|Greathouse Point > Library > Biographies > Ray Greathouse|
By Josh Eickhoff
This article about Ray Greathouse has been used with permission from Tim Schaff, Local Legacies Instructor, Roundup High School, Roundup, Montana. Josh Eickhoff's article is also available online here: Ray Greathouse by Josh Eickhoff. Special thanks to Tom Kotynski of "Out there with Tom" Blog, for the photo of Greathouse Peak.
In the early 1900’s, visionary leaders like Theodore Roosevelt saw the need to apply conservation ethics to the Rocky Mountain West. One of the efforts aimed at conserving the nation’s natural resources was the creation of the United States Forest Service in 1905. Assessment of Federal lands for creation of Forest Reserves began immediately. The Jefferson Reserve was proposed in 1906 of which the Snowy Mountain Reserve would be a part (Wilson, 1906). From 1900-1916, Montana received above average moisture (Howard, 1943).
Even so Wilson’s study recommended that the area from the Big Snowy Mountains east to the end of what is now called the Little Snowies south to the Musselshell River never be opened to homesteading. Wilson dubbed the area “The Great Musselshell Desert.” The report noted that grass and other crops were short and brittle and overgrazed by tramp cattlemen and sheep men. Stubs of grass covered the soil from the passing over of cattle a month’s past. The dry atmosphere set up for fires that fed on the dehydrated land. Little fires turned into larger ones, creating its own wind and forcing surrounding farmers and ranchers to occupy a lot of their time on extinguishing the blazes (Wilson, 1906).
This then was the land that Ray Greathouse came to from the Beartooth range as the Snowies District’s second ranger after Roscoe Lewis (Lake, 1943).
It was while Greathouse’s close friend and co-worker, David Lake, was working for Stranahan that the big Snowy Mountain Fire began at Timber Creek in July 1900. The fire turned into an inferno with the hot, dry, westerly winds blowing over the landscape. The blaze began as a small grass fire, but swiftly swept through a fine stand of heavy fir timber spreading through the forest eastward. Most of the settlers at the base of the mountain were able to save their buildings. The fire crawled across the mountains until it burned out at Swimming Woman Canyon (Pioneer stories, 1964). Five years later, Ranger Lewis visited Lake’s homestead to inform him of the formation of the Snowy Mountain Forest Reserve.
David Lake was one of Ray Greathouse’s closest friends. In fact, much of the information in this report comes from Lake’s private papers that are housed at the United State Forest Service Archives in Great Falls, Montana. Lake and Greathouse’s history goes back to the early 1913, when Greathouse was assigned to the Snowies from the Beartooth Range. By then Lake’s homestead was failing, and he was looking at other avenues of survival, so Lake then took the forest service exam as did Greathouse. Lake failed the first time he took it, but Greathouse encouraged Lake to take the forestry test again. In the meantime, Greathouse hired Lake as a fire guard. Their relationship must have grown in the years after Lake was hired. When Greathouse’s reserve unit, Company A, 362nd Infantry, was called out, he asked Lake to take care of his car and other earthly possessions. He even sold his horse to Mr. Lake. Greathouse continued communications with Lake through letters while he was in United State’s military camps. Lake eventually took over Greathouse’s district after Greathouse’s death serving until 1943 when he retired (Lake. 1943).
Early letters between the two are all businesslike in tone with Greathouse delivering instructions to Lake telling him the routes to take on his fire watch, the number of rings on the emergency phone lines and other chores of early day forest service workers. It is only after Greathouse’s call-up that the letters become friendly in tone.
From descriptions in the Judith Gap Journal, one can surmise that Ray Greathouse was a fairly large man, with red hair and over 6 feet tall, 210 pounds. His letters to Lake show that he loved the many hours in the forests and mountains around Blake Creek District.
Ray Greathouse was a Forest Service district ranger in the Snowy Mountains from 1913 to 1917 when his reserve unit was called up. He returned to his district in 1919 after being wounded in France, but died shortly thereafter of the wounds he received at the Battle of Chateau Thierry. As a result he had a peak in the Big Snowies named after him as Greathouse Peak, the tallest peak in the Snowies. One has to ask the question: why did people think so much of him that he had a mountain named for him.
Working as a Forest Service district ranger was a tedious and honorable occupation. Anyone in that profession would have to love what he was doing because they spent most day hours riding in the mountains and patrolling the surrounding areas. There was not much time for personal pleasures or free time. Many days were spent in dealing with the forest, the ranchers whose stock grazed there, and the many local loggers and sawmills.
The largest concern for the Forest Service was that of fires. When there was a fire everything else was put off to the side to concentrate solely on the fire at hand. If there were not large threats such as fires, the day was spent patrolling over the district looking for other hazards. Some workers help work with construction through their district. Greathouse wrote a letter to David Lake directing him on what his duties were during the summer of 1913. Greathouse wrote to Lake that when it wasn’t fire season he would help work on the Crystal Lake telephone line until it was finished. Obviously, both he and Lake put in long hard days. They all weren’t tedious though.
One story from a Billings Newspaper in 1913 tells of one his ordeals as a ranger. It may reveal one of the reasons for the honor:
“He (Greathouse) had been riding horseback with the thermometer at 10 degrees below zero. The horse played out and he borrowed a pair of snowshoes from a neighbor and continued the journey toward the east end of the range. He lost his way in the storm and missed the gulch in which his cabin was located, and when nearly exhausted succeeded in gathering enough firewood to build a fire. Knowing that if he fell asleep he would die, he started back to the neighbor’s shack, reaching it with great difficulty.” His feet were badly frozen and he went to Judith Gap and received medical attention. The passage does not say it but he may have lost some of his toes (Gordon, 1971).
He must have been physically strong to have survived that incident.
Another incident reveals how seriously Greathouse took his job. He was not remembered fondly by Sharky Evans in the Evans family history in Dawn In Golden Valley written in 1971. Evans related that his father’s sawmill in the Snowies near Red Hill went broke because of a dispute that he had with Greathouse. He claimed Greathouse refused to mark trees for cutting even after a legitimate permit was signed off on. The mill went broke and Evans won his appeal, but it was too late. Shortly after this incident, Greathouse was called to war.
According to an article by Frances Stone Burnes published first in Tacoma Washington Ledger, December 8, 1918 and reprinted in the Judith Gap Journal, Greathouse had the chance to avoid service since the Forest Service had asked for exemptions for all of its rangers. In a dramatic moment in Lewiston Montana, Greathouse’s train was getting ready to pull out for Fort Lewis in Washington. Greathouse refused to get off the train. The article then goes on to describe his patriotism, wounds and stoic attitude as well as his wish to return to his old job at Blake Creek.
With the strong mind set to volunteer for the service, he once said, “I wouldn’t have stayed home if I could, but I used to feel sometime that I’d like to be back at Camp Lewis when I had to break the ice on a mud puddle to get water to shave with.” He didn’t see that he sacrificed any of his time. He explains,” Oh, yes, I know what you mean; well, it was worth everything. We were fighting for civilization and our country. (Judith Gap, Dec. 13).”
The article also stated that Greathouse was the first soldier of the famed 91st Division to return home (Burnes, 1919).
Ray Greathouse was found dead by his best friend, Fred Thomson, on March 12, 1919 at his cabin at Blake Creek. It is believed that Mr. Greathouse died from an old WWI wound received at Chateau Thierry. As a Corporal in the 91st Division, Ray Greathouse went over the top eleven times in France. On the eleventh time on August 9, 1918, a high explosive shell burst near him blowing off his right forearm, and its shrapnel pierced his throat cutting his jugular. As a result of his throat injury, Greathouse struggled to swallow and it is believed he died choking on a piece of meat (Judith Gap Journal, March 21).
Fred Thomson had tried to get a hold of Greathouse unsuccessfully. After two days, Mr. Thomson traveled from his place to the Blake Creek station where he entered Greathouse’s cabin and he noticed Ray Greathouse lying face down upon the floor in the office. Thompson immediately used the phone to notify the outside world of his best friends tragic death (Judith Gap, March 21).
As stated earlier, Greathouse was in the 91st Division, Company A, 362nd Infantry. The Division was made up of Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon troops. Most of them were farm boys, ranchers, cowboys, homesteaders, loggers, and lumbermen. Their battle cry as they went over the top was “Powder River, let’er buck,” and it remains their division motto even today. It became known as the “ Cowboy Division” and the “Fir Tree Division” because of where most of its men came from. The shoulder patch from WWII was a fir tree and remains so today. In one of his letters to David Lake from Camp Lewis, Greathouse told of how the officers of the division had discovered that he had been a USFS ranger. Because of his experience they wanted to put him in the engineers. He refused, preferring to stay with his rifle company (Greathouse, 1918).
Greathouse continued to send Lake postcards and letters from Camp Lewis; one stated that Lake and others should by Liberty bonds, and the other was a simple card he sent to Lake when he arrived in France with the simple line that he had landed safely. Evidentially no letters or cards were sent from the front, since the next letter in the collection was from Walter Reed Hospital (Greathouse, 1919).
As stated earlier, Greathouse went over the top of the trench 11 before being wounded in the throat, arm and five other places. The less life threatening wounds were on his forehead, side of the head and chest from the blast as well. After being injured, he was sent to Base Hospital 15, at Chaumont. At Base Hospital he was fed soup through his nose. He wanted water instead of soup, but they wouldn’t let him so he crawled down the hall to get some for himself. After being captured by the nurses he was put to sleep and didn’t wake up for 3 days (Judith Gap, Dec. 13).
Although he was an honorable and dedicated Corporal, he did miss his old homeland of the Judith Gap area. He once stated,” Yes, I am anxious to get home to Montana. I wish I was there tonight.” When he and most other service men got back to their homes they were ready to get right to work. He didn’t want or need any type of charity program. He wanted to make his living by earning it with honest work (Judith Gap, Dec. 13). Letters to Lake that he now scrawled with his left hand expressed a similar sentiment.
He couldn’t wait to go back to his former living before entering the war as a Forest Service district ranger in the Snowy Mountains. He worked in that profession for three years before his reserve unit summoned him in October 1917. The forest service filed exemptions for him to avoid the draft, but he would not accept any such act of avoiding the service. After being wounded he was given his old forestry job back on February 15 after he had been offered a desk job and Great Falls and refused it (Roundup Record, April 4). Greathouse’s passion for his country and his work ultimately lead to his death.
Research for this report spanned 3 years and 2 different students. Help came from Sandi French, archivist of the USFS headquarters in Great Falls Montana, Dave Wanderaas of the District USFS office in Harlowton, Montana, and other local historians. Research revealed a man of both strengths and weakness and left Greathouse’s researchers with the following questions: Why did people feel strongly enough to change Big Snow Peak to Greathouse Peak after his death? Who were some of the people he referred to in his letters to lake by first name only? Are there any surviving relatives in Montana? Why did only the Judith Gap paper and the Roundup paper report on his death? Answers to many of these questions might be answered in time with further research, but for now remain a mystery. The answer to the first question can be answered.
Why then did this man, Ray Greathouse, have a mountain named for him? He received this honor for these reasons: passion, dedication, patriotism and overall strength of character. Just as Greathouse Peak tests the winds of time each year, Ray Greathouse tested the winds of change and war in his short 29 years. Greathouse Peak is named appropriately.
Evans, William, (1971) “Dawn in Golden Valley”
Gordon Albie, Lehfeldt Margaret, Morsanny Mary (1971) “Dawn in Golden Valley”
Greathouse, Ray (1913-1919) Personal correspondence with David Lake.
Pioneer stories, Bercail, “David Lake” (1964).
“Hero of world war chokes to death in his mountain home.” Roundup Record 20 March. 1919; 45.
“Ray Greathouse back to camp Lewis from France.” Judith Gap Journal 13 December. 1918; 7.
“Ray Greathouse found in his ranger cabin dead by his friend, Fred Thomson.” Judith Gap Journal 21 March. 1919; 21.
“Tragic death of war hero.” Roundup Record 21 March. 1919; 52.
“Went over top eleven times.” Roundup Record 4 April. 1919; 2.
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