tv History Bookshelf CSPAN March 28, 2015 4:00pm-4:59pm EDT
"dead wake," the last crossing of the lusitania. eric: why was the lusitania allowed to enter without escort and the detailed warning that could have been provided but was not. this has led to some very interesting speculation about was abusive essentially set up for it. the ship -- leadership essentially set up for it. i found no smoking memo and i would have found a smoking memo which is to say there was nothing from church oh two anybody -- churchhill two anybody saying let's let it get sunk. >> history bookshelf features
popular american history writers and airs every weekend at this time. to if he recounts the forest fire that spread across -- timothy returns the forest fire that spread across oregon and washington. he discusses public opinion on national parks at the time. timothy: thank you so much. it's terrific to be here in montana, because i've been on a book tour. i've been in 25 cities or so and now here i am, basically home where the fire started. the source of the story, and the source of so much joy for me growing up in spokane and fishing here in rock creek and hiking here in the national forest basically learning to love this land as a little kid. so thank you for coming out on this gorgeous, wonderful, crisp montana night. the rest of the country can only
look on us in and. -- in envy. also, i wanted to open with a wonderful quote from one of my literary heroes, norman maclean, famous montanan author didn't have his first book published until he was 72 years old, but it took a long time for that masterpiece to surface. and it was "a river runs through it." maclean says in the book that he and his brother, they were minister's kids, their father was a minister. that grew up in montana. they were raised thinking the world was full of love, but as maclean said, my brother and i soon discovered that the world outside was full of bastards. the number increasing rapidly the farther one gets from missoula, montana. [laughter] timothy: and i just -- that just nails it for me. that tells the story about missoula. also, i should say this.
after the book he was a huge success and publishers were tripping over themselves to print his next book, which was a book about fire. and took him 14 years to finish fire." he actually died before he could finish it. but alfred a. knopf said we will do anything, we are at your mercy. and he wrote, he said, you do not know my type. i'm scott irish and we have long memories. he said, if i were the last offer left on earth and you were the last publisher, that, sir, would be in the books as we knew it. which i love as well. [laughter] timothy: directly he got his kicks in, maclean, a to montanan. i was drawn to the story about writing about the dustbowl because, as was said in the introduction, i love these clashes between human beings and nature. you couldn't have anything really more elemental than human beings against fire. is as old as humanity itself, as old as anything. and to tell you the truth i was really going to write initially
just a fire story. and to tell you the truth, more i was just going to write kind of a cool fire story. because i was attracted to the perfect storm quality of this fire story. we have never had a fire like this in our history. 3 million acres in a day and a half. the state of connecticut burns in 36 hours. now by comparison, a few months ago you had these fires raging in east of l.a., angelos national forest. big fires, burned for two weeks. at their peak those fires are 100,000 acres and blanketed most of the l.a. basin. so these are 3 million acres. 2000-degree temperatures, the estimated. crown fire going from tree to tree at its peak. a fire moving faster, this is what the men said at the time, faster than a horse to go at full gallop. and we had never tried to fight a wildfire before either. never tried to fight it on this give. this was the first time in our history, 100 years ago next year, that we assembled an army of men. and almost all men except for a
woman cook, who i follow here in the story, a homesteader who outlived all men and became the last survivor of the fire. an army of men, poor irish and poor irish and poor italian. it was the peak of italian immigration. they just open the gates for the southern mediterranean and they were treated fairly. they call them beaten men, the races. and poor irish. many of whom grew up in butte, who were the famine irish , the defendants over those who survived that the descendents of those who -- the descendents over those who survived the famine. nearly 2 million people died in the famine of iron. they're getting paid 25 cents an hour to come here and try to fight this wildfire. those of you who live in montana know we get dry summers, and sometimes they can go months without the rain and you'll get these lightning strikes a come down, these dry lightning storms. there's no precipitation. that i was trying to explain this reading any of the washington, washington, d.c. when they get thunderstorms they get torrential rains.
so that's what happened. if you had these come down. august of 1910, almost 3000 of these little fires burning in the newly created national forest of the northern rock use. -- northern rockies. just a few miles up the hill here, of the mountains. and so their concern. this is the age when towns were being burned to the ground. denver, seattle, chicago, san francisco. they were greatly concerned about fire. the trees -- they have changed -- they had chased every other element. grizzly bears were largely gone. wolves were a limited. bison were almost done. the indians were pushed to the edge. the only thing they still feared was fire. so with this thing happen, they assembled an army to try to prevent it from getting catastrophic, from destroying mozilla. and then it blew up. and i hope there's some people in the audience here tonight who fought fires before. i've only been as an embed and i was on the yellowstone fire in 1988. there are few things that scared
me so much as being in yellowstone park would not fire blew up. it's like the sound of 10 jet liners roaring at once. i was just chilled to the bone when a fire starts to spot and shoot up in crown to crown that's what happened here. you have 70 miles an hour wind which are officially classified as hurricane force winds. matt, i know what is 70 mile an hour wind is because like i was in a documentary for the history channel on the dustbowl and some knucklehead got the idea, let's re-create 70-mile i went and put him in them. so they brought this flatbed truck out input to giant fans and fire them. poured a whole bunch of dust in there and had me be blowback. because it was a union production there was a doctor on site. [laughter] timothy: i was totally thrown back. i was a tumbleweed. in the 70 mile an hour wind. i could not stand. that's what caused this fire, to blow up, 70-mile an hour winds. so was a total failure in terms
of human beings being able to beat the fire. and as i looked at this thing you know, i thought that's a great story in and of itself but what was it like to be a ranger fighters into the history of the formal study of united for service. what was a like to be an immigrant from italy? i traced it back to a little village in the north of italy these two boys basically gave it up for teddy roosevelt dream to be here in the strange american west so far from italy and suddenly fighting a fire. what was it like to be a black soldier? there were these african-american buffalo soldiers who were sent to idaho, to wallace, idaho, thereby almost doubling the population of blacks in the state of idaho by their arrival. treated terribly. the headline was dusky doughboys arrive in town. and then they would have stories about their singing and a gambling at night. and it turned out they saved to the two towns. -- two towns. these men were a rogue at will.
-- you rose as well. -- euros as well. --heroes as well. i was going to write about the quality and drama of the wildfire when you didn't know how to fight one. but like so many americans before me, i absolutely fell head over heels for this man whose chiseled on mount rushmore, teddy roosevelt. and i also feel any strange way for a man who is not chiseled on mount rushmore but is almost forgotten to us, the founder of the forest service. let me to you about each of these men because they figure so much of this fire, and this fire changes our history. it's so interesting to think here in missoula, on the richer, two nights of pure hell changed everything in terms of saving our public land also the nature of firefighting in itself. but let me just back up. teddy roosevelt is a song of wealth and privilege. that -- son of wealth and privilege. he's the only native of new york city ever to be president. is our youngest president by the way. kennedy was a little younger but he was elected. as you remember, teddy roosevelt got the presidency when mckinley
was assassinated. he grows up a son of privilege in new york city. he is fascinated by bugs insects, the outdoors, but he is told as a very young man he probably will not live until the 21st birthday. use a sickly child. he is asthmatic. he is nearsighted. and he wears spectacles. the kids make fun of him. it is scrawny. -- is groaning. -- you is scrawny. -- he is scrawny. is almost anorexic. he is told that he does want to live to his 21st birthday he probably shouldn't go outdoors. and roosevelt wills's wages for. -- whose way to strength. he says in his biography autobiography, i will will myself stronger. he builds his body. he overcomes his sister he was afraid of the dark that he was afraid of trees that he was afraid of forces. this most robust mail of our
president he was this shallow very scared child. he wills himself to strength. he goes to harvard. he falls in love with this beautiful woman, and he leaves harvard and he starts with a little crabby very young age. he joins republican party and then he said was the least corrupt of the two corrupt parties as he said in new york the legislature was not 100% crop but perhaps 90% corrupt. soviet family will so he could afford virtue. didn't have to be corrupt. he is elected he assumed at age 20. at age 25 he's the leader of the republican party. he is the republican minority leader. then tragedy strikes. on valentine's day, 1884, his wife gives birth on west 57th street in new york where they are living. and she dies on childbirth. she dies upon giving birth to the first child, alice, that day, valentine's day, 1884. roosevelt goes upstairs where his mother is living. she dies on the same day. so this was our most prolific writer as a president. i am impressed with barack obama's two books. teddy roosevelt wrote 15 books before his 40th birthday. he wrote 10,000 letters while he was president. he was a prolific diarist. but what did he put on
valentine's day 1884? this thing just chilled when i saw it in the national archives. he writes a big, shakey x. on february 14. that is that beneath that is -- that is a single line. he says, the light has gone out of my life. so he gets his newborn baby to his sister to race or. he resigns his position in the legislature. and he says goodbye to wealth and new york and he moves out west. he moves to the dakota territory and he becomes a new man. a different man. a transformed man. he sets up shop, i was hope it was a stage of your, but in a little cabin which i saw about 400 square feet. and he hangs his bare skin rugs up next to the fireplace and he brings all his books in by train. he puts a rocking chair next to the fire, and he becomes a cowboy. he becomes a man who lives and tries to get rid of his grief from the west. he spends the next two years as
not a dude rancher. he worked 16 hours a day. some guy in the more cold him for hours -- some guy in the bar calles himm four eyes and roosevelt decks him, puts him at. some other guy stole horses. he spent three days chasing the guy and by the coffee that he was a tough as will be as they say. but it is also a lover of literature and a lover of nature. and two things happened. he is restored. agreed that happens to him from losing his wife and his mother is somewhat mitigated by the outdoors. it makes him a little whole again. but he sees something. he sees the west which he's, all his life he has this image of buffalo everywhere and these wild animals. is almost gone. he sees the american have eaten barely 100 years into us being a nation is all but destroyed. birds, even the birds which he thought there would be millions and millions of birds because that's what lewis and clark had discovered when they come up not far from where roosevelt set up a shop in that cabin. so he goes back to new york city after two years, and he is this
transformed man. the west has saved him. he said i owe more than any man could ever owe to the west. the west made him whole again. so let's fast-forward to 1900. mckinley as president. roosevelt is vice president. they thought they would get rid of them by putting him on the ticket because he was a governor and a reformist governor and the corrupt people in albany did not like having roosevelt. he was placed on the vice presidency. mckinley is assassinated. he is not dead yet. roosevelt is hiking. the secret service goes and get him. they think mckinley is going to die but after a day they think he make go through. roosevelt goes back up into the adirondacks. about seven days later the secret service gets him again. the president is dead. it takes roosevelt another 36 hours to get to buffalo where he is sworn in as our youngest president. now, he says later in his autobiography, doesn't say it at the time, remember, he is leader
of the republican party, i wanted to transform the republican party as he says, into a " fairly radical progressive party." that's the exact quote. fairly radical progressive party. he doesn't tell the country that but he says in his diary. and to do that he needs different potential. who also is a son of wealth and privilege. his father was a clear-cutter. one of his three homes were he grew up having 27 brits -- turre ts and about a half-dozen fireplaces. he grows up in his castle. i'm sorry yes. and i'm glad we have here tonight. [laughter] timothy: pinchot things like roosevelt. they think the american colossus is tearing apart what we have. they think that we are moving, at some point we will have a timber famine that will run out of trees. that we're tearing it all apart. that's what's left over from the louisiana purchase, this big
open public domain is just systematically being ripped apart. so pinchot and he then over the course of the next seven years set aside an area almost, not quite, but almost the size of france. its national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges that they do most of it by executive order. the congress stops them eventually near the end. just before they stop them roosevelt and pinchot set aside another 16 million acres. they have these rangers bring in the maps. roosevelt describes if you put in the upper flathead valley? i remember being up there once and seeing this magnificent herd of elk. let's include. they are drawing the boundaries all over the west and creating -- these are why these original forest rangers were called arrangers, they were in on creation.
they are drawing the boundaries that they were out of jail and given these huge magnificent forest for them to take over. so they create these national forests. but there is pushback that there is tons of pushback. women become this is the end of the gilded age. you have never in our history have had a bigger gap between rich and poor until just a few years ago during the wall street peak. but you have rockefellers, guggenheim's, j.p. morgan, who hated roosevelt. morgan said, when roosevelt left office in 1909, went off to africa for your, they asked morgan what he thought, he said i trust some lion will do his duty. [laughter] timothy: that's how they felt about him. and j.j. hill who built the railroads here. they are sort of knowing at this public domain. they don't like these national
forest designations. they are used to getting land for free. so they fight roosevelt. there's one more check i should mention before i move on your. you had a united states senator here once named william clark. and he wanted to be the richest man in the world. he was utterly corrupt and fairly honest about his corruption. he made his money in being one of the copper veterans of butte, montana -- copper barons of butte, montana at a time when we get copper because the telephone was just taking off in copper wires and all that. and he bought his senate seat. at the time senators were not elected by the people, they were elected by the legislature. now that means that occasionally some corruption as we saw when the man in illinois, who has not been convicted of anything yet but has been accused of using some shenanigans from the selection there. well, that's what happened here. and clark bought his senate seat with $10,000 of the. that was the going price. he did and his monogrammed envelopes were his initials were stamped on the outside and stuff ed with hundred dollar bills. he didn't deny. he said later i never bought a man who was not for sale.
so clark buys his senate seat and promptly leaves montana. he goes to new york city and he wants to be one of these gilded age titans. he build a 106 room house in manhattan. a few blocks from where these other guys were living, these guggenheim's and other powers. whom -- and just to give you a sense of what this guy was like. mark twain who was then still kicking around, said this about your former senator, clark of montana. " he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has yet produced." [laughter] timothy: and i should say, they knew how to hurl an insult back in those days. so clark spends his one term and the united states senate most ly living in his 106 room house in manhattan, and he has one great passion in the senate. do you know what it is? stop the national forests. so he is one of roosevelt's villains. these are the people he is fighting against. clark is democrat by the way. roosevelt as a republican.
so the parties have sort of slipped in many ways. clark goes on to cofound las vegas and clark county, the biggest and most populous county in nevada is named for this man that mark twain called the most disgusting creature. i do not know if they have clark days in las vegas. that's who he was. so that's what they're up against. let's talk about the forest service itself for just a moment here. pinchot wanted these men to be the finest people of public service. so he endows the school in you with this pinchot money, they yale school of forestry. they were fighting for what they call the great crusade. there's no more noble cause for a young man they thought than to serve the united states forces -- forest service.
pinocht by the way claims that he, he invented the term conservation. to give you a sense of how public policy was formulated between these two most exuberant characters. roosevelt someone said about him he was so full of energy that i thought his clothes were going to catch fire. he and pinchot used to go for these long walks in rock creek park which is just outside washington, d.c. they would occasionally skinny dip together. even late in november like we are now, and i was trying to think what this would be like today if, say, karl rove and george bush were skinny-dipping. [laughter] timothy: in the potomac. or rahm emanuel and barack obama. cable news cycle would play this. they would go for these horseback ride or skinny dip in the potomac or they would vigorously hike through -- and they say roosevelt burned up $2000 before noon and a cup of coffee with sugar as well. but that is where the conservation idea came from. pinchot said a came on one of these. that he brought the idea to
roosevelt. it's a very simple idea. they didn't call it environmentalism. they didn't public safety or that basically said we're a nation of 92 million people. what will it be like when we are a nation of 300 million people. by the way, we are a nation of more than 300 million. will that be anything left for our great-grandchildren? it was so the idea, let's not consume it all in our generation. we owe something to future generations. so that was the simple idea around conservation. so they set up this public land and they set it up for the little guy. remember, they're not taking private land and putting it in the public domain. they are taking over the left over louisiana purchase and other lands and designating it forest service land, national parkland, national wildlife refuge, other uses. on the eve of the fire, 1910 here's what you have. roosevelt has left office. gifford pinchot is fire. the forest service is being underfunded. they are making $900 a year, a ranger with a yale degree, and i
try to do the adjusted for inflation met, and that's less a teacher makes now that they have to be armed, because if you're in montana, a ranger was shot and killed, and no one was charged and the person who killed him said i mistook them for a deer. so they are facing a fairly hostile environment in the woods here as well. and these gilded age powers, william clark's, rockefellers, guggenheim's are sort of closing in for the kill. they want to define the agency. the train is going to die. it's five years old in 1910 and it's defenders are gone. it is orphaned. then the fire happens. and i said that it was the fire that saved america, because though the loss, though they were routed, though five towns burned to the ground, most of them to leave the map, i dare anyone of you to find taft montana, as i did. once a town of 3000, now nothing.
just wind blowing through the trees. not even the fleas of a town. i defy anyone of you to find grand forks, idaho, another town gone, completely erase. five towns burned to the ground, 100 men died, 3 million acres burned, scores, incinerated. and what roosevelt did when this happened, he has returned from africa and a lion has not done its duty. and he is extremely angry. he sees the finest of young men having died on behalf of the great crusade which is what they call it. so he goes around, as roosevelt did -- by the way, you know he invented the term bully pulpit. that was his favorite term. bully for this, bully for the. i heard a voice recording of his and i don't that you would do in the television days that he had a high, squeaky voice. which does not match the physical presence of him. but he goes around after the fire and he says these people were martyrs that these people died for your public land. he does what any politician, good politician can do. he mythologize an event and makes it into narrative. and public sentiment shifts.
so i've just come back from reading in the east, and i told people in virginia and pennsylvania and massachusetts that their national forests which they have along the spine of alleghenies, they owe to this fire in montana because there was a bill to create national forests in the east and it had never passed even during roosevelt's time. but after the fire happened, public sentiment shifted and historians directly attributed creation of national forest in the east to the big burn in montana of 1910. so that's one of the many ways that it rippled. now, so i did change. it did save the american public landscape it but they sort of took away the wrong fire lesson. because there after the forces -- forest service of our -- vowed that they would put out every fire. so the forest service which was intended to be this became the fire source. and to this day, in some years
more than half of their budget is spent on fires. and you have almost 20 million americans living within a half-mile of a national force. so people that hated the national forests then, they are now loved to death appeared to have 300 million visitor days to these national force. the recreation council sinkers national that draws more people to the outdoors than the national forests. they are loved to death but they become the fire service and something called the 10:00 rule which was if a fire happened on your watch, on that day, it had to be put out by 10:00 the next day. and norman maclean, writing his wonderful book "young men and fire" said forest rangers coming of age after that, there after had 1910 on the brain. because it was expected that you would be judged by how we did in putting out fires. so there are some fires that we can't put out that there are some fires that human beings should never be anywhere near. this was one of those fires. i don't think we could have beat beat it back with any forest -- force today even with aerial
force with a time of stuff we have. it did save our public lands to but also took away the wrong forest lesson. i'd like to read a brief passage here, and then i will take a couple of questions. i wanted to give you an idea of what it was like to be a forest ranger in 1910, because again, most of them are the brightest of bright. they are the best and the brightest. again, they are coming out of these ivy league schools. primary yale. there was a guy, a blue-collar guy, kicked around, middle aged but probably the most, the one indisputable hero of the fire, the plastic tool which of course is a tool with a play that one -- with a blade at one end and a whole at the other side of the. is they were. they call these people little tv -- little gps in honor of the big gp, gifford pinchot. he knew what it was like at a because he let you. but the other ones did not. so the come out here from you
and they come to these new national forests and they are in their '20s. and they are being given charge of that area of southeastern states so they have these giant national forests is all full of interesting characters. people are not necessary take the idea of national forests the way that pinchot and roosevelt intended which would it would be land for the little guy. this is what i'm going to read as an idea of what it was like for a new ranger to newly arrive here in the great state of montana, and go out and check out his national forest. in a thicket of dark montana woods just downslope from the idaho divide, a towns sprang up with one prostitute for every three men and a murder rate higher than that of new york city. carved inside a national forest the village of taft frightened most anyone not use to humanity with all its raw appetites exposed. you could buy the basics in the town of taft, a woman, a man, a
horse, a place at a card table or a spend of a roulette wheel a fat steak for 1 dollar to make quarter of whiskey, a bump for best bunk for 25 cents. one nearby shop advertised quote, shoes, booze and screws. [laughter] timothy: and they weren't talking about hardware. it was an easy place for an outlaw to hide because everyone at taft was camouflaged. a decent man would stand out like cactus on a nice low. people drifted into town by day and just as easily faded away at night, never to be seen until the snow melted in the spring. during one flaw, eight bodies were found. a reporter visiting from chicago described the town of taft as quoted the wickedest city in america. the townsfolk took their amusement wherever they could
get it, and so they didn't miss a beat when the churchgoing, well fed, then secretary of war, william h. taft, came for a visit in 1907. at the time, the town was nameless. just a shelter place in the woods a place to get a blog and a bar to sleep off a hard night. secretary taft lectured the horse and the saloon keepers the fugitives and timber thieves. the claim jumpers and card sharks about morality and the ir wretched ways. this is so just send was in the find of how american settlements had been founded, dating to the pilgrims' sitting on a hill. from atop their tree sums people cheered and whistled in approval and hoisted their jugs, here here. and then just after the future president left, they decide to name their town for the big man. well, that spring, there were 18 murders in taft.
the town of taft was part of the public land domain of our scotch, 25 year old supervisor of three national force and a fresh minted little gp. transixty ever told him that his empire would include some of the most lawless places in the country. pinchot always looked past the gambling dens and the mining claims to the trees. quote, the forest is as beautiful as it is useful, he wrote in his primer on 40. the old fairy tales which spoke of it as a terrible place are wrong. no one can really know a forest without feeling the gentle influence of one of the strongest parts of nature. but he had not visited the open sore of taft, montana. when young rangers first showed up and had to have a look, the saloon, the card and a dance hall, the crypto going full throttle. the bars were law and with hard face dance hall girls and every kind of gambit was going wide open. the rangers spent the night. they were unable to sleep because of the did. couch got out of bed, dressed
and went down to the saloon. he dropped a coin in a slot machine and it hit. as his winnings slid out painted women were drawn to the forest supervisor. quote, one big blonde and a very low-cut dress had her arms white tightly around my neck he wrote. he ordered drinks for the house on him, of course. and he gathered his coins, ducked under the arm of the blog with a free flowing cleavage and made a recruit for his blog. welcome, sir, to the low low national force. [laughter] timothy: he had crews of single rangers to go with his full-time assistants. the adult telephones and build trails. they rescued hunters and hikers but in the winter they snowshoe deepens a forced on for days at a time a little but tea, sugar and raisins. they felt dead trees. years before anyone had a sleeping bag. he learned how to read the sky and the human heart as well.
now his colleague just over the ridge in idaho, bill, had a bigger problem. for inside his national force, according, there were three towns and made by debauchery and loss of all time. the worst was grand forks where muddy streets were thick and lined with the burned out sounds -- stumps of big seeders like nubs on a half shaven face. saloons were held together by rough-cut place with canvas walled cribbs outback. outback. if they why they broke out in the middle of the street, it remained there until somebody burned it or it was picked apart for scrap. the little gps were for five. and perplexed by what they found in the people's land. instead of on his homesteaders
they confronted land thieves. instead of pinchot little man who would be king, they found whiskey. instead of enlightened merchants, they found six righties of pam's, all operating in open the find of united states forced service. one man cut a swath in the was a half-acre so and he opened a bar with few horse just outside of taft. he did this under the eyes of several ranges. if flummox rangers sent a telegram to missoula, no idea how to respond. to prostitutes established on government land, he why. what should i do? a ranger wired back, get desirable ones. [laughter] timothy: so that's what they were up against. i was so lucky when i is reading in california a few weeks ago a woman came up to me and told me, she was the granddaughter of that ranger who said that telegram, and she presented me with a copy of that telegram which was absolutely wonderful. and it has a very important place, that telegram. in the forest service floor. and anytime i run into a rage -- ranger who has a sense of
history, i say get two desirable ones and they know exactly what i'm talking about. so that was what they're up against. to me, this was a passing social history because it was an experiment that people now say some asked me today, who would -- were they to come out to tell people how to live? they didn't tell people how to live. but here's what they did that was different from other generations. pinchot had to study forestry in france. because there was no forest school in the united states, there was no concept of forestry. when he became a forrester he claims he was the first in the united states. he hung a shingle. there wasn't much beyond central park, but that's how he got his start. he goes to france to study as a boy and he is appalled, all the land is held by these nobles that peasants couldn't pick up twigs in the national force. you couldn't cut timber. you could walk in the woods without permission. england was the same way you had to have the permission of the lord of the land. so what roosevelt did that was so radical, so different was to
break from that, to simply say this land belongs to you and i. and really, it's no more complicated than that. i grew up in spokane, and we had a big irish catholic family and we were not rich but we didn't h ave a summer home, but we had these public lands. as long as we had these publicly lands i knew we were rich. so we can't all over western -- cap -- camped all over western montana, all over northern idaho. all over western washington. this land was something that my mother always told me that was part of my birthright as an american citizen. that's what we really owe this president. it's also interesting to think, accidents, quirks of history. what is this fire hadn't happen? they were very close to killing . -- killing it. don't fool yourself that they have defined a distinct basically down to nothing. and i read the memos talking about how low the morality or how people were quitting and how they felt so, you know disrespected and so unsupported
in washington. they were very close they felt to this thing. what if this fire hadn't happen? what if it hadn't changed the course of history? in national parks which you saw with the ken burns documentary are an important part of our heritage but a very small part of the public land domain. i mean, they are just a fraction of what they put forced service is. that's what i feel absolutely in awe of both the. and pinchot himself who has i think gotten kind of a bad rap over the year, he is always juxtaposed against john deere, the third of the founding members of american conservation. well let me just say one thing for a minute here. deere was pinchot's mentor. pinchot was a very strange guy. he lived with the goes for 20 years. the love of his life was like the love of roosevelt's guide. he couldn't accept his loss. he claimed the spirit appeared to him and he claims that he was sealed to her. this didn't come out until a few years ago by the way that it was the best kept secret of pinchot life.
this is the top advisor to the president of the united states and he claimed he had his spirit wife with him many times when he was dining with roosevelt. he was read to this ghost at night, and he would tell her about his day. he would write his speeches by her. he is a very strange guy. he used to sleep on a wooden pillow and he was wake up sometimes with his valet throwing cold water in his face. whenever you would come out to visit his ranges everyone was sort of flummox because he was a great companion in the day. he could hike with anyone. he was a great fisherman. great marksman. but that has nice, pinchot would wander off into the dark and sleep by himself. john meyer wrote in his diary, when they were at crater lake, he said they all slept in the tent accept for pinchot. -- accept -- except for pinchot.
this great mystery of what pinchot was up to. we know now on because of this scholarship done recently that he was commuting with his dead wife. now, he was his mentor. they go back and forth. i saw the letters were pinchot said am i really weird? am i doing the right thing? i go off by myself and me with strange until. he used to lash himself to a tree when a storm it comes that he could feel the force of the wind. he want to sway with the branches. but there were very close and bring to conservation drinking i stayed for almost 20 years and it broke only over one thing, a damning in yosemite. and it was really late in the career. and i should say it didn't happen. went yosemite was dammed it didn't help him on roosevelt's watch. -- have been on roosevelt's watch. -- happen on roosevelt's watch. it was woodrow wilson the following president who did it. so it wasn't even pinchot who did it. pinchot, because san francisco had been destroyed by earthquake in 1906 and they felt they needed the water to be rebuilt. he felt sorry for san francisco. but you can read and pinchot diaries. by the way, he was roosevelt's top speechwriter.
so most of the speeches at roosevelt gave came from the pin of gifford pinchot. if you read those pages and to be those diary entries, you can't help but to see this man was committed to the american wild as deere ever was. but he lost his place in history. so thank you, and i will take a few questions from you all. [applause] timothy: you have to live up to missoula's reputation, and be inquisitive. >> how long did you research this? [laughter] -- timothy: the question was how did i research this. it was mostly glorious and really for me terrific research that i spent a lot of time here in missoula and archives where they have a tag is record of this fire. it was very well for rabbi the way. and i covered mount saint helen's, the eruption, was it 1980? yes. and it was every to look at these photographs of all the
down timber from the big burn and see how similar it was to all the downed timber of mount saint helens that i didn't realize it until it went into the fires. the 70-mile an hour winds that came, essentially blew down so much of the forest. i spent a lot of time in montana researching the archives here. about time in all the forced -- forest districts around where the fire happened, because the forest service did a marvelous thing that they kept these records called early members of the forced service. early days, think that i am here again until glad you're here. i would go into the district and ask them for early days and someone would have a stapled or bound recollection of someone who it been a ranger in those early days. that was the second thing. third thing was i spent a lot of time in the national archives in washington, d.c. that was to research roosevelt pinchot, to look at their letters, their diaries. and fourth, this was very well documented that he was the first time we've reported on a fire that it was front page news, not just here but in the "new york
times" to the personhood my job, 85 years ago, reported on this fire. it was page one news, like i said. the research, what i do is i go and i spend long hours looking at stuff and then i find a little nugget of gold. that's what's so great about research. something just pops. you see this marvelous passage that illuminates a character for you. also i mentioned a woman named pinky adair. they called her pinky because she had this red hair. and she was trying to establish a homestead on the national force illegally. but if you could prove the ground was irritable -- airabl e, that was one of the precepts of the national force if you could prove it was far mobile land, it wasn't. she is up there and she gets drafted to be a cook. and a cook for convicts because
one of the things, they opened up the jails. they let people out of jail. they did this in wallace, idaho. they establish martial law. they were so desperate for men one of the headlines was men men, men. they would take anyone with a pulse. they were grabbing people off of trees. they were opening up the jails. they were grabbing hobos down on front street as they call them. and pinky adair is drafted to be a cook for these 80 convicts up in the national forest. and she shows them her pistol and they say do you know how to use that? she says put a can of beans up there on this done. she takes out a pistol and pop hits it dead aim. quieted them. so she had a fabulous expense and she described it as fabulous with his convicts whom she could -- cooked for. then she escapes the byrne. when the firestorm happens, they dive into the string. this is what a lot of people did. they were so helpless.
they drive in to this shallow stream hoping this thing will hopscotch over them. a lot of people went into caves, too. that didn't work. it is a storm. it literally sucked the air out of the cave. that's why some people died even while they were in caves. they are in this extreme trying to survive his firestorm that she gets up in the middle of it and says i will not die here. they said what are you doing? you are crazy she walked 20 miles down to the town of a dair, which is on the saint joe river i believe, and she has this marvelous tale of her living through a. she outlives everyone. every major player in this drama big and small. and in her 90s, somewhat of a person, i don't know, i forget from the idaho historical society goes and sits down with pinky adair in her nursing home answers for today's with her. and she tells these marvelous
stories. she says oh, it was the greatest time in my life that although she said later she could never eat a potato afterwards because she cooked so many potatoes. i found his pinky adair oral history sort of, you know, it had been any at of the big burn stories. that's the great thing when you do what i do. occasionally you find these bits of gold. that's how the research was done. and i always look for, i do this with the dust bowl book also that i look for four or five -- there are two ways to look at history. there is the great men through what history is look at to the president's and the people who built the railroads and people who started the bank and people who founded the town. and that is find and i -- fine and i certainly do that with roosevelt. but then there are people whose stories never get told. that's what i try to do with the dustbowl book, people who live through a town when the earth itself rose up and looked like a mountain range. that's what you get the texture of history. that's what you get -- what it smelled like look like? , what did it look like when the earth came toward you.
i was looking for four or five people who could carry this story for me. so the way i research is i go through and go through, and then boom, i find somebody. it's not always them, issued a drawnout process. i find someone who has a story. so eller kotch wrote a fabulous book. it wasn't published until after his death. he has a wonderful tale to tell. been one of the rangers leading to the fire and then having gaslit about what had become of his beloved forced service. i looked to people who aren't often in history. yes, sir. what i should and critique -- >> i live and critique -- i could -- surely not critique a book
before i read it. but i am so pleased that somebody wrote a book about the 1910 fire. when i first heard of it, i thought oh, my lord, just another one of them things? so pleased to see you to put the implications of it. i do have one thing, and i should say that before i read it. and the source of the fires, the common feeling around here for ever since i remember, was that the railroads were building roads, all kinds of stuff all over the place that they were cutting ties for the railroads slashed. so many people were getting stump ranches and trying to clear out the land. and all those little fires burned into big ones, and then it went into bigger ones yet. but more than just, there may have been some lighting strikes, too, i don't know. that's contrary to my way of thinking, but i better read the book. [laughter] timothy: thank you, sir.
i brought him tonight and put him there. [laughter] timothy: i appreciate you said even though you haven't read and you like it. that's the best kind of reader i guess. he's absolutely right that i forgot to mention that, my apologies to in the official reports of what caused the big burn, they said lightning strikes cause many of the fires. but they said perhaps have the fires were started by the railroads themselves. the sparks that came off the. there's also, and so that started many of these little fires. and they just, trains come roaring through. it was the milwaukee road, the most expensive transcontinental railroad built to take $10,000 a -- to date, $10,000 a mile to go through the harder the mountains, so they could bring so back to chicago. that was rockefeller family money and that railroad. that's why there were all these itinerants living in taft because of that railroad. but those parts cause many of those buyers.
-- those fires. you look in the book you will see some pictures of his. they were huge puzzles they built. not all of these tunnels, but these huge timbered trestles. when the fire was happening on saturday night, august 20, 1910, a lot of people fled by train. it was like the scene in the titanic in one way. women and children first. the whole town was being evacuated and they said that men had to stay behind and fight for their homes, but the women and children could not leave on the last train out of town. that last train out of town was a necessary going to get you to missoula, because all these trestles were burning as well. so there are these harrowing accounts of the trainees is a going out to the edge and then sending someone out to legacy is the fire was burning on the council and then nestling another mile. you will see the pictures in the book of this great engineering feat essentially being tossed around by the big burn as well. but thank you for bringing that up. >> can you talk about one of your other books just for a minute? timothy: sure.
>> “breaking blue.” you were born and raised in spokane and you told this horrible story. how did you get into that? timothy: i was aboard -- i was born in seattle. i like to point out that. a little bit of both in my blood here. “breaking blue” was a sort of the oldest homicide sought in american history. -- solved in american history. it was all by sheriff in north idaho who found the bad guy, the killer who was an ex-con who was growing up in the 1930s. you won't believe, but they were killing people over bootleg butter. that was their racket in the 1930s. somebody got onto and they killed a night watchmen over this. 30 years later it is solved. they find a bad guy and he is living here in montana. i think flathead valley where he had been a judge. and had a pretty prosperous life. tony was the sheriff's name who caught up with his bad guy in the eve of his death. the guy died shortly thereafter. and i have been with the "new york times" for 20 years and
it was one of those times stories that i did where i've been roaming the west for 20 years looking for stories. that's basic and what i do. somebody says you're a historian. the congressman called me a historian. thank you, congressman, but i am not worthy of that designation. i am a storyteller. i heard the story of tony. he found the murder weapon buried that was thrown off a bridge. when the river was drained, they found a gun. that had been used in the killing. 54 years later. so that was a great story. and i just had a kicking around doing my "new york times" of and being fascinated by the sheriff, done. yes, congressman william? [laughter] congressman williams: i just want wait until i felt almost everybody had asked you a question.
thank you. i'm wondering, tim, about your impression from particularly your last two books, "the worst hard times," and in your latest book about the fire. you've not only lived in but circulated around the midwest for that book, and your home up here in the northern rockies for your fire book. and you wrote wonderfully and extensively about the citizens in the states affected by the dust bowl, as well as the state or states affected by the big burn. after you've finished the books, and now consider them, what are your impressions of the
differences, if any, between the result and competency -- result -- resolve and competency of midwesterners in the midst of their terror, and people of the northern rockies in the midst of their terror? timothy: well, that's a real tough question because you are forcing me to say something bad about your people here. [laughter] timothy: i will just say what the record shows, ok, so this doesn't call me necessary to have an opinion. this is what the record shows. i don't think there aren't any cover americans than those -- tall for -- tougher americans than those who lived through the dust bowl, because if these people saw the utter, worst catastrophe ever created by american stars. 10 years of hell. these are some people who lived in sod roof houses that there was no social security. this was the worst economic collapse of our time. 25% unemployment. some were literally eating roadkill. the sheriff were drawn back to
towns in the oklahoma panhandle and drop the roadkill and people would take it for dinner that night. there was a town that sent a telegram to the congress and say there is an entire town starving. there was no safety net at all. they were tough. people were dying right and left, and they were just being thrown one punch after another. someone said it was a hell of all nature. that was the quote, the hell of all nature was thrown at them. they are losing their farm, this one piece of dirt that they finally have, it's blown up and thrown to the sky. you can have a bright summer day at noon, and it would be as dark as someone once said like to -- two midnight in a jug. one of those great, great expressions you can only get when you go down and find these boys. i came away from that story full of admiration for their toughness and resilience. and by the way, these people are with us still. they are in their 90s do. they haven't left the plant get. -- lannett yet. -- planet yet. that is a great thing, i can
look into their eyes when i do the story and asked what it was like to be seven years old in 1920 and they would tell the story. i hugely admire those people. by contrast, what the record about montana, as the firestorm was approaching, i don't know any of you have read the book yet, but the citizens of taft as the forest service was trying to save them, decide they're going to open up all the whiskey reserves and drink himself to death death. [laughter] timothy: that is exactly what they did. i swear to god, that's in the forest service record. if they were going to go down, they're going to go down drunk. [laughter] timothy: and the forced service -- forest service contemplated this is in the record as well, they were starting backfires than to try to save himself. they said why don't we start one that burns toward the town? they considered burning the town itself. and say to hell with the big as -- with it. as it turned out the forced
-- forest -- forest service rescued everyone in taft. got the strokes on a train, got them out of there. and only one person died. and that person was draped in bandages when he came down just outside of taft. his buddy went up, he was in a train car and he had been drinking of course and the whiskey was all over the bandages that his buddy went in to take a look at him and he lit a match to see him. the guy caught fire. i'm glad you caught i didn't know the story. the guy caught fire and burned. that was the only death out of taft. so by comparison to taft, i would say to the dust bowl people, the record shows itself. i've got to sign books. thank you all for coming. it's a wonderful evening. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2014] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> here from the best-known writers every saturday. to see these anytime visit our website. you are watching american
history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. >> this sunday on q&a, eric larson on his new book deadweight, the last crossing of the lusitania. erik: the story gets complicated when the question arises as to what ultimately happened to the lusitania, why was the lusitania allowed to enter the irish sea without escort, without the kind of detailed warning that could have been provided to the captain but was not. and this has led to some very interesting speculation about was the ship essentially set up for attack by churchill or someone in the admiralty. it is interesting. i found no smoking memo and believe me i would have found a smoking memo if it existed.
nothing from churchill to jackie fisher or someone else saying, let's let the lusitania go into the irish sea because we wanted to get some. -- sunk. >> sunday night on c-span's "q&a." >> american history tv, exerts from an interview with john lehman, former national security council in the nixon administration. he talks about joining the foreign-policy team under henry kissinger as well as president nixon's policy towards vietnam and cambodia in the early 70's. he also discusses the arms negotiations with the soviet union and some of the major foreign-policy players of the time. the richard nixon presidential library conducted the interview as a part of a project to document his administration. this is about one hour. joh