Thank you, Ed Pulaski

Next time you are out with the FSPW trail crew or walking one of the Scotchman trails, remember Ed Pulaski. He invented (or at least, refined) the trail tool that bears his name. The combination axe and mattock was Edward Crockett Pulaski’s forged response to the Fire of 1910. He was there to watch it burn up the country around Wallace, Idaho — and try to stop its progress. When the monster fire tried to devour his 45-man crew, he saved 40 of their lives — and his own — by leading them into an abandoned mine. To keep the men there in their panic, he stood at the entry with a pistol in his hand and vowed to shoot anyone who tried to leave. By the end of that day and night, he was badly burned and temporarily blind. He slowly healed and regained his sight, but only in one eye.

A year after the fire, he came up with the tool that became the standard US Forest Service fire fighting tool. It turned into a favored trail building and maintenance tool as well.

Ed Pulaski in 1910.

Ed applied for a patent, but it was denied. In fact, he was never paid for his design, and had to fight for compensation for his own injuries and those of his crew members. He also pursued — and eventually received — funds for a monument to fallen fire fighters. He then cared for the graves of those who died in “the big burn” until just before his own death.

Ed Pulaski was a modest man who seldom spoke publicly about his heroics during the fire. He worked for the Forest Service for 22 years, retiring a year before his death on February 2, 1931.

Your favorite trail tool may be a pick-mattock, a combi tool, a crosscut saw, a Macleod or a pair of loppers, but sometime during a trail day, pick up a Pulaski. Give it a swing and remember the man who made it: Ed Pulaski, hero of “the big burn.”

Learn more about Ed Pulaski online and in the book, “The Big Burn,” by Timothy Eagan.

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Categories: Blog, Right Now
About The Author:

Sandy Compton has been program coordinator for Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness since 2009. He is also a storyteller and author of both fiction and non-fiction books, and the publisher at

In addition to his other duties, he runs the FSPW All Star Trail Team (, which works on Forest Service trails in the Scotchman Peaks. He is a trail surveyor as well, and a C-Certified Crosscut Bucker/Feller and USFS National Saw Policy OHLEC instructor.

Sandy grew up on a small farm/woodlot at the south end of the proposed wilderness and lives there still. He is also board member of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance and a planning team member for the Northern Rockies Wilderness Skills Institute.

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