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