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The Last Wilderness

The Last Wilderness

Автором Murray Morgan и Tim McNulty

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The Last Wilderness

Автором Murray Morgan и Tim McNulty

348 pages
3 hours
May 30, 2019


Murray Morgan’s classic history of the Olympic Peninsula, originally published in 1955, evokes a remote American wilderness “as large as the state of Massachusetts, more rugged than the Rockies, its lowlands blanketed by a cool jungle of fir and pine and cedar, its peaks bearing hundreds of miles of living ice that gave rise to swift rivers alive with giant salmon.”

Drawing on historical research and personal tales collected from docks, forest trails, and waterways, Morgan recounts vivid adventures of the area’s settlers—loggers, hunters, prospectors, homesteaders, utopianists, murderers, profit-seekers, conservationists, Wobblies, and bureaucrats—alongside stories of coastal first peoples and striking descriptions of the peninsula’s wildlife and land.

Freshly redesigned and with a new introduction by poet and environmentalist Tim McNulty, this humor-filled saga and landmark love story of one of the most formidably beautiful regions of the Pacific Northwest will inform and engage a new generation of readers.

May 30, 2019

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The Last Wilderness - Murray Morgan


"A history of the Olympic Peninsula, it tells the story of pioneers—the farmers and loggers, fishermen and businessmen who tackled the ruggedly beautiful country and made their livings on it. It does for the peninsula what Morgan’s Skid Road did for Seattle, portraying its history for natives and newcomers to appreciate and enjoy."—Seattle Times

It is good history and packed with outrageous anecdotes and uproarious humor, it is marvelously well-written. Here is the story of the Olympic Peninsula and its environs, the saga of the opportunists and the dreamers, the lumbermen and the would-be-farmers . . . the final failure of the utopian settlement at Home, and the fight to save at least part of the rain forest as a national park.Pacific Historian

So good a book as this will inevitably bring many new visitors. . . . Those who have read this book will have an excellent knowledge of an historical background that is probably as fascinating as that of any other region, West or East.New York Herald Tribune

Rollicking Americana, with useful statistics about Congressional actions to preserve this remarkable area.Kirkus


Introduction by Tim McNulty






Copyright © 1955, 2019 by Murray Morgan

Introduction to the 2019 edition copyright © 2019 by the University of Washington Press

First paperback edition published in 1976 by the University of Washington Press Original cloth edition published in 1955 by Viking Press and Macmillan Company of Canada Ltd.

Printed and bound in the United States of America

Design by Thomas Eykemans

Composed in Adobe Garamond Pro, typeface designed by Robert Slimbach

23 22 21 20 195 4 3 2 1

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.




LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018054733

The last chapter appeared in part in the Saturday Evening Post under the title Loneliest Spot in America.

COVER IMAGE: Postcard, view north from James Island, Washington, 1907.

University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, WAS1394.

FRONTISPIECE: Bucker crosscutting seven-foot spruce, n.d. Finishing strokes were made from beneath, with saw upside-down. Photograph by Darius Kinsey. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, D. Kinsey A47.

MAP: Thomas Eykemans

The paper used in this publication is acid free and meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI z39.48–1984.∞

This book is for Otto and Phyllis Goldschmid



Tim McNulty


1. In the Time Before Everything Changed

2. Port Townsend: A Matter of Customs

3. The Lumber Ports

4. The God Terminus

5. Home: No Place Like It

6. Grays Harbor: The Era of Violence

7. Olympic National Park: The Fight the Iron Man Lost

8. Shelton and the Hundred-Year Cycle

9. Gersh’s Damned Paradise

10. This Veritable Breed

11. Land’s End



During the cold, wet winter of 1972, my first on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the old Carnegie Library in Port Townsend was a sanctuary. It had the familiar classic lines and welcoming wooden furniture of my childhood library in New England. From the front steps above Lawrence Street, the snowy peaks of the Cascades arrayed in brilliant view across the inland sea. I was a young arrival in a new land, and the shelves of the Pacific Northwest section unlocked the region’s stories for me. Among the well-worn tales of shipwrecks, logging feats, and Native American and pioneering histories was Murray Morgan’s already-classic The Last Wilderness. It fell into my hands like a cloth-bound Rosetta stone.

In the half century since, I’ve explored, researched, and written about the rugged corners of this iconic landscape: mountains, rivers, forests, and seacoast. In younger years I drew my living from its traditional economy, planting trees, clearing trails, thinning, logging, and cutting firewood in the forests. I’ve taught the natural history of the Olympic Peninsula and advocated for its preservation. Throughout, The Last Wilderness has remained a touchstone, a foundational text for this wild, quirky, and utterly magnificent landscape. Murray Morgan’s eye for telling detail, his ear for dialog, and his exquisite sense of storytelling animate his writing and distinguish The Last Wilderness from a shelf-full of books about the Olympic Peninsula, historical and recent. More than six decades since its publication it remains the definitive book about the peninsula, a region that has inspired more than its share of worthy titles. Nearly 3.5 million visitors to Olympic National Park each year confirm that the peninsula looms large in the American imagination. And Murray Morgan’s scrupulously researched and delightfully told stories of the peninsula’s history still remain its best introduction. Hands down.

As a writer I had occasions to correspond with Murray. We spoke on the phone a few times, and he was always generous and encouraging. It’s a disappointment that, in spite of my longtime friendship with his daughter, Lane, and earlier friendships with mutual friends of Murray’s, we never met. Through his words and stories, Murray shared a love and enthusiasm for a place that has been the focus of so much of my own life. That may be one reason his book endures so well for me. In a way Murray has given us all the family story of the Olympic Peninsula. Through it, we can experience the peninsula’s near-mythic past and delight in—or be maddened by—so much that takes place in the last wilderness today.

• • •

When Murray Morgan arrived in Hoquiam for his rookie reporter’s job at the Grays Harbor Washingtonian in the spring of 1937, he was in possession of a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Washington and a curiosity as pitched and sprawling as the rough-edged landscape that took him in. Hoquiam and Aberdeen, a pair of rain-drenched mill towns at the head of Grays Harbor, anchor the southwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula. Rugged and remote, the peninsula is a fist of land thrust north between Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean, as Morgan described it, a wilderness area of six thousand square miles. Morgan was captivated by this largely unchronicled corner of the Northwest. It was, he noted, the first land in the Pacific Northwest to be explored by explorers, the last to be mapped—the last wilderness.

Growing up in Tacoma, Morgan was no stranger to the island-like range of jumbled peaks and dense forests that loomed to the west. Some of his earliest memories were of trips with his family to the shore of Hood Canal near Lilliwaup. He remembered Indians, likely from the nearby Skokomish Reservation, fishing the calm waters and log handlers sluicing logs through a flume over the cliff and into the canal. That would have been about 1920, when the first round of coastal logging on the canal was coming to its end, and steam-driven logging railroads pushed up peninsula river valleys. History was catching up with the last wilderness, and Morgan would soon chronicle a time when the old resource-based Northwest was giving way to today’s more recognizable landscape.

When Morgan reported for his job at the Washingtonian in the late 1930s, his timing was fortuitous. In spite of the Depression, the wild and boisterous world of the early days of the Olympic Peninsula that he would describe so memorably in The Last Wilderness still lingered. Smoke from sawmill burners smudged the skies as more than forty sawmills crowded the Grays Harbor tideflats and riverbanks. Loggers from backwoods camps mixed it up with mill hands in the bars and cardrooms on Saturday nights. Immigrants continued to flock to the Harbor area for jobs in the woods and mills, and pitched battles erupted between labor unions and bosses.

Freighters took on loads of lumber and canned salmon bound for tamer ports, but hints of a shifting economy were already in the wind. The campaign to establish Olympic National Park was heading toward a climax, capped in 1937 by a visit from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A US-Canada fish treaty establishing a commission to restore depleted salmon runs was signed in 1937 as well, and sport fishermen were finding their way to coastal towns. A near-disastrous public elk hunt that drew thousands to the peninsula’s West End, as recounted with restrained hilarity in these pages, made national news.

Central, pervasive, and essential to all Olympic Peninsula stories is the rain. Morgan was one of its early poets. The rain falls steadily and heavily over the peninsula, he wrote, slanting down in wind-snapped sheets during the winter storms, drizzling through the spring nights, settling in heavy dew on summer mornings. Initially, it was something less than love at first sight. Soon after arriving in June, Morgan wrote to his sweetheart and wife-to-be, Rosa Northcutt, in Seattle, If the weather keeps up as it is, I don’t know when I’m ever going to get the chance to play. You see, it’s been raining. And how! And all the time! And wet rain! The exclamation marks dance across the page like rain splattering wet sidewalks. Two days later he wrote to confirm, There hasn’t been a dry day down here this week. He regretted he hadn’t been able to take a trip over to the ocean but wryly noted, The weatherman seems to be bringing the ocean to Hoquiam. He also described his reporting day as similar to the hours he kept as editor of the University of Washington Daily where he worked with Rosa while still a student. He mentioned filing a staggering twenty stories the previous day, one of my best days as far as getting stories went.

Morgan’s prowess as a journalist was legendary. His time in Grays Harbor County was a sodden apprenticeship to a distinguished career that took him to Seattle; New York; Washington, DC; Mexico; Europe; and numerous points between. Although best known and celebrated as the author of some twenty-two books (and the acknowledged dean of Northwest history), Morgan’s accomplishment as a journalist would be remarkable had his writing never been bound between hard covers. From Hoquiam, he returned to Seattle to edit and write briefly for the Municipal League. After marrying Rosa in his father’s church in Tacoma in 1939, the couple honeymooned in a kayak down the Danube River, and Murray sent travel stories to the Tacoma News Tribune. He returned to the Northwest to write for the Spokane Daily Chronicle and then circled back to the Washingtonian as city editor. With enough money saved for tuition, he pursued a master’s in journalism at Columbia. There he worked simultaneously for Time magazine, the Herald Tribune, and CBS Radio. With help from Rosa, who monitored some of his classes and took notes, he earned his master’s degree as well as a Pulitzer fellowship to live and write in Mexico. As Lane Morgan told me, it was there that Murray and Rosa’s world was broadened by associations with artists, writers, expatriates, and revolutionaries. It was also in Mexico that World War II caught up with Murray and landed him in the Army Signal Corps in the remote Aleutian Islands. The downtime there proved productive, and with Rosa sending books and articles from the home front, Murray went to work on his first two books.

Back in Puget Sound country after the war, Morgan penned a novel, his second, deeply influenced by his experiences in Grays Harbor. The Viewless Winds, published in 1949, was based on the unsolved 1940 murder of Laura Law, wife of a militant union organizer in Aberdeen. Morgan covered the case for the Washingtonian. Though set in a fictional Oregon town, the novel anticipates The Last Wilderness in its evocation of labor strife, crooked politics, class war, and violence in the logging and sawmill towns around Grays Harbor. Influenced by John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle, it remains a compelling read, but it sold poorly. Ultimately, it was a visit to the Northwest by the eminent writer, editor, and critic Malcolm Cowley that spurred Morgan’s genius for historical storytelling into literary success.

Cowley was invited to lecture at the University of Washington, and Morgan volunteered to show him around. As an editor at Viking Press, Cowley is credited with reviving the flagging literary reputations of Hemingway and Faulkner, among others, and later pushing for publication of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. As Morgan drove him around the area, enlivening the trips with his storytelling, Cowley recognized the young writer’s talent. He encouraged Morgan to write up his colorful stories of the early days of Seattle and helped get the book published at Viking. Skid Road became a bestseller and remains the acknowledged best popular history of Washington’s largest city. Riding on its success, Morgan queried Cowley about a similar book on his home state’s wild northwest corner. In a 1951 letter, Cowley was enthusiastic, advising the younger writer to get to work on it by all means. He also suggested a title, The Last Wilderness. It would give you an excuse for presenting the Olympic Peninsula as . . . representing other wildernesses that have disappeared, he mused. Your book could discuss the forces and people working to destroy it or save it. Morgan described Cowley in an interview as an intellectual environmentalist. True to that, Cowley was prescient in recognizing an archetypical story unfolding along the far shore of Puget Sound. But what most impressed the esteemed editor is the same quality that continues to bring readers to Morgan’s book about lumber barons, stump ranchers, explorers and utopians today: the author’s keen knowledge and deep enthusiasm for his subject. Cowley predicted an even richer book than Skid Road.

• • •

In The Last Wilderness Morgan frames the story of the Olympic Peninsula in dramatic narratives that explore the changing relationship between people and a place. The land is always primary, and the course of many of the later stories unfolds directly from the earliest. Morgan recounts the European exploration and pioneering history of the peninsula in epic terms. Powerful interests vie for control over a distant land rich in possibility. Of course, the peninsula’s shores and river valleys were home to dozens of Native American villages at the time. Some, like Ozette on the Pacific coast or Hoko and Tse-whit-zen on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, had flourished for millennia. Some, ravaged by Europeanintroduced diseases, were abandoned. The peninsula’s original inhabitants were largely seen by early Europeans as a hindrance. Arriving in ships from far shores, the visitors were intent on exploiting the area’s resources. First were the Russians sailing from the north in search of sea otter pelts. The rich, luxurious furs brought fortunes in the China trade, and ships’ captains could not collect enough of them. As Morgan phrased it, The retreat of sea otter before the hunter mapped the North Pacific. He contrasted traditional sea otter hunts of Native people, attended by ritual and restraint, with the later European trade. As early as 1787, British sea captain Charles Barkley of the Imperial Eagle took on eight hundred sea otter skins, establishing a pattern of unsustainable resource exploitation that would dominate the peninsula for the next century or more. Over time, the trade would drive sea otters to near extinction on the West Coast.

Colonial struggles between the Spanish, English, and Americans for control of the Northwest coast followed. Morgan pointed out that, throughout this time, the peninsula was considered too densely forested to settle or farm—its role was that of a resource colony. As US explorer and surveyor Charles Wilkes framed it after his 1841 survey, the peninsula was a storehouse of wealth with its forests, furs and fisheries. When the United States boundary was drawn along the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1846, not a single white settler inhabited the area.

Morgan took bemused pleasure in describing those settlers who did eventually arrive here. Of the oft-praised hardy and self-sufficient stock that settled the peninsula, he observed, [The] country was full of robust individuals straining every effort to find places for themselves on the public payroll. Morgan’s account of the mid-nineteenth-century rivalry between Port Townsend and Port Angeles over which would house the US customs office, a contest that culminated in an illegal armed raid and elaborate trial, has become justifiably famous. He drew heavily from first-person accounts, diaries, letters, and published newspaper articles. They flesh out the character of the early citizenry and the flavor of town life. They also painfully document racist stereotypes of the area’s Indigenous population.

A complete lack of regard for Indigenous peoples characterized the settlement of Washington Territory. Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens’s top priority was to extinguish Native American land claims and open the territory to settlers. He pursued his charge with a passion. In 1855 he pushed through the Point No Point Treaty. Followed by others that year and the next, the treaties removed title to vast tracts of land from peninsula tribes and assigned tribal people to reservations. The removal of Native people from their traditional homelands, including several future townsites on the peninsula, soon followed. The tragic treatment of Native Americans by white settlers on the peninsula is a tale not fully explored in The Last Wilderness. But Morgan’s accounts of some of the settlers who staked claims on the peninsula leave little question regarding their character.

Among the nineteenth-century boomers, speculators, opportunists, and political appointees who fetched up on peninsula shores, some were outstanding in their audacity. Presidentially appointed US Treasury agent J. Ross Brown took fiendish delight in skewering his fellow Port Townsend citizens, first in his reports to Washington, DC, and then in the popular press. Another presidential appointee, Port Angeles founding father and indicted embezzler Victor Smith, barely dodged prison. President Lincoln himself removed him from office. Only the Renaissance figure James G. Swan—author, judge, artist, ethnologist, linguist, and teacher—earned Morgan’s unqualified admiration. Swan taught and worked extensively among peninsula tribes, collected for the Smithsonian, and documented Native American cultures in monographs and books. Yet even he was bitten by the railroad bug, a speculative affliction that struck widely across the peninsula at the end of the nineteenth century. Swan spent too many of his later years futilely lobbying for a rail terminus in Port Townsend. The town boomed with speculation, as did others at the time. Inevitable bust followed, leaving the peninsula mercifully unhitched from the mainland.

More enduring is the story of lumbering on the peninsula, and Morgan traces its larger-than-life characters and storied feats in lively detail. Logging and milling would dominate the peninsula economy for more than a century, but the industry got off to a shaky start. In 1850, only a few years after the US-Canada boundary was settled, the British captain of the schooner Albion was caught illegally cutting and loading logs in Discovery Bay. They were intended as spars for Her Majesty’s Navy, but ship and spars were seized by the US customs agent and sold at auction. Prospects were more promising a few years later when an experienced and well-funded team of Maine lumbermen founded what would become the Pope and Talbot mill in Port Gamble. Their steam-driven sawmill netted $50,000 in profit its first year of operation, churning forth an industry that would drive the peninsula’s economic development.

Morgan follows the logging and milling history from Port Gamble to the gritty camps and mill towns of Grays Harbor, from axes to crosscut saws, from oxen and bull whackers to steam-donkey engines and rails. By the turn of the twentieth century, the interior woods were opened up and mills proliferated. The forests seemed endless, and stumpage was acquired by mill owners in questionable ways. Some was bought by sailors under the 1878 Timber and Stone Act, which allowed anyone to purchase 160 acres of timberland at $2.50 an acre. The practice on Puget Sound, Morgan wrote, was for mill owners to march platoons of sailors from the lumber vessels into the woods to claim 160 acres. The land was immediately sold to the companies. Elsewhere forest lands were purchased by mills from the government for next to nothing. Other lands were simply logged.

Working conditions in the woods were rough. The forests were wet, the work exceedingly dangerous. Eleven hours a day, six days a week, and then the stinking bunkhouses alive with vermin, as Morgan succinctly put it. When unions finally reached logging country in the early 1900s, it was no surprise that some, such as the Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies, became radicalized. One well-known mill owner, asked to contribute to the family of a worker who was killed on the job, declined. He didn’t want to give the false impression that an employer had any responsibilities to his employees. Though sympathetic with the unions’ plight, Morgan found no common cause with the Wobblies, whom he considered unreasonable, cantankerous, and violent. Even given his objective and dispassionate account of the repression and killings of Wobblies in Everett and Centralia, all he would allow was that they were every bit as rough as the conditions that spawned them. Nor was the violence of the work confined to the woods and mills. It carried over to civic life, particularly during the boom years of Grays Harbor logging. Morgan dramatized that era with his account of Billy Gohl. A hired thug and effective agent for the Sailor’s Union, Gohl was considered responsible for the majority of 124 bodies found floating in Grays Harbor over a ten-year period in the early 1900s. Most had been murdered.

Morgan painted the armies of loggers arrayed against the peninsula’s original forests in almost military terms. His picturesque description of old-growth logging at the time, immortalized in William Dietrich’s The Final Forest, was a rallying cry during the campaign to save remaining ancient forests. It was strangely like war, Morgan wrote. They attacked the forest as if it were an enemy to be pushed back from the beachheads, driven into the hills, broken into patches, and wiped out.

We’re fortunate that Morgan took to heart Malcolm Cowley’s suggestion that he explore the forces and people working to destroy the last wilderness or save it. To me this is the central story of this place, and no one has told it better. As early as 1890 a parallel effort took root alongside the wholesale logging of the peninsula’s extensive forests: to preserve some portion of it for future generations. Two explorers of the Olympic Mountains, Judge James Wickersham and Lieutenant Joseph P. O’Neil, recommended in their reports that part of the peninsula be designated a national park. Their recommendations may well have influenced President Grover Cleveland when he created the expansive 2,188,800-acre Olympic Forest Reserve in 1897. Though exclusive of most Puget Sound and Grays Harbor forests, the reserve, forerunner to Olympic National Forest, encompassed all the original west-slope forests from mountains to ocean, and from the Makah Reservation at Neah Bay south to the Quinault Reservation at Moclips. It placed nearly two-thirds of peninsula forests off-limits to homesteading or commercial claims. A survey of the reserve recorded more than 60 billion board feet of standing timber. By sheer volume alone, it was the most valuable forest reserve in the nation. But it did not remain so for long.

Morgan’s was the first and remains the most comprehensive popular telling of the fraudulent maneuvering by timber interests and politicians in both Washingtons to dismantle the reserve and deliver some three-quarters of a million acres of its most choice forestlands into the hands of timber interests. In 1909, Theodore Roosevelt created a much-smaller Mount Olympus National Monument. The monument was off-limits to logging, mining, and hunting, and the debate over the fate of Olympic forests became cast along sharp lines. Morgan contrasted the decadeslong campaign to create Olympic National Park with the popular mythology of John Huelsdonk, the famed Iron Man of the Hoh. Huelsdonk was the larger-than-life homesteader who raised a family in the wilds of the upper Hoh Valley and personified the nineteenth-century ideal of single-handedly conquering the wilderness. Hunter, tracker, logger, broad-shouldered freight hauler, his lifetime harvest of cougars alone was said to be more than three hundred. But even in the remote Hoh Valley, government subsidies played a significant if hidden role. At bounties that reached $75 per cat, Morgan observed that cougars, not cabbages or cows, were the Iron Man’s cash crop. Even at a conservative $50 each, calculated from the year of his death, the Iron Man’s lifetime purse in cougar bounties approached $200,000 in today’s dollars.

The creation of Olympic National Park is one of the epic stories of American conservation, pitting powerful local and national economic interests against a fledgling conservation movement. By the 1930s, Americans had witnessed the destruction of virgin forests from Maine and Appalachia to the Great Lake states and seen the ravaged economies left behind. It was in this far-flung corner of the then-forty-eight states that conservationists made a stand. Morgan told the story well, with iconic characters and compelling anecdotes, and framed the issues of the day with journalistic acumen. He admired John Huelsdonk and the fading way of life he represented, but he recognized that even without a park, the sawmill operators would irrevocably change the pattern of life in the deep woods. The real fight, he wrote, was whether the wilderness should be a wilderness of virgin forest or of slash and second growth. His sympathies clearly lay with the former.

• • •

Casting the Olympic Peninsula as the last wilderness at mid-point of the twentieth century might strike some today as quaint. After all, the book’s 1955 publication was four years before Alaska became the forty-ninth state, no shortage of wilderness there, and nearly a decade before passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. That landmark legislation established a national system of protected areas that now encompasses more than 100 million acres. Looking back, we can see that the peninsula was critical in shaping Americans’ approach to wilderness protection. The creation of Olympic National Park marked a turning point in the public’s relationship with protected areas. Olympic was conceived as a wilderness national park, one of the country’s first. With its creation, economically valuable resources like the peninsula’s magnificent temperate rain forests were preserved for their ecological significance as well as for public enjoyment. A half century after the park’s creation, Congress fulfilled its original intent by designating 95 percent of the park the Olympic Wilderness, later renamed the Daniel J. Evans Wilderness in honor of one of its most dedicated proponents. Protected wilderness holds a revered place in American consciousness, and the contentious ground of the Olympic Peninsula helped

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