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Times Past: Campfire Comrades

Evenings spent around a campfire often warm the body. The fire glow can also warm the soul as friendships are formed and deepened. In some cases, romances start, business pacts are arranged and plots are hatched. Three memorable campfires, with lasting impact to Arizona, are recalled here.

Albert F. Potter and Will C. Barnes – 1880s Albert F. Potter moved to Holbrook in 1883 to ease his early stage tuberculosis. He made friends with local cowboys and quickly learned the ranching lifestyle as he watched and listened around the nightly campfires. Within a few years, he had a cattle
ranch on the Milky Wash between Holbrook and St. Johns. At the time, northeastern Arizona grasses were lush, and Potter and his partner, Joe Woods, were doing well. But, drought and overgrazing eventually decimated the range.

Among the first people Potter met was Will C. Barnes. Barnes, originally from San Francisco, had spent his military career at Fort Apache and decided to stay in Arizona after his discharge. He homesteaded in Chevelon Canyon southeast of Winslow. Exact details upon how Potter and Barnes met are sketchy, but most likely, they then met during the ‘rodeos’, when livestock were all herded to a pre- arranged site and then separated by brands. Rodeos were common in the 1880s when there were no fences. Campfires during the week-long rodeos helped create bonds between fellow ranchers. Potter and Barnes ran for Apache County public office beginning in 1888. They campaigned together and lost the first election but were victorious in 1894 when Potter was elected as county treasurer and Barnes as a county commissioner. Neither sought re-election.

Barnes moved to New Mexico in 1900, and Potter went to Washington, D.C. in 1901, but the two remained in contact. Barnes would eventually work for the United States Forest Service (USFS) in New Mexico and later with Potter in Washington, D.C. on public lands grazing policies. Potter retired from the Forest Service in 1920 and moved to California where he died in 1944.

Barnes left the Forest Service in 1928 and went to work for U.S. Geographic Board where he began compiling information for the 1936 publication of the indispensable “Arizona Place Names.”  He died a few months after the book was released. Barnes is buried at Arlington National

John Muir and Gifford Pinchot – 1896

Forester Gifford Pinchot visited the Grand Canyon as a member of the National Forest Commission that toured Western lands during the summer of 1896. Also on the commission was environmentalist John Muir. The two men immediately recognized each other as true outdoorsmen. The group reached the South Rim in late September, and Muir and Pinchot decided to forego the night in a hotel to sleep under the stars at the canyon’s edge. Temperatures reached freezing and the campfire heat kept the men warm and conversation flowing. In the early morning, the men crept back to the hotel like guilty
schoolboys to face the wrath of their fellow commissioners. The result of the commission was the establishment of Grand Canyon and Mount Rainier as national parks.

Their friendship intensified that night, but the two would later clash over the debate of use or preservation of public lands.

Albert F. Potter and Gifford Pinchot – 1900 Potter lost his cattle business and turned to sheep-raising and became involved with the Arizona Sheep Growers Association. With the establishment of the Forest Reserves (later the United States Forest Service), there was talk that sheep would not be
allowed to graze on the reserves, and in 1899 Potter was sent to Washington, D.C. to plea for access. He met with Pinchot, and the two men were impressed with one another. Potter invited Pinchot to Arizona in the dry, dusty month of June to see first-hand the condition of the range. Pinchot stepped off the train in Winslow in late June 1900, and was met by Potter and about a dozen local sheepmen. As the party headed south, Pinchot was well aware that he was the tenderfoot of the group and was being closely watched. He proved his mettle, and after three weeks of long rides in the saddle and nightly campfires, he knew he wanted Potter to work with him in Washington, D.C. to establish grazing policies on the Forest Reserves.  Potter accepted the position and worked for the U.S.
Forest Service for 20 years.

He designed the public lands grazing policies still in effect today.

- S.D. Olberding. Photo courtesy of the author.

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