I Married a Ranger

By Dama Margaret Smith
   (Mrs. "White Mountain"

Chapter Header

  This book is lovingly dedicated to: 
   White Mountain Smith 
  who has made me glad 
    I married a Ranger    


I Married a Ranger is an intimate story of "pioneer" life in a national park, told in an interesting, humorous way, that makes it most delightful.

To me it is more than a book; it is a personal justification. For back in 1921, when the author came to my office in Washington and applied for the clerical vacancy existing at the Grand Canyon, no woman had been even considered for the position. The park was new, and neither time nor funds had been available to install facilities that are a necessary part of our park administrative and protective work. Especially was the Grand Canyon lacking in living quarters. For that reason the local superintendent, as well as Washington Office officials, were opposed to sending any women clerks there.

Nevertheless, after talking to the author, I decided to make an exception in her case, so she became the first woman Government employee at the Canyon. I Married a Ranger proves that the decision was a happy one.

It is a pleasure to endorse Mrs. Smith's book, and at the same time to pay a tribute of admiration to the women of the Service, both employees and wives of employees, who carry on faithfully and courageously under all circumstances.

Arno B. Cammerer
Associate Director,
National Park Service

"I Married A Ranger" has been typeset anew then rearranged for easier reading on the Internet by Browzer Books.

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Chapter I:

"So you think you'd like to work in the Park Office at Grand Canyon?"

"Sure!" "Where is Grand Canyon?" I asked as an afterthought.

I knew just that little about the most spectacular chasm in the world, when I applied for an appointment there as a Government worker.

Our train pulled into the rustic station in the wee small hours, and soon I had my first glimpse of the Canyon. Bathed in cold moonlight, the depths were filled with shadows that disappeared as the sun came up while I still lingered, spellbound, on the Rim.

On the long train journey I had read and re-read the Grand Canyon Information Booklet, published by the National Park Service. I was still unprepared for what lay before me in carrying out my r�le as field clerk there. So very, very many pages of that booklet have never been written�pages replete with dangers and hardships, loneliness and privations, sacrifice and service, all sweetened with friendships not found in heartless, hurrying cities, lightened with loyalty and love, and tinted with glamour and romance. And over it all lies a fascination a stranger without the gates can never share.

I was the first woman ever placed in field service at the Grand Canyon, and the Superintendent was not completely overjoyed at my arrival. To be fair, I suppose he expected me to be a clinging-vine nuisance, although I assured him I was well able to take care of myself. Time softens most of life's harsh memories, and I've learned to see his side of the question. What was he to do with a girl among scores of road builders and rangers? When I tell part of my experiences with him, I do so only because he has long been out of the Service and I can now see the humorous aspect of our private feud.

As the sun rose higher over the Canyon, I reluctantly turned away and went to report my arrival to the Superintendent. He was a towering, gloomy giant of a man, and I rather timidly presented my assignment. He looked down from his superior height, eyed me severely, and spoke gruffly.

"I suppose you know you were thrust upon me!"

"No. I'm very sorry," I said, quite meekly.

While I was desperately wondering what to do or say next, a tall blond man in Park uniform entered the office.

The Superintendent looked quite relieved.

"This is White Mountain, Chief Ranger here. I guess I'll turn you over to him. Look after her, will you, Chief?" And he washed his hands of me.

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Moving In

In the Washington office I had often heard of "White Mountain" Smith. I recalled him as the Government scout that had seen years of service in Yellowstone before he became Chief Ranger at Grand Canyon. I looked him over rather curiously and decided that I liked him very well. His keen blue eyes were the friendliest I had seen since I left West Virginia. He looked like a typical Western man, and I was surprised that his speech had a "down East" tone.

"Aren't you a Westerner?"

"No, I'm a Connecticut Yankee," he smiled. "But we drift out here from everywhere. I've been in the West many years."

"Have you ever been in West Virginia?" I blurted. Homesickness had settled all over me.

He looked at me quickly, and I reckon he saw that tears were close to the surface.

"No-o, I haven't been there. But my father went down there during the Civil War and helped clean up on the rebels!"

Sparks flew then and I forgot to be homesick. But he laughed and led me toward my new home.

We strolled up a slight rise through wonderful pine trees, with here and there a twisted juniper giving a grotesque touch to the landscape. The ground was covered with springy pine needles, and squirrels and birds were everywhere. We walked past rows and rows of white tents pitched in orderly array among the pines, the canvas village of fifty or more road builders. By and by we came to a drab gray shack, weather-beaten and discouraged, hunched under the trees as if it were trying to blot itself from the scene. I was passing on, when the Chief (White Mountain) stopped me with a gesture.

"This is your home," he said. Just that bald statement. I thought he was joking, but he pushed the door open and we walked inside. The tiny shack had evidently seen duty as a warehouse and hadn't been manicured since! But in view of the fact that the Park Service was handicapped by lack of funds, and in the throes of road building and general development, I was lucky to draw a real house instead of a tent. I began to see why the Superintendent had looked askance at me when I arrived. I put on my rose-colored glasses and took stock of my abode.

It was divided into two rooms, a kitchen and a combination living-dining-sleeping-dressing-bath-room. The front door was a heavy nailed-up affair that fastened with an iron hook and staple. The back door sagged on its leather hinges and moved open or shut reluctantly. Square holes were cut in the walls for windows, but these were innocent of screen or glass. Cracks in the roof and walls let in an abundance of Arizona atmosphere. The furniture consisted of a slab table that extended all the way through the middle of the room, a wicker chair, and a golden-oak dresser minus the mirror and lacking one drawer.

White Mountain looked surprised and relieved, when I burst out laughing. He didn't know how funny the financial inducements of my new job sounded to me while I looked around that hovel: "So much per annum and furnished quarters!"

"We'll fix this up for you. We rangers didn't know until this morning that you were coming," he said; and we went down to see if the cook was in a good humor. I was to eat at the "Mess House" with the road crew and rangers, provided the cook didn't mind having a woman around. I began to have leanings toward "Equal-Rights-for-Women Clubs," but the cook was as nice as could be. I fell in love with him instantly. Both he and his kitchen were so clean and cheerful. His name was Jack. He greeted me as man to man, with a hearty handclasp, and assured me he would look after me.

"But you'll have to eat what the men do. I ain't got time to fix fancies for you," he hastened to add.

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Meals and Deals

A steel triangle hung on a tree near the cookhouse door, and when dinner was ready Jack's helper struck it sharply with an iron bar. This made a clatter that could be heard a mile and brought the men tumbling from their tents to eat. As I was washing my hands and face in the kitchen I heard Jack making a few remarks to his boarders: "Now don't any you roughnecks forget there's a lady eatin' here from now on, and I'll be damned if there's goin' to be any cussin', either." I don't believe they needed any warning, for during the months I lived near their tents and ate with them they never "forgot."

Many of them no doubt had come from homes as good as mine, and more than one had college degrees. As they became accustomed to having me around they shed their reserve along with their coats and became just what they really were, a bunch of grown-up boys in search of adventure.

A week later it seemed perfectly natural to sit down to luncheon with platters of steak, bowls of vegetables, mounds of potatoes, and pots of steaming black coffee; but just then it was a radical change from my usual glass of milk and thin sandwich lunch. The food was served on long pine tables, flanked by backless benches. Blue and white enamel dishes, steel knives and forks, and of course no napkins, made up the service. We drank coffee from tin cups, cooling and diluting it with condensed milk poured from the original can. I soon learned that "Shoot the cow!" meant nothing more deadly than "Pass the milk, please!"

The rangers ate at a table apart from the other men. The Chief sat at the head of the table, and my plate was at his right. Several rangers rose to greet me when I came in.

"I'm glad you came," said one of them. "We are apt to grow careless without someone to keep the rough edges polished for us." That was Ranger Charley Fisk, the most loyal, faithful friend one could wish for. He was never too tired nor too busy to add a shelf here or build a cabinet there in my tiny cabin for me. But all that I had to learn later. There was Frank, Ranger Winess; he and the Chief had been together many years in Yellowstone; and Ranger West, and Ranger Peck. These and several more were at the table.

"Eat your dinner," the Chief advised, and I ate, from steak to pie. The three meals there were breakfast, dinner, and supper. No lettuce-leaf lunch for them.

Dinner disposed of, I turned my attention to making my cabin fit to live in. The cook had his flunky sweep and scrub the floor, and then, with the aid of blankets, pictures, and draperies from my trunks, the little place began to lose its forlorn look. White Mountain contributed a fine pair of Pendleton blankets, gay and fleecy. He spread a Navajo rug on the floor and placed an armful of books on the table. Ranger Fisk threw the broken chair outside and brought me a chair he had made for himself. Ranger Winess had been riding the drift fence while we worked, but he appeared on the scene with a big cluster of red Indian paintbrush blossoms he had found in a coulee. None of us asked if they were picked inside the Park.

No bed was available, and again Ranger Fisk came to the rescue. He lent me his cot and another ranger contributed his mattress.

White Mountain was called away, and when he returned he said that he had hired a girl for the fire look-out tower, and suggested that I might like to have her live there with me. "She's part Indian," he added.

"Fine. I like Indians, and anyway these doors won't lock. I'm glad to have her." So they found another cot and put it up in the kitchen for her.

She was a jolly, warm-hearted girl, used to life in such places. Her husband was a forest ranger several miles away, and she spent most of her time in the open. All day she stayed high in the fire tower, with her glasses scanning the surrounding country. At the first sign of smoke, she determined its exact location by means of a map and then telephoned to Ranger Headquarters. Men were on their way immediately, and many serious forest fires were thus nipped in the bud.

She and I surveyed each other curiously. I waited for her to do the talking.

"You won't stay here long!" she said, and laughed when I asked her why.

"This is a funny place to put you," she remarked next, after a glance around our new domain. "I'd rather be out under a tree, wouldn't you?"

"God forbid!" I answered earnestly. "I'm no back-to-nature fan, and this is primitive a-plenty for me. There's no bathroom, and I can't even find a place to wash my face. What shall we do?"

We reconnoitered, and found the water supply. We coaxed a tin basin away from the cook and were fully equipped as far as a bathroom was concerned.

Thea�for that was her Indian name�agreed that it might be well to fasten our doors; so we dragged the decrepit dresser against the front portal and moved a trunk across the back entrance. As there were no shades at the windows, we undressed in the dark and retired.

The wind moaned in the pines. A querulous coyote complained. Strange noises were everywhere around us. Scampering sounds echoed back and forth in the cabin. My cot was hard and springless as a rock, and when I stretched into a more comfortable position the end bar fell off and the whole structure collapsed, I with it. Modesty vetoed a light, since the men were still passing our cabin on their way to the tents; so in utter darkness I pulled the mattress under the table and there made myself as comfortable as possible. Just as I was dozing, Thea came in from the kitchen bringing her cot bumping and banging at her heels. She was utterly unnerved by rats and mice racing over her. We draped petticoats and other articles of feminine apparel over the windows and sat up the rest of the night over the smoky lamp. Wrapped in our bright blankets it would have been difficult to tell which of us was the Indian.

"I'll get a cat tomorrow," I vowed.

"You can't. Cats aren't allowed in the Park," she returned, dejectedly.

"Well, then rats shouldn't be either," I snapped. "I can get some traps I reckon. Or is trapping prohibited in this area?"

Thea just sighed.

Morning finally came, as mornings have a habit of doing, and found me flinging things back in my trunk, while my companion eyed me sardonic-wise. I had spent sufficient time in the great open spaces, and just as soon as I could get some breakfast I was heading for Washington again. But by the time I had tucked in a "feed" of fried potatoes, eggs, hot cakes, and strong coffee, a lion couldn't have scared me away. "Bring on your mice," was my battle cry.

At breakfast Ranger Fisk asked me quite seriously if I would have some cackle berries. I looked around, couldn't see any sort of fruit on the table, and, remembering the cook's injunction to eat what he set before me, I answered: "No, thank you; but I'll have an egg, please." After the laughter had subsided, White Mountain explained that cackle berries were eggs!

I told the rangers about the mice in my house, and the cook overheard the conversation. A little later a teamster appeared at my cabin with a tiny gray kitten hidden under his coat.

"Cook said you have mice, Miss. I've brought 'Tuffy' to you. Please keep him hid from the rangers. He has lived in the barn with me up to now."

With such a loyal protector things took a turn for the better, and my Indian friend, my wee gray cat, and myself dwelt happily in our little Grayhaven.

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