Digressions of J. Charles
© June 2004
The Indian Mating Tree
J. Charles Cheek
Crews of clearing contractor, Junior Murray, were felling trees along the rights of way for the 500,000-volt electric transmission line being built by Pacific Power & Light (PP&L) from south-central Idaho to Medford, Oregon. Trees being cut down were on land of the Fremont National Forest. The PP&L contract required the contractor to make his workers fully aware of the possibility of coming across cultural resources. Workers were instructed to report any findings to their boss and the PP&L construction inspector.
When the men falling trees in the rights-of-way with chain saws came across a tree that had signs of an old blaze about three feet above the ground they pointed it out to the inspector. The inspector in turn reported it to the Chief Inspector, Bob Sires. Sires contacted Junior Murray and they went to the site of the tree with the mystery blaze. Along the way they decided to have some fun spoofing the Forest Service’s greenhorn archeologist.
Fresh out of college and newly employed by the Forest Service, the young archeologist was called to the site and informed by Murray and Sires that they believed the tree to be an Indian mating tree. They claimed they had heard a legend in the area that a young buck taking a bride would consummate the marriage under a tree then blaze the tree with his tomahawk. Sires and Murray suggested that the tree be cut about five-foot above the ground in order to preserve the culturally significant blaze. They were displaying overly serious faces in order to hide their prank.
Unfortunately for them the young archeologist didn’t see the humor in it. In fact, he bought their story completely and ordered the entire tree protected until he could talk with the Forest Supervisor. He said the entire line might have to be rerouted around the tree. Now, the humor of the situation disappeared from the thoughts of Sires and Murray.
I was the Project Manager for PP&L and heard about the Indian Mating Tree when I got a call from the Forest Supervisor informing me of the serious nature of the find. The archeologist was sitting in his office at the time and had convinced him that it was a legitimate cultural resource – an Indian Mating Tree. “He’s thinking that the line should be rerouted around the tree,” said the Supervisor. “Maybe you better come down here and we’ll both go out there and see it for ourselves,” he strongly suggested.
“I’ll catch the 6am flight tomorrow for Klamath Falls and meet you at the site by 10 AM,” I replied. Then I called Sires and asked him to pick me up at the airport the next morning. I told him about the call from the Forest Supervisor and he didn’t comment other than to confirm that he was aware of the situation.
Sires meet me at the airport then he drove us the eighty miles to the Forest Supervisor’s office in Lakeview, Oregon. Along the way he confessed that it was a prank gone sour. He said that his clearing inspector was an amateur historian and believed that the blaze had nothing to do with Indians. He had previously researched the pioneer history of the area and found that a line blazed through the forest at that location was done to mark the boundary between the open range for sheep and cattle.
“Where is the book you read that in?” I asked.
“He said he got it from the library.”
The Supervisor, his greenhorn archeologist, and the PP&L inspector were already at the site when we arrived. It was a short meeting because the inspector had already told them about the history book that described a line that had been blazed in the late 1800s to separate the sheep and cattle people. The archeologist was instructed by his boss to find the book, review the situation further and report back to him with a recommendation.
That afternoon, I met the Supervisor back at his office and discussed the situation. Without revealing that the whole thing was a prank gone awry, I suggested that the archeologist might have been unduly influenced by Sires and Murray who were overly sensitive to the Indian cultural resource conditions of the Forest Service permit. He said he’d let me know what his decision was after hearing back from the archeologist.
It was a silent ride back to the airport at Klamath Falls that night as both Sires and I contemplated the potentially costly results of the prank. Rerouting the line around the tree would cost tens of thousands of dollars.
The Forest Supervisor telephoned me the next day and said he had decided that the line would not have to be rerouted around the tree. However, the tree was to be high-cut at ten feet above the ground. I was relieved and passed the news on to Sires who informed me that the clearing crew had bypassed the tree and would have to bring their equipment back to high-cut the tree. He said Murray had already told him it would cost an extra $1000 to bring the crew back. Then he quickly added, “But I’ll see to it that he does it for no charge.”
E – N – D
 Mr. Cheek has written dozens short stories under the general headings of True Stores from the 20th Century at Pacificorp and Digressions of J. Charles. He is also the author of the novel Stay Safe, Buddy – A Story of Humor and Horror during the Korean War,300 pages, Publish America ISBN # 159286631X