This three-volume compilation constitutes a rare resource in the history of the United States and its USDA Forest Service. These are the unedited diaries of James G. Cayton, one of the original seventy-one rangers of the service. These diaires were written in the field—under conditions of extreme weather and over the broad expanse of two large districts covered mostly on horseback. They were kept updated every four hours according to the strict regulations of the agency at that time.

The first volume covers Jim’s early service on what is now the Rifle District of the White River National Forest. The ranger traversed his 667-square-mile territory on horseback, regularly riding twenty miles a day. When weather and distances prevented him from returning to the ranger station, he stayed overnight with local ranchers, noting cash payments to his hosts for meals and horse feed. These diaries are filled with the names of local ranchers, homesteaders and other pioneers.

The second and third volumes chronicle Jim’s service on what is now the Rico District of the San Juan National Forest. These pages are filled with anecdotes typical of the evolving Forest Service, references from Jim's own history of the area, and the names of the townspeople, ranchers, miners, and other pioneers in a district known for its wild characters and colorful stories.

The entire 4,404 typewritten Cayton diary entries were transcribed by Forest Service volunteer Kathy Hill from the original accounts written in Cayton’s hand and recovered from a twenty year period, ranging from 1909 to 1929. These transcriptions are literal—no attempts were made to fill in obscure areas, correct misspellings, etc. They are firsthand narratives of a pioneer forest ranger’s work and experiences in the early days of the Forest Service, (officially founded in 1905).

Ranger Cayton’s entries describe his work issuing grazing permits, counting cattle, doing pick and shovel work to control erosion, fighting fires, surveying and establishing forest boundaries, posting signs, inspecting hay derricks, issuing hunting licenses, planting trees, eliminating noxious weeds, constructing trails, meeting with other rangers and numerous duties that were part of the daily routine of a early forest ranger. Cayton’s wife, Adelaide “Birdie” Miller Cayton is also noted in the diaries as his helpmate in executing these Forest Service duties.

Readers may get the feeling of “being right there” as they read these original, unedited accounts of what actually went on in these early and formative days of the Old West.

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