13 Jan Ranch History Podcast: Episode 6
“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
One of my major goals in compiling these podcast episodes is to preserve these stories; the history of our family’s roots for my children and the generations to follow. These stories Grandpa tells are the history of our roots as a family, our roots as a community and ultimately our roots as a nation. Nothing that we have here on the ranch was gained because someone took the easy route. We are who we are as a family because someone took a risk; did the backbreaking, painstaking work of creating something, a legacy, out of nothing. Our lives in the 21st century are lives of ease and leisure in comparison to 100 years ago. A history of the sacrifice and hard work of our ancestors is vital to instill a sense of appreciation and a drive to steward the legacy that was created. This knowledge of the past to appreciate the present is vital on a personal level but also on a community level; both local and national. Our family is growing. But exponentially more, our local community is growing with people moving here at an astounding rate. It is my hope that as our family grows, each new addition and generation will cultivate an appreciation for their roots. Similarly, as our community grows, it is my hope that these new transplants will tap into the roots of the community and gain an appreciation for what Bonner County was and is. It is with all this in mind, that in today’s episode of the podcast, I have asked Grandpa to give us a history of the Humbird Lumber Company and how it shaped Bonner County over a century ago.
A History of Humbird Lumber Company in Bonner County
All right. Go for it.
Okay. Humbird Lumber Company had a great influence on Bonner County. In about 1901, Humbird Lumber Company and Weyerhaeuser Lumber Company came to North Idaho to check over the timber situation and what it could entail. And Weyerhaeuser, after looking around here a little bit, went on over into Washington, but Humbird settled down here. They started buying timberland and they were purchasing the land from the State. They started their logging operations and they had built; a big saw mill at Sandpoint City Beach area, and also at Oden Bay area. So they had two big sawmills. Of course, back in those days, there was no trucks for transportation of those logs, so their only alternative was to build railroads, and this whole country now, you can trace those old Humbird railroad grades all over the northern end of the County, and especially up north of Sandpoint in our area.
A lot of the trails that we ride on, or roads that we use out on the ranch, are those railroad grades.
That’s exactly right. Yes. Yes.
Where was Humbird Lumber Company before they came to North Idaho, and why did they leave where they were?
Okay, Humbird and Weyerhaeuser both had been logging in the Great Lakes area in central United States, and they had that country all logged off basically. So they were looking for new timberlands, and that’s what brought them into North Idaho.
You said that they bought all this land from the State of Idaho?
I think it was from the State, yes. Yes. It was either the State or the Forest Service. But Humbird ended up owning a great share of Bonner County. They owned the land, then they logged it using the railroads for transportation. As they logged off, say, a section of land, 640 acres, they’d go in and set it on fire and burn all of the understory and the log slash, and they’d end up with just a bare field of stumps, is basically what it was.
They called that a stump ranch.
And that’s where the name stump ranch came from, because that’s all there was on it, was stumps.
Say they picked out a section of land, how did that operation work? How would they cut down those trees and get them to the railroad, and… ?
Well, it was all horse-logging, cross-cut handsaws. They had a number of different timber crews, in different locations, and these crews would fall the timber, and buck it into logs; and then the skidders would come in with their teams of horses and skid those logs to a newly built railroad. They’d load them logs on these railroad cars then, and haul the logs to the sawmills.
I’ve heard of other logging operations that use water; rivers and lakes, to transport logs. Was that something that Humbird did?
Yes, yes they did. There was a lot of log drives. They’d deck those logs along the edge of a stream or a river, during the wintertime, and then when spring came and the spring falls raised the water level and the stream flows, they’d roll those logs into the river or stream and float them down to the lake. And when they’d hit the lake, they’d raft those logs into big long rafts of logs, and then tow those rafts to the sawmills with steamboats.
It’s quite the operation.
Yes. Yes it was. And these lumberjacks that were doing the work in the woods, they had camps in their work area. There was any number of those camps.
So, Grandpa, can you tell us about those logging camps, where they’d come into a section and the crew… The crew’s camp.
Well, a lot of those camps were tent camps, but they also built log buildings, makeshift log buildings, kind of like bunkhouses, and there would be a cook shack. There’d be crews of up to 30 men at these camps, and there would also be horse facilities, a barn of some kind. The hay for them horses would come in on the empty log cars when they came into the area. So that’s how they would get feed to those horses.
Can you tell me about the camp, as far as you know… by what it looks like when you moved here… the camp on 31?
There was no signs of an actual camp other than the railroad track locations. At camp though, what we call Camp on 31, there was a root cellar dug into the bank, and I’m not sure, but in the later days, Gold Creek and Grouse Creek was two of the last areas in the County that Humbird logged, I know that they had train cars that they used as camps up at Grouse Creek, and they may have done that at what we call Camp on 31. From the looks of where the old railroad grades were, I think that that’s what they did. They had a train-car camp. On the South end of our meadow, what we call the Big Meadow up on Gold Creek, on our place, there was also a large log horse-barn, and a camp of some kind. They were close in the vicinity of the old granary, where it is now, in that area.
Well, I know that when Dad plowed up that field a few years ago, he found some old scraps of metal, and horseshoes and such out in that field.
I’m not surprised at all, because there was also, a little farther south from where I think camp was there, was a small building that was a blacksmith shop. That building was still standing when we moved here. It was maybe 12 by 16 feet, or something like that, but there was lots of clinkers. And the forges that they heated metal with was fired with coal. There was a lot of them clinkers and spilt coal scattered around in the areas.
So you said that there was a big log horse-barn. Was that standing when you came?
The barn itself was not standing. I think that the neighbors up there had robbed a lot of that stuff out of that old Humbird camp there, on the end of the meadow, and anything they could get any use out of they’d already stolen.
Yeah. After Humbird logged an area and burnt it, what did they do with that land?
Okay. This brings us back to how my folks got into this country. After Humbird had logged off these places, they started advertising in newspapers and magazines, cheap cut-over land in North Idaho, and that’s what attracted Dad’s attention, was this cheap cut-over land. He’d never owned a ranch. He’d farmed all his life, but it was always on somebody else’s land, rented places. The idea of owning some land… And you want to remember this was right at the very end of the Depression and money was damn tight, and anything cheap was a good bargain. That’s what brought them up here.
In 1939 the folks came out here in their car and looked around. We were living in Colorado when they seen these ads, so in the summer of 1939, Mom and Dad drove out here in our car. They was here for about nine days, and a fellow by the name of Tom Greer was Humbird’s land salesman. Greer took them mostly South of town, down in that Sagle country. And there was nothing down there that attracted Dad at all, and the folks were ready to come home. Greer said, “Well give me one more day. I’ve got one more place I want to show you,” and he brought him up Gold Creek.
There was the big meadow; it was probably half or two-thirds cleared. There was never any big timber on that meadow because it had beaver dams. That whole thing had been flooded over the centuries with beaver. So there was no timber growing on it, but lots of Tag Alders, and Birch, and brush type stuff. Two creeks running through it; Dad just fell in love with it. So they came back to Colorado, and that Fall they had a farm sale and sold everything that they had, and then along about the 1st of February we started out on our big move from Colorado to Sandpoint. Dad had a flatbed Chevy truck, about a 12 foot flatbed, that he had been trucking with. It was loaded, everything they could get on it, including about 500 quarts of canned vegetables and meat.
On our trip, it took us I think it was nine days to get here from Colorado, because it was also in that old car, old two-seated car, pulling a two-wheel trailer, and it was loaded to the gills. So it wasn’t making too many miles a day; it was in wintertime, so finding a place to park that truck in, loaded with all that fruit, to keep it from freezing, was also a big concern.
People ask about where did our V-X brand came from. Well, I can well remember we had pulled over in a little old shack of a cabin, and was camping in it, spending the night in it, and my brother, Bob, and Dad got to whittling on an apple box. Their purpose was, “What are we going to use for a brand?” Getting in the cattle business was the big deal; their dreams. So one of them… and Bob claims credit for it… he whittled on this apple box the letter V, and then a bar which was a straight slash, and then an X; V-X. Bob and Dad both liked that, and then after we did get to Idaho one of the first things that Dad did was register that brand with the State of Idaho. And that has been our registered cattle brand since 1940.
Kind of circling back around to Humbird in this part of the State, you said that they built their mill there on Sand Creek there, by Sandpoint. Was Sandpoint anything of a town before Humbird got here?
I don’t think there was anything more than an Indian camp when Humbird got here, but they built these two sawmills I spoke of on the lakeshore so that they could float these rafts of logs, that was coming in by water, into the mill. And they also had a millpond there, at the mill, where they would unload these railroad cars that came in by rail. The mill pond was the access to the sawmill; the green-chain on the sawmill that would draw these logs up out of the mill pond into the mill proper. So water was a necessary ingredient in the operation of these sawmills.
And to ask about a town… between Sand Creek that runs between the railroad track that goes through town, and the lake, was just a little narrow spit of land, and what town did develop was on this spit of land. I don’t think it was probably 300 yards wide and half a mile long, but that was the first town of Sandpoint.
Right. Which eventually then moved to the other side of Sand Creek, where it made a little bit more sense for a growing town.
That’s right, yes. That’s right. Of course, there was a huge logging camp at Sandpoint, where the mill workers all lived, on the north side of Sand Creek then. Humbird had built a number of worker houses, probably 50 or 60 worker houses. They was small buildings made out of lumber. That’s where the mill workers lived. There was a footbridge across Sand Creek, from this housing area I spoke of, to the sawmill. It was just a footbridge,
So it was kind of this lumber logging industry that really populated Sandpoint? I mean that’s what brought Grandma’s family to the area in 1918, was they were working for the lumber companies, right?
That’s exactly right. Yeah. The lumber was the attraction of Sandpoint from day one. And like I say, this started in the first few years of 1900.
Do you know about what time Humbird Lumber Company fizzled out, or finished up in this area?
When we came in 1940, there was no lumber company activities at all. So I think the mills closed down around 1928, maybe even into 1930. The Humbird Company, as a logging company, had left…
By the time you got here?
Yeah, by the time we came. And all that was left then was this cut-over, burned off stump patches that they called stump ranches.
I have one more question. At what we call Camp on 31-
… there’s a pretty unusually large density of apple trees. What do you attribute that to?
Lumberjacks. Them lumberjacks must have ate quite a few apples, and when they’d eat their apple they’d just throw the core out on the ground. That’s right. These old logging grades, and especially around these camps, has got a pretty good assortment of apples. Apple trees.
I find that really interesting, because I think there’s at least a dozen apple trees, that I can think of, that are still alive today out on 31.
That’s right. And those apple trees are… Well, this is 2019. Humbird was leaving the country by 1919, their logging operations was really closing down. So the point I’m getting at, these apple trees that you’re seeing and picking apples off of today are right at a hundred years old.
Yeah. Well, is there anything that we’ve missed about the logging and such in the area?
Well, Humbird had pretty well logged everything off. What they didn’t use as sawlogs, the trash and stuff, they burnt, like we was talking. At that point in time, when they left there was very little agricultural land, but their advertising this cheap cut-over, logged off land did bring a lot of people in, and that’s where the first settlers come into the picture at. They were coming in, just like my folks did, to this cheap cut-over land. They would start their little farms; there was lots of dairy farms at that time. Those people, those early settlers, would be milking a few cows and selling cream into Sandpoint to buy their groceries with. There was lots of Cedar snags, dead Cedars, snags. Some of them old Cedar snags was four to five feet in diameter. Fence posts. Lots and lots, thousands and thousands of fence posts were split out of these dead Cedar snags that they hadn’t burned.
Yeah. You know, talking about Humbird advertising that cut-over land, several years ago I did some research on all of this, and I went into the Bonner County Museum, and in there they have one of the flyers that Humbird Lumber Company sent out across the… I don’t know, across the nation; who knows where. And it’s probably 18 inches wide by two and a half feet long, folds like a map. And it’s talking about this cut-over land and how great it will be for farming and ranching, and all you have to do is get rid of the stumps. And it was really cool to see that, to think that that’s very likely what your parents saw when they were in Colorado.
If it wasn’t the same flyer, it was something similar. That’s right. That’s what brought these early settlers into Bonner County.
So the other thing that you see a lot of out on 31, on the ranch, is these black-looking stumps.
Those are original Humbird-cut stumps. They’re black because of the fire that Humbird put through that area after it was logged. The stumps were partially burnt, but not entirely. And of course these stumps is what had to be cleared off of this land before it could be farmed. Unless they farmed between the stumps. And those early settlers, that’s what they did; they’d farm between the stumps.
But the first priority of business, of course, was to try to get rid of those stumps, to clear that land of this overburden. They would ship dynamite into Sandpoint by the carload. Every settler in the County had a box or two, or more, of dynamite stored somewhere on it. And they would bore a hole under these stumps, big enough to get half a dozen sticks of dynamite under them, touch it off, and the dynamite would, the blast, would split those stumps into maybe half a dozen pieces. And then they’d take a team of horses and pull each one of those pieces out of the ground, fire them up somewhere to burn, and then had the problem of filling that stump hole back up. But that was what they faced when they came into this country.
So those stumps that we see out there today are a hundred years or more old?
When you go out and log today, cut a tree down, that stump doesn’t last a hundred years before it starts decaying.
Depends on the species of tree that stump belonged to. Now Cedar and Tamarack will last I don’t know how long; hundreds of years. Most of them stumps you see on the big hill that is standing about chest high, them’s all Cedar. And Cedar is a slow-rotting tree. Those stumps are still wood.
Did that burning of the outside and inside of those stumps kind of preserve it in addition to that?
Well it might have. It very well might have. I can’t tell you that. I don’t know. I have drilled and shot hundreds of stumps of all species. You can take a Tamarack stump with three feet on the stump, three feet at breast high; it’d take a lot of force to split that sucker to where you could clear it. In later years, when I got late teens, but at that time we had a Cat; but custom-wise, I have cleared a lot of land with the Cat, digging out those stumps like I’m talking about.
Those snags that survived Humbird’s fire, and there was some Tamarack snags that wouldn’t burn, that we used to fall uncut as firewood, and then those big Cedar, they were kind of natural resistance to rotting, there was a scattering of them around.
I remember now, another story that you told me that was a story you had heard from an old-timer in the area, about before Humbird started really logging north of town. Something about being able to ride from Gold Creek to town and not see daylight?
Okay. After we were married, and was living on Gold Creek, there was an old lumberjack came wandering through that area reminiscing. He was just reminiscing of what he had seen and what it looked like today. When I say today, the day that he was walking through there.
But he told us that when he first came to Sandpoint, in whatever year that might have been, he had walked from Grouse Creek to Sandpoint on a bright day, had never seen the sun because of the timber, the trees, the huge trees that was everywhere in this country.
Hmm. That’s really crazy to imagine because so much of the country between Grouse Creek, or Gold Creek, and Sandpoint is just wide open now.
That’s right. That’s right. Yep. But now he walked through that country and never seen the sun on a bright day. It gives you an idea of what kind of a timber canopy, and timber stand, there was in this country.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, I think we can wrap it up there, and I think that was good. That was a good overview of that Humbird history. Thanks, Grandpa.