Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission

Loggers & Lollygaggers in the Oregon Woods

by David Milholland, 1999

     Any survey of the literature of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest would be one leg short of a puppet without its chronicles of both loggers and lollygaggers. Rarely have the individuals who make their living harvesting the forest itself been considered alongside those who choose to live or retreat into the deepest woods, for spiritual solace or other non-economic pursuits.

     We find great contrasts. The logger is employed to harvest a product from the great forest, to lay down, humble, and remove. The lollygagger is self-employed, when employed at all; her/his aims are ironic at their core. To what end lollygagging? Expect not a hasty response from one thus engaged.

    Native American legend is almost always specific to place. The OSU Press book Nehalem Tillamook Tales told by Clara Pearson, chronicles the earliest days of our western shore. It's a highly eroticized work. In one legend, South Wind finds a woman, with whom he takes up. He promises to peel some cedar bark for her skirt, even though it's winter. He went off and found a cedar.

     He took off his penis, he talked to that tree. He said, "This year the year is going to shift early." He struck the tree with his penis and said, "Now! You shift early!" Soon he took his knife and cut bark. He peeled off all he wanted and made a bundle of it. There were no leaves on any of the bushes. He sat down and defecated. Then he took his own feces and threw it on the salmonberry bushes. Lo! There were quantities of leaves and salmonberries. He picked the berries, he took some evergreen ferns, he made a bundle of berries. [pg. 133]

    The Tillamook lived in magical land, along with Rabbit, Wolf, South Wind, Sea Gull, Raven and all the other people. Cedars were cut down for canoes and houses, game and fish were brought in, and food and materials were gathered. Life was rich, sustainable, and well, sexy.

    James Stevens, an Iowan who settled in Portland in the '20s, wrote a best selling version of Paul Bunyan, codifying the classic lumberjack tales, placing him firmly within the mythic tradition of larger-than-life American labor heros, John Henry, Casey Jones and their ilk. Stevens describes Bunyan as prehistoric; he knew the landscape before it came under an ax:

"The forests of today in that region are sometimes called rain forests...they were "flood forests" in those days, all up and down the Old Whale River Valley and its branches west of the Cascades. Many a year the tall firs had to keep alive for months under water. Other years they endured all manner of rains. The worst of those rains is somewhat unbelievable in the eyes of today. It was mud." [pg. 152]

     This is not the lush, sensual environment the Native Americans had experienced. It's a muddy, waterine universe that only hard labor and the headstrong rush of capital could tame. From the beginning, there were many schools of thought about the perils and possibilities offered by the immense Pacific Northwest rain forest. Logging, with its never-ending hard work and promise of hasty profits, figures central to the writings of many of our literary figures, which include Stewart Holbrook, Matthea Thorseth, Archie Binns, and Ernest Haycox, whose centenary we celebrate this October.

    One of the earliest Oregon accounts of lollygagging in a world still content to think small, portrays the life of Clara Cogswell Ingham's childhood in the 1860s and '70s by the McKenzie River northeast of Eugene. Her Girl of the Oregon Wood (1946) is beautifully illustrated by Colista Dowling. Oregon Poet Laureate Ben Hur Lampman's introduction well describes this handsome volume:

    Not a few books afford us the romance and realism of an earlier Oregon, when the axes were ringing in the homesteads, but literature almost has forgotten that children were there, wide-eyed and eager and touched with childish wonder and fancy... Clara Cogswell Ingham remembers in its pages how a home in the Oregon forest seemed to a child, when the land was comparatively new... Not a few of the characters in this authentic record, so persuasively narrated, are the wild, shy creatures, the glimpsed, the shadowy, of field and forest. [pg. 6]

    For after all, who's best at lolling, taking the time to observe and engage with the sylvan world, than a child afforded nature as her best and fittest entertainment.

    The book lovingly details a world which as Lampman puts it, "can never be again...something of the lost wonder and freshness of childhood, something of the morning of Oregon, and a curious, wistful refreshment."

    James Stevens employed the deep woods among many hard-scrabble working scenes in his writing set throughout the Northwest. His hero, nicknamed Appanoose Jim in his 1926 novel Brawny Man, sweeps across a broad landscape as a man possessed. Here is Stevens' evocation of Jim, well in command of his mule team as the crew begins a day's work on a new cut:

    Forests of big firs on each side of the right of way, the red glow of sunrise shining through the east one, the sky a clean morning blue overhead. Gager singing 'Satchel Nose Pete,' and I making some harmony in bass tones. The big machine in the end of a new cut. Hitch up fast, for Red Grabby is coming up on his single-footing mule. Indiana Beaut is on the pushcart, Gager is on the platform, I am on the high-seat, unwinding my slasher from its stock. The dump wagons are waiting. "Let's go!" Red Grabby shouts. Whr-r-r-ack! Whr-r-r-ack! Whr-r-r-ack! Whr-r-r-ack! Twice the slasher cracks out on a line over the leaders, twice it cracks in twists over the wheelers' backs. I start the machine team in Paddy the Devil's finest style. [pgs. 145-6]

     Individuals of all social classes have found themselves pulled into the forest. A novel by Anne Shannon Monroe and Elizabeth Lambert Wood, Mansions in the Cascades (1936), is set during the troubled times around WWI. In the novel, Dr. John Kenfield of Portland has broken down under the strain of the death of his two children, his son on a European battlefield; his daughter indirectly a war victim. His overwhelmed response led to other setbacks.

"God! is there no escape from this eternal clamor!" he cried out. He was trembling violently. [His wife Helen, desperate to understand, urges him to rest.]

"Rest! Rest! How can I rest with great bombs exploding"

He stopped, bit his lips, fought for control. "I'm through with this shrieking jangle of things! Fed up! Done! Through! Helen, I've got to get out of it. That's what I wanted to tell you. I've got to go!"

..."John dear, I'll look up resorts right away. Find a nice place convenient to doctors and nurses. It might be just the thing."

"Just what I don't want! he sat up excitedly. "I'm going into the mountains! Make a camp of my own in the Cascades, and draw the trail in after me!" [pgs. 4-5]

     The deep forest draws those on a spiritual quest like a sponge, offering its quietude, its great contrast to our increasingly urbanized world. Many poets lend their voices to this spiritual effort. Two are explored in the program, Oregon laureate Ethel Romig Fuller in her collection White Peaks and Green, and Anthony Euwer of Hood River, in a work celebrating both his reflective side and the high-energy pursuit of the mountaineer, By Scarlet Torch and Blade. Portland's Laurence Pratt tried his hand at capturing the energy of the forest and the industry springing from it in A Saga of a Paper Mill. An extension of this verse reflecting this more industrial world is the IWW song book.

    One of its classics is set right here, Dublin Dan's "The Portland Revolution." This book-driven stroll through our rain-plashed western forests is cursory at best. Dozens of companion volumes, both historic and contemporary, are critical for any more-complete understanding of the literature of the field no, forest. Please look at the bibliography below, which offers a wide selection of writers about our NW woods, literary takes on how we've viewed our sylvan landscape: as resource, as a source of labor opportunity and potential fortune, and as a retreat, both short and long-term. The challenge we face culturally is to see them literally as a piece, reflections of a culture of mixed minds and varied intentions, which must rebuild and share this great land one old time logger called "Natural Timber Country."

    Fortunately for us, no list of writers and works can ever be complete, as the subject is as deep as the woods, as long-lived as a Sitka Spruce whose territory has slid within a protected zone.

Selected Bibliography: Loggers & Lollygaggers in the Oregon Woods

    The Adventurers, Ernest Haycox, Little Brown & Company, Boston, 1954
  • Big Sam, Sam Churchill, Binford & Mort, Portland, 1965
  • Birth of a Cooperative Hoedads, Inc., Hal Hartzell, Jr., Hulogos'i Communications, Eugene, 1987
  • Bohemia, The Life and Times of an Oregon Timber Venture, Mike Thoele, Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland, 1998
  • Brawnyman, James Stevens, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1926
  • By Scarlet Torch and Blade, Anthony Euwer, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York & London, 1923
  • The Color of Ripening, Matthea Thorseth, Superior Publishing Co., Seattle, 1949
  • Don't Call Me Ma, Sam Churchill, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, NY 1977
  • Edge Effects Notes From an Oregon Forest, Chris Anderson, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 1993
  • Epitaph for the Giants The Story of the Tillamook Burn, J. Larry Kemp, The Touchstone Press, Portland, 1967
  • Girl of the Oregon Wood, Clara Cogswell Ingham, Dunham's. Portland, 1946
  • Holy Old Mackinaw, Stewart Holbrook, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1938
  • Letters From an Oregon Ranch, Katharine (Louise G. Stephens), A.C. McClurg & Co., Chicago, 1905
  • Looters of the Public Domain, Stephen A. Douglas Puter, The Portland Printing House, Portland, 1908
  • Mansions in the Cascades, Anne Shannon Monroe & Elizabeth Lambert Wood, The Macmillan Co., New York, 1936
  • The Mountain in the Sky, Howard McKinley Corning, Metropolitan Press, Portland, 1930
  • Mr. Otis, Stewart Holbrook, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1958
  • Natural Timber Country, (52-minute film), Ron Finne, Springfield, 1972
  • Nehalem Tillamook Tales, Clara Pearson, Elizabeth Derr Jacobs & Melville Jacobs, University of Oregon Books, 1959,
  •       republished by OSU Press, Corvallis, 1990
  • Now We're Loggin', Paul Hosmer, Binfords & Mort, Portland, 1930
  • Of Men and Mountains, William O. Douglas, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1950
  • Our Promised Land, Richard L. Neuberger, The Macmillan Co., New York, 1938
  • Paul Bunyan, James Stevens, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1925
  • Paul Bunyan The Work Giant, Ida Virginia Turney, Binfords & Mort, Portland, 1941
  • A Saga of a Paper Mill, Laurence Pratt, The Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, ID, 1935
  • The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow, Opal Whiteley & Ben Hoff, Ticknor & Fields, New York, 1920 & 1986
  • Sometimes A Great Notion, Ken Kesey, Viking, New York, 1964
  • Songs of the Workers, Industrial Workers of the World, Chicago, 1908 (34 editions by 1973)
  • Talking Leaves, Editors Craig Lesley & Katheryn Stavrakis, Bantam Doubleday Dell, New York, 1991
  • The Timber Beast, Archie Binns, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1944
  • Stepping Westward, Sallie Tisdale, Henry Holt, New York, 1991
  • White Peaks and Green, Ethel Romig Fuller, Willet, Clark & Colby, Chicago, 1928
  • Wildmen, Wobblies, and Whistle Punks, Stewart Holbrook & Brian Booth, Oregon State Univ. Press, Corvallis, 1992
  • Wintergreen Rambles in a Ravaged Land, Robert Michael Pyle, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1986
  • Wolves of the Illahee, Elizabeth Lambert Wood, Metropolitan Press, Portland, 1934
  • You Rolling River, Archie Binns, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1947