Two Selway Legends
Ernie Bohn and His Biographer
By Lorie Palmer Russell
I first met John Crawford early this year, when he bounced into the Idaho County Free Press office in Grangeville where I work. I use the word “bounced” because John has an amiable personality that seems effortlessly achieved, and he exudes happiness. For more than an hour, he told the story of how he penned his third book, Tarzan the Mountain Man and the Pete King Fire of 1934.
I’ve heard a lot of authors talk about their books in my twenty-six years as a reporter, and not all of these monologues were great, so I wasn’t expecting much when John began. But his storytelling grabbed me from the start. Not only the words he used, but his exuberance in relating events and explaining things captivated me. He talked about Forest Service practices, the northern Idaho terrain, construction methods, and storms—much of which was new to me despite my years here. The book was not about himself, and I thought, “He needs to write about his own adventures.”
This notion stayed with me as I read Tarzan, which is about the late Ernest William Bohn, an iconic Idaho County Forest Service lookout. John, who himself has been a fire lookout for decades, brought deep personal experience to the story. I won’t spoil the ending of this 128-page book for you except to say that I loved the last page—so much so that I emailed him to say he needed to write an autobiography. I believe that is in the works now. But I digress.
“I was kind of intimidated by what I had heard about him,” John said of Ernie Bohn. “He was a big, strong man and there were many stories about him.”The intimidation wore away in the 1990s when John, who worked at Fenn Ranger Station in Lowell when it wasn’t fire season, finally stopped by the exalted man’s home along the Selway River. “He was the nicest guy,” John said.