Lumbermen in Idaho
by Ralph Hidy
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Although lumbering has been one of Idaho's most important industries, little has been written about the subject. Thus, this sketch of the development of lumbering in Idaho by Professor Ralph Hidy of the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration is especially important. Drawing upon a wide variety of unpublished sources, he stresses the role of several companies in the lumbering industry. Particularly insightful are his discussions of the numerous problems that plagued these firms and often made their existence a tenuous one. As the author points out, better administrations, more skillful use of capital, new techniques of timber management, and wider use of timber products have given lumbermen greater success in the last few years. [Source: Ralph Hidy, "Lumbermen in Idaho: A Study in Adaptation to Change in Environment," Idaho Yesterdays, VI (Winter 1962), 2-17.]

Other sources that deal in part with lumbering in Idaho include: Dallas E. Livingston-Little, An Economic History of North Idaho, 1800-1900 (Los Angeles: Journal of the West, 1965). Ralph W. Hidy, Frank Ernest, and Allan Nevins, Timber and Men: The Weyerhaeuser Story (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1963), especially chapters 12 through 30; and George T. Morgan, "The Fight Against Fire: The Development of Cooperative Forestry in the Pacific Northwest," Idaho Yesterdays, VI (Winter 1962) 20-30.

"Nowhere in the far northwest did the Weyerhaeuser group cherish brighter hopes at the beginning of the century than in Idaho; nowhere else did they meet so many frustrations. Their enterprises in that land of peaks canyons, lava beds, sagebrush barrens, fertile valleys and towering forests have aspects of exceptional interest. The record includes a preposterous mountain railroad, fantastic adventures with logs on precipitous streams, flume building..., lawsuits, and one of the most remarkable company towns in the annals of lumbering. Hard work went into the undertakings. In the [first] forty years after 1900, however, the story was written with more red ink than black, more disappointment than success."

That quotation, the opening paragraph of "Idaho Promises and Realities," a chapter in a forthcoming book tentatively entitled Timber and Men, the Weyerhaeuser Story,1 sets the mood and theme of this essay. It is a story of profiting from mistakes at least as often as from successes, of slowly learning how to overcome handicaps and obstacles, of gradually coming to terms with a continually changing social and economic environment. The long process of adjustment provides a prime illustration of the fact that the transference of capital and experience accumulated in one area to another is no guarantee of immediate success in the new one. That the adjustment ultimately did take place also suggests that alert businessmen, if perceptive and decisive enough, and if financially able and determined to "hang on," may be able to convert an ailing industry into a healthy one and thereby make an important contribution to the economic development of a state and an area.

Analysis herein focuses on the process of participation by selected lumbermen in the development of the Inland Empire rather than on a calculation of their relative contribution to the total economic growth of the area. In the center of the stage are members of a few families who invested their accumulated capital in Idaho timberlands and in so doing laid the foundations of what today are two substantial enterprises, Potlatch Forests, lnc., and Boise Cascade Corporation.

Among the midwestern investors who pooled their resources to invest in Idaho lumber enterprises cited in this paper, Frederick Weyerhaeuser had been the key figure for a generation. He started in the lumber industry in 1856, and in another four years, this blue-eyed, genial, astute German immigrant had formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, F.C.A. Denkmann. Within ten years after that first collaborative sawmilling venture in Rock Island, Illinois, Weyerhaeuser and Denkmann were engaged in several other enterprises in the same city. In December 1870, the desirability of presenting a united front to opposing millmen on the Chippewa River in Wisconsin induced fourteen firms between Winona, Minnesota, and St. Louis, Missouri, to come together in the Mississippi River Logging Company; its purpose was to drive and allocate a desired amount of logs to mills on the middle reaches of the Father of Waters. By 1881, the leading firms on the Chippewa had also decided to collaborate with the downriver group in owning timber and driving logs from the forest to the mills.

Out of these activities, plus other joint ventures in Wisconsin and Minnesota, came intimate association of Frederick Weyerhaeuser and his four sons not only with the Denkmanns but also with such families as the Lairds and Nortons of Winona, the Mussers of Muscatine and the Youngs, Lambs, and Joyces of Clinton in Iowa, the Ingrams, Carsons, and Moons in Eau Claire, the Humbirds of Mason and Edward Rutledge of Chippewa Falls, all three towns in Wisconsin.2

The process of moving their capital and experience to the Pacific Northwest began in 1900. During that year and soon thereafter Frederick Weyerhaeuser and his associates made decisions which ultimately resulted in the formation of numerous companies and in a multi-million dollar investment in Idaho lumbering ventures.

Why did these Middle Westerners get interested in Idaho at this particular time? Several factors coincided to make them favorably disposed to investment. They were closing out operations on the upper Mississippi and Chippewa rivers and had money to invest. The forests of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin were being rapidly depleted. The investors had been living in a white pine economy, had been challenged for primacy primarily by marketers of southern yellow pine, and saw two types of pine in Idaho - white and ponderosa. Per capita consumption of lumber was still rising, and prosperity was obviously in the air after the long depression of the 1890's. Other lumbermen had long since established small sawmills in the state of Idaho,3 the Northern Pacific Railroad was offering timberlands for sale, and holdings of the state were also in the market. On the basis of prospects for profit, stimulated by the recommendations of a few promoters and the obvious easy availability of raw material, investment in Idaho pinelands seemed a sound idea.

Accordingly, members of several of the families put their money and faith into seven Idaho ventures. Five were north of the Salmon River canyon, the great barrier in central ldaho, and two were south of it. This surge in investment was part of a general migration of lumber capital from the Midwest to the Northwest between 1899 and 1908, known to contemporaries in the Inland Empire as "the great buying rush."

In 1900, Frederick Weyerhaeuser and John A. Humbird, joint participants in the White River Lumber Company of Mason, Wisconsin, purchased from the Northern Pacific Railroad a bundle of Mt. Rainier scrip entitling them to over 40,000 acres on the Clearwater River. They arranged for two agents to choose lands and file claims. Other buyers were in the area, but the Weyerhaeuser agents won the race for the most promising lands, which became the nucleus of the holdings of the Clearwater Timber Company, organized in December 1900 with an authorized capital of $500,000.5

Almost simultaneously, other assorted families started three other ventures in the northern part of the Idaho panhandle. First, Edward Rutledge, a lifelong associate of Frederick Weyerhaeuser in the Middle West, purchased Northern Pacific white pine lands on the Priest River. These were combined with holdings of the Sand Point Lumber Company, bought by Humbirds and Weyerhaeusers, to form the nucleus of the Humbird Lumber Company, also organized in December 1900 with an authorized capital of $500,000.6

Within less than a year Edward Rutledge had led the Weyerhaeusers into acquisition of still more unsurveyed white pine lands of the Northern Pacific (25,520 deeded acres) as well as state lands approximating 30,000 acres. Starting with these holdings, in October 1902 the purchasers organized the Edward Rutledge Timber Company with authorized capital of $200,000, Coeur d'Alene eventually becoming its center of operations.7

Still another corporation was organized that same year - the Bonners Ferry Lumber Company, a Wisconsin firm. It began with a mill site, 13,000 acres of timberland, and riparian rights on the Kootenai River. These properties had been acquired by two men from New Richmond, Wisconsin, one of whom soon induced Frederick Weyerhaeuser to invest in the venture which promised to produce white pine, ponderosa, fir. and larch lumber.8

In the Palouse basin rose the most ambitious enterprise financed by this group of families. During 1901 and 1902, William Deary, a brusque, dynamic, rotund Irishman, made initial purchases of state timber and other lands in the Palouse-Clearwater Drainage areas in the name of the Northland Pine Company, a Minnesota firm. In March 1903 these acquisitions were sold, along with those of Henry Turrish for the Wisconsin Log and Lumber Company, to the Potlatch Lumber Company. This new Maine firm began its life with an authorized capital of $3,000,000. The list of officers reflected the major family investors - Charles A. Weyerhaeuser as president, Turrish's vice-president, Clifford R. Musser as treasurer, F.S. Bell (Laird, Norton group) as secretary, and Deary as general manager.9

Separate groups set up two corporations to operate in Southern Idaho. One, the Barber Lumber Company,10 capitalized at $150,000, was organized in July 1902 by James T. Barber (the president), William Carson, C.W. Lockwood, C.D. Moon, and S.G. Moon. Frederick Weyerhaeuser was not a participant in this transaction, but the firms of the organizers - Northwestern Lumber and Valley Iumber companies of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and Burlington, Iowa - had been associated with him in Chippewa River undertakings. Barber Lumber had originated in the purchase of 25,000 acres of timberland on Grimes and Moore's creeks, tributaries to the Boise, from Frank Steunenberg, the former governor of Idaho who was later murdered by a Western Federation of Miners agent.

The second corporation set up to operate in Southern Idaho, Payette Lumber & Manufacturing Company, was organized in January 1902 with an initial authorized capital of $500,000. it took over stumpage and timberlands in the Payette Basin originally purchased by William Deary for Northland Pine and Henry Turrish for Wisconsin Log & Lumber.11 The main attraction was ponderosa pine in the basin of the Payette River. The starting nucleus apparently was almost 33,000 acres of stumpage purchased from the state for $183,620 in November 1902. As president, the directors chose William Musser, a reflection of the special interest of his family in the enterprise.

All these lumbermen naturally brought to Idaho a complex of attitudes based upon experience. White pine had been their chief product in the Middle West, so white pine was the chief attraction in Idaho. To be sure, they had produced enough Norway pine to appreciate that other species, such as ponderosa, could also find a market, but other species were of distinctly peripheral interest to them. In all cases, the Weyerhaeuser and associated families preferred to buy large initial lots in toto, as they had in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Judging from extant correspondence, the midwestern investors regarded the acquisition of timber as the all-important problem; analyses of manufacturing and marketing processes occupied little of their attention. They had built mills, made lumber, and sold it in another area and could do the same things in ldaho; so their thinking seems to have run. Mills could be built alongside railroads, which would give access to markets. As for logging, experience dictated reliance on two-man saws, the drawing of logs to streams or to railroad loading points by horses, and transport to sawmills by either streams or rail or both. In the Midwest, water transport was preferred in the early stages of cutting, when the stands of timber near the rivers and creeks were to be felled. And recent experience in the Upper Mississippi Valley dictated the value of "clear cutting" - felling every tree of merchantable size regardless of species and of the market demand.

As might be expected, the new investors brought midwestern labor policies with them. To treat employees in the same manner as competitors was the prevailing policy. Wages and hours were to be determined by the market, not through collective bargaining with organizations of workers. The nucleus of the work force in the woods should be a group of long-employed. reliable men who worked in the mills when not logging. The logging force would be rounded out by unmarried itinerants Food would be ample, of good variety, and well prepared if managers could find good cooks. Among the investing families - Carsons, Denkmanns, Humbirds, Lairds, Nortons, Moons, Mussers, Weyerhaeusers, and others - no one could find a single Simon Legree, but one could locate an occasional benevolent patriarch. They were motivated by desires to treat employees fairly, even while they insisted on dictating the terms of labor-management relations. Heirs to an age-old tradition that the owner was the boss, they had not yet felt the necessity of changing their ideas.

The economics of the industry at the time left no alternatives but to follow the prevailing policy of lumbermen - cut out and get out. Per capita consumption of lumber was still rising and the demand was brisk; if one group did not manufacture lumber from Idaho timber others would. Much timber still was available for cutting so the obvious investment policy was to take profits on a given operation and invest them in another. The ever present threat of fires, dramatized for the Pacific Northwest by the Yacolt burn and widespread fires in 1902 and 1910 in ldaho, emphasized the desirability of cutting tracts quickly once possession of them had been taken, even though this was not always done when other factors outweighed the threat of fire.

Furthermore, the existing tax system practically forced an ambitious lumberman to cut out timber and get off the land as quickly as possible. County officials had to set up offices, build roads, and carry on schools as new areas were occupied. Assessors set rates on the properties to be paid on an annual basis, which meant that lumbermen paid the same rates before and after cutting the timber. Obviously, lumbermen wanted either to sell their cutover unproductive lands as quickly as possible or to relinquish them in lieu of paying taxes.

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