PULASKI  AND  THE  FIRE  OF  1910

Previous to the forest fire of 1910, miners and prospectors had focused their attention to the stream bottom of the West Fork Placer Creek. The meta- sedimentary deposit revealed promising zones of mineralization characterized by quartz leads and planes of fracture. To the ever aware prospector these surface indications called for the securement of a little venture capital and a small outlay for hand tools. The outcome could be a small fortune or, as with most, several seasons of hard work under primitive conditions.

By the mid 1910's, five known adits had been established adjacent to the West Fork Placer Creek. Three of these adits in the upper section of the creek were remote enough to have had cabins constructed near the work site. An example of this mining site type is adit # 4 with its associated residential structural remains. The residence would normally be a crudely-built, single room, log building having the capacity to house one to four individuals. With the artifactual component revealing a simple habitation style .characterized by utilitarian culinary utensils, food storage and medicinal containers typical of the late 1890's to the early 1910's, and a small heating and cooking stove. Mining equipment was usually explosive storage containers, single or double jacking tools, comprised of mauls and hand held rock drills with tamping and cleaning rods for charge setting. For mucking purposes shovels, pick axes, and wheel barrows would have sufficed in the shorter exploration adits. If conditions permitted, track haulage by wooden or metal ore cars could be established. This is usually seen in adits having lengths greater than five hundred feet. Timber setting tools were usually made up of a cross-cut saw, a coarse carpenter's saw, axes, single jacks, and hammers. A similar site of this type was noted in 1903 on the upper reach of West Fork Placer Creek during the subdivision survey of T.47N., R.4E. (See attached G.L.O. notes by Rands.)

During his survey of 1903, Rands mentions a wagon road to the War Eagle tunnel and an old trail along the creek's north side between the line dividing sections 3 and 4, but he makes no mention of a trail along the upper part of the West Fork Placer Creek when surveying the line between sections 4 and 5 and sections 5 and 8, although the cabin was noted between these last two sections. (See attached G.L.O. notes by Rands, 1903.) The 1905 G.L.O. map, which was com piled from this survey information, outlines the road and trail to the War Eagle tunnel; however, the trail was not extended past this mining operation nor is the cabin delineated on the map. After the 1910 fire, a retracement survey between the boundaries of T.47N. and T.48N., R.4E. by White in 1912 noted, the West Fork Placer Creek trail, but made no mention of the wagon road. At this time operations at the Lexington tunnel of the War Eagle Claim Group may have been curtailed due to fire damage combined with a lack of investment monies.

Although the mining operation associated with the War Eagle Group lode claim had been in operation since 1903 or before, an official mineral survey was not filed until 1909. (See attached mineral survey 2410.) During those six years an extensive adit was driven on the Lexington lode. By 1909 this adit had a total length of 1381 feet with 380 feet of off-sets. In the same period, an adit 67 feet in length was driven on the Black Hawk lode and a second adit of 20 feet was driven beneath the Lexington tunnel. (See attached photo of the War Eagle Mine.) Also on the Osceola lode the Osceola tunnel had been constructed to a length of 345 feet with 243 feet of off-sets. This operation was directed under partnership by the War Eagle Mining Co. with total investments valued at 14663 dollars. .

The Lexington tunnel, also known as the War Eagle tunnel or the War Eagle mine, is accounted for in the site description as adit # 2. While the Osceola tunnel is described as adit # 3. (See attached mineral survey # 2410.)

By 1926, the War Eagle Mining Co. had either sold or lost the claim rights of their properties to E. M. Burt, who filed for a. resurvey of his new lode claims known as the Peerless Group. When the new claim lines were surveyed, work was in progress on further extending the Lexington and Osceola tunnels. This extension work brought with it the need for a suitable power source since the Lexington tunnel was in excess of 2000 feet in length. High voltage transmission lines were constructed to the portal of the Lexington tunnel. This source of power now ran air compression machinery, ventilation equipment, and furnished lighting for the adit, (Mcdowell 1929.) Due to the aditís length, electric are haulage by track and compressed air drills known as jack legs were also in use. (See attached mineral survey # 3186.) Since its closure, an active mineral lease with Day Mines, Inc. has been in effect. After the Day Mines properties were absorbed by Hecla, Hecla Mining assumed the lease.

To control their mineral holdings associated with the Galena Mine, Callahan Mining Corp. extended its lode claims in a southeasterly direction. Recorded as the Galena Group in 1939, the mineral survey recorded a short tunnel on the Log Cabin Fraction. (See attached mineral survey # 3348.) Referring to the site description this tunnel corresponds in location to that of adit # l. In relationship to the West Fork Placer Creek, two other tunnels are mentioned in the mineral survey: one on the Idaho Mineral claim and the second tunnel on Peter's Fraction. Due to slumping, these adits were not found during the archaeological survey. The present day jeep trail that terminates near adit # 1 was probably developed at this time. The mineral survey states that mineral assessment work had included seven common improvements. Common improvements are usually related to the construction of surface buildings or access ways.

The result of this archaeological reconnaissance was the location of four adits. From the information presented here, adit # 4 could be a representative site type characterizing Pulaski's refuge. The actual written accounts and claims filed with the Forest Service reveal confusion, agony, and a struggle to survive. Although conflicting in certain aspects the attestants to those few days in August, 1910, depict the emotions of inexperienced fire fighters who were unaccustomed to this type of work and to the area in general. .

For the fiscal year of 1910, the Coeur d'Alene National Forest was appropriated a total operating budget of 742776 dollars with 30000 dollars being allocated for fire suppression (The Idaho Press July 7, 1910). These monies would rapidly evaporate as the fire conditions deteriorated during the months of July and August, 1910. July was an especially warm period with temperatures averaging ninety degrees. By the middle of July several large fires had broken out in Pine Creek, Graham Creek, and along the North Fork of the St. Joe River. On July 21, Pulaski reported to the Supervisor that sections 1, 12, 13, and 27 on the upper reaches of. Pine Creek were engulfed in flames. Pulaski reports again on August 4 that the fire along the Grand Forks Trail on the North Fork of the St. Joe River was being controlled. As the fire situation grew worse, shortages of men to fight these fires became a problem. The employment ads were not being answered. The Forest Service addressed this problem stating, "While there are plenty of idle men in Wallace or vicinity, they refuse to accept work of any kind" (The Idaho Press July 21, 1910). To compel these men, the Forest Service threatened to inact a State law that requires a man to assist in fighting forest fires and for refusing, the penalty was disobedience.

The official report filed by Supervisor Weigle (1911) places Rangers Pulaski and Bell at the head of Big Creek on the St. Joe side and along the St. Joe -Coeur d'Alene River divide between the head of Big Creek and Striped Peak (Christensen 1911). Working in conjunction, these Rangers were in charge of approximately two hundred men who were scattered over an area of eight to ten miles in length. Main camps were established so that crews of ten to thirty men could acquire a ready meal of rice, beans, potatoes, and meat and a place to sleep when they came off the fire lines.


With patrols coming offline duty, and other patrols leaving for the fire lines, it was impossible for Pulaski to monitor all of his personnel. Crews were scattered out across the ridge tops. During the night of August 19, 1910, the weather conditions began to change and the wind picked up coming from the west southwest. As the flames became uncontrollable, fires began to jump the lines and the fire fighters began to withdraw on their own accord. Since these men were on their own survival was their only concern. An unconfirmed account (by Chance 1938, 1960) states that when members of the crew reached camp, Rangers Bell and Pulaski were missing. C.W. Stockton, who was a member of Pulaski's ' crew told the men of McPhee's homestead clearing where they could find refuge from the fire. Camp was broken and the fire fighters retreated to this clearing. As the fire storm struck, refuge was taken in a stream that flowed through the clearing. This portion of Chance's account is similar to that experienced by Ranger Bell's crew. In his report on the fire, Weigle (1911) stated that Bell's crew, took refuge at the homestead of Joseph Beauchamp and that the ones who survived the fire had sought protection in the creek. (See attached G.L.O. map T.47N., R.3E.). In his account, Foltz (1951) states that he omitted in his story how seven men died in a small tunnel on Big Creek. Foltz may have been with Chance at this time or Foltz could be relating this account as a secondary source. After the fire had swept through this area on the upper Middle Fork of Big Creek, Pulaski located the crew at this homestead (Chance 1961). Between the night of August 19, and the morning of August 20, 1910, Pulaski had gone back to Wallace and returned bringing back food and first aid supplies for the crew. On horseback, Pulaski had covered approximately seventeen miles. From there, Pulaski led these men through the burned over area to the West Fork of Placer Creek which had not yet been affected by the fire. Approximately half way down this drainage they were caught in the back fire from Wallace and took refuge in a mine adit which they thought was the War Eagle tunnel (Chance 1961).



A different account of the fire was given by Foltz (1951). As a cook, Foltz had been hired by Supervisor Weigle to supervise the preparation of meals for the newly arriving fire fighters that were being brought in by train from Spokane. For his next duty, Foltz was assigned as cook on a segment of the fire line near the Striped Peak Trail. A headquarters camp was established near the head of Big Creek and Foltz was in charge of cooking for one hundred and thirty persons. Crews would enter and leave camp as food was called for. There was mention in Foltz' account of spot fires that occurred around the camp from wind blown sparks and fire brands. During the late morning of August 20, 1910, the fire became uncontrollable. Sensing this, Foltz had the camp struck and they retreated over the Coeur d'Alene - St. Joe River divide through ground fires and heavy smoke (Foltz 1951). On the north side of the divide, they set up a temporary field kitchen thinking they were out of danger. With fire fighters retreating as the situation deteriorated, the camp crew began escorting these people back to camp. Confusion was apparent in these late morning hours with dense smoke and fires beginning to heavily spot. An un known number of men had reached the camp when Pulaski rode into camp and took .charge. At this point, Foltz does not mention the use of a pistol by Pulaski to reinforce his orders and reference is not given to this incident from the compensation claims. This conflicts with Chance's narration that Pulaski relied on two forty-four revolvers. The Idaho Press, September 1, 1910, mentions the revolver being used once when Pulaski ordered one of the crew into the tunnel.

Upon reaching his crew, Pulaski said, "Boys, it's no use, we've got to dig out of here, we got to try to make Wallace, that's our only chance" (Foltz 1951). Being south of Elsie Lake along the Coeur díAlene - St. Joe River divide meant a seven mile retreat to Wallace. Isolated members of the crew along the fire line joined in with the general withdrawal towards Wallace. From a personal account, Christensen (1911) stated that he with others were ordered from Striped Peak to Wallace by Pulaski. Also accounts by Boyd (1912) and Libby (1912) say that they became separated from the crew while cutting off a fire and that the crew had to wait for them to return.

Upon reaching the head of West Fork Placer Creek, the group consisted of forty to forty-five men and two horses. The horses were utilized to transport the slower crew members. Pulaski mentioned this in a claim letter to Acting Forest Supervisor, Roscoe Haines, that S.W. Stockman could not travel fast and that Pulaski had given him his horse. From Chance (1939, 1960), it was S.W. Stockton who had led a portion of the crew to the homestead clearing where they survived the first fire front before Pulaski returned the next morning. Pulaski then brought these men out to the head of West Fork Placer Creek with Stockton on his saddle horse. (See-attached damage claim) Into the West Fork of Placer Creek these men fled in terror. Chance (1960) said that the downhill into this drainage was soft going. This meant the crew had out run the advancing fire front and they were now in an unburned area. The head of this drainage had been previously burned possible during 1889. Rands noted this during his subdivision survey of 1903. As they reached this area, Pulaski said, "Boys, there is just one chance for us, maybe we can get into the War Eagle tunnel", (Foltz 1951). As a result of this statement, the entire crew thought their place of refuge would be the. War Eagle tunnel. (See attached photo of the War Eagle Mine) Pulaski knew this tunnel offered the best protection since the 1ength of its adit was over 1,300 feet. (See attached mineral survey # 2140.) He also knew that other mine adits existed upstream from the War Eagle tunnel which could be utilized for shelter if the War Eagle became unreachable. Supporting this assumption is Weigle (1911) who stated that Pulaski had prospected throughout the burned area during the last twenty-five years. If Pulaski had gone to Wallace and returned the previous day, he would have been more familiar with his route of escape. Also known to Pulaski was a prospect trail to the upper section of the West Fork Placer Creek. During the subdivision survey of 1903 a cabin was noted along the northern boundary of section 8. (See G.L.O. survey notes by Rands 1903) A habitation site at this point on the creek would mean an access trail to the cabin had been established. The trail must have been just a trace. The surveyor failed to note this trail as each subdivision survey was completed.

There were no alternatives now, Pulaski had committed himself. With all their thoughts focused on the War Eagle tunnel, the crew descended into the West Fork of Placer Creek. In a letter to Roscoe Haines pertaining to a claim by B.M. Britten, Pulaski mentions that the crew was on the West Fork of Placer Creek. The Idaho Press article of August 25, 1910, stated these men were prisoners in a tunnel of the West Fork of Placer Creek. As the fire storm closed in the crew became panic stricken. Foltz (1951) said they were running like scared rabbits. The last mile of travel to refuge was a terrifying ordeal. Personal safety ruled out heroic deeds. To save themselves, the crew abandoned a fellow fire fighter who had fallen on the trail's summit. This-unidentified man was overtaken by the fire which burned him beyond re cognition. A rescue party later mistook the remains as a burned log (The Idaho Press, September 1, 1910). The crew members were now trapped in this steeply-sided drainage during .the late afternoon hours. Illuminating their path was the orange hue of a crown fire. The precursor was a fire generated wind of intense heat that brought a shower of fire brands and a dense, choking smoke. With the agonizing death of being burned alive becoming more of a reality, the crews chance for survival rested with Pulaski. The surrounding forest was nearing the ignition point. The trees-began to fail under gale force winds with still no sight of the War Eagle tunnel. Their route of escape to a safe refuge may have been blocked by a backfire from-Wallace (Chance 1951). Upon reaching the J.I.C. cabin, Pulaski knew that there was no hope of reaching the War Eagle tunnel. The tunnel was approximately three quarters of a mile further down the trail. Refuge was still a possibility. Two adits were located near the J.I.C. cabin the J.I.C. tunnel and the Nicholson tunnel. The Idaho Press (September 8, 1910) said Pulaski was in a mine on the J.J. Nicholson property. Upon reaching the cabin, Pulaski consolidated his crew and procured a cross-cut saw from the cabin. The saw was given to one of the crew members for clearing timber that might fall in front of the horse's path. Pulaski, in a claim letter to Roscow Haines, stated that this saw was the only tool his crew had at that time. All of the fire fighting tools had previously been abandoned so as not to burden the crew during their flight.

The J.I.C. cabin that Pulaski refers to in his claim correspondence may have been the cabin noted by Rands during his subdivision survey of 1903 or it could be the structural remnants associated with adit # 4. (See site description). Once the -crew was together, Pulaski initially had them take refuge in the J.I.C. tunnel, however, realizing this tunnel was too short and that sur vival would be tenuous at best, Pulaski began a frantic search for the Nicholson tunnel. Through the blinding smoke and intense heat, Pulaski was able to locate the second tunnel. Accounts of this search, and the crews rush to the Nicholson tunnel moments before the crown fire struck, are narrated by Pulaski (1910), Stockton (1910), Weigle (1911), Chance (1938), Foltz (1951), and from the fire claim records. With the Nicholson tunnel being located, Pulaski stationed Foltz and another man along the trail to guide the remaining members of the crew (Foltz 1951). The other accounts are similar to Foltz's, but they never mention the other crew men being stationed along this trail. Upon reaching the tunnel of the J.J. Nicholson property, Pulaski orders the crew to take shelter. At this time, Pulaski uses his revolver to persuade a crew member that his only chance of survival was the tunnel (The Idaho Press, September 1, 1910). Within moments of reaching this refuge, the crown fire erupted with a tremendous blast. The tunnel became a mad house, a hell hole where five men would die. Smoke roiled in as the oxygen was consumed. The tunnel cribbings caught fire and the crew struggled for air. Pulaski, with the help of two other crew men, tried to extinguish the cribbing and at the same time tried to calm the panic stricken crew. The men buried their faces into the muck on the tunnel floor. Some regurgitated, others struggled for breath through dampened cloth, and several men attempted to escape. Suffocation brought on convulsions when death was imminent. During such a convulsion, one man tried to strangle another, but freed his grip in the final throes of death (The
Idaho Press, September 1, 1910). Two men died when they lost consciousness laying face first in a small pool of water that had formed behind the body of a horse (Stockton 1910).
Having entered the tunnel during the early evening hours of August twentieth, the survivors had endured a five hour death struggle Foltz (1951) states that the time spent in the tunnel was three hours. After regaining conscious ness, John Jackson was the first to emerge (The Idaho Press, September 1, 1910). The forest was still afire, but Jackson painfully dragged himself into the creek. One by one, the other crew members began their crawl to the creek, submerging themselves with eyes still affixed to the burning hill sides. The accounts by Foltz (1951) and Chance (1961) described a similar situation within the tunnel, but their stories conflict with the newspaper article. Foltz (1951) claims he was the person who walked back to Wallace for help. Chance (1961) stated that he was the second person to leave the tunnel and that it was he who assisted the other crew members from the tunnel. The Idaho Press (August 25, 1910) reported that W. Smith and L. Couter were the two crew men who followed the creek bottom to Wallace, arriving there at one o'clock on the morning of August twenty-first. Jackson and Couter are both listed by the newspaper as survivors of Pulaski's crew (The Idaho Press, August 25, 1910). L. Couter also appears on an unofficial injury list that may have originated from the Forest Service's Wallace office. At four o'clock that morning, the remaining crew members began leaving for Wallace. Lighting their way down this creek were the smoldering logs and snags of a blackened forest. A rescue party from Wallace met the crew as they were coming down the West Fork of Placer Creek. This pathetic band of men had survived the ordeal. They were all suffering from smoke inhalation, with most of them having sustained burns and lacerations while outside the tunnel. The average hospitalization period was for six days. Even though these men had recovered partially from this encounter, they collected their four dollars a day back pay and vanished into the life ways of a transient. Edward C. Pulaski would also recover, but smoke inhalation had damaged his lungs, and his eyes were now light sensitive.  (Pabst N.D.)

As Ranger for the old Wallace Ranger District Pulaski would spend the next two years answering correspondence to fire claims that were either factual or fraudulent. Forest Supervisor, Roscoe Haines, knew these claims reminded Pulaski of the two horror filled days in August. In a claim letter to Pulaski, Haines stated that these unpleasant matters are disconcerting. Pulaski was troubled by the fact that a suitable monument had never been erected for those fire fighters who died under his command. His sentiments for these men are revealed in a file letter dated 1917. He mentions the grave sites being cared for by himself during his spare time. He also felt an appropriate memorial should be erected by the government honoring these men. On January 3, 1921, a congressional appropriation allotted five hundred dollars to the Coeur d'Alene National Forest for improvement work pertaining to the graves in Wallace, Idaho. After eleven years, those fire fighters who sacrificed their lives for the U.S. Forest Service, were finally honored.

From 1910 to 1929, Edward C. Pulaski served as District Ranger on the old Wallace Ranger District. During this time, Pulaski is credited with developing a combination ax and grubbing hoe tool. This has since been accepted as the standard fire fighting tool of the U.S. Forest Service. In his honor, the tool carries his name, Pulaski. He died in 1931.

                                                                                                                                                                    District Archaeologist

                                                                                                                                                                    Carl Ritchie

-from the U. S. Forest Service brochure prepared in support of the 1984 dedication of the 1910 Fire Memorial at Wallace, Idaho,  "Pulaski,  Two Days in August, 1910"  United States Department of Agriculture,  Wallace Ranger District,  10-SE-664,  pages 2-8.