Idaho County, Idaho
Moose Creek is in the vicinity of Grangeville, Idaho, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
It is located at the confluence of the Selway River and Moose Creek in the Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness. The listing included nine contributing buildings and one other contributing structure.
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Justifiable Homicide – the Moose Creek Tragedy
A Duel to the Death in a Lonely Miners’ Cabin
Idaho County Free Press – July 4, 1890
On Saturday morning, June 28, about one o’clock a.m. Mike L. Murray and P. McEntee arrived at Grangeville bringing the news that on the preceding day Murray had, in self defense, killed P.M. Russell, one of his mining partners.
Coroner Bibby, in company with J.D. Holton started for the scene of the tragedy, while Murray went to Mt. Idaho and gave himself up to the sheriff to await the result of the official inquiry
The coroner reached Moose creek at three o’clock Saturday afternoon, and immediately impaneling a jury proceeded to investigate the matter. In the cabin was presented a dreadful sight. Near the center lay the dead body of Russell in a pool of blood and brains, while the surroundings gave evidence of the deadly struggle between the two men. The jury after viewing the body and examining the premises adjourned to meet at Mt. Idaho on Monday the 28th to take testimony, which consisted of the statement of Mr. Murray himself. The jury found that the deceased was Patrick M. Russell, aged 27 years; that he came to his death on or about the 27th day of June 1890 from a gunshot would in the brain, such shot being fired by Michael P. Murray while defending himself from a deadly assault, and that such killing was justifiable.
On July 1st an examination was held before Judge Case. Following we give a brief resume of the testimony. Dr. Bibby testified as to the finding of the body and gave a description of the room where it lay. Three gunshot wounds were found on the body, one passing through and breaking the bone of the right wrist, the second entering the chest below the right nipple and emerging below the point of the right shoulder. The shot which caused death entering on the right side of the head, tearing away a large portion of the parietal bone. About eight inches from the right hand lay the revolver of the deceased, a 45 caliber Colt, with one chamber discharged and one without a shell in it.
For the defense Patrick Flynn, Wm. Tracy and J.D. Holton were called, who testified as to threats which Russell had made against the life of Murray. Mr. Murray then took the stand and narrated the circumstances, in substance as follows:
“On the evening of the 26th of June, 1890, Mr. McEntee and myself agreed that we would lift some hose to lay in the ground sluice and place it where it would dry, so as to stow them away to be used next season. The next day Mr. McEntee concluded to go on to Mt. Idaho and have Mr. Tracy help me put away the hose. Before Mr. McEntee left Mr. Tracy went to the cabin of Jas. Burns about a mile away. Mr. McEntee and a young man named Givens started for Mt. Idaho, leaving me alone with Russell in the camp. I came out of the cabin and sat down on the bench in front of the door. Russell sat on the bench close to the door. When we had been sitting there a few minutes I asked Russell how Johnny Crooks was doing on the next claim. He said he was doing well, that they took out $1500 or $2,000 this season. If it hadn’t been for McEntee, the dumb son-of a bitch, that money would belong to us, as the ground belonged to us and he gave it to them. I told him we had better ground than they had and that if the claim belonged to us we would never work it, that it wasn’t right to call McEntee a son of a bitch behind his back, that he would not do so to his face. He said he would call him that to his face or behind his back and that I could take up the fight if I wanted to. I told him I didn’t want to take up McEntee’s fight or anybody else’s; that if there had been less fighting on the ground last spring there would be more money in the crowd; that I didn’t want any fight and would not have any that he had oilered me more than fifty insults since last fall. About that time he said “I can make any son of a bitch on the works jump over the fence.” I looked at him and saw him look toward his breast and saw the point of a large caliber pistol sticking from under his shirt. During all this time I had been smoking a pipe. I knocked the ashes out of the pipe and picking up some tobacco from the bench asked him for a knife to cut some tobacco. He said he had no knife but I would find one inside on the table, so I stepped into the cabin, got the knife and cut some tobacco. Russell followed me into the cabin and stood with his back to the fireplace. I was standing near the middle of the room. He asked me if I was going to stop or work on the Moose Creek diggings. I said “no” I am not going to stop here, but am going to do some work yet,” He asked me what I was going to do. I told him I was going to raise that hose out of the ground sluice so they would dry and not rot. He said “you or nobody else can raise that hose until I get ready; no damn man can touch the hose or do a bit of working the claim unless I am satisfied;” that he would kill the first man that laid a hand on them. I told him Bill Tracy and I would raise the hose and if he wanted to kill me, to get to work as hard as he wanted to; that I did not intend to let what belonged to me rot where it would do nobody any good. Just at this time he said, “Jesus Christ! I don’t have to take this from no g— damn man living, nor I won’t”. At that same time I saw him move toward me and draw his pistol out of his breast. As he struck me I grabbed the pistol and the blow struck me on the left eye and temple. I hollered and asked him if he wanted to murder me. He said’ yes, you son of a bitch”. As I caught him by the arm he struck me again, an upper cut on the mouth. At that time I reached up over my head into the man hole and got hold of my revolver, which I had put there in the morning. As I got my revolver he jumped away from me, grabbed hold of his gun with both hands and shot at me. I struck the barrel of the pistol and the bullet went off to one side. He raised the gun again and shoved it into my face and pulled on the trigger but the gun did not go off. At that time I pushed him away with my left hand and shoved him into the fireplace. Just at that instant I got hold of my gun by the handle got it cocked and fired at him. At the time I fired he jumped right at me with both hands hold of his revolver and hollered. “Oh~ you son of a bitch”, I raised the hammer of my gun as quick as possible and shot again. Before I got the gun cocked the third time he got up to me. I pushed him and struck at him with the gun at the same time. I tried to strike him over the head with the gun. As I struck he dodged, and the point of the pistol struck him and at the same time went off and he fell. I put my hands to my face and found it all over blood and thought I had been shot. I ran and looked in the glass and found I was bleeding on the inside of my mouth. I then came to give myself up.”
The judge after hearing the evidence, discharged the prisoner, deciding that the evidence did not show any crime had been committed, Murray having acted in self defense.
The body of Russell was brought to Grangeville and interred in the cemetery here on Sunday afternoon.
We understand that the deceased had a wife at present in Philadelphia, Pa. and some friends in the Coeur d’Alene country.
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source: Murders, Poisonings and Executions in Idaho County,from Area Newspaper Articles compiled by Penny Bennett Casey, Idaho County GenWeb
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P. M. Russell
Death: 27 Jun 1890, Idaho County, Idaho, USA
Burial: Prairie View Cemetery. Grangeville, Idaho County, Idaho, USA
source: Find a Grave
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Moose Creek – Mining
Gold was discovered on Moose Creek in 1862 by wandering prospectors up the headwaters of the North Fork of the Clearwater River several miles northeast of Pierce.
The second rush to that area brought about Moose City. They worked that region for twelve to fifteen years.
A day’s work on his claim a man could make up to twenty-five dollars or about two ounces of gold.
source: Clearwater Museum
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1985 Moose Creek Mining Report
Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series
Number 828 – 1985
Placers along Moose Creek — a Clearwater tributary near Montana — attracted prospectors periodically after their discovery in 1864. About 70 miles from Pierce, they could be supplied by Lolo Trail packers who could descend to Kelly Creek and continue north up Moose Creek. A Lewiston correspondent, September 16, 1864, reported their discovery to a Walla Walla paper in a brief notice:
“New mines have also been discovered on the Lolo Fork of Sweetwater [Clearwater], in a north-easterly direction from Oro Fino, distant about 70 miles. Specimens received from the party indicate the gold to be coarse, not unlike the Kootenai. In both the above localities 20 cents to nearly as many dollars per pan of dirt is spoken of as the result of prospecting. Several parties are preparing to visit these localities, upon whose return more reliable intelligence may be had to communicate.”
(Washington Statesman, 16 September 1864, p. 1, c. 5)
Too limited in value and extent to detain miners in 1864–when large and rewarding gold discoveries at Helena and other highly profitable mining camps discouraged fortune hunters from wasting time in less promising areas–they soon were forgotten and ignored. But by 1866 other camps had declined and rich new placers were needed. So Moose Creek had another chance. Nimrod Poston of Missoula noted renewed interest in Moose Creek placers that summer:
Squire Poston also reports several discoveries on, or near, the headwaters of the Clearwater. The discoverers had visited Missoula City and obtained rockers. But little information could be obtained from these men–their motive for silence being, evidently to return, and secure their claims before an excitement and subsequent “rush.” These are what are termed bardiggings. Of course we can only conjecture as to the locality; but, being near the head of the Clearwater, and near the Lo-lo Fork trail, they cannot be more than seventy-five miles from Missoula City, nor over half that distance from Fort Owen. We would recommend Western friends, who intend returning this fall to Oregon or California to go by the way of this trail, prepared for prospecting. Though much more rugged than the Mullan route, it is said to be the shortest course by a hundred miles from points in Montana to Walla Walla or Lewiston.
(Rocky Mountain Gazette, 11 August 1866, Montana Post [Virginia City], 18 August, p. 3, c. 4)
But at that time, Moose Creek could not compete with Leesburg and possibilities of mining there were soon forgotten. Additional prospecting north of Pierce toward Moose Creek two years later led to a modest gold discovery closer to Pierce than to Moose Creek. Stanford Capps, a prominent miner from Pierce, reported that find, September 11, 1868:
Friend Slater, — You will probably hear distorted of the “new and rich diggings” struck within thirty miles of this place. We have actually found a creek that will pay very well on the north slope of the Bald Mountains if there was sufficient water to work the same. I have been on the ground for the last week. There is scarcely a rocker head.
Out of 500 buckets (or pans) of dirt we got $27.25. The ground is nearly all taken up. It will take three or four thousand dollars to bring water into the gulch. The water right is located by Capps. Boyd & Co. The creek or gulch is called “Gold Creek.”
We have discovered and have located very god [sic] diggings, but as to their extent no man knoweth.
The creek is situated about twenty miles in a northerly direction from Pierce city.
(Idaho Statesman, 22 September 1868, p. 2, c. 3)
Although a number of scattered properties attracted some attention in that general area over many years, Gold Creek (somewhere around Orogrande Creek) did not gain any great prominence.
Finally in 1868 and 1869, renewed Moose Creek excitements led to serious efforts to mine there. New gold camps were needed even more than in 1866, and until Loon Creek came into prominence, Moose Creek began to flourish. Lewiston and Pierce provided reports of renewed excitement there:
The Discovery of new mines beyond Lewiston, has created quite an excitement, and arrested all the travel this way. King, the stage driver, had stocked the road, looking for a large influx of passengers this way, but instead of being crowded his coaches come down empty.
All the loose men around Lewiston, and the various mining camps, have struck for the new diggings, preferring to risk wintering in the mountains rather than miss the chance of securing good claims.
(Walla Walla Statesman, 30 October 1868, p. 3, c. 1)
We have it from Expressman Fettis and Mr. J. Lowenberg and quite a number of other reliable gentlemen that the new mining district, to the north and east of Pierce city, known as Moose Creek, is extraordinarily rich and extensive. It is believed that this new camp will eclipse any that has been found within the last ten years, and will furnish ground enough for a thousand or more men to work. The prospects average on the hills from 10 to 12 cents to the pans, and in the gulches from 15 to 25 cents to the pan; which warrants the belief that this new camp will exceed Florence and equal California in ‘49. Water is abundant with plenty of fall — dump, and little or no stripping; and the gravel from five to six feet deep. Nearly all from Pierce city and thereabouts have gone there, and parties and pack trains are daily leaving here for there. Mr. Hawthorne & Co. leave here today for this camp with a train loaded with ten thousand pounds. There can be no doubt of the truth of this exciting news. We have given the above as a low estimate of the accounts given us, as we desire to be within bounds. Mr. Lowenberg has dust from there that we think will assay $17 per ounce. We have a reliable correspondent there and that will give us full particulars for our next issue.
(Idaho Statesman, 6 November 1868, p. 3, c. 2)
Winter activity at Moose Creek necessarily was somewhat limited in 1868-1869. Enough fairly rich placer gravel was available that some miners could make good wages even though water was not available for an efficient sluicing operation. A brief notice of successful production there reached Walla Walla:
Moose Creek Mine. — By way of Lewiston, favorable reports reach us from the Moose Creek mines, near the head of the Clearwater. Men who are wintering in there are making from $5 to $9 a day to the hand, using rockers.
(Walla Walla Statesman, 29 Jan 1969, p. 3, c. 1)
Prospecting continued along Moose Creek all winter with more than satisfactory results:
A party came in from Moose Creek the other day on snow shoes, having been seven days on the road. They report all well and prospecting. Many good claims have been found during the winter, and considerable money has been taken out with rockers and pans. There is no longer any doubt that they are good mines, both rich and extensive. A party will leave this place for that camp in about two weeks. I intend going as soon as I possible can.
(Idaho Statesman, 6 March 1869, p. 2, c. 2)
As soon as travel to Moose Creek became practical, interested miners got organized to go there from supply points such as Walla:
Moose Creek Mines.–In the early part of the week we noticed quite a large pack train fitting out for the Moose Creek mines. The train was owned by miners, who took with them provisions, tools, &c., to last them the summer.
(Walla Walla Statesman, 26 March 1869, p. 3, c. 1)
By Spring, a successful mining season got underway. In order to supply a more efficient sluicing operation, a system of ditches was dug early in 1869:
The express from Moose creek this week brings us good news. Claims that are opened are paying from one ounce to fifty dollars per day to the hand. About three hundred men in that district have acquired good claims. The great and indeed only drawback is the want of water for the approaching dry season. This will have to be brought in ditches which are now in the process of construction. The entire country between this place and Moose creek offers a very promising field for prospecting, and is almost untouched.
I. B. Cowen, Esq., our sheriff, has appointed Mr. John O’Meara as his deputy for the Moose region. So far this camp has yielded rather more than the average amount of dust. We feel confident that we have the best placed camp in the territory.
(Idaho Statesman, 8 June 1869, p. 1, c. 5)
Early in May, after spring runoff left most Moose Creek placers with no water for sluicing, production there largely ended for that season:
From the North. — A letter from our correspondent at Pierce City, I. T., dated the 15th, informs us that the Moose creek excitement has partially subsided; the cry there as elsewhere is water! water! The weather is excessively hot.
(Idaho Statesman, 29 June 1869, p. 3, c. 1)
By that time, miners at Moose City began to notice that their claims had a more limited potential than they had originally supposed. Working rich spots with rockers, they had flattering results. But when they began large scale production, they found their claims did not pay very well. This kind of experience was typical of many early operations in a new district: A. C. Wellman, a well-known Walla Walla valley resident writing from Pierce, June 2, explained what had gone wrong and discounted optimistic reports that continued to emanate from Moose Creek:
EDITOR STATESMAN: — Please allow me to correct a statement made by Mr. O’Neil in regard to the Moose Creek mines. He stated that he had been to Moose Creek, and found it to be a rich and extensive camp. This statement is false in very particular. Mr. O’NEIL never was there and knows nothing of the mines whatever. Moose Creek is not rich, neither is it extensive — the best claims are scarcely paying wages and the whole camp will not number over forty claims that pay anything at all, and even these cannot be worked but a short time longer on account of water. Ditches are being brought in, but it will take all summer to complete them. Before the claims were opened the prospects were very flattering; one, two, three, and even twenty dollars was got to the pan, but the leads, after working, have proven to be very narrow and spotted, and fall short of the expectations of every one. The basin is low, yet diggings are well up to the head of the gulches, making natural water scarce. The largest week’s work yet made was 48 ounces to two men, and the largest nugget $117. The distance from this place to Moose Creek is about forty miles, and from Moose Creek to Hellgate valley about the same. Provisions have been very scarce this spring, but when I left, a few days since, teams were coming in from both sides.
(Walla Walla Statesman, 18 June; Idaho World, 24 June 1869, p. 2, c. 3)
Discouraged miners from Moose Creek returned to Warren’s complaining about a similar experience. L. W. Bacon, an Idaho legislator who operated a Warren’s express, reported their dissatisfaction:
The Moose creek mines have already commenced to fail. Mr. [L. W.] Bacon says that for a few weeks before he left Warrens, miners were daily coming in from the Moose creek diggings, disgusted, flat broke, and anxious to obtain employment. Only a few had gone there from Warrens, but nearly all who had were back again, and with them came numbers who had rushed to Moose creek from British Columbia diggings, from Elk City and Oro Fino, and from the California, Nevada and Eastern Oregon mining districts. All of them pronounced the Moose Creek diggings comparatively a humbug. The area of mining ground is limited, and the richness of the best claims there has been greatly overrated. A few men who had gone there early and had the pick of all the ground, had succeeded pretty well in the mines, and the few traders who got in first with goods and provisions, had made money; but the diggings were no longer paying, except in rare instances; the camp was overstocked with goods of all kinds, and the rush from there during May was far beyond the rush to Moose creek. The excitement was over, the camp was fast simmering down to bed rock grade, and the “rich and extensive Moose creek gold fields” told of in the papers, will sustain no more than half the number who remained there in early May, if so many.
(Idaho World, 17 June 1869, p. 4, c. 2)
Moose Creek, like many other camps, soon became more attractive to Chinese than to other mines. Not having produced too much before it declined, Moose City offered only limited opportunities to Oriental miners. Eventually they ran into trouble too:
The old mining camp of this name is located in the eastern part of Shoshone county, Idaho. Rich deposits of gold were found there in 1867 and 1868, and for several years subsequent there was considerable mining done. For the past few years only a few Kanakas and Chinamen have been operating them. The camp is high up in the Bitter Root range of mountains, among the upper tributaries of the North Clearwater, and is about 200 miles northeast of Lewiston. Last Spring four Kanakas who had passed the preceding winter there were found dead in their cabins.
The Missoulian gives the following particulars of a similar horrible calamity which befell a party of Chinamen who remained there last Fall to spend the Winter:
On April the 15th a party of miners, consisting of John Bolen, Chas. Felton and Albert Peters started from Moose creek ferry to cross the range and go into the Moose mining district. Six miles out the party found it necessary to construct snow shoes and were six days in making the trip into the mines. There were sixteen Chinamen left in the diggings last year. Of this number six were found dead, but unburied; and all but one (the China merchant) of the remaining Chinamen very seriously ill with a very severe form of scurvy. It seems that these Chinamen, in order to live cheap, had caught and dried a large number of “bruised” salmon last fall, and this had been their main supply of food. The poor fellows were ignorant of the nature of their ailments, and superstitiously let the sick alone to take care of themselves. Dead men were found on the floor, and sick men on beds in the same room. The bodies were boxed and buried in the snow for the present, until later in the season. During the past Winter it has snowed nearly all the time in the camp, and the men have lived necessarily indoors to a great extent. It is very probably that the enforced inactivity for so long a period has had much to do with bringing on the scurvy.
(Yankee Fork Herald [Bonanza], 29 May 80, p. 4, c. 1)
Eventually a drag-line operation succeeded in handling a large amount of Moose Creek gravel that could not be sluiced profitably in earlier years. Most production there came from this twentieth-century mining effort.
source: Idaho State Historical Society Refrence Series Number 828 (1985) Publications–450 N. 4th Street, Boise, ID 83702–208-334-3428
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Homesteads of the Selway – Moose Creek
Homesteader and Forest Service Ranger George Case on a winter game survey, upper Moose Creek in 1933.
George Case photo Dick Walker Collection
Roy Randall and Dr. C.H. Bryan at the Three Forks Ranch Homestead
Moose Creek Ranches
1965 aerial photo – The Moose Creek Ranches, located at the three forks of Moose Creek, was a hunting lodge and dude ranch. Clientele included hunters, fisherman, trail riders and those seeking seclusion, relaxation, and it is also rumored—gambling. The ranch had its own dam for power and an airstrip. The ranch, consolidated between 1944 and 1962 from five homesteads into a 745 acre parcel, was purchased by the Forest Service in 1966.
continued (more stories and photos): Nez Perce National Forest – By Cindy L. Schacher, Archaeological Technician
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Moose Creek Ranger District
The Moose Creek Ranger District, headquartered at Fenn Ranger Station, contains approximately 870,000 acres within the 1.3 million acre Selway River sub-basin. The current Moose Creek Ranger District is a co-location of the former Moose Creek and Selway Ranger Districts. 560,000 acres are within the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness; 275,000 acres are inventoried roadless; and approximately 35,000 acres are roaded.
The area is also rich in Forest Service heritage and tradition. The district maintains two historic ranger stations; Moose Creek Ranger Station, built in 1922, and Fenn Ranger Station, constructed by the CCC in 1939. Both of these Ranger Stations are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are several other historic cabins still in use on the district, including Shearer Guard Station (old Ranger Station @ Bear Creek), Meadow Creek Cabin (circa 1922), and Selway Falls Cabin (circa 1907). Through its wilderness and packing programs, Moose Creek Ranger District continues to carry the traditional Forest Service legacy into the future. Maintaining those traditional Forest Service skills and programs is an important component of the district. Moose Creek serves as a reminder of the history and traditions that made this organization what it is today. We are proud of our history and tradition.
The primary contribution from the Moose Creek Ranger District to the local economy is through dispersed and developed recreation. Local communities served primarily include the river communities of Lowell and Syringa. The small local businesses in these communities cater to the recreation use on the Lochsa, Middle Fork Clearwater, and Selway Rivers.
The district serves several communities of interest that includes wilderness advocates and users, whitewater enthusiasts, and motorized and nonmotorized trail user groups, among others.
source: USDA FS Moose Creek Ranger District
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Moose Creek Administrative Site
National Register of Historic Places
The Moose Creek Ranger Station is situated at the confluence of the Selway River and Moose Creek in the Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness. While the Valley in which it sits has an elevation of 2400 feet, the steep ridges on both sides rise to over 5.000 feet. This rapid increase in elevation and the rugged terrain provide a spectacular setting for the Ranger Station. The Selway River was one of the original seven rivers recognized for outstanding qualities and beauty included in the 1968 Wild and Scenic River Act. Its treacherous white water, striking scenery and isolation make it a favorite with rafters and kayakers each spring. The wilderness is home to a large variety of animal life and its hunting and fishing draws many visitors to the area.
The area now included in the Moose Creek Ranger District was originally administered out of the Three Forks Ranger Station about three miles to the north up Moose Creek. It first appeared on the 1911 Selway Forest Map, but the two cabins which comprised it were actually built before the turn of the century by trappers and eventually abandoned. In 1920 when the Moose Creek Ranger District was created, Jack Parsell lived there for a year before he moved the District Headquarters to its present location which was more centrally located. The District was transferred to the Bitterroot National Forest in 193^ and to the Nez Perce National Forest in 1956.
The first building at the Moose Creek Ranger Station was constructed in 1921 and the rest of the buildings have been added at various times since. While several of the buildings were constructed according to USFS plans, they come very close to being vernacular as they were built by local workmen using native materials and traditional techniques to serve very functional purposes. They are basically of two types. One type is constructed of logs and the other is of a frame construction with board and batten siding. All of the buildings at the site have shake roofs. The logs came from the surrounding area and most of the boards were sawn on site. Because of the use of local materials, the buildings blend in very nicely into the heavily forest setting in which they sit. This compatibility with the natural environment has always been an important consideration in constructing buildings at Moose Creek.
Presently, the Moose Creek Ranger Station consists of a cookhouse/office with a nearby woodshed, two small bunkhouses, a bathhouse, warehouse/residence, warehouse, gas house, barn, saw filing shack, tack shed, Ranger’s residence and nearby washhouse, and two connected airstrips. In the complex, there are nine contributing buildings, one contributing structure, four noncontributing buildings, and one noncontributing structure as defined in the National Park Service Guidelines for Counting contributing and Noncontributing Resources for National Register Documentation (May 1985).
… Beginning in 1921 with mules and horses, Moose Creek advanced to air travel in 1931 with the construction of a runway. Back country flying was in its infancy during this time and Moose Creek Ranger Station served as a center of development. In the late 1930’s, the Forest Service began experimenting with parachuting firefighters and supplies into fires in remote areas (smoke jumping). One of the first smoke jumper bases was established at Moose Creek in 1940 and the first fire jump made by the Forest Service originated from the Station. From this early beginning, Forest Service smoke jumping has developed to a point where the organization is recognized as a leader in the deployment of airborne crews in remote areas.
link to full document and more info: National Register of Historic Places
link to more historical photos:
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Moose Creek Airport
(source: Google Maps)
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The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness History Project
Archive for the ‘Moose Creek’
(several podcasts, lots of photos)
page updated Aug 6, 2020