One of my favorite Pacific Northwest storytellers, Murray Morgan, paid a visit to the upper Wynooche River Valley 60 years ago, deep into research for his 1955 book The Last Wilderness, a rich and readable account of the natural and human history of the Olympic Peninsula.
I retraced some of his Wynooche watershed steps last week with Montesano native and retired forester Bob Dick, whose love of the Wynooche Valley springs forth from his nostalgic memoir, co-authored with boyhood friend Darrel A. White and entitled Skunk Cabbage and Chittum Bark, Sons of the Wynooche.
My roots dont run that deep in this verdant and rain-soaked river valley flowing south from the Olympic Mountains to the Chehalis River. However, I lived in the valley 30 years ago when I worked at The Daily World in Aberdeen.
During my years covering natural resources for The Olympian, Dick was a tested and trustworthy source speaking on behalf of the timber industry as it moved painfully from a they tried to cut it all mentality to one of compromise with environmentalists who see more than dollar signs in trees.
Our day in the upper Wynooche watershed was a chance to get better acquainted, soak up some glorious early summer sun and immerse ourselves in the memory of two Wynooche legacies the Camp Grisdale logging camp and the final campsite of John Tornow the extrodinary woodsman whose trajectory through life included three years as a backcountry fugitive accused of multiple murders, including his twin nephews, who shot at him, mistaking him for a bear, and a game warden and sheriffs deputy sent in his pursuit after the twin killings.
Dick was a member of the John Tornow Memorial Committee, which in April marked the 100-year anniversary of Tornows last shoot-out by placing a stone monument at the site some 27 miles north of Montesano in an 80-year-old hemlock stand that was still an old-growth forest when Tornow roamed the woods.
The memorial also includes three numbered posts to represent where Tornow and two of his pursuers trappers Louis Blair and Charles Lathrop fell mortally wounded. A fourth post represents Grays Harbor sheriffs deputy Giles Quimby, who fired the shot that took out the wild man of the Wynooche on April 16, 1913.
The inscription reads: John Tornow Shootout, friend or foe well never know. The memorial also includes the names of Tornows six likely victims.
Dick has a soft spot in his heart for Tornow. He prefers to remember him as an odd recluse who may have lived out a full and solitary life in the remote backcountry of the upper Wynooche and Satsop valleys, if lifes twists and turns had wound another way.
His elusiveness and woodsmanship became legend, Murray wrote after paying a visit to the Tornow shoot-out site in 1954. On some weekends there were as many as a thousand men in the hunting parties looking for him.
When his body was brought back to Montesano, the county seat, a mob formed, forcing the coroner to make the body available for viewing. Fully 650 people passed through the room where the gaunt figure lay, reported the Portland Morning Oregonian. Some 30 sheriffs deputies gathered to keep people from tearing bits of ragged clothing from the corpse, or cutting off locks of hair and whiskers.
After a few moments of somber silence, we left the Tornow memorial and drove a few miles north to a gravel road leading into the former site of Camp Grisdale, the last logging camp in the continental United States, a community of loggers some single, some joined by their families assigned the task of logging high altitude old-growth for the Simpson Timber Co. from 1946 to 1985.
Nothing much remains of the logging camp. But the camp entrance is still adorned with six thick steel mail boxes. Two have metal red flags in the upright position as if the mailcarrier is about to arrive.
With its steep hillsides, massive trees and rainfall of more than 150 inches a year, high country logging around Camp Grisdale was risky business. At the end of the work day, the lumberjacks paid 90 cents for a dinner in the 300-seat cookhouse that featured all the T-bone steaks, vegetables, potatoes and salads a hungry man could handle. For recreation there were pool tables and the only bowling alley ever installed in a logging camp.
I visited Camp Grisdale two years after Morgan did, a young Cub Scout from Shelton 50 miles away. All I remember of my first camping trip is the incessant rain that soaked my clothes and sleeping bag. It felt like half the annual rainfall fell during my 24-hour stay. The experience soured me on camping for years.
Today a 20-year-old timber stand supplants the logging camp. Theres nary an old-growth tree to see in any direction from the camp site.
It was all old-growth timber when I was a kid, Dick said of the upper reaches of the Wynooche Valley. It makes you feel old seeing it now.
They really did try to cut it all. They almost succeeded.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 email@example.com