The Blazed Trail by Stewart Edward White
Part III: The Blazing of the Trail
By the end of the winter some four million feet of logs were piled in the bed or upon the banks of the stream. To understand what that means, you must imagine a pile of solid timber a mile in length. This tremendous mass lay directly in the course of the stream. When the winter broke up, it had to be separated and floated piecemeal down the current. The process is an interesting and dangerous one, and one of great delicacy. It requires for its successful completion picked men of skill, and demands as toll its yearly quota of crippled and dead. While on the drive, men work fourteen hours a day, up to their waists in water filled with floating ice.
On the Ossawinamakee, as has been stated, three dams had been erected to simplify the process of driving. When the logs were in right distribution, the gates were raised, and the proper head of water floated them down.
Now the river being navigable, Thorpe was possessed of certain rights on it. Technically he was entitled to a normal head of water, whenever he needed it; or a special head, according to agreement with the parties owning the dam. Early in the drive, he found that Morrison & Daly intended to cause him trouble. It began in a narrows of the river between high, rocky banks. Thorpe's drive was floating through close-packed. The situation was ticklish. Men with spiked boots ran here and there from one bobbing log to another, pushing with their peaveys, hurrying one log, retarding another, working like beavers to keep the whole mass straight. The entire surface of the water was practically covered with the floating timbers. A moment's reflection will show the importance of preserving a full head of water. The moment the stream should drop an inch or so, its surface would contract, the logs would then be drawn close together in the narrow space; and, unless an immediate rise should lift them up and apart from each other, a jam would form, behind which the water, rapidly damming, would press to entangle it the more.
This is exactly what happened. In a moment, as though by magic, the loose wooden carpet ground together. A log in the advance up-ended; another thrust under it. The whole mass ground together, stopped, and began rapidly to pile up. The men escaped to the shore in a marvellous manner of their own.
Tim Shearer found that the gate at the dam above had been closed. The man in charge had simply obeyed orders. He supposed M. & D. wished to back up the water for their own logs.
Tim indulged in some picturesque language.
"You ain't got no right to close off more'n enough to leave us th' nat'ral flow unless by agreement," he concluded, and opened the gates.
Then it was a question of breaking the jam. This had to be done by pulling out or chopping through certain "key" logs which locked the whole mass. Men stood under the face of imminent ruin--over them a frowning sheer wall of bristling logs, behind which pressed the weight of the rising waters--and hacked and tugged calmly until the mass began to stir. Then they escaped. A moment later, with a roar, the jam vomited down on the spot where they had stood. It was dangerous work. Just one half day later it had to be done again, and for the same reason.
This time Thorpe went back with Shearer. No one was at the dam, but the gates were closed. The two opened them again.
That very evening a man rode up on horseback inquiring for Mr. Thorpe.
"I'm he," said the young fellow.
The man thereupon dismounted and served a paper. It proved to be an injunction issued by Judge Sherman enjoining Thorpe against interfering with the property of Morrison & Daly,--to wit, certain dams erected at designated points on the Ossawinamakee. There had not elapsed sufficient time since the commission of the offense for the other firm to secure the issuance of this interesting document, so it was at once evident that the whole affair had been pre-arranged by the up-river firm for the purpose of blocking off Thorpe's drive. After serving the injunction, the official rode away.
Thorpe called his foreman. The latter read the injunction attentively through a pair of steel-bowed spectacles.
"Well, what you going to do?" he asked.
"Of all the consummate gall!" exploded Thorpe. "Trying to enjoin me from touching a dam when they're refusing me the natural flow! They must have bribed that fool judge. Why, his injunction isn't worth the powder to blow it up!"
"Then you're all right, ain't ye?" inquired Tim.
"It'll be the middle of summer before we get a hearing in court," said he. "Oh, they're a cute layout! They expect to hang me up until it's too late to do anything with the season's cut!"
He arose and began to pace back and forth.
"Tim," said he, "is there a man in the crew who's afraid of nothing and will obey orders?"
"A dozen," replied Tim promptly.
"Who's the best?"
"Ask him to step here."
In a moment the man entered the office.
"Scotty," said Thorpe, "I want you to understand that I stand responsible for whatever I order you to do."
"All right, sir," replied the man.
"In the morning," said Thorpe, "you take two men and build some sort of a shack right over the sluice-gate of that second dam,-- nothing very fancy, but good enough to camp in. I want you to live there day and night. Never leave it, not even for a minute. The cookee will bring you grub. Take this Winchester. If any of the men from up-river try to go out on the dam, you warn them off. If they persist, you shoot near them. If they keep coming, you shoot at them. Understand?"
"You bet," answered Scotty with enthusiasm.
"All right," concluded Thorpe.
Next day Scotty established himself, as had been agreed. He did not need to shoot anybody. Daly himself came down to investigate the state of affairs, when his men reported to him the occupancy of the dam. He attempted to parley, but Scotty would have none of it.
"Get out!" was his first and last word.
Daly knew men. He was at the wrong end of the whip. Thorpe's game was desperate, but so was his need, and this was a backwoods country a long ways from the little technicalities of the law. It was one thing to serve an injunction; another to enforce it. Thorpe finished his drive with no more of the difficulties than ordinarily bother a riverman.
At the mouth of the river, booms of logs chained together at the ends had been prepared. Into the enclosure the drive was floated and stopped. Then a raft was formed by passing new manila ropes over the logs, to each one of which the line was fastened by a hardwood forked pin driven astride of it. A tug dragged the raft to Marquette.
Now Thorpe was summoned legally on two counts. First, Judge Sherman cited him for contempt of court. Second, Morrison & Daly sued him for alleged damages in obstructing their drive by holding open the dam-sluice beyond the legal head of water.
Such is a brief but true account of the coup-de-force actually carried out by Thorpe's lumbering firm in northern Michigan. It is better known to the craft than to the public at large, because eventually the affair was compromised. The manner of that compromise is to follow.