History of Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area


In the beginning was the forest. It seemed to extend forever. No one knew the end of it. It was old; ancient as the hills it covered. Those who first entered it saw rivers and mountains, birds and beasts. The trees were vast and countless, columns of the roof of heaven. In autumn the leaves fell and the stars looked down through a roof of sticks. The snow sifted down through the gray shadows.

Native Americans used this area as early as 12,000 years ago. They traveled through the area as bands of hunters, in a time when mastodons, musk oxen, and giant bison roamed the land. The first impact of people on the land may have been setting wildfires to drive the game from the forest. Though these people later settled in the area with seasonal villages and grew crops on small plots, they had little lasting effect on the land.

For a long time, the forest was undisturbed. It stemmed the onrush of the colonists from Europe. It was a barrier of trees, hills, and mysterious red men. Eventually, though, the traders and adventurers came, and by 1809 the last of the Native Americans had been forced to move further west.


 family in front of cabin The area which is now the Charles C. Deam Wilderness was first settled in 1826 by the Todd family. It was one of the last areas in Indiana to be settled because the steep hills and narrow ridgetops were hard to clear and the poorer soil made farming a marginal proposition.

1941_homestead Though these were some of the finest hardwoods in the world, the government generally sold the land for only one dollar per acre. Those who settled were usually young couples, just starting out, and the cemeteries are filled with their children who failed to survive the difficult life of those early pioneers.

The settlers cleared the land, built fences, and piled up long rows of rocks from their fields. Today you can see the remnants of their work. Though now closed, most of the 57 miles of roads mapped at the turn of the century in the Wilderness area are still visible on ridgetops. The ability of the land to heal is brought home when you realize less then 50 years ago this same area had 81 small farms and every ridgetop was planted in corn or hayfields. The view below is from the top of Hickory Ridge Tower in 1937 showing how open the land was.

view from Hickory Ridge firetower.

The people who settled and lived in the Wilderness area may have been a more hardy breed than those in the general population. The land was rugged, and survival was more of a challenge in those steep, almost inaccessible hills. Roscoe Hayes was an example of the kind of man who lived in those hills.


Many people still refer to Roscoe Hayes. His story has become legend in the area. Roscoe may not have been so much different than others who settled and lived in the Wilderness, but his lifespan included more recent times. Frank Haubry, District Ranger of the Brownstown District from the mid 1960's through December 1982, remembers Roscoe well.

Haubry writes:
"Roscoe Hayes and I had many visits during those years. Mr. Hayes lived approximately two miles back on John Grubb Ridge and had a brother named Eli who lived on Hickory Ridge Tower Road across from the present John Grubb Ridge gate. When the Monroe Reservoir was constructed, the flooded backwaters virtually cut road traffic off to this whole area of National Forest System land.

Roscoe Hayes was a kind old gentleman but typical hermit type in both looks and action. He was a tall, slim man with a Beverly Hillbilly - Jeb Clampitt type hat, had a white beard, bib overalls, and old black lace boots that he laced with twine and string. He lived off the land and got what few supplies he received from his brother, Eli. Also, Forest Service crews or my sons and I would take him supplies during hard times.

My first encounter with Mr. Hayes was when he tried to burn off his garden patch and his fire got away from him. This later turned into an annual event and we would take crews and burn his garden spot for him. His old frame home burned down in the mid sixties. After that he framed a partial lean-to type home over his old fruit (storm) cellar. In those days there were many hounds lost in those hills and Roscoe would pick up every stray dog that came along. Thus, he always had a pack of dogs with him. Any of which slept with him in the old fruit cellar.

large hollow tree in Wilderness The tree story derived from an old hollow beech near his home place that he would sometimes sleep inside to get out of the weather and sometimes build a little warming fire inside. Although he had very little, Roscoe always seemed very happy and was quite willing to share what supplies he had with anyone who came by to visit. I do not remember the exact year, but believe it was in the early to mid eighties that he passed away.

Maumee was once an old metal bridge over Salt Creek half way between Houston and Grubb Ridge. There was an old country store and a couple of houses located there. Today it is a modern concrete bridge crossing with no buildings near by and mostly surrounded by government land. However, it is still the main crossing over Salt Creek between Houston and State Highway 135 on the east and State Highway 446 on the west.  Mr. Hayes would sometimes be seen walking along the Maumee-Hickory Ridge Tower Road.

Many people today would look upon Mr. Hayes as an eccentric old hermit to avoid. I consider myself very fortunate to have known Mr. Hayes (plus 2 other men who lived in similar situations on the Forest) as men of their spirit and perseverance are what made this country great. I once asked Roscoe, "if the government ever bought your land (which they did many years later) and you had all the money you ever wanted, what would you buy?" His reply, "A good mule and a new squirrel gun." That was Roscoe!"

Haubry cherishes his memories of the older man. The Forest Service welcomes any memories or historical information on the Forest area. If you have old photographs, letters, or memories to share, please contact us at 812-275-5987 or through email at r9_hoosier_website@fs.fed.us.

Though not Roscoe's tree, this tree in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness, shown here, could easily have sheltered Roscoe and his hounds. The photograph was taken by a Forest visitor.


The Forest Service acquired the first land now within the wilderness boundary in 1935 as abandoned, tax-delinquent farmland. The first priorities were to stabilize erosion, rehabilitate the damaged land, and control wildfires. With the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) program of the 1930's the Forest Service began reforesting the hillsides.

ccc man maintaining telephone line The Hickory Ridge Fire Tower, a lone sentinel on the edge of the Wilderness, was constructed by the CCC and used until recently in times of high fire danger. The CCC also put in many miles of phone lines to link the remote towers to the homes of fire wardens and ranger stations so that fire crews could be rounded up if a fire was spotted. In some cases, the CCC phone lines were the first communication link for many rural areas. Here James Wasson, from the Tell City CCC Camp splices wire on the Bryantsville-Shoals line.

dave morris in fire tower on autumn day Looking northeast from Hickory Ridge Fire Tower. On a clear day you can see Lake Monroe and the City of Bloomington from the fire tower.


When the land was first acquired by the Forest Service it was actively managed. Pine was planted on eroded fields and hillsides, ponds were constructed, timber harvests occurred, and wildlife openings were maintained.  Later, when the area was placed into Wilderness, many types of management were no longer appropriate. Remnants of those years remain in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness in the form of ponds, pine plantations, and even signs such as this one, slowly being consumed by the tree to which it was once nailed. remnants of a time when the Wilderness was managed


Unlike western wilderness, the Charles C. Deam Wilderness is one that is being returned to nature. It's a testimony to our foresight as a nation that we saw the importance of setting aside such areas to evolve naturally. Within the area are six cemeteries. Some day, as the scars left on the land are healed, the gravestones of the pioneers will be the only evidence of their lives here. It's a stark reminder of how tenuous our place on the land can be. But for now, the scars add a certain novelty to the area. Old roadbeds wind down ridges to homesites visible only by the crocuses that bloom around nonexistent cabins and in rows to gates that have been gone 20 years.

The Charles C. Deam Wilderness was designated by Congress in December 1982. It was named for the first State Forester in Indiana, who was a pioneer in forest conservation and an author of books on the trees and flora of Indiana.

Wilderness areas such as this one have changed the definition of progress. What was considered progress at the turn of the century, when the land was cleared and plowed, is very different from today, when progress is seen as natural forest reclaiming the land and a wilderness becoming a reality.

Humid morning in the Wilderness