The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume 8, Number 4, Pages 29-31
By John W. Libby
John W Libby describes himself as a "Forester and Indian Servant."
I was born in O'Brien County, Iowa, the 2nd youngest of eight kids, June 7, 1905. In the fall of 1909 we moved west and settled on a 160-acre stump ranch overlooking the Cowlitz River a couple of miles north of Kelso. My brother Joe was one and a half years older than me. He was held out of starting school for a year, and I was started a year early so we could go together. We made it through the 8th grade in seven years and graduated from Kelso High School in the spring of 1921.
Joe persuaded me to go to college with him in the fall of 1923. For some reason I decided to be an electrical engineer. After five quarters I was on the verge of flunking my major course. I went to see the Professor and told him I didn't think I was cut out to be an electrical engineer. He said, "Mr. Libby, I'll have to agree with you."
I was ready to call it quits, but brother Joe wouldn't hear of it. So I went back, changed to forestry and finally graduated in 1929. I had to take the Civil Service exam for Junior Forester twice, but the second time I made it by a good margin (70 was passing) and it eventually led to my appointment to a position of Forest Ranger with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in March, 1931.
With the appointment safely mine, I decided I could afford to get married. Mildred and I were married December 6, 1931. We were at Klamath (Forest Ranger) only a short time when I along with eight others was furloughed without pay. I was only off 2 months. I was offered a transfer to Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. Of course, I accepted. We were there three years (range management), then to Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon for fourteen months (Senior Ranger). Then we moved to the Cherokee Reservation in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. We were there five years (Forest Supervisor) and enjoyed every day of it.
Our next move was to the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin (Forest Supervisor) where we spent eight years. Finally 1950 saw me in Hoquiam, Washington as Forest Manager for Western Washington Indian Agency. I moved to Everett in 1958, and retired October 2, 1965, after 36 years of Government service, 35 years of it with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Now, about my masterpiece. The setting was a Pine Beetle Control Project on the Klamath Indian Reservation in the fall of 1930. I had graduated from Oregon State College with a B.S. degree in forestry in 1929. I was hoping for an appointment as a Forest Ranger with either the Forest Service of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In the meantime I had found work on the Klamath. My friend, Harry Kallander, was in the same situation.
The beetle control project called for debarking the infested trees and burning the bark to destroy the beetle larvae. I was crew boss. Al Shadley and Marcus Hunter, a couple of California Indians, made up my crew. When Marcus hit the sledge down on the iron wedge we used in felling a tree, an iron chip from the wedge clipped AI's ear. So I put together in verse the story of what happened. Harry read it and then prepared the prologue - so here it is:
The Ear Marking of Al Shadley-10/23/1930
Prologue - Harry Kallander
I rolled a smoke there by the fire
And on my bunk was laying.
I glanced about the filthy tent;
Solo three men were playing.
Al Shadley had his back to me
The smoke was thick as fog.
I took a look at AI's right ear.
It looked like a fresh stuck hog.
"What in the hell happened, Al?"
I shouted right out loud.
Said Al, "Let Libby tell you"
So Libby 'dressed the crowd.
The Story - John W. Libby
Oh, gather round and listen;
A tale I'll tell you sadly,
How Marcus put his earmark
On a guy named Albert Shadley.
We were working on a "school Ma'am"
A tight barked bitch and green,
And it took a lot of wedging
To fall against the lean.
Al and I were sawing
While Marcus chopped the face.
Then Marcus came around the tree
And put the wedge in place.
We sawed away quite steadily
With even stroke and slow,
Then Marcus up and socked that wedge
One dawgone awful blow.
And all at once poor Al let go
And swore a fearful curse.
I wondered which we needed more,
An ambulance or hearse.
I walked around the tree and found
Al sitting on the grass.
The blood was streaming from his ear
And it was running fast.
A chip of steel had injured him.
I could scarce hold back a tear
To see that neat incision
In the lobe of Albert's ear.
"Say, AI, you'd better hit for camp"
I said with bated breath.
"I saw a Holstein cut like that
And the old bitch bled to death."
"Why, damn your soul," said Albert.
"I'm not a damned old cow.
You don't see any tail on me
Or horns upon my brow."
Then Marcus, he shed bitter tears,
Both he and I felt badly
On that fateful day when Marcus
Put his earmark on Al Shadley.
Text of a letter to R.E. Hungate, September 1981.
Author's note - the above is a censored copy of the original masterpiece. The story is from facts as they actually occurred, the dialogue being somewhat abridged.