Harper's Monthly—1882


ALL forest trees show a tendency to dispose themselves in groups or in strata. The usual cause, or at any rate a coincident of this, is the lithological character of the region where they grow, or else it is a matter of altitude. Thus in mountains you may see a regular stratification of trees from the base to timber-line. The case of the Californian redwoods of both species is a very marked one in respect to this characteristic. The "big trees" proper (Sequoia gigantea) are confined to certain groves on the western flank of the Sierra Nevada, whose boundaries are well known, and where even the individual trees have been counted in some cases. The other species, distinguished by the name "redwood" (S. sempervirens), is confined to that portion of the Coast Range between Santa Cruz and the northern line of California—a narrow belt about three hundred miles in length, which is said to be defined strictly by the outcropping of the metamorphic limestones left more or less uncovered by the lava currents from the coast volcanoes of former days.

The general history of the sequoias (the name is a compliment to that enlightened chief who first reduced the Cherokee language to writing) need not be retold here with much detail. The genus is coniferous, and is more nearly related to the cypresses than anything else, but its allies are scattered—one in Japan, one in the Himalayas, and another in the Gulf States of America, all reaching unusual stature. It is a group remarkable for its antiquity, too, remaining as the representative of almost the earliest period when trees grew upon the earth.

The redwoods in this coast belt stand in an unbroken forest along the base of the range—a forest whose height you appreciate only when you note how low a cleared hill seems beside its wooded fellows. It is difficult when in the forest to understand how tall the trees really are, since the spruces, etc., with which they are associated are far beyond the ordinary, and there is nothing to guide the eye. Where the redwoods grow, heavy fogs roll in from the Pacific during all the rainless months. Entangled in the dense and clustering foliage of the tall and crowded trees, they are condensed by the cool air which is held in the pockets of shade under the matted twigs and needles, and fall in misty showers, constantly refreshing the soil. Thus it happens that the redwood forests are particularly rich in a great variety of other trees and bushes; and a perfect jungle of undergrowth, shrub-like and herbaceous, flourishes there, among the rest vast quantities of poisonous plants (especially rhus), so that it is the worst of places for any person to go a-rambling who is susceptible to harm from that source.

The trunks of all the coniferous trees, and especially of the sequoias, stand as straight as though turned in a lathe and set by a plummet, rising usually a great distance without large limbs, but sometimes hirsute with stubby boughs spirally attached all the way down. In specimens of healthy growth and sound heart the stem tapers gently to a stiff though slender top spray; but in the majority of trees you will see no tapering top, but a sudden squaring off, which looks like a deformity, and which the chopper will tell you betokens an unsound trunk.

Again they will bend off at right angles into a plume-like branch, which is a deformity. In windy places, like the exposed sea-front, all the boughs are twisted into a single plane landward, and great picturesqueness results; but it is always a stiff, motionless, statuesque picture, in the darkest tone foliage can assume, for there is nothing wavy or pliant anywhere from root to topmost leaf.

Such were the stern autochthonous trees whose downfall, at the hands of the lumbermen, we went up from San Francisco to witness.

Fully a century ago the pleasant vales leading up into the Coast mountains had been penetrated by the frontiersmen of Mexico, of which country this whole great region was an ill-defined province under the name of Alta California. These men were herdsmen or farmers. Early in the present century a colony of Russians and Indians from Alaska, under the leadership of Alexander Koskoff, landed at Bodega Bay, and began farming where now is the village of Bodega. Not satisfied with this place alone, however, they travelled northward some forty miles, and established a permanent trading post and agricultural station near Salt Point, the site and many of the buildings of which are now occupied as the village of Fort Ross—an anglicized abbreviation of Fuerte de los Rusos, as the post was called by the Spaniards.

The occupancy of this strip of coast—for their hold extended all the way between Point Arenas on the north and Point Ruges on the south—by the Muscovites from 1811 until 1840, when they abandoned their station, left its impress upon the names of the region, and especially clings to the principal stream watering this portion of the redwood belt—the Russian River.

This river, which flows southward from sources close to the foot of Mount Shasta, turns suddenly to the west, forces its way through the Coast Range, and pours a swift flood into the Pacific—a matter of ambition to the stream, perhaps, but of not the slightest moment to the ocean, which does its best, in fact, to prevent the sacrifice. Seven miles above the mouth of the river, just where it escapes from the clutch of the hills and the forest, stands the two small settlements of Moscow and Duncan's. Both owe their existence to the presence of mills, and from each small branch railways run back into the forest for the purpose of bringing out the logs. Duncan's, on the northern bank of the river, is the terminus of the North Pacific Coast Railway, and there we took up our quarters, a very comfortable hotel furnishing us bed and board.

Before we went back into the woods, however, circumstances and the tender of good horses led us to some excursions which taught us "the lay of the land," and enriched our sketch-books with some notes worth telling.

Upon the high hill west of Duncan's stand splendid groves of varied trees, accented by thickets of the red-limbed madroña. Between lie open spaces of lush pasture, where cattle and horses loiter with contented eyes and rounded bellies.

"The men who own these uplands," said our neighbor, "live like lords—at least in respect to their lack of care. They buy calves when a few weeks old, adding to the produce of their own herds, turn them out, and never see them again till the butcher calls to buy beef. Right here," he added—with an appropriateness to place rather than talk—"three of us last spring tried to head off a single man who had just robbed the stage at the foot of the hill; but as he was coming up the gully there," pointing to a densely thicketed ravine, "something told him he ought to run. He crossed this open space, and was just in the edge of those woods when we came up. He got away that time, but a few months after he was caught on another charge, and proved to be notorious as a road agent."

A sudden escape from curtaining oak branches brought us full upon the summit, where the other side fell away precipice-like, but unbrokenly turfed, and there before us was all the grand expanse of the Pacific, the fretting of its surf coming as a continuous, far-away deep music,

"Like the great chords of a harp in loud and solemn vibrations."

But the shore was miles away, and its high horizon, rising to meet our point of view, made the interspace seem the deeper. Through this interspace, avoiding skillfully the, protruding headlands pushed out by the opposite hills to try what dovetailing would do toward stopping its course, wound the double S of the river.

Hurling its current against the rock-faced piers of the hills on this side and then on that, one bank always rising sheer from the water, leaving the other low and flat, the elbows of its sinuous course inclosed stretches of sand with coarse grass and willows, marshy islands and shallows where herons fed, and wandering cormorants, alighted to rest their paddles, half-submerged ledges of rocks, and fertile areas of alluvial soil just above the reach of the freshets. Never was seen such a collection of drift-wood as the huge forest relics cast up here! I rode my horse up beside one short hollow log, high and dry on the beach, and could not look over its top as I stood in my stirrups. Its interior would have sheltered a picnic party.

All the hills were free from woodland near the river, save where occasional gullies sheltered thickets of small stuff, but through the turf here and there protruded the rocky frame-work, gray, splintered, and lichen-painted under the weather's hand. It was all green then that lay before us, save the sinuous band of blue river and its fringe of yellow sand-flats, but a green mottled and blending with yellow and orange, red, purple, and brown; a verdancy universal, yet nowhere uniform, broken, as a whole, only by the blues of the sky and the changing sea and the flashing stream, yet having as many expressions and touched with hues as various as the different points upon which your eye might rest. It was a landscape of the simplest elements—rounded hills, a water-course, the sea, a cloudless arch,

"High over all the azure-circled earth"—

yet its quiet beauty was satisfying, with a charm far beyond the reach of words to interpret.

Chiselled out of the steep hill-side, near the river-level, the stage-road ran upon a sort of shelf, giving it lodgment where otherwise not even a goat could have kept its foot-hold. Leading our horses down to this road by a series of zigzags, crushing sweet-fern and brilliant flowers under our feet at every step, we followed it along the river toward the shore. Here and there farm-houses and ploughed land were to be seen, but nearly all the wide expanse of open uplands was devoted to pasturage, hundreds of cattle being constantly in sight, gazing at us with frightened eyes from the road-side, or crawling about like ants on the lofty ridges. In several little nooks on the southern bank stood small shanties, which were the homes of Indians and half-breeds—mongrels left between the Diggers, who were natives of this region before the whites came, and the Kodiaks or Russians. They cultivate small tracts, and otherwise eke-out a contented existence by fishing and working upon the ranches, chiefly as herders.

The cow, indeed, is the strong, point of ranch industry here, and the only stables we saw were intended for her. Turning in through a high swinging gate, past a barn where the two species of resident swallows were quarrelling loudly over rights of possession, we entered one of the dairy-houses. There are a dozen or so of dairies about here, almost wholly in the hands of Swiss people, and the butter they make is of the most excellent kind, fragrant and yellow with the rich herbage of the hills. The cows, nevertheless, are of ordinary stock, and their owners profess contempt for the "fancy" breeds as something very pretty to play with, but of no real value to the farmer. Certain it is that these Swiss can get more milk out of a scrub cow than any of their neighbors are able to.

This dairy was a small frame building of three rooms. In the largest the pans were set upon racks against the wall, and kept at the proper temperature. In a second room were water-heaters and arrangements for washing pans, etc. The third room was a sort of shed where the butter was made. Here, between two upright posts, was hung upon trunnions a square pine box, like a Saratoga trunk, so as to revolve with a rapidity depending upon the speed with which a blindfolded pony in the neighboring yard walked around the set of cogs that kept the gearing in motion. This box was the churn, and we were just in time to get a dipperful of the buttermilk, which was drawn off by pulling a plug in the bottom when the butter had "come." We looked into the churn, and saw it partly filled with a foamy mass of yellow granules as rich as gold and fragrant as flowers. After this had been repeatedly washed with spring water, the dairyman drew near to the churn a heavy fan-shaped table, glistening with its cold bath. Here was heaped the sixty or seventy pounds of sticky pellets, to be "worked" under a stout roller-mallet until suitable for market. This done to his satisfaction, the man took up a pair of heavy brass calipers in whose jaws were fixed the two halves of a cylindrical wooden mould, the length and calibre of which shaped the size of the standard two-pound roll customary in this market. One powerful grasp compressed into this mould all it would hold; the surplus was cut off, the roll released and folded in its cool linen wrapping, and it only remained to stand it on end with the similar cylinders filling the shallow shipping case, and to cart it away to the train. The whole operation was deft and neat and genuine; and the heated gold broker at the Bohemian Club tasted in his crisp mouthful next day all the subtle juices of the herbs upon Sonoma hills.

The mouth of the river, when we had gone near enough to have a good view of it from a headland, made a very noble picture. The green hills on the south slope gradually to a well-turfed base, hiding the beach, but showing a long sand-spit running out almost across the very entrance of the little bay, behind which are calm shallows. The northern headland, on the other hand, stands in bold outline—a point of sheer cliff jutting between the ocean and the river. Yet the charge of those waves rolling from the spicy archipelagoes of the great South Sea, or from the bleak coasts of Tartary, is met, not by this mole, but by an outer row of gigantic isolated rocks, overtopping the tide as the stones of Carnac rear their heads above the level plain, and the imagination can easily believe some giant of old, more powerful than the Druids, to have planted them there as a breakwater guarding the harbor. Around their base curls the angry foam of swift-charging, impotent breakers, and they glory in the snowy clouds of spray that envelop their flanks, for thus the rage of the mightiest of oceans is proved ineffectual, and the tamed waves sink behind them into sullen peace upon the weedy shore.

Such was the broad landscape of the region where we cast our lot these pleasant June days, and watched the cutting of the big trees.

Tradition says that credit for the very first attempt to make lumber with a saw in this region (for the Russians hewed all their beams and planks) belongs to John Dawson, of Bodega. Dawson was one of three sailors who abandoned their ship at San Francisco as early as 1830, preferring the free and easy life of the Californians. In two or three years they became citizens under the Mexican government, and took up granted ranches hereaway, Dawson marrying the daughter of a Spanish dragoon officer. She was only fourteen when she went to live as mistress of the Cañada de Pogolome, and only seventeen when she found herself the richest widow in Northern California. Dawson's lumber was cut over pits by means of a rip-saw, which he handled without help. Not half a century later steam mills in this district are turning out two hundred thousand feet of lumber daily.

The centre, or at least one centre, of this lumbering is here at Duncan's, where the Russian River receives a tributary named Austin's Creek. A wonderful railway follows its banks half a dozen miles back into the hills to supply the mill with logs.

Never was seen so unshipshape and disreputable a locomotive as that on duty here. A stubby black boiler, with a trifling amount of upper gear, makes steam, turning four small wheels by means of a cog underneath. There is no cab, or place to put one, no pilot, head-light, or any other appurtenances of an ordinary locomotive, and the wire bonnet of the smokestack is worn on one side with such a "What-d'ye-soye ?" air that the smutty little machine declares itself a very hoodlum among locomotives. Nevertheless, it accomplishes wonderful feats of pulling.

Free of the load of logs brought down, it is going back in the coolness of the early morning, and we go with it. The track is of the usual gauge, but the cars are platforms of only half the ordinary length, and are fastened together by ropes, shortened up when the train is empty, but lengthened so as to separate loaded cars by six or eight feet, in order that the protruding ends of the logs shall not interfere.

The track is rudely built and rickety, the rails being heavy strap-iron bolted upon string-pieces. It runs shakily through tunnels of infinitely varied verdure, curves along ledges blasted out of the brown and fern-hung rocks of the creek shore, traverses low ground upon causeways of ties and stringers, each as big as a hogshead, ventures out upon some precarious bracket-trestle whence it might plunge directly into the stream. Almost from the first we have entered the old forest, where (now that the choppers have passed on) we revel in the beauty of unhindered plant luxuriance: in the lofty spires of kingly redwoods, and of pines and spruces ambitious to equal them; in the glossy masses of erect pepper-woods, whose leaves look like oleander, smell of bay-rum, and tingle upon the tongue like curry; in the awkward form of the half-flayed madroña; and in the grace of the light-toned masses of maple, alder, and small shrubbery along the water-side. Enjoying this green wilderness, and with interest freshened by the sight of huge pedestals that once bore trees, and by increasing signs of the choppers, we reach the logging camp. Here, however, no cutting is being done to-day, so we walk across the ridge to the next gulch, up which a branch of the railway diverges, and whence came at intervals the dull explosions knelling the downfall of some forest patriarch—

"A murmuring, fateful, giant voice, out of the earth and airVoice of a mighty dying tree in the redwood forest dense."

Thoreau once speaks of hearing "the rare, domestic sound" of the wood-chopper's axe. Echoing across the frozen rim of Walden Pond, it perhaps bore well these adjectives; but here no such impression is conveyed, and the thought suggested is a sad rather than a pleasing one, as the sharp strokes come to our ears with quick repetition. Shaping our course by such signals

"A measured beat, a ringing sound,
A hardened resonance of sound"—

we presently learn our proximity to the scene of the chopping by the roaring profanity coming up from sources invisible as yet.

This gulch, like the other, proved a narrow ravine, down which dashed a trout brook, where once had grown two or three ranks of gigantic trees, the stumps remaining, like small Martello towers, to attest their greatness of girth and proud height. Yet these were by no means large examples, for whereas none of the stumps here measured more than a dozen feet across the top, specimens twice that diameter have been cut. Nor would the latter giants be unexampled among trees. Several of the members of the "big-tree" groves of the Sierra Nevada surpass any example of the sempervirens ever seen; the Douglas spruce of the mountain forests often exceeds three hundred feet in length, and eleven hundred layers have been counted in a Lambert pine. Such a growth of vegetable fibre, toughening through many centuries, and rearing hundreds of cubic feet of solid substance, excites our astonishment, and has been well defined in the phrase, "A monument of accumulated and concentrated force."

To see the prostration of a column like that would be something to remember; and following two men who, axe in hand, were making their way up toward one of the larger-sized redwoods upon the steep hill-side, we watched their attack.

"The first question, sir," said the leading axeman, politely, "when we are going to fall a big tree, is where she'll lay; because unless a man cares [i. e., is careful] to fall her right, she'll break all up, and the bigger the trunk the more liable she is to break. You can see down across the creek there how that one snapped."

We looked where he pointed, and saw that a bole fully six feet in diameter had broken squarely across; the brittleness of this timber, nevertheless, is not excessive, compared with other soft woods. Meanwhile the chopper was holding his axe in front of his upturned face, letting it hang, head down, between his thumb and finger, like a plummet, while he squinted past it at the top of the tree, upon whose perfect shaft no branches grew below the upper quarter.

"I can tell by this whether she leans out of the perpendic'lar. If she does, you've got to allow for it; but this one don't, and I guess, Joe, we'll drop her right along that knoll just to the east'ard o' that oak stump—see it? But we'll have to roll that there log out of the way a little, or she'll break her back acrost it, sure."

Having made this simple preparation (sometimes hours are spent in dragging logs to fill gullies, or in levelling knolls and getting stumps out of the way), the men returned and began chopping out some mortise-holes in the trunk about four feet above the ground. These were intended for the insertion of their iron-shod "spring-boards"—pieces of flexible planking about four feet long and six inches wide, upon which they were to stand while chopping at a height too great to reach from the ground.

The undercut was made first, and it was a fine sight to watch these stalwart men perched upon their strips of springy board, hurling their axe-heads deep into the gaping wound, and never missing the precise point at which they aimed. I do not know any attitudes more manly or motions more muscularly graceful than those of the chopper; but perhaps the noble surroundings may count more largely than we think in this estimate.

In about an hour the undercut had approached the heart of the tree, and the men desisted from their work, which must now proceed on a scientific basis.

"As I said afore," the chopper explained, " we must fall a tree straight and true where we've fixed for it, or else she'll go to pieces. In order to do this we've got to measure it this way."

As he speaks he picks up from near where his coat and saw and water caddy are lying, two sticks about four feet in length—one a square stiff lath, the other switch-like. Going to the tree he lays one end of the lath upon the partially exposed stump in the undercut, its extremity resting against the heart of the wood at the exact centre of the bole. Then stooping and sighting along it, he moves the outer end of the lath until it points exactly along the line where the trunk is intended to be thrown.

"Joe, go out there about a hundred feet or so and set a stake; I want to show these gentlemen how nicely we can drive it in with this big sledge we're goin' to let loose directly."

"Do you mean to say you will drop your tree as accurately as that?"

"You bet—hit that stake plumb; 'n' it'll take more mumble-te-peg 'n you're worth, I reckon, to pull it out afterward!"

Meanwhile he went on with his mathematics. Having aimed the lath, he measured with his switch from its outer end to the "corner" at each side of the undercut, and finding one side a little shorter than the other, chopped in until he had equalized the hypothenuses of the two right-angled triangles whose straight sides were back to back in the line of the lath. The object and importance of this was to make sure that the limit of the undercut, where the strain and breakage controlling the fall of the tree (and marked by the line of upright slivers in a stump) would finally come, should be at right angles to the intended direction of that fall.

"How tall do you think this tree is ?" I ask.

" Well, I should say pretty nigh on two hundred feet; but it is easy enough to find out exactly."

Taking his axe the chopper cut a straight stake, sharpened its end, and placed it before him while he stood very erect. Then with his knife he cut a notch just four inches above the point on the stake which came squarely opposite his eyes—this extra four inches being an allowance for planting the stake in the ground. Walking away to a point on the hill-side level with the base of the tree, and about the right distance, as he guessed at it, he planted the stake and lay down on his back behind it, with his heels against its foot, and his eye trying to bring the notch on the stake in range with the topmost plumelet of the redwood. One or two slight shiftings of position enabled him to get this range, and thereby to construct an equal-sided triangle. It only remained to measure with his five-foot rule the distance from his eyes to the base of the tree to learn the height of the tree, representing the other side of the triangle. The fact in this case was 180 feet.

This practical triangulation finished, the axes were laid aside, and the spring-boards inserted in new mortises behind the tree, and a big two-handed saw set at work to make the overcut. Soon the crevice begins to open a little, and then a little more, until the cautious woodmen begin to cast their eyes aloft, watching carefully the signal that the next stroke would be the last, cutting the one remaining tendon that holds the mighty column up, for already there are sudden strange shivering motions in the densely bushy thickets of foliage that adorn its lofty crown, and dead twigs rattle down, snapped off by thrills of approaching destruction.

"Riven deep by the sharp tongues of the axes,
there in the redwood forest dense,
I heard the mighty tree its death-chant chanting.

" The choppers heard not, the camp shanties echoed not,
The quick-eared teamsters, and chain and
jackscrew men, heard not,
As the wood-spirits came from their haunts of a
thousand years to join the refrain;
But in my soul I plainly heard,

"Murmuring out of its myriad leaves,
Down from its lofty top, rising over a hundred feet high,
Out of its stalwart trunk and limbs, out of its
foot-thick bark,
That chant of the seasons and time—chant not
of the past only, but the future."

So Walt Whitman—himself a sequoia in the forest of poets—sets to fitting music in my grateful memory the ominous crackings of tense fibre I think I hear, the partings of well-knit rind, and the hushed commotion of shocked branches and crowded leafage overhead. Then comes the final stroke of the axe, severing the last slender stay, and, with a mingled roar and scream of frightened despair, the huge mast, carrying all its lofty spars and well-set rigging, slowly leans to its fate, gathers headway, spurns with giant heel the faithless stump which hitherto has borne it proudly against every gale and torrent, and so, stately to the last, "rustling, crackling, crashing, thunders down."

Picking our way through the settling dust and debris of crushed branches which lie in a thousand splinters of red and green around the head of the prostrate chief, we look for the stake with which Joe challenged our credulity, but fail to find it, for it has been driven "plumb through to China," as Joe avers.

"Accidents must happen pretty often in this business," we remark.

"Yes, right often, both to men and animals. Sometimes a tree is weak, and topples over before you're ready for it; or, instead of lying still when it strikes, it sort o' picks itself up and takes a long jump forward, which is unexpected, and liable to hurt somebody. Then the worst of all is where the butt breaks off and shoots back behind the stump like one o' them darned big battering-rams you read about, and worked by sheet-lightnin' at that. Yes, a heap of men gets killed in the woods every year. We never had none killed dead right here, but a mighty curious thing happened last September was a year. One of the men went to work in the mornin' 'long with the rest—good, solid man he was, too, with heaps of sand in him. He didn't come into dinner, nor when night come. Then we begun to question round, and found none of the boys had saw him since mornin'. We found his coat and tools, but nary hide nor hair of him then nor no time afterward. We rather looked for a sheriff to be comin' round the next day or two, thinkin' the fellow might have got wind he was onto his trail (though we knew nothin' agin him—but you can't 'most always tell, you know), but none came."

" What was your conclusion as to this strange disappearance?"

"Well, we just allowed that one of these big trees had got the drop on that fellow, as it were, and druv him clean into the ground. Cigar? No, thank ye; I'll stick to my pipe."

The wastefulness of this lumbering is one of the striking features of the scene. Only the largest trees are cut, those measuring less than two feet in diameter rarely being touched, and the axe is laid, not to the roots (though they are not thick and widely divergent, considering the height and weight they support), but some distance above, so that in very large specimens the massive stump, upon whose flat top you might build a comfortable house, stands ten or twelve feet above the ground, and contains hundreds of feet of sound lumber, which must be left to rot or burn. Then many trees are broken by their fall, so that large parts of them are useless; other parts may be knotty, or crooked, or inconvenient to drag out, and so only half of a great trunk will be utilized. Huge logs are consumed, also, in road-making and bridge-building in the hills, and dozens of small trees are crushed by the fall of their greater companions. Then, when a district is pretty well cleared of its best timber, fire is set in the brush and prostrate trunks. Feeding eagerly upon the resinous wood, half dried and broken, it gathers so much heat that the saplings are nearly all killed, and the flaky, tinder-like bark of the larger trees is singed in a way which must greatly injure and often destroy them. Moreover, these fires, fanned by the gusty breezes rushing in every afternoon from the ocean, often get beyond control, and sweeping through the oily tops and brittle trunks, spread blackened ruin over miles and miles of precious forest. Precious, however, it seems never to occur to the lumberman these forests are; yet he is probably no more wasteful and careless here than elsewhere, and finds his match for heedless extravagance in nearly every pursuit that deals in what nature furnished us at the outset in abundance, but replaces only very slowly, giving abundant leisure for our repentance. The spendthrift lumberman is bad enough, but no worse than the wasteful oysterman or buffalohunter, reckless of the future. It is, or ought to be, a matter of rejoicing to everybody that the Forestry people, under Mr. Sargeant's guidance, are paying especial attention to preserving as far as possible the magnificent forests of the Coast Range.

It is interesting to observe how speedily Nature re-asserts herself the instant the lumberman leaves her undisturbed. Every redwood stump that escapes the fire is at once surrounded and crowned by a dense thicket of sprouts, which in two or three years conceal it under a cone of vivid green. Meanwhile innumerable bushes, briers, evergreen saplings, and vines have grown up among the many trees left standing, so that an inexperienced person, not noting the absence of large trees, might never suspect that the lumberman had marched through the district, sparing nothing he cared to take, only a few months ago.

An example of this swift and pleasant renewal was a large ravine close to the mills whither we used often to go, partly to escape the intensely chilly wind that swept up the valley of the Russian River during the whole month of May, but chiefly for enjoyment of its loveliness.

This ravine was a circular basin, a quarter of a mile in width, surrounded by hills of considerable height, forested, except at one place where a promontory rose above the rest into a huge pile of crimson rocks and purple heather surmounting lower slopes of gold and green, where the long yellow plush of the turf rippled under the wind like the surface of the river itself. Into this basin, through a rift in the hills behind, poured a stream, expanding into a marsh here, but a marsh so choked with flags and coarse grass, or hidden under such a variety and luxuriance of trees and bushes, that it was no easy matter to see any water.

From end to end of this basin, and right through its centre, ran an old bridge or causeway, broken now and useful only for the small foot-travel which might go that way, but plainly once the avenue to the mill of thousands of logs, whose places the forest had hidden so bravely that we never missed any trees out of the still crowded ranks. Here was sketching material to last a whole summer through—backgrounds of hills near and remote; glimpses of white cottages to accentuate the middle distance; trees dark and massive, with drooping boughs and pinnacled tops, or carrying rounded, dense thickets of olive foliage far above the hill horizon; rounded heaps of willowy bush foliage, feathery maples, alders, and the like, some in blossom, with a foreground of lichen-painted and flower-studded rocks, ruined platforms of grass-grown logs, or the irregular perspective of the old causeway making a lane straight into the heart of your composition.

As I sit watching the making of a sketch it is hard to realize myself in California. Looking one way, I might easily think a cypress swamp in Louisiana my hospice; looking another, any Eastern mountain scene is duplicated, from North Carolina to the Adirondacks. Of course a minute glance detects differences at once, but the general impression is about the same one would gather from a wild bit of wet woodland in the hills of any Atlantic State. Always on the lookout for my friends the birds, I see that a stranger would scarcely notice the difference between California and the Catskills in this respect. The scream of woodpeckers, the short whistle of the plumed quail—knightly bird!—the loud click and chatter of a blazing, bee-like hummer, would excite his question; but one hears here the same kind of melody, and recognizes the songs of old friends in a new brogue, as is to be expected of cousins living on this side of the big continent. Among these low bushes, for instance, a finch is bobbing about, chirping in a metallic manner perfectly familiar; and from another bush comes a joyous roundelay telling me at once that it is a song-sparrow that is the performer. The blackbirds, nestling in the willows so well moated by the sluggish creek, carol above their treasures in just the happy-go-lucky strain one hears in an Ohio "swale," but, improving on it, have converted the old cheery roulade into the sharp jingling of an armful of small sleigh-bells. Chickadees and wrens squeak and chatter at you, the solemn wail of the dove comes from the dark cliff, the coarse scream of the jay (here bluer and with more swagger than at home), and the pretty prattle of many a warbler, all suggest, if they do not precisely tally with, the familiar bird-notes of Eastern woods and swamps. I have heard it said that the birds in California do not sing. It is a wicked libel. They are more musical, on the whole, I believe, than those of the Atlantic coast, and richer melody was never heard than drops from their happy throats during all these sunshiny May days.

But let us return to our redwoods, and the second stage of their degradation from trees to logs, and from logs to lumber.

The tree having been felled, men proceeded to trim away its top, and to split off its thick coat of bark. This can often be pried away almost without breaking it, except on top, so that a great cast, as it were, of the trunk is left in the bark, which lies there, after the logs are removed, like a huge ruined canoe. I have seen masses of redwood bark fifteen inches in thickness; the tree which it clothed, if straight and sound, would be worth a thousand dollars. It does not follow, however, that the biggest trunks are the most valuable, since it often happens that very large trees prove unsound or completely hollowed.

The stripping of top branches and bark having been effected, the trunk is sawed into logs fifteen or twenty feet in length. A path is now cleared to them from the nearest road sufficiently good to take in six or eight yoke of oxen. This does not require to be a very good path either—though in some cases much labor and rough engineering is required for these wood roads—since the agility of the little oxen is quite wonderful when one notes what barriers of fallen trunks and what almost vertical slopes of hillside are surmounted. Near the lower end of the log an iron hook, called a "dog," is driven in, where the drag-chain is attached. Then, under a shower of such "good mouth-filling oaths" as would have satisfied Falstaff, under resounding thwacks and proddings of an iron-tipped goad, the slipping and stumbling cattle snake the log endwise down the hill. But a single log must be of extraordinary size to content the driver. Having arranged them in line at the head of the little gully which previous draggings have smoothed out, he chains together two, three, even five or six logs, and starts up the slow-moving cattle with a train behind them four or five rods long. Though the pitches they scramble down are too smooth and steep for us to follow, sure-footed they stay upon their legs, and keep out of the way of the logs; thus all goes well, yet the shouts and imprecations of the bull-whacker never cease. He curses the logs, which are trailing along without a fault; he hurls vile but vivid epithets at the exemplary oxen collectively and individually; he swears at the meek Chinaman who travels ahead diligently wetting the ground to make it slippery; he damns everything all the time, yet is suave and polite and mild-mannered to us as we scramble alongside, for his profanity is purely professional, and his objurgations to be taken wholly in a Pickwickian sense.

The snaking out of these logs is another source of casualty to the lumberman, arising not so often from the logs, however, as from the big round butts which in many cases are sawed off from the original trunk. These are like huge solid cart-wheels, and of great weight: if one of them gets loose upon the steep hill-side, whatever stops it must stand stiff and high. We were taking breakfast with Charlie Nolan, the wide-awake foreman at the camp, one day, Nolan sitting where he could look out of the open door and up the mountain. Suddenly he dropped his knife, grabbed up a small boy in each hand, and shouting, "Get out of this!" made for the door. Nobody waited to inquire what was the matter, but followed the injunction, turning, when the open air was gained, just in time to see the stoppage by a firm stump of an immense butt, which had come thundering down through the thinned woods, aiming directly at our cottage, whose frail walls would have offered no obstacle whatever to its progress. Breakfast tasted much better after this escape from losing it altogether.

The railway having been reached by the bull-team and their train, the logs are laid lengthwise upon a sloping platform or bank strengthened by buried skids, where a white foreman and two or three Chinese laborers easily roll them down upon the cars, aiding themselves with cant-hooks, jack-screws, and consonantal expressions in two languages designed to relieve the feelings.

Having been placed upon the cars, the logs are secured by ropes and dogs so that they can not fall, and then are taken at a break-neck pace down to the mill, and tumbled over upon a slanting platform, whence they can easily be rolled upon the small car which carries them up into the mill by stationary engine-power.

The men who do this work are an interesting lot: lot, however, if it implies that it is a collection of like articles, is a bad word, for the striking thing about the Californian lumbermen is their diversity, and their habit of frequently changing from one kind of work to another, or from this camp to the next one, in endless succession. At Duncan's camps almost every European nationality was represented—French, German, Norwegian, Spanish, English, Scotch, and Irish, not to speak of Americans, Chinese, and "Indians not taxed." The Americans employed are very often graduates of the Maine woods, or "Bluenoses" from Lower Canada. These Maine men are likely to become foremen, or sub-foremen, and form a nucleus around which the floating crowd is gathered. It often happens that a man will hire himself to labor in the redwoods who is fitted for a far better kind of work, but has met with misfortune. You would think all of them had at one time possessed great wealth—or at any rate had had the opportunity of independent riches—to hear their stories; and if you believe them all, you are more strongly than ever reminded of the "slip 'twixt the cup and the lip" so likely to happen. There is a kindly emulation among Californians to prove one's self to have been more unfortunate than one's neighbor, by magnifying the prize just missed. This is perhaps consoling to the unfortunates, but it is confusing to the credulous historian.

It is a curious social life existing in these forest communities, the membership of which is constantly changing, and whose scene is annually shifted. At this camp there were only two families, but they had nothing to do with the housing or feeding of the sixty or more men (half Chinese), who messed by themselves, and slept in slab shanties near by, the Chinamen having a group of well-mottoed houses to themselves.

John Chinaman is in force here, as everywhere, for all help-work. His slight, wiry frame, with its shoulder under the lever, shows as much tough strength as that of his burly white neighbor, and he grinds all day at the feed-cutter, or totes kegs of water, balanced across his neck, up and down the rough declivities from morning till night, without seeming to tire out or ever thinking of a holiday. His it is also to manage the kitchen of the camp.

"John, where can we get something to eat?" we ask, as the sun begins to send level beams between the ruddy pillars of the soldierly sequoias.

"Heap catchum cook-house," he answers, and following his beck, our experience shows him a capital bread-maker and beef-roaster, but not a careful washer of dishes.

The men had gathered in the long wooden shed for supper, eating on wooden tables, but with an abundance of furniture and a plentiful bill of fare. Supper was hurried through this evening, for the men had on hand a frolic which had also the serious purpose of ridding the camp of an obnoxious old boar that had acquired a troublesome taste for the blood of Mongolian shanks, whose shrunken lines could ill spare the commodity. Re-enforced with great heartiness by the Chinese contingent, the whole camp therefore turned out on a boar hunt, assisted by several dogs even more diverse in breed than their masters. The approved weapons for this sort of chase, I understand, are rifles, spears, and knives; but here were to be seen only a club or two and some ropes looped with lassos, except that a valiant wielder of the brush brought up the rear with a six-shooter tightly clutched in his red right hand. The advance was not incautious. That pig had long made himself respected to the extent that when he appeared every man not only gave him the right of the road, but hastened to climb upon a stump, so as to run no risk of incommoding his swineship in the least by his presence.

It was not long, however, before a series of energetic grunts was heard ahead, and the army stopped, the artist mounting a very high stump. He said he thought they had stumbled on a bear, and he wanted to be where he could fire over the heads of all the men. Though only a black and bristling pig, a bear of the biggest kind could not have held the army at bay more thoroughly. If he had charged, I tremble to think what might have happened; but he rushed away into the bushes and ran into a corner, where he became the victim of strategy, and was presently bound and led forth in degrading captivity, followed by a procession of one artist, a score of grinning lumbermen, and a mob of chattering and dancing Chinese, for the intention was not to kill him, but only to eradicate his pugnacious propensities.

This done, the painter put up his pistol, and we all adjourned to the big shanty, where some of the men pulled off their boots and stretched themselves in restful ease upon their bunks, while others shuffled the cards for "a little game," or did odd jobs of tinkering.

It was a strange and interesting picture the interior of the big shanty made as the darkness of the outside withdrew all the light from within, and left the walls and the faces illumined only by a great fire of resinous redwood chunks built upon a raised earthen hearth that occupied the whole centre of the cabin, and the smoke of which escaped up a big bell-hooded flue in the ceiling.

The talk fell upon the enemy ignobly conquered; upon their work, and the probable plans of "the old man," meaning their employer; upon some men who had just departed, which carried it away to Frisco, and drifted it upon the familiar ground of reminiscences of the dance-house, the poker table, and the men who were always waiting to " get the drop" on somebody, or watching that somebody didn't get the drop on them. Stirring stories some of them, but as unreportable as the vigorous metaphors in which they were portrayed. Many of these men did not know the names of their mates beyond a Sam or Jake to call them by; and they had no especial curiosity to know, this atmosphere making a man tender about asking his neighbor personal questions, being shy of disturbing the pleasant status quo which rests upon careless ignorance. Would "old Folinsbee's daughter" have enjoyed the ball at Poverty Flat, think you, any the better for knowing all about her partner, when she

"danced down the middle
With the man that shot Sandy McGee" ?

I think not. In California one lays his course by Mrs. Partington's philosophy, no longer trite:

"Where ignorance is bliss,
'Twere the height of folly to be otherwise."

Down at the mills on the river, however, the men employed were largely those having families. For these the company had built a series of pretty cottages which were set in small gardens, kept in neat order, and held an air of solid home comfort that was very pleasing.

The mills here are essentially like all the rest in the redwood belt. I had hoped to see some wonderful boards, a dozen feet broad, cut out, but I was disappointed. If the log is of large size, it is sent at once against a "muley," or straight rip-saw, working perpendicularly, which splits it in two, after which the halves are often quartered. The smaller logs and these quarters are then hauled and rolled, with the help of steam-tackle, to the opposite side of the building, where they are cut up by a circular saw of large size. Lest its width should not suffice in all cases, however, there is rigged just over the circular saw a second one, working to meet it; between both, very wide boards might be turned out, but it is not often done, since there is no demand for them.

The capacity of these mills is from twenty to forty thousand feet of lumber a day, and to them are attached planers, shingle machines, picket headers, and so on. Next to boards, fence posts are made in largest quantity, and after these the rough split fence pickets so commonly used in this part of the State, the great durability of the wood, when unpainted, recommending it for service in fences and as roofing. Redwood shingles last like the cedar and cypress our grandfathers chose as the thatch of those old houses whose stability is our admiration. As this timber grows scarce it will doubtless be applied to uses far more varied and ornamental than at present, particularly in the way of "finishing," where the grain of the wood is to be preserved in view, and for cabinet-work. The bedstead and bureaus of the room where I am writing are made of varnished white pine, and were no doubt imported from Michigan. The redwood treated in the same way, or by other methods to which pine and ash are subjected, would have produced a handsomer result, and in a more agreeable tone. I am reminded, however, that redwood lumber for fine uses must be seasoned with extraordinary care to save it from shrinking lengthwise—a fault in which, I believe, it is unique.

A final day at Duncan's was spent in Azalea Gulch, just opposite, than which nothing more lovely is hidden in the depths of the redwood gloom. It is reached by crossing the river in a boat, and walking through long galleries, canopied with flowers and foliage, chiselled out of the overhanging cliff. The vale is broad at first, with open glades carpeted in Persian pattern—the varied greens of grasses, the sulphur dots of innumerable asters, the purple dashes of wild pea, the warm orange of the eschscholtzia, and the bloody stains of the wide-spread sorrel, combined in Nature's rough loom. There are hillocks sown thick with ferns; red-stemmed, white-crowned thickets of madroña climbing the sheltered hillside through billows of emerald shrubbery; there are solid pyramids of bay as impenetrable and smooth as close-cropped hedges, or as the mossy ledge near by, where the dwarf oaks grow scraggy and gale-bent atop; and caves of indigo darkness in the face of the forest wall, half hidden under fringes of Spanish moss catching silver from the sunlight. These things and more, like them and different from them in degrees of beauty, chain the eye as you slowly ascend the glade, hearing ceaselessly the musical splash and gurgle of the trout water so well hidden under those dense alders—alders like a delicate lace-work, worked in an intricate pattern of emerald leaves and white branches and twigs; but the strangest of all pictures is in the groves of bay; borne down and contorted ever since they were saplings by floods in the creek, they display the most grotesque tree forms ever seen. The trunks become of great size (some of them are two and three feet in diameter), but all lie prostrate, or nearly so, upon the ground, and join together two or more tree-like growths of huge erect branches, or arch here and there in fantastic curves which resemble nothing so much as a crowd of huge snakes writhing about in a cave. Nor is the impression of a cave distant from the truth. The foliage of this tree, whenever it takes the dwarfed form, is borne only upon the tips of the branches, that terminate in great bunches of twigs. Each thick-crowding limb thus carries outwardly an umbrella-like mass of leaves, through which very little light can enter; and as here these branches are not only overhead, but are drooping upon all sides to the very ground, a complete canopy of shade results, unobstructed by interior twigs or foliage, through which the fat, distorted, smooth-skinned trunks and recumbent limbs seem to crawl and writhe in uncanny fashion.

When the glade began to narrow into a canon the redwoods appeared—magnificent specimens standing all about the scant level of the bottom, two by two, and rising straight two hundred feet, as though trying to look over the hill-tops.

Between the buttresses of their great roots the soil is damp and black, and innumerable cushions of moss hide the ledges of rock, and feed upon the soft remains of logs half hidden in masses of ferns and weedy vegetation-loving shade, and endless dews of the deep coniferous woods. Half a mile further the cañon becomes too steep and narrow for much large timber, though choked with smaller growth; and at its head is a most picturesque cataract—a bit of music, a flash of green and white water, a veil of glistening verdure, and a background of splintered rocks.

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