There is the tale of the peanut tree of Mount Rainier
National Park. Guides would point out a certain pine tree near Paradise
Valley and sure enough there were peanuts sticking in the clusters of
pine needles. A family of squirrels, if not frightened by too many
visitors, usually spoiled his story. Their chief ambition in life,
apparently, was to carry peanuts, provided by friendly rangers, to the
limbs of the tree, where the nuts remained until the wind or the birds
jarred them loose, whereupon the squirrels tackled their job of
re-peanutting the pine tree all over again.
Among themselves and their friends, the rangers are
great story tellers, especially when they start telling "whoppers."
Sometimes their stories are marvels of inventions, as, for instance,
this one told by a Glacier Old-Timer.
A ranger doing patrol duty on the boundary line,
having run out of supplies and being in immediate danger of starving,
told how he grabbed his trusty old gun for which only one shell
remained, and, going beyond the park line, maneuvered around carefully,
hunting diligently so as to be sure to get the best possible results
with the one shot. Finally he came upon a brace of quail perched in a
cluster of brush close enough together for both to be bagged at one
shot. Carefully raising the gun, he fired. Imagine his great joy when on
running to the spot to pick up his two quail he found that he had killed
six more, which were on the other side of the bush and which he had not
seen. Hearing a great commotion out in a small lake near by, he saw a
big buck deer that had become frightened at the sound of his shot and
had run out into the lake and bogged down in the mud. Dropping the
quail, he hurried out into the lake and cut the buck's throat. In
carrying the deer out, he sank down into the mud himself up over his
boot tops. Upon reaching the shore, he sat down and pulled the boots off
to pour out the water and found in them a dozen nice fish. Placing the
quail, fish, and deer together so that they could be more easily
carried, he was struggling to get the load on his shoulders. This put a
great strain on his suspender buttons, and one of these flew off with
such force that it killed a rabbit a hundred yards in the rear.
Kings, queens, princes, presidents, they are all the
same to the Old-Timer. Sometimes it is difficult for these men of the
mountains to observe the amenities of courts and capitals. There was the
occasion of the visit of the King of Belgium to Yosemite National Park.
Ranger Billy Nelson, a seasoned Old-Timer if there ever was one, was
detailed to accompany the King, to act as guide and guardian.
Billy did not relish the job. He had no genuine
objection to kings, as such, but he feared talking with them. He isn't
much of a talker anyway. The superintendent coached Billy on how to
address the King and the Queen and what to say to be polite. Billy
rehearsed it, scratched his old head, and allowed that he would rather
fight a forest fire. He met the King out under the giant sequoias of the
Mariposa Grove, and this is about the conversation that ensued:
"They told me what to say to you, King," he said,
"but I've forgot it, so if it is agreeable to you, I wish you'd call me
Billy and I'll call you King."
"All right," said the King, "I'll call you
"All right, King," said Billy.
They got along famously on those terms and became
fast friends during the King's stay in Yosemite. Billy has the
reputation for being about the best camp cook in the whole ranger
service, and any time he wanted a reference he could name the King of
Belgium. Billy was camp cook by special appointment to His Majesty. As
such he took full advantage of his rights and prerogatives and once
other members of the royal party were horrified to hear Billy call
"Say, King, shoot me that side of bacon, will
Another royal visitor who enjoyed his adventures with
the ranger service was Crown Prince Gustav Adolf of Sweden. The Prince
is an experienced woodsman and a great trout fisherman. Since he seemed
to have the required qualifications, it was decided to make him an
honorary ranger. He was delighted with the honor and wore his badge on
his tunic for the rest of the trip. His outing costume was not unlike
that of a park service ranger, and this led to an amusing incident when
the Crown Prince arrived at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon of
The party came by automobile, reaching the
destination an hour or so before Ranger Frank Winess, in charge of the
station, expected them. As the machine drew up, Winess stepped out,
greeted the driver, exchanged a few pleasantries, and then spotted the
ranger's badge on the Prince's breast.
"Hullo," he said, extending his hand. "My name is
Winess. What park are you from?"
When it was explained that the new ranger was the
Crown Prince of Sweden, it took Winess the rest of the day to remember
even the first line of the speech he had prepared to welcome the royal
visitor to the Grand Canyon!
One day the Crown Prince went fishing with Chief
Ranger Sam Woodring at Peale Island in Yellowstone Lake. After a good
day, in which the Prince caught his limit, the party made ready to
leave. Observing the rangers cutting wood near the cabin used as a
headquarters for fishing parties, the Prince inquired the purpose of the
wood. He was told that it was the practice in the mountains never to
leave a cabin without wood, and that those in the cabin were supposed to
replenish the supply for the next occupants, who might possibly arrive
in the night or in distress.
"All right," he said, "since I have enjoyed the
hospitality of the cabin I will insist upon cutting my share of the
Which he did.
There are times, however, when visiting celebrities
are a bit unwilling to obey the rules of the ranger service. The rangers
enforce one rule which says that no names shall be written on the cones
of the geysers in Yellowstone. It is hard to understand why anyone
should want to disfigure a marvel of Nature by writing his name upon it,
but the old saying that "fools' names and fools' faces, are often found
in public places," holds good for the wilderness, too.
One day a local celebrity from an eastern city was
smitten with the urge to write his name upon the cone of Old Faithful, a
place where the name would endure for several years before the geyser
could eliminate it by natural processes. This man was caught red-handed
by a ranger who arrested him. He was offered the choice of mixing up
some soapsuds and scrubbing the name off the cone or going before the
United States Commissioner for prosecution. He sputtered considerably
about his rights, but finally decided to use the soapsuds, influenced
largely by the fact that if he appeared before the judge and were fined,
his name would be in the papers and he would become celebrated in a
manner that did not appeal to him. Nevertheless, it was humiliating to
have to scrub a geyser cone before a large and not too friendly
audience, and before the job was done he was angry all through. He came
to headquarters to protest about the tyranny of the rangers.
"It's about what you'd expect from these rangers," he
said. "They're the dregs from the cities, out here in the mountains
because they couldn't make a living anywhere else."
"Yes, I guess that's it," said the assistant
superintendent, dryly. "That ranger who made you wash the geyser never
had a chance. He's nothing but a grandson, and a great grandson of two
presidents of the United States."
The ranger was William Henry Harrison III, a Ninety-
Day-Wonder for the third consecutive summer.
Of course, not many rangers can claim the distinctive
background of Ranger Harrison. They don't need to. It is not his
distinguished forbears that made Harrison one of our best rangers, but
his willingness to work; his devotion to duty, and his resourcefulness.
The first requisite of a good ranger is that he be a gentleman, which
hasn't anything to do with his birth or his family connections, but much
to do with his manner toward his fellow-men. As a matter of fact, many
of the Old-Timers are men who have worked their way up through the ranks
without the benefit of education other than that which they have
received in the mountains and the forests.
A remarkable ranger was the late Sam Woodring, former
chief ranger of Yellowstone, and subsequently superintendent of Grand
Teton, just south of Yellowstone. Woodring was an old army packer. For
years his job was to get supplies through to outlying stations in the
Philippines. He was a packmaster on the Mexican border for General
Pershing, and was at Vera Cruz with General Funston. He came into
Yellowstone from the army in 1920 and joined the ranger force. He had
had charge of the army pack train in the park in 1915 and 1916. He had
been in charge of the pack train organized for President Roosevelt when
"T.R." was hunting wolves in Texas. Roosevelt was but one of many
notables with whom Woodring became fast friends while out on the trail
in the wilds. Two other presidents who intrusted themselves to his care
while out in the mountains were Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge.
The Chief made some remarkable winter scouting trips in his day, and his
life was a round of adventure. In 1926 he went to Glacier National Park
to help gain control of a raging forest fire near Lake McDonald. In the
dense forest, Woodring and his rangers and their squads were unable to
see the fire, as a high wind whipped the smoke through the valley. For
hours they were given up for lost, as they worked to backfire a break
against the oncoming flames. It was not until the next day that they
discovered that the flames had leaped over their heads, above the tree
tops, while they were battling in the smoke near the ground.
The oldest Old-Timer for many years in the service
was Jim McBride, of Yellowstone. Ranger McBride first came to the park
before there were any rangers, as a driver for a quartermaster wagon. He
learned the roads and trails of the park as a wagoner and mule skinner.
In those days they had a different company of soldiers in the park
almost every summer, and it was necessary to maintain a small force of
guides or scouts to show the new troopers to their posts and to keep
them from getting lost. These scouts were really the forerunners of the
rangers and were indeed the first park rangers. They fought off the
poachers and tried to protect the wild life of the park. Jim was one of
these Old-Timers, so long in the service that he is a personification of
the name by which we call the permanent rangers.
There were picturesque and interesting events in the
lives of those early rangers, as Jim could tell. There were stage
robbers to be captured and buffalo poachers to be caught and brought to
justice. One of Jim's most notable adventures was the capture of
notorious Ed Howell, the buffalo poacher. Howell was caught by Scout
Burgess and two assistants in the act of skinning a buffalo on a remote
tributary of the Yellowstone River, in the dead of winter. Remember,
rangers were called scouts in those days. Howell had several buffalo
hides in his camp. After capturing him, the rangers were unable to bring
about his punishment because of inadequate laws. The story of the
catching of this notorious poacher and his escape from punishment caused
great public indignation and undoubtedly had much to do with the passage
by Congress of more stringent laws for the protection of the
Jim McBride was assigned one time to track down a
robber who had pulled off a sensational hold-up of stage coach
passengers in the park. He nabbed a bad man suspected of being the
robber in a remote part of the park, and had to bring the rascal in
alone. It was a trip of several days, and one night the fellow managed
to loosen the ropes with which Jim had bound him. Jim awoke at daybreak
just in time to see the former prisoner approaching him with an axe in
his hand. When asked what he said to the alleged bandit, Jim
"I said, 'Good morning, when did you wake up?'"
He recaptured the man and brought him to
headquarters. Risking his life to save that of another is something that
every ranger must be ready to do, any time he is called upon. Visitors
to the national parks unfamiliar with trails and with mountain climbing
often overestimate their endurance or their ability to find their way
through the forests. The Yosemite National Park ranger force holds the
record for the number of rescues effected along trails, for the reason
that travelers in that park are more prone to strike out alone. Not that
hiking over the trails is unsafe, for the contrary is true and thousands
upon thousands of people hike safely over park trails each summer
without guides. There are more than six hundred miles of trails in
Yosemite National Park alone. One would think that would be mileage
enough for any hiker for one season, but every year a few visitors
insist upon blazing their own trails and consequently become lost.
Former Chief Ranger Forest Townsley, a giant in stature and a man of
great courage, lowered himself dozens of times down precipitous cliffs
hand over hand to tie a lost hiker securely so that the rangers above
could drag him to safety.
One of the most daring rescues in park history was
made in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Two boys employed by the
hotel at the Canyon undertook to reach the base of the lower falls on
the north side. This slope is so steep that it is practically impossible
to scale it, and the pair found themselves helpless at the bottom of the
Canyon, nearly half a mile deep, with the raging river on one side of
them and the precipitous cliff on the other. They were seen by some
tourists who reported their plight to the rangers. One lad was able to
climb to a point where he could reach a rope and be pulled to safety.
The other boy fell thirty feet while scaling the wall, cut a deep gash
in his hip and suffered many abrasions of the body. He lay in the heavy
cold mist from the falls, exhausted and chilled, unable to reach the
ropes thrown to him. Ranger Ross finally lowered Ranger Kell, his
assistant in summer and a Yale varsity football star in the fall, and
Remus Allen, a hotel employee, down into the Canyon at a point below the
falls. They worked their way up the gorge, sometimes wading through the
roaring river. They finally reached the wounded boy, rendered first aid,
and dragged him perilously across loose rock and shale to within 50 feet
of the top of the Canyon, where they could reach a rope lowered by Ross
and his assistants. It took four hours for them to make the rescue, once
they were lowered into the Canyon, and all of that time they were in
danger of slipping into the plunging river below, in which case their
lives would virtually have been thrown away.
In that as in most cases the victims had no business
getting lost. But once their lives are in danger, there is nothing for
the rangers to do but risk their own to save the others. That is part of
every ranger's duty.
The rangers of Mesa Verde National Park tell of a
rescue achieved by one of their number of a woman described as "a
bachelor girl of indeterminate age." This girl became panic-stricken
while ascending the trail from the Square Tower House, reached by
ancient foot holes carved in the rock by the Cliff Dwellers. For
safety's sake, a rope is in position to assist the climber in pulling
himself up. The climb is not a difficult one for a normal person, but
this girl, becoming semi-hysterical, planted her feet in two of the
holes and clung on to the rope for dear life, screaming for help. She
ignored the ranger's assurance that she was in no danger, and refused to
Finally he went down to rescue her. Finding both
hands and both feet busy holding on, when the ranger reached her the
woman reached over and planted her teeth in the rescuer's arm. She kept
them there while he gallantly carried her to the top of the climb,
despite his protests that the tooth-hold was painful, unnecessary, and
against the rules of the National Park Service ranger force.
The National Park Service goes to great lengths to
warn visitors against taking chances. They present every arrival in the
national parks with a manual explaining the simple rules and
regulations. These are three in purpose: first, to preserve the natural
state and the wild life of the parks; second, to protect the lives and
persons of visitors; and finally, to assure everyone an equal
opportunity to enjoy the wonders and the advantages of the national
parks. The rangers are often asked why they take the trouble to register
the names and addresses of visitors to the parks. That is a large job in
itself and is not required in some parks where travel is very heavy.
Often it is resented by visitors who like to travel incognito. That
registration is for the protection of visitors, for the purpose of
knowing how to reach them in case of emergency, and finally to catch
criminals or other undesirables who may take to the national parks as a
In some parks winter patrolling introduces an added
element of sport into the lives of the rangers. Shooting the predatory
coyotes occupies part of the winter time of the rangers of Yellowstone
and Glacier in particular. One of the Yellowstone rangers, Ted Ogston,
now Chief Ranger in Death Valley, counted the winter lost when he could
not account for one hundred coyotes, at least. Even coyotes are only
killed in the national parks when they become so numerous as to menace
more valuable species of wild lifeanimals more likely to be seen
and enjoyed by visitors, or rare animals which require unusual
protection lest they be exterminated. The ranger's job is to help nature
maintain the proper balance. Sometimes he has to fight the predatory
animalssometimes he must favor them.
The most dangerous of the predatory beasts is the
mountain lion. These great cats, sometimes measuring twelve feet from
nose to tip of tail, are cruelly destructive of deer and antelope. As a
rule, they eat only hot, fresh flesh of newly killed animals, generally
making but one meal off each kill. Their practice is to disembowel their
victims, feed on the warm flesh, and leave the greater part of the
carcass untouched, although they occasionally bury the remains to eat
later. However, they prefer to kill another deer or antelope rather than
eat flesh that is cold. Mountain lions and wolves are not numerous in
the national parks, and have not been hunted by rangers for many
Two Yosemite rangers, whose dogs cornered a lion in a
tree one winter, tell of the fight that ensued. The dogs surrounded the
base of the tree, barking. As the top swayed in the wind, the big cat
snarled and threatened to leap upon his pursuers. Two shots rang out.
Both were effective. The great cat snarled and hissed, leered at his
enemies, then plunged, claws outspread, straight down upon them. The
rangers barely escaped from the spot where the lion plunged into the
snow. A young and inexperienced dog charged too near the wounded beast.
The great jaws snapped, the lion shuddered and died with his teeth
gripping the dog's snout like a steel vise. The rangers had to pry the
jaws loose to release the unfortunate canine. His nostrils were pierced
by two great teeth. It was a year before that dog was any good.
(From the Stanford University Press
The rangers have grown to love all wildlife except
those predatory species which they so often observe destroying young
antelope, deer, or elk. Aside from these outlawed animals, a national
park ranger is never known to kill a native animal or bird of the park,
or to express a desire to kill. The states surrounding the national
parks have open seasons on deer, elk, moose, and other animals, and on
birds. Around the parks are some of the best hunting lands in the
country, yet never does a ranger ask permission to go outside the park
to hunt. He apparently loses all desire to kill, through hunting might
have been his favorite sport before joining the ranger force.
Everybody who lives in a national park is fascinated
with the wild animals and wants to make pets out of them. In every park
there are ranger stations with special pets. It may be a deer, an
antelope, a wood chuck, or even a badger. Squirrels, chipmunks, and
other smaller animals are common pets. Occasionally a ranger will tame a
family of skunks, and a ranger of Sequoia Park had a family of foxes
eating out of his hand. One winter the rangers at Lake station tamed a
pine marten. This group also let a skunk family live under the ranger
station all spring with out molesting them, and the skunks never
bothered the rangers. Finally, one skunk died and the whole family had
to be persuaded to stay away while the floor was torn up to get out the
body of the deceased. It is now believed by all rangers that it is
unwise to make pets out of skunks!
"All in a day's work." That recalls a bit of amateur
poetry found in one of the ranger cabins in El Dorado National Forest
not long ago:
The season's over and they come down
From the ranger stations to the nearest town
Wild and woolly and tired and lame
From playing the "next to Nature" game.
These are the men the nation must pay
For "doing nothing," the town folks say.
But facts are different. I'm here to tell
That some of their trails run right throughwell,
Woods and mountains and deserts and brush.
They are always going and always rush.
They camp at some mountain meadow at night
And dine on a can of "Rangers' Delight," *
Get up in the morning when the robins sing
And break their fast at a nearby spring,
And then they start for another day
With corners to hunt and land to survey.
That trouble settled they start for more,
They're never done till the season is o'er.
They build cabins and fences and telephone lines,
Head off the homesteaders and keep out the mines.
There's a telephone call, there's a fire to fight;
The rangers are there both day and night.
Oh, the ranger's life is full of joys,
And they're all good, jolly, care-free boys,
And in wealth they are sure to roll and reek,
For a ranger can live on one meal a week.
*"Rangers' Delight"canned tomatoes