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On the same path: Following the footsteps of Hallie Daggett

Picture of Patty Grantham in uniform, wearing a mask.
Acting Director Patty Grantham, Fire and Aviation Management

I’ve known that I wanted to work outside in the woods and learn all I could about forests since I was 11 years old. I could not explain it to you in those words at that age, of course, but that was my dream. Going to forestry school in college and then to work for the USDA Forest Service in 1980 was the realization of that dream. Though I may not get to wander much in the forest at work anymore (truth be told, I haven’t gotten to do that for the last two decades), my love of the woods shows itself in a different form of service these days. I feel incredibly lucky to get to do the work I do.

Early in my career, the agency and my professional interests in forestry and fire management were certainly still a “man’s world,” and I was very often the “only” in a room. I harbor a beloved notion that my young life and career path and experiences as an “only” match somewhat to a person I have profound admiration for, although her story is fabulously more interesting than mine.

Hallie Morse Daggett was born on Dec. 19, 1878, in what is now the ghost town of Liberty, California, to a wealthy family. Her father, John Daggett, owned and operated several large gold mines in the Salmon River drainage near Sawyer’s Bar, California. Mr. Daggett had a noteworthy business life (reported to have made “three fortunes” in gold mining) along with a distinguished political career (serving two years as the Lieutenant Governor of California and as the Superintendent of the San Francisco Mint). One of three children surviving early childhood, Hallie grew up in this prestigious family with one foot in the forest at her father’s mines and one foot in San Francisco society. 

In May 1913, Hallie’s life (and, in her wake, mine, 67 years later) took an unexpected turn. The Forest Service employee who was to staff the Salmon River’s Eddie Gulch Lookout Station informed local Klamath National Forest officials that he had accepted better paying work. Word of the job opening travelled through the community and assistant fire ranger M.H. McCarthy was quickly contacted by three interested candidates. In summarizing his recommendation for whom to hire to Klamath Forest Supervisor W. B. Rider, Ranger McCarthy described the first two candidates as being unsuitable, one because of his terrible eyesight and one for his notorious reputation as a poacher. The third (and recommended) candidate, McCarthy truthfully described, was also “no gentleman.”

Historical photo: Hallie Daggett portrait.
Hallie Daggett was the first female lookout for the Forest Service.

Based on her well-known outdoors skills, knowledge of the forest and mountains of the area, and lack of timidity, 30-year-old Hallie Daggett was hired and reported for duty at Eddy Gulch on June 1, 1913. She quickly earned a reputation as a diligent and hard-working lookout, always mindful that “the appointment of a woman was rather in the nature of an experiment” for the agency and that her work would reflect on the chances of future women to hold such positions. Indeed, with the start of World War I and the shortage of men to fill jobs, increasing numbers of female lookouts joined Hallie to serve their communities and country. Hallie had successfully paved the way as the first female field officer for the Forest Service.

One element of Hallie’s story that I have always found touching and meaningful is the devotion and support provided by her sister, Leslie. Every week of every summer for Hallie’s 15 years of service, Leslie would leave Sawyer’s Bar and make the three-hour, nine-mile climb on horseback, pack mule in tow, to Eddy Gulch to bring Hallie supplies and mail. This reminds me of the timeless, amazingly important role all our families play in our success in public service.

In April 1928, Hallie submitted her resignation from the Forest Service, noting personal reasons for her departure. Her supervisor, District Ranger Thomas Bigelow, replied to Hallie and effectively rejected her decision, ending the note with “until I hear from you again, I am going to figure you on the job.” Ranger Bigelow was well acquainted with the exceptional job Hallie had done over the prior 15 fire seasons and the tremendous respect she had garnered from everyone, so he was very reluctant to lose her. Despite the ranger’s plea, Hallie affirmed her resignation. She retired to her home at Blue Ridge Ranch (about 10 miles from her former lookout), where she continued to raise the American flag every day as she’d done at Eddy Gulch. In 1951, the neighboring town of Etna, California, built Hallie a home next door to Leslie’s as a token of appreciation for her dedication to protecting the local forests during her lookout years. She lived in that house until her death on Oct. 19, 1964.

Women’s History Month gives everyone a deliberate moment to think about those who have led the way before us. I salute all the women of the early Forest Service—those who worked in office positions, supporting the fledgling agency from its very start, as well as all the unpaid and unacknowledged wives of rangers who often did the same work as their husbands in caring for and protecting the young national forests. It is never lost on me, however, the debt of gratitude I owe to Hallie Daggett for her persistence and dedication. I have no doubt that I have my job today because she led the way with hers in 1913.

The story of Hallie Morse Daggett continues to inspire. It lives on with the recent publication of children’s book "Headstrong Hallie," about the girl who followed her heart to realize her dream.

Patty Grantham has been the Acting Director of Fire and Aviation Management for the Forest Service since July 2020.  Previously, she served 12 years as Forest Supervisor on the Klamath National Forest, the home of Hallie Morse Daggett and the Eddy Gulch Lookout Station.

Historical photo: Hallie Daggett
Hallie Daggett was hired and reported for duty at Eddy Gulch on June 1, 1913.