photo courtesy of the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center, Missoula, MT
The Ordeal of Brad Ogden: A Romance of the Forest Rangers (1929), the first book published by Arthur Hawthorne Carhart, opens with its protagonist, Bradley Ogden, Supervisor of the Piños Altos National Forest, and Tillamook Thompson, Forest Ranger, riding across a timberline meadow and spotting “a Trail Blazer roadster” racing up the slope towards them. We are at once in the world of the forest rangers and about to be introduced to the challenges of conserving western wilderness in the face of those who would exploit and destroy it. That same year Carhart published a second book, The Last of the Pack, a nonfiction collection of tales about efforts to eradicate wolves in the west. Together the two books suggest how much Carhart’s fiction and nonfiction alike were grounded in personal experience and a passion for preservation.
By his own account, Carhart’s writing “started back around 1904, when as a boy of 12, I won $2 from the Woman’s Home Companion for a children’s essay on the downy woodpecker.” In that autobiographical sketch from 1931, around the time he and a handful of other writers were starting the Colorado Authors League, he claims that the British author of historical adventures for boys, G. A. Henty, “was then my great god of the literary field; he still stands high and probably forms a great background for my writing.” The Ordeal of Brad Ogden might seem the predictable place for Carhart to begin accumulating the credentials that made him a logical choice to be CAL’s first president, in 1931, but in truth, except for his long record of service and membership in the organization, not very much about Carhart’s career was predictable.
In his sketch, Carhart said that after that early prize, his next writing was “the usual themes in college.” Born in Mapleton, Iowa, in 1892, he attended Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) and was encouraged by two of teachers, Professor Noble and Bruce Weirick, “to follow the field of letters.” Carhart was tempted but his real interest was landscape design. His first publications after college were articles to magazines called Country Gentleman and American City, and after service in World War I, he joined the U. S. Forest Service, the first landscape architect they ever hired. He claims, “My real writing started when I began to prepare articles for American Forestry and other journals trying to sell the recreation idea. Other types of travel articles followed.” Through the 1920s he continued to write and publish articles prolifically, but he also found an interest in fiction, where he was less successful. “After fifteen months of fruitless effort in the field of fiction, and in view of an almost 100% list of sales in the article field, I was ready to give up fiction.” Then in one ten day period he sold his first story, “Two Fisted Administration,” toBlue Book, and also sold “Brothers of the Blood” to Fiction House; “all this in about ten days. That was enough. I never got over it.” He said in his sketch that his professors might have been right to encourage him to take up writing, but he thought “that college type of training . . . might have made me a ‘literary person’ instead of a hard-sweating, key-hammering writer on many subjects in a number of scenes.”
What is particularly interesting about this sketch, which can found in the CAL archives of the Western History and Genealogy Collection of the Denver Public Library, is that it says nothing about the significant impact he had already made in the movement to preserve wilderness in the United States, and it offers no foreshadowing of the accomplishments in the field of environmental writing he would continue to make throughout his life. In 1919, when he joined the Forest Service, he proposed to develop plans for the recreational use of natural areas and was sent to Trappers Lake in the White River National Forest. It is largely owing to his efforts that Trappers Lake was preserved from development. He also devised a recreation plan for the San Isabel National Forest. On December 6, 1919, he met with Aldo Leopold, then assistant forest ranger in New Mexico, and argued for an approach to land use and preservation that Leopold himself would later espouse in his own writings. It was disillusionment with the Forest Service service that caused him to quit in 1922, start a private landscape design and city planning firm in Denver, and devote more time to writing.
By the time he became CAL’s first president Arthur Carhart had published short stories, articles, and two books, The Ordeal of Brad Ogden, and The Last of the Pack, and the publication of Colorado: A Guide (1932) was imminent. The western writer Mary Austin praised The Last of the Pack, affirming that the “material is utterly authentic . . . explicit and unprejudiced.” A review in the Saturday Review of Literature noted that it was “written in the rugged style of Western thrillers” but was “a contribution of value to American wild animal literature.”
From 1923 to 1931, he worked in the Denver firm of McCrary, Culley & Carhart, where he was responsible for Denver’s Recreational Plan , and several home landscaping books resulted. In 1937, notably, he published four books: a mystery, The Wrong Body, under the nom-de-plume V. A. VanSickle (he’d married Vera Amelia VanSickle in 1918); two westerns, Bronc Buster and Saddle Men of the C-Bit Brand, under the name Hart Thorne; and a historical novel, Drum Up the Dawn,under his own name. In the 1940s and 1950s he published well received books on the environment and nature, including a number of fishing books, another adventure book, Son of the Forest (1956), and three outstanding and informative works on wildlife and land managenent, Water or Your Life(1951), Timber in Your Life (1955), and The National Forests (1959). The latter two books won CAL’s Top Hand Awards in Nonfiction (he won CAL awards six times over the years). He continued his public service on conservation matters, and he and John Eastlick were the principal forces behind the establishment of the Conservation Library Center in Denver in 1960, for which he served as a consultant until 1970.
Arthur Hawthorne Carhart lived at 2591 Eudora Street throughout his decades in Denver and stayed active in the Colorado Authors League all the while. CAL recognized “his achievements as an author and conservationist” in 1968. His awards over the years included He had received a number of awards over the years, including the 1956 Founder’s Award of the Izaak Walton League, a 1958 citation from the Outdoor Writers Association of America, and a 1972 Iowa State University Alumni Distinguished Achievement Citation, recognizing his status at the first graduate in Landscape Architecture in 1916 and acknowledging his role in preserving the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota and the Dinosaur National Monument and White River National Forest in Colorado. six CAL awards.
Arthur H. Carhart died in 1978. The Denver Public Library has an extensive collection of his papers, as does the University of Iowa Library. A biography and list of writings about him appears inContemporary Authors Online. Commemorative information also appears, along with pages on Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and Bob Marshall, onhttp://www.fs.fed.us/r1/centennial/carhart.shtml, the USDA Forest Service Northern Region Centennial Website, information about him appears at http://carhart.wilderness.net/index.cfm?fuse=arthurCarhart, the website of the Arthur H. Carhart National Wilderness Training Center, located at the University of Montana.
In the Colorado Authors League Archives at the Denver Public Library can be found a 3″ x 4″ slip of paper Arthur Carhart gave to the archives in January 1957. On both sides, in penciled and barely legible, are the minutes of the very first meeting of the Colorado Authors League, which he had saved for 27 years.
–Robert Root, CAL Historian, January 2008