Reviewed by:
Les Joslin, well-known author
and Forest Service historian

... a magnificent new contribution to U.S. Forest Service history—history of the personal kind evocative of time, place, and circumstance.”

James G. Cayton, Pioneer Forest Ranger is a magnificent new contribution to U.S. Forest Service history—history of the personal kind evocative of time, place, and circumstance. Billed as “a pictorial history honoring the lives of Ranger James G. Cayton and his wife Birdie Miller Cayton", this book also honors the early Forest Service and the original rangers and their wives who braved the elements to make it all work.

A masterful blending of words and images, this leather-bound, gold-stamped large-format, 230-page volume—some would call it a “coffee table book”—is as credible and compelling as it is colorful.

“While this is the story of Forest Ranger James Grimshaw Cayton,” the book begins, it perceives that “his life is better understood in the context of the emerging Forest Service…” of “…intense struggle between the rights of the individual and the common good…” that pioneer rangers mediated daily, and acts on that perception. Call it “pine tree politics” if you want, and you’d be right. Politics boils down to sorting out who gets what, and sorting out who got legal access to national forest resources was part and parcel of rangering then as it is now.

The evidence on which this book is based shows that Ranger Cayton did that job and did it well from day one—he was one of the keepers from the General Land Office ranger force that Gifford Pinchot allowed into his new Forest Service in 1905—on ranger districts on two national forests in Colorado until he retired in 1939. Known for his diplomacy and integrity as well as for being tough if necessary, he was able to convince local ranchers and miners of the wisdom of land stewardship. That same evidence shows he did another part of the early ranger’s job well, too. That was the job of building up his district—literally building the infrastructure he needed to do his job. This meant building his ranger station and constructing and maintaining a telephone system as well as roads and trails. That’s what being a pioneer ranger was about.

When, on September 26, 1909, Ranger Cayton married Adelaide Dorothea Miller, he got much more than a wife. “Birdie,” as she was known, was a young school teacher and the daughter of a local rancher. As the oldest of nine children and a cowhand from an early age, she had the grit and the learning necessary for a life with the new Forest Service. Soon dubbed “Sweetheart of the Forest Service,” Birdie packed the gear to be a real ranger’s wife in a time rangers’ wives acted as unpaid assistant rangers. She also packed the trunks that told the amazing story of her life with Ranger Jim Cayton whom she survived by twenty years. He died in 1956, and she died in 1976.

There was nothing easy about serving as a U.S. Forest Service ranger or being a ranger’s wife in those days. It was a hard life. But it was a good life. And whoever reads James G. Cayton, Pioneer Forest Ranger and relives Jim’s and Birdie’s years together will come away knowing that Ranger Jim Cayton was a good man who lived a good life with a good wife as he did good work for his country.

The evidence on which this book is based came from an “historic treasure trove” known as “Birdie’s trunks” that contained the myriad artifacts and documents—especially diaries, letters and photographs—that enabled the authors to tell Ranger Cayton’s story so well. David W. Cayton is the Grand-nephew of Ranger Cayton. This volume is the result of his vision and financial support. Caroline E. Metzler provided professional expertise in the research, writing and graphic design of the book.

Les Joslin is a retired U.S. Navy commander and former U.S. Forest Service firefighter, wilderness ranger, and staff officer who teaches for Oregon State University and writes Forest Service history from his Bend, Oregon, home. His 1995 book "Uncle Sam’s Cabins: A Visitor’s Guide to Historic U.S. Forest Service Ranger Stations of the West", benefited from access to some of Birdie’s trunk content courtesy of the Rifle Ranger District, White River National Forest.

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