John Earl Martin
NOTE: This is an interesting history of the Singer Sewing Machine property in Madison Parish and its relation to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company. RPS March 2013.
This is a compilation of the work of several authors to trace the evolution of a primitive wilderness to the Singer Game Preserve to the Chicago Mill Game Management area, to a twenty year span under private hunting clubs, to in some parts soybean and cotton fields, and in other cases, to over 80,000 acres comprising the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge.
This happy ending was due in a large part to the study of the now-extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the 1930's and the subsequent dedication of many far-sighted individuals. It is to these individuals that this paper is dedicated.
John E. Martin 2012
The War Between the States left the South a graveyard of ashes and destruction. The people were crippled and penniless, with their foodstuffs and livestock either stolen by one army or the other, or destroyed by invading troops. Virtually all their personal property suffered a similar fate. Likewise, the infrastructure of the whole country was in shambles, to add to their misery.
However, the southern
forests stood towering over this scene as it had through the ages. Even before
the destruction of the War, few southerners had the wherewithal to harvest this bounty, nor roads or access to streams for its
transportation. Therefore, timber harvest was limited primarily to plantation
owners or a few locals utilizing "groundhog sawmills" to produce
lumber for their homes, stores, and barns.
After the war, Reconstruction governments took over the South, enabled by Northern troops. Congress passed laws to prohibit landowners from selling their lands at a profitable price. One such law prohibited Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida from selling any of their public or unclaimed land, which amounted to about one third of the land acreage in these four states.
The great eastern forests had long been decimated by the western migration of colonists toward the Mississippi River. When the Great Chicago Fire occurred in 1871, it caused such a great harvest of pine timber around the Great Lakes region that by 1880, it was estimated that only a ten year supply remained. The nation was headed for a timber famine. But just as the North was running out of timber, a brand new source opened up. With the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and the departure of Union troops, southern politicians regained control of their state governments. Cash-starved Southerners with land and timber met with anxious Northerners with plenty of money who needed land and timber. The timber boom was on.
In the South, investors found land to be plentiful and dirt cheap, and labor plentiful. Poor whites and freed blacks were willing to work the fields and forests for fifty cents per day. Vast forests changed hands for virtually nothing. Prices of one dollar per acre were not uncommon, and one British company got over a million acres in Louisiana for twelve and one-half cents per acre.
COMING OF SINGER
In 1913, an event occurred that would have a profound effect on North Louisiana. Douglas Alexander, president of Singer Sewing Machine Company, bought nearly 83,000 acres of timberland in the area to ensure an ample supply of gum timber with which to build cabinets for his sewing machines. By then, the land prices had appreciated to nineteen dollars per acre. He immediately designated the area as a "Refuge", meaning that no trees were to be cut without his permission, and as further protection for his timber, no hunting was to be allowed. Thus was born "The Refuge", the "Singer Tract", or to locals, simply "Singer". In 1920, after realizing the problem with locals using the property as a source of food and fuel as they had for decades, Singer offered the property to the Louisiana Fish and Game people for management. The State was to hire two wardens and Singer was to furnish two to enforce trespass and game laws. J. J. Kuhn, Tom Jefferson, and Ed Cockran were among the early wardens. They were joined in 1939 by Jim Parker, Gus Willett, Sam Denton, and Jesse Laird. Jesse Laird already knew Singer thoroughly, having run herds of cattle of his own as well as cattle for local owners for several years.
The lands involved in the sale to Singer shows the intense shuffling of landowners in the maelstrom of the Reconstruction Era. Major among these landholders were as follows:
The Ashly Company
George C. Waddill
Madison Parish Levee Board
Friend L. Maxwell
Britton and Koontz Bank
Many of these holdings were abandoned cotton plantations. This is evidenced when walking through the timber and observing the abundance of levees and drainage ditches with oak trees growing from them that appear to be 75 to 100 years old.
Between 1913 and 1918, Singer was also able to annex some additional 45,000 acres of the Fisher-Ayres Tract, bringing Singer's total holdings in Northeast Louisiana to around 130,000 acres.
The twentieth century brought a number of sizable sawmills into Madison Parish. Notable among these were the Englewood Lumber Company founded in 1904 at the present-day site of the Richard Harris home on Rosedale. Englewood had over 100 people working and had fifteen miles of track running into the woods. When all timber near the track was cut, the company would take up the track and move it to another cutting site. There was a sawmill at Mound, La. and there was the Krus Brothers Mill at Tallulah that was bought by the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company of Greenville, Mississippi in 1928. At Tendal, La The Tendal Lumber Company was established by Lee Kathan and Dave Johnson in 1918. Sondheimer, La. boasted the Sondheimer Lumber Company mill owned by the Cohn family of Chicago.
Dr. Arthur Allen was a highly respected ornithologist and professor at Cornell University and a leading expert on bird behavior. In 1924 Dr. Allen and his wife Elsa went to Florida to test some new ideas in sound equipment and cameras. While there he was guided by a young man named Morgan Tindall, who offered to show him an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Of course, Allen jumped at the chance, for Ivorybills' existence had not been reported for years and were thought to be extinct. They did see a pair and went back to Cornell with photographs to prove it. So was developed the idea of studying photographs and behavior instead of studying the dead carcasses of rare birds. Dr. Allen was immersed in his teaching and doing research on recording bird sounds, but he never forgot the Ivorybills that he and Elsa had seen in Florida.
In 1932, a Madison Parish lawyer and outdoorsman named Mason Spencer took a freshly-killed Ivorybill to Conservation officials in Baton Rouge. Weeks earlier, these officials had issued Spencer a permit to "collect" one in response to his boast of knowing where there was an 'abundance' of them.
Ornithologists rushed to Baton Rouge and soon verified Spencer's claim. To Arthur Allen, this appeared as the premier opportunity to perfect a new type of bird study where the guns were left at home and birds were "shot" with camera, microphones and binoculars.
Then, in 1934, Dr. George Lowery of LSU published his famous Birds of Louisiana, in which the Ivorybill received needed publicity. Thus, the stage is set for the beginning of a great adventure.
EXPEDITION TO SINGER
In 1935 a team left Cornell University, making a brief foray into Florida, but finding nothing interesting, headed immediately to Louisiana. The team consisted of Dr. Arthur Allen, who would film and photograph, Peter Paul Kellog to run the sound recording equipment, the artist George Sutton for scouting and for identification of birds, and a young graduate student named James Tanner "to act in any necessary capacity." The sound equipment had been bought and assembled by a New York stock broker named Albert Brand. Brand was supposed to accompany them to perfect the sound equipment in the field, but was forced at the last minute to cancel out because of sickness.
The 1935 trip was a great success. The group was guided by J. J. Kuhn, a local man and Singer warden. They were able to find Ivorybills and to get a multitude of photographs and sound recordings of the rare bird. (Many pictures taken during Tanner’s studies may be seen by clicking here.)
Jim Tanner returned to Singer in 1937 to study the Ivorybill. This study lasted almost three years. That same year Singer sold a six thousand acre tract to Tendal Lumber Company in the area around Horseshoe Lake and Lake Despair. Two years later in 1939, Singer sold the timber rights on the remaining acreage to Chicago Mill and Lumber Company.
Tanner had another serious blow during this time (1939) when he learned that his friend and companion J. J. Kuhn had defied Governor Richard Leche's instruction to "get lost" from a certain area of Singer because he was bringing in a large party to hunt. Leche was so irate when Mason Spencer delivered Kuhn's reply that he retaliated by cutting Kuhn's salary so severely that he was forced to resign. Also, Kuhn had undergone the loss of a son through an accidental shooting.
By 1940, through the efforts of John Baker of the Audubon Society and others, the public was becoming aware of the rapid destruction of the southern hardwood forests.
The publicity surrounding the Ivorybill and the resulting studies involved played a great part in this awareness. Even today, some seventy-five years later, the names "Singer", "Ivorybill", and "Conservation" are almost synonymous.
In 1940, John Baker and the Audubon Society persuaded La. Senator Allen J. Ellender to introduce a bill to establish the "Tensas Swamp National Park" which would prevent the cutting and preserve sixty thousand acres of Singer that remained intact. It was a good bill, but it was not funded. The money would have to be raised.
Baker then sought and got an endorsement from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the bill. He was also able to get pledges of support from the heads of the U. S. Forestry Services, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service. In 1942, even the head of the War Production Board said that he did not consider the complete cutting of the Singer Tract to be essential to the War effort. Louisiana Governor Sam Jones pledged $200,000 from the State of Louisiana for the purchase and the governors of the neighboring states of Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi sent a joint letter to Chicago Mill urging them to release their lease on the timber. In 1942 Senator Ellender again introduced the bill for the Tensas Swamp National Park that provided for private funding, but again the bill failed to get out of committee. When in 1943 (December) Chicago Mill president Jim Griswold and his counsel met with wildlife officials, Governor Sam Jones, John Baker, and other interested parties, Chicago Mill stated its position that it was not willing to even discuss any plans that would interfere with their plans to complete its cutting of the Singer Tract in accordance with their contract rights.
Earlier in 1943 with negotiations stalemated, Dick Pough was sent secretly back to Singer by John Baker to confirm the continued existence of the Ivorybill. In six weeks of searching, he had found a single bird--a female. He sent word to fellow staff member and artist Don Eckelberry that if he ever intended to draw an Ivorybill from life, he had better hurry and take advantage of this, perhaps his last opportunity.
Don Eckelberry's two week observation and sketching of the bird is the last universally accepted sighting of the Ivorybill in the United States.
Tim Gallagher's Grail Bird has a very interesting
section, especially to locals. Tim visited with Jesse Laird, who stepped in to
aid Jim Tanner after J. J. Kuhn's break with Louisiana politics. Laird had
helped Kuhn the year before, and guided Dick Pough
and Don Eckelberry in 1944. He also talked with
Jesse's son Gene and his friends, the Faught
brothers, Billy and Bobby, and relived with them their experiences with the
artist during that cold winter of 1944. Though quite young by today's standard,
these men were still able to paint a vivid picture of Singer as it was around
the "Steel Camp".
Singer had sold 13,491 acres to Chicago Mill in 1942 in the midst of the
negotiations with John Baker, et al. In January of 1944, Singer sold Chicago
Mill the balance of the acreage.
Chicago Mill's circumstance was much improved in 1943 when some 505 German Prisoners of War were sent to Camp Ruston's satellite camp in Tallulah. These men were hardened veterans of Irwin Rommel's Afrika Korps. Nearly all of them could be classified as artisans of some nature. They welcomed the opportunity to work on the farms and forests of Madison Parish. They were paid fifty cents per day, fed the same rations as their guards, and transported by truck to their work sites. These men were a boon to Madison parish in general and to Chicago Mill in particular. Farms and forests had no labor force, as all men between ages 18-35 were in the military along with many young women. Chicago Mill was having to recruit women to work in the sawmill, especially in the box factory, so these prisoners were a great help. With this impetus, Chicago Mill was able to run its facility 24 hours a day.
At the end of World War II, Chicago Mill had the pleasant task of sating the appetite of the peacetime housing boom. The "Reserve" was still under a lease agreement with the State and still protected by State wardens. Many of these names are remembered today: Jesse Laird, Jim Parker, Tolbert Williams, J. D. McGraw, Oran Lewis, Jimmy Willhite to name a few.
As a sort of epilog to the saga of the Ivorybill, in December of 1948 one of Jim Tanner's former students, Arthur MacMurray visited the Singer Tract in the vain hope of finding evidence of an Ivorybill. Tanner had provided him with contact information and was anxiously awaiting word from him. On January 8, 1949 MacMurray wrote:
"The Singer Tract has been cleaned of all its commercial timber as far as I could gather. No Ivorybills have been seen at John's Bayou for at least three years, according to a resident who has lived adjacent to it for twenty-two years. John's Bayou has a railway for lumber passing through it and passing all the way north to some point west of Tallulah, The Ivorybills left Johns Bayou soon after the large gum tree which had been their nest tree for several years was lumbered."
MacMurray goes on to say:
"Only one pair was believed to be in the entire region, having been seen in December of 1948 near North Lake #1 and that they appeared to be wandering over a much larger area than before"
The last stands of old sweet gums were being cut at the time. This sighting, a second hand but highly reliable report took place on E. C. McCallip's property on the Little Fork Road south of Waverly on December 17, 1948. Anxiously MacMurray visited McCallip's on December 23, 1948, but found only cut-over timber.
GAME MANAGEMENT AREA
In the late 1950's Louisiana made the decision to open all of Singer to the public as a game management area. Parts of Franklin and Tensas Parishes opened in 1958 and Madison Parish in 1960. Considerable progress was made in game management and much information was garnered from the undertaking. Perhaps this could be called Louisiana's real entrance into modern game management. This phase ended in 1965 with the acquisition of the property by the Pritzker family of Chicago.
With the change in ownership, Chicago Mill began leasing its woodlands to private hunting clubs. These leases were of varying sizes and were leased primarily to area sportsmen who found a ready supply of members anxious to join, work on, protect, and to pay for the privilege of hunting thereon. These clubs were immensely popular with hunters of the entire area. This period could probably be considered the hey-day for northeast Louisiana hunters.
In the late sixties, with soybean prices soaring and most of the good timber gone, Chicago Mill management could see vast increase in revenue in farming. The cutting tractors began to roll. As the trees were cut and piled and in some cases still burning, land-hungry farmers began planting soybeans amid the debris left from the clearing. As early as 1967, a vast area was opened in Southwest East Carroll Parish, followed immediately by huge tracts in Tensas and Franklin Parishes. These tracts, even after these many years, are still referred to as "out on Chicago Mill" or down on Chicago Mill, etc.
Witnessing this carnage around 1970, people began to be really concerned. These people were not your usual "tree-huggers". They were not overly concerned with wildlife or ecology, the past or probably not the future, but this destruction had them concerned. This feeling is echoed by this letter to the editor of Madison Journal, a weekly newspaper in Tallulah, LA dated in the summer of 1975:
Have you smelled
the smoke around town lately? The cool nights have caused a temperature
inversion which keeps the smoke low and fairly stable. It's particularly
prominent south and west of town. It emanates of course, from the multitudes of
burning windrows of former woodlands. The smoke, however, seems to contain
subtleties not entirely characteristic of burning logs. After a little
sniffling around, I have been able to separate some of these intangibles. It is
the odor of tens of thousands of songbirds and small animals, thousands of
deer, hundreds of turkeys and the last of the bear. It is millions of these
creatures yet unborn.
It is your great grandfather's first buck and your great grandson's also. It's Broken Bow, Ten Lick, Madison Recreation and others. It's a family drive through the woods on an autumn evening. It is the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt and Ben Lilly. It was virgin forests, Ivory-billed woodpeckers, wolves, cougars and enchantment.
It is wealth in saw-logs for those who don't need it and poverty in flooded soybean markets for those who struggle. It is destroyed roads, ineffective politicians and passive citizens.
It is a funeral pyre of our heritage past, present, and future.
Sincerely Billy Gruff
Long after the ancient forest that was Singer was gone, the Tract finally became a national wildlife refuge. Public Law Number 96-285 was approved in June 1980. This bill directed the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of the Army to purchase a refuge of about 50,000 acres in Madison, Tensas and Franklin Parishes. There was still cutting going on, and Chicago Mill was still very much involved, and controversy continued to reign. This time, however, the lands were secured and the dozers stopped.
Then in 1985 Public
Law Number 99-191 provided more funds for acquisition of Tensas Refuge lands.
In 1985 as plans were being made for the Visitor Center, James (now Doctor)
Tanner visited Madison Parish and Singer. He and Tuck Stone, refuge manager,
were able to walk in the Tract and reminisce about the forest that had been and
the birds that Tanner had followed day after day during the years 1935-1941.
Finally on June 25, 1998, the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge was dedicated. Senator John Breaux presided, Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, Representative Jerry Huckaby, and James Pulliam, Regional Director of U. S. Fish and Wildlife, all spoke, as well as local dignitaries. There were two other special guests--two mounted Ivorybills, specimens from Cornell University, quite possibly collected on Singer.
CHICAGO MILL NOTES
Lets back up a bit and cover some of the dramatic changes that took place within Chicago Mill. Chicago Mill and Lumber Co. was founded in 1828 by Walter Paepcke by the merging of four lumber companies from Memphis. The company headquartered at Greenville, Mississippi with main offices in Chicago. After a restructuring in 1933 brought on by the depression, Chicago Mill began contractual arrangement for its logging operations. By 1980, Chicago Mill owned over 200,000 acres, mostly in Louisiana. The Tallulah Mill was bought in 1928 from the Kruz Brothers. In February, 1964, John Maher, a director of the corporation from Houston, Texas, instigated a dissident's raid on the corporation to gain control. At that time he claimed to have twenty percent of the 508,000 plus shares of the stock. A bitter proxy fight ensued that lasted for two months and finally ended in victory for the management.
In late 1964 Mr. Maher sold his stock to Mr. Jay Pritzker, a Chicago attorney and Maher stepped out of the picture. Mr. Pritzker and his associate Mr. W. H. Gonyea, a West Coast lumberman, tendered an offer to Chicago Mill's Board of Directors to purchase the assets and assume the liabilities of the corporation.
The offer was considered by the Board who subsequently recommended acceptance of the offer, which was the best they had ever received for the Stock. The offer was accepted by the stockholders. On June 29, 1965 the corporation ceased to exist and entity continued as a partnership using the same name. Examination of parish records show that the Tallulah plant and the Newellton plant and the property and rights-of-way involved sold to a Mr. Albert Sandel and the land went to Mr. Simon Zunamon, who was chief accountant for the Pritzker family. Even to this day people occasionally express surprise that after some eighty years as a corporation, the entity becomes a partnership. It is usually the reverse order. Checking dates against events, it is evident how internal changes affected conditions on the Singer Tract.
With this sketchy background, let's go back to the 1980's. The discord noted earlier led to several organizations that sprang up to aid Dick Pugh's Nature Conservancy and John Baker's Audubon Society. Notable among all was the Tensas Conservancy Coalition, founded in 1981 by Skipper Dickson and aided by Dr. Michael Caire at a meeting of some 75 people representing 30 different conservation organizations including DU, LA, Coon Hunters, La. Wildlife Federation, La. Wild Turkey Federation, Ouachita Wildlife Unit, Ouachita Sierra Club, Monroe Jaycees, Ozark Society and others. Their primary tactic was for the representatives to return home and inform their members of the urgency of the situation and to launch a campaign to notify the various officials of their feelings and if possible, to put pressure on ones who were against the acquisition. Some of this opposition was at home from some farmer and hunting clubs. But when they came face to face with the alternative, they became supporters also.
The dedication ceremony for the Refuge was held on April 1986. On this occasion, Amy Ouchley, staff writer for the Madison Journal (and wife of Refuge Manager Kelby Ouchley) wrote:
to save over seventy thousand acres of the Tensas swamp conducted over the last
six years was accomplished by a diverse group of government agencies and
individuals who gathered on the stage of the Tallulah Elementary School (here
because of inclement weather) to applaud each other's efforts!"
On hand for the event were representatives of the Tensas Conservancy Coalition, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U. S. Corps of Engineers, La. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Madison Parish Police Jury, U. S. Representatives John Breaux and Jerry Huckaby, Rep. Francis Thompson and others. During the ceremony Skipper Dickson praised the acquisition effort as one of cooperation, and called the purchase "the biggest land deal since the Louisiana Purchase." Further lauding the cooperation, Sen. John Breaux said "no other refuge has enjoyed the public support that this one has.”
The following paragraph is from an unpublished essay by Jim Tanner that was given to author Tim Gallagher by Mrs. Nancy Tanner when he interviewed her in 2004, after Jim's death in 1991 of a brain tumor.
Jack Kuhn, and I--lived in the forest, and I came to know it well. It was a
bottom/and forest of oaks, sweet gum, wild pecan, hackberry and several other
kinds of trees covering over a hundred square miles. At the time of my living
there almost all of this was virgin swamp timber, a beautiful forest with many
big trees. A few small cotton plantations had once been cleared and cultivated,
but had long since been abandoned to and reclaimed by the forest. The
primitiveness of the area was its greatest charm. All the animals that had ever
lived there in the memory of man, excepting the Carolina parakeet and the
passenger pigeon, still lived there. The hand of man had been laid so lightly
on the deeper woods and its inhabitants that it took an experienced eye to see
the traces that had been made. The naturalness of the area became more real and
impressive the longer I lived and the more I learned in the forest”
I know that looking down, the Arthur Allens, and John Bakers, the Dick Poughs, the J. J. Kuhns and Jim Tanners, the Mason Spencers, the Jesse Lairds, and Jim Parkers, Tom Jeffersons and Tolbert Williams, and a myriad of woodsmen long since gone, would be proud of their Singer, and would know that finally, we cared.
The News Star, Monroe, LA 1982
Bales, Stephen Lyn, Ghost Bird, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press 2010
Gallagher, Tim. The Grail Bird. New York, 2005, 93-98
Hoose, Phillip. The Race To Save The Lord God Bird. New York: Melanie Kropa Books, Harra Strauss, and Giroux, n.d.
Jackson, J. A. In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Smithsonian Books, Harper Collins, 2006
Moncrief, Robert L. The Economic Development of the Tallulah Territory, Thesis, Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University, 1937
Ouchley, Amy. The Madison Journal, April 16, 1986
Shipley, John R. The Story of Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, Greenville, MS. Unpublished paper
Tanner, James T. The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, Mineola, NY, Dover Publications, 1942
Terres, John. Discovery, New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1961
Williams, Geneva, ed. Minnie Murphy's Notes on Madison Parish. Madison Historical Society (1996) p 52
 The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, Phillip Hoose, Melanie Kropa Books, Farrar Strauss, and Giroux, New York, pp 29,30
 Ibid, p. 31
 Ibid, p. 32
 Ibid, pp. 76,77
 Ghost Bird, Steven Bales, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tenn. Pp. 200-203
 1891 Parish Ownership Map, Madison Parish Clerks Office, Tallulah, LA.
 Minnie Murphy's Notes on Madison Parish, Geneva Williams, ed. Madison Historical Society, Tallulah, LA 1996, p. 52
 The Economic Development of the Tallulah Territory, a Master's Thesis from Louisiana State University, by Robert L. Moncrief, 1937, p. 44
 Ibid Hoose pp. 55, 56, 65
 Ibid, Hoose p. 70
 Ghost Bird, Stephen Lyn Bales, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Term. 2010 p. 35
 Ibid, Hoose, pp 66, 67
 Ibid, Hoose p. 116
 Ibid, Bales, p. 198
 Ibid, Hoose, p. 118
 In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, J. A. Jackson, Smithsonian Books, Harper Collins, publ. 2006, p. 144
 lbid, pp. 119-123
 Discovery, John Terres, ed., J. B. Lippincott, New York, 1961
 Grail Bird, Tim Gallagher, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 2005, p. 16
 "Steel Camp" name origin uncertain. There is information that a family of "Steeles" lived there in early days.
 Madison Parish Clerks Office Conv. Bk FF, pp 467, 469, 473
 Ibid., Hoose, pp. 127, 128
 Ibid, Jackson, p. 151
 Monroe News Star, Monroe, La. July 26, 1981
 Interview Marion Collier, Crowville, La.; Interview Sharon Chapman, Waverly, La.
 The Story of Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, John R. Shipley, Washington County Historical Society, Greenville, Mississippi, p. 74 an unpublished paper
 Ibid, Jackson, pp. 153, 154
 Ibid, Shipley
 Madison Parish Clerk' Office, Tallulah, La., Record Bk. PP 944-964
 Monroe,Louisiana, News Star, June 17, 1981
 Madison Journal, Tallulah, La. April 16, 1986, Amy Ouchley