CCC Camps of the Mackay area

December 10, 1998; Article in Arco Advertiser

If you were around the area during the 1930's you may have noted in influx of a few regular U.S. Army members as well as a larger number of young men in a different military style uniform. These were the CCC boys . While the whole country was suffering the effects of the "Great Depression", the Mackay area too felt its impact. Slumping metal prices saw a slow down in mining operations on the "Hill", and jobs were hard to find. Under President Roosevelt's "New Deal" program to put the country back to work, a number of programs were instituted, one of which --the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC--would have a dramatic infuluence in the West, Idaho, Custer County and the Mackay area. The CCC, instituted in April 1933 and administered by the then Department of War, enlisted young (17-23) unmarried and unemployed men to train and give them work in conservation of the nation's soil, timber, and water resources. They were required to sign on for a minimum of (6) months with pay at $ 30 a month, plus army style room, board, and medical benefits.

Camps were set up all across the country but the majority were located in the West, all run by the U.S. Army. Idaho had numerous camps and many within the central mountain and Salmon River country including camps at Challis, Bonanza, Clayton, Shoup, Salmon and Riggins. Three others, closer to home, had a more direct influence on the Mackay area; camps at Wildhorse creek, Pass Creek, and at a Double Springs above Dickey.

The first of these to be set up was the camp Wildhorse. According to the Mackay Miner of May 25, 1933, a train arrived in Mackay carrying 78 regular Army troops charged with setting up camps at Challis, Bonanza, and at Wildhorse Creek. Some 40 young men from the Mackay area had already sighned up with another 25 nedded as a nucleus to man these camps and to get the work started as directed by the local Foresst Service supervisor. By June more CCC recruits had arrived from back East, the camp at Wildhorse was up and running, and new Forest Service trucks were carrying men out to the camp. According to Clint Whitney, present Mackay resident and one of the origianal group of men from Mackay to sign up, the camp was located very near the junction of the Copper Basin/ Widlhorse Canyon roads and consisted of tents and wood frame buildings which housed the mess hall and some living quarters. Life in camp was regimented, much like regular army life with inspections regular etc., but week-ends were their own and most of the boys adapted well. Nearly 100 men, including trail blazing , road construction and bridge building, campground construction, fire fighting and prevention, erection of telphone poles and lines and the construction of the Forest Service guard station on Wildhorse Creek. Establishment of the guard station and facilities at Wildhorse were significant in that they would become the offical summer headquarters of the Forest Service for the entire area. Although this CCC camp was short lived, much was accompished before it was officially disbanded and moved to Rigginson the Salmon River in October of 1933.

The second local CCC camp, PASS CREEK, got its start with the arrival of a contingent of U.S. Army Troops in June of 1935, with orders to set up a camp near the upper entrance to the Pass Creek gorge. According to information in issuess of the Mackay Miner in the summer of 1935, construction went at a rapid pace with frequent rail cars of lumber and materials to ready the camp for the arrival of CCC recruits. The first to arrive was a group of 95 young men mostly from Ohio and Kentucky, off loaded from the train at Leslie, with more men expected before winter. Amoung this initial group was Oval Caskey, present resident of Mackay's Mayor.

The camp at Pass Creek was a formidable one; one of the most complete in facilities for training and education in this area of Idaho. During its peak it had nearly 200 men employed and in training. Facilities included permanet buildings for barracks, mess hall, training shops , and even a theather and rec hall for their recreation needs. Educaational programs included wood working , welding, motor repair and vehicle maintenance, heavy equitment operation, telephone technology, drainage engineering as well as academic study. The mission of this camp, like most located within the National Forests, was geared toward improving access to and conservation of its natural resources. This included dozing and grading of many miles, of road, construction of bridges and camp grounds, erection of telephone lines, and thousands of hours devoted to fire fighting and prevention. Most of today's good roads system up and over the Pass Creek provided outreach of "spike" camps at a number of sots in the area. Crews from one "spike" camp, located on the uppere river, were instrumental in finishing of the Trail Creek road to Sun Valley. The CCC boys responded where ever and when ever a force of men and equipment were needed dfor Forest Service projects, especially firfighting. The camp at Pass Creek continued though the critical years of the depression and did not diband until June of 1941, one of the last camps to close in Idaho.

As reported in the Mackay Miner, the lasst of the local CCC camps, Double Springs Camp, was set up in June of 1938 about 3 miles above Dickey. This camp included two companies of CCC boys (about 200-250) and included those from a recently dibanded camp at Clayton as well as soem newq recruits that arrived in October of that year. Their mission, directed by what we call the BLM today, primarily consisted of the conservation and inprovement of the grazing land within the watering areas for livestock , all which improved productiveness of the range. It is believed thes camp disbanded sometime in 1940.

It is hard to estimate the full impact thata these CCC camps had on the economy abd prosperity of this reagion during the difficult "Depression" years. Each CCC boy was paid $30.00 a month; to as much as $130.00/ mo. if in a supervisory position. Their regular Army superiors probably even more. Some of this payroll was spent locally, but more i,portantly, the campx meant local young men had employment and were able to stay in the area, keeping families together and preserving their homes and title totheir land. Indirectly their efforts benefitted the mining industry, tourist trade, and ranching and agriculture which was good for the entire valley. Many young men learned valueable trades and skills which allowed them to find better jobs and contribute to the community. Clint Whitney of Mackay went to work for the Forest Service for many years as an aide to the area Forest Ranger after his stint in the CCC; Oval Caskey used his learned CCC road building and other skills for 30 years as a maintenance foreman with the State Highway Department. During this period the CCC boys became a normal part of the scene in Mackay and other valley communities, esdpecially on the week-ends. They attended dances, movies, and local events, and the camps always boasted good baseball and athletic competition for teams of Mackay and other valley communities. Many of the young men found wives here in thearea which led to families and settling here for good. By act of the Federal Goverment in 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps program was terminated, but evidence of their presence and hard work wil ikdley be with us for many years to come. The next time your traveling the National Forests on trail or off-road, or using one of the areas many campgrounds, remember that it was probably developed by those CCC boys.

See also -- Idaho PTV transcript   |   CCC Legacy


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