Trees: We love them, we grow them in our yards, kids climb them and we tie hammocks to them. Trees are everywhere, and we think nothing about them. When we go to the hardware store and walk through the lumber department we seldom think to compare them to the shade tree in our front yard. Also when we think of the old west we never think of the role that the tree played in its development.
Good gosh where to start! let’s forget for a minute the practice of building the towns and farms, and ranch building. How about we start with the wagon trains. Of course the wagons were built of wood but they were for the most part already built east of the Mississippi River. In their travels toward their western destinations they stopped for the night along the way and cooked evening and morning meals. This required fire wood. This was also a boiling point for the Native Americans along the way. Over time whole groves of woods were depleted, changing the character of the land. With the removal of the trees animals had no place to shelter – what few were left. The land eroded and blew away. But this is an element of the migration that is seldom explored.
Before the westward expansion of the railroad there were along the larger waterways the steamboat. These required large amounts of cut timber for fire wood. All along the rivers would be fueling points where cut wood would be taken aboard. Large crews of timber cutters were employed to fell trees and cut them into lengths of usable fuel. Once again large tracts of forests were depleted. First timber near the river was cut ,then later it had to be cut and hauled by wagon – big business was built up around the industry based on lucrative contracts. Often the cutting parties were the subject of Indian attacks, Not as interesting as an attract on a fort or wagon train, so these were ignored by the movies, and so we remain ignorant of them today.
Good Golly Miss Molly! Lets start building the railroads. What? every two feet or so of rail there is a cross tie? How many of them is there in every mile? Close to 3,000? And goodness, how many miles in just the cross-country run, let alone all the spur lines and smaller roads. How many trees went down for just that alone? Then there were the telegraph poles stretched along side the road. Add in the cook fires and all the other uses of wood associated with the enterprise. And what about all the trestles required to span all the gorges and rivers? Have you ever seen some of those magnificent feats of engineering? (Lord I am using a lot of question marks, hope I don’t run out of them).
When they hit the mountains there were a multitude of trestles needed. Then coming from the west the Chinese workers, imported by the thousands, had to dig and drill their way through the mountains, requiring timbers for shaft supports – a feat in itself.
Next came the big boom in the minning industry of the west. Gold and silver were the mainstays, but there were others – copper to name one. The deep mine shaft mining operations required support timbers, acers and acers of them. So you can see that although not celeberated as such, the timber business was a luctriave operation for those who saw the opportunity in advance. And this does not include the larger cut lumber timber that built most of the homes and cities of the land. That is a diffrent story than the one I am pointing out here.
All images are from http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/aldridge/logging.html. Larger versions are available at their site.
This is a short ramble for me, just off the top of my head with no research – just what I know has to be true from logic. Until later..