When we think of the old west, images of cowboys, trail drives, gamblers, dancehalls, miners, outlaws and the like usually come to mind, but there are many other occupations which played large roles during that time, one of those being loggers.
Saw mills, logging camps, and lumber yards were in high demand, especially needed as the railroad laid tracks to connect the east and west coasts. White pines in the north, Ponderosa in the south, and every other pine in-between were highly sought after.
In the north woods log drives were common place every spring. During the winter months trees were fallen and stockpiled on the banks of waterways. In early spring they were corralled on the ice, and after spring break up (when all the ice melted), the logs were drove down river to the saw mills. There were usually four specific crews that worked to get the logs to the end of the drive. The River Pigs were the elite crew, or the front runners, these men balanced on the floating logs, kept the lead logs moving at high speed. One wrong step could send a man into the often raging waters, and end his life. The next crews were the drivers, they kept the logs from bunching up behind the pigs, and the last crews in the water were the rear sackers, they searched out wayward logs that would get separated from the greater mass. The fourth crews were those who worked in the wanigan. It was a floating cook shack, medical center, and anything else the drivers needed.
Like cattle drives, the log drives were long, time consuming trips, but unlike cattle drives, it was difficult for loggers to find a place for the logs to ‘bed down’ for the night. If calm backwaters couldn’t be found, log drivers worked around the clock, until a suitable spot could be found for the men to get a small amount of needed rest. Drives were grueling, intense work.
As soon as the drives ended, cruisers would start exploring the woods and blazing trees or areas to be harvested the following winter. More often than not, new logging camps with large buildings would need to be built in these new areas. Also like cattle, every log was branded with the camp’s brand so when the drive arrived at the saw mills, the correct company would be credited for their logs.
In northern Minnesota, several hospitals were built with money a very enterprising nun collected from lumberjacks and lumber companies. Sister Amata was known as the Lumberjack Sister and for over thirty years, from the late 1880’s to the 1920’s, she walked the woods, selling hospital tickets or chits for $1-$5 each. These ‘chits’ guaranteed the barrier free care at one of the local hospitals if they were injured while working. Stated right on the ticket was the disclaimer that the ‘chit’ was void if the injury came about due to liquor or fighting
My logging story, A Wife for Big John, takes place in the northern woods of Minnesota, where Dani Jones finagles herself a job at a logging camp. Big John Thompson did need a new cook for the lumberjacks, but upon his arrival home from the spring drive, he’s floored to discover the Daniel Jones he hired is actually Danielle Jones. Dani is trying to make enough money to travel to California and be reunited with her fiancé, but while working for Big John, decides he needs a wife and sets out to find him one. The story has received several wonderful reviews including a recommended read. Here is a short blurb from when John returns home from the drive:
A final glance touched each of the boys before he turned, climbed the steps, and strolled across the porch. The hinges of the screen door gave a faint screech as he pulled the framed door wide. He stepped around it and after sending a quick glance over his shoulder, twisted the brass knob of the glass-paneled door. The screen door slapped shut as he stepped into the front entranceway. He headed for the kitchen, ready to bellow for Howard and find out why there were children in his front yard. Movement in the parlor caught his attention and stilled the words in his throat. Nervous, he took one slight step toward the room on his left, and leaned around the wall.
His feet jumped and almost caused him to stumble as he pulled his head back. There were more of them! In his parlor, and these ones, were girls. They were sitting on the settee and upon the floor- playing with his checkerboard and poker cards.
John turned and put his feet in the direction of the kitchen. Howard had a lot to explain. Two steps later a scream like he’d never heard before echoed through the house.
“What the…” he exclaimed, and jolted for the staircase on the right. The sound had come from one of the upstairs bedrooms.
Fortunately, he looked down as his big feet reached the stairs, because there on the bottom step, sat another little creature. Long, blond hair hung around the cherub face smiling up at him. Mouse, the large, white tomcat that lived in the summer kitchen sat on her lap and looked as if he enjoyed the position. The cat lowered his head as a miniature hand rubbed it between the ears.
“Hi,” the little girl greeted.
His feet sidestepped, this way and that, as he tried not to step on the tiny person. “Hi,” he repeated, grabbed the solid, wood banister with one hand and chose to step over her as another scream vibrated the house. His feet flew above her head and took the stairs three at a time.
At the top landing, John glanced left and right. Which direction had it came from?
A noise drifted past, muffled, like someone talking. It came from his right. His feet hurried to the first door down the hall. As his hand reached down to twist the knob, he paused for a moment to listen. Someone was definitely in the room and it didn’t sound like Howard. Who could it be?
He shoved the door open. The words that had formed in his mind caught in his throat as his eyes took in the scene.
Dani heard the door bang open, but didn’t turn around. “Oh good, Howard, you’re back. This little one is just making their arrival.” All of her attention needed to stay focused to guide the slippery little infant from its mother’s womb. Within seconds, a tiny, perfect body glided into her waiting hands with a rush. One hand supported the round head as she turned the tiny form to make a quick assessment. “We have a fine baby boy here.”
With a cotton cloth, she removed the blood and mucus from his face to clear the small airways. Her fingers shook. When the tiny mouth emitted a slight cough, she encouraged, “That’s right little man, take in a deep breath and let your mama hear you scream.” The baby followed her instructions and as his wail filled the room, she twisted her head to the door. “Howard?”
Dani drew her brows down in confusion as she caught sight of the bulk of a man filling the entire doorway. “Oh! Um, Sir?” She didn’t recognize the tall lumberjack, but noticed the way his face was going from red to white. Her gaze fluttered between the infant in her arms, and the man in the door. She could do nothing but watch as the man melted onto the floor. Her eyes grew wide with shock, and her body gave a small jerk when his head hit the floor with a solid thud.
I must mention, I have two stories being released in May. Rancher McBride and Doctor McBride. The third McBride brother, Sheriff McBride is part of the Lawmen and Outlaws Anthology being released in June.
Thanks for reading!