Lone Rangers

Teton Valley Magazine
Rangers Frank Moss and Claude Shannon needed both willpower and horsepower to build the Garns Mountain lookout tower in the 1920s. Photo courtesy Wayne and Ruel Moss
Rangers Frank Moss and Claude Shannon needed both willpower and horsepower to build the Garns Mountain lookout tower in the 1920s. Photo courtesy Wayne and Ruel Moss
Forest service stations like this one at Rapid Creek often seemed more like home to the rangers' families than to the busy rangers themselves. Photo courtesy Wayne and Ruel Moss
Forest service stations like this one at Rapid Creek often seemed more like home to the rangers’ families than to the busy rangers themselves. Photo courtesy Wayne and Ruel Moss
Managing national conservation policies on a local level meant opening lands to public use while still protecting them. The fire lookout on Garns Mountain provided a sweeping vantage point. Photo courtesy Wayne and Ruel Moss
Managing national conservation policies on a local level meant opening lands to public use while still protecting them. The fire lookout on Garns Mountain provided a sweeping vantage point. Photo courtesy Wayne and Ruel Moss

By Earle F. Layser

First Published in the Winter 2001-2002 issue of Teton Valley Magazine.

On a summer morning long ago, Ranger Frank Moss led his horses, Pard and Toby, through the corral gate at the Rapid Creek station, located near Darby Canyon. Officially it was “D-5,” District 5 of the Targhee National Forest. Rapid Creek suited Ranger Moss’s family better than the bachelor setting at the Grandview station, located at the north end of the Big Holes, where he had served from 1920 to 1924. For one thing, the Rapid Creek station was surrounded by a low but functional picket fence that kept wandering livestock out of Janie’s garden and flowers. And there were neighbor boys for Ruel and Veril to play with. Ranger Moss was leaving on patrol for several days. In his absence Janie, his wife, would operate the weather station; take messages and applications; make approved permits available; and tend the house, livestock, garden and their growing family.

Ranger Moss rode north on a wagon road that ran east of the state line through the Nelson place and the Green homestead, whose properties both bordered public land. He encouraged Pard and Toby to pick up the place, hurrying to get to Little’s sawmill in Teton Canyon, where he had agreed to mark some timber for harvesting.

By afternoon, he was riding out of Teton Canyon toward the head of Mill Creek. On the upper-elevation grassy slopes, he intended to inspect a sheep grazing allotment and count the sheep to record the rancher’s compliance with his permit. Along the way he would remove windfall from the trail. He had packed a bucksaw for that purpose, and in anticipation of its use, had earlier sharpened it. His route was a cross-country trail; the road up Teton Canyon wasn’t built until 1934. Ranger Moss intended to camp at a favorite spring where there was grass for his horses before going on the next morning to inspect a cattle grazing allotment and some rumored timber cutting on South Leigh Creek. It was a long but routine workday for a ranger in Teton Valley.

Our national forests were born after private mining and lumber interests had devastated eastern forests. In the West, big game animals had disappeared across many ranges, and uncontrolled mining, overgrazing, timber cutting and water use had resulted in widespread deterioration of watersheds.

It was a time that marked the end of the American frontier and the idea of unlimited resources that were free for the taking. Public sentiment for conservation was growing. But like today, there was division between those who favored unrestricted resource use and those who wanted regulation.

Responding to public concerns, Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act in 1891; in their rush to adjourn, the members overlooked a provision allowing the president of the United States to proclaim forest reserves without the consent of Congress. President Harrison wasted no time. The 1.2-million-acre Yellowstone Park Timber Land Reserve as the first to be declared; Targhee National Forest was officially named in 1908, after the lands became known as “national forests” instead of “forest reserves.” Initially the Department of Interior’s General Land Office (GLO) administered the lands, and approval for timber cutting and other activities came from Washington. Forest officials in the GLO tended to be political appointees. One conservation advocate at the time wanted the U.S Army to administer the reserves and have troops guarding the forests.

By 1905 presidents had added 56 million acres to the forest reserves, and President Theodore Roosevelt transferred their administration of the GLO to the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Forestry. Under the leadership of Gifford Pinchot, the fledging agency became the U.S Forest Service. Predictably, Western representatives in Congress were incensed over the continuing federal “land grab.” By 1907 they had rallied support for a bill rescinding presidential authority to add any new reserves within the six western states.

What happened next is forest service legend. In Breaking New Ground, Pinchot tells how, working day and night, he and his staff prepared proclamations for the national forests in the two weeks before the act was to pass. Their efforts were successful. Working through President Roosevelt, the forest service gained another 16 million acres of forest land, called by some the “midnight reserves.” The howls of outrage echo yet today, but the national forest system in the West, as we know it, was established. In Early Days in the Forest Service, Vol. 1, edited by Jessie Thompson, Albert Cole stated, “[Many Westerners] though…the Forest Reserve idea was a crack-pot scheme of politicians in Washington [that] would soon be done away with.” According to the Williams News in Men Who Matched the Mountains, ranchers in the southwest sent a lobbyist to Washington with directions to “stay there until he [headed] off the scheme.”

Within the infant forest service, however, enthusiasm was growing for the organization’s bold agenda and tenacity. In Early Days in the Forest Service Vol. I, Ranger Elers Koch expressed in 1906 what many employees felt: “I often [thought] what a wonderful thing it was to have a Government bureau with nothing but young men in it.” There was “no sign of Departmental inertia or red-tape inhibitions.” In Aldo Leopold: A Fierce Green Fire by Marybeth Lorbiecki, Leopold reveals the prevailing attitude of the day: “I’d rather be a [forest] supervisor than…the King of England.”

Ultimately, Pinchot’s agency was widely accepted because it transferred leadership to the local level and supported resource use in the form of utilitarian conservation. Forest rangers were given the authority to administer local uses. In Early Days in the Forest Service, Vol. 1, Koch writes, “Pinchot had promised the western people that so far as possible the Reserves would be put in [the] charge of local men who knew the country and its traditions.”

Early forest rangers were issued a slim Use Book containing all the rules and regulations. In contrast, today’s forest service manual and handbooks, serving a similar purpose, comprise thousands of pages in roughly 60 volumes. The Use Book stated, “timber, water, pasture…and other resources…are for the use of the people. They may be obtained under reasonable conditions, without delay.”

Prospective forest rangers were required to pass both written and field examinations. The written portion eliminated any illiterate applicants, and the field part, anyone lacking necessary outdoor skills. The latter tested marksmanship, horsemanship and proficiency at navigation, among other skills. Ruggedness and resourcefulness were the requisites, not technology or education. Rangers were not “desk men.” They were also expected to use common sense and be tactful, especially in representing the forest service to often suspicious and hostile locals. The ranger was the forest service.

In contrast, contemporary ranger qualifications emphasize “leading change, leading people, [being] results-driven, [maintaining] business acumen, building coalitions and communication, and [coordinating] natural resource management.”

Early day rangers were required to furnish their own saddles, horses, equipment, food and lodging. Salary was generally $900 a year, but many rangers started at $60 a month or less.

In 1897 the GLO sent T.S. Brandegee to examine the lands that would make up Targhee National Forest. He reported 19 small cattle operations located along the eastern edge of Teton Basin and 21 ranches in Jackson Hole. These numbers increased significantly by 1889?, when, as B.W. Driggs notes in History of Teton Valley Idaho, large companies of Mormon pioneers began arriving in Teton Valley. Brandegee reported that three sawmills were already operating in 1897 and that much of the “primeval Douglas-fir forest had been destroyed by 1840-1890 wildfires.” Early forest service records mention timbering and sawmills located at the mouth of Teton Canyon, on Fox Creek and elsewhere in Teton Basin.

Early forest service surveys, published in the Rise of Multiple-Use Management in the Intermountain West, generally indicated Targhee National Forest grazing ranges to be in “good to excellent condition,” except for some localized situations, but by 1909, 217,000 sheep and 11,750 cattle were grazing there.

Brandegee reported in 1897 that Jackson Hole already had “a reputation as a mountain resort” and was serving sportsmen and tourists. Settlements in both Teton Basin and Jackson Hole occupied former big game winter ranges. With the increased population, poaching, hide hunting and disregard for or lack of game regulations because problems. Forest officers were directed to “aid in the enforcement of game laws,” but Idaho had none yet.

Those were the conditions encountered by Roland W. Brown, the first ranger assigned to the Teton region in 1898. In an April 1987 Teton Valley News article, 88-year old Roland Brown Jr. recounted his father’s forest service experiences, saying Ranger Brown “was appointed by Wyoming Senator Clark and…initially stationed in Jackson, covering both Teton Basin and Jackson Hole.” A few years later he moved to Teton Basin, where he served until 1910. Because of the “sparsely settled conditions,” Brown was initially “furloughed during winter.” His starting salary was $50 a month, and he had to furnish his own horse. “Transportation was all on horseback, accompanied by a pack outfit, or sometimes a horse-drawn buckboard…or a covered sleigh in wintertime.” In those days rangers built trails, counted sheep and cattle on ranges, marked trees for cutting and always were on the lookout for forest fires. If a fire did start, rangers got volunteer help to control it.

Ranger Brown constructed the original Rapid Creek Ranger Station, established the first phone line to serve Alta and operated the first U.S. Weather Bureau recording station in Teton Valley. The original Rapid Creek station was remodeled in the 1930s and moved to Stateline Road in the 1950s. It is still in use as a private residence.

Prior to his appointment, Brown had been a teacher in Evanston, which is evidenced by his elegant penmanship in a report calculating the water flow of Teton Creek. By 1912 typewriters had mostly replaced the ranger’s quill pen.

Turn-of-the-century conditions were somewhat more civilized for a ranger in Teton Basin than for one stationed north of Jackson, where, as Susan Marsh describes the Stories of the Wild, Ranger Rudolph (“Rosie”) Rosencrans regularly skied between the winter-isolated Blackrock station and Jackson, or into the Yellowstone Thorofare cabin, in the course of a day’s work. The original log ranger station Rosie built by hand is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and can be seen today next to the current Blackrock facilities, east of Moran. When his eyesight failed in his later years, Rosie reportedly accepted the fate, saying, “I’ve seen enough beauty for my lifetime.”

By 1910 forest service records show that four ranger stations—Clawson, Grandview, Rapid Creek and Victor—existed in Teton Basin. The Clawson station was only in use from 1910 to 1914. In 1923 the Grandview station was combined with Victor. And in 1950 the Rapid Creek station closed, and Driggs became the sole station for all of Teton Valley.

Claude Shannon was the ranger at Grandview from 1918 to 1920 and at Victor from 1920 to 1934. Dale Breckenridge, a long-time Teton Valley resident, recalls, “Claude got along with everybody.” Once, in April 1932, Breckenridge’s uncle ran out of hay, and Ranger Shannon issued him an emergency grazing permit allowing his livestock to forage along the southern edges of the forest. Ranger Shannon was killed fighting a forest fire in 1934.

Another ranger, whom many oldtimers in the valley still remember and who witnessed the valley’s adoption of modern forest policies, was Francis (Frank) Moss. Forest service records show Ranger Moss was stationed at Grandview from 1920 to 1924 and at Rapid Creek from 1925 to 1943. Prior to working for the forest service, lived in St. Anthony and had served on U.S. Navy gunboats in China. Frank had seven children. He was well-known locally for his involvement with both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and he was instrumental in permitting and building the boy scout camp in Teton Canyon and the LDS Church’s girls’ camp in Darby Canyon. Ranger Moss was also responsible for other forest improvements still in use today, such as the roads up Teton and Darby canyons.

Frank’s daughter-in-law, Doris, lives on Stateline Road. She recalls Ranger Moss worked long hours during the first season. “He would leave early Monday morning on horseback, leading a pack horse with camping supplies, and return Saturday afternoon. Usually he’d leave again the following Monday. Sometimes his sons [Lyle, Ruel or Veril] would accompany him as ‘campjack.’” In taped memoirs, Ruel recalled that on those trips they would “set up a teepee for shelter and sleep in blankets,” Doris says the work involved clearing forest trails without chain saws, marking trees, issuing woodcutting permits and preventing forest. Ruel remembered wildfires when his father would “round up a crew, stop at the store, charge the groceries to the forest service and head on to the fire. Besides fighting the fire, Frank set up the fire camp and cooked meals for the crew too.” Ruel noted, “Not many rangers cook for fire crews nowadays.”

Doris says “[Frank] was an accommodating man, realizing the forest belonged to all of us. People’s word was good [in those days], so there was very little…difficulty.” Ranger Moss held himself and community responsible for the health of the forest’s ecosystem—and noted the lightest of offenses. Recalling his work with the sheep herders near North Leigh and Badger creeks, Frank’s son Lyle says he was once startled to see his dad ride up just as he and the herder were dining on grouse—out of season. Ranger Moss didn’t say anything until he was ready to leave, then he looked at the herder and Lyle and said, “Better bury those feathers.”

One of the last rangers to patrol Teton Valley single-handedly, Frank helped the community embrace modern technology that would render his rustic trade obsolete. When the railroad was built, the ties came from trees cut on the national forest—with a permit administered by Ranger Moss. Grandson Wayne Moss tells the story of Frank “going out to St. Anthony to pick up their first car, a model-T Ford. The anticipation had most of the family waiting down the road a good ways,” he says. When Frank finally came along, they all excitedly piled in, only to have to get out and push the car up the hill. “At the hilltop they all climbed on board again and proudly puttered up to the ranger station.”

Clarence Murdock, who eulogized Frank at his funeral, remembered him as “an honest man of integrity and conviction, with a good sense of humor—an outdoorsman who loved the outdoors.” These traits served Ranger Moss, his family, the forest service and the community well in those early days.

Today our national forests are a legacy enriching the quality of life in Teton Valley and the lives of all Americans. The national forest system grew from the seed of political forces at the end of the 19th century and was tended by an inspired youthful government agency. But the forests were both protected and made accessible by respected and dedicated local rangers, who made conservation an everyday part of their community and local people’s lives.

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