Oh, Ranger!
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"Oh, Ranger!"

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 Billy."

"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 out:

"Say, King, shoot me that side of bacon, will you?"

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 Arizona.


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 wood."

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 buffalo.

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 replied:

"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 budge.

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 refuge.

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 life—animals 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 animals—sometimes 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 years.

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 edition)

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 through—well,
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


Oh, Ranger!
©1928, 1929, 1934, 1972, Horace M. Albright and Frank J. Taylor
albright-taylor/chap1a.htm — 06-Sep-2004