Make the McKenzie Connection!

Echoes from the Past


Reprinted from McKenzie River Reflections Volume 13, October 12, 2006

BEGINNINGS, 1891-1898

The movement for forestry and Federal forests in the periodb1876 - 1891 was a complex one.

It involved a variety of agencies, ranging on the Federal level from the Division of Forestry to the U.S. Fish Commission, and included state activity. At least three western states, Colorado in 1876, California in 1885, and Oregon in 1889, asked that forest reserves be created within their boundaries.

Motives for creating forest reserves, now national forests, varied; they included desire to preserve natural beauty, protection of city watersheds and watersheds of value for irrigation; preservation of game habitat; and hostility to land speculators, light burners, and sheepmen. Actually, in the creation of each national forest, there were a variety of motives, representing a wide cross-section of people. In this history, a large amount of material is summarized, since the creation of the area in the middle Cascades, which became the Willamette National Forest, was part of a broader movement to create the Cascade Range, Ashland, and Bull Run Forest Reserves. The story has been covered in greater detail elsewhere.

People in western Oregon during the latter years of the 19th century were closely attuned to the intellectual currents of their time. A large share of the leadership came from the cities in the Willamette Valley-Portland and Salem, the economic and political centers of the state; and to the south Eugene and Roseburg.

Urban dwellers who relied on the mountains for their recreation, read scientific reports dealing with the forests and became caught up in the demand for reform of the land laws.

John Breckenridge Waldo, the son of an Oregon pioneer and former Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, was a mountain lover who spent his summers in the wilds of the Cascades. Inspired by the efforts of Colorado and California to establish forest reserves by legislative action, he developed an idea for a forest reserve along the spine of the Cascade Range. In January of 1889, he introduced to the Legislative Assembly of Oregon a memorial to Congress regarding the reservation of the crest of the Cascade Range and two townships (12 miles) on either side.

The House Joint Memorial #8 stressed the importance of the projected reserve for its wilderness values, scenery, forests, water, and game.

The projected management of the forest reserve was an interesting attempt at state-federal cooperation. The area was to be administered by a board headed by the Governor, and consisting of six men named by the Governor, and six appointed by the President of the United States. The members would also serve as state game commissioners. They would protect the game make leases for resorts in the reserve, and report to the state legislature each session. Grazing except for saddle stock in transit would be forbidden; mines could be worked but would be forfeited if assessment work ceased for two years; railroads crossing the area could use the timber and stone needed for construction but no more.

Essentially it was a state park with a great deal of Federal supervision and management. In the House, the memorial was modified first by eliminating the grazing land in the extreme south of the state, and second by allowing a ten-year moratorium on the prohibition of grazing to allow stockmen already using the mountain ranges to find other grazing grounds.

With these modifications, the bill passed the House. In the Senate, however, grazing interests mobilized their forces and succeeded in having the measure tabled.


On March 3, 1891, Congress passed an act revising land laws and in the last section included a provision authorizing the President by proclamation to set aside public lands covered with timber or undergrowth, whether of commercial value or not. States in the West suggested to the Federal government that certain lands should be protected because of their potential value for national parks, protect city watersheds, to protect salmon spawning grounds, to preserve irrigation water, and to preserve amenity values.

In the Cascade Range of mountains in Oregon, two small reserves were established to protect the city watersheds of Ashland (the Ashland Forest Reserve) and Portland (the Bull Run). The movement for a larger reserve was led by William Gladstone Steel, supported by a large and miscellaneous group of respectable and not-so-respectable citizens.

Steel had been instrumental a few years previously in having ten townships withdrawn from entry around Crater Lake, pending acceptance by Congress of a national park bill. With the assistance of the Oregon Alpine Club, he began circulating plans to create a forest reservation around the Mt. Hood area. At the same time, a group from Klamath County petitioned for withdrawal of further areas around Crater Lake. Both groups were in touch with the American Forestry Association, which strongly supported the reserve action.

Meantime a group of land speculators led by Stephen A. Douglas Puter saw an opportunity to profit by lieu of land provisions in the bill. They took a copy of the Waldo proposal of 1885 along with a linen map showing the proposed boundaries and suggested that Steel ask for the whole Cascade Range. Steel took the bait and rounded up petitions for reserving the entire range.

Petitions by the dozen came to the General Land Office signed by boards of trade, state officials, Federal and state judges, and members of the Oregon Alpine Club. A General Land Office official, R.G. Savery, investigated the area and found sentiment overwhelmingly for the reserve. By November 1892. a few protests were registered. They included protests from some homesteaders and the miners in the Bohemia Mining District near Cottage Grove.

By January 1893, Steel became aware that the large reserve would aid speculators and backed off from the larger proposal asking that the reserve be limited to the Mt. Hood and Crater Lake areas. The movement for the whole range had momentum, however, and on September 28, 1893, the Cascade Range Forest Reserve reaching from the Columbia River nearly to the California border was created.


In the period 1893-1897, the forest reserves were areas reserved for use rather than for use. Congress considered a variety of bills designed to open the reserve for use, but the bills failed on one account or another. Meantime, discontent grew. In Oregon, this discontent was spearheaded by the stockmen, particularly the sheepmen.

The sheep industry in Oregon developed early first in western Oregon and then on the range lands of eastern Oregon. Sheepmen wintered their flocks in the valleys of eastern Oregon, and after lambing season began to trail their flocks toward the mountains. They would enter the foothills in May or June, then move toward the higher elevations as the snow receded, and reach the alpine meadows by August. In September before the storms set in they would begin trailing their flocks out of the area Usually a herder and his packer would her a band of 1,500 to 2,500 sheep.

They had established driveways and established ranges in the Cascades and the Sisters area; some sheepmen had used the same range in the Mt. Jefferson area since the 1880s. Sheepmen protested against their exclusion from the Cascade Range Forest Reserve and there were instances of trespass. However, government regulations dated April 14, 1894, forbade ‘driving, feeding, grazing, pasturing or herding of cattle, sheep or other livestock’ within any of the reserves. In the summer of 1896, several arrests of sheepherders and owners were made, and suits were brought within the U.S. District Court against several owners to enjoin them from grazing within the reserve.

There were other factions involved in the controversy. First sheepmen were often in the non-grazing areas of the West heartily disliked. Sheepherders were often the butt of jokes and pictured as individuals of low mentality and questionable morals. There is something of a paradox in this since in the Old World the shepherd was admired for his devotion to duty, and in literature from the Holy Bible to the novels of Sir Waiter Scott he is idealized. But whereas in Scotland the townsman would remark ‘here comes the braw herd wi’ his flock,’ the western townsman would remark, ‘here comes that damned herder with his stinkin woolies.’

There is also a paradox in the tendency to idealize the cowboy, who is only a hired hand on horseback, and to denigrate the herder who with his dog has sole responsibility for the care of a large monetary investment.

There was some opposition to sheep grazing in the reserve from recreational groups, who continued to use the reserve for their outings, mountaineering, hunting, and fishing. A great many members of the Mazamas, Oregon’s most prestigious mountaineering club, were opposed to sheep grazing. There was also opposition from Indians and whites alike who utilized the huckleberry meadows, as the presence of sheep was considered incompatible with berry picking.

The years 1896 and 1897 were momentous years of decision for the Cascade Range Forest Reserve. First, the inertia of Congress in passing legislation regarding use of the lands in the reserve had brought about a wave of protest. Sheepmen in Wasco, Gilliam, Crook, and Sherman Counties petitioned the Department of the Interior to open the reserve to grazing; they also lobbied successfully in the state legislature. In June 1896, that body passed a resolution to the effect that the reserve interfered with the development of the state, and that the reserve should be dismembered and cut into three smaller reserves: 900,000 acres around Crater Lake; 30,000 acres near Mt. Jefferson: and 30,000 around Mt. Hood. Except for these areas, the reserves should be opened to grazing and settlement.

In the same year a National Forest Commission, appointed by the National Academy of Sciences to help “the inauguration of a national forest policy,’ made an extensive western trip. The members of the Commission were Charles S. Sargent (who served as chair), General Henry L Abbot, Alexander Agassiz, Professor William H. Brewster, Wolcott Gibbs, Arnold Hague, and Gifford Pinchot (who served as secretary).

While they were visiting Crater Lake, Henry S. Graves was in the Cascades to see portions of the Cascade Range Forest Reserve the Commission had missed, to study the growth rate of Douglas-fir trees, and to make himself familiar with the effect of sheep grazing on the Forest.” They were accompanied through part of the trip, including Oregon by John Muir, the California naturalist and writer who detested sheep; and the Commission’s report reflected his viewpoint.


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