Of the many photographs in the Old Timers Collection within the Gifford Pinchot Collection at the Library of Congress, Ranger H.E. Miller's photograph with Buffalo Bill Cody stands out as one of the finest. Miller's hand-written caption on the back of the photograph reads: "Last time I ever saw him October 1913." Many of the Old Timers crossed paths with Buffalo Bill as he drove his Wild West show from West to East.
The First Foresters narratives present us with a veritable feast of firsts. We learn of the first fish brought to Crater Lake. The first underground water storage in the United States. The first design for a Pulaski fire shovel/ax. 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, and individuals long forgotten, but which are made retrievable through words and images like the one above.
Ranger Jesse W. Nelson served with the United States Forest Service for 44 years and retired as superintendent of the San Joaquin Experimental Range in Colorado. His narrative, "My Early Days in the Forest Service," provides us with remarkable observations, adventures and his impetus for joining 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," Nelson wrote. 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 recalled how young men at the time were encouraged to follow Horace Greeley's advice to grow up and "Go West, young man." Nelson decided to take his chances with other Westerners in "carving out a future." He wrote: "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, in the Gifford Pinchot Collection, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.