Back from the Ashes

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

salvage the damaged trees. Even today evidence of this fire remains.

Why is fire prevention week in October?

The nation's deadliest forest fire burned on Oct. 8, 1871, around Peshtigo, Wisconsin. The Great Lakes states were in the midst of a logging boom, and settlers set fires during the summer to clean up logging slash.

A severe drought combined with hot weather and strong winds caused these fires to explode on Oct. 8. The fires burned several towns and more than 1.2 million acres of forest, leaving 1,500 people dead.

Several days passed before news of the deaths and destruction spread to the outside world. A city to the south had a fire on the same day that captured most of the headlines. This big fire, caused by a cow kicking over a lantern, we know as the Great Chicago Fire.

  • Burnt-over lands made living difficult in the early part of this century. The logging boom had become a bust for generations that followed.
  • During the 1940's, Conservation Commission efforts at fire protection and the Forest Crop Land Program helped Missouri's forests regenerate.

Fire Fighting Tools

Pulaski - The Pulaski combines and ax and grub how on the same tool. It was developed by Forest Service Ranger Pulaski, who won fame for his efforts during the 1910 fires in northern Idaho. The Pulaski is a versatile tool. It can be used for digging fire lines, cutting down trees or grubbing out smoldering roots. A Pulaski and shovel are the standard tools of western firefighters.

Broom rake - Broom rakes were developed specifically for Missouri fire fighting conditions. They resemble a lawn rake except they have heavy wire tines. They are commonly used in states where the forest floor is covered with hardwood leaves. Broom rakes are used like a broom to sweep away leaves to create a fire break. With the tines stuffed full of leaves and set on fire, they become backfiring tools. No Missouri firefighter goes to a fire without his broom rake.

Backpack pump - A backpack pump consists of a 5-gallon tank, a short length of hose and a slide pump. Filled with water it approaches 50 pounds in weight. But it is still the simplest and most portable way of getting water to remote sections of a fire. It is used to cool down hot spots and extinguish spot fires and in mopping-up operations. First-time firefighters often get the "honor" of carrying a backpack pump.

Lumberjacks had their own colorful vocabulary. Some of their terms faded away with the era of big logging camps, but others survive and are still used today.


the loggers’ game of log rolling.


man from the head office.

Branding ax

a tool for marking ownership on a log.


to cut a tree into log lengths after it has been felled.


one who saws trees into logs.


By itself, the boss of a camp or logging operation. When used as a prefix, except in the case of "bullcook," it denotes the boss man.


chore boy around camp who cuts wood, fills wood boxes, sweeps bunkhouses, feeds pigs and is often the butt of camp jokes.

Bull of the Woods

the camp foreman or logging superintendent.


a loop of wire rope, used for skidding logs.


the man who puts chokers around logs.


calks; short, sharp spikes set in the soles of boots.


man who estimates standing timber.

Deacon seat

a classic piece of camp furniture; usually made of half of a log, flat side up.


a stationary engine, usually steam-powered.

Drag day

the day of the month when a logger can draw his wages in advance of the day they are due.


man who cuts down trees.

Gandy dancer

a pick-and-shovel man.

"Give her snoose"

to increase power; a tribute to the potency of snuff used by loggers.

"Got her made"

quitting the job. "He’s got his stake made."

Hardtack outfit

a company that sets a poor table; from the term for hard and cheap bread.

Ink slinger

logging camp timekeeper.

Iron burner

camp blacksmith.


the place where logs are assembled for loading or rolling into the river.

"Make her out"

"Make her out" - what a logger tells the timekeeper when he wants his pay check.

Muzzle loaders

Muzzle loaders - bunks that you crawled into over the foot of the bed.


lunch bucket.


tool with a hook and spike on the end used for maneuvering logs.

Pike pole

long pole with a spike at one end, used on river drives to free logs.

River hog

a name for river drivers.


fellow who says how much lumber a log contains; his rule stick is said to be the cheat stick.

Short staker

a very migratory worker.


a logging chance; spoken of as a good show or a poor show.


a road over which the logs were pulled; also means that part of a city where loggers congregate when in town.

Steel gang

railroad track laying crew.


traditional cry of warning.

Widow maker

a tree or branch blown down by wind.

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