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2012-09-21 / Range History

Chapter 39:

Timber Days (Part III)

Dear Readers,

This week we bring you Part 3 and the conclusion of Peter Buffalo’s Chapter 39: Timber Days. Peter tells how it was often a challenge for lumberjacks to get their “timeslips” converted to cash in the old days, and he discusses his personal work ethic.

fte Timber Days chapter is excerpted from the ethnographic biography of Peter Buffalo, compiled by Professor Timothy Roufs of the University of Minnesota – Duluth. Buffalo (1900-1977) was an Ojibwe leader from the Leech Lake area of Minnesota, attended boarding school in Tower, MN, and spent several seasons working in various logging camps and lumber mills in northern Minnesota in the early 1900s.

Thanks for reading!

Jean Cole
HTF Editor


If you weren’t working for the railroad, there was nothing but timber labor those days. Sometimes the timeslip record went to Grand Rapids for the paymaster and you’d have to go there to see him to get your pay.

The paymaster got the timeslips from the timber workers. When the paymaster gets that slip, your timeslip, he checks it with his book. He looks to see if it’s the same number of that slip he’s got. If your number is the same number as that in his book, he’ll give you your pay. Most generally he’ll give you your pay. The lumberjacks made twenty-six or thirty dollars a month, in 1918, and when you gave the paymaster your slip you got your twenty-six or thirty dollars - in silver. For this reason they gave you timeslips, and you get money, in Grand Rapids or Bena or someplace else.

It wasn’t safe for you to carry any money on your passage through “the jungle.” It wasn’t safe to have too much currency in your pocket. Something might happen that you may not be able to talk. I think that was a pretty wise stunt, even if you did have to go to Bena or Grand Rapids to find the paymaster.

When lumberjacks came to town, they most often put their money in a restaurant, or wherever they stopped, or wherever they did their trading. They were afraid to carry money. That’s why they gave it to someone they trusted. They’d leave most of their money someplace in town, because they didn’t want to carry it. It was too dangerous to carry money. They might lose it or something. There were lots of them who drank something - alcohol - that wasn’t very good for them. They could fall down and go to sleep on the side road. They by the next morning the money’s gone. So that’s why they put some of it away. They’d take it a little by little from the place they trusted. Putting money someplace in town was a good deal too. But they always got it little by little, taking out just enough to get along on.

A guy in Duluth, at the Garfield Avenue Newsstand, had a nice little business charging lumberjacks to keep track of their money. They always left it with someone they trusted. There was a bank, but they didn’t want their money tied up at the bank. They wanted it loose. The bank was open only at a certain time in those days. Sure, lots of them put money in the bank. Yes. I don’t say they didn’t, because they did. The banker was trusted. The banker had trust. We still have good bankers. The lumberjacks also put their money in with them. But most of them kept their money with some businessman they trusted.

Old Pog was a paymaster in Grand Rapids. When I’m talking about Pog I’m talking about 19… , oh about 1917, and from there on. That’s a-way back. Before that I’m talking about 1914, ‘15. Those were mostly logging days. That’s a way, way back. With Pog’s programs it was kind of hard to get the money, but he paid it. Whether he paid full or not you don’t know. Old Pog was a pretty good guy. He favored the poor man. He was a poor man himself. He was a logger, a timber worker, and he favored the people pretty much. Yea. He had a kind of a business office there at Grand Rapids. I wouldn’t know what his real name was.

Oh, it was a rough field them days, and it was better if you came down through those trails without cash and anything of value. Maybe it’s a good deal that way, because there’s no foul work or ganging up then. That’s a good deal - maybe that’s what it was for.

But in later years they got rough with those timeslips! The company just tried to wear the timeslips out, by telling the lumberjacks to come back, come back, come back for their money. So, in the meantime, the lumberjacks they got other work and those timeslips would wear out in their pockets.

It got so rough that times were beginning to get hard. Times got kind-a-hard in the twenties. Everybody wanted money then. When the lumberjacks showed up with those worn-out timeslips, the paymaster of the company’d ask, “What’d you do there?” Some of the loggers would come away with nothing; some wouldn’t get their full amount.

So they commenced to get a law against that, and they made a law that when a lumberjack quits a camp, he’s supposed to be paid within forty-eight hours. “Right now” he’s supposed to have his money. He’s supposed to get paid right away. Those laws helped a lot of lumberjacks. With the laws the lumberjacks got brave and they got paid off right away.

Scanlon paid them off right away when they come down, so did Canada & Clements Lumber Company. But sometimes the lumberjacks still had to wait for their money - “no funds.” They said they had to put money in the bank, and to do that they had to travel to Cass Lake or Bemidji or wherever there was a bank. They said they had to travel there and deposit some money. “It takes time for money to come up in the mail too,” they’d tell them.

There was a lawyer - a colored lawyer - at Bemidji, Skrutchenson. Everybody remembers him! And when he got in the courtroom and bellered, he was just like a bull. He was just like a bull when he laid down the law. Boy he was a lawyer!! He was a great man, that guy.

So, these lumberjacks would go to him and tell him, “Well, I didn’t get no money!”

“Who’d you work for?”

A certain company. And they’d tell him the company name.

“Okay. Where’s your receipt? Did they give you a receipt?”

“A slip? Ya.”

The lawyer read that timeslip and he’d say, “You got so much comin’.”


“They didn’t pay you? You didn’t cash this in there?”

“No. The officer wouldn’t cash it. He didn’t have

no money.”

That lawyer’d tell them to board at the hotel and wait ‘til he called them: “Okay. Go down to Markham’s Hotel, or any hotel you want to. You stay there ‘til I call you.”

He’d go down to the hotel and tell them, “Take care of them guys.”

He’d wait ‘til three, four of them came in. Oh he’d get a lot of those time checks! See, they started abusing those timeslips around. Oh, he got a lot of timeslips off of timber workers on drives. He’d just send them into the hotel: “You stay there overnight, and tomorrow I’ll settle it for you - right there! According to law, all they have is forty-eight hours to pay up.That’s your money, you take it home.”

So the lumberjacks’d be there at the hotel, just boarding over, anxious to get their money and send it to their wives or send some money home in to the bank.tHen, when they got too anxious and wanted to send home some money, he’d call the logging companies in and tell them that the loggers demand that payment.They’d pay the men.

And if he had to, when he had enough timeslips, that colored lawyer’d call those loggers, big loggers, in court. In court that colored lawyer’d beller out, “This man’s time is valuable! He’s gotta be paid. He’s got a family. He’s gotta eat!!! You made him suffer! Now, you’re lucky to get out just by paying what your damages are!!!” Oh boy, when he laid down the law, he laid the law!! You could hear him clear to the other side of town. He was just like a bull.

He couldn’t be beat, you know. He was a lawyer. Huh! Aye! He’d demand that these guys get paid. He’d lay down the law right now.

All right, they’d pay them all right. When they paid the men off, then he’d demand their board bill. He’d tell them, “On top of that, now you’ll have to pay the board bill.”

They’d pay that too.They paid the lawyer’s time too, from that time he began working on those timeslips.They’d pay his time, the loggers’ wages, and the time for the loggers’ waiting at the hotel.

“Oh man! Ho-ho! Oh, he sure cleaned that business out in a hurry. Before he got through they all paid up on that.They had a good man there, boy! He was very good, yah.”

Tommy Welch, and Campbell, and Canada & Clements, and all them, they all understood timeslips. Ya, they all used time-slips too.

A while after, McKusick of Hibbing did the same too. McKusick was quite a logger.uite a few years after, around 1930, ‘32, he did the same.

Some Indians from Ball Club were up at Orr working for McKusick, the great pulp logger for the northwest.They were lumberjacks who worked for him in the woods.They peeled and pulped. McKusick was more generally in the pulp business. He hired the Indians to peel the pulp with drawknives and spuds.They were hired to take the roughbark off of the logs. His men generally peeled the pulp and everything, and they’d get so much for doing that. Oh, they probably would have forty,fifty dollars coming at the end of the month.That was up at Orr. And it was about ‘32.The foreman would make them out a timeslip, and they had to take that to Hibbing, or wherever they could catch McKusick. They’d tell the men, “You give that to McKusick and he’ll pay.”

Ifirst got up there to Orr to visit. I didn’t go up there to work. I had some folks up there I wanted to see. Just think how inquisitive we were, how we searched out how the people are.

When I got there I asked my cousin, “How’s everything going?”


“They pay you all right?”

“Oh yes.That fella’s got money.”

“I heard he doesn’t have any money.”

“Ya, but with all the timber and all the security he

has, he can get money in the bank,” they said. “He’d be foolish to walk around here with cash in his pocket and pay you cash. But his slips are good.”

“Where are they good?”

“Ya.They’re good,” they said. “I think Chisholm. I know where Chisholm is. One of my in-laws is a police there.”

“I’m up here to visit, but maybe I’ll go to work, to see all the Indians work.”

So they furnished me a draw-knife, and I built a horse, a saw-horse, to hold the pulp up.en I worked too. I don’t know how many carloads we peeled.

Where I stayed, my cousin, my in-laws, and my relatives were camped together. We all camped up there. We were furnished with food, but we had to pay for it on our account.There was a big camp of us, with about eight or ten in that camp.ere were three or four other groups of them camped there like us.Then we did have fun!

We were laughing and joking, and they were teasing Old Paul about some young widow.

“Why ain’t you married, Paul?”

I said, “Ohhh no!! I can’tfind anybody because I’m related to all,” I said.

“My mother told me, she said, ‘look out. If you

want to get married you have to go to some other reservation.’” I said, “I can’t aord that. And I like the way I live. I like to be with mother and dad. We have a farm to take care of. We have hay to take care of. Have I got time to go? No. I try to do what I can.”

Charlie Michaud’ll tell you the same thing. We sat and talked over there at Orr. I remember them days. And I remember way back there when I was a kid around the Leech and Mississippi Forks.

That was about the way it worked in those days. Nowadays, when people go to work anywhere they give the employer forty-eight hours time to pay. They have to pay within that time. If it’s overdue, they’ll charge the employer. Now they have a good law that says within forty-eight hours they have to pay you.That’s the law. If you quit, or if you get fired, they’re supposed to pay you right there.

That’s another thing. Nowadays when you have to be paid you get a check. But that’s still a piece of paper until you get it in the bank, then it’s cash. Come to think about it, those checks are pretty much the same as the old timeslips. But nowadays, a lot of them cash their checks through the stores, small stores, or someplace like that.They don’t have to go to Grand Rapids or Bena or Chisholm or Cass Lake.

In the old days, after they cashed in their timeslips, the loggers had money in their pocket - but they still didn’t know the value of money.There was so much, plenty of everything, and everything was so cheap that when you bought with a dollar, you got something. A dollar was valued a dollar them days.

Besides that, there was a lot of work. It was simple to go get a job anywhere, those days.ere was all kinds of work -- roadwork, timberwork, pulpcutting, railroad work, and all that. But it was most generally the loggers that gave us the jobs.

Those loggers were great, really great, those days, because they’re the ones that furnished the labor to the older class.Those wah-ni-gans were loaded with men at all times. If you didn’t have a job you’d just meet the wah-ni-gan at a certain place, and they’d always give you a job.


At my age (53) I have nothing I have to do. I maybe work two, three hours, maybe four. Four hours of working is quite a strain with me now.

In my younger days I could take more hours in logging. I could take more hours in logging because I was interested.The more I got done, the more I’d have to do to provide for the family. And it was fun tugging the run. I could stand it more.

We’d wrestle those logs. We didn’t have any jammers. We had horses for skidding. We had to pile that stuff by hand and with pickaroons or cant-hooks. We pick the stuff up by hand. We had to lift more. We got a lot of liing, and by practicing lifting we got used to it. And the more you work, the harder you work, when you’re in prime, the more you’ll get used to it, and it doesn’t bother you. You get tired after so many hours on that job.Then when you rest, you’re fresh again the next day. You’re fresh.

So that’s the way life is.

Day comes, day comes, and you do your regular work. You enjoy that, doing stu. You enjoy seeing what work you’ve done in the past. Pile that wood and sell it, get your money, and then cut some more. You work regular, you know your duties when you’re logging, cutting, and helping with piece-cutting.

You do a good job on every stick you cut and pile so the next man can come along and skid it.They do wonderful work when they work together good. But I’ve seen some lumbermen that just cut so fast that they just throw the stu in the pile. It’s not piled very good, and it’s hard for the skidder to pick them up.This guy that picks up the logs and draws it by hand has a hardship if the logs are not piled up straight. He loses time on that. Everybody piles the logs along the roads where the dray goes through to pick them up. It’s more handier and faster if you do it right. If the loads are good, skid roads are good, and the stuff is piled up good it doesn’t take that long to pick up the loads, ‘specially pulp logs piled into cord piles.

So, that’s how things go. If you do neat work, you work is well liked. If you do poor work, you’re not deeply interested with your work. When you do it right and clean, which is required when you go out into the woods to do your work, the people speak about that.They say, “He does wonderful work. His logs are well trimmed, well piled, and the load is well done, straight. He’s not sullen with his work. He’s very active.”

So that’s why I try to do it right. I feel that I should do it right if I’m going to do it at all, or I should not try. But if I try, I’ll do my work right. By trying, you’re taking care of yourself.

So. . .That’s woods work.

Do good work and you’re trusted. You’re trusted. That’s the way it is with any kind of work, not only logging.


Conceived & Compiled By Jean Cole

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