Halsey and the CCCs
After the recent out of control fire at Halsey, Neb., which included burning of 5,000 acres of Nebraska National Forest, the history of the Halsey Forest came to mind, especially the contributions of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Halsey has been the home of the Nebraska State 4-H Camp since about 1963. In 1890, Charles E. Bessey, University of Nebraska botany professor, suggested that a forest of trees would be beneficial for the Sandhills. The Federal Division of Forestry heard of the idea and supported it by starting a pine tree forest on the Bruner Brothers’ ranch in Holt County.
It must have been successful because in 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt created two forest reserves in Nebraska. One was on the Dismal River, which became the Bessey Ranger District and the second on the Niobrara. By 1908 they were renamed the Nebraska National Forest.
Over the years there have been 25,000 acres of trees planted at Halsey making it is the largest hand-planted forest in the western hemisphere. The Civilian Conservation Corps had a hand in those plantings, when CCC camp F-1, 798, National Forest Camp, was two miles east of Halsey beginning in May of 1934. The camp planted trees for nursery stock which was shipped throughout the country, including 1 million acres of trees used in the Prairie States Forestry Project, a New Deal program to encourage planting of shelterbelts.
In the meantime, CCC men in the Black Hills extracted seed from pine cones that were collected by CCCs and dried in the dry kiln at Custer, S.D. The regional nursery at Halsey planted the seed and produced seedlings. The nursey raised them to two or three years old, then the trees were shipped and planted in largely burned over areas in the Black Hills and Harney forests, or where ever needed nationwide. Think of how small a pine cone seed is and try to envision this: During 1934, 2,122 bushels of ponderosa pine cones were collected. The seeds were then extracted over the winter. Over the years, other areas of the country provided seeds of green ash, burr oak, and other hardwoods as well as choke cherry and juniper berries, all for the nursery.
The Civilian Conservation Corps Museum of South Dakota located at 23935 Hwy 385, Hill City, S.D., has this site https://www.southdakotaccc.org/ which gives basic information on the Cs. Look under records to find directions to obtain CCC records for anyone in the nation who served. The records show the camp(s), dates, jobs held, courses taken, and the weight of the man when he joined and left. Often it was about a 15 pound difference because the men had all they wanted to eat and they worked hard which built muscle. Museum@SouthDakotaCCC.com is the email address for the museum. It’s inside the Hill City Visitor Center building.
The site also gives information on some 27,000 men who served in South Dakota. Look under CCC men, then the link to workers. You can then do a search by state or name.
I also have the 1937 Annual which lists many men from Nebraska who served in other places than South Dakota. You can contact me for information by giving me the CCC man’s name.
Sanders was a charter member and serves on the board of the CCC Museum of South Dakota. She can be reached through her website http://www.peggysanders.com.