My Forty Years Scribblin's
Interviews
Episodes of the Woods

In this interview, written in 1961 and published in Montana's Little Legends(1963), Fred Doney describes life in the logging camps. "Stulls" are the timbers used to shore up mining tunnels.


Logging in the early 1900s. Montana Historical Society photo.Logging has long been big business in Western Montana although operations have taken quite a different form. Time was when a caterpillar was something you picked off with two fingers and a horrified squeal. But that was before the hairless monster went up the mountain to build roads for the huge trucks with whom he conspired to eliminate the donkey engine and the "shay."

He eliminated the grease monkey too, but then, the grease monkey was kind of an inconsequential little fellow whose job it was to smear the black goo made from slaughterhouse tallow and "green skid" oil on possibly half a mile of chute (not to mention himself) to make the string of logs slide down the mountain easy.

Because he was a "kid" or a "punk" who didn't yet know how to handle a more responsible job, the grease monkey was often the butt of the lumberjacks' jokes, though sometimes he had to run like sixty to save his neck when the logs got going too fast and jumped the chute.

Drastic changes also came about in living conditions for the woodsworkers, due, it is said, to the I.W.W. (Independent Workers of the World) better known as the I-Won't-Worker, which was the woodsworker's first attempt at organization.

Bunkhouses were shared by fifty or sixty men whose bed was a board frame with some loose straw dumped in. The lumberjack packed his bedding on his back and his only medical care came from a box nailed to the wall, containing his private supply of Sal Hepatica or its equal Sloan's Liniment, for his pains, and an ointment vile enough to repel the vermin that inhabited his box of straw.

There was a dearth of bathing facilities in the old-time logging camp and one could easily find the bunkhouse, we are told, by following the nose! And if there happened to be no room left to dry his wet and dirty socks, he simply crawled into bed with them on. After improvements were instituted Sunday became "boil up" day, and thereafter, he who didn't approve of soap and water was likely to leave by invitation.

The "Walking Boss' " job was to see each man every day and he had to be ready and able to "lick any man in the outfit" and the only part of his anatomy that didn't bear the scars of battle was his face.

The old-time lumberjack went to the table with one thing in mind—food. There was no pleasant dinner table conversation, each man was designated a place on the bench, by the flunky, and anyone who might, inadvertently, get in might well expect to get something thrown at him, and none too gently.

It has been said that the modern woodsworker "couldn't pack water for the old-time lumberjack," than whom there was no better woodsman, nor ornerier human this side of Satan himself. Yet there were those who dared trifle with him. We are told of one who owned a treasured alarm clock and awoke many times through the night to strike a match and admire its pleasant face. One night he awoke—and wore out half a box of matches before he realized someone had taken his time-piece and substituted a steam gauge in its place!

Now the boasting sputter of the chain-saw has drowned the musical twang of the cross-cuts, the smell of the stable has retreated before the odoriferous black smoke of the diesel—and the woods look like a battle ground.

There were older and bigger outfits in the business than that of the Doneys, whose points of operation lay between Arlee and Evaro, but probably none was more interesting. Fred Doney and his father looked down into the Jocko Valley in 1910, on their way to deposit Grandmother, Martha York, at the homestead she had drawn at Moiese, when the reservation was open to white settlers.

Leaving Mrs. York to prove up on her land, the Doney men backtracked to a site near Evaro, where they began hauling and shipping stulls to the Butte mines. Two and four-horse teams were used and rough-locks (heavy chains wrapped around the runners) were sometimes required to hold back the sleighs on the steep mountain roads. It was often necessary to double up, or use the teams from both sleighs to get the loads over the hill, and a day's work began at 4 a.m. and often lasted until 11 at night.

Mr. Doney relates an incident that took place when two brothers, Clark and Earl Renfro, were engaged in hauling ties from a mill at Kern's Meadows which was located on the then short route from the Arlee district across the hills to Frenchtown. Spring thaws were in process and the ruts were deep, so the haulers were obliged to travel the little-used back roads.

The Doney sleighs came down the road one morning to find Earl Renfro in something of a predicament. He had been driving a small team of mules which had not been able to hold the load. The sleigh swung around and hit a tree, sending the tongue up the tree trunk and leaving two surprised mules dangling from their neck yokes and supported by the breeching. The Doney's teams were hooked on to the Renfro sleigh to pull it backwards and let the mules come down to earth.

In 1912 the Doney's went into the wood business and for the next two or three years shipped approximately three thousand cords of wood, some to Butte and some to the penitentiary at Deer Lodge.

But it soon became apparent that the timber was worth more for lumber and even though they paid four dollars for stumpage and loaded the logs on flat cars for eleven dollars per thousand feet, eventually they ran three camps of from fifty to sixty men and stabled forty-eight big work teams.

Mr. Doney Sr. was also in business operating a feed corral in Missoula, and he sensed that his camp boss, as well as the men, were lying down on the job. He sent his son Fred, who went reluctantly, to take over the running of the camp. After driving through the predawn hours and arriving at breakfast he looked the situation over and "canned" the foreman.

"The camp had been loading out one car of logs per day," Fred remembers. "But that day we loaded out four."

"Yes, we had trouble with cooks too," Mr. Doney says. "One cook stayed only long enough to cook one meal. When the lumberjacks came into supper there was a pile of bread and a bowl of hash on the table." Mr. Doney threw out the hash and the cook, and fixed supper for his men himself.

"In general, we had better success with women cooks," Mr. Doney remembers. Sam Resurrection, a well-known Indian who lived nearby, came often to the cookhouse and made himself comfortable at the table.

"We paid him little attention," Mr. Doney said. "But we had a woman cook at the time and Sam was quite taken with her vittles and wanted her to marry him. After eating, the old Indian would park on the bench outside the door for hours. Not understanding his motives, it made the lady nervous. She was very much afraid of him, so I had to "run him off to keep my cook!"

Although he went into logging reluctantly, Fred Doney was joined by his brothers and remained in the business some twenty-five or thirty years, when they changed from logging to ranching.

The country was full of "salty" characters, two of whom were the topic of many amusing conversations in the early 1900s, the brothers, Pat and Barney Sullivan.

A suspicious Federal Officer, it seems, caught brother Pat, red-handed, bootlegging liquor to the Indians, his bottle ingeniously hidden by braiding it into his horse's tail. But the ever-watchful Pat, when accosted, got the drop on the officer, handed him the bottle and suggested that he start drinking. As the whiskey line went downward, under persuasion of Sullivan's gun, so did the Federal man. Pat simply bided his time, then rode away, leaving the officer stretched out on the ground, sleeping off his enforced drunk.

T'would be hard "indade" to convict an Irishman of a crime after the law did away with the evidence!

The Doney's were "batching it" at Evaro when Barney, who dwelt nearby, was visited by three Indians who challenged him to a duel of fisticuffs. Barney looked them all over, it is said, and declined as politely as he was able.

"Not enough Indians!" he stated. And, it seems, the Federal men also had designs on Barney, who, after all, was cut from the pattern of his brother. Barney was caught and put under arrest at Evaro, for possessing liquor on the reservation.

"All right," said Barney, "but I owe a little bill at the store. I'd like to go and pay it first."

He was allowed to depart for the store to pay his honest debt, but once across the reservation line he paused to look back, with the statement: "Now that I'm off your reservation, you can all go to H—."

"During prohibition," said Mr. Doney, "things were pretty wild with stills all over the country."

He recalls an occasion near the reservation border when a prohibition officer stuck his head in the door where several Indians were indulging in the forbidden beverage, which was purely an invitation to battle. One man hastened to pour oil on the troubled waters.

"Let me take your gun," he said to the Federal officer, "and I'll reason with the Indians."

The next thing the Doneys saw was one Federal man hurrying across the reservation line, with the man, and the officer's gun, hurrying along behind.

Also familiar with much of the South Fork of the Flathead country, Mr. Doney tells of ranches being in the Danaher Basin, across the Danaher Pass from Ovando. There was considerable machinery, mostly haying equipment. There was also a hotel, and dances were sometimes held in this remote area which could be reached only by pack train and is now included in The Bob Marshall Wilderness area.

Of Charles "Kid" Young, whom you will meet in another part of this book, Mr. Doney says, "He would take a blanket and a little something to eat, get on an elk track and follow it for three days. He once started off on an elk track, on the Ovando side of the Divide, followed it into the South Fork Country and back, then shot the animal within a mile of where he started."