Chapter VI Range

*Please do not assume this content reflects current Forest Service attitudes and/or practices. Neither should it be regarded to represent current scientific knowledge, policies, or practices. For questions about the Modoc Forest Heritage program, contact M. Pamela Bumsted, Ph.D., Heritage Program Manager,, 530-233-5811.


Grazing has always been a leading use of the Modoc National Forest. The luxuriant grasses and vast expanses of browse not only built respectable fortunes for many pioneer residents but through the years has also fattened almost countless thousands of transient cattle and sheep from other sections.

Range disputes, sometimes breaking out into shooting affrays, mark the pages of Modoc history. Stockmen of the Modoc country have always been decidedly independent, their way of thinking influenced by the free and unrestricted use of the range by their pioneer forbearers. One petition protesting against a reduction of permitted cattle on an overgrazed range, presented to the Forest Service in the early twenties, opened with the phraseology, "We, the pioneers and sons of pioneers."

The Cowman's War of 1877, fought along the California-Oregon line was a bloody affair. Altho several cow outfits were involved, the principals were the Laws Brothers and the Calvin Brothers of the big Valley section. A total of seven men met death in the fighting, which lasted for several weeks. The country was literally "wild and woo1y" and the spectacle of rival cowpunchers "shooting it out" in the back country did not perhaps unduly excite the local authorities. But when one old man was cruelly murdered with a hatchet in the cabin in which he was doing his camp chores, Sheriff Joe Marks, heading a settlers posse, took a hand, settling the matter on the ground. Since the ringleaders were all dead, Marks turned coroner, his posse serving as the jury.

Altho gunplay has occasionally marked range disputes between individuals from time to time through the years, the last big affair taking on the aspects of an old time range war took place in 1914. Oregon sheepmen demanded a driveway through the mountain lands of the Modoc and other national forests further to the south to provide access to Sacramento Valley marketing points. Only a strip a quarter-mile wide was originally asked for, but anyone knowing the habits of sheep and sheepmen realized that as the tens of thousands of sheep passed through, the quarter-mile strip would be magnified many time over-either that or the sheep would starve en route.

To save being overrun with hordes of transient sheep, Modoc cowmen and sheepmen stood shoulder to shoulder against Oregon flockmasters. A mass meeting of opposing forces was held at Lakeview, Oregon, presided over by Jesse W. Nelson. Later, Chief Forester Henry S. Graves came from Washington to act as arbitrator in the dispute. The request of the Oregon sheepmen was denied and they were forced to ship their stock to California markets

by rail facilities already provided by the narrow gauge N. C. & O. Railway. This was the last concerted attempt in California to break down the Forest Service policy of local range use and revert to the good old days of free sheep pasturage for nomad and permanent flockmaster alike.

Domestic horses gone wild and the inbred offspring of such, locally known as "fuzz tails" , have always been something of a problem on the Modoc ranges. After the first bad winters had taught the settlers a lesson, cattle were generally winter fed and sheep moved to more snow-free ranges. Not so with horses. There were so many of these on the ranges that in 1889 Surprise Valley stockmen organized roundups and many were gathered: and killed. That year one Oregon drover took out one thousand head from the Surprise Valley area alone.

Among the first grazing projects initiated by Supervisor Chris Rachford was the rounding up of wild, unbranded horses on the Devil's Garden district where special corrals for the purpose were built. Almost 600 head of unbranded horses were gathered in that section by rangers and local permittees. They were rounded up on horseback in the fall and chased on ski's during the deep winter snows. On one of these winter rodeos Ranger Jim Poore suffered snow blindness and his companions had considerable difficulty getting him in to civilization. Poore eventually got the best of the deal, however, acquiring for himself a team of beautiful, cream-colored wild horses, perfectly matched to the last hair, which he afterwards gentled, broke and drove. Wild horses in that section were pretty well cleaned up by 1911.

Ten years later estray horses had again - become a range pest and in 1921 Supervisor Bill Durbin and local officers worked out cooperative plans with the Alturas Stock Association to rid the range of their presence. A total of 155 head were gathered from toe range that fall by rangers and hired riders. This work was pushed during the next five years. On each un-permitted or stray horse gathered there was imposed a riding, pasturing and advertising charge, plus the Government trespass charge for the estimated time the animal was on the range. The project, handled under the State estray laws, paid its way, with a residue going into the Modoc county treasure as the law provided.

The peak of this stray horse campaign was in 1925 when several public auctions of the animals took place. At one of ti1ese auctions, 120 old horses, 26 yearlings and 16 sucking colts were sold, these besides the animals claimed and redeemed by their owners. The bulk of the horses went for chicken feed at from one to two cents per pound. A total of around 1,200 head of horses were removed from the range during the. campaign, besides a considerable number of horses voluntarily sold as surplus stock by local cowmen permittees. While being held in pasture during the advertising period, these stray horses had a considerable attraction for transient vaqueros and Indian youths. For weeks on end, sometimes with another officer, Ranger DeCamp never left the animals without guard for a single moment.

The condition of the ranges at the time of forest reserve withdrawal has already been recounted. With the elimination of nomadic sheepmen and regulated use of the range, feed conditions greatly improved, altho the surrounding public domain to which regulated grazing use did not apply continued to be badly punished, both by local stockmen and transient users. As late as 1911, Modoc county collected license fees on 42,186 sheep and their lambs.

For several years Supervisor Rachford kept painstaking figures on livestock weights and found that the average net weight of permitted steers on the Modoc Forest increased from 480 pounds in 1905 to 553 pounds in 1911, figures being based on 2,000 to 4,000 head checked annually, In 1912 lambs marketed from national forest ranges averaged fifteen pounds heavier than those from outside areas. Rachford also inaugurated the burro or camping out system of handling sheep on the Modoc ranges and in 1912 only 7 out of 59 permittees were trailing their sheep to central bedding grounds each night.

In the fall of 1911, District Ranger Roy Snelling, referring to some 100,000 acres of range in the Warner Mts., wrote, "The stock were all in good condition this year and there could have been 500 head more (cattle) grazed in this district, as there is plenty feed left in the hills which will not be used." In 1909, including stock grazed on equivalent range exchanged for general use of private lands within the Forest boundary, 26,076 cattle and horses were pastured under formal grazing permit, and 51,250 sheep. In 1913, after range assignments had steadied down on the Haydenhi11 Addition, 35,812 cattle and horses and 73,428 sheep were similarly permitted to graze.

The protected Modoc ranges were giving a good account of themselves but some fear of overstocking must have crept into the consciousness of the early-day administrators whom we find beginning to inventory range resources. Rachford and his rangers started somewhat crude grazing reconnaissance in 1909 " and covered some 400,000 acres within the next four years. Intensive range reconnaissance work was started by Fred D. Douthitt in the South Warners in 1916. A crew of field assistants under 1. H. Steffen followed and aided by Grazing Examiner L. S. Smith, the entire 1iarners area was covered in this intensive work by the end of the following year.

Intensive grazing surveys, handled on a project basis, were completed on the entire big Valley district during the next couple of years, and the entire Forest by fairly accurate extensive examination. The resultant range reconnaissance and appraisal report, made in 1922, gave the estimated total carrying capacity of 1,461,600 acres as 42,600 head of cattle for an average of 6 months and 87,250 sheep for an average of 4 months. Altho Modoc Forest ranges were never stocked to nearly their full rated carrying capacity, the 1922 range appraisal figures were later proven to be much too high - through good years and bad.

Meanwhile, the 323,000-acre Lava Beds section had been added to the Modoc National Forest. In the winter of 1921, Ranger Harry Garrison wired the supervisor that he was unable to cope with Irish herders crowding 125,000 sheep on to the ranges of that section. Ranger John C. Davis was sent out to take charge of the situation. Davis had herded sheep himself allover that territory and knew most of the so-called "wild Irishmen" by their front names and all of them at least by local reputation. Inside of a couple of weeks he had the sheep which had no right to be there -approximately half of them -moved off the Forest. A1tho it was expected, no serious trouble developed. Neither Davis nor Garrison carried firearms, and Davis was intimate enough with the different sheepmen to distinguish between the regular users of the range and the tramp flockmasters.

Ranger Garrison, since deceased, used to tell some interesting tales of this sheep exodus. One particularly pugnacious Irishman threatened dire consequences if the rangers tried to remove his sheep. Davis jokingly led him to believe that another Irish flockmaster, a bitter enemy and of whom the belligerent one was very much afraid, would be along with his sheep shortly, would deliberately mix the two bands and precipitate a fight. The defiant Irishman moved out.

Late one blustery day the two rangers stopped at the shack of a nester who cordially invited them to put up for the night. There was no other camp water for miles, the hay in the nester's barn looked invitingly soft for beds, so the two men unsaddled. The old gentleman, voluble and hospitable, was anything but a clean cook and neat housekeeper. However, it was only when they saw him mixing the biscuit dough for supper that the rangers suddenly remembered a previous obligation,to be at another point some distance off. While engaged in his culinary activities, the old man was laughing, talking arid chewing tobacco at the same time and a distinct stream of tobacco juice was dripping from his chin whiskers into the biscuit batter. The two officers resaddled and made a somewhat cheerless camp elsewhere.

As transportation facilities increased many of the smaller cowmen turned to dairying instead of beef production and threw up their range permits. The increasing use of auto transportation also had the effect of automatically eliminating some of the small permittees grazing a few head of horses. The number of permittees using national forest range, therefore, somewhat dwindled among the smaller farmer-stockmen class. The Modoc country, however, has always been noted for big cow outfits which stayed in the straight beef production business through good years and bad.

The largest permittee on the Warner fits. division was the J. L. Flournoy and Company whose grazing permit for 800 head of cattle did not vary in 30 years of use. One of the biggest outfits of early days was the W. B. Whittemore Company which was absorbed by the Carr interests in 1911. This later became the Klamath Lake, Land and Livestock Company, the largest grazing permittee on the Forest, consistently running around 3,000 head of cattle for decades on national forest ranges. Walter Dean Duke, nationally - known cowman and reputedly the hero of Owen "Wister's Virginian," for years grazed several thousand head of cattle under temporary permit. Several large permittees with ranch headquarters in the Fall River Valley and Big Valley sections individually grazed hundreds of head of cattle on inter- mingled national forest and private land ranges.

The Dorris Brothers interest grazed around 2,000 head of cattle year after year on the Devil's Garden district. The Fred H. Huffman cattle concern known variously through the years at Potter-Huffman, Bixby-Huffman and the 51 Ranch, represented the consolidation of several large cow outfits and held a grazing permit year after year for as many as 3,000 head of cattle. W. C. Dalton, head of the Klamath Lake, Land and Livestock Company, Pressley Dorris and Fred H. Huffman were known for years as "The Big Three" in northern California cowland.

W. L. Leland, who had made a fortune mining in Alaska in 1912 bought out the extensive Triangle brand holdings in the Devil's Garden country. Under the supervision of Leland and his younger partner, O. G. Meyers, money flowed like water as the firm of Leland and Meyers built roads, telephone lines, elaborate buildings, and reservoirs in the development of the adobe flats and swampy meadows of that section. Leland, who even had a mail route and the post office of Triangle established, had in mind some philanthropic colonization scheme, but the soil and climate were ill-fitted for farming. Roads, rural telephone lines and several small artificial lakes in otherwise waterless country are monuments to this venture of 30 years ago.

One of the real big men in the cattle business in Modoc county for many years has been Frank McArthur, owner of the big Corporation Ranch holdings in South Fork Valley. McArthur, always a close cooperator of the Forest Service, was also of a decided philanthropic turn of mind and in maintaining his own considerable fortune, made a lot of money for others. His purse strings ever loosened, McArthur was frequently the silent partner in some of the bigger cattle grazing ventures.

For a quarter of a century the biggest sheepman using the Modoc National Forest ranges was Raymond Anchordoguy of Red Bluff. In 1916, he bought out the sheep and Happy Camp land holdings of S. D. Wilcox and added to the same by the purchase of several other areas containing living water in an otherwise dry country. Renting large areas of timberland from private owners, he turned these lands over to the Forest Service in exchange for range to accommodate his stock and to take care of the natural drift of cattle from adjoining ranges. For years he ran as many as 7,000 head of grown sheep.

Anchordoguy furnished the Forest Service with domestic water for 20 years; he went to extremes in practicing rotated grazing; he pioneered the method of using portable troughs and hauling water 15 to 20 miles by truck thereby utilizing areas of dry range and incidentally in the process, watering many hundreds of deer annually. When railroad development came, he entirely abandoned trailing his sheep from home ranch to range and from range to market, shipping them by rail instead. He was at times even an enigma to his cowman neighbors, since his herders were forbidden to follow the time- honored sheepman's custom of dogging cattle away from the watering places which he himself owned. Alho due to exchange of private cutover timber-lands, Anchordoguy's grazing business has fallen on evil days, the range which he used for so many years is probably in better condition than any other area of its size on the Modoc Forest.

Early in 1935, the badly abused public domain was placed under the administration of the Grazing Service of the Department of the Interior. Modoc county was particularly interested, not only because of the large area of public domain lands within her own borders but also because many of the local stockmen ranged stock in Nevada part of the year, were vast areas of public domain existed. The Grazing Service formally took over at probably the biggest mass meeting of stockmen ever held in northern California, at which they were assured of the privileges they had enjoyed for years. Jesse Parman, old time stockman and covered wagon pioneer, who had grazed both cattle and sheep on national forest range since its withdrawal, apparently epitomized the feelings of the smaller stockmen present when he declared, "If this new Government outfit treats us all as fair and square as the Forest Service has, none of us will have any kick coming."

The Grazing Service did a good job and soon had the alien and nomadic sheepmen moved off the ranges. However, requirements for grazing privileges were not so strict as those imposed by the Forest Service and the ownership of water and range headquarters such as corrals and camps were recognized as pre-requisites for a grazing permit, as well as prior use and ownership of dependent, improved ranch property. Moreover, applications for grazing permits were reviewed and passed upon by a board of local stockmen rather than by the Government officials themselves. The Grazing Service administration, therefore, greatly appealed to the range users.

As will be noted from Appendix D at the close of this work, the number of stock using national forest range had shrunk from the peak of 1921 to 1925. Frankly, the range was overstocked. The overstocking during the decade in which the Wor1d War I years were centered; a succession of years of drought; timber reproduction usurping some of the range areas; large scale logging operations, and also too much optimism perhaps in the grazing capacity of the range in earlier years, were all factors demanding a rather drastic reduction in permitted stock numbers. In later years, however, the worst setback to the range in general was encroachment of cheat grass. Noticeable only in small patches in the early twenties, fifteen years later this short, fine-stemmed, shallow-rooted, matted grass growth had spread alarmingly over the country, in places choking the native bunch grass out entirely. As evidence of the serious range situation, the rated official caring capacity of Government lands in the Modoc Forest had dropped from the previously quoted 1922 figures of 255,600 animal months for cattle and 349,000 animal months for sheep, to the revised estimates of 1940 which gave 103,700 animal months for cattle and 126,000 animal months for sheep.

The Forest Service stuck to its policy of timber production being the priority aim of the national forests and its belief that it was better to grow one fat steer or one fat lamb than two thin ones. Some of the stock- men did not agree with this. Appeals made to individual permittees in the early thirties resulted in some vo1untary reduction in permitted stock numbers, but not nearly enough. In 1935, a straight cut of ten percent in permitted numbers was made on the entire Warners Mountains range. This was followed by still further reductions. Local stockmen, themselves realizing that something must be done to restore their ranges, had through the years been quite cooperative in the matter of shortening seasons; salting; herding; eliminating extra horseflesh; water d6.velopment, and in other range development matters, in everything, in fact, except in reducing the numbers of stock allowed them on the range.

The new Grazing Service, administering much lower-lying range lands and for shorter periods, could perhaps justify heavier stocking and moreover, had no companion problem of timber propagation. In 1938, the Modoc county board of supervisors passed a resolution asking that the administration of grazing on the Modoc National Forest be turned over to the Grazing Service of the Department of the Interior. This was sent to the President along with a petition signed by some 200 stockmen, praying for the same action. While the individual stockmen signing the petition represented ownership of approximately 65,000 head of cattle and 35,000 sheep, not over a third of them were national forest grazing permittees.

The Forest Service stood by its guns. There must be no more overstocking of public ranges inside the national forest. And the Modoc ranges may, indeed, come back just as they once did forty years ago. Then too, some method may be developed to control or eliminate the widespread cheat grass. Meanwhile, whether it be a two months winter grazing permit for a band of sheep in the non-timbered lava beds, or a six months permit for cattle on the Devil's Garden Plateau, there is no lack of local range demand. Probably the core of the whole range situation is that the fertile valleys produce more than sufficient feed to 1iinter the number of stock that the wild lands can pasture in the summer, the answer being that the farmlands must assume a greater burden of livestock pasturage than they have in the past.

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