Pinchot Journal: A Meal of Biscuits and Venison

Series 3 of 7

Gifford Pinchot, who later became chief of the U.S. Forest Service, was working for the National Forest Commission in 1896 when he traveled south through the Swan Valley with Jack Monroe, a trapper and guide. In the previous installment of the 7-part series, they had failed to reach a deserted cabin where they could find flour, and they had been unlucky hunting bear.

We were not more than six miles from Camp Plenty when we started, as we found later on, but at ten a night we were still traveling. The worst of it was that we had had little or nothing to eat since breakfast in the gray of the morning, when the last of the venison disappeared and as there was no trail the going was rather rough.

There was a great deal of down timber and the forest was much less interesting than the mixed woods of the other bank. Twice we started deer and twice the dogs left us. When we went into camp but two of them had come back. I remember that [what] we had that night for supper as much beef-extract apiece as would make a lump the size of a bean, a little tea, and a slice of salt pork about as large as a man’s visiting card, and almost as then.

Next morning the bill-of-fare was the same, except that there was less beef-extract and only the rind of the pork. We broke camp at six-thirty and at about half-past two, after an almost unbroken tramp of eight hours, we reached at last the sack of flour. The man who left it there was good enough to leave a little baking powder with it, and the roseate general prospect was marred by no threatening specter of sour-dough bread. We came to it later, but then there was meat in camp.

The cabin was beautifully placed on the bank of a great eddy in the river and here we were able to catch some fish, which the high water had prevented us from doing elsewhere.

I shall not easily forget the first biscuit that Monroe brought me as I was doing my best to add to the very small number of very small trout I had succeeded in taking with the fly.

The next day Monroe went back on our trail to look for his dogs, while I started to go to a deer-lick marked on Wood’s map. After careful search I hit upon it, and found that the day before, within an hour after leaving camp, we had passed within less than a hundred yards of it and consequently within about two miles of the cabin and the flour.

Nothing appeared at the lick except one of the dogs that we had lost and with his arrival any chance of seeing deer vanished at once.

I went back to “Camp Plenty,” baked some bread in a very successful first attempt, washed myself and my clothes, tied up the dog, and finally, toward evening, started for the lick again.

I had waited until hope was gone and had risen to go back and try the fishing again, when, in the gathering twilight, under the dense cover of enormous cedars, two deer walked into sight. I am afraid I was not careful to discover whether they were bucks or does but fired at the leading one as soon as I could get a bead. It disappeared at the shot, and I could not tell whether it was hit or not.

A moment later I caught sight of the other. It dropped at the crack of the rifle and then I knew there would be meat in camp. Both shots were lucky, for the deer were about a hundred yards off and it was rather too dark for accurate shooting. I have seldom worked so hard as I did to dress those deer and cut the meat I wanted while a ravenous swarm of mosquitoes besieged me on every side, taking a mean advantage of my bloody hands. But at long last the job was done.

To be continued...


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