Lumber, Railroads, and Migration

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"Bonner lumberjacks and families in the early 1900s." Courtesy the University of Montana via Big Sky Country Digital Network.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the American railway system extended across the entire continent. Maps visualizing the lines of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad and the North Pacific Railway showcased timber-laden regions as both economic and natural wonders. Similar to the dusty miners of the gold rush, migrant workers took to the West, riding the railroad across the country, where they hoped to make their fortunes in large lumber outfits. The proliferation of lumber industries in the Upper Midwest, inland Northwest, and the West Coast sparked the rise of a “lumberjack culture.” These were iconic axe- and saw-wielding strongmen, who worked in the deepest forests bringing down the largest trees to keep America warm and working. The job was not easy or safe, and special insurance was often available to those brave individuals who took up the task.