History of Logging in Missoula Montana

By Scott Kuehn


1845 First known sawmill built under the supervision of Catholic missionary priest father Anthony Ravalli at the site of the original St. Mary’s Mission, north of present Stevensville, Montana. Mill was water powered and used a single straight blade made form an iron tire from a wagon. He hammered the tire flat and cut the teeth with a cold chisel and file. Ravalli also built a grist mill at this site, using two millstones he brought from Belgium.


July 2, Northern Pacific Railroad Company is granted a 400 foot right-of-way, plus every “alternative section of public land, not mineral, designated by odd numbers to the amount of twenty alternative sections per mile, on each side of said railroad line, as said company may adopt, through Territories of the US and ten alternative sections of land per mile on each side of said railroad whenever it passes through any state.” The new railroad will run from Lake Superior to Puget Sound, 2,128 miles. The land grant contained 45 million acres. (completed in 1883) 14,000,000 acres in Montana.


August 19, Northern Pacific Awarded a Lumber Contract to Eddy, Hammond and Company. The Company was E.L. Bonner. The contract called for the partnership to supply the Northern Pacific Railroad with everything the needed for building the railroad, except steel for 175 miles between the Little Blackfoot and Thompson River. This included clearing the Right-of-Way, building wagon roads, furnishing timber for ties, food, clothing, blankets etc.


September 8, Northern Pacific’s transcontinental railroad is completed and dedicated at Gold Creek, Montana with a golden spike. 


August 1, 1882, Andrew Hammond, Richard Eddy, E.L. Bonner and M.J. Connell joined with Marcus Daly and Washington Dunn in the formation of an enterprise called “The Montana Improvement Company”. The Northern Pacific Railroad provided most of the capital.


June 6, The Improvement Company completed its first permanent sawmill at the convergence of the Big Blackfoot River and the Clark Fork. They had seven portable sawmills along the Northern Pacific Railroad, but this was the first permanent one. That spring was the first log drive down the Big Blackfoot, floating 20,000,000 board feet to the mill in Bonner. This was the largest mil in the territory as well as between Wisconsin and the West Coast.


January 1, Blackfoot Milling Company becomes the Blackfoot Milling and Manufacturing Company.

Several name changes were to avoid prosecution of timber trespass from the federal government.

February 22, Enabling Act, Congress granted to the State of Montana, for common school support, sections 16 and thirty-six in every township within the state. The original common school grant was 5,188,000 acres

Between 1890 and 1900, 10 square mile or 6400 acres per day of Forested land is cleared for conversion to farmland.

First Logging Railroad built in Montana near Elliston by EF Cameron and Company. 6.5 miles of standard gauge (56 ½”) track was laid. 


March 3, Forest Reserve Act. General Revision Act. "An act to repeal timber-culture laws, and for other purposes", repealing the Timber Culture Act of 1873, Section 24 empowered the president to set aside forest reserves from public lands covered with timber of undergrowth, by withdrawing land from the public domain; this creates the legislative foundation for what became the National Forest system. 

March 30, President Benjamin Harrison issues a Presidential Proclamation setting aside 1,239,040 acres in Wyoming called Yellowstone Park Timber Land Reserve as the nation's first Forest Reserve, the first unit in what eventually becomes the National Forest system. Yellowstone Timberland Reserve, May 22, 1902, name changed to Yellowstone, some acres are added or eliminated. January 29, 1903, Absaroka and Teton added. July 1, 1908, Lands divided among Targhee, Teton, Wyoming, Bonneville, Absaroka, Shoshone and Beartooth: name discontinued.

Between 1891 and 1907, 133 million acres of Forest Reserves are created.


June 4, Forest Management Act. Sundry Civil Appropriations Act. Organic Act. Forest Lieu Act. Pettigrew Act. Making explicit the purpose of Forest Reserves as resources for lumbering, mining, and grazing and providing the blueprint for their management until the 1960s; this act also places Federal Forest administration under the jurisdiction of the General Land Office, Department of the Interior (aka Special Service Division, Division P). Also allocated funds for surveying the boundary line between Idaho and Montana.  


February 22, Grover Cleveland in his last month (10 days) in office, added 21,279,840 acres to the Forest Reserve System without prior consultation with those who would be directly affected or their representatives in Congress. These reserves are nicknamed Washington’s Birthday Reserves. This doubled the size of the Forest Reserve system at that time. 

February 22, (effective March 1 1898) Bitter Root Forest Reserve established, 4,147,200 acres. July 1, 1908, name changed to Bitterroot, lands added from Big Hole and Hellgate, lands transferred to Beaverhead, Clearwater, Nezperce and Salmon. October 29, 1934, part of Selway added.

February 22, (effective March 1 1898) Flathead Forest Reserve established with 1,382,400 acres. June 9, 1903, consolidated with Lewis and Clarke; name discontinued. July 1, 1908 reestablished from part of Lewis and Clark. June 22, 1935, part of Blackfeet added.

February 22, (effective March 1 1898) Lewis and Clarke Forest Reserve established with 2,926,000 acres. June 3, 1903, Flathead added. March 2, 1907, spelling changed to Lewis and Clark. April 8, 1932 entire Jefferson added. July 1, 1945, part of Absaroka added.


February, Marcus Daly acquires about 3,000,000 acres of timberlands in Northern Pacific land grants for the Big Blackfoot Milling Company.

August 1898, Big Blackfoot Milling Company was sold to the Anaconda Company, headed by Marcus Daly for $1,479,179.



Western Lumber builds a sawmill at the mouth of Petty Creek, across from Alberton.

Total consumption of roundwood equivalent in 1900 is 6 times that of 1980, although the population of the country had tripled from 75.9 to 226.5 million people.


On February 1, (effective March 3) in accordance with one of the Forest Congress's principal recommendations, Gifford Pinchot succeeds in having the oversight of national forest reserves transferred from the Department of Interior (General Land Office) to his own jurisdiction, the Bureau of Forestry(formerly known as the Division of Forestry) in the Department of Agriculture, and transforms the Bureau into the Forest Service; this is accomplished by "An Act Providing for the transfer of forest reserves from the Department of Interior to the Department of Agriculture", known as the Transfer Act of 1905, H.R. 8460. This change also symbolizes a shift of emphasis from preservation to scientific forestry, and Pinchot's dominance in public conservation policy. Sixty-three million acres of forest reserves are now in the Department of Agriculture. When the Forest Service took charge of the Forest Reserves there were 60. Forest Service personnel numbered 734, of whom 268 were in the Washington office and 466 in the field service.  Section 5 provided that all money received from the sale of any products or land use of the Forest Reserves should be available for five years as a special fund for the protection, administration, improvement, and extension of the reserves.

July 1, 1905 USE BOOK: Four and one-quarter by six and three quarters inches, containing 142 pages, the first Use Book of regulations and instructions took effect. It was called the use book because the forests were “for use.” The book stated, “Forest reserves are for the purpose of preserving a perpetual supply of timber for home industries, preventing destruction of the forest cover which regulates the flow of streams and protecting local residents from unfair competition in the use of forest and range. They are patrolled and protected, at the governments expense, for the benefits of the community and home builder.”

Forest supervisor ................ $1,800 to $2,500/year 

Deputy forest supervisor ......$1,500 to 1,700 

Forest ranger .....................  $1,200 to 1,400 

Deputy forest ranger ............$1,000 to 1,100 

Assistant forest ranger .........$800 to 900 

Forest guard ........................ $ Up to 720


September 20, Lolo Forest Reserve established in Missoula, Montana with 1,211,680 acres. December 16, 1931, part of Missoula added. October 29, 1934, part of Selway added. July 1, 1954, part of Cabinet added.

November 6, Missoula Forest Reserve established with 194,430 acres. July 1, 1908 part of Hell Gate added others added. December 16, 1931 entire forest divided between Deerlodge and Lolo.

First Ranger Hiring Exam given to ranger recruits:

Rangers: “To be eligible as ranger…[he must be] thoroughly sound and able-bodied, capable of enduring hardships and of performing sever labor under trying conditions. Invalids seeking light out-of-door employment need not apply. He must be able to build trail and cabins and to pack in provisions without assistance. He must know something of surveying, estimating, and scaling timber, lumbering, and the live-stock business. Where boats, saddle horses, or pack horses are necessary in the performance of their duty, rangers are required to own and maintain them. experience, not book education, is sought.”

Rangers Leave of Absence with Pay: The law allows the granting of leave with pay, not to exceed fifteen days (15) in one calendar year, to all officers of the Forest Service on an annual rate of compensation. 

Lumber consumption per capita in 1900 is 82 cubic feet, in 1970 it’s 30 cubic feet.

{Today, world wood consumption per capita is 10 cubic feet/year. US wood consumption per capita is 75 cubic feet/year.}


Through provisions embedded in the Forest Service sub-section of an Agriculture appropriations act,

Congress renames Forest Reserves "National Forests," and forbids their further creation or

enlargement in six Western states (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, or Wyoming),

except by act of Congress; when the bill passes Congress on February 25, Pinchot and his staff work

feverishly to identify 16 million acres of forest in these six states which are designated as national

forests by President Roosevelt before he signs the bill into law on March 4. These forests were

nicknamed the “Midnight Reserves.” By 1907, there were 151 million acres of National Forests.


Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad is completed through Montana.

First Montana State Forester is appointed.


January, Big Blackfoot Milling Company is sold to Big Blackfoot Lumber Company.

June, Big Blackfoot Lumber Company is sold to Anaconda Copper Mining Company.

Western Lumber moves from Lothrop, Montana (across the Clark Fork River from Alberton) to Milltown. Creating a new town across the river from Bonner, which was a Anaconda Company town.

Pollys Mill established in Missoula, by the Clark Fork River, later became Intermountain mill.

August 20, hurricane force winds blew fires burning over 3 million acres in Montana and Idaho. 85 people were killed, including 75 firefighters. Three days later there was snow on Mount Sentinel.


UM School of Forestry founded.


White Pine Sash Mill established


Last log drive down the Blackfoot to the Bonner mill.


March 1, 20,000,000 board feet of timber is sent down the Blackfoot River from Greenough/Elk Creek to the Bonner mill, 30 miles away. 

Andreas Stihl of Stuttgart Germany develops a portable gasoline powered chain saw.


Anaconda Company buys Western Lumber at Milltown. This mill was only one mile from their Bonner mill. The Western Lumber mill was shut down in 1932.

Road completed from Lolo Hot Springs to the Powell Ranger Station.


Anaconda Copper Mining Company sells about 250,000 acres to J. Neils Company near Libby, MT. This is later sold to St. Regis Paper Company. (Date?)


June 12, Plum Creek Lumber Company owned by, DC Dunham, saws its first log at its new mill in Columbia Falls. It starts with 10 employees at $1.05/hour. Plum Creek is named for a small creek 70 miles northeast of Bemidji, Minnesota where DC Dunham had operated a mill before moving to Montana. This is the same stream that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about in her book, “ On the banks of Plum Creek.”


Anaconda Mining Company changes its name to The Anaconda Company


The Anaconda Company, Lumber Department changes its name to Anaconda Forest Products, a division of The Anaconda Company.


January 1, Northern Pacific Railway Company buys Plum Creek Lumber Company for $5,917,410. 


January 1, National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Established Council on Environmental Quality and requires evaluation of potential environmental impact of federal legislation and agency programs.

June 1970, Northern Pacific Railroad Company merges with Great Northern Railroad Company, Pacific Coast Railroad Company, Great Northern Pacific and Burlington Lines, Inc. The new company is known as Burlington Northern Inc. Total of 800,000 in Montana.

November 18, the University (of Montana) View of the Forest Service, a.k.a. Bolle Report was submitted to the US Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. The committee reported that though under Multiple-Use guidelines the Bitterroot National Forest was merely concerned about “Productivity of Sawlogs.”


June, 26, 1972, Anaconda Company sells its Western Montana assets (650,000 acres) to Champion International, the parent company of U.S. Plywood for $117, 000,000.


Champion International Corporation merges with Hoerner-Waldorf Corporation.  


Total consumption of roundwood equivalent in 1980 was 1/6 less than in 1900, although the population of the country had tripled from 75.9 to 226.5 million people.


June, Burlington Northern Inc Resources Division changes to Burlington Northern Timberlands, Inc


July, BN Timberlands merges with Plum Creek Inc and is known as Plum Creek Timber.


March, Champion International Corporation merges with St. Regis Paper Company, adding 250,000 to the Rocky Mountain Operations.


Plum Creek Timber Company LP, sells about 200,000 acres to Big Sky Lumber Company near Bozeman. 600,000 acres in Montana.


Plum Creek Timber Company purchases almost all of the lands from Champion International Corporation, about 850,000. Total acreage in Montana is 1,450,000.


Plum Creek Timber sells its St. Maries Idaho lands to Crown Pacific. 



July 17, Plum Creek Timber announces they plan to purchase Georgia-Pacific’s Timberlands, for a total of 7,900,000 acres nation wide.