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Crayon portrait of Henry David Thoreau, 1854.

The bicentennial of the birth of Henry David Thoreau this month comes at an auspicious time. Given the political climate we live in, his essay “Civil Disobedience” resonates today more than it has in nearly a half-century. I break no new ground in saying that the man has much to say to us 155 years after his premature passing about our changing environment as well. As Gordon Whitney and William Davis noted thirty years ago in their article “Thoreau and the Forest History of Concord, Massachusetts”: “Although Thoreau was noted primarily for his philosophy, he was also an acute observer of the natural scene, much more than his self-appointed title, ‘inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms,’ might suggest.” And while Thoreau traveled and observed nature in different parts of New England, “As a practical ecologist, surveyor, and husbandman, Thoreau was intensely interested in the history and management of Concord’s woodlots in the nineteenth century.” Today, scientists—ecologists and forest researchers, among others—still use his observations as a baseline for their studies.

What makes him valued today as a forest historian can be traced in part to his experiences during the winter of 1856. His fascination with natural history increasing, Thoreau, according to Kurt Kehr, found himself trying to answer the question derived from the “observation common among New England farmers: when one cuts pine woods, the next generation is an oak woods, and vice versa.” In the essay “The Allegash and East Branch,” written in 1857 but posthumously published in the book The Maine Woods (1864), the 150th anniversary of its publication of which was celebrated elsewhere on this blog, Thoreau restated the question, saying that

no one has yet described for me the difference between the wild forest which once occupied the oldest townships, and the tame one which I find there to-day. The civilized man not only clears the land permanently to a great extent, and cultivates open fields, but he tames and cultivates to a certain extent the forest itself. By his mere presence, almost, he changes the nature of the trees as no other creature does.

To answer the question, he spent the winter and spring of 1856 watching and recording how natural forces dispersed tree seeds near and far. By mid-May, he had drawn his conclusions, and had “extrapolated a lesson in the principles of forest succession,” Kehr concludes in “Walden Three: Ecological Changes in the Landscape of Henry David Thoreau.” Pulling from several years’ worth of his journals, Thoreau presented a lecture in September 1860, “The Succession of Forest Trees,” a landmark work in forest history still worth reading today. Published in the New York Tribune and widely reprinted, it was the most widely read piece published in his lifetime.

Beginning the lecture with the farmers’ wisdom about oaks succeeding pines, continues Kehr, Thoreau then:

reasoned that while the wind is conveying the seeds of pines into hard woods, the squirrels and other animals are conveying the seeds of oaks and walnuts into the pine woods. He explained the successive alterations in tree populations (which he oversimplified a little here) in the following way: the oak seeds that are buried anew every year under the protection of the evergreen woods suffer less from the shading effect of the mature pines than do the pine seedlings. When the pine woods are cut down, the oak seedlings finally get a chance to develop into trees.

In short, he declared, all trees grow from seeds. They did not, as the dominant view held, spontaneously generate. Richard Higgins, in his recent book Thoreau and the Language of Trees, notes that “Thoreau also contributed to the understanding of the ages of trees and how to manage woodlands.” These were substantial contributions to forestry.

His ideas about forest succession echoed that of Charles Darwin and his work on evolution, published a year before Thoreau gave the lecture. Laura Dassow Walls, in her new biography Henry David Thoreau: A Life, says he was one of the first Americans to read On the Origin of Species on American soil. He was applying the principle of natural selection to the woods and fields of Concord for a new book—”Succession” was to be a chapter in it—though he would die before completing the work entitled “The Dispersion of Seeds.” His observations about humans as agents of environmental change (“When the pine woods are cut down…”) are found in that of George Perkins Marsh, who offered similar ones in his own influential book, published in 1864. Man and Nature: Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action, praised by Lewis Mumford as “the fountainhead of the conservation movement” and the book that led Gifford Pinchot and others to take up forestry, owes a debt to Thoreau “Succession.”

In George Perkins Marsh: Prophet of Conservation, biographer David Lowenthal makes clear Marsh read Thoreau. He praised The Maine Woods and drew from the younger man’s other works for his own, writing of Thoreau that “few men have personally noticed so many facts in natural history accessible to unscientific observation.” Both valued and praised wilderness as essential for humans, but also called for utilitarian conservation of natural resources. Like Thoreau, according to Lowenthal, Marsh “prescribed a balance of tilled land, meadow, and forest…. Indeed, the wildness Thoreau adored was no untouched terrain but a process of growth and decay, conquest and abandonment, in scenes made by both natural and human agency.” Thoreau’s conclusions, according to Higgins, were ignored by professional foresters and loggers. They “could not accept the work of a Transcendentalist, even a scientific one.” Thus, we find Thoreau in good intellectual company in 1864, but over time, his contributions to forest history became overshadowed by those of Marsh and others.

The next one hundred years saw appreciation of Thoreau’s forestry work recede, ignored by plant ecologists and foresters. The rise of the environmental movement and its embrace of Thoreau as naturalist-poet pushed his late-life scientific work out of the public’s mind, and with it his rightful place in forest history. The works cited here, and others coming out this year for the bicentennial, are balancing the scales of forest history. “In the last analysis,” observed Kehr, “Thoreau’s contribution to forestry was his readiness to combine careful methodology with an appreciation for man’s place in the ecology of the forest.” If his grasp of human and forest ecology are his contribution to forestry, then his writings about those topics are his contribution to forest history.

July 1 marks the anniversary of the U.S. Forest Service’s establishment of the National Forest System in 1907—the day the “federal forest reserves” were renamed “national forests.” Historian Char Miller wants to share his birthday wishes for them.

Not every anniversary deserves commemoration. Ordinarily, the 110th birthday of anything would not merit much attention, but there is little about our time that is ordinary, particularly not for those deeply concerned about the protection and maintenance of some of America’s most beloved landscapes—the 193 million acres that constitute our system of national forests, a system that was born in March 1907.

So, head to the kitchen, bake a (big) cake and dot it with 110 birthday candles; light’em up; and just before you extinguish the blaze, make a wish.

Add 100 more candles to this cake, baked for the tenth anniversary of the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act in 1970. From left to right: Bill Bacon, Dick Droege, Burnie Payne, Ed Schulty, Chief Cliff, Red Nelson, Art Greeley, John McGuire, John Sandor (Assistant to Chief), and H. R. Josephson. (Forest History Society Photo Collection, FHS7035)

Mine is simple: that these public lands will remain public. That their management will become ever-more collaborative, inclusive, and resilient, and that that these alterations in management might insure that these treasured terrains will be around to greet their 220th.

Ok, that’s a lot of wishing (but then there are a lot of candles to blow out). Admittedly, too, there is little about these intertwined aspirations that is straightforward. This befits the occasion, though, for the establishment of America’s national forests was a complex and contested process—every bit as complicated as the contemporary debate over their presence and purpose. The traditional political history of their birth draws on the ideas of a three-generation set of academics, critics, scientists, and educators who, beginning in the mid-19th century, recognized that an industrializing United States was so rapidly exploiting its bountiful resources—whether timber, mineral, grass, or water—that the nation’s future was in doubt.

George Perkins Marsh’s Man and Nature (1864) is the iconic expression of this insight (and associated anxieties) and it served as the foundational text for much to the subsequent debate about how to regulate the land (and the people) to sustain the United States over time.(1) Twenty years later, George Bird Grinnell picked up Marsh’s mantle, arguing that setting aside what he dubbed “forest reservations” would help regenerate cutover lands and rebuild the economies that depended on these woodland-based resources.(2) In 1905, Gifford Pinchot, the Forest Service’s founding chief, reaffirmed the concept of sustainability embedded in Marsh’s and Grinnell’s vision when he announced the new agency’s mission: “the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.”(3)

Rangers gather around to look at The Use Book. The book, designed to fit in a shirt pocket, included the text of Secretary Wilson’s letter and the quote “the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.”

To make the case for durable management over time required moving heaven and earth, otherwise known as Congress. Its members had to embrace the notion that a portion of the federal public domain should remain in government ownership—a radical notion for many who believed that the best use of those acres was to get rid of them. Politicos also needed to accept that the best cabinet secretariat in which to locate these lands was not Interior, where they had been situated since the American Revolution, but Agriculture. Adding to the complexity of this drawn-out process was the need for a new social type—the forest ranger—and the development of laws and expertise that would enable these stalwart individuals to more effectively and conservatively manage our resources. There is much more to this story, of course, but many of the relevant legislative initiatives, executive actions, and judicial decrees tell the same tale: The institutionalization of the Marsh’s principles was a top-down affair.

Yet without bottom-up pressure from countless communities located in and around what would become first known as forest reserves, and after 1907, national forests, there would have been no political will to enact these important changes. The small Ashland (Oregon) Forest Reserve, like the sprawling San Gabriel Timberland Reserve framing Los Angeles to its north and South Dakota’s Black Hills Forest Reserve, and any number of others straddling the Rockies, came into being because of staunch local support that drew on an intersecting array of on-the-ground interests. Their vocal engagement caught the ear of representatives, senators, and presidents, shifting the political dynamic.

However democratic, this groundswell of opinion dovetailed with the oft-violent dispossession of native peoples from their ancestral lands. Justification for the wholesale appropriation of tens of millions of acres, as revealed in the path-breaking work of historians Mark David Spence, Karl Jacoby, and Theodore Catton, depended on the Doctrine of Discovery (a European conceit that exploration and conquest produced sovereignty) and Manifest Destiny (an American version of the same disruptive claim). For Native Americans, Jacoby writes, conservation “was inextricably bound up with conquest—with a larger conflict over land and resources that predated conservation’s rise.” The United States forcibly removed some people so that others might flourish. The establishment of the national forests, then, codified this brutal process of settler colonialism.(4)

That the indigenous nations were written out of the narrative of the public lands is captured in a small booklet—The Use of the National Forest Reserves—the Forest Service published on July 1, 1905. It speaks glowingly of how settlers and homesteaders can utilize these new forests. It details the permitting process that will allow prospectors, miners, grazers, and loggers to exploit the relevant resources they require. It identifies the mechanism by which counties will receive ten percent of the tax receipts these forests would generate to underwrite local school and other community needs. It extolls the conservation ethic that undergirds the Forest Service’s objectives:

The vital importance of forest reserves to the great industries of the Western states will be largely increased in the near future by the continued steady advancement in settlement and development. The permanence of the resources of the reserves is therefore indispensable to continued prosperity, and the policy of this Department [of Agriculture] for their protection and use will invariably be guided by this fact, always bearing in mind that the conservative use of these resources in no way conflicts with their permanence.(5)

That said, not everyone would enjoy the bounty of that projected future. Evidence for this is manifest in the fact that there is nary a word about those who had managed these landscapes for millennia, those whose stewardship practices the Use Book now criminalized. A penalizing, Beth Rose Middleton observes, that has had “ongoing consequence for indigenous identity, culture, and survival.”(6)

This erasure and the resulting inequalities of access and power was reified two years later when the forest reserves were officially renamed national forests. To mark the occasion, on June 14, 1907, the agency issued a newly retitled Use Book to reflect this shift in nomenclature. Still, like its predecessor, The Use of the National Forests makes a case for democratic participation in these forests’ management that could have significant implications for reengaging with Native American stewardship models. “There are many great interests on the National Forests which sometimes conflict a little,” the 1907 Use Book affirms. “They must all be made to fit into one another so that the machine runs smoothly as a whole,” a desired harmony that often made it “necessary for one man to give way a little here, another a little bit there.” Acknowledging that “National Forests are new in the United States, and the management of the vast resources is a very difficult task,” the text admits that “[m]istakes are bound to be made at first, and have been made. It is the users themselves who can be of chief assistance in doing away with bad methods.”(7)

Menominee Indians prepare for a river drive in Wisconsin, 1909. The federal government’s relationship with the Menominee over lumbering and forestry dates to 1871. It has evolved from one of conflict to one of collaboration. (FHS Photo Collection: Native Americans, Folder #2)

Among those who have been pushing back against some of these “bad methods” are Native American tribes, who Theodore Catton in his recent book American Indians and National Forests (2016) characterizes as the “most marginalized minority group in the United States.”(8) He tracks their determined efforts beginning in the mid-20th century to reclaim access to ancestral territory, secure long-ignored treaty rights to riparian and terrestrial resources, and, in some cases, demand the opportunity to co-manage forests and grasslands under the Forest Service’s purview. Among its other positive responses to this growing pressure, Catton explores a small set of cooperative projects in the field and, within the Washington office, two noteworthy initiatives: in 2006 the agency established The Office of Tribal Relations and soon thereafter incorporated “Native knowledge in the new planning rule.”(9)

These are baby steps, to be sure, as Catton’s tentative conclusions suggest. But they are worth lighting a candle (if not 110)—in cautious celebration of and as steadfast encouragement for much greater, collaborative-driven change in the years ahead.

Char Miller is the W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College, a Fellow of the Forest History Society, and author of America’s Great National Forests, Wildernesses, and Grasslands (2016), Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. the California Dream (2016), and editor of Gifford Pinchot: Selected Writings (2017).

NOTES

(1) George Perkins Marsh, Man and Nature; Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action (New York: Charles Scribner, 1864).

(2) George Bird Grinnell, “Spare the Trees,” quoted in John Rieger, “Pathbreaking Conservationist: George Bird Grinnell (1849-1938),” Forest History Today, Spring/Fall 2005: 19.

(3) James Wilson to Gifford Pinchot, July 1, 1905, reprinted in Char Miller, ed. Gifford Pinchot: Selected Writings (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017), 39–42; Pinchot drafted the letter—which was really a job description—that Wilson, as Secretary of Agriculture, signed and sent back to his subordinate.

(4) Mark David Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Karl Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), quote: 151; Theodore Catton, American Indians and National Forests (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016), 15–22; Beth Rose Middleton, Trust in the Land: New Directions in Tribal Conservation (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011), 36–41. Ian Tyrell, in Crisis of a Wasteful Nation: Empire and Conservation in Theodore Roosevelt’s America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), links the domestic application of conservation to its role in framing American imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

(5) The Use of the National Forest Reserves: Regulations and Instructions (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1905), 10–11.

(6) Middleton, Trust in the Land, 37.

(7) The Use of the National Forests (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1907), 25.

(8) Catton, American Indians and National Forests, 302.

(9) Ibid., 303–04; Middleton, Trust in the Land, offers a much more robust critique of the Forest Service’s interactions with the tribes and a fuller assessment of the tribes’ own application of Traditional Ecological Knowledge on their lands; her review of Catton’s book appeared in Environmental History 22(3): 534–36.

On this date in 1949, four Forest Service smokejumpers made the first jump east of the Mississippi River and the first parachute jump ever made onto the Washington Ellipse, the oval park between the Washington Monument and the White House. The jump was even televised, which is how President Harry Truman reportedly watched it, even though he would’ve had a clear view of the historical event if he’d stepped out on the Executive Mansion’s balcony.

The smokejumpers had taken three days to fly out from their base in Missoula, Montana, on a Ford Tri-Motor. Why so long? The airplane’s top speed was 90 mph. Homer W. “Skip” Stratton later recalled 50 years later in an interview with The Missoulian, “If we got a head wind, we could see cars and trains passing us down below.” Of the jump, he remembered they came in so low they were about eye level with tourists looking out from the observation windows of the Washington Monument, which are 500 feet up: “We were waving at each other.”

DC Commissioner John Russell Young welcomes the smokejumpers to the nation’s capital. From left to right, Bill Hellman, Skip Stratton, Bill Dratz, and Ed Eggen. The White House is visible in the upper left corner. (American Forestry Association Photo Collection)

The first two men to hit the silk were Stratton, 27 years old, and William D. Dratz, 26. On a second pass, Edward J. Eggen, 26, and William D. “Bill” Hellman, 23, jumped and landed in the middle of the Ellipse. Hellman had become a new father while on the trip. His son was born the day before the DC jump.

With no forest fire to attack, smoke pots were lit to provide some sense of excitement for the smokejumpers and the hundreds of spectators who turned out to watch. The Washington Post reported the next day, “It wasn’t an invasion, citizens, it was the United States Forest Service demonstrating how its smoke-jumpers fight forest fires in remote sections of the West.” Interestingly, the day before this leap into history the newspaper characterized their job as putting out fires “inaccessible to automobiles,” a indication of how new the concept of smokejumping was.

The jump was arranged by the American Forestry Association (now American Forests), which was hosting a luncheon at the National Press Club “honoring American business for its advertising support in the fight against forest fires through a public service campaign sponsored by the Advertising Council,” according to an August 1949 article in American Forests magazine. The Forest Service hoped the event would generate continued support for its fire prevention campaign and the smokejumper program. After landing, dozens of reporters swarmed to take photos of them and ask questions. Stratton recalled, “The questions were just crazy. What does it feel like? Do you jump right into the middle of the flames? Crazy stuff.”

Then the four men got into two convertibles and rode down Pennsylvania Avenue to the luncheon, where the smokejumpers gave plaques to business leaders on behalf of the Agriculture Department. The men were a big hit in Washington, especially Eggen, the only bachelor of the group. “Ed was the favorite of the women at the Agriculture Department,” Stratton remembered. “He was this big handsome guy with blond hair and a great smile. They pretty much had him surrounded the whole time we were in Washington.” Afterward, they quickly returned to Missoula and to work. Fire season was well underway.

Bill Hellman presents a plaque to Charles E. Wilson, president of General Electric, at the Salute to American Business Program. Looking on is Forest Service chief Lyle Watts. (American Forestry Association Photo Collection)

Some readers might recognize the name of Bill Hellman. Just six weeks later, Hellman would be one of 12 jumpers killed in the Mann Gulch fire, another, though unwelcome, first for the Forest Service smokejumpers.

This is an expanded version of the review of Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens, by Steve Olson, which first appeared in the April-May 2017 issue of American Scientist. 

When I visit environmental history–related locations, I typically bring back two reminders of the trip: photographs I’ve taken and rocks I’ve collected from the sites. When I returned from a trip to Wallace, Idaho, in 2009—a small, picturesque town located in the state’s panhandle and surrounded by national forests—I came home with rocks and a small vial of volcanic ash from Mount St. Helens.

The vial measures about 1.75″ in length but contains a great deal of information and memory.

The rocks came from outside the abandoned mine where, in 1910, Forest Service ranger Ed Pulaski and his men rode out one of the most famous wildfires in American history. Known as “the Big Burn,” the conflagration consumed 3 million acres in about 36 hours. Burning embers and ash fell upon Wallace, and fire consumed about half the town. The fire transformed the U.S. Forest Service, then only five years old; the lessons agency leadership drew from it—that more men, money, and material could prevent and possibly remove fire from the landscape—eventually became policy. The agency’s decision to fight and extinguish all wildfires, known as the “10 a.m. policy,” is one America is still dealing with because of the ecological impact removing fire from the landscape for half a century has had.

Seventy years later, another famous natural disaster coated the town in ash when Mount St. Helens, which sits in the middle of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southeastern Washington, erupted, sending some of its content miles into the air and drifting east towards Wallace and beyond. The vial I brought back contains some of that ash. The tiny container is a reminder that this disaster, too, transformed the Forest Service. It also transformed the U.S. Geological Survey.

The transformation began on March 20, 1980. After 123 years of dormancy, Mount St. Helens woke up. Seismometers had detected a 4.0 earthquake about a mile below the surface of the volcano, which is located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southwestern Washington. In the days immediately following, more quakes were recorded, as many as 40 an hour. These weren’t aftershocks—it was a volcanic swarm. Business owners, loggers, and the media demanded to know when the volcano was going to blow. As Seattle-based journalist Steve Olson discusses in his book Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens (W.W. Norton, 2016), there was no easy answer: The science wasn’t there yet. But as Olson demonstrates, the lack of clear scientific guidance and an absence of straightforward jurisdictional relationships fostered government inaction at all levels, with disastrous results. Given recent seismic activity around Mount St. Helens (earthquake swarms were recorded in June and November of 2016, although these gave no indication of imminent danger), revisiting the events of 1980 seems especially timely.

Just after the March 20th quake, some immediate protective measures were taken. The Weyerhaeuser Company, which was harvesting some of the last old-growth timber on its land surrounding Mount St. Helens on land it had owned since 1900, evacuated its 300 employees, and the Washington Department of Emergency Services advised everyone within 15 miles of the volcano to leave the area. But within a week, restlessness set in. After all, livelihoods were at stake. Area law enforcement couldn’t keep U.S. Forest Service roads closed to the public indefinitely and, given Weyerhaeuser’s economic and political influence in the region, public safety officials dared not close roads on its land. Beyond that, law enforcement simply didn’t have the resources to staff all the roads that snaked their way through the forest and around the volcano and nearby Spirit Lake.

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Ninety years ago this spring, a major repair project began on the White House in Washington, DC, that ultimately yielded wooden treasures. Work began in March of 1927 to remove large sections of the building’s roof in order to replace wood timbers with steel trusses and undertake a full remodeling of the third floor. This project was necessary due to some structural defects, along with the overloading of the building’s upper-most story. Originally designed as attic space, by 1927 the space had been providing significant storage space as well as servants’ quarters for too long. The roof structure being removed and replaced had been erected between 1815 and 1817 following the burning of the White House by British troops during the War of 1812.

1927 White House roof renovation

White House during roof removal process, March 1927 (click for more info).

Remodeling was completed by August 1927. During the construction, the majority of the wooden roof timbers removed were found to still be in good condition. Due to significant public interest in having souvenirs made from the White House wood, a public auction was held for the roof trusses as well as other miscellaneous pieces of removed lumber. In March 1928 more than 1,500 linear feet of Virginia longleaf pine lumber from the White House was auctioned off. The highest bid (at $500—a relative steal) came from the National Lumber Manufacturers’ Association (NLMA), and they ended up with the largest lot of timber. The NLMA and other organizations that bought the lumber planned to turn it into souvenirs to give away.

By December 1928 the NLMA had decided on crafting commemorative gavels from the wood. The Southern Lumberman reported: “Six hundred gavels are being made up from the timbers taken out during remodeling of the Executive Mansion last year after 112 years of service. They are being finished with clear varnish to show the natural grain of the wood and each is marked with a plate telling the source of the wood and accompanied by a printed leaflet giving the story of the gavel.” The NLMA planned to give gavels to “men prominent in the lumber industry, to prominent writers and public men, to the Vice-President of the United States and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and to the presiding officers of state legislatures, and to patriotic societies.” How many gavels were produced is not certain, but one of them is housed here in the FHS Archives (see photo below). The plaque on the gavel reads:

“Certified By Centuries”

Longleaf pine after 112 years’ service in the White House roof – 1815 to 1927

National Lumber Manufacturers Association

NLMA gavel from White House wood

NLMA gavel made from White House wood (housed in FHS Archives).

The NLMA also created other items from the wood. Candlesticks were made, including a set presented to President Herbert Hoover in May 1929. Blocks of wood cut from the roof timbers were affixed with plaques and given away. The NLMA also created one-of-a-kind items. One of the most interesting pieces was a humidor stand built as a replica of one originally used by President James Madison. The NLMA presented the piece to the Southern Pine Association at the latter’s June 1929 meeting in New Orleans. The wooden humidor was officially presented by Wilson Compton to H. C. Berckes, following Compton’s keynote address to the meeting. The Southern Lumberman described the moment:

As a climax to his able address, Dr. Compton lifted from the floor and placed it on the speaker’s table a curious little antique settee or as it really was, a humidor of obvious pine manufacture. It proved to be a replica of a bit of furniture that was in the White House at Washington under the Madison administration during the War of 1812, and that may have been burned when that building was destroyed by the British soldiers. The settee was reconstructed by President Madison’s orders from material taken from the roof timbers after the fire, and more recently the present replica was constructed from pine again from the White House roof—lumber that had come through more than a century of service as sound as when it went in.

According to Compton the gift was “an appropriate presentation to the Southern Pine Association, the invincible advocate of longleaf southern pine.”

H.C. Berckes

H. C. Berckes, secretary-manager of the Southern Pine Association, receives the humidor from the NLMA.

The NLMA wasn’t alone in turning White House wood into wares. First Lady Lou Henry Hoover fashioned gifts from wood salvaged from the president’s home, though there is some debate over whether the wood she used came from the 1927 roof reconstruction or following repairs due to a 1929 fire in the Oval Office. Regardless, Mrs. Hoover had Christmas gifts made for family, friends, and White House staff in 1930. The First Lady sent some wood to Biltmore Industries in Asheville, North Carolina, where it was turned into ash trays, stamp boxes, paper knives, book ends, pen holders, and other small items. You can read more about the gifts made by Mrs. Hoover on Hoover Heads, the blog of the Herbert Hoover Library and Museum.

The enduring quality of the original wood, the uniqueness of their source, and their direct connection to American history, make these items increasingly valuable. You’ll see the various pieces pop up at auction periodically—and typically be sold for far more than the $500 the NLMA originally paid for its entire lot of wood.

For more information on the history of the NLMA, see the National Forest Products Association Records in the FHS Archives (in 1965 the NLMA changed its name to the National Forest Products Association).

As the Master’s Tournament gets underway at Augusta National Golf Club this week, one of the icons of the course again will not be there. The famed Eisenhower Tree suffered extensive damage from an ice storm in the winter of 2014 and was removed shortly thereafter. Approximately 65 feet high and 90 years old when cut down, the native loblolly pine tree, named for President Dwight Eisenhower, stood about 210 yards down on the left side of hole no. 17.

Ike was a passionate golfer and became a member of Augusta National in 1948. The tree was named for Eisenhower because of his inability to avoid hitting it when playing the hole. As a result Ike quickly became obsessed with the tree.

The Eisenhower Tree in 2011. (Photo credit: Shannon McGee- http://www.flickr.com/photos/shan213/5601811306/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31205117)

As Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, Ike had led millions of soldiers in what he called “the Great Crusade” to defeat Nazi Germany. In 1956, he waged what might be called his “golf crusade.” He loved everything about Augusta—except that tree. But for the life of him, he couldn’t defeat this lone wooden soldier. At the December 1956 Club meeting, he petitioned to have the tree cut down, something that was never going to happen. Club chairman Cliff Roberts claimed later that he quickly adjourned the meeting to avoid the issue or embarrassing the president of the United States. In 1965, Ike half-jokingly confided to a golfing buddy that he wanted to use “about one half stick of TNT” to “take the damn thing down.” In the end, the tree bested the greatest military commander of the 20th century.

After the ice storm in 2014, Augusta National determined that the Eisenhower Tree needed to be removed. The man was so closely associated with the tree that the club had a cross-section of it sent to the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, where it is on display just off the lobby.

The display includes a panel telling the story of the tree and a timeline of Ike’s life and of the Master’s tournament. The plastic triangle on the left uses the tree rings as a timeline also. (Photo by the author)

Historian Catherine Lewis, in “Don’t Ask What I Shot”: How Eisenhower’s Love of Golf Helped Shape 1950s America (2007), gives us a cultural history that documents Ike’s love of the game. Eisenhower sought refuge in the sport from the stresses of the presidency, though he never totally left the job behind. How could he? He played more than 800 rounds during his 8 years in office. He tried to practice his short game every day. Since he couldn’t go to a course to do so, the United States Golf Association paid to install a putting green at the White House.

Unlike some occupants of the White House, according to Lewis, Ike never had a problem with being photographed playing the game (though he did with having his scores reported). Those photos were often featured on the front page of newspapers, even if they had nothing to do with the accompanying story. Critics seized on the frequency with which he played as evidence that he cared more about his golf score than he did the job. Political cartoonists frequently portrayed Ike on the golf course as well, which only added to that impression. It was only after historians could access his administration’s records that it was revealed how engaged he was as president; it was not uncommon to have meetings and make major decisions while playing.

This cartoon appeared in the July 1953 issue of American Forests magazine to accompany an article about the annual fire prevention campaign. Published just six months after he took office, it demonstrates how quickly Ike had become associated with golf.

Lewis also examines the issue of Ike playing a sport associated with white elites in the Deep South at a segregated club. This placed him in an odd situation as the civil rights movement became a major issue during his second term. She devotes half a chapter exclusively to Ike and civil rights. His friends and playing partners were no different from him in attitude and beliefs about race. His favorite caddy may have been African American, but “Ike believed that fair access and economic opportunity did not necessarily mean social equality, indicating that his views on race, like the majority of white Americans, were still rooted in the nineteenth century.” Eisenhower reluctantly dealt with civil rights. When the school desegregation crisis in Little Rock came to a head in 1957, “Ike was accused of running the presidency from a golf course,” writes Lewis. “A brief look at his September calendar that year shows that this was in fact the case.” He complained about leaving a golfing vacation to return to the White House to address the nation about the Little Rock crisis. While she notes that in 1953 “Ike began a crusade to break 90 at Augusta National,” I would argue that he was all for leading crusades, even one against a tree, but was unwilling to lead one against desegregation of the South.

The larger purpose of “Don’t Ask What I Shot” is to look at how the golf-obsessed president transformed a sport associated with the wealthy and elite into one for the middle class. Ike came from a hardscrabble background, growing up in Abilene, Kansas, at the dawn of the 20th century. He took up the game while a young officer in the U.S. Army in the 1920s, and during World War II was even photographed in full uniform swinging a club. His election to the White House in 1952 and his membership at Augusta elevated interest in sport. He was an immensely popular president, and that popularity translated into tens of thousands of men and women taking up the game he was so often photographed playing.

His membership at Augusta shown a spotlight on the Masters Tournament, too. In 1953, for the first Masters following Ike’s election, tournament officials braced for “a tremendous crowd, far above the 15,000 that attended” the year before. Ike didn’t want to interfere with the tournament by attending it but instead would visit the week after the tournament ended. The success of a young, charismatic Arnold Palmer at the Masters in 1958 and again in 1960, along with Ike’s association with the club and the attention his vacations there garnered, cemented the tournament’s place as one of the major events in golf after 1960.

Ike and golf have been thoroughly covered by authors. There’s Lewis’s book, which is solid; there’s David Sowell’s Eisenhower and Golf: A President at Play (2007), which has the wrong year for when Ike spoke up at the club meeting; and there’s also The Games Presidents Play: Sports and the Presidency (2009), by John Sayle Watterson, which has a chapter on Ike. Virtually every biography of the man touches on the subject, too. And there are any number of books on the history of Augusta National and the Masters Tournament that mention Eisenhower the golfer. But there will always be only one Eisenhower Tree.

As a fan of Ike’s, I was stunned to learn that he wanted to cut down a tree simply because it affected his golf score.

The September 1911 issue of The Bulletin, the old monthly journal of the International Concatenated Order of the Hoo-Hoo, had this to say:

Not a great many of our members realize that the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo has one member who would not take offense if referred to as no gentleman. In the early days of the organization, and before there was incorporated into the constitution the provision that membership be confined strictly to men over twenty-one, there occurred a lumber convention and a concatenation at Memphis, Tennessee, on which occasion, the ceremonies being somewhat modified, a lady was duly initiated.

The fact that there is a woman member in the great Order of Hoo-Hoo is not so much a matter of wonder and speculation, as was the early life of this woman Hoo-Hoo, entering as she did into the business world at a time when woman and commercialism were but strangers.

The Hoo-Hoo in question was No. 2877, Mary Anne Smith. Mary Anne was born in Somerville, Tennessee, shortly before the Civil War. The Bulletin describes her early life as one of “hardship and suffering” as she grew up during the war and Reconstruction Period. “But,” the article notes, “no period, no matter how rife with struggle, hardship, and suffering, is without its romance, so in time young Mary Norman met and came to marry James Allen Smith—one of the pioneer names in Arkansas” in 1873.

They built a small business empire in Arkansas together, Mary Anne working “hand in hand with her husband” until his death in 1889. Upon his death she became president of the Smithton Lumber Company and vice president of the Southwestern Arkansas and Indian Territory Railroad. Her husband had begun operating this narrow-gauge railroad in 1885 to move lumber to market. She successfully operated it until the Panic of 1893, the worst economic depression in U.S. history until that time. The Bulletin states that “her property passed into the United States courts” and was forced out of her hands. “Mrs. Smith,” it says, stayed “in the business world, for her spirit remains indomitable and unabashed.”

She did stay in the business world. Mary Anne Smith was concatted (meaning initiated) as Number 2877 into Hoo-Hoo on February 20, 1895, in Memphis. Her membership had been sponsored by three members, including one of the founders. In 1905 she moved her family to Searcy, Arkansas, and remained active in Hoo-Hoo the rest of her life, frequently hosting other Hoo-Hoos at her home as they passed through town. At the January 1912 meeting, she was one of 8 people who gave speeches. The Bulletin article recapping the 1911 meeting noted that Mrs. Smith had “the distinction of being the only woman who is now and has ever been a member of Hoo-Hoo.” This refrain typically appeared in articles mentioning she had attended a meeting.

According to the organization’s own history, Mary Ann Smith was the first female Hoo-Hoo. When the 1911 article appeared, the fraternal organization of the lumber industry wasn’t yet formally closed to women members. Legend has it that other women gained membership over the years by using just their initials on the applications, not their first names. But there’s no way to confirm this. Yet some members were progressive enough to support women’s sports teams in the early 20th century.

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Johnston’s Famous Hoo-Hoo Basketball Team, pictured here with sponsor Scott Johnston in 1904, called Rankin, Illinois, home. Johnston praised them as “a fine lot of girls and good players–every one of them.” The players were a mix of students and teachers, and the team dissolved when they returned to school in September of that year.

So, what’s all this hullabaloo about the International Concatenated Order of the Hoo-Hoo about, you may ask. Hoo-Hoo had been established in Gurdon in 1892 to foster better relations among lumbermen and trade associations. The six men—a mix of lumbermen and writers working for trade journals—who would become the founders sat waiting for the next train when discussion turned to the lack of community and communication among the diverse business interests of lumbermen. “It was agreed that only one common interest existed within the complex web of industry concerns, that being goodwill and fellowship upon which lumbermen could come together in single mindedness and unity. The group agreed that lumbermen meeting on the grounds of good fellowship could receive intangible benefits that might eventually trickle down into all aspects of business and social relationships…” There were already plenty of fraternal lodges and formal business groups—in fact, the men were stuck waiting for a train in Gurdon while traveling between association meetings, a circumstance which led to this impromptu meeting.

They quickly agreed that another conventional, stuffy group was not needed. “[It] was to be a war on conventionality,” replete with goofy titles for officers borrowed from a Lewis Carroll story, like calling the president the Grand Snark of the Universe, and parodying and mocking the rituals of Masons and other secret organizations. Underlying the humor, though, was a single, serious aim: “to foster the health, happiness, and long life of its members.” Unconventional it was, and it has remained, as this blog post can attest. (As can this author, who spoke at the 2014 annual convention. The genuine displays of fellowship and fun were impressive.) Many organizations do good deeds in the local community and help others following a disaster, but few have as much fun as the Hoo-Hoos.

Having a female member in the early days of the organization certainly made Hoo-Hoo unconventional in the male-dominated world of lumber. But that soon came to an end. When Mary Ann Smith died on July 25, 1926, at age 68, she was, officially, still the only female member. Not long after her passing, the bylaws were amended to provide only for males over age 21. For the next sixty years, women attended the conventions with their husbands but couldn’t join.

Little was done about this until the 1986 convention, when delegates first voted to remove the Eligibility clause from the bylaws. A proposal to do so was voted on every year after but failed to pass until 1993. In March of that year, the motion to amend the Hoo-Hoo International Bylaws to strike the word “male” from the Eligibility clause was again put forward. To be eligible you now only had to meet the age requirement and of course to “be of good moral character.” In seconding the motion, Royce Munderloh declared: “Tradition has played a big part in the debate concerning this issue. The world has changed greatly in the last 100 years, and many traditions have changed for the best.” And so the change was made. At the 101st international convention in 1993, with the by-laws revised to open membership to women, Beth Thomas, the executive secretary of Hoo-Hoo and manager of the Hoo-Hoo Museum in Gurdon, was the first woman accepted into the organization in this new era. She was concatted with two other women.

Other women joined the Hoo-Hoo organization through local chapters soon thereafter. In November 1993, another Mary—Mary O’Meara Moynihan—was concatted with the first group of women admitted into the Twin Cities Club. She’d been part of her family’s business for much of her life, so it made business sense for her to join. When asked in late 2011 what her goals in Hoo-Hoo were, she simply declared, “In 2013, I hope to become Snark”—leader of the of the worldwide Hoo-Hoo organization. She was only off by a few months with that prediction. In 2014, Mary became the first female Grand Snark of the Universe. Now in its 125th year, International Concatenated Order of the Hoo-Hoo is led by another woman, Robyn Roose Beckett. The unconventional organization is now conventional.

Grand Snark Robyn Beckett (center) with six new members of Hoo-Hoo, concatted at the 2016 convention.

Grand Snark Robyn Beckett (center) with six new Hoo-Hoo members, who were concatted at the 2016 convention. The diversity of ages and races found in this group is not unusual anymore either.