Lumberjack Lifestyle

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“Darby Logging Camp Cookhouse.” According to author Bessie Monroe, “the foremost essential in any logging camp was a good cook.” Courtesy of the Darby Community Public Library via Big Sky Country Digital Network.

Early Montana lumberjacks worked twelve to fourteen-hour days felling trees. They awoke before dawn, ate breakfast, then hiked to the woods to saw and swing axes in the heat or freezing cold. Injury from falling branches or a crushing death among floating logs during a river drive were job hazards to avoid before returning to camp for dinner at day's end. The men often slept two to a bed in crowded bunkhouses infested by bedbugs without the benefit of a shower, toilet, or laundry facilities. Logging was an exhausting, dangerous, and probably smelly affair.

Forester Elers Koch also described the lumberjack life as lonely. “One hears little of laughter and jokes in a logging camp. [The] men eat their enormous meals silently, and sit in the bunkhouse or outside them, tired from the heavy work that goes with the job of man-handling big logs.” The fact that many lumberjacks were immigrants who spoke little English may have contributed to this sense of isolation.

These men sacrificed home comforts and family life for their paychecks only to be taken advantage of by some lumber companies. Until labor unions could organize it was typical for company sanctioned employment “fees” to whittle away hard earned wages to nearly nothing before the men were fired and replaced by new crews. These unfair practices eventually incited strikes and Montana lumber company owners had to negotiate on pay, workday hours, and logging camp conditions.