As early as 1889, innovative and resourceful Beulah pioneers cultivated and harvested pine seed, which were then sold to nurserymen and the U.S. government. “Quite a number of people are now in the full harvest of seed gathering. The beautiful evergreens of this region are attracting wide attention and thousands of them each year are sent as far east as Boston. The rich silver tints make them very attractive.” By the year 1900 it was noted that the Beulah area offered 18 different varieties (which brought .75/pound to $8/pound), and revealed that pine seeds were being shipped to European countries.
Four years later, the enterprising pair of Charles Klipfel and Professor J.F. Keating joined in on pine seed harvesting after they formed a partnership to purchase a state-of-the-art J.I. Case Thresher. The innovative machine brought faster and more efficient grain processing (and ultimately pinecone shelling) to the Beulah Valley, boosting the local economy. The new machine would be engaged after the grains harvest season, “It is also significant to recall that this first machine had an attachment which made possible the shelling of spruce tree cones.”
At that time, timber harvesting was already firmly in place in the Beulah area, supplying a rapidly growing Pueblo population with wagon loads of lumber. A host of industries were created using the by-products of the pine tree, including pine oil (used as an anti-inflammatory), ‘pine wool’ (pine needles mixed with hair used for ticking in mattresses and pillows), pine tar (plug holes on sailing ships), and pulp for paper. However, cultivating pine seeds was still considered a ‘new industry’ or ‘novel industry’ as repeated in many headlines covering the topic.
Bags, baskets, carts and wagons secured bushels of pine cones, local spots of harvest were identified on North Creek, Red Creek, Hardscrabble Creek, and Greenwood (south of Wetmore). “The cone gatherers have been busy for the last month up in the mountains bringing cones into camp from where they were hauled into the cone yard in Beulah. The yard has been factiously dubbed “Coney Island,” found in the Colorado Daily Chieftain in the fall of 1900.
Squirrels known as ‘Mountain Boomers’ were the work horses of spruce seed harvesting. “Very important, almost singly essential, is the phenomenon of the squirrels. These tiny rodents, a particular species called ‘boomer’ squirrels go through the stands of mature trees and clip the ripe cones, another crew on the ground below gather them into huge piles formed very expertly at the base of trees and covered with forest debris so as to protect each cone from rain and snow. Every cone is placed, top down in the pile by busy little paws. Spruce cones are not an every year crop, the average is about three years, but the season of one grove will not coincide throughout the forest. Thus seeds may be gathered nearly every fall. Cone gatherers go into the woods, located the caches made by squirrels and take a part of them with least disturbance possible leaving sufficient cones so as not to deprive the tiny animals of a necessary food supply.”
Gathering pine seeds from other tree varieties required tree pruners to clip the pinecone from the tree; however, the extra effort boosted the price of the seed.
One spruce pinecone could produce between 37-80 seeds, and it took one bushel of pineconed to yield one pound of seed (it took approximately 100,000 seeds to make a pound. The larger yellow pine seeds would weigh a pound with just 14,000 seeds.
Beulah locals who harvested and processed pine seeds ranged from families picking pinecones to men partnering with each other, horse-power, and the latest equipment. Locally, the list of Beulah ‘cone gatherers’ include Mr. Self and Sons, Mr. Robert Patton, Charles Klipfel, Francis Klipfel, Vollie Klipfel, Ike Gray, Roam Lyle, Percy Jones, Harvey Gibson, Carl/Quinn Walker, Frank L. Murray, Walter Davis, Lee Mathews, Elwin Jones, and Phil Sargeant.
The basic process of harvesting pine seeds was outlined in a 1912 article… “They are hauled in sacks to the camp. Here they are spread on huge canvas sheets and left to dry and open in the warm sunshine. After the seeds are out there are the wings to be taken off. This is done by placing the seeds in seamless sacks and tramping them or beating them with light sticks. Then by pouring them out into another vessel, the seeds drop while even a slight breeze carries the wings away like chaff. The next step is the most important, namely, the testing of the seed. This is done by placing the seed in water. The good seed settle while the poor seed float and are skimmed off and tried over to be sure none is wasted. Not over 40 per cent of the seed is good.”
When president Theodore Roosevelt’s National Conference of Governors met to discuss the nation’s natural resources in May 1908, the conference recommended that the President appoint a National Conservation Commission. A pinecone harvesting and cultivation boom would then spring up throughout Colorado.
From Estes Park “Uncle Sam orders half ton of seed from this forest, experiment station to be established in Estes Park”.
In 1910 the United States Department of Agriculture distributed 10 tons of seed. “Most of the seed will be sown either broadcast or in seed spots or planted with a corn planter directly in the place where the trees are to stand.” Many seeds were gathered by Forest Service men, but some localities paid individuals and private parties.
With the onset of World War I in 1914, the cone camps diminished and the U.S. Forest Service offered fewer opportunities for seed purchases. However, some projects cropped up in 1919 “Lumberjacks, college men, hoboes and former convicts drift into camps and work side by side gathering huge stores.” A reflection of the desperate times.
Admirably, Beulah pioneers were unafraid of hard work and eager to adapt to new ideas and technologies to help refine tedious processes. A sense of pride can still be felt today when considering the final destination of the Beulah Pine Seed—a U.S. forest, or adorning the front yard of a home in Boston or Berlin.