"OH, Ranger, can I take your picture with a
"Just a minute, ma'am, until I show this gentleman
where to go fishing."
"Where's a bear, now?"
"Well ma'am, there was one in these woods an hour
ago. Maybe we can find him."
Five minutes devoted to the finding of a wild
"Oh, Ranger, that's a lovely bear! Stand closer to
him, won't you? Would you mind putting your arm around him? It would
make a peachy picture. We'd just love it."
"Sorry, ma'am, but it's against regulations to hug
"Oh, pshaw! Why do they have such foolish
regulations? Well, just pretend to be feeding him something."
Knowing the ways of bears, the ranger declined to
"pretend." He produced some molasses chews and actually tossed the food
to the bear. It is dangerous business to try to fool a bear about food,
and he should never be fed from the hand.
Click! Click! Click!
Another ranger was immortalized in picture, for the
ninetieth time that day.
"It's all in the day's work," explained the
"What else do you do?"
"Well, show folks where to camp, and how to keep on
the right road, and answer questions, and see that people don't tease
the animals, and keep things orderly, and put out forest fires, and give
lectures on Nature, and rescue Dudes in danger, and 'most anything
anybody wants done around here."
"All in a day's work." That whimsical line was
written at the top of a report turned in one day by Ranger John Wegner,
now Chief Ranger of Sequoia, which read as follows:
"I got phone orders at Tuolumne Meadows to pack up
and come in over Sunrise Trail. Started at sunset. Everything haywire,
including cranky pack horse which kept getting off trail. Phoned in at
Vernal Falls station. Ordered to hurry down, help catch two auto thieves
which broke jail just after breakfast. Assigned to guard Coulterville
Road. Only transportation was Chief's personal auto which I could have
if I could find man who borrowed it from Chief. Chief didn't know who
that was. Guarded Coulterville Road until 3:00 A.M., when ordered to
Valley to beat brush by the river with flashlight to locate thieves.
Found one thief and captured him just before dawn. Somebody else
assigned to guard him. Before I turned in, got orders to meet carload of
trout fry at El Portal and help plant them in streams. Met fish O.K.,
but coming up El Portal Road, Quad truck slipped over side of road, but
was saved from going down cliff by being caught in tree. Cans of fish
lashed to truck, so we saved them. Job was complicated by necessity of
keeping water aerated in cans setting by roadside while we rushed more
water in small bucket from stream quarter of mile away. Fish all saved.
Phoned for help, and kept water cans moving until truck dragged back on
road and fish cans reloaded. Relieved of duty, with nothing to do but
walk nine miles and go to bed."
"All in a day's work" can be almost anything for a
national park ranger. One day, at the end of a long battle for control
of a forest fire, former Superintendent "Dusty" Lewis of Yosemite was
making a final inspection before telling the last ranger on the job to
go to his cabin and turn in for much-needed sleep. Every blaze was out
except a small flicker in an old tree trunk, dead but still standing. It
looked safe enough, but the rangers hesitated to leave before it was
entirely out, for fear that a sudden breeze might rekindle the forest
fire. The blaze was too high to reach with wet sacks or dirt thrown by a
shovel, or by water thrown from a bucket. The tree was too large to be
cut down without help, and Lewis hesitated to call back his already
exhausted rangers. He scratched his head and puzzled over the
engineering problem of snuffing out that small blaze, well out of reach.
Then he and the ranger scouted for a spring. Finding one, they made a
lot of mud balls and carried them in their hats to a point near the
burning tree. Both had been baseball players in their younger days, and
as Lewis afterward said, "The old soup-bones were still in fair shape."
Cheering each other's pitching, they heaved mud balls and plastered the
tree trunk until the last "strike" smacked out the last flickering
To the four million visitors who enjoy the national
parks each year, everyone in the olive drab uniform is a ranger. "Oh,
Ranger!" is the almost universal greeting preliminary to asking
questions about the park and its life. But within the ranger service
there are various designations, ranging from Superintendents down to
Ninety-Day-Wonders. In a broad, general way, all rangers are divided
into two groups: Old-Timers and Ninety-Day-Wonders. The Old-Timers are
the permanent rangers, serving the year around, year in and year out.
The Ninety-Day-Wonders are temporary rangers, signed on for the summer
rush period of three or four months, when the travel to the national
parks nears the seven-million mark.
The Old-Timers are, of course, the backbone of the
ranger service. In the summer months, they are in command at the various
ranger stations, assisted by the Ninety-Day-Wonders in the task of
registering visitors, directing them to camps and lodges, helping them
find fishing holes, or campsites, or wood, or what not, and in answering
the millions of questions about the parks. The Ninety-Day-Wonders are
mostly college men, with enough love for the out-of-doors to enlist for
a summer of hard work in the national parks. They are a keen and
resourceful group of men and what they don't know about the great open
spaces after a week in a national park they manage to hide behind an air
of great sagacity. The majority of these lads return to college work at
the end of summer, but a few of them succumb to the spell of the
mountains and eventually become permanent rangers.
The Old-Timers, particularly the veterans in the
ranger service, were born men of the mountains, gifted with a working
knowledge of woodcraft, of trail-blazing, of the ways of wild life, and
with sufficient instinctive resourcefulness in the mountains and the
forest to be able to take care of themselves and others under any
circumstances. They were practical naturalists, and knew enough
practical psychology to handle people in numbers. They served as guides,
philosophers, and friends. That seems like an imposing list of
qualifications, yet the Old-Timers measured up to them. The younger
generation of permanent rangers are largely college men, attracted to
the Parks by summer work. After serving first as Ninety-Day-Wonders,
they graduated to the status of Old-Timers. Most of them have developed
the self-sufficiency of the typical Old-Timers. The mountains put their
mark on men. It shows in their faces, in their actions. The mountains
make men able to stand solitudeit takes an unusual character for a
man to be good company for himself in a lonely ranger station, banked
high with snow, for months on end during the winter. Just try living
alone for a hundred days at a stretch!
Strangely enough, these are the months that the
rangers like best. Out near the mountain tops, with snow piled from five
to forty feet in drifts, they lead their lone existence, patrolling
their vast domains as large almost as some eastern states, traveling on
skis and snowshoes, repairing telephone lines, protecting wild animals
from poachers, maintaining the peace of the wilderness through storm and
blizzard. For as long as six months at a time, winter holds certain of
the national parks in her icy grip, with weather below zero, with
freezing winds, blizzards, and snowstorms alternating around the tiny
log fortresses, the cabins, from which the rangers make their patrols.
During those long, cold winter months, the higher levels of the parks
are closed to travel, and the ranger's job is to see that his charges in
the great wild-life sanctuary are protected, both from humans and from
the elements. It takes men of great courage, stamina, and endurance for
this most difficult work.
On winter patrol, the Old-Timers must be able to
endure such privation as was faced by Ranger Liek, who was lost for
twenty hours in a raging blizzard while returning on snowshoes from
Upper Yellowstone. For hours on end the storm raged, destroying every
sign by which the ranger could find his trail. Only by keeping on
doggedly could he avoid freezing to death. It was, of course, impossible
to build a fire in the blizzard. He crossed his own tracks many times,
and was hopelessly lost when he came finally to a shoreline which he
recognized as Yellowstone Lake. He must have traveled at least forty
miles in covering a distance of twelve miles, before he reached an
emergency ranger station. A man of less rugged character and physique
would have succumbed to the elements in that struggle.
"It's all in the day's work," says the ranger.
Whenever possible, two rangers patrol together in the
deep snow country, so that if one is hurt or taken ill, the other can
render aid or go for help. In the northern national parks, great
precautions must be taken to protect the rangers during the winter. The
ranger stations are about twenty miles apart; in no case more than
thirty miles apart. Between each station, there are snowshoe cabins,
which are rationed in the fall and are equipped with bedding and wood
and kindling. Sometimes these cabins are completely obliterated beneath
the snow. To provide landmarks by which to locate the cabins, the
rangers often put up many extra feet of stovepipe or hang a shovel in a
tree top nearby. One time, looking over a report of a ranger's patrol, a
park superintendent noticed this item: "Ate lunch on top of a telephone
pole just east of Sylvan Pass."
The snow must have been more than twenty feet deep up
there and the tip of the pole was probably the only place he could sit
down to lunch. There are times when the snow is forty feet deep in
Sylvan Pass, and not even the telephone poles nor the tree tops are
visible in places. It is hard for the summer-time visitor, who sees
Yellowstone or Glacier or the other parks only in the height of the
season when the summer is balmy and the roads are good, to picture the
complete isolation of the ranger stations in dead of winter when the
snowdrifts hide even the two-storied cabins. It takes genuine devotion
to the mountains to prompt men to make these lonely cabins their homes
during the long winter months.
Ranger Joe Douglas was crossing Yellowstone Lake on
skis in the dead of winter. He came to a place where the snow was blown
off the ice. Skis are of no use on the ice, so Doug unstrapped them and
carried them over his shoulders while he walked across the ice. In an
unwary moment, he plunged through an air-hole into the icy water. The
skis bridged the hole and undoubtedly saved his life. Clinging to them,
Doug cautiously pulled himself from the water and trudged on, his wet
clothes frozen stiff about his body. Reaching the shore, he dug through
four feet of snow, located some wood, built a fire, undressed, and stood
there naked while his clothes dried by the blaze.
"It's a wonder you didn't freeze, Doug," someone
said, when the ranger told his story.
"Naw, it wasn't cold," he retorted. "It was one of
the warmest days of the winteronly 'bout seven below zero!"
To the public, the ranger is one of the most romantic
figures in life. The name "ranger" probably originated in England. In
Colonial Virginia rangers were authorized by the House of Burgesses to
protect the early settlements. In the French and Indian War, Roger's
Rangers were a fiercely effective body of hardy New England fighters.
Later in the West there were other rangers, always on the frontier, and
of these the Texas Rangers are still active. In the midst of World War
II, we trained the Army Rangers who were the American version of the
British Commandos. Then, of course, we have the New York Rangers hockey
team and the radio "Lone Ranger" who always fights on the side of right
The first national park ranger, so far as is known,
was old Harry Yount, government gamekeeper, who remained all winter long
in Yellowstone Park in 1880, to keep poachers from the territory. He was
the first man to weather a winter in Yellowstone. After that first
winter alone, with only the geysers, the elk and the other animals for
company, Harry Yount pointed out in a report that it was impossible for
one man to patrol the park. He urged the formation of a protective
force, large enough to cover this vast region. So Harry Yount is
credited with being the father of the ranger service.
In the public mind, there is little difference
between national forest rangers and national park rangers. The two
groups do have much in common, such as protection of the forests from
fire, construction of trails and telephone lines, planting of fish in
lakes and streams, and preservation of the wilderness under their
charge. The differences in their duties arise out of the fact that they
are employed by different bureaus in different departments of the
federal government. The park rangers are employed by the Department of
the Interior, the forest rangers by the Department of Agriculture.
The national forest rangers are intrusted with the
administration of a vast area of forest land, a territory fifteen times
as great as that of all the national parks together. Their duty is to
see that timber is not cut until it is fully grown, that slashings are
burned, and that new forest growths are protected. They have under their
charge much grazing land on which livestock is pastured under permit
from the government. The national forest areas include many reservoir
and power sites and the forest rangers supervise their utilization under
the Federal Power Commission's authority. In brief, the forest ranger is
charged with administration of an area which must produce the best
possible crop of timber, grass, and water power. The national forests
are maintained partially at least for commercial reasons, and the forest
ranger must look at them from an economic point of view, though they are
also sanctuaries of wild life and open to the public for recreation, as
a secondary consideration.
The national parks, on the other hand, were set aside
to preserve the natural wonders in them, and the rangers' duty is to
protect the features and resources of the parks in their natural state,
and see that they are accessible to the public. The only economic
developments allowed in the national parks are those for the convenience
and service of visitors. No hunting is allowed in the parks. The
national park ranger is custodian of a great natural museum through
which he must guide tens of thousands of visitors each year. He must
tell them about the parks, see that facilities are provided for their
comfort, pleasure, and entertainment. The national park ranger must be
more than a skilled mountaineer and woodsman; he must have the ability
to establish and maintain close contacts with the public, during the
summer months at least, and then must turn to his task of protecting the
wild life during the wintertime.
In old Harry Yount's day it was enough if a ranger
could maintain order in the park and protect the wild life. Today that
is but the beginning of his job. The ranger must be a guide and an
interpreter of the mountains and their moods and mysteries. He must be a
practical naturalist, and a friend and counselor to visitors. He may be
entertaining a reigning prince one day and fighting a forest fire the
next. He must be tactful, courteous, and ever patient, even when
ridiculous and foolish situations are provoked by visitors.
Ranger Martindale was giving an informal talk to a
group of delegates to a religious convention, gathered about the cone of
Old Faithful Geyser. The ranger had just explained how the cone had been
formed over a long period of years by deposits from the hot water when
he was interrupted peremptorily.
"Ranger, how long did you say it took to make this
"About forty thousand years," Martindale told the
"Young man, do you ever read your Bible?"
"Then you know that the world is not yet forty
thousand years old, nor a half, nor a quarter of that."
"But we have measured the annual deposit on this cone
and we can calculate how long it took to build it up as it is," said the
"Well, if you had read your Bible more carefully, you
would know that it took the Lord only six days to make the whole world,"
asserted the visitor decisively. "If He wanted to, I guess He could make
ten Yellowstones in ten minutes!"
With that the visitor strode off.
Sometimes a joke will save the day. Sometimes,
though, the wise-crack makes trouble. There was the old lady who asked a
driver why the great piles of wood were stacked along the road near Old
"That's to heat the water for the geysers," he said,
with out batting an eye.
The old lady came in to see the superintendent when
she reached Mammoth, where the office is located, to protest against
deceiving people about the geysers. It was with difficulty that he
persuaded her that the wood was cut to heat water for the hotel
The rangers have learned that the public takes the
wonders of Nature so seriously that it is not good policy to joke about
them. It is hard enough to persuade people to believe the truth. There
is a pine tree growing in a cleft in the side of El Capitan, a massive
rock rising sheer for more than half a mile above the floor of Yosemite
Valley. The height of El Capitan itself is difficult for people to
grasp. This tree, perched on a shelf about a third of the way up, is
eighty feet tall. It looks to be about eight feet high, at the most. The
superintendent of Yosemite has had to bring out surveyors' calculations
more than once to prove to visitors that they are not being deceived by
rangers or guides.