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Otto Klement, Chapter 5: Arrival in Washington Territory & Logging on Olympic Peninsula

(Port Gamble)
This lithograph from Elwood Evans's 1889 book, History of the Pacific Northwest, shows us the Puget Mill Co. layout, looking south to the logging camps of Jameson and others.

      Ed. note: The logging section of our Free Home Pages and the stories in it are the most widely read of any of our 300 stories. We share this story below from Otto Klement's 1926 diary that explains the logging methods that he encountered when he first worked in a logging camp on the Olympic Peninsula in 1873. Although he does not explain who hired him, we do know that the Pope & Talbot Puget Mill Co. was swinging into full gear at Port Gamble at that time, along with Winfield Scott Jameson, who was the first major logging company owner to exploit the timber of the upper Skagit river from Sterling to Birdsview, starting in the mid-1870s. Klement shared some of his diary items with Harry B. Averill, who had returned to the Skagit valley in 1926 to publish the Mount Vernon Daily Herald. Averill had a unique perspective on pioneer life in the valley because as a young man he was hired in 1906 to interview pioneers and comb through the earliest newspapers for stories in the fine book, Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties. You can read the complete collection of Klement's diaries at the Allen Library of the University of Washington. They were transcribed by Ethel Van Fleet Harris, daughter of the family who homesteaded in the Skiyou district in May 1880. Larry Spurling transcribed part of these notes. We have edited the diary items only lightly, in order to organize them chronologically for the reader. This is Part Five of an extensive series we dedicate to Klement, the longest-lived of the very early pioneers of the upper Skagit river.

Otto Klement on logging methods in 1873
First published in the Mount Vernon Daily HeraldFirst published in the
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      I was born in Jefferson county, Wisconsin, in 1852 and left that state in the early spring of 1873, headed for Puget sound over the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads by way of San Francisco. There were no boats direct to the sound in that day; one steamer, however, made monthly trips to Victoria. This steamer had sailed the day preceding my arrival in San Francisco, involving a 30-day layover. Meanwhile I familiarized myself with the city and its environment.
      The name of the steamer was Prince Albert, a British boat and a veritable tub, requiring seven days to make the run. Arriving in Victoria, British Columbia, I found a steamer — the Northern Pacific, a large, new boat, making weekly round trips between Victoria and Olympia — due to sail the next morning. At this time, Victoria was the only town in this northern country worthy of the name. Seattle had a scattered population of around 600 souls, Olympia about the same, while Tacoma was not yet on the map. [Ed. note: The Northern Pacific railroad chose Commencement Bay as their west coast terminus on July 14, 1973, and the company created the town of Tacoma.] Indians were everywhere, however, perhaps a hundred wherever there is one now.
      I took passage on this boat for Olympia. At Port Gamble, however, a representative of the Gamble Mill Company appeared on the dock, looking for mill hands. I engaged with him and went to work in the sawmill at $40 per month and board, working to twelve hours a day.
      Lumbering, practically speaking, was the only industry, represented by a half dozen saw mills, located at eligible and widely separate points, while logging camps were distributed in like manner. Logging was a crude affair compared to present day methods. A logging camp outfit consisted of five or six yoke of oxen and around twenty men. A location for the camp having been made, a schooner or steamer was chartered to move the outfit to the site, and the proceeding was attended by boisterous hilarity and good feeling.
      The outfitting was usually done at one of the mill ports; and the outfit consisted of lumber for camp, hay and feed for the oxen, provisions to last from four to six months, a range, a kitchen and dining room outfit, saws, axes, canthooks, jack screws, chains, dog hooks, extra yokes, pike poles, and items too numerous to mention, but last, what was of primary importance, five or six yoke of sturdy oxen, usually purchased in Oregon. The outfit, arriving at its destination, was unloaded on the river bank or shore of the Sound, as the case might be, and there presented a most discouraging picture.
      A few weeks, however, portrayed a marked transformation. A camp building had gone up, a hovel built for the oxen, and everything was in its proper place. The camp building, its length double that of its width, was divided in the middle, one end being occupied by the kitchen and dining room, and the other end was the men's quarters. Two tiers of bunks, one above the other along the walls, a space in the center seven feet square filled with earth to the level floor served as a fireplace, with a funnel-shaped contrivance above it to take care of the smoke (Indian style, with refinements), and a few benches and stools contributed the furnishings of this department. The fire in this central fireplace served at once for heat and light.
      The men were hired with due regard for their proficiency for the positions they were expected to fill. The swamper was the pioneer. His duty was to clear the brush and windfalls from the right-of-way. Following him came two skidders who placed the skids over which the logs were hauled. Succeeding this came the faller who felled the trees with reference to the skid road and the most convenient way of getting the logs out.
      He in turn was followed by the sawyer who sawed the trees into log lengths. Then came the barker who, when the sap was running, barked the logs all around with a tool called a spud, but if the bark stuck, he barked the riding side (with an ax). Next appeared the hand skidder. His duty was to place skids, over which the logs were yarded out onto the main road. He usually worked with the team with the hook tender. The hook tender sniped the logs, giving them a sleigh runner effect, placed the rigging for rolling out the log onto the skids, and resorted to other devices to facilitate the yarding out process. Last of all the bull puncher with his ox team.
      Four or six logs, one behind the other, coupled together by means of short chains with dogs (dog hooks) at either end, a boy, preceded the turn with a pail of dogfish oil and a swab at the end of the stick, and greased the skids.
      The owner of the camp was usually the foreman. These men, along with the camp cook, constituted a full camp crew. A thousand feet of logs to every man employed was considered a fair day's work. Wages ranged from a minimum of $50 per month and board to as high as $100 per month for a good bull puncher. Ten hours constituted a day's work. Five dollars per thousand was the average paid for logs at the mill in those days.
      My object in coming West was to avail myself of the opportunity of taking up land, so after continuing in this employment for five months, I purchased a rowboat, laid in a supply of provisions and tools, and struck out for the Skagit river valley.

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Story posted on July 1, 2004, moved to this domain Oct. 31, 2011
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