Fires of 1910

We hiked the Pulaski Tunnel Trail yesterday. I’ll have a post up about that soon (tomorrow?) but in the meantime, here’s a primer on what happened in Idaho and Montana on August 20 and 21, 1910.

In the summer of 1910, the entire Pacific Northwest was exceedingly dry—the first forest fires had started burning in Montana by late April. Fires burned throughout the summer but remained mostly small and isolated. Many of these fires were caused by lightning strikes but more were also related to the train traffic crossing the very dry mountains. Fire crews hired by the new US Forest Service (it had only been founded five years earlier) battled the small fires alongside 4,000 Army troops although many fires were left to smolder in remote drainages. (The troops sent to the Coeur D’Alene Mountain region included the all black 25th Infantry, Company G, the “Buffalo Soldiers.”)

Source: The Spokesman Review

On August 20, 1910, high winds hit the region and whipped many of the small smoldering fires into a giant fire that encompassed huge parts of Idaho, Montana, and Washington. Eventually, more than 3 million acres burned in the Bitterroots and surrounding areas. In addition to the 7.5 billion board feet of timber that burned, half of Wallace burned to the ground and the Montana towns of Taft, De Borgia, Haugan, and Henderson were completely lost.  The fires killed 87 people including 78 firefighters.

Source: Wikipedia Commons

There were some happy endings:Mullan & Avery survived thanks to backfires lit by volunteers. Ed Pulaski (the inventor of the pulaski firefighting tool) saved 40 of the 45 men in his crew by hiding in an abandoned mine tunnel (more on him tomorrow). The Forest Service’s importance to the West was cemented (although it would increase their adherence to a “total suppression” philosophy for decades to come).

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Sometimes, when I’m reminded of the fires, I think of being down in these narrow valleys as winds blow flames around, I think of the descriptions of the sky glowing red, I think of the firefighters out attempting to halt the progress of the blaze without the support of helicopters and roads, and I’m flabbergasted they even were able to try.


Highly Recommended Reading: The Big Burn by Tim Egan

Related blog post: 1910 Fire Commemoration


The Forest History Society: “US Forest Service History, The 1910 Fires

Spokane Spokesman-Review: “Forest fire, the largest in US history, left stories of awe, tragedy.”



Have you ever seen anything like this? I hadn’t. We were poking around below the railroad grade between this sweet restored trestle and Saltese, Montana and found a bunch of railroad ties with these curved pieces of iron driven into them.

Turns out, as Forrest explained to me, that these “S-irons” were driven into ties to keep them from splitting.

Pretty cool, no?

Family History

Just after we commented that Sprocket was so careful when playing around the tree, he went flying through the kitchen and knocked the whole tree about six inches to the left. (I’m pretty sure it was the laminate that saved it…if it had been on carpet it would have certainly fallen over.) “BAD DOG!” I screamed shrilly. Forrest looked at me grumpily; “You screamed in my ear,” he said.

All I could think about was ornaments breaking. Continue reading “Family History”

Welcome to the Valley

As I wrapped up graduate school in the spring of 2010, Forrest and I started brainstorming for real where we were going to live. We knew we wanted a small town but weren’t quite sure yet how we were going to make that happen. About that time, I read The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan. While I doubt that the fires of 1910 saved America although they certainly influenced the growth of the newly formed US Forest Service), it did introduce me to the existence of Wallace, Idaho. I put out some cover letters and resumes to EPA contacts working in the area but nothing much came of it and in July, after our adventures around the country, we found ourselves in Missoula, Montana. Fortunately, we didn’t stay in Missoula very long because I found a job in Wallace. We bought a house in Mullan (about ten miles from my work), population 692. (Census, 2010)

Mullan, April 2011

Mullan is located at the far eastern end of the “Silver Valley.” Headed west along I-90 from Mullan, one passes through the valley’s other towns: Wallace (pop. 784), Osburn (1,555), Kellogg (2,120), Smelterville (627), and Pinehurst (1,619). Along with the communities on the North Fork of the Coeur D’Alene River (Prichard, Murray) and on the St. Joe (Avery) Shoshone County is home to just 12,765 people, or 4.8 people per square mile. However, almost all of these people live within a mile of I-90, with 87% of the land area being classifed as “forest uplands” compared to less than 1% classified as “urban or developed.” (Shoshone County Forest Health Collaborative)

Shoshone County incorporated areas, Mullan is circled in red.

Periodically, I plan on blogging about various facets of Silver Valley life and history. I live in a unique little corner of the world and love to share it!

75.567 Acres

I am officially the (part) owner of 76 acres of beautiful Northern Idaho. Putting aside the little bit of panic instilled in me by watching my debt total jump a little bit, it is just too too wonderful. (And the debt thing? I know lots of people that have more student debt…and I have a house, a cabin, and LAND.)

I was grabbed by the obsessive research fairy yesterday night and spent hours feverishly researching “the Cooney group.” I’m beginning to believe that we have a very interesting and unique piece of land. As late as 1969, it’s ownership was labeled as “Cooney” in a sea of Day Mining, Inc. holdings. It is clearly recognizable as our property. (Our map obsession has lead to us being able to pick out groups of claims by their shape…this shape is ours.) As late as 2006, it is shown as a hole in Hecla’s subsurface rights empire (Hecla completed their purchase of the mineral rights approximately one month before our purchase so there will be no more picking out Fourth of July, Arlington, Nevada, and Mississippi on mining maps).

That somehow, among all the mining and the takeovers and the sale of claims somehow our four would remain the “Cooney group” is simply amazing to me. I became more than a little immersed in the history of the whole mining district last night. I feel there will be a kick ass coffee table book at the cabin someday.

Originally posted on the blog: Evergreen Rambles.

Day 12: New Orleans, Louisiana

After a lazy Saturday morning in Meg’s apartment, Meg, Forrest, Sprocket, and I headed for City Park. Due to Jazz Fest traffic we abandoned those plans and headed for “The Fly”–which is a walk along the Mississippi Levee. It was fun to just be outside with the Sprocket-meister. We went to the Parkway for lunch and had Po-boys. Forrest had a gravy smothered roast beef one while I had grilled alligator sausage.

After our po-boys, we dropped Sprocket off at Meg’s and went to the National World War II Museum. It was a nice museum, although even I found it a little heavy on the reading. From the museum we headed to Bacchanal for their free Saturday wine tasting. The shop was cute, although the owner wasn’t too excited about talking about wine. Meg also drove us through the lower 9th ward where much of the damage the levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina took place.

We made dinner at her house and then walked down to Cajun Creamery for ice cream. I’m up finishing a load of laundry and tomorrow we set out for Mississippi and Alabama!