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lha San Francisco Sunday Call
THE SKY PILOT TO THE LUMBERJACKS
WW&RE a Missionary Must Be First a Man. Afterward a Preacher, "Biggins'"
• Has a Congregation of 30.000 in 250 Camps. r
■•/■ ■ ../.... - • -
The Sky Pilot, His Church and His Audience
CoDvrieht .1010 by A. H. Richardson
PASTOR of the "Parish of the Pines" is the
Rev. Francis E. Higgins, an evangel, who
ministers to the spiritual and often the tem
poral wants of a congregation of 30,000, and yet
has no church. He is the original of Norman
Duncan's stories of the nprthwest. His follow
ers are lumberjacks and his parish comprises the
vast timber lands of the northwest, which he
traverses with a dog drawn sledge. How he
preaches in the language of the woods and how
he practices muscular Christianity are told here.
, , I F I were getting ready for my work again,"
1 said the Rev. Francis E. Higgins, "I would take
I lessons in boxing." He smiled a good humored
smile from a pair of Irish blue eyes. "The
man that goes into the woods to preach to men
has to be a man first and a preacher afterward."
He is Higgins, just plain Higgins, to the saloon
keepers he has put out of business and the councils he
has awakened to their duty in the lumbering towns
of the Great Lakes. , But to his parishioners, the
men who cut the timber, he is "the Pilot." He has
no church. His sermons are preached in the low,
dimly lighted bunkhouse of the camp, with its double
tier of straw filled bunks and its red hot stove around,
which hang the half dry "mackinaws" and mittens of
the men. And with a blanket covered barrel for his
pulpit the Pilot preaches in the lingo of his hearers.
Perhaps it is the story of the Prodigal Son.
"He got tired of living at home with the old man,
boys, so he packed his turkey and went out to blow
his stake. Where did he land? You know. He ended
in the snake room. And there the old man found
him, and took him home and sobered him up."
Committees, officials and public sentiment are con
serving the forests. Higgins, single handed, is con
serving the lumberjacks. He has no church, but he
has a congregation of 30,000 Irish, Scotch, French-
Canadian, American—they wait for him.
The missionary travels all over the timber region
of Minnesota with his team of dogs. Although Hig
gins is a man who weighs more than 200 pounds,
his beautiful team of dogs carried him 40 miles, to
Little Fork, in six and a half hours. When there is
a crust on the snow he can travel anywhere in the
open timber, regardless of roads. He says his team
is worth $500 to him.
. Sometimes he is caught out at night and is obliged
to camp in the woods. He has a small tent and builds
a fire in it, cuts boughs and fixes a bed on the snow,
and with a dog on each side of him he sleeps com
fortably and with a conscious security. He feeds the
dogs but once a day— at night. He generally shoots a
rabbit or two during the day. Sometimes he cooks a
part of one for himself and gives the dogs all they
can eat of the raw meat.
Higgins is the first preacher that has found his
way.to this forest, where there is no person except
ing the sturdy pioneer that is blazing the way for civ
ilization and progress, and the first meeting was held
in the cabin of the oldest pioneer, a man who has not
had a sight of civilization for more than 10 years.
There were 20 homesteaders present at the meeting,
and to their credit be it said that reverently they sat
and quietly they listened to the first spiritual mes
His territory extends from Duluth 200 miles west,
south to Braincrd and north to the Rainy river.
There are 250 camps in this region.
A lumber camp has much the same appearance as a
very small and rough looking village. The foreman is.
the arbiter of almost life and: death, and beyond his
"say so" there is no court; of appeal. .The' activities
of the camp begin with the first streak of dawn, when
the cook begins to prepare the morning meal, which
consists chiefly of beans, porridge and hot tea, sweet
ened with mlfrasses. After breakfast the men are
assigned to their day's work, the hewers often going,
three or four miles from the camp. The teamsters get
ready to haul the first logs to the railroad or the
river. The teams are often composed; of four •to six
horses to drag the monster logs, lashed together .with
heavy chains, over the rough places and up the
The men work, until sundown. Then they hasten
back to camp to prepare for supper, the principal meal
of the day. usually consists of potatoes, cream of
tartar biscuit, sour dough bread, boiled beef or some
■fcoinr. ispm Camp to Camp
Photo by Hakkerup
sort of game and tea. After supper trie men amuse
themselves as best they can some fall asleep, others
play cards or tell stories. Since the missionary has
entered the field the men also have books to read.
,:' When the camp breaks in the spring and the "boys"
go to town in search of their own ruin in the guise of
the only pleasures they know, they find him waiting
for them, watching over them still. *
"Who's that?" asked a stranger? in one of .the old
time saloons, seeing; ham take a drunken boy by the"
throat and carry him out bodily.
"That's Higgins," replied a man in spiked boots: and
mackinaw. "His job's keeping us' boys;out of hell,
and he's the only man on the job."' -.-*..'
There is no cant or "grand standing" about his
work. Following his congregation. into the haunts of
their temptations is! simply a part of his duty ;as he
sees it. And the men recognize it as such. It does
not occur to them that they arc wit«*»ssing an appli
cation of practical Christianity such as the modern
world seldom sees.
It is easy to listen to the tale of the good Samaritan
.' if, you see him exemplified before , you in "the person:
of the man .: who is telling the story. And many a;
member of v his congregation the Pilot has with his'
own hands taken out of the snake room, the filthy
dens where they; are; thrown to snore ' and . groan . and;
shriek themselves back to -consciousness after the
- adulterated whisky of "The Lumberman's Home" or
"Jake's Place." " .< *
And if during the 'process of washing them up or
:nursing them .through pneumonia the Pilot has
: "rubbed it into them," it is his recognized right so to
do. He has proved that he means what he. says.
The friend who would save a man in ; places where ?
they give him "doped" whiskey, take his winter wages
of $400 in a. night . and cast him . out in ; the . morning
without a cent, has need of a strong right arm. And
the Pilot does -not hesitate to use his.
> "A young.fellow, named Pat -Murphy, a likely lad,
asked me to look out for him one spring," he said,
/ "but: he'd been in town a whole day before I heard of
> it. ; Then - I found in Jake Hart's place, one of the;
worst. Just as I came in the door ,he ; put a r double
: handful of bills down on the bar. 'Here, bungswatter,'
he said, 'set up. the house.' ,
"The men crowded up for their drinks, and. the bar
' keeper took a few bills 'off the pile. But T: knew as
soon ,as i Pat's back was turn ,' the - whole pile ; would
go into the till.
:".'■■ '■" I. ■■'■■■.. , *, ,:' ■ '. ' ■ ":..' ■"■/ ■- . ' ' '■ '' ■
Rev. Francis E. Higgins and His Dog Team
'"My" turn, Pat,'. I said, putting my hand over it.
'I'll take this.'' '• ; ".-'•'.'
."'Look;here, Higgins,' said;the ,bar keeper, 'what
do you mean by butting in this way?'
"This is my job; and I'm. going to see it-through",'
I.said. He struck at me, but couldn't reach me; so
he came over the bar with a spring. ; But before he
landed I caught him on the point of the jaw, and while
he ; was still stretched out on the floor I got Pat out 'of
the place. , When ■he was on the train j for Wisconsin
I sent a draft for his money to his old mother. ,
"It used to be. easier. When they logged by water
the camps were far away from th* towns, and the
boys were; safe for the winter. They could only have
a log fall on * them* or . get cut ;in two by a; saw, or
something like that, all ; in the day's work. But now
they log by rail, and the towns spring up about the
camps' like leeches. * That's what * they are, leeches,
made up of saloons and gambling .hells' and : worse.
What do they give a boy who's worked from dark to
dark six days; a week? ( Nothing but what * his money
will buy, badl liquor, a crooked game and women that
cities have tired of. It isn't only one big spree in ; the
spring now. It's a little one every Sunday. The- boss
has •to send ' a wagon on Monday'■ to gather ; his men
out of the; snake rooms. .*
"Not that all woodsmen drink. Some of the older
ones are sober, steady men, with ] families. * But the
young fellows don't know anythingMse, though they
are quick enough to take it when it comes their way.
They, don't get a show.
- "I know, because I have worked in the woods my
self. I grew up on a frontier farm in Canada, hunting
with bow and arrow with, the Indian boys, and work
ing in the woods with my father. I saved what little
money earned, and "when I was 20 went to Toronto
for my first schooling. Five years later I was through
the high school and in my first little church out in
Barnum, Minn. '
"One day I was standing on a log, in - the river,
watching the men breaking the logjam. The Jogs
were piled up 20 feet high, and the men were working
right in the face of the jam, when suddenly they got
the key log and the jam gave way. We all had *" to
jump for. our lives, and.so the men found out who I
was. While we-were sitting on the bank, watching,
the logs go down, all smooth and quiet, the men asked
me to preach to them,-and I; did.
" 'Boys,' I said, 'you're on the merry go round. You
work all winter in the; woods, and come down in the
spring and blow your; money. You go back on the
drive, and blow your money. You go into, the mills
and •> blow your money. ' Then you go back to
;the woods, and blow your money. What does it get
you? ;; Nothing . but the ■■ snake room. It goes to buy
diamonds for other men's wives. Jake Sharkey's wife
says she can have all she wants. Her husband's got
■a;thousand men working for him in the woods! She
meant you, boys. Are you going to do it again after
this drive? -• *
"'You can't stop?. I ' know you can't. But the grace
of God in your hearts can help you *to stop, and it's
the only' thing that can.' And then we prayed and
sang. . - ;
" 'Come out to the camp and talk to us, parson,' one
of them said when we.were shaking hands. 'Nobody
wastes much time talking to us.'. t ""-■*/* '
; "And so I went. And T told them the truth as we
all knew it. I didn't have to preach hell to them.
They knew that They'd seen it in the snake rooms.
The love of God was harder for men who'd always had
to pay: for what they got to,understand. But at last
some of them began to see what I meant.
. "One c night, just as "I. was starting home, a man
named John Sornberger . came to me with tears; run
ning down his face.
My God 1'; he says, 'if you know anything to help
me tell me about it.' We .went to an empty shack and
I ; talked \ to: him and prayed " with him all night. v ; He
told me an awful story Of a life of thievery and crime.
Once he had hit a man with a. jug and ' left him
for dead, and spent a year in hiding. . At the end of
that time '■- he found.that the man had got well, so he
went back. He was a 'dough puncher,' a cook, and a
good one,, but such a drunkard and thief that :he
couldn't keep a job. He was a kind of tramp, going
from camp to camp, staying a few days, and then get
ting thrown out for ""* drinking or) stealing. .
;"'Well. John,' I said, 'the first thing is to get you
straight with the authorities.' He was willing to go
REV FRANCIS E
. HIGGINS , ,
;. Vhoto by Freuds Studio
to jail, but the sheriff didn't send him there when I
promised to keep my eye on him. : ■ .
' "I got him a job in another camp, and he stuck to it
t and paid; up ; all ; that ;he could of his • back d ebts.^/*' :T
• ."Two years later; he got a'" job in the ; summer cook
ing - or -a ; railroad ? construction crew. " A farmer's
daughter brought them milk every morning, and
pretty soon John came to me" to know if ;I; thought he
might marry her. I • found ; she knew 1 the -story; of, his
! life andi had forgiven" it, and so after a■. time I married
them. ; . Three years '. later •he became "my first mis
sionary. , * . ■ s^BßmmWs^O^mkm^mmmVmWm
("The sum of $200 means a; missionary to us in the
woods, for! the boys furnish the rest of ■ the money
themselves;,,;.'. That's why I - have left -' my work and
come: out! to ;tell' about their needs.. No one man ! can
.reach them all. This ; year :lam : going to ; send \ a man
into northern Michigan, where the conservation people
would tell you that } .the! timber •is ! all cut, but where
there are 10,000 men still at work. -
-■. "I; didn't ask the boys for; any money, "*•because:l
knew that? everybody who eve» went * near the ' camps
did that. At first'they: kept Jon their hats and smoked
while I was talking, and 'finally one night I wore my
, hat myself. - When I; got T up 1 I said," 'Boys, this is the
only, church .we've got. Let's make rit;as-' good , a one
as we can.' I took off; my hat. And every hat came
off;.:.'., '".".-:•-/.:;:■"!"•;:•";";;■. ;/;;..'./".;:. ;„,; //;;'//';;
: "Another time a big Frenchman was grinding his
ax : while .I ; was talking. - 'The ; boys T have asked me
to come out here and talk to them,' I said to him, 'and
I'll be ; glad if you'll wait a few minutes to grind that
"He went right on and began to whistle. P*"*^
Mike O'Leary, the blacksmith, stepped: up too him,
took.him by the shoulder and threw.;him;out of th«
door. 'I'm,roadmonkeying for the puot, i .«•*• *» nave •£•
to know,* he ; said, 'and any damned peasoup ;< that
thinks T can't do >it can step up right now. So atte?
that it was good sledding forme. . ♦t,.-
--"The camp was always ; swept ; before. I got tner-^
and the boys knew what hymns they wanted to sing.
'Jesus; Lover of My Soul,' is .one. that they liketl
'That's a damned fine tune, pilot,'. said' one! of tner
one night. 'Why, don't they •• have. tunes ; like that W8
the shows? "Let's sing her again!' So we sang again,
and next !morning as they started out in th© dark tor
their work they' sang again—
" " 'Other refuge« have . I * none,
Hangs .my helpless ' soul Jon Thee, -
Leave; oh leave me not alone, .:» ( -
Still ""preserve; and comfort! me. ;. -
'-'And when I heard that song coming back through
all the solemn whiteness of the woods I knew where
'my .work was. and I made up my mind that' some day
■I*. would all my time to it. /:"/""
"I urged the boys to* come -to church when they
were in town, and one day three of them did—spiked •
boots, mackinaw coats and all. The town was used
enough to lumberjacks' and river pigs, but only on
the streets and in the saloons. . ,
"'Pilot,' they'said.-'..while.l<was.shaking hands with,
them, 'we just wanted to see whether you* would give *
us as good a welcome here as we give you in camp,
but T* guess you have.' -." .
"They would never come to my house until one day
after the drive 30 of them showed up all at once.; $t
was a hard squeeze getting them in. but my wife and
I made them welcome, and as they stood up to- go!
one of. them handed me a slip of paper. It was a
; draft for $52. - ' .
"'You didn't : ask us if or money, pilot,'-, he said, but
we. wanted you to see we liked the way you have been
standing by.us.' And before I could thank them they
had run out of the house whooping and yelling like a
lot of boys.
"After I moved to Bemidji I found I'd have to get
after the saloons before I could.do much more for th*«
-;boys. ; I ; believe it was the worst town' on the map.
There-were 36 saloons, gambling hells and worse do
ing, business in a town of 1,500 persons. Finally I
went round to ? see the keepers of the places,
"'Boys,' I: said, 'I'm going.to close you up. Your
business is , bad ; : and you know it, but I'll have you
know I'm fighting your business and not you.'
"'Ail right,-they said; 'close away.'
■■'■.'■ "I 'spoke!in my own church, in meetings of. all the
churches, in town, meetings, and finally in the very
streets themselves. At last the citizens got roused
and 'they forced the council to close up the places.
"After it was all o^er I met Johnny Strong on the
" 'I'm going; away, Higgins,* he said. ■
;/ "'I warned you, Johnny,' I said.:
'You did, -Higgins,' he said. 'I'm going east to
run a hotel and I'm going to take Mamie Blake from
Breen's place with me.' -
" 'You'll let rme marry you, Johnny?'
".'Not; now, Higgins. Some day, maybe, if she
stands by me. I'm going to give her a square deal.
She's too good for this.' .."■■ .1
"Strong's got a big hotel now, and Mamie's land
ing by him the way that kind of a woman will if the
second man she loves has a spark of manhood in him.
He can near make up to her for what the first one
THE TRAGEDY OF DEAD MOLLY'
They arc all his parishioners, apparently, the saloon
keepers, the gamblers, the women of the town, as
surely as the lumberjacks and the river pigs. Very
i simply he tells of going to the room of dead Molly, as
she had asked him to do,, getting out the bible which
had : her "right name" written on the fly leaf, and
sending it back to the mother with, a letter that told
nothing or Molly's life or of the dose of blue vitriol
that had ended it. - - -;
Also in the line of duty as he sees it was the long
journey, he made to take Pete, crushed in the fall of
a mighty pine, to a hospital in Paul, or the second
journey to help Pete when the doctors could do
nothing more.- '•'..-"."
"I-found him in the hospital, almost gone," he says.
"'You wanted me, Pete?' I asked him.
" 'I'm going, Pilot. I want you to fix it for me.'
" 'But I can't fix it for you, Pete.';
The Sty -Pilot as the Lumberjacks Know Hint*
"'Then why the hell; did you come?'
" 'To show you how/you can fix it.'
"And then, Just; before the end, there came a -faint
" 'Tell the boys I made the grade.'*
"Does* it pay? Of; course it pays. The worst of
the saloons and places are out of the lumbering towns
now. The camps are" lighted at; night, and last year
we distributed ; five I tons of second hand reading ma->
--ter among the boys and the homesteaders. We don't
forget \ the little [cabin*.'
"A good many of the boys give me their money in
the spring and r I see that it gets. to their ! families
where it is needed. Some day, perhaps I'll be able to
look out for the boys on the coast and ■ in; the south
too. ";;,■. ;•. '•/ -: '; .; .:•". .■ ■-■■'
"Would I rather have a city church? Well, it
wouldn't take much of my preaching to close most
;of, them, I guess. I'd like to see more of my wife and
my little girl than T; do, but my place is with the boys.
I understand them and they understand me. I'm
going back to the real;thing. ''
' "In the city you think nothing of spending a dollar
- for a meal. Why, \ when ' I have-to ; pay 50 cents for
a hotel bed I have the nightmare, and if I pay more
than a quarter ; for, a * meal! I>; have* indigestion. ■•* I'd
never leave the woods or the work if I could help it"
That is what HigginT' gets out of it—that v and the
*. appreciation <the"picturesqueriess /of his personality
and the sincerity of; his work have brought him He
is just Higgins, a square man.