William Finley and the great elk transplant of 1912

An unidentified man sitting buried up to his neck in a field of heavy snow. Idaho, 1912. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0521.

An unidentified man sitting buried up to his neck in a field of heavy snow. Idaho, 1912.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0521.

With Oregon draped in a heavy blanket of snow last week and the holiday season in full swing, I cannot help but call to mind the sound of hoof prints in the snow and William Finley’s great elk transplant of 1912 for this month’s installment of the Reuniting Finley and Bohlman series.

Clipping from the February 12, 1912 Morning Oregonian detailing the concerns from members of the Wallowa County Wool Growers about the planned transplant of elk to the region. Full text of the article available at: ohttp://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn83025138/1912-02-12/ed-1/seq-7/

Clipping from the February 12, 1912 Morning Oregonian detailing the concerns from members of the Wallowa County Wool Growers about the planned transplant of elk to the region. Full text of the article available at: http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/ sn83025138/1912-02-12/ed-1/seq-7/

While Finely is better known for his wildlife photography and role in the conservation movement, he also played a key role in Oregon’s early wildlife management. In 1911, Governor Oswald West hired Finely to help form Oregon’s first Fish and Game Commission. West formally appointed Finley as the state’s game warden to oversee the Commission later that year.

As head of the Commission, Finley hired a team of forty game wardens to work under him across the state. He established and, for the early years wrote most of the content for, Oregon Sportsman. He also pushed for stricter limits and regulations on hunting and fishing in the state to protect and restore rapidly depleting wild populations.

One of Finley’s first and most prominent projects as game warden was to address the state’s declining elk population. Overhunting and diminishing habitat reduced the once plentiful elk herds to a few scattered bands in remote mountainous sections of the state. The Biological Survey of the Department of Agriculture donated a herd of 15 wild elk from the Jackson Hole region in Wyoming to be sent to Oregon. Some in the community, particularly members of the Wool Growers Association, protested the loss of grazing lands at Billy Meadows in Wallowa County to make room for the new elk.

Feature in the April 26, 1914 edition of the Sunday Oregonian about Finley's efforts to restore wildlife populations around the state. Full text available at: http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/ sn83045782/1914-04-26/ed-1/seq-80/

Feature in the April 26, 1914 edition of the Sunday Oregonian about Finley’s efforts to restore wildlife populations around the state. Full text available at: http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/ sn83045782/1914-04-26/ed-1/seq-80/

Most in the state, however, watched the process with great interest. To pay for the journey Elks Lodge members raised $351 and the residents of Wallow County raised the final $181.25.[1]

In early March 1912, the elk were loaded into specially built sleighs and the team set out on an arduous two-week journey from Wyoming to the Wallowa Mountains. Newspapers covered the herd’s progress as they moved westward by sleigh, wagon, and train. As they traveled through towns along the route, crowds came out to catch glimpses of the elk. After their release in Billy Meadows communities throughout the state continued to follow the elk, with newspapers giving regular accounts of births, deaths, and other goings on within the heard. By 1917, the Billy Meadows heard had increased enough to send small bands of elk to repopulate regions throughout the state.

Horses pulling large crates full of elk on sled runners in the snow near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, 1912. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0402.

Horses pulling large crates full of elk on sled runners in the snow near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, 1912.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0402.

An elk waiting in a corral in Saint Anthony, Idaho, 1912. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0415.

An elk waiting in a corral in Saint Anthony, Idaho, 1912.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0415.

Three men standing at the door of a boxcar used to transport elk from Saint Anthony, Idaho to Joseph, Oregon, 1912. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0408.

Three men standing at the door of a boxcar used to transport elk from Saint Anthony, Idaho to Joseph, Oregon, 1912.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0408.

A man holding his hand out to pet a calf elk in a corral in Saint Anthony, Idaho, 1912. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0424.

A man holding his hand out to pet a calf elk in a corral in Saint Anthony, Idaho, 1912.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0424.

A large crowd gathered to view elk loaded in a boxcar on their trip from Saint Anthony, Idaho to Joseph, Oregon, 1912. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0433.

A large crowd gathered to view elk loaded in a boxcar on their trip from Saint Anthony, Idaho to Joseph, Oregon, 1912.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0433.

A train of wagons hauling elk crates through heavy snow up to Billy Meadows in the Wallowa Mountains, 1912. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0457.

A train of wagons hauling elk crates through heavy snow up to Billy Meadows in the Wallowa Mountains, 1912.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0457.

A group of unidentified men working to lift an elk crate from the wagon base with a pulley to transfer to sled runners after snow became too deep to continue with the wagons. Wallowa Mountains, Oregon, 1912. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0484.

A group of unidentified men working to lift an elk crate from the wagon base with a pulley to transfer to sled runners after snow became too deep to continue with the wagons. Wallowa Mountains, Oregon, 1912.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0484.

A group of men lowering an elk crate onto skids after the snow became too deep to traverse by wagon. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0486.

A group of men lowering an elk crate onto skids after the snow became too deep to traverse by wagon.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0486.

A group of men lowering an elk crate onto skids after the snow became too deep to traverse by wagon. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0488.

A group of men lowering an elk crate onto skids after the snow became too deep to traverse by wagon.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0488.

A man balancing atop a "go-devil" makeshift sled hauling elk crates through the heavy snow. Wallowa Mountains, Oregon, 1912. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0489.

A man balancing atop a “go-devil” makeshift sled hauling elk crates through the heavy snow. Wallowa Mountains, Oregon, 1912.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0489.

Men standing by a fence watching elk as they are unloaded from crates into a holding corral at Billy Meadows. Wallowa Mountains, Oregon, 1912. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0506.

Men standing by a fence watching elk as they are unloaded from crates into a holding corral at Billy Meadows. Wallowa Mountains, Oregon, 1912.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0506.

A herd of elk standing in the snow at Billy Meadows after being released at the end of their journey from Wyoming. Wallowa Mountains, Oregon, 1912. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0510.

A herd of elk standing in the snow at Billy Meadows after being released at the end of their journey from Wyoming. Wallowa Mountains, Oregon, 1912.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley B0510.

Learn More

To see more, be sure to check up on the Reuniting Finley and Bohlman Collection on Oregon Digital throughout the year as additional materials are uploaded.

This blog series is part of a yearlong partnership between the Oregon Historical Society Research Library and Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives to digitize the Finley and Bohlman photograph and manuscript collections held by our libraries and to unite them online through Oregon Digital and the OHS Digital Collections website. Stay tuned in coming months for future installments about Finley, Bohlman, and their birding adventures around the state.

This project is supported in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.

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[1] Finley, W. L. (1912). Game and fish protection and propagation in Oregon, 1911, 1912. Portland: Boyer Printing Co..

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10 Responses to William Finley and the great elk transplant of 1912

  1. Glen Jones says:

    Enjoy the elk photos, do not remember if it was you or someone else I talked twO a out old Oregonphotos I have will be awhile before I can get to OSU fell and broke my hip in the Ice

  2. Jackie Cray says:

    Very interesting story and photo’s. I especially like the picture of the group traversing through the deep snow with the “go devil” sleds. I can’t imagine the physical and logistical effort it took to move these elk from Wyoming to Oregon in early March with so much snow.

  3. Judith Anderson says:

    That was a great story. I have been around elk, cared for them in winter and have had them winter on our front lawn. My husband even be friended one cow who allowed him to pet her head. This was in northern Idaho, in an isolated area where there are an abundance of elk. Thank you, Molly for sharing this story. Judy Anderson

  4. Shawn Steen says:

    My great great grandfather had the contract to feed them through the winter. He said they had never seen another elk in the country until these were brought in and after some time more showed up outside the corral!

  5. Mike ribich says:

    Thank you

  6. lauracray says:

    Hi Shawn,

    It is wonderful to hear from people who have personal connections to Finley’s work. We are currently in the process of a year long project to digitize and document events like the Elk Transplant. If you have any further memories or photographs from your great great grandfather’s time with the elk, I would love to talk with you more. Thank you and I am glad that you enjoyed the post,

    Laura Cray

  7. Ben Vandagrift says:

    This is a great story,thank you. Glad you are digitizing this type of thing!

  8. Debbie (Clegg) Kellermann says:

    What a great and interesting story. I had family in the Joseph Creek and Chesnimnus
    area at the time and I’m sure they had many tales to tell about this elk introduction.
    Thank you for sharing.

  9. Ken Smith says:

    Back in the 70s I had the privilege of viewing some personal photos of these elk being offloaded from the train. I can’t bring back the lady’s name but her husband worked for the game management department at the time of the elk transplant. I’m so thankful for our elk populations in this state.

  10. Hey there, I’m a massive follower of your website. I really like your blog. I am a really keen angler and hunter so your blogs are really appealing to me and my friends. Fish & hunt on! Thx.

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