters, crisscrossed the country traveling from Maine back to Milford, then to Alabama, then to the Pacific Northwest. "In the two years of the forest school hours were forgotten," he wrote Pinchot. "There was keen zest to learn all about this new field. The call of the country for service and the lure of the West whetted our enthusiasm. Employment on graduation seemed assured."

As Pinchot read Munger's letter, he placed a vertical pencil line beside points in Munger's letter that likely made him smile: "It is evidence of the vision, progressiveness, and scientific spirit of the Forest Service that even under the pressure to take over the administration of a tremendous acreage of almost unknown and undeveloped public forests with a ridiculously small crew of very young men, research was not neglected....the courage of the Forest Service and of its young personnel in tackling jobs of all magnitudes and degrees of complexity is quite amazing. And it is still more amazing that throughout the Service most jobs were accomplished acceptably."

Munger, it seems, was sent West to resolve "sylvical problems" between lodgepole pine and western yellow pine, the former being a low-value species while the latter a "highly desirable species." His narrative describes a detailed journey to what he calls the "theatre of conflict" in lonesome landscapes of the American west. In one instance, he lands in Crescent, Oregon, a one-house town with a sign that read:

Prineville 84 miles

Silver Lake 45 miles

Klamath Falls 100 miles

Eugene 115 miles

Munger's narrative describes a major project assigned to him in 1908, the study of growth and yield of Douglas Fir. "Nothing was known about this most important species, no volume tables were available, the location suitable for study had to be ferreted out....we scoured the region (of Oregon and Washington) on horseback, in wagons, on logging trains, but mostly on foot, hunting for even-aged immature stands suitable for our mensurational work. We felled trees for tree analyses and measured sample acres in stands of various ages all day and worked on our notes in the evening--or sometimes when we were camping fished for a mess of trout. We moved often and boarded at farmhouses, logging camps or country hotels, frequently putting up our tent when sleeping quarters were not available inside. A walk of three or four miles to work was thought nothing of, and 25 miles a day were not unusual when I was scouting."

Munger work on the Oregon National Forest, now the Mt. Hood, consisted of experiments in "direct seeding" when there was no nursery stock available. After a day's trip from Portland by train, stage, and horseback and making camp in a one room log cabin near the planting site, it began to snow. But nothing stopped Munger. "The local forest officers and I set to work planting our seed in spots, but the snow soon got too deep for that and and we hurriedly broadcasted the pine, maple, and chestnut seeds we had left, packed up, and left before we were trapped in there by too deep snows, and it was late at night before we got to a cabin and pasture below the snow line and in the rain belt."

Another trip Munger describes is to the Wind RIver Valley, pictured above, then on the Columbia National Forest, now the Gifford Pinchot National Forest where he studied the reproduction on "the logged-off land of one of the first, if not the first, national forest timber sale of any consequence in the Douglas fir region."



The narrative of Jesse W. Nelson, Forest Ranger in the Yellowstone Timber Land Reserve, the first federal forest reserve in the nation set aside by President Benjamin Harrison in 1891.

One of the many photographs in the "Old Timers" Collection housed within the Gifford Pinchot Collection at the Library of Congress Manuscript Division shows Ranger H.E. Miller with Buffalo Bill Cody. Caption reads: "Last time I ever saw him October 1913."

The First Foresters narratives present us with a veritable feast of firsts. The first fish brought to Crater Lake. The first underground water storage in the United States. The first design for a Pulaski. The narratives also invite us to witness spectacular, sometimes little known or overlooked moments and events in American history, moments that provide a kaleidoscopic peek at an America long gone but retrievable through words and images like the one above.

Ranger Jesse W. Nelson, who served with the United States Forest Service for some 44 years, retiring as superintendent of the San Joaquin Experimental Range in Colorado, provides us with many remarkable observations and adventures. He recalls his impetus for joining the Forest Service in his narrative entitled "My Early Days in the Forest Service:"

"I was born on a farm in southeastern Indiana where I attended the common schools, graduated from high school, and took special courses in normal school. My earlier desire was to study medicine, but since I was one of a large family, and the disastrous effects of the Panic of 1893 still being evident, my ambition to become a doctor had to be dropped....I was on the lookout for future possibilities."

Ranger Nelson noted what many of Pinchot's First Foresters recalled, how young men at the time were encouraged to follow Horace Greeley's advice to grow up with the country and "Go West, young man." Nelson decided to take his chances with other Westerners in "carving out a future." He writes:

"My first employment in the West was with Colonel Cody, who owned a number of stock ranches in Wyoming and ran several thousand head of horses on the open range. My work with Cody was largely of a special nature in connection with the various ranches and many other interests. In February 1899, in company with a cowboy named Carl Sorrenson, I shipped a carload of Cody's horses to his Wild West show. We left Cody on February 1 and arrived in Hoboken, New York, February 28. The horses were driven overland from Cody, Wyoming, to Billings, Montana, and shipped to Brooklyn, New York where the show was opening that Spring. There was three feet of snow on the ground and it was 35 below zero when we left Cody. It took two days to go 45 miles to Clark's Fork River, from which point we drove the horses down the Clark's Fork on the ice to Laurel, Montana. Sorrenson and I stayed with the show that season, riding buckers and doing the usual work required of cowboys in the show. On completion of the show season I returned to Redlodge, Montana, to arrange for the reception of General Miles who was to visit his old friend and chief scout Colonel Cody at the latter's Wyoming ranches."

Nelson, it seems, was frequently driving four footed creatures from one place to another. On page 16 of his 21 page narrative, we learn that he was responsible for shipping elk from here to there:

"In the winter of 1910 I shipped the first elk to the Black Hills, South Dakota, and to Aspen, Colorado. These elk came from the Yellowstone National Park and were captured near Gardiner, Montana. The Colorado shipment was liberated near Aspen in a mining district where the foreign population had very little respect for game laws. Local cattlemen defrayed the expense of this shipment and insisted on the game laws being complied with. This resulted in the community's becoming very law-abiding in game protection in a few years. The elk did so well that other shipments were made in March 1913 from Jackson Hole, some going to Durango, Estes Park, Colorado. The elk in every case soon became located and increased rapidly, making it possible to issue licenses and allowing the killing of 2500 in 1913 in certain localities in the State. In 1913 the first attempt was made to dip elk to eradicate ticks in the winter and spring; many died from this cause. On finding that the elk from Yellowstone were very ticky, I arranged with the Denver Stock Yards to use its dipping vat. Dr. Howe of the Bureau of Animal Industry determined the kind and strength of dip to use. The elk dipped so easily that we put them through the vat twice to insure a thorough job."

From the personal narrative of J.W. Nelson, U.S.F.S.



Press Release : Gifford Pinchot and the First Foresters!!

*New Book of Letters from Early U.S. Forest Rangers to First Chief Gifford Pinchot Reveals Model of Leadership, Good Government, and Environmental Stewardship*




As the 2016 election season enters its final six months, the public’s eye is drawn towards spectacle and away from pressing environmental problems that require a comprehensive strategy and management approach. In recent weeks, unprecedented wildfires, tornadoes, drought, gas leaks, and water contamination have made headlines affecting the lives of millions of people. Around the globe, inhabitants of low-lying areas wonder what is next. How will the world cope with these ongoing scenarios and organize itself for the next weather-related or environmental event?

In her new book, Author Bibi Gaston crafts a heart-felt narrative for challenging times, chronicling the early days of the American conservation movement while suggesting a service-based approach to environmental issues similar to the one that was created one hundred years ago when her great-granduncle, Gifford Pinchot, was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to run the newly created U.S. Forest Service. Having studied 5,000 pages of previously unpublished letters exchanged by Pinchot and the men and women who worked with him, Gaston has an excellent grasp of the significant challenges the early forest officers faced in tackling environmental problems while preserving and protecting public resources as Pinchot said, to serve the “greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.” Gaston says, “In the letters, we find that environmental issues were addressed through organization, careful listening, planning, education, and negotiation. That was the job of Pinchot’s forest officers, and it was no easy job.”

The author of /Gifford Pinchot and the First Foresters: The Untold Story of the Brave Men and Women Who Launched the American Conversation Movement/, Gaston says, “Kindness, courtesy, and listening to one another went a long way, for example, in dealing with problems and conditions on the range, water conservation and wildfire suppression. Forest officers went above and beyond the call of duty to make peace, so did Pinchot, whose presence at various cattleman’s meetings was said to have turned rancor to understanding.”

Gaston concludes that it is important to turn to history to resolve conflicts between public and private land ownership. “In the past, we resolved disputes without delay, and without resorting to violence or rancor. How did we do it? We find answers when we need to, through caring and listening. Things were difficult, but more often than not, the parties walked away from the table as friends. Today, boundless energy and esprit de corps are the essential elements for resolving what appear to be intractable environmental problems. Mother nature requires that we listen to her and to each other,” Gaston says.


//Praise for Gifford Pinchot and the First Foresters


“What a marvelous book Bibi Gaston has created about her great-granduncle Gifford Pinchot, Chief Forester of the U.S. Forest Service from1905–1909, and all his fellow forestry pioneers. Not only is it fascinatinghistory but also inspiration for our current desperate efforts to save theplanet’s remaining precious, carbon-absorbing trees and the rest of beleaguered nature—without which we and countless other species cannot survive for much longer. Pinchot’s idea says it all: Conservation is the basis of permanent peace. As we honor our environmental ancestors, they provide us with the courage and inspiration to do what must be done/.”/

Linda Buzzell, co-editor, *Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind (Sierra Club Books, 2009)*


*About the author *

Bibi Gaston is the great-grandniece of Gifford Pinchot, whom Teddy Roosevelt appointed to lead the US Forest Service in 1905. Her new book, published by Baked Apple Productions, is based on letters she unearthed from the Library of Congress that she carried with her for seven years. Gaston is a landscape architect whose first book, /The Loveliest Woman in America: A Tragic Actress, Her Lost Diaries and Her Granddaughter’s Search for Home, /was published by William Morrow in hardback and Harper Perennial in paperback. Among the media outlets Gaston has appeared on are NBC, FOX Long Island Public Radio, and the nationally syndicated Contact Talk Radio Network.

For more information, Bibi can be contacted at http://www.firstforesters.comor at



"Nobody seemed to consider their work as just a means of earning a living but as a very special mission." The personal narrative of Mrs. Gertrude B. Olds, stenographer-typist


Humility, gratitude, and graciousness were among the defining characteristics of the First Foresters and Stenographer-typists or "typewriters" as they were sometimes referred to. Gertrude B. Olds wrote her Old Chief Gifford Pinchot in August of 1940, apologizing for her tardy reply to his letter received in June of that year. It seems she had been trying to put to use some of her "knowledge of forestry" by trimming up her plum tree when she fell and broke her ankle. "Now I have plenty of time to write letters," she wrote, "and I will try to give you what information I can about the early days in the Forest Service."

Mrs. Olds served in Missoula headquarters. Recalling her first days in the service, she continued: "I was a youngster just out of school and it was my second job. It was the first time I had been away from home and I was very homesick and lonely at first. Mrs. Bill Greeley, however, was very kind to me, helping me to find a place to board and room and looking after me until I got acquainted. She is a charming woman and I certainly did appreciate her kindness. Because Missoula was a small town, we were all more or less dependent on each other."

In her narrative of just two pages, we learn that Gertrude Olds had worked for every one of the Chief Foresters. Her work did not often allow her to get into the field to observe the work of the foresters, but she recalls "many horseback trips up into the hills around Missoula, where the country is very beautiful," where she "was soon filled with the enthusiasm for our work which characterized all of the Forest Service. Nobody seemed to consider their work as just a means of earning a living but as a very special mission."

Like so many of the first US Forest Service employees, Gertrude Olds awaited Pinchot's forthcoming book on the Forest Service. "I am very much interested in your book," she wrote, "and I hope I shall have an opportunity to read it when it is finished." She recalled that "nearly all of the men whom I have known in the Service were men of fine character and high ideals."

From the narrative of Mrs. Gertrude B. Olds, sent from Denver, Colorado August 28, 1940.



A lifetime of service, the narrative of Allen Steele Peck, "...among the men who took their love of trees to the prairies and the planes and could not be satisfied until they had tried to make forests where there were none."

Besides sending out hundreds of personal letters, Gifford Pinchot placed a number of advertisements in journals and periodicals calling for his first foresters, a group he called the "Old Timers," to submit narratives. The request for narratives above appeared in May 1940 in the journal "American Forests."

Colonel Allen Steele Peck sent his lengthy narrative detailing an astounding 38-year career (July 1902-February 1940) with the United States Forest Service from his home in Denver, Colorado where he had retired. Born in West Barre, New York in April of 1880, Peck, like many of the First Foresters, grew up on a farm in the East and went West recalling his "strong inclination toward out-of-door work (and play)." In the winter of 1900-1901, while students at Union College in Schenectady, New York, Peck and a friend ran across an article in the Saturday Evening Post by Rene Bache. Peck recalled how Bache described "the new profession of Forestry which offered opportunities for young men with a yen for the out of doors." He wrote, "Bache was a versatile chap with a wide range of interest, who like to dig up novel and startling subjects to write about, such as the raising of Angora goats or the discovery of vitamins. This article gave us a definite lead and we applied for positions as Student Assistants in the Bureau of Forestry. It seemed to be just the sort of opening that I had been looking for."

Like many of the First Foresters, Peck's career took him through the Halsey Nursery in Nebraska. He writes, "Leaving my home at Batavia, New York on July 1 (1903), I went to Nebraska as Student Assistant, reporting at Halsey to Charley Scott, after completing the last section of the railroad trip from Broken Bow on a freight train." Peck continues, "The nursery and field planting project at Halsey was well under way. I found there a gang of young foresters, including "Hoss" Stabler, Tom Swan, Krauter, Mast, Bridges and Holroyd....Here, between the the Dismal and the Loup and along the Niobrara, we saw the beginnings of that great job of forest creation that has grown to be such a comfort and inspiration to the people of the sand hills country, and a monument to that early group of foresters who were pricked by the urge to tackle the hardest jobs first--men who took their love of trees to the prairies and plains and could not be satisfied until they had tried to make forests where there were none. To me this summer of 1903 was a second and very important chapter in my training for forestry. I was introduced for the first time to the cattle country of the West, to the chuck wagon, and the saddle horse, and stock saddle as a daily habit. I learned a lot about the fine points of the cow horse, the rattlesnake, the transit and stadia rod, and developed an interest in nursery work and tree planting that has always remained strong. These two months in the sand hills of Nebraska were the first steps in a wonderful jaunt that took me by easy stages to the Rocky Mountains where I was introduced to a Forest Reserve, then to New Mexico, Arizona, California, and finally back to Washington through the South."

From humble beginnings, Peck details a career that crisscrossed the United States and in addition sent him to France where, in the summer of 1917, he assisted in forestry operations with the 20th Engineers directed by William B. Greeley. During a lifetime of service, honors, and awards, in 1920 Peck was notified that he had received the rank of "Chevalier" in the French Legion of Honor. After being discharged from the Army, Peck returned to Denver where he assumed the position of Regional Forester for the Rocky Mountain Region.



Climate Refugee Turned Environmental Steward--the fascinating narrative of Cecil B. Reindorp of Magdalena, New Mexico

One might think that the first class of professional Forest Rangers were born and raised in the good Ol' U.S. of A., but that was not always the case. We learn in the fascinating account of Ranger Cecil Reindorp that he was a British citizen, advised to take a medical leave of absence by his doctor. In his letter to Gifford Pinchot of January 25, 1939, Reindorp recounts: "In July, 1907, just about the first anniversary of my marriage, my application for Life Insurance was turned down for the reasons that I had come to the U.S. from England on account of tuberculosis, and my health history and temporary condition at that time were unsatisfactory; the doctor who made the physical examination advised me find employment in the open air instead of office work." Like so many of the First Foresters, work in the out-of-doors was not just appealing but life-enhancing, and in Ranger Reindorp's case, life-saving!

As it turns out, Reindorp, who served in the United States Forest Service from 1907-1918, found himself in the good company of fellow immigrants during the war years. He served in various positions in California as well as on the Gila National Forest of New Mexico where he recounted that not much attention was paid to conservation. "The general run of the people at that time had little or no interest in game and fish "conservation" as it was called."

Reindorp provides an interesting insight into the demographic makeup of the new service: "Just about the time I had got settled down in my new location the Great War broke out in Europe; there were three of us living at Gallinas Planting Station--Hermann Krauch of German parentage; myself born in England, and Marcel F. Pincetl born in France, which provided a somewhat complicated situation, and when Joseph C. Kircher became Supervisor and came out to the District at various times, he took great delight in making the kettle boil."



"Gifford Pinchot was our lamp and his nobleness enkindled nobleness." Agnes Scannell, stenographer-typist, Region 6 Portland, and Washington D.C.

(Photo from the Personal Narrative of Agnes V. Scannell. Gifford Pinchot Collection, Library of Congress Manuscript Division)

When Agnes Scannell received Gifford Pinchot's request for remembrances of her time spent in the early days of the U.S. Forest Service, she responded with great enthusiasm, writing to her old Chief that his letter was "like a thought-wave on the ether." For the past year she had been wondering how she might have an opportunity to "put in writing some facts about the Forest Service of the United States," she said, "because I felt a written record should be made of the efforts of Gifford Pinchot in establishing this important branch of the Government."

So write she did. Hailing from Worcester, Massachusetts, Ms. Agnes V. Scannell graduated from Worcester High School and like many of the First Foresters and their associates, she grabbed the rungs of opportunity, noting that she "was eager to go beyond the confines of her little city." In October 1906 she took the Civil Service exam in Boston and was then assigned to the Washington Office on F Street where she assumed her post as "clerk, stenographer, typewriter," at six hundred dollars per annum. Shortly thereafter, she was assigned to Region 6 in Portland, Oregon's Beck Building where she served from 1907-1917.

One of the exceptional aspects of Agnes Scannell's narrative is her dramatic description of her solo cross-country train trip during which various dramatic events occur including losing her pocket book on the train. She writes: "As I sat waiting in the station for results, I began to think that it all happened for the best, and if the pocketbook was not returned, then I should take that for a sign that I was to turn back. In fact, I had about made up my mind to turn back, when in walked a trainman, swinging my little pocketbook; then I knew that was the signal for me to go on."

On and on she went, describing her train voyage as if it were yesterday. "On, on I went, however, and the trip over the Northern Pacific Lines I enjoyed very much. I was eager to see the Rockies. In Montana they are magnificent; so young; so bold; so high. They seemed to give me courage, and I began to feel bolder and bigger, too under their spell. Once I crossed the Great Divide, I realized I was standing alone in the vastness of the west; hence I must not waver as the die was cast."

From the personal narrative of Agnes V. Scannell as told to Gifford Pinchot, dated December 27, 1939.



Turn-of- the- century Epic Reforestation in the Sandhill Plains of Nebraska! The personal narrative of Charles A. Scott

Caption: "The condition of the Nebraska Sand Hill Country as we found it in 1901. Over grazing the range was a concern at that time. Charles A. Scott." (Photo in the narrative of Charles A. Scott, courtesy Gifford Pinchot Collection, Library of Congress.)

Who would have guessed that one of the largest, most innovative tree planting projects ever undertaken in the United States began in the year 1902 by young forest professionals employed by the US Government ? Not many, I imagine. Buried in the Old Timers Collection, we find the who, what, where. when, how and why such a massive reforestation effort was envisioned! 

One of the First Foresters featured in "Gifford Pinchot and the First Foresters: The Untold Story of the Men and Women Who Launched the American Conservation Movement," is Charles A. Scott, (1875-1961), a native of Westmoreland, Kansas who recounts this effort in a series of documents written in 1951 (housed in the Nebraska State Historical Society, His and his colleagues' efforts are also described in detail in the narrative he sent to then-retired Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot housed in the Pinchot Collection at the Library of Congress.

In the summer and fall of 1901, Scott worked as a cook on the Nebraska Sandhills Reconnaissance Survey as part of the Bureau of Forestry, U.S. Department of Agriculture. During the following summer of 1902, he assisted in a survey of the Dismal River Forest Reserve after which he helped plan Nebraska's Halsey Nursery, also known as the Bessey Nursery after University of Nebraska Botany Professor Charles A. Bessey. Following his work in designing and implementing plans for the first government nursery in the United States, Scott set off for the Yale School of Forestry where he earned his degree. As a newly minted Forest Assistant, he then returned to Nebraska to oversee the nursery he had helped plan. He also administered three Nebraska forest reservations.

There is no underestimating the amount of innovation and stamina such a project required. In his account, Scott writes: "This was the first project of its kind ever attempted in the United States. No one in the Bureau of Forestry could advise us and the Commercial Nurserymen of the country had no experience with this type of work and we were told we would have to use our own judgement and do the best we could."

In 1940, referring to Scott's work on behalf of the American people, Gifford Pinchot wrote Scott:

Dear Scott:

I have just finished reading your very interesting account of your early work in establishing the first Government forest nursery in America and making the planting on the Nebraska National Forests a success. The detail is particularly valuable, and I am very much in your debt. Hearty thanks to you.

Yours as always, GP



"A Brief History of the Forest Service in Nevada," submitted by Ranger C.S. Tremewan. Elko, Nevada

We might think of the First Foresters correspondence as meditations on service and sacrifice to America.

Answering Pinchot's request for narratives on January 12, 1940, Ranger C.S. Tremewan of Elko, Nevada sent the Old Chief a concise report of 16 pages entitled "A Brief History of the Forest Service in Nevada." Pinchot praised and greatly appreciated what Tremewan had sent. "I take pleasure in thanking you most warmly," he wrote, "for all the pains you have taken and for the very interesting story you have sent me." The Old Chief told Tremewan, "You have been through the most important parts of the early history of the Service, and what you say about the hammering which the Forest Service men got and the superb way in which they stuck to the work is absolutely true. I am proud to have been connected with such an organization. It was tough, but, as you say, it was worth it, and I would do it again."

Tremewan's narrative recounted details of the "range wars," writing: "Erosion was becoming alarming and livestock were coming from the summer ranges in such poor condition that they had to be fed before being driven to shipping points. And this from a range that just a few years previously had been producing beef cattle that topped the market. Two year old steers had been shipped which weighed from 1050 to 100 lbs and had never been fed a day in their lives. The comparative ease with which the nomadic or transient sheep owner could drive from these rich productive summer ranges of Northern Elko and Humboldt Counties to the relatively safe winter ranges of Southern Nevada encouraged more and more of them to engage in business. This resulted in a set of conditions that were rapidly becoming impossible and making it imperative that some form of regulation be instituted or our two great natural resources would be gone (i.e.) Grazing and Waterflow for irrigation."



Reflections from the Personal Narrative of Alva Von der Linde

The Old Timers Collection. Part of the Gifford Pinchot Collection housed in the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

The letters between the First Foresters and their Old Chief reveal a sense of mutual respect between employer and employed, and between two parties engaged in a common mission. The narrative of Alva von der Linde, who served in Washington, D.C., and in the Denver Regional Office beginning in 1908, was written from Mercy Hospital in Denver, Colorado. Her narrative describes a sense of gratitude, as well as the acknowledgment that working in conservation was never easy:

"My first intimation that we were not, as I had supposed, universally liked, came soon after our arrival here, when on being introduced at a party as a Forest Service member I was asked, "Are you then also one of those disgusting 'Pinchot' people?" On inquiry I was informed that we were autocrats, robbers, etc., setting up laws and regulations in a country which had gotten along famously without us and our interferences.

It took years for public opinion to change in our favor. One event which greatly helped to bring about this change was the disastrous fire season of 1914, and the capable, heroic manner in which our men handled the situation. Gradually the West began to realize the necessity of timber survey, of grazing regulations, of fire protection, etc. until today there is no government institution more highly esteemed, and to wear a Forest Service badge is to wear a badge of honor."


Meetings of the Baked Apple Club and Theodore Roosevelt's "Bully Talk" to the First Foresters. :)


Meetings of the Baked Apple Club and Theodore Roosevelt's "Bully Talk" to the First Foresters. :)

Forest Ranger A.O. Waha served from 1901-1940 in various posts in Maryland, Tennessee, Maine, Texas, New York, Alabama, West Virginia, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, and Oregon. He recalls his first days as a forester trainee in service to the cause of conservation at the Forest Service's first headquarters, the Atlantic Building located on F Street in Washington D.C. shown here and at Gifford Pinchot's home at 1615 Rhode Island Avenue, also in Washington.

A.O. Waha sent his Old Chief a 79-page narrative filled with just the sort of detail Pinchot had requested. In his narrative sent from the Terminal Sales Building in Portland, Oregon on February 7, 1940 entitled "Early Day Reminiscences," Ranger Waha wrote:

"It was in the year 1900 when I first became interested in forestry, after reading an article in the Saturday Evening Post which discussed the work of the Bureau of Forestry under the leadership of Gifford Pinchot, and as I now recall it, very specifically encouraged young men to take up forestry as a career. Subsequently, I learned that many of my associates had been inspired by the same article in taking up forestry as their profession. At that time I was 19 years of age and working as a pattern maker apprentice. While working with my hands and especially with wood appealed to me, it was not long before I found that I should never be satisfied with spending my life in or near a factory. (I shall always be thankful that I learned to work with my hands--every forester should be able to, but aside from this, working in wood is now my favorite hobby which gives me much pleasure.)"

Waha also recalled the early days of the "Baked Apple Club," in which young forest rangers met to discuss the latest developments in forestry and one of the favorite topics of President Theodore Roosevelt, conservation:

“The student assistants were a most congenial set, all of whom were very much interested and eager to learn. Weekly meetings after work were held, at which various topics were discussed. I recall that the first topic assigned to me was on the characteristics of bark of various trees and their uses. Then the Thursday evening meetings of the so-called “Baked Apple Club” at G.P.’s house on Rhode Island Avenue were indeed a bright spot in our lives. The best talent available was brought in to address us after which there would be formal discussions, followed by a feed of baked apples, cream and gingerbread. Our most notable speaker was President Theodore Roosevelt who gave us a “bully” talk in March 1903. What a crusader he was-enthusiasm fairly oozed from him!”

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress. Prints and Photographs Division, HABS, Reproduction number HABS DC, WASH, 655A-1.



Conservation: "no vague, fuzzy aspiration!"

Cornelia Pinchot at the Dedication of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Photo Courtesy of the Gerald Williams Collection, Oregon State University.

In a stirring speech delivered on October 15, 1949 at the naming of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington State, Cornelia Pinchot, the wife of Gifford Pinchot, recalled and hailed the "Old Timers," the first class of forest professionals Gifford Pinchot had trained between the years 1905-1909.

"I want to digress here a minute," she said, "to take the opportunity of bearing witness of how deeply Gifford Pinchot felt always about the debt he owed to the men of the Forest Service. Over and over again he said that to them, to the old timers, belonged the real credit for what had been accomplished. Never before or since, he said, had such high morale, such devotion to the public good, such creative ability been demonstrated in any government body. It was a three-way cooperation enterprise—the foresters at one end, the American people at the other, Gifford Pinchot in the middle."

Cornelia summed up her husband's devotion to conservation when she read to the assembled audience:

"Conservation to Gifford Pinchot was never a vague, fuzzy aspiration. It was concrete, exact, dynamic. The application of science and technology to our material economy for the purpose of enhancing and elevating the life of the individual. The very stuff of which democracy is made.

The conservation he preached dealt not only with trees—it dealt with the sheep herders and the homesteaders whose means of livelihood in the forest depended upon the kind of protection that was given them. It dealt not only with erosion and flood control, but with the wise use of the land, with the development of the great river valleys in terms of irrigation and power, such as you are so magnificently working out with your Grand Coulee and Bonneville dams.

It dealt with research, with programs of improvement of country life, with electrification of farms, with rural education. It dealt with equality of opportunity, with control of monopoly. The list is a long one.

Most important, it dealt with conservation of natural resources as an international problem affecting issues of permanent peace.

To Pinchot, you see, man himself is a natural resource. The basic resource for whose material, moral and spiritual welfare the Conservation doctrine is invoked. Man, without whose energy, the energy of coal and oil of electricity, yes of atomic science itself, is inert and meaningless."

For more on Cornelia Pinchot's remarkable speech containing insights into her husband's lifelong dedication to forestry, conservation and the men and women of the early Forest Service, please read "Gifford Pinchot and the First Foresters: the Untold Story of the Brave Men and Women Who Launched America's Conservation Movement."

Long live the First Foresters!



Aldo Leopold, one of the great First Foresters

Did you know that Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife conservation, was one of the First Foresters to serve under Gifford Pinchot? Leopold went on to become the author of "A Sand County Almanac," arguably one of the best-loved classics of American environmental literature. He was said to be a "prophet" by the author Wallace Stegner.

In his January, 1940 letter to Gifford Pinchot, Leopold praised his Old Chief's intention of compiling the collection of narratives of the First Foresters. He noted, prophetically, "...a generation or two must elapse before its value can be truly weighed by anyone."