APRIL 1, 2010

Orofino, a history to tell (Part II)

A boat known as a wanigan is portrayed by Emma Holcroft in an acrylic painting on display in the Clearwater Historical Museum. The painting was part of Boyd Olson’s collection. This type of boat was divided into three sections: a bunkhouse, a cook shack, and a dining room, and saved men from long walks back to logging camps. Typically crews of approximately 33 men would man the boat as it followed log runs down the river. By 1951, these boats were replaced by surplus Army pontoon floats.

On display in the Clearwater Historical Museum, is a PM Canadian Chain Saw, and other tools of the trade, which were in use in the Clearwater area in the 1930’s.


The bottom shelf of this display cabinet holds artifacts left by the Chinese population in the Pierce and Weippe areas who mined, cooked, and were merchants to other miners. The top shelf has many tools used by early miners.

From the book, Horse Logging on Freeman Creek, by Boyd H. Olson, Carrol Y. Groseclose states: “There were no roads, only game and Indian trails. In the 1880’s the Freeman Creek area was virgin forest almost like a rain forest, so thick the sunlight only filtered through and even good woodsmen would get lost at times.”

By Alannah Allbrett

   The Clearwater Historical Museum has many special exhibits devoted to early life in the Clearwater Valley. Predominate among them, is the collection depicting the early timber industry.

The loggers

   With colorful names like Michigan Bill, The Ridge Runner, Cream Puff Pete, loggers came from everywhere to harvest the huge, plentiful timber.  The sounds of logger’s axes and cross-cut saws rang out through the woods above Orofino – eventually giving way to the noise of chain saws and other heavy equipment used in modern logging. Horse logging was replaced by caterpillars. But, the Clearwater Historical Museum tells it all.

   Dusty harnesses, old saddles, rusted gasoline cans, and broad axes line the shelves of the basement along with odds and ends and a whole room devoted to rocks and petrified wood. Exhibits have to be rotated for lack of room to display them all. A cross-cut saw that belonged to Earl Blake and a stand on which it would be sharpened, are part of the interesting and educational display on the main floor, however.

   A collection of photographs and paintings depict sights familiar to every logger, the flumes, the sluices, the chokers and sawyers, and the men who worked the log drives which began in the early part of the 20th century in this area. With the hard, dangerous work of many men, logs began their 90 mile trek down the North Fork of the Clearwater River. The ‘wanigan’ boats, with a usual crew of 33 men, followed the logs to clear any jams and get the logs down river to Lewiston.

   Bernice Pullen, Museum Director, has made a map of the logging camps on Sour Dough Creek in the Beaver Creek drainage. Logging camps were known by a number or a letter designation according to how they shipped out the timber. The logging camps designated by a number, sent logs out by railcar. The camps designated by a letter were the river camps.

   Logging began to wind down as a major industry the in Clearwater area with the completion of Dworshak Dam in 1972, and with the restrictions on cutting federal and state timber. The last log drive was in 1971.  A wall-sized photographic mural (about 8’x12’) which shows a scene looking down the North Fork in the 1930’s, is well worth seeing.

The Chinese & the miners

    In the 1860’s Chinese came to the area. Euro-Americans, who mined the early, big gold strikes, began to sell off their claims to the Chinese who were willing to continue working the claims when gold became more scarce and harder to mine.

   The Chinese were also merchants in the Pierce and Weippe area, selling goods, cooking, and doing services for other miners. At one time, the population of Chinese people out-numbered the Euro-Americans in the area.

   The museum has an interesting collection from both the Chinese and the miners showing the tools they used, gold scales, books and combs, and other personal items left behind. Baskets, pottery, and even a wooden yoke worn across a person’s shoulders to haul goods are on display.

   There are many useful books for the would-be local historian such as Horse Logging on Freeman Creek, by Boyd H. Olson; White Pines and Fires, Cooperative Forestry in Idaho, by A.B. Curtis; And Five Were Hanged by Layne Spencer telling of racial struggles in the early towns.

    As my father-in-law is noted for saying, “It’s all there for ya son” at the Clearwater Historical Museum. Join us next week for Part III, on the early town life of Orofino.

   The museum is located at 315 College Avenue, next to the Methodist Church. The hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:20 p.m.