Stahl’s Dog

Stahl’s dog story starts at his cabin and work at Pipe Creek – it seems the man was assigned a lot of work developing ways to get into the Yaak.  It’s probably worth mentioning that the Yaak’s inhabitants had been on mining claims and most left those claims for the gold rush to Alaska before Stahl moved up here.  Some lonesome country remains in that area. 

One night Charlie Andrews, on border patrol for the Immigration Service, camped with me. He noted some verse I was writing and remarked, “The man is crazy from being alone. He is writing poetry.” It was pretty crude, entitled “A Ranger’s Lament,” but it served to get me a promotion and transfer to a better district. I mailed this verse to Acting Supervisor Glen Smith:

I’m on my way, Glen, on my way,
To pitch my tent by close of day,
Where Dodge Creek springs ‘mid shadows strange
From a narrow pass in the Purcell Range.
The simple life may look good to folks
Who live in the city and know it from books,
Just now with me it’s beginning to pall
For it’s lonely here when the shadows fall.
So I’ll sit by the campfire’s gleam alone,
And hark to the swaying trees’ low moan,
Then count the days, about ten more
When I’ll hike for the Kootenay’s eastern shore.
But before I can go, – Alas! — Alack!
I must plod up the hump with a heavy pack,
Pitch my tent in the canyon deep,
And flop in a bed where the spiders creep.
I long for a day with Billie and Van,
Susan and Babe and the rest of the clan;
For the cheerful notes of a ragtime song,
Or to waltz with a maid ‘mid the whirling throng.
Then back to the woods again wouldn’t tire;
Camp grub cooked by the open fire,
With big dutch oven and frying pan,
Blackened kettles and sourdough can.

It got so lonely my dog couldn’t stand it. He went down to the Kootenai River and howled ’til the ferryman from Gateway came over and took him across to town. When a man’s dog shows up at the settlement without his master, the settlers in the valley assume, and often correctly, that it is an indication of tragedy. Jack Barnaby lost his life in a snowslide, and when his dog came out, a posse went to look for him. A man named Matty lost his life on Kishanehin Creek and a bear devoured him. His dog came out to Big Prairie, the first indication of tragedy. The mystery of Matty’s death was never fully solved. Late in the spring, when his dog showed up at Big Prairie, several of Matty’s friends went up to his trapper cabin to investigate. They found the door latched, a large hole in the roof and, upon opening the door, found bones scattered over the floor – all that remained of Matty. They found considerable blood stains on the bunk, also an automatic .45 pistol set near the cabin for a bear. By the signs they found, they decided he had shot himself accidentally and died on the bunk. When the weather got warm, the bear, attracted by the smell, had torn a hole in the roof to get in and devour him.

When my dog showed up at the river, Mother Milks pestered her man until he got Harvey Young to join him and come up to my camp. Perhaps they were disappointed to find me swinging a mattock on the trail but I was thankful to know that someone took an interest in my welfare.

I almost forgot to tell you about my dog. He was a mongrel, part terrier with long hair, and I called him “Tommy Whiskers.” I taught him several tricks. He would sit up, balance a pine cone on his nose and at the count of three, flip his nose sideways and catch it. He didn’t like to swim the rivers and soon learned to get up behind me on the horse. He was more than just a pet. He could tree a mountain lion or nip a bear on the stern end until it would sit up and roar. He stayed away from skunk and porky. I taught him to smoke a pipe by first putting sugar on the stem. A dog as well as a man can learn one trick too many, and when I moved into town, he got some costly ideas. I didn’t mind taking him to the barber shop once a month to get his moustache waxed and his beard trimmed Van Dyke, but when he wanted high priced cigars, I had to draw the line and broke him of the smoking habit by giving him Peerless tobacco.

Soon after I mailed my verse to Glen Smith, I received instructions to proceed to a new district north of Bonners Ferry, Idaho. The Supervisor, Dave Kinney, advised me that there would be considerable business there, with grazing permits and timber sales to look after. I lost no time packing and headed for the river.

Molly Sullivan, daughter of a homesteader on the west bank of the Kootenai helped me swim the horses across at Rexford. There was only a sketchy trail downriver near the foot of the mountains and I traveled on the railroad right-of-way at times. At Stone Hill where I camped the first night, a down freight killed my pack horse. I felt pretty bad about it, as the horse was a pet and only three years old. It meant that I had to walk 35 miles to Jennings and lead the saddle horse. I shipped my equipment from Jennings to Libby, and bought a horse at Libby.

From there on it was tough going along the north side of the Koontenai. Part of the trail above the falls was over solid rock and narrow ledges. More than one prospector had lost a horse there that slipped off the trail and rolled down into the river below the falls. The second night I stopped with Jake Lang on the Montana-Idaho line. Half his land was in Idaho, yet until the State line was marked, he paid his taxes at Kalispell, Montana.

Arriving in the Moyie District, I boarded with an Indian who had a white wife. His hair hung in braids over his shoulders and he had me cut it for him. If I’d had a little more barber business like that I would soon have had enough hair to make a saddle blanket!

Later I built a Ranger cabin in the Moyie Valley near Snyder Post Office. Artman Snyder was Ranger of the Moyie District when I arrived there. Snyder Post Office was named after him. He was a big, raw-boned fellow, and had prospected from Mexico to Alaska. He had a voice like a foghorn and told some pretty far-fetched yarns of his experiences, in very serious manner, and seemed peeved if we doubted them. He said when he went to the Klondike via Edmonton he lived twelve days on tallow candle and porcupine, then cut his dog’s tail off, made soup of it and fed the bone to the dog. Very generous. (It helped the dog make both ends meet.)

He gave me the recipe for cooking porcupine: “You should not skin it but should pluck it like a goose – wrap it in an old blanket and throw it on a pack horse for about three days’ travel. When you remove the blanket the quills will come with it. Burn the blanket and at the same time you can singe the pinfeathers off the porky. Draw it and cover with a two-inch layer of damp clay. Bake three hours in a pit in the ashes.”

Two brothers lived at Round Prairie who had a lot of trouble with the neighbors. I was warned not to go near them as they had declared an open season on Forest Rangers. However, I got along very well with them. One brother we called Whispering Jake. There was something wrong with his epiglottis and he would whisper for a while then without warning his voice would break into a roar. He didn’t have very good control and did not seem to know when he would whisper or when he would roar, so it was disconcerting, to state it mildly, to converse with him at short range. He seemed to take a fancy to me and after I was transferred to the office at Sandpoinnt, he would call in to see me. With a hand on my knee and his face close to mine, he would tell me of his battle with Pig-Eye Johnson. When Jake would break into a roar, the Supervisor, with a broad grin, would cast a sky glance my way. A good executive would know how to get rid of Jake, but I was too good-natured to offend him. I would excuse myself, go into the drafting room and stay until he had left.

In the spring of 1908, Robert McLaughlin was sent to the Moyie District on special duty to survey Ranger Stations and classify homestead lands. I traveled with him as sort of Boy Scout and Man Friday. We were kindred spirits in that we both had a perverted sense of humor. (I mean what we considered funny might not seem funny to you.) Bill Nye best illustrates the idea when he tells of Peck’s bad boy, laughing at a funeral – until his dad knocked hell out of him and convinced him it wasn’t funny. We didn’t make it pay as Bill Nye did, but carried on for our own amusement. I never saw another man enjoy a joke or gag so much as did Robert McLaughlin. He was short and heavy-set, with clear blue eyes and a square, jutting jaw. When telling a yarn, he was very serious and seldom smiled, but the next day on the trail would laugh heartily. We led a hobo life traveling afoot, by speeder or in a boxcar. Sometimes at night we camped out but more often stopped at settlers’ cabins.

We stopped one night at the hotel at Eastport. At breakfast, Robert gave the girl his order for “two eggs, one cooked on one side and one on the other.” She came back several times to get the order straight and he pretended to get sore. When we were out on the trail, he laughed heartily and said, “The poor girl did not know on which side to cook which egg.”

We were surveying a Ranger Station near Meadow Creek when he awoke me early one morning, saying, “We have a cougar treed.” There was a big forked tree near camp with a small dead cedar lodged in the forks. We all wore calked boots and he had walked up the leaning dead cedar to the forks and poked my clothes far out on the upper end with a pole. They figured I would have to chop the big tree down to get my clothes but I got them without chopping. I climbed to the forks, retrieved the clothes with a long pole with a nail in the end as a hook.

Robert studied law at night (when he wasn’t thinking of nonsense) and was later appointed Montana State Forester. We moved westward to classify lands along the foothills south of Port Hill.

The Great Northern Railroad had a branch line from Bonners Ferry to Creston, British Columbia. I read someplace of a slow train that was easy to overtake but hard to meet. It was likely a reference to the Kootenai Valley Branch line. The train ran tri-weekly, went north on Monday and tried all the rest of the week to get back. But on the day that Robert and I rode the train, the schedule was reversed. About ten miles north of Bonners Ferry we were stopped by a mud slide that covered the rails. The train crew and some passengers proceeded to clear the rails. Robert and I decided that walking was easier than shoveling. We walked ahead to Copeland, then on to Port Hill, and still no train in sight.

This story illustrates the train crew’s idea of a time schedule. A traveling man said the train was stopped on the main line and while he walked the aisle and gnawed his fingernails, the train crew sauntered up the open hillside, each man carrying heavy twine to snare gophers. They got one cent bounty for each tail.”

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