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Diary of a different time

Following are excerpts from the diary of Richard Bigelow, superintendent of Tahoe National Forest from 1908 to 1936.

After Bigelow became a ranger, he kept the daily diary, which was a job requirement. He began his career in the southern Sierra, where he built trails and monitored sheep and cattle grazing.



May 4, 1903 ” “Got married in the morning and attended to Reserve (forest) business in the afternoon…”

June 1, 1904 ” “It was getting towards 6 o’clock (p.m.) when I heard a shot. Thinking that Bell was on his way back I answered with a shot from my gun and yelled. I heard a very faint answer… That seemed strange to me and I decided something must be wrong so I caught my saddle horse, went up the trail he had taken, yelling occasionally…




“I found him lying on the ground and he told me that he was turning over a boulder in the trail and as it went between his knees his gun fell from its scabbard and the hammer hit the rock and the gun shot him through the left leg and hip…

“I didn’t dare to get him on the horse alone, so I made him as comfortable as I could and went after three men…

“We decided that it would be best to construct a litter and pack him on that rather than try to put him on the horse…”

Bigelow went after a doctor while the three men constructed a litter and began carrying Bell toward the road 12 miles away, where some campers had a wagon they were willing to loan. Once they arrived in town, doctors recommended amputating the leg, an idea Bell resoundingly rejected.

Although he kept his leg, Bell couldn’t work for a year, so his fellow rangers raised $100 for him.

Bigelow then moved north to the Weaverville area where he monitored junior rangers, supervised timber cutting, and briefly met Forest Service founder Gifford Pinchot. With his wife and young daughter, Bigelow accepted a $1,600 a year job in Nevada City, where he rented a furnished house on Main Street.

On his first day, he went into the office…

Nov. 15, 1908 (Sunday) ” “(A forest assistant, clerk, and two rangers) were all in the office with mops and brooms and buckets of water cleaning up the office for the new Supervisor. I got in and helped them finish the job and told them there should be no more janitor work for the office force and told (the clerk) to get a high school boy or someone to act as janitor in the future.”

Feb. 22, 1911 ” “Climbed Banner Mt. to see if it would be a good fire lookout… There was about 3 ft. of snow on the mountain and (we) acted like a bunch of kids in the snow.”

Oct. 14, 1911 ” “Went over Floriston Pulp and Paper’s Company’s sale and examined the brush piling. Not satisfactory and showed the contractor where he had done poor work.”

Bigelow fought many fires during his time in Nevada City, including a large fire along the North Fork of the American River, which began around Sept. 9

Sept. 18, 1913 ” “Men working on the line all night… Fire working west very slowly. Went to river with crew at 12 midnight as we were out of water. Balance of day made line along river between two ravines and brought back fire round point gradually.”

Bigelow was also responsible for personnel matters.

May 20, 1916 ” “Left for Camptonville at 10:45 a.m. Ate lunch at North San Juan and arrived at Camptonville at 2 p.m. Had a talk with Helbig about his work. Told him he was not cut out for a ranger… he was too slow and could not be depended on. … Hard job ” didn’t like it a bit.”

The 677-page diary concludes:

April 30, 1936 ” “Completed my work as a Supervisor of Tahoe National Forest and thirty-four years of service in the best organization in the world.”


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