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"He-men could talk to he-men in he-man language": lumberjack work culture in Maine and Minnesota, 1840-1940.

ACADEMIC HISTORIANS HAVE neglected the American lumberjack for too long. From the mid-nineteenth century to our own era, the American logging industry employed millions of workers (at least 500,000 at U.S. logging's peak in 1906), and yet relatively little scholarly attention has been paid to these people. (1) This article seeks both to historically rehabilitate lumber workers and to reintroduce the population to academic historians. Loggers embodied major themes of interest to historians: Their camps were a final bastion of the traditional workplace in America, their personal pride and robust work ethic defied modern rationalized management, and their life in camp and at work exemplified a discourse of masculinity in a rural setting.

Professional American logging started during the colonial era in Northern New England. Loggers lived in the remote logging camps from late October to March or April, when frozen ground and snow cover permitted ground transport of heavy logs from the woods and swamps. River drivers used the spring thaw to float logs down rivers and streams to sawmills. In the next phase of the industry, from roughly 1885 to 1935, the main production centers moved west to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and eventually into the Pacific Northwest. Logging railroads often replaced river drives as a means of transportation. The industry grew more consolidated and bureaucratized, and labor unions took hold in the camps of Oregon and Washington. Logging was remade again in the 1930s, when gasoline-powered trucks offered greater flexibility than the railways, chainsaws altered the sound and power dynamics of the woods, and loggers could return nightly to their homes and families. (2)

This article focuses on the work and living experiences of lumberjacks in Maine and Minnesota from approximately 1840 to 1940. Maine hosted the earliest incarnation of the industry, and the state's "Bangor Tigers" were renowned throughout the nineteenth-century Northwoods for their skill and working knowledge. (3) Maine logging continued to thrive during the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and many Mainers traveled westward to help establish industries in the Great Lakes states and the Pacific Northwest. Loggers settled and developed Minnesota during the 1830s to 1850s, and by the century's end, the state grew into the premier site of logging in the Upper Midwest. Lumber barons built the nation's largest sawmills along the Mississippi river in Minneapolis and Winona to shape the apparently limitless raw materials. Minnesota's industry peaked in 1902, and declined precipitously into the 1930s. By the 1970s, an area slightly larger than the state of Illinois had been cleared of trees and opened for agriculture or mining interests. (4)

The conditions of logging produced and sustained a rich lumberjack work culture. Susan Porter Benson and Barbara Melosh originally postulated work culture as "the ideology and practice with which workers stake out a relatively autonomous sphere of action on the job." (5) Patricia A. Cooper elaborated on the notion, defining it as:
   The patterns of daily work into which any newcomer would
   become initiated after a time--the unwritten rules, the
   ways of doing the job, and how one thought about his or
   her work ... a coherent system of ideas and practices,
   forged in the context of the work process itself, through which
   workers modified, mediated, and resisted the limits of their
   jobs. (6) This study of lumberjack work culture focuses on the
   logging camps' mores, the loggers' values, their skills, and
   their style of camaraderie.

Lumberjack historiography has been slow in adopting the new labor history's use of multicausal inquiries into workers' experiences. The rare examples by Theodore J. Karamanski and Ian Radforth do not address Maine or Minnesota lumberjacks. (7) This neglect by the historical community is particularly surprising because of the primacy of both regions in the national logging industry. The labor history field will benefit from a modern interpretation of the lumberjacks, including studies of their workplace knowledge and skill, their recreational activities, and their oral culture. The lumberjack experience tests historians' conventional wisdom on workers' uses of solidarity, workplace agency, and formation or rejection of organized labor. Loggers and their secluded lumber camps are excellent subjects for a comprehensive labor and cultural analysis. Lumberjacks awoke in the camp, ate their daily meals at the cook shack or in the swamps, whiled away their few hours of leisure in the bunkhouse, and retired on a shared bed of straw or balsam boughs. Their food, labor, recreation, and sleep were all components of the same all-encompassing experience.

Primary accounts of life in the lumber camps in Maine and Minnesota from 1840 to 1940 reveal three common themes. First, logging camps remained traditional workplaces while the national economy and the logging industry grew more bureaucratized, technologically advanced, and scientifically managed. In addition, loggers expressed pride in their own working knowledge and skills, whether chopping, loading, driving a team of horses, or cooking. Finally, a discourse of rugged masculinity infused camp life with recurring emphasis on physical force, aggression, competition, and male sexuality. Together, these distinctive occupational elements shaped an identifiable, indigenous lumberjack culture.


THE MAINE AND MINNESOTA logging industries changed in important ways circa 1900. Signal developments included the adoption of logging railroads, steam-powered mechanization, the increased freshness and diversity of camp food, the circulation of itinerant preachers ("Sky Pilots"), and the first small-scale organizing attempts by labor unions in Minnesota. David C. Smith posits that "the woodsmen began to be treated more and more like human beings" by the logging companies during this period. (8) Alice Larson clearly distinguishes between an earlier "primitive" logging operation and the later "modern" operations. (9) Such assessments, while containing some truth, miss the continuity of lumberjack work culture. The larger logging industry, like the American economy generally, grew increasingly monopolized, rationalized, and mechanized. However, the day-today activities and culture of loggers in the lumber camps of Maine and Minnesota remained comparatively stable from the 1840s into the 1930s. The men and their camps were a final bastion of the traditional workplace in America.

It is necessary to illustrate the lumber business's increasing sophistication to underscore the contrasting continuity in the lumber camps. The industry grew more capital-intensive in the 1880s, when lumber companies pursued efficiency with technological innovations in logging, milling, and transportation. (10) New trade or protective associations in the 1880s and 1890s mirrored the nationwide centralizing processes. (11) In Maine, industry conglomerates International Paper and Great Northern Paper emerged in 1889 and immediately monopolized pulpwood production in the Northeast. (12) The Minnesota industry became increasingly vertically integrated and consolidated, with production dominated from stump to board by a handful of major interests, such as Laird, Norton, and Company of Winona and the indomitable Frederick Weyerhaeuser. (13)

The industry grew more scientific and professionalized. Professional foresters influenced operational management with their ideas of sustained-yield selective cutting. This effect was most pronounced in Maine, where the University of Maine at Orono started offering forestry classes in 1900. (14) Frederick W. Taylor's principles of scientific management jumpstarted the efficiency movement by introducing new ideas into American industrial thought. (15) Taylor charged managers with "gathering together all of the traditional knowledge which in the past had been possessed by the workmen and then of classifying, tabulating, and reducing this knowledge to rules, laws, and formulae." (16)

Rather than adopt the bureaucratic concepts of scientific management espoused by Taylor, camp bosses and foremen continued to hire, manage, and fire workers in their unique traditional fashion. They did not have formalized codes of conduct or strict procedural guidelines. Leonard Costley, who entered the woods as a teenager in 1903 in Minnesota's northern Hubbard County, recalled that although foremen were selected on their experience, personality, and ability to get along with the men, the true tests came in occasional violent challenges by a subordinate who sought to "whip" his boss. "If the foreman couldn't take care of himself, he didn't last very long around the bunch of men. They were all pretty good men," Costley said. (17) Joe Deering, head of J. G. Deering & Son lumber operation on the Saco River in Southern Maine, relied heavily on foreman Asa Cunningham to preserve order in the camp and on the drive in the 1930s and 1940s. One classic story features Cunningham physically beating between twenty-five and thirty river drivers after catching them drunk on the riverbank. (18) Deering's operations were a fine example of workplace management through personality rather than policy. Cunningham was so crucial to the operations that the onset of his arthritis crippled J. G. Deering & Son. The company closed in 1943 after the loss of Cunningham's inimitable working knowledge. (19)

Foremen and bosses retained traditional, if unusual, hiring and firing practices into the period of human relations departments. Thomas Hurd, a former Maine camp foreman during the 1920s and 1930s, had a simple way to hire men: "Just take right off and hunt till I found some men." (20) Morris Wing remembers working as a camp clerk in Maine during the late 1930s, when a man approached the foreman for a job. The applicant left disappointed for three reasons: he wore a long-tailed coat, he knocked on the door to the camp's office ("and that's something nobody ever did is rap on the door at a woods camp"), and he hit his head on the doorjamb while entering. (21) Firing could be equally arbitrary. Lumberjacks in both states eschewed cigarettes until the 1930s, instead taking their tobacco in pipes or chaw. A man caught smoking "pimp sticks" was likely to be discharged. But by custom, Minnesota foremen seldom fired just one man for fear that bears would assault him while he exited the woods. Instead, foremen dismissed cigarette smokers along with the nearest man in sight, regardless of his tobacco preference. (22)

Despite industrial advances during the first four decades of the twentieth century, the sights, smells, and sounds of the lumber camps remained largely unchanged. Food improved and diversified as fresh vegetables and meat became available via the logging railroads. (23) However, mealtime rituals remained the same as in the 1840s. Meals lasted twenty minutes and cooks strictly enforced the "no talking" and "no hats" rules. Leonard Costley recalled 120 men sitting at forty-foot long tables, silent except for the clinking of their metal utensils, generating a roaring sound "similar to a beehive ... a symphony in tin." (24) Although droning donkey engines and locomotives brought new sounds to the woods in the 1890s, the biggest shock to the aural ambience of the woods did not occur until the chainsaw arrived after World War II. (25)

Continuity also persisted in the notorious "Eau de Lumberjack" aroma that pervaded bunkhouses following a wet day in the woods. Men removed their wool mackinaw coats, wool pants, and two or three pairs of heavy wool socks and draped it all above the camp stove to dry overnight. Some men were relatively hygienic, bathing and boiling their clothes every Sunday. Others went entire winters without any attempt at cleanliness. Newell Beam spent the winters of 1919 to 1926 in camps across Eastern Maine and Aroostook County, and occasionally had the misfortune of sleeping in a top bunk. "I didn't like them. I didn't like, was too hot ... all the snores and farts and one thing and another was coming up, right up to that upper bunk. I didn't like it. No, I didn't like it," he recalled. (26) Filth was rampant, and lice and fleas were common banes of a logger's life until the introduction of DDT in the early 1940s. (27)

Loggers resisted and resented new logging technology, especially post-World War II chainsaws. Former Maine logger Morris Wing, speaking at the American Pulpwood Association staff meeting in 1979, angrily decried the chainsaw as an abomination to the loggers' work quality:
   You'd get this god damn chain saw moving and he was drunk with
   power and he was cutting something off that took him just a few
   seconds and with a buck saw it took him quite a while. He couldn't
   stop the son-of-a-bitch from running. He'd run with this god damn
   saw and he'd stop measuring. He'd get wood cut 46", 54", 51", and
   43" [as opposed to the standard 48" pulpwood logs]. (28)

The chainsaw eventually supplanted the nonpowered tools, but bucksaws retained a presence in the woods, along with horses, well into the 1950s. (29)

Logging continued as a premodern traditional occupation through the 1930s. The foremen and loggers resisted rationalized bureaucracy and what they viewed as destructive mechanization. The camps operated through personalities and deep-seated mores, not codes of conduct drawn up by a board of directors. In that sense, logging was one of the last traditional holdouts against the modern industrialized U.S. economy.


LUMBERJACKS' EMPHASIS ON SKILL in their work and their resultant pride were important to the continuity of the traditional workplace. This countered the larger story of American industry during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Frederick W. Taylor is often portrayed as the principle boogeyman behind this change. Although his dogmatic teachings were never incorporated in toto, they did have a huge impact on American industry and management styles. Harry Braverman ridicules Taylor's changes in his "deskilling hypothesis," which explains that the segregation of mental from manual labor left the American worker "systematically robbed of a craft heritage." (30)

Lumberjacks resisted the trend of mechanization and rationalization, stubbornly retaining and celebrating their individualized skills into the 1930s. Along with these skills came pride and a robust work ethic. Theodore J. Karamanski's study of Michigan's Upper Peninsula lumberjacks argues that "It]here was no incentive for the men to be better workers, other than their pride." (31) Pride worked well enough. Oral histories of retired jacks demonstrate that when the men hit the swamps, they worked without breaks. George Boorman, who logged on the Little Fork River near Cloquet, Minnesota, from 1936-1937, remembered of his fellow lumberjacks: "I admired their many skills and varied personalities. They worked hard for low wages and had no tolerance for the lazy." (32) John Sharpe, who logged Maine's Aroostock County in the first decade of the twentieth century, replied to a query about coffee breaks in characteristic lumberjack fashion: "Cripes, if you had said a 'coffee break' there, they'd have discharged the whole crew." (33) Photographs of lumber camps and "action shots" of men working in the woods help illustrate the necessity of hard work. Even with winter temperatures dipping to forty degrees below zero in Maine and colder in Minnesota, the men's hats seldom covered their ears, and evidence suggests loggers working without mitts or socks. (34) Hard work was required to keep extremities attached.

Lumberjacks' pride preempted much coercive authority on the part of foremen and "walking bosses" (logging company regional managers). Superindustrious "hustlers" often made foremen's official duties as labor drivers superfluous. Malcolm Rosholt explains: "There was something heroic about men who set the pace for others, and they were looked up to." (35) Lumberjacks' stories abound with glorifying odes to fellow workers. L. A. Rossman recalled Sam Hunter, "It]he strongest, quickest and most skillful man physically who ever came to the big woods on the upper Mississippi." (36) Unlike contemporary urban craftsman shops, lumber camps did not develop stints, devices whereby workers decide upon a fixed production limit. And unlike other workplaces during the period, there were no derogatory terms such as "hog" or "boss's pet" for the hustlers. (37) Pride and personal reputation kept men working hard. Later, during the pulpwood era of the 1920s and 1930s, camps began to adopt piecework pay scales rather than flat monthly wages. This development made foremen's coercive authority even less relevant. (38)

Lumberjacks had great respect for the specific skills that several of the jobs in the forest required. Each day began with the bullcook, a sort of camp janitor, poking his head into the bunk house and hollering: "Daylight in the swamps!" or "Roll-out!". Leonard Costley of Minnesota's northern Hubbard County claimed that the bullcook would refine his technique and add weight to his voice by practicing in a rain barrel. (39) Choppers and sawyers were two of the most skilled and best-paid positions of the camp. They precisely landed 150-foot tall pine trees in crowded forests without breaking the trunks or cracking the stumps. Ridicule ensued when the choppers or sawyers miscalculated. If they laid one tree on top of another, they were often chided by other loggers, who inquired if they were building a wigwam. (40) Loggers had disdain for low-skilled positions, such as hauling lunch from the cook shack to the men in the woods. According to Bronc McNiema of the Chippewa River area: "It lacked the exhilaration of action and accomplishment ... no red-blooded fellow liked it." (41)

Lumber camp cooks were some of the premier woods workers. Their wages reflected this; they occasionally earned more money than camp foremen. A lumber camp worked on its stomach, and it was left to the cooks and cooks' assistants, known as "cookees," to keep the men happy. A cook prepared and served three gigantic meals for forty to two hundred men at fixed times each day, generally at six o'clock in the morning, noon, and six o'clock in the evening. He or she (on rare occasions cooks and cookees were females, generally as part of husband-wife teams) budgeted limited supplies for a full five-month season and maintained some diversity in the offerings. A great cook attracted equally great lumberjacks from other camps with his or her excellent meals, cakes, pies, and doughnuts. One jack recalled: "It was like baiting a bear with honey." (42) A cook's ability in the kitchen was crucial for a well-functioning lumber camp; loggers spoke specifically of the winters with bad cooks for sixty years afterwards. (43)

Loading logs also demanded high levels of finesse. The loaders stacked cut wood onto horse- or ox-drawn sleds to move it from the swamps to a landing for future transportation by river or locomotive. Jacks built loads with the assistance of improvised log ramps. Crude manpower pushed the logs up the ramps with peaveys or cant hooks (four-foot long wooden poles tipped by a hinged steel hook), or, alternately, horses cross-hauled logs up the ramps with chains. The loaders wrapped the logs with heavy chains after piling one to five thousand board feet onto a sleigh (a board foot is twelve inches square and one inch thick). (44) A top loader directed traffic while standing atop the load with spiked boots. His position required extraordinary skill and exactitude; a slip would cost him or others a crushed leg or a quick death. Camps rewarded top loaders for their valuable and dangerous duties with high pay and a distinctive lumberjack honor: sitting at the head of cook shack tables with the teamsters and foremen. (45)

We know much about the loading process from photographs by itinerant photographers who traveled the woods of Maine and Minnesota, snapping photos and taking subscriptions for prints to be later delivered to interested jacks. Sometime later, the photographer would return to the camp with souvenir photos for each interested lumberjack. The most common scene was an assemblage of the work force in front of the camp. Cooks would wear their aprons, a few men would bear axes, and others might hoist eight-foot-long crosscut saws.

Log loads were the second most common photograph subjects. However, the log loads in photos were not typical 2,000 board foot loads, but instead 20,000 or 30,000-foot behemoths. These loads appeared with the advent of the ice road in the 1890s. Superheated steam rut-cutters created tracks for a sled's runners in the hard-packed snow. Immense loads were possible, although certainly not common and of dubious practicality. (46) Evidence suggests that a load of 30,000 board feet or more could be pulled between eighty yards and four miles, depending on conditions. The large loads were difficult and dangerous to create, but they allowed loggers to demonstrate their skill. The Michigan state exhibit at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago included a group of Upper Peninsula lumberjacks repeatedly assembling and dissembling a 36,000-foot load of fifty logs. (47) These spectacular loads were often over twenty feet wide, just as long, and up to thirty feet tall. Photographs of the large loads from Minnesota camps typically feature a group of men standing around or sitting on their creation, brimming with pride at their accomplishment. We know that the men themselves, not logging companies, demanded the photographs, because historical societies have acquired multiple prints from the same negatives from multiple private collections. (48)

Lumberjacks created the log loads as conscious displays of skill, and they ordered souvenir photographs to document their achievements (see Figures 1 to 3). Historian Alan Trachtenberg explains: "American photographs are not simple depictions but constructions." (49) A portrait is a performance; the subject shapes his or her visual image to project desired characteristics. Lumberjacks from the 1860s onward used photographs to broadcast their social images, just as elites had done with portraits for centuries. (50)

Lumberjacks' ostentatious displays of traditional craftwork came at the cost of efficiency and standardization of methods. This ran counter to the period's zeitgeist of deskilling and the rationally managed, corporate system of production already in vogue. Assembling the megaloads was dangerous, unwieldly, and frequently useless, but the purpose was to demonstrate their skill. Turning Thorstein Veblen on his head, the lumberjacks engaged in conspicuous production.





THE WORDS AND ACTIONS of Maine and Minnesota lumberjacks resounded with a discourse of masculinity. The heavy, dangerous nature of the work, the long isolation from women, family, and town life, and the peculiar habits of living and recreation all contributed to an ethic of masculine competition and camaraderie. The language of masculinity reverberated not only around discussions of sexuality, but also within their culture of competition, physical force, and aggressive behavior.

There has been no authoritative study of working-class rural masculinity, and certainly no work on lumberjacks' masculine identities. Elliot J. Gorn and Gale Bederman respectively studied working-class and middle-class masculinity in turn-of-the-century urban America, and Berit Brandth and Marit S. Haugen examined how rural Norwegian agricultural workers defined their masculinity on the job. (51) There are notable similarities between these populations and the American lumberjack, as lumberjacks' discourse of masculinity replicated the familiar connotations of "toughness, ferocity, prowess, honor," as well as physical bulk and mastery over both nature and machines. (52) However, despite the interesting nature of lumberjacks and their communities, historians have yet to adequately explore the American loggers' masculinity.

Lumber camps in Maine and Minnesota from the 1840s to the 1930s were male worlds, and the men reveled in them. Although women occasionally worked in a camp as cooks or "cookees," and married foremen sometimes brought their wives and families with them into the woods, no lumber camp could ever have been considered feminized. Sometimes, the men feverishly resisted every display of feminine influence. (53) Marsh Underwood waxed nostalgic about his lumber camp experiences prior to succumbing to domestication:
   I had logged and driven logs for nearly twenty-five years before I
   was snared by matrimony. I don't believe I ever really regretted
   it, but there have been times when I had a terrible hankerin' to
   throw a roll of dirty blankets on my back and hit the trail for an
   old fashioned bunk house, where single blessedness was the order of
   the day. That was a great and glorious freedom, and he-men could
   talk to he-men in he-man language. (54)

Lumberjacks reveled in their masculine universe. One common refrain was that the lumberjack was "the best man and the damnedest fool who ever worked for wages." (55)

Lumberjacks celebrated their sexuality, even as deep woods life provided little opportunity for heterosexual sex. John Sharpe of Maine hinted at the sexual virility of lumberjacks. Responding to a question about women in the camps, he replied: "No, God, they wouldn't dare to bring a nice woman in there where there was thirty good men... She'd be so nervous she couldn't sleep nights." (56) Arnold Hall, who worked a variety of jobs in Eastern Maine lumber camps from 1907 to 1957, was asked what men did for sex in the woods. "Oh, I guess they grabbed it off by hand," he replied. (57) The lumberjack's distinctive language included sexualized words that have since been incorporated into the American colloquial vocabulary. "Poontang," originally a lumberjack synonym for sexual intercourse, is a prime example. (58)

Despite the actual infrequency of physical fighting among loggers in the camps, their own folk tales resounded with stories of epic violence. (59) Again, cooks best represent these trends. Several independent oral histories report cooks attacking men for breaking the cardinal rule of "no talking" while at the dinner table. Although some cooks were kind enough to reprimand with a forceful slap, others were more malicious. (60) Arnold Hall of Eastern Maine spoke of a cook who beat a logger to death with a wooden potato masher for some transgression at the table, then rounded up his belongings while his wife held off the entire camp with a shotgun. They both fled to Canada. (61) A similar situation occurred near Cass Lake in Northern Minnesota, when a cook hurled his cleaver at a new lumberjack for scuffling with another logger at the table. The cleaver buried itself in the jack's neck, nearly decapitating him. The twist is that the crew so revered the murderer's cooking that they buried the dead man in the woods and swore an oath to never reveal the secret. (62)

The lumberjacks' games were also infused with a unique blend of violence and masculine camaraderie. "Hot Ass" was one such lumber camp classic. The basic game featured a blindfolded man getting his buttocks slapped by his fellow loggers. If he correctly guessed who slapped him, the slapper would find himself in the hot seat. (63) There were several modifications on the game. Men occasionally placed a board under their wool trousers to surprise the slappers with a less-than-plush target. (64) Maine lumberjacks also played "Hot Ass," although with a subtle regional variation. Rather than slapping butts with their hands, the men sometimes substituted a frozen codfish. (65)

Lumberjacks constructed and defended their masculine identities through constant competition in their recreation, their work, and even their eating. Traditional lumberjack games like axe throwing, log sawing, and feats of strength such as wrestling, bending horseshoes, or "tossing the caber" (hurling eight-foot logs) all had obvious elements of competition. Story telling was another arena for competition, as men attempted to top the story of the last yarn spinner. (66) Jacks also charted their work for boasting purposes. Many camps had bulletin boards where daily or weekly totals of cut or sawn board feet were posted, and men could readily compare themselves with their fellows. (67)

Eating was another realm of competition in which men compared themselves with one another and celebrated their heroes. Loggers were renowned for packing away enormous meals. Their work demanded high levels of energy for hours on end. In a 1901 to 1903 study, U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers discovered that Maine loggers ate a daily average of 6,783 to 8,198 calories (as much as 246.9 grams of protein, 385.8 grams of fat, and 944.1 grams of carbohydrates per day). The men's average weight was only 160 pounds, and they typically did not gain weight during the season. (68)

While eating huge amounts of food was normal, certain jacks were famous for their appetites. Arnold Hall, who spent forty years in the woods of Eastern Maine, recalled a French Canadian who "cleaned every bit of the bones" off a chicken in one sitting. (69) L. A. Rossman remembered "Hungry" Mike Sullivan as the largest eater to appear on the Upper Mississippi river during the 1910s. Rossman claimed that Sullivan ate the standard three meals, as well as three additional daily snacks that generally included a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs, and a half-gallon of coffee. "Hungry" Mike was rumored to have eaten an entire young roasted pig in one sitting. (70)

Emphasis on physical strength and size was another prime example of lumberjacks' discussion of masculinity. Nobody did more boasting on this matter than Maine lumberjack Fleetwood Pride. Pride claimed that, at age sixteen, he was one of the strongest men in a crew of one hundred loggers. Weighing in at 200 pounds, he recalled: "I don't think there was a man in the gang who could throw a barrel of pork weighing 480 [pounds] into a high wangan as quick as I could." (71) Regardless of whether such a feat is humanly possible, the focus on strength as a masculine value shines through. (72) One unnamed Minnesota jack equated physical size with virtue, telling the Scherer Brother's Lumber Company: "The top lumberjacks were all good men; they didn't carry too much of the smaller sizes." (73) Loggers during this period were engaged in constant low-level aerobic activity from sunrise to sunset, six days a week, with tremendous muscle exertion. Thomas Maher, a Chippewa River, Wisconsin, logger during the late-nineteenth century, recalled:
   The lumberjack was automatically fit. That was part of his daily
   living. Just think of that lot of men who were absolutely prime.
   And among them there were some specially mighty ones. Being a match
   for anyone was one of the lumberjack's ideals, and there was many a
   fight to prove a fella's superiority. (74)

Thomas Hurd of Maine recollected on the vigorous conditioning of the camp: "You know, we lived and came out feeling like veal calves in the spring." (75)

The men articulated a discourse of masculinity through their actions, their truthful boasting, and their less-than-truthful folk tales. Lumber camps were unmistakably male worlds. Testaments included expressions of aggression, violence, contests in both work and recreation, professions of sexual vigor, and mutual expressions of masculine camaraderie.

Close examination of lumberjacks reveals a discernable culture, a way of life shaped by a unique labor system. The lumber camp's work, the food, the sleeping arrangements, the recreation, and the remoteness all contributed to a lumberjack gestalt, a world unto itself. It was a world in which traditional work customs held sway deep into the 1930s, in which pride trumped bureaucratized management, and a world with powerfully masculine overtones. The lumber camp epitomized fraternal camaraderie, but its folkways also celebrated titanic individuals. Men emerged, such as foreman Asa Cunningham, "Hungry" Mike Sullivan, and Fleetwood Pride.

In the ongoing debate over the origin of Paul Bunyan stories, it is often said that loggers had no need for mythical characters, because they lived their own tall tales. Albert "Jigger" Jones was a real-life tall tale. Born in Maine in the early 1870s, he started in the woods as a twelve-year-old cookee, and quickly distinguished himself by biting

off the ear of a lumberjack twice his size who spoke at the table. Jigger became a foreman on an Androscoggin River camp at age twenty, and boasted proudly: "I can run faster, jump higher, squat lower, move sideways quicker, and spit further than any son-of-a-bitch in camp." He decried professional foresters as effete "professors." His strength, skill, and toughness were unparalleled. Jigger could snatch a fifty-five-gallon drum of gasoline clean off the ground and slam it onto the back of a trailer. When he chopped down a tree, the undercut was as smooth as a planed board. He used to dance on felled trees, kicking off knots and branches in thirty-five below-zero weather, barefoot. He treated himself for venereal diseases with tobacco juice. (76)

Historian Stewart Holbrook admits that Jigger Jones's legacy may have been "part real, part myth." (77) But the stories are important for what they indicate about lumberjack values. Again, we see themes of the traditional workplace and defiance of modern industrial practices, an emphasis on skill, and the discourse of a rugged masculinity replete with aggressive behavior and sexual exploits. And regardless of whether Jigger went barefoot through the Maine winters, there is ample evidence proving that the values his actions inscribed were central to lumberjack culture.

Lumberjacks are no more. They have gone the way of the hobo and the cowboy, and largely for the same reasons. The popularity of the personal automobile in the 1930s and 1940s brought an end to the residential lumber camp. "Forestry technicians" now drive to their workplaces in the morning, and then drive to their homes in the evening. The traditional workplace has been supplanted by modern industrial managerial practices. While skill is surely important for forestry technicians, the skill comes packaged via professional avenues, such as the University of Maine at Fort Kent's Forestry program. (78) While a discourse of masculinity continues to permeate the work, employers and professional associations use gender-inclusive language in their publications. (79)

This article is not intended to disparage modern forestry technicians or to romanticize past lumberjacks. In fact, painting lumberjacks with an uncritical veneer of nostalgia is counterproductive. Instead, I hope to have reintroduced historians to lumberjacks. The men's unique labor conditions offer many possible avenues for further inquiry. We need to learn more about how their seasonal work pattern affected their worker identity. Was a lumberjack still a lumberjack when he was a farmer? Why did their skill, camaraderie, and pride not translate into successful labor organizations in Minnesota until the late 1930s (and then only with unprecedented support from the Farmer-Labor state government), and why did unions never take hold in the Maine forests? (80) Through more research into loggers' work culture, and by reading existing materials with updated perspectives, historians may find new interpretations and challenges for the broader field.

(1.) Vernon H. Jensen, Lumber and Labor (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1945), 7.

(2.) Agnes M. Larson, History of the White Pine Industry in Minnesota (New York: Arno Press, 1972); David C. Smith, A History of Lumbering in Maine, 1861-1960 (Orono: University of Maine Press, 1972); Theodore J. Karamanski, Deep Woods Frontier: A History of Logging in Northern Michigan (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989).

(3.) David C. Smith, "The Logging Frontier" (1974), in Studies in the Land: The Northeast Corner, ed. David C. Smith (New York: Routledge, 2002). For more information on the impact of the "Bangor Tigers," see Stewart H. Holbrook, The American Lumberjack (New York: Collier Books, 1962).

(4.) Larson, History, 6.

(5.) Susan Porter Benson, Counter Cultures: Saleswomen, Managers, and Customers in American Department Stores, 1890-1940 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 228.

(6.) Patricia A. Cooper, Once a Cigar Maker: Men, Women and Work Culture in American Cigar Factories 1900-1919 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 2.

(7.) Karamanski, Deep Woods Frontier; fan Radforth, Bushworkers and Bosses: Logging in Northern Ontario, 1900-1980 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987).

(8.) Smith, History, 389-90.

(9.) Larson, History, 172.

(10.) Ibid., 159.

(11.) David Brody, "The American Worker in the Progressive Era: A Comprehensive Analysis," in Workers in Industrial America: Essays on the 20th Century Struggle, ed. David Brody (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 8.

(12.) Smith, History, 249-51.

(13.) Larson, History, 236.

(14.) Smith, History, 365.

(15.) Frederick W. Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management (New York: London, Harper & Brothers, 1911); Frederick W. Taylor, Shop Management (New York: London, Harper & Brothers, 1911).

(16.) Taylor, Principles, 36.

(17.) Leonard Costley, personal interview by Bruce Harding, 3 August 1957 (Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society), 14.

(18.) Michael P Chaney, White Pine on the Saco River: An Oral History of River Driving in Southern Maine (Orono: University of Maine Press, 1993), 30.

(19.) Ibid., 73.

(20.) Thomas Hurd, personal interview by Bessie Dam, 27 April 1975 (Courtesy of the Maine Folklife Center), 11.

(21.) Morris Wing, "Lecture on Woodswork with the August Lumber Company" (talk delivered at the American Pulpwood Association staff meeting, 1979), 10.

(22.) Scherer Brothers Lumber Company, "In the Camps," in In Their Own Words, ed. Scherer Brothers Lumber Company (Brooklyn Park, Minn.: Scherer Brothers Lumber Company, 1987), 4-5.

(23.) Larson, History, 370; Smith, History, 389-90.

(24.) Costley, personal interview, 5.

(25.) Stephen Bellew, Joan Brooks, Dona Brotz, and Edward Ives, "Suthin": It's the Opposite of Nothin': An Oral History of Grover Morrison's Woods Operation at Little Musquash Lake, 1945-1947 (Orono, Maine: Northeast Folklore Society, 1978), 42; Benhart Rajala, The Saga of Ivar Rajala (Grand Rapids, Minn.: Ensign Press, 1972), 20.

(26.) Newell Beam, personal interview by Edward D. Ives, 10 March 1986 (Courtesy of the Maine Folklife Center), 22.

(27.) Bellew et al., Suthin.

(28.) Wing, "Lecture on Woodwork," 13.

(29.) Chaney, White Pine, 23.

(30.) Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974), 6; Brody, "The American Worker," 5. For criticism of Braverman, see Kenneth C. Kusterer, Know-How on the Job: The Important Working Knowledge of "Unskilled" Workers (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1978), 177-80, 188-89.

(31.) Karamanski, Deep Woods Frontier, 208.

(32.) George Boorman, Life on a Log Drive (Gonvick, Minn.: Richards Publishing Company, 1980), 91.

(33.) John Sharpe, personal interview by Lilian Shirley, fall of 1970 (Courtesy of the Maine Folklife Center), 127.

(34.) The Last Lumberjacks. VHS (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1994).

(35.) Malcolm Rosholt, The Wisconsin Logging Book, 1839-1939 (Salem, Mass.: Higginson Book Company, 1980), 105.

(36.) Rossman defends his statement, but his evidence is somewhat dubious. He reports that Hunter once tossed logger Ole ("a big, chunky man of heavy poundage") over forty feet. L. A. Rossman, The Lumberjack (Grand Rapids, Minn.: n.p., 1948), 9-11.

(37.) David Montgomery, Workers" Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 12-13.

(38.) Michigan lumber camps' experiences with German prisoners of war during World War II supplies further, albeit tangential, evidence that lumberjacks worked for their pride and reputation. Foremen found that the POWs, motivated strictly by coercive authority, had half the production rates of the native jacks. Karamanski, Deep Woods Frontier, 268.

(39.) Costley, personal interview, 4.

(40.) Boorman, Life, 92.

(41.) Emma Glaser, "Logs, Lumber and Settlements in the St. Croix Valley" (St. Paul, MN: n.p., 1943 [Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society]), 25.

(42.) Scherer Brothers Lumber Company, "In the Camps," 10-11.

(43.) Beam, personal interview, 12.

(44.) Karamanski, Deep Woods Frontier, 68.

(45.) Glaser, "Logs, Lumber and Settlements," 35; Scherer Brothers Lumber Company, "In the Camps," 5.

(46.) Larson, History, 363-64.

(47.) Karamanski, Deep Woods Frontier, 68.

(48.) For example, Sanford C. Sargent, "Load of logs containing 31,480 feet hauled by the Ann River Logging Company, 13 February 1892" (image), Minnesota Historical Society, Negative no. 159; Sargent, "Load of logs hauled by Ann River Logging Company, February 1892" (image), Minnesota Historical Society, Negative no. Runk51; Sargent, "Ann River Logging Company's load of logs on a sled near St. Croix River, 13 February 1892" (image), Minnesota Historical Society, Negative no. 65765.

(49.) Alan Trachtenberg, Images as History: Mathew Brady to Walker Evans (New York: Hill and Wang, 1989), xvi.

(50.) Trachtenberg, Images as History, 40.

(51.) Elliot J. Gorn, Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986); Gale Bederman, Manliness: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); Berit Brandth and Marit S. Haugen, "Doing Rural Masculinity--From Logging to Outfield Tourism," Journal of Gender Studies 14.1 (March 2005): 13-22.

(52.) Bederman, Manliness & Civilization, 8, 15, 19; Gorn, Manly Art, 141, 144; Brandth and Haugen, "Doing Rural Masculinity," 13, 17.

(53.) Frederick McNeill, "Lumberjacks of Northern Maine," Bangor Daily News c. 1929.

(54.) Marsh Underwood, The Log of a Logger (Portland, Ore.: Kilham Stationery & Printing Company, 1938), 30.

(55.) Marsh Underwood, Lumberjack, 6.

(56.) Sharpe, personal interview, 121.

(57.) Arnold Hall, personal interview by William Bosall, fall of 1970 (Courtesy of the Maine Folklife Center), iii.

(58.) Lynwood Carranco, "More Logger Lingo of the Redwood Region," America, Speech 34.1 (February 1959), 79.

(59.) Hall, personal interview, 45; Sharpe, interview, 51.

(60.) Arthur Caswell, "Life as A Minnesota Logging Camp Cookee--1919," 9-10 in Tales of Local Lumberjacks, ed. Jane Hallberg (Brooklyn, Minn.: Brooklyn Historical Society, 1978), 9.

(61.) Hall, personal interview, 46.

(62.) Discussions of cooks' temperamental behavior spill over into lumberjack mythology. In "The Dongolian Whooper," the lumberjack version of Edgar Allen Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart," a cook killed a lumberjack for his pay while the crew is in the swamp. He then buried the man beneath the floor of the camp. A whoop commenced--a disembodied sound coming from some mysterious source. Following a long time of these whoops, the cook's increasing agitation led him to confess his deed. The crew discovered the corpse, and after a proper burial, the whoops were never heard again. Scherer Brothers Lumber Company, "In The Camps," 9; Scherer Brothers Lumber Company, "Murder and Mayhem: The Bloody Incidents," in In Their Own Words, ed. Scherer Brothers Lumber Company (Brooklyn Park, Minn.: Scherer Brothers Lumber Company, 1987), 7; Wirt Mineau, personal interview by Helen McCann White, 30 September 1955 (Courtesy of the Maine Folklife Center), 6.

(63.) Louie Blanchard, The Lumberjack Frontier: The Life of a Logger in the Early Days on the Chippeway (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1969), 29-30.

(64.) Larson, History, 199.

(65.) It is unclear whether the goal was to identify the man or the codfish. Beam, personal interview, 80.

(66.) Robert C. Dahl, "As I Saw It in the Lumber Camp," in North Country vol. II, ed. Hilda Rachuy (Bemidji, Minn.: Richards Publishing Company, 1980), 15-18, 18.

(67.) Larson, History, 181.

(68.) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Studies of the Food of Maine Lumbermen, Bulletin No. 149 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904): 17.

(69.) Hall, personal interview, 50.

(70.) Rossman, Lumberjack, 8-9.

(71.) A wangan (also spelled "wanagan," "wanigan," or just "van") was a shallow-bottomed riverboat of blocky proportions that stored food and supplies on river drives. Fleetwood Pride, Fleetwood Pride 1864-1960: The Autobiography of a Maine Woodsman, vol. XI (Orono, Maine: Northeast Folklore, 1968), 15-16.

(72.) Pride, Fleetwood Pride, 54.

(73.) Scherer Brothers Lumber Company, "In the Camps," 22.

(74.) Glaser, "Logs, Lumber, and Settlements," 17-18.

(75.) Hurd, personal interview, 6.

(76.) Holbrook, American Lumberjack, 1-13; Stewart H. Holbrook, Yankee Loggers (New York: International Paper Company, 1961).

(77.) Stewart H. Holbrook, Holy Old Mackinaw: A Natural History of the American Logger (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1938), 4.

(78.) University of Maine at Fort Kent Forestry Program, home page, 6 April 2008, cited at

(79.) Brandth and Haugen, "Doing Rural Masculinity," 17; Gro Folio, "A Hero's Journey: Young Women among Males in Forestry Education," Journal of Rural Studies 18 (2002): 293-306; New Brunswick Forestry Technicians Association, "Code of Ethics," 6 April 2008, cited at

(80.) Bill Beck, "Radicals in the Northwoods: The 1937 Timber Workers Strike," Journal of the West 35.2 (April 1996): 55-63.
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Author:Tomczik, Adam
Publication:The Historian
Geographic Code:1U1ME
Date:Dec 22, 2008
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