Old stories about W. F. Arant and Steel come back again and again for family
Herald and News
Klamath Falls, Oregon
May 13, 2002
By LEE JUILLERAT
“Imagine my surprise when after all my work on behalf of the park, I found out they’d already appointed someone else. In my place! One Mr. William Franklin Arant. Didn’t know the park half as well as me, hadn’t done anything for it in the past. Just a fellow whose main qualification for the job was that he excelled me in political maneuvering and influence. Or he just had more powerful friends. At that point anyway,” from “Resolutions: William Gladstone Steel and Crater Lake National Park.”
Whenever Arant family members get together, even 100 years later, the subject of W.F. Arant, also known as William Franklin, and his tumultuous final months as Crater Lake National Park’s first superintendent come up.
“I’ve heard about it ever since I can remember,” says Joe “Gerald” Arant, 64.
“It seems like whenever anybody in the family dies they say (in obituaries or funeral services) that their granddad or great-granddad was the first superintendent of Crater Lake,” notes Vernie Arant, 72.
W.F. Arant was appointed superintendent shortly after President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation creating Crater Lake National Park on May 22, 1902. Arant served until July 1913, when Steel managed to manipulate his by-then more powerful friends into, literally, removing Arant.
Memories, and some of the wounds, from those times are being reopened with this year’s park Centennial celebration and “Resolutions,” a one-man play about Steel, the “Father of Crater Lake.” During part of the play, Steel tells about his soap-operatic struggles with Arant.
“They eventually caught on and threw him out of office in 1913. And I mean that literally. They threw him out of office. Federal marshals had to come in, pick him up by the scruff of the neck and toss him out of the superintendent’s office. That old fool would just get up and march back in. Seven or eight times they tossed him out and ushered me in. Finally they were quick enough to lock the door with me inside and him outside.”
“I remember my granddad talking about it,” recalls Vernie of Early Arant, one of W.F.’s and Emma Arant’s four children. “He always told us that great-grandpa was sitting in a chair and told those marshals, ‘You’re going to have to throw me of here.’ He said his hands and knuckles turned red, he was holding on so tight, and that they threw him and the chair both out.
“He got out of that chair, which was broken, went back inside, and they threw him out again,” tells Vernie.
“I’ve always heard,” laughs Gerald, “how those Arants have got a pretty good temper. We know where it comes from.”
Gerald and Vernie are anxious to view the Steel play, which will be presented 7 p.m. Saturday at the Oregon Institute of Technology auditorium by the Shaw Historical Library. Another brother, Delbert, and sister, Dorma Lee Freeman, also live in Klamath Falls.
“I tell everybody I know,” says Gerald, a custodian at Henley High, of his family’s connection to Crater Lake. “I’m proud of it, even though he did get thrown out. I wish I’d been here to help him.”
“I tell the whole story about how Steel got him thrown out,” echoes Vernie, a retired Southern Pacific Railroad switchman. He says the stories were handed down by his father, Vernie Sr.
“They were always kind of bitter about it, and they said they kind of rooted granddad out,” notes Vernie, who says many of the tales were told during family hunting trips. “Great-granddad was quite a politician, I know that, but Steel, he was a bigger one.”
“We’re removed from it so far I don’t have any bitterness,” says Gerald.
W.F.’s celebrated eviction overshadows his apparently productive years at the then-fledging park.
“Arant did the best he could, given the situation,” believes park historian Steve Mark. “He pretty much had to do everything himself.”
Arant and his family lived in a tent until 1905, when a superintendent’s house was built. Arant, who unsuccessfully advocated enlarging the park’s boundaries, was known as an intense, hard-working individual.
“Steel tried to portray Arant as a bumpkin but when you look at his writing he was as good as Steel,” notes Mark.
And, according to Mark, Steel’s claims that his political connections would result in more park development and roads — “More roads meant more business,” explains Mark — were not necessarily realized. “It didn’t magically, suddenly become any more developed.”
“Arant served as superintendent with efficiency and distinction. The park grew from a primitive, almost inaccessible spot in the wilderness to a popular resort,” notes the author of “W. Franklin Arant and Will G. Steel and the Crater Lake Rumble,” a story in the September/October issue of The Table Rock Sentinel. “There was no question about his skill and efficiency in performing his duties.”
During winters, and after he left Crater Lake, W.F. lived in Klamath Falls.
“That was his life,” says Gerald of W.F.’s attachment to Crater Lake. “He looked forward to going back to Crater Lake every year. He couldn’t wait for that snow to leave.”
Gerald and Vernie believe that W.F.’s legacy is unrecognized. Both are disappointed that no photographs of W.F. are displayed in the park, and believe he should be honored as the first superintendent. Steel mostly changed the names of park locations honoring their great-grandfather. Only Arant Point, a 6,815 foot peak near Annie Spring, remains.
“It’s just a knob out there. Nothing spectacular,” says Gerald, who hiked there several years ago. “You can see the country pretty nice.”
Gerald and Vernie are also disappointed the Goodbye Bridge sign is no longer in place. The bridge, as explained in an accompanying story, figures prominently in the Arant’s family story.
After W.F. was evicted from the superintendency, he was allowed to remain in the park to assist in the completing the building of the bridge.
“When he (W.F.) finally left,” recounts Vernie of the story passed down by his family, “he said, ‘Well, goodbye bridge.’ ”