I owe the next several stories to Lonnie West who read an earlier blog and commented on it. Through that comment we exchanged emails and he proceeded to send me more information on his family – Amos. From one of the articles he sent, I decided to do my own research of the first newspaper mentioned and what a wealth of information awaited me to read, digest and write about. This newspaper, The Holbrook Argus, 6-19-1897 was a compilation of events in Apache and Navajo Counties of northern Arizona, the people who settled the area with pictures of these men and some women and pictures of other events that took place. It will be days before I can relate all the information to you, but let’s get started.
The paper began giving some basic facts about Navajo County. It stated that there were about 75,000 cattle and 100,000 sheep. Further, it believed that the section north of the Little Colorado, with an occasional ranch and/or settlement would remain a grazing country forever. Think about it, the year is 1897 and thousands of sheep and cattle roamed the northern portion of the county. Today, sheep may be gone except what is found on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations but there are still cattle in the area.
The paper also looked at the livestock industry for Apache County. Here though sheep really outnumbered cattle; 15,000 cattle to 98,500, sheep. Previous years had not been good for either sheep or cattle in Apache county though. Drought during the previous years reduced the number of livestock. (it makes me wonders if there were that many sheep and cattle, how many were there before the livestock men reduced their herds?) An abundance of rain fell in 1896 and the ranges were covered with lush grasses. The winter snows saw heavy snow falls in the mountains during the winter of 1897 and the rains that had started in June had given hope to the livestock men as they gazed out on the land. It looked like the future was promising for good grazing. That particular portion of the paper ended on a high note stating that herds were being increased instead of decreased.
I find it fascinating that sheep outnumbered cattle two to one in these two counties. It would be interesting to find statistical information for the next years to see how the numbers fluctuated in both cattle and sheep. Ah, research is so fun!
We will leave our story for the moment. There is much to write about for the sheep industry in the days ahead.
This past week was the start of National Wool Week in the United Kingdom. It runs from October 4th to the 31st. Don’t know why it is called a week; that is more than one week. But I digress. On FaceBook there has been many pictures of sheep, clothing and yarns all produced in the UK. This week, I had been researching the September/October 1921 Coconino Sun, Flagstaff and also found advertisements for wool suits from the UK. In 1921, the sheep industry in the United States was taking a beating. Prices for wool and mutton were down after the sheepmen did fairly well getting reasonable prices during WWI. But then there was an economic downturn. It did not help that the west was experiencing a drought either. Sound familiar?
The Campaign for Wool pictures from their FaceBook page.
And now for the Ads in the Coconino Sun, Flagstaff, September 1921:
Why have I put this information about the UK Campaign for Wool Week on a blog about the Arizona Sheep Industry? Well maybe we should start to look at wool differently in this country. It is a great fiber for the environment for one. In an earlier blog I wrote about the benefits of wool and sheep for the environment. Yes, it can be worn in all seasons if one purchases the right kind of wool. We have a Make It with Wool contest every November in Arizona. This year’s contest is November 20th. If you are in the Phoenix area and would like to see what our contestants make in person, let me know. Many states across the United States have a contest and you can check from the National Make It with Wool organization when those events will be by checking if your state has a contest.
I will be showing pictures on this blog once the contest is over. While it is too late to enter the contest this year, there is always next year. So, get your pattern and wool material, check the rules with the National Make It with Wool and the state organization, begin to sew and most of all enter the contest! Cash prizes are given. Hope to see you there as an observer or a future contestant.
The next few stories will be on the early sheep industry in Holbrook and some of the families involved in raising woolies as I have received some interesting articles lately.
To all who have written me a message or commented and I have not responded, I apologize. The book for the Arizona Farming and Ranching Hall of Fame has taken more of my time than I had anticipated. I will have a short story on tomorrow in honor of it being wool week in England and they have had some great stuff they have put out. In addition I found some old ads for wool that I want to share. So, please be patient.
I will have a new story to post within the next week. I am working on a book for the Arizona Farming and Ranching Hall of Fame and it has taken up more of my time then I had anticipated. I am working on getting families inducted into this Hall of Fame that had sheep and will be posting their stories and other news. There was a lot that happened in September 1921 that I want to include and please be patient while I try to navigate all the stories.
Today’s story comes from an article written by Mr. Embach, the Arizona Wool Growers’ Association secretary in 1950 about changes that were seen by one sheep owner in the state since arriving in Arizona just before Arizona changed from being a territory to the 48th state of the United States.
Jose “Tony” Manterola had seen Arizona through wet years and dry years; good and bad economic times. He told Mr. Embach of changes he had seen in the sheep business especially with salaries and finding good herders from when he first arrived in Arizona. He stated that he was paid $18 a month on his first job in the 1911-12 and six months later it was raised to $20 for he was recognized for his work ethic. In forty years, the salary for a herder had gone from that $18 dollars a month to between $150 to $175 a month. Tony also reported that finding good herders in the 1950s was not easy. Spanish herders had not been coming for 25 years, since 1924. French herders were also scarce. These were some of the best men because of their work ethic and knowing sheep, their occupation in their home countries. Tony lamented that he was thankful that still in the late 1940s and early 50s lamb was a steady demand quantity for the Arizona dinner table. Too bad that is not the case today in Arizona or across the country.
Other sheep owners also expressed similar comments in various articles read by this author. One of the biggest reported was the change in diet that the early herders agreed to was by 1950 not acceptable. Where rice was a staple in the past, that had changed for most of the herders. Now they wanted more sugar, lots of coffee, and variety of meats. While that may have been a small price to pay to keep a good sheepherder, it was an additional expense to the sheep owner with having to deliver to the sheep camp more often.
As I researched the first part of August 1921 a few items of interest on the livestock industry were reported in the northern Arizona newspapers. The biggest story was the rains. It is reminiscence of this August, 100 years later. We sure have been blessed across the state with rains this monsoon season and we still have over six weeks to it officially ends, September 30th. So, let’s see what was happening 100 years ago August.
August continued to be wet across the state. In the Flagstaff area it was reported that the Spring Valley stock tanks had been filled almost everywhere. With the precipitation the grass was doing well and the range stock, especially the cattle, were putting on weight. No one was complaining about the thundering rains that returned during the middle of the month. It was reported that the sheep range north of Winona where Jack LeBarron run his sheep brought so much rain that his water tanks filled in ten minutes. That must have been quite a storm. He was so happy that it was said he had joined the stockmen’s glee club as he said the rains will provide water for a year! The Holbrook News had also reported that northern stockmen had great cause for rejoicing with the amount of rain that had fallen. The country has some much grass that the Coconino Sun reported that it needed a haircut! Must have been good grazing for both sheep and cattle. It went on stating, “Dry Lake, one of the last of the watering places to get the benefit of the summer rains, got its full measure on Saturday.”
In the Williams News, Friday, August 5, 1921, they reported “Williams and vicinity have been visited by additional heavy rains this week. In many localities dams have been filled and everywhere range is good and crops are much improved. A heavy rain fell at Williams Sunday morning. Gutters were filled to overflowing and the fields received a thorough (sic) drenching. The Santa Fe dam received an inflow from this rain which raised its water level fully five feet. A similarly heavy rainfall was reported for the same morning from Red Lake, Main and parts of Garland Prairie. It was first hoped this same storm would add materially to the supply of water in the city reservoir, but investigation proved that neither the city nor the Saginaw dams were (sic) materially affected by the storm. Another heavy rain fell today but at the time of going to press it had not been learned what effect it had upon any of the reservoirs. Indications point to a continuance of the rainy season.
The Holbrook News reported rain was falling across the state. Tombstone had received an inch (time frame unclear), Miami had received over 5 inches for the month of July and Bisbee had received just under 8.5 inches for the month of July. What is interesting is Bisbee in 1920 only received a total of 9 inches for the year! It would be interesting to see what the totals were for 1921 in Bisbee.
The rainy weather must have lifted the spirits of some of the sheepmen as two of them were visiting family or were enjoying time trying their hand at fishing. Harlow Yaeger decided that it was a good time to try salmon egg bait on those fish in Oak Creek. Zeke Newman with his family was a visitor of his sister, Mrs. Frank Leslie in Flagstaff. Newman’s sheep outfit is in Navajo County.
There was some shipping of lambs out of Flagstaff the first part of August too. Shipping three carloads and two carloads, respectfully, Jack LeBarron and Harry Gray shipped to California and got $5 a head. Looking at markets in Denver, the price was low.
A story that needs to be reprinted in its entirety is:
Old Tom Goes Gunnin’ after Young Tom. Father attempts to correct Son via the Gun Route.
According to information received by the News, Thomas Ortega, sheep man and resident of Holbrook, sought to correct his boy, Tom, by means of hot lead applied vigorously about the person. Rather primitive but thought to be effective.
The shooting took place Monday morning and resulted in a running affair, with young Tom executing a strategic retreat, closely pursued by the father, who fired as he advanced. The pursuit and retreat carried the pair across the Santa Fe tracks in the neighborhood of the ice plant and resulted in old Tom failing to make a thorough correction of the boy, due to the fleetness of young Tom.
Some say that young Tom rounded Woodruff Butte shortly before noon.
No arrests have been made.
A strange story to appear on the front page of the Holbrook News August 5, 1921!
And lastly, in Washington, a new Federal grazing law was being proposed by Chairman Sinnot of the House Public Lands Committee. The committee would like to see a “division of the western public lands into tracts to be leased for grazing upon a rental basis of one cent per acre where the annual rainfall is more than 10 inches and one-half cent per acre where the annual rainfall is less than 10 inches.” This would have benefitted many stockmen in Arizona.
I had briefly written about the joint meeting of the cattle and sheep men in an earlier blog and said I would address it later. While much was said among the two organizations it would be impossible to retell it all here. I will just highlight some of the items that were reported in the newspapers.
One of the biggest items as the second joint meeting of the Cattlemen and Sheepmen took place in Flagstaff during July 1921, was the new resolve to work together on common issues. The economic depression that had set in following WWI and the ending of the Spanish Flu, the livestock industry had been particularly hard hit and situation had only been made worse with the drought conditions of the Southwest.
Both organizations believe they could “reduce the price to the consumer and increase their own share of the profits.” Cost and governmental regulations affecting livestock owners include the tariff, freight rates, grazing fees, and cost of supplies were reducing their profits. It was believed that a “elimination or, at least strong regulation of the commission men and packers now battening on both” parts of the industry. (Sound familiar?)
The organizations adopted 18 resolutions. There was one for each: pleasantries of thanking those who helped organize the joint meeting; thanking the railroad for reduction in freight rates during the emergency; service of the railroad livestock agent; asking for postponement of congress during this crisis; to determine where the bankers will be from who will oversee the allocation of Arizona’s portion of the $50,000,000 livestock pool; endorsement of the French-Capper “Truth in Fabrics” bill (more will be forthcoming on this topic) and asking that the fund requested by the U.S. biological survey for eradication of predatory animals and rodents be allocated. Some of the other resolutions included:
To ask congress to change the present tariff bill to protect the American industry on hides, pelts, dressed meats and wool. This was an ongoing battle with foreign competition that was not in the favor of American growers. It had not been resolved at the time of the meeting. (Sound familiar?)
To ask the Arizona Tax commission at its next meeting “to reduce the tax valuations of livestock at least 50 percent and on grazing lands 25 percent.” The meeting was to take place at the end of July and updated information will be added once it has been reported. During WWI sheep were valued at $2.50 a head, then raised to $3.00. Now the rate was $8 a head (more than double what the valuation was a year ago) and with the current depression, sheepmen can not afford to pay that on their sheep. President Campbell of the Wool Growers suggested a return to $3 would be reasonable. No valuation was given for cattle!
“As prices of livestock on foot have declined approximately 60 per cent in 12 months, consumers of the state are to be asked through chambers of commerce, and other civic bodies to demand a corresponding reduction in retail prices of meat and meat products and to insist that Arizona products, all things being equal, be given preference so that the industry will benefit and the money be kept in circulation in the state.” This is an interesting resolution and one that can be compared to 2021 and the livestock industry. Drought had affected the state and many livestock had been lost, leaving the owners with less cash but the same number of bills to pay. Prices of meat have skyrocketed during the pandemic as well as other grocery items with the ranchers and farmers still not being paid enough to carry out their livelihood. While farm relief has been given, many of the farmers and ranchers I have talked to tell me that other costs are still going up and what they can get from the government will have to be paid back. This was the same with the portion of the $50,000,000 livestock pool that was available to Arizona’s farmers and ranchers back in 1921: it was a loan with interest. While drought insurance can help alleviate the situation in the short term, many times, other entities will raise their costs to the farmers/ranchers and the insurance really does little good in either the long or short term.
Two resolutions dealt with railroad freight rates: knowing in advance the rate so contracts could be made and asking that with all the livestock to be moved in the fall that the present emergency rates remain; and agreed that the freight rates were prohibitively high and asked that the interstate commerce commission revoke the recent 35 per cent increase on western growers and the 25 percent on Mountain Pacific growers. This is a portion of the livestock business I know very little about today and do not know what freight costs are. Railroads no longer haul livestock and the trucking industry moves many of the animals between summer and winter grazing pastures, to feed lots and to slaughterhouses. How much truckers get paid for hauling livestock will be an interesting subject to investigate. Stay tuned!
The final resolution asked for a reduction in grazing fees on all national forests for all livestock with the forest in unfortunate conditions for grazing animals. This had been addressed in an earlier blog. Today the Arizona forests are doing better than they were at the beginning of the year with the recent rains received in the mountain country of the north and east. Pastures in the southern portion of the state is beginning to recover. While the summer monsoon has arrived, it will help grown the grasses in the short term but will not eliminate the drought in one season. Rivers are running dry with some have been dry for a few years: Little Colorado River is a good example of running dry this year and previous years in the Holbrook area. Dams are empty or have a limited capacity of water for using for farming. It will take successive years of winter receiving heavy snowfall in the mountains to begin to fill our reservoirs. Forests need that winter precipitation as well as the summer rains to be healthy. A side issue to grazing fees was the usage of the trails by non-residents and how that affected the ability of sheep to have adequate grazing as they trailed for the more sheep on the trail reduced the overall quality and quantity of the grasses for those who followed on the trails.
The last commonality of the two organizations was the question of the commission rates for the sale of sheep, lambs and cattle. The sheep men have formed their own commission house, the Wool Growers’ Commission Co., to reduce the cost to them. There were several localities for the company. While the formation of the commission company did lower the cost other commission houses were charging it was asked by President Campbell to frequent the Wool Growers’ Commission Company. Wool commission houses also charge exorbitant rates and it was suggested that a committee be formed to investigate a warehouse facility where the wool could be collected from all wool growers for the strict purpose to sell wool when the conditions would be in their favor. Until that time, the wool could be stored.
One of the last issues addressed dealt with wages paid for the herder and camp tender for the sheep men. This is not a topic that I have investigated with only three families still in the business today in Arizona. It is a subject that I do not believe is fair to ask these families and write about. If I ever can pursue this topic without getting into particulars of the families, I will write about it.
Over the course of the two days many spoke but their comments came back to those highlighted above. The meeting was not all business either; there was entertainment from wives of some of the attendees, dinner, dancing, and vocal music performed. Officers were elected for both organizations in separate meetings.
Some of these issues presented here are still of concern of both organizations especially with the usage of the forest for grazing and grazing fees paid each year. The livestock are a helpful solution to our forest burning each year as does logging of them. The foreign importation of wool, cotton, etc., does not help the American producer competing against government subsidies in these other countries. Another issue still present today is the producer not receiving a fair share of his hard work with packing houses making the larger profit. The consumer is paying more but the producer is getting paid less and less and still has his same expenses as before. A movement is beginning to have consumers buy directly from the producer through farmer markets, roadside stands, and stores established by the producer that operate like a grocery store with their products available: milk, cheese, lamb, and beef. This cuts the middleman from the equation and is a win-win situation for the producers. I would rather buy locally which reduces my carbon footprint and help those in my community. And that ends what was happening July 1921.
As I sit here this Sunday afternoon, our awesome God has finally allowed the clouds to spring a leak giving us good rains yesterday and today and a good share of the state is seeing those leaking clouds bringing much desired rains to replenish man, beast and the land. This rainstorm reminds me of when I lived in the east valley of the Phoenix metropolitan area in late 1980s and early 90s as the rains would last for hours if not for the whole day. It has been raining steady for the last five hours and it doesn’t look like it will let up from that precious moisture in the short term.
It is a good time to write about the rain and compare it to July of 1921 when the Coconino Sun and other newspapers reported that the “Drought is Busted Wide Open.” The livestock and range report while saying that the range looked better than in the previous six months, some areas had seen little rain. Where the drought had been the hardest in the state livestock was still being feed.
Snow Falls on the San Francisco Peaks!
What amazed me of all the reports on the weather was this one liner in the Coconino Sun, Flagstaff for July 29, 1921: “The Peaks received a fine covering of snow Monday forenoon while Flagstaff was being treated to another of the recent frequent summer showers.” That must have been a sight to see in July!
Newspaper Accounts of July Rains
“Mr. Keyster, of the Grand Canyon Sheep Co., was in town yesterday, as happy as a lark. Said the rain they had there was a blessing. Four inches of hail, that just missed the farmers whose crops it would have damaged, covered the hills and dales; then the rains descended and the floods came, and when it was all over Government Tanks, Moritz Lake and several other tanks were filled to the brim. With 5,000 additional cattle from the desert country grazing in that section, the water wouldn’t have lasted ten days more. Now, Mr. Keyster says, the cattle, which had been hanging around the tanks continuously, have struck off for the higher country, which is taken by cattlemen to mean that they sense a wet season.
“Supervisors Garing and W. H. Campbell, Dr. Felix Manning and County Attorney F. M. Gold, who spent part of the week at Grand Canyon, say there was a dandy rain there and at Rainy Tanks this week. There was also rain, but not as heavy, at two or three points on the Flagstaff-Grand Canyon road.
“Most of Black Bill and Doney Parks have been wet down in fine shape. The section between Mormon Lake and Lake Mary had what almost amounted to a cloudburst. Autoists coming in from Phoenix say that around Bumblebee it deluged a great area.
“Flagstaff lawns will need no more water from the city reservoir for some time, the fine shower yesterday filling a long-felt want.
“At Fort Valley there was a fine rain Tuesday and another yesterday. At Buck Taylor’s ranch at Fort Valley, there was more than eight inches of hail. Buck said it looked like two feet of hail and water. His garden and corn was ruined. So far as known, the hail did only little other damage in that section.”
Farmers in the vicinity of Spring Valley were getting good rains for their crops but little water was added to the water tanks. Farmers in the Salt River Valley downstream of Roosevelt Dam were assured that the water level would guarantee provisions for about 16 months. It must have been good rains to have rivers and washes behind the dam give up that much precious water.
Another report stated that the drought had also broken on the Navajo Reservation. It was looking grim on the reservation with stock dying or dead so the rains were welcomed by all, Native American and livestock. Some of the reports on the reservation were that a cloudburst hit Tuba City, Moencopi Wash was running nearly filled, and the nearly 15,000 sheep trying to get whatever water was in the mud at Red Lake should now have water to last for months.
Lightning Caused Death
With all the rain, there was one other sad note, reported in the Holbrook Tribune: a young sheepherder, his burro and dog had been killed by a lightning bolt six miles south of Snowflake. The sheepherder, Augustine Ayala, worked for the H. H. Scorse company, Holbrook. He was planning on quitting as a sheepherder at the end of the week.
While the rains we are receiving today and have received in the past week may not break our drought it surely has given us much needed rain. It will not fill up the dams that supply our needs throughout the year, it will renew the grasses for the livestock, our lawns and vegetation will be greener, and the forests will get the moisture they need to help keep forest fires at bay.
While July 1921 may have seemed there was little information on the sheep industry, there was some important happenings, especially in regards to the joint meeting of the Wool Growers and Cattle Growers Association. While that topic will only be briefly highlighted in this post, it really deserves a post all to itself which I will do next time. But some other happenings for the month were the announcement of new sheep raisers, i.e, births, and the amount of wool shipped from Holbrook.
Joint Meeting Announced
A joint meeting between the Wool Growers Association and the Cattle Growers Association was announced and was to be held at the Orpheum Theatre in Flagstaff, the second week of July. Due to the common interests of both organizations, a joint meeting was called to agree upon common goals and to work together for the benefit of both sheep and cattle men in the state. Drought, short feed and other grazing troubles that the government has put on both industries compelled them to work together. The Coconino Sun stated, “The general comment is ‘most of us are busted but haven’t found it out yet.’ Still the grim faced old cow and sheep men are not putting up a great wail, but are digging in believing that hard work and patience will again see them enjoying their full measure of prosperity.” The Secretary of State, Ernest Hall, expressed similar sentiment during the joint meeting of the States’ Farm Bureaus. “It commences to look as though business conditions throughout the state have been struck rock bottom and there is a feeling that Arizona will soon be on her way back to prosperity again,” he declared. Others attending the State Farm Bureau meeting stated that it was imperative that livestock owners and farmers work together for the beneficial good of them all.
The State Livestock Sanitary Board also held meetings this week. Many of the cattle or sheep men belong to this organizations and having the meetings in one location, allows a larger attendance and sharing of ideas.
Future Wool Growers
The Coconino Sun, Flagstaff, announced the birth of two new wool growers in the state. Both children were born in May but the newspapers were often late in publishing such information usually because of not being notified. Word did not travel as fast in 1921 as it does in 2021. The births could have happened elsewhere in the state as the men were with their sheep while the wives were often in summer or winter grazing homes depending on the time of year and had not moved with their family belongings to where the sheep would be for the season. Travel especially could be delayed if the woman was expecting soon. It was the women’s responsibility to pack up the house goods needed each time their husbands moved the sheep and follow, usually after school was out for the summer and before school would begin in the fall to keep school age children in one school for the year. Both wool growers had summer homes in the Flagstaff area and sometimes the birth news came from family members or friends of the family. Let’s see who these youngsters were: Mike and Vicencia (the correct spelling) Martinez Echeverria were the proud parents of a girl which they named Josephine. Harlow Alfonso was born to Harlow A. and Rose A. Gibson Yaeger. There is more to the story of the birth of Harlow though. In another newspaper(this article was given to me by a member of the Yaeger family), it was reported, “After trying in vain on Monday to get word to Harlow Yaeger that he was wanted at home, Stuart Campbell went to Harlow’s Diablo Canyon ranch and corralled him, to bring him back to town. The reason Harlow’s presence was so badly needed at home was because of the arrival of a young man that morning who claimed that his name was Harlow jr. (sic) and who cried lustily for his dad.”
In other news, 29,000 pounds of wool was heading to the Boston wool market from Holbrook according to the Holbrook Tribune. Five wool growers were the shippers: Gloria Baca of Springerville; L. S. Garcia and J. Dunley, St. Johns; J. Hancock, Show Low, and Sandoval & Son, Concha. Hancock was shipping the most wool, 10,000 pounds. It was believed that another 31,000 pounds would be heading east in the near future by other sheep growers.
And that is the news for the first part of July 1921. Next blog will have more details on the joint meeting of the Wool Growers and Cattle Growers and some interesting weather correlations to today.
As we compare the news of the first week in July 1921 with present day, it seems at least one fire was burning in the state back one hundred years ago, a far cry from our situation in Arizona July 2021. The men fighting the fires in the early 1900s were not professional firefighters as we have today but ordinary men – prospectors, timber men, sheep owners and any others, who were willing to fight the fire. These men brought their own tools, camp outfits and chuck wagons and remained fighting the fire until there were no hot embers left. Sheep men and cattle men had good reason to go fight these fires as the land being burned was where their livestock would graze or were grazing. So, we will look at that fire but look at other pertinent news about fires and what was being proposed for school children.
A headlines in the Coconino Sun, Flagstaff, read “Big fire south end of forest” in the Coconino National Forest. It burned 5,000 acres! The newspaper went on to describe the fire,
“It is a rough country, filled with box canyons, about ninety miles from Flagstaff, and 25 miles from Payson. The men had to be walked in the last ten miles to the fire, over new trails recently built by the forest service. Dave Haught’s services were requisitioned as guide, as he has busted that country for years and knows all of it. Bill Conley, Winfield Beard, A. Peck, Elmer Selck, Earl Sick and others were requisitioned with their cars to carry the fire fighters down from here.”
The newspaper further stated that the fire had started in two places at once and had been fueled by winds blowing below the Mongollon Rim the previous days. At the time of the newspaper going to press, a cause of the fire was unknown. To the detriment of the stockmen in the area already suffering from the drought which kept their sheep and cattle from good winter grazing, the area of the fire also was where J. D. Newman, John Verkamp, D. W. Hudson and the Clear Creek Cattle Co. grazed their stock, further hindering these men’s economic recovery of poor lamb crop and wool as a direct result of poor winter feed,
Earlier editions of the Coconino Sun, Flagstaff, that year also mentioned fires. In the March 11 edition, it had been reported that the forest fires had started early for the southwest. In the first ten days of March, six fires had been reported in Arizona and New Mexico. Fortunately, these fires were not extensive and did little damage. Two of the fires in the White Mountains had exceed 25 acres as they were fanned by high winds which always made controlling fires difficult. The forest service was anticipating a severe fire season due to the lack of precipitation over the winter months. Fast forward four months to July 1921, and a fire had consumed 5,000 acres.
In that same March 11th edition of the Coconino Sun an intriguing article appeared: “To Teach Boys and Girls Fire Prevention Methods.” The Fire Marshals’ Association of North America wanted to secure legislation making the teaching of fire prevention methods to school children compulsory. The Forest Service and the United States Department of Agriculture strongly agreed and they hoped that such knowledge would make the task of protecting the forests easier. “The whole question of adequate timber supply for the future needs of the American people, the chief forester points out, hinges on the protection of our forests. ‘Millions of acres of tree growth,’ he declares in urging the need for a law of this kind, ‘are destroyed each year by fires, and as a result of these repeated burnings we have in the United States today 245,000,000 acres of cut-over lands that are only partially restocking and more than 80,000,000 acres that are wholly non-productive. A great majority of the forest fires are man-caused, and therefore preventable. There are things which every child should know, for it is on them that the heaviest part of the future burden of curtailed timber resources will fall’.” The paper reported that one eastern state, New Jersey, was the only state to have passed the compulsory teaching of fire prevention to school children. It was expected for other states to follow suit. Do you wonder if Arizona was one of the states that passed such legislation? My next research project! But I digress.
Continuing further in the Coconino Sun, Flagstaff, the April 15th edition continued to bring fire awareness to the public. Francis A. Chisholm, the County Agricultural Agent wrote, “In the past ten years 4800 fires which burned over 297,176 acres were reported on the National Forests of Arizona and New Mexico, according to District Forester Franck C. W. Pooler, of Albuquerque. Of this number, 45 per cent were man-caused and the remainder resulted from lightning. It cost the Forest Service and cooperators nearly $100,000 to extinguish these fires while the actual loss in timber and forage runs well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The district forester reported that these lightning caused fires were less damaging in area than those caused by human carelessness. Maybe teaching school children and adults about fire prevention would be a great idea!
A lot has changed in firefighting in the last one hundred years. Just like today, a fire can be pushed in an instant by gusting winds into an area that is hard to manage by firefighters on the ground. Those canyons and chasms can only be safely reached by the air support of water tankers today. One hundred years ago, the ordinary men, many of whom were livestock owners, would be the ones traveling into that canyon with primitive firefighting equipment. How they managed to keep the fires under control with unsophisticated equipment just goes to show the hard work and determination of the men fighting these fires as this was the land that provided their grazing for their animals. They wanted to protect it for it was their livelihood. They did not or would not intentionally destroy the land that provided for them and their families. Why would they?
With the high spring winds that come each year and seemingly has not stopped this year and the excessively dry conditions which create a double hazard to fighting fires, why does the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and other governmental agencies put such tight restrictions on the number of animals on the land, how long the animals can graze that land, and when they have to move? Is it better for a balance between grazing and forest management then to see the forest burned up? What about the wildlife that also are killed in such forest fires and the loss of grazing lands in their future? See two pictures below. I am sure that there are many more on the internet that could be added here. Wildlife and people do not win in such an environmental catastrophe. Environmentalists have had too much say in the management of our forest lands. Livestock raisers do not want to destroy the land that allows them a livelihood. They build water tanks and provide salt links for their animals but the wildlife also take advantage of these too. They were environmentalists before the environmentalist even knew what that word meant. It is ludicrous to even think that farmers and ranchers are not good stewards of the land!