In 1897 the Rainier National Forest, which included the Cowlitz Valley from Randle east to the summit of the Cascades and most of the Cispus River drainage, was established with headquarters at Orting.
The area formed what was known as the Cowlitz Ranger District of the Forest Reserve, with Frank Gates as ranger.
Headquarters for this unit was set up a mile east of Randle and consisted of a log cabin for the district ranger’s dwelling and a small shed to house his saddle and pack horses.
From this location, the ranger solely handled the work on the approximate 500,000 acres of the district. He was indeed a “Lone Ranger.”
Most of the late spring, summer and early fall months were spent on horseback traveling over the country to take care of the many jobs on this domain.
The rest of the year was spent at his headquarters on his book work, which consisted of records that had to be kept on the past year’s activities and plans for the work that had to be done the following year.
Only one road existed at this time. It was a mere trail from Randle to Packwood that permitted driving a team and wagon over it with great difficulty.
The rest of the district could only be traveled on horseback over the few Indian trails in the area, or where these did not reach on foot, through dense brush and over fallen trees.
The ranger’s big job at that time was to keep the old Indian trails open so that travel could be continued over these by horse and to chop out trials into areas inaccessible by hoarse.
These trips over the district were lonely affairs as there was little activity by human beings in this remote area.
Some prospecting by miners had been done, and gold had been found in the McCoy Creek area about 20 miles south of Randle.
The mining venture proved somewhat discouraging, however, since only a total of $645 worth of ore was removed at a cost of $2,900 to the miner.
Two bands of sheep, with 1,200 head of sheep in each, roamed the Mt. Adams area during the summer months and fed on the meadows with their lush growth of grass near the timber line of this great mountain. These sheep were put under permit at a cost to the owner of a few cents per animal for the season.
Forest fires were the nightmare of the ranger. Many fires originated through the carelessness of homesteaders in clearing their land for farming, or intentionally by some.
Lightening set fires in remote areas, where it required several days for him to reach. Little or no funds were available for hiring help to fight fires and the task of combating most of these single-handed was hopeless.
A severe fire that occurred in the early days of the forest service was the devastating Cispus fire which started September 2, 1902, about 25 miles south of Randle and burned over approximately 500,000 acres, destroying several bullion board feet of virgin timber.
This fire is thought to have been started by a mining prospector who wished to get rid of the brush and fallen trees in the area he planned to work to make travel easier.
In 1907 things began to look up for the forest service. The oversized Cowlitz District was divided into the two districts which now exist with the Randle District headquarters in the old Cowlitz District Ranger Station and the Lewis District headquarters in the town of Lewis, which is now Packwood.
This district has since been renamed as the Packwood district.
A ranger was put in charge of each district and each ranger was permitted to hire several additional employees.
A program of trail construction was then started. The first to be built in this project was a trail from Packwood north and east of the summit of the Cowlitz Pass.
A few years later a trail was pushed through from the highway five miles east of Randle north to Purcel Mountain.
Several serious fires were started in the years that followed. One of the first of these, since the great Cispus fire of 1902, was started about six miles of Randle from slash burning on August 24, 1910.
This fire burned several thousand acres along the south side of the Cowlitz valley. The next serious fire was started by lightning in the Cispus area approximately two miles south of Randle on June 12, 1918.
This one burned over 50,000 acres of the same area burned in 1902.
Orville Lewis of Randle was the first man to this fire. He was then a fire guard at Tower Rock.
A year later a fire starter near Mt. Adams and burned some 10,000 acres of the beautiful park-like area studded with its many lakes in the Mt. Adams country.
This fire is thought to have been started by a sheep herder who set fire to a dense growth of brush on a portion of his range to make herding easier.
The men who worked for the Forest Service and developed the National Forests in the early days are to be greatly admired.
It was an ordinary thing for them to have to hike from 20 to 30 miles a day, in many cases cross country where no trails existed, in order to put out a fire or take care of some other job.
In was necessary for them to spend many sleepless nights and even go without sleep entirely for several days at a time when fighting fires – as there was no one to relieve them on the fire line.
Several of these men still live in the vicinity of Randle and Packwood. The following are the names of these men:
Orville Lewis, Randle: William Sethe, Packwood; Isaac DeRosset, Randle; August Slenkamp, Packwood; Peter Herrington, Randle; James Modeen, Randle; Frank Kehoe, Randle; Thomas Music, Randle; H.B. Blankenship, Packwood.
Several of these men assisted the writer in assembling most of this material. All of them played an important part in the work carried on by the forest Service.
By R.S. Jacobsen District Ranger
Reprinted from the June 6, 1953 edition of The Daily Chronicle. Jacobsen was District Ranger at Packwood 1947-1950 and Randle 1950-1958.