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Archive for May, 2012

On this date in 1962, the Rev. Archie Mitchell was seized by the Viet Cong, bound in front of his wife and daughters, and taken away from the leprosarium where they were working near Buon Ea Na, Vietnam, never to be heard from again. This was the second wartime tragedy for Mitchell. Seventeen years earlier almost to the day, his wife was one of six people killed by a Japanese balloon bomb—the only deaths in the mainland United States caused by a Japanese attack.

Japanese fire balloon of mulberry paper reinflated at Moffett Field, California, after it had been shot down by a Navy aircraft January 10, 1945. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Japanese balloon bomb program has become part of American smokejumping lore. During World War II, the Japanese sent balloons across the Pacific Ocean with incendiary bombs attached. The idea was that the devices, which typically carried four incendiary bombs and one anti-personnel bomb, would land somewhere in a wooded area, explode, and start a forest fire that would then tie up critical firefighting resources. Moreover, the threat from these devices, they hoped, would cause panic and terror to spread whether or not they started a fire. In all, more than 9,000 balloons were launched by Japan but only about 100 are known to have reached the continent, with one reportedly reaching Michigan. No fires were attributed to the bombs. And because the American press cooperated with the federal government and did not report the balloons, the Japanese never heard of any working and assumed that the program had failed.

To some extent, though, the balloon bombs had the desired effect. When the balloons first appeared in 1944, federal officials feared they might carry anthrax or other communicable diseases. The U.S. Army responded to the possibility of forest fires with Operation Firefly. As part of that program the government trained and dispatched conscientious objectors and the first all-black battalion of paratroopers, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, better known as the Triple Nickles, to do battle with the aerial menace. Their training included demolition of unexploded ordinance. The Triple Nickles never fought a bomb-created fire but did participate in 36 missions and made 1,200 jumps.

It was the issue of unexploded ordinance which led to the first of Rev. Mitchell’s tragedies. He and his wife Elsie had taken 5 children from his church to picnic and fish on land owned by the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company within the Fremont National Forest. When Mitchell reached an impasse in the road, he dropped off his passengers and proceeded to turn the car around. Mrs. Mitchell called out to her husband that she and the children had found something and to come see it. By coincidence a road work crew led by Richard Barnhouse, who was operating a grader, was there as well. Barnhouse could see the children formed in a semi-circle but couldn’t see what they were looking at. Elsie Mitchell called out two more times. Mitchell responded, “Wait a minute, and I’ll come and look at it.”

Just then there was a terrific explosion which shook the ground for a considerable distance. Needles, twigs, and sticks flew through the air, some of which were later picked up near the grader. Barnhouse immediately stopped the grader, which was about 150 yards from the explosion, and both he and Mitchell ran to the scene. Four of the children were dead, part of them badly mangled, another died immediately, and Mrs. Mitchell died within a few minutes. None were conscious after the explosion. Mrs. Mitchell’s clothes were on fire, and Mr. Mitchell immediately put this fire out….

When Barnhouse and Mitchell first arrived at the site, the balloon bag was stretched out full length over some low bushes with two of the shroud lines handing from a stump about ten feet in height. Parts of the mechanism and bomb were scattered quite thickly over an area ninety feet in diameter and fragments from the demolition bomb were found as much as 400 feet away. The balloon was complete and very little damaged, but it was estimated by the military authorities from its weathering, mildew on the paper, and other evidence that the balloon had been there for a month or more. [Melva Bach, History of the Fremont National Forest, pg. 207-208]

On August 20, 1950, the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company dedicated a memorial to those killed by the bomb. In 1998 it turned the land over to the federal government to be included into the Fremont National Forest (now the Fremont-Winema National Forest). The site is now part of the Mitchell Recreation Area and is on the National Register of Historic Places. At the time of the dedication, Rev. Mitchell had been living in Asia for three years.

The plaque on Mitchell Monument reads: “Dedicated to those who died here May 5, 1945 by Japanese bomb explosion: Elsie Mitchell, age 26; Jay Gifford, age 13; Edward Engen, age 13; Dick Patzke, age 14; Joan Patzke, age 13; Sherman Shoemaker, age 11. The only place on the American continent where death resulted from enemy action during World War II.” (FHS1370)

Within two years of losing his wife, Mitchell married again and the couple moved to Asia and eventually made their way to Vietnam to serve as missionaries. They were working at a facility for treating lepers when the Viet Cong showed up on the evening of May 30, 1962. The VC seized three Americans—Dr. Eleanor Ardel Vietti, Mitchell, and Daniel Gerber, a 22-year-old volunteer—looted the facilities, harshly reprimanded the Vietnamese for working with the Americans, and disappeared with their captives. Mitchell’s wife and four children were spared only because the other three promised to fully cooperate. Betty Mitchell stayed at the leprosarium until she was taken captive in 1975, along with six other missionaries, by the Viet Cong. All were released 10 months later. Archie Mitchell, Dr. Vietti and Daniel Gerber are still listed among the 17 American civilians who went missing during the Vietnam War.

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Below are some documents from the “Japanese Fire Balloons” file found in the U.S. Forest Service History Collection. On May 31, 1945, the federal government authorized release of information about the balloons in hopes of preventing further harm to the general public. The first document is an article printed in the June 1945 Forest Log, a journal published by the Oregon State Board of Forestry. It gives an excellent description of how the balloon bombs worked.

An oral history interview was conducted in 1966 about Operation Firefly. The first 10 pages of this document offer a good overview of the program. Click on the image to read it.

Firefly Project document

This next document is the letter sent from the forest supervisor to the district ranger about how he handled the incident.

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On this date in 1922, the Agricultural Appropriations Act of May 11 made the first appropriation for the improvement of public campgrounds in national forests. The bill made special reference to the protection of public health and the prevention of forest fires. The U.S. Forest Service received $10,000. What’s most surprising about that amount is that’s what the agency actually suggested it needed in the chief’s annual report the year before—and then they actually received it!

The bill was passed during the first recreation boom. The automobile and a bit of leisure time were both widely available following World War I. With several national forests located not far from urban centers, the forests were attracting campers in increasingly larger numbers. A 1922 study of the 960 campgrounds in the national forests revealed that more than a million people used them annually. Those numbers were expected to keep increasing as the 1920s roared on.

Though the Forest Service had constructed and opened its first campground in Oregon in 1916, the sheer volume of visitors after the war forced agency leaders to recognize two things: facilities were needed to properly dispose of all the litter and human waste being generated, and an uneducated public represented a fire hazard. In developing new campgrounds and improving existing ones by adding “public-comfort stations” that made available “a few simple sanitary conveniences,” the Forest Service argued that neophyte campers would be less inclined to go “into more remote places and [build] dangerous camp fires, as inexperienced people are likely to do,” but rather would “stop at those improved spots and thus greatly decrease the danger of destructive fires.” According to testimony given in support of the 1922 bill, the agency “has been forced into the recreation business as a means of taking care of the public.” It was build facilities or “make it unlawful for the public to enter the national forests,” an alternative they didn’t desire. The money would be used “in part for the preparation of camp plans and the simple construction necessary for sanitation and fire protection,” i.e., clear parking spaces, construct outhouses and fire rings, and level tent sites.

The request for money came at an important time in the history of recreation on federal lands. The National Park Service had been established in 1916 over the objection of Forest Service leaders, who felt that the parks should fall under their jurisdiction because of their timber holdings. Critics of the Forest Service felt otherwise. They argued that, like in the case of Hetch Hetchy, the Forest Service didn’t want to preserve land but develop it. The debate over the mission of the two agencies can be seen throughout the testimony, with one congressman questioning why “the Forest Service is duplicating practically everything there is in the national parks and specializing in promoting competing projects.” Chief William Greeley had to explain that there was no competition between the two, with associate forester E.A. Sherman adding that most of the visitors were local travelers “of a kind that would not reach the national parks.”

At the same time that the Forest Service was struggling to meet demands for recreation it was also developing its position and policy on wilderness and primitive areas. Two years before, the agency had decided not to develop Trappers Lake in Colorado at the behest of Arthur Carhart, and in 1924 the Forest Service would declare the first wilderness area, the Gila in New Mexico. The debate over wilderness aside, recreation grew in importance during the 1920s as the recreation boom took off. In 1923, the Forest Service received $20,000 for improvements and then nearly double that amount the following year. That was the same year that the agency included it as a line item in its annual budget for the first time—a sign that the agency was fully committed to recreation as both policy and practice.

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The Forest History Society Photograph Collection features numerous images of recreation on national forests, including over 300 historic photos of camping and campgrounds. These photos and others can be accessed through our searchable online image database. A selection of recreation photos has also been highlighted on the FHS Flickr pages. Below you will find a few examples of photographs documenting national forest campgrounds through the years.

Camping at at Lolo Hot Springs.

Tourists camping at Lolo Hot Springs on Montana’s Lolo National Forest, 1920 (FHS973).

(more…)

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When Mrs. B-logger and I moved from Washington, DC, to Durham in 2003, we only half-jokingly said we wished we could move our friends and some of our favorite restaurants and stores with us. When the Cady Lumber Corporation decided to move in 1924 to get access to more timber, its owners did just that. It moved all of its employees. And their families—800 people in all. From Louisiana to Arizona. This was the very definition of moving lock, stock, and barrel.

At the time, moving a lumber camp was not unheard of. A logging company would put the small houses and other buildings on railroad cars and move them to the next location a few miles down the line.

Logging camp cars.

Converted railcars often served as housing and offices for loggers. This one was used by the Crossett Lumber Company, Crossett, Arkansas. (FHS4448)

But in 1922, William Cady realized that his lumber and milling company had cut out nearly all the yellow pine around McNary, Louisiana. He realized that it would be cheaper to abandon the land than it would to undertake reforestation. He and his business partner James McNary had an unusual idea. They would buy an existing mill operation and relocate their employees to another region of the country. McNary and Cady wanted to keep their skilled loggers and mill labor because the owners felt they were the best at what they did.

McNary first scouted the Pacific Northwest and then Mexico. He then found the mill town of Cooley, Arizona, on the Apache Indian Reservation. He and Cady purchased the defunct Apache Lumber Company for $1.5 million in a deal that included all of Apache’s timber holdings and its milling operations in Cooley and Flagstaff. The deal had to be approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and also the U.S. Forest Service because the agency oversaw timber on the reservation and because some of the timber was coming off of the Sitgreaves National Forest. In fact, nearly all of the timber Cady contracted for was on government land, and the government would pick up the cost of fire fighting and reforestation. Cady Lumber then spent $3.5 million to install an all-electric plant with three band saws. For marketing purposes, the company received permission from the federal government to rename Cooley as McNary. With that, it was time to pack.

On February 7, 1924, the last log in the McNary, Louisiana, plant was cut. Three days later employees boarded special trains with their baggage and equipment and moved west to the new home that awaited them. They were moving from the heat and humidity of Louisiana to a town at 7,300 feet above sea level, a place where they measure annual snowfall in feet. To say that there would be some adjustment required to get used to the new surroundings was an understatement. But it wasn’t just the weather.

Of the 500 employees who moved, almost all were African American. According to the 1920 federal census, there were 8,005 African Americans in the entire state of Arizona—or 2.4% of the state’s population. James McNary recorded in his autobiography that “there was a good deal of indignation in some quarters in Arizona over the importation” of the African American employees and their families but the threatened violence never materialized.

Once operations started in Arizona, the company also employed Native Americans and old homesteading Spanish and Anglo families in the area. According to McNary, each ethnic group constituted a quarter of the work force. Though living conditions in McNary, Arizona, were better than what was found in surrounding towns, it was nonetheless a company town (the company controlled all utilities, hospital, and schools, and owned the housing and only store in town)—and one that was segregated. Each group had its own section of town, with its own school. When adjusting to the climate or life in Arizona proved difficult for some African Americans, they left, only to be replaced by others coming from Louisiana who had heard about the good jobs and a degree of racial tolerance unheard of in the Jim Crow South.

The caption read, “A typical residence street in McNary, showing roomy, comfortable homes of employees of the Cady Lumber Company.” However, African American employees lived in a separate part of town called the “Quarters.” (below)

The company store. It was the only place in town where employees could shop.

In 1935, James McNary bought out William Cady after Cady Lumber collapsed and renamed the company Southwest Lumber Mills (later it became the Southwest Forest Industries.) Over the next two decades McNary modernized logging and milling operations and built a lumbering empire that after World War II “would challenge Weyerhaeuser, Georgia Pacific and other preeminent producers on the Pacific Coast.” He also became involved in the work of the National Lumber Manufacturers Association. McNary sold his business interests in 1952 and became a man of leisure, publishing his fascinating autobiography This Is My Life in 1956 (for example, active in Republican politics on a national level, McNary was pals with Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover).

Eventually operations began shifting to the more modern Flagstaff plant. With that, the migration of workers began again. After a fire in 1979 destroyed the lumber mill in McNary, the remaining workers moved out, leaving McNary, Arizona, as deserted as its namesake in Louisiana.

Cover image from a photo tour pamphlet in the Southwest Lumber Mills, Inc., file.

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Both the topic of James McNary and the towns that bear his name are ripe for research. One could look at the business, the man, or the towns— through the lenses of social, racial, and environmental histories. FHS has materials on Cady Lumber and its move from Louisiana to Arizona and life there among the big white pines. The move to Arizona and the history of the company was captured in a lengthy article in American Lumberman magazine in 1926. In addition to this article and McNary’s autobiography, we have the records of the National Lumber Manufacturers Association, which contains McNary’s correspondence from when he was its president from 1937 to 1939. The Cady Lumber Corporation materials include copies of the contracts signed by Apache Lumber in 1918 with the government and when Cady bought them out. We also have information on Southwest Forest Industries, including several annual reports and press releases from the 1980s. Secondary sources include Curtis Wienker’s article-length study of the town, “McNary: A Predominantly Black Company Town in Arizona” (Negro History Bulletin, 1974) and Arthur R. Gómez’s 2001 study “Industry and Indian Self-determination: Northern Arizona’s Apache Lumbering Empire, 1870-1970,” in Forests Under Fire: A Century of Ecosystem Mismanagement in the Southwest. The Cady operations, which at one point was the largest contract producer of timber in northern Arizona, are also discussed in a history of Region 3, Timeless Heritage. Speaking of northern Arizona, the Arizona Historical Society has some papers on Southwest Forest Industries and Northern Arizona University has images and 3 related oral histories.

The April 10, 1926, issue of “American Lumberman” magazine featured a 55-page article on the Cady Lumber Corporation operations in McNary and Flagstaff.

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