The Forest Around Us



Bill Moore




....This is a true story. It happened in the logging camp I call home—or Downtown Winter Harbour. And this is the way it was—just a short twenty years ago in 1955.
....It was the year of the mice. Thousands and thousands of little bush mice invaded the camp. It was a summer of no wild berries in the woods. There was some form of imbalance in old Mother Nature and I suppose because the forest yielded no huckleberries or salmonberries the little fellows turned to anything else they could find to eat.
....I can remember back porches just crawling with mice in the evenings — garbage cans with 30 or 40 mice in them in the morning. One fellow set up a 45 gallon barrel with no top on it as a trap for them and would catch a few hundred each night. Traps, mouside, guns, sticks -everything was used to kill them, but on they came. The camp swarmed with them.
....We had a whistle punk (pardon me—I should say signalman) in camp. Sluggo was his name—loved baseball, and was always up to practical jokes. He was an avid trout fisherman and was always talking about the St. Louis Cardinals or some old trout hole he knew. Kids liked Sluggo and he always had a couple trail-ing along behind him on Sunday when he’d try the trout creek near the camp. But he was known as a practical joker.
....This all sets up the rather strange set of circumstances known around camp as the “Button Thief Caper.” And what


a caper it was for the loggers in the bunkhouses.
....We had a large washroom and dry house where the men would change from their work clothes and caulk boots into their camp clothes. Around the big heater and water tank the fellows would hang their wet clothes to dry after work and put them on again in the morning before they left for the woods in pickups and crummies.

....One morning, I guess it was in mid-June, a couple of the fellows com-plained about buttons missing from their work shirts that had been left hanging in the dry room. We didn’t think too much of it until the next morning when several more men stated the same thing. In a few days the loggers were getting really an-noyed as more and more buttons were missing from shirts, pants and clothing.
....Somebody was pulling a fast one. Somebody was sneaking into the dry house at night and cutting buttons off the clothes. It was a strange sight to see men coming out of the dry house in the morning with shirts wide open—with no buttons on their pants for suspenders to hold onto. What the hell was going on? Who was the button thief—and where were all the damned buttons going? For none could be found.
....It must be Sluggo—who else was a practical joker in camp? Just because he had buttons missing too didn’t mean a thing. He was taking his own off to cover up. All eyes turned to this man—Sluggo has got to be the “Button Thief.” You could not find a more angry lot of loggers on the coast. We had fears he just might not live through it.
....Well the situation got worse and worse. Finally someone said he would climb into the rafters of the building with a gun and spend the night there waiting and watching for the “Button Thief.” The night long vigil took place. No one entered the building that night
British Columbia Lumberman, August, 1975

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but buttons were still missing the next morning. So the mystery deepened.
....At this height of events the police patrol boat arrived on its monthly tour of the area. The two officers were well known to us and generally stayed the night and visited. After supper I told them the story of the “Button Thief” and they of course enjoyed the story. It was humorous until you saw the faces of the loggers as they dressed for work in the morning.
....So we had a thief and we had the police—and we had an unsolved crime. Why not enlist the good officers’ detection powers to crack the case of this crime of the century—and on loggers yet! We marched up to the dry house—men gathered behind us telling of the various sizes and colors of the buttons stolen from their property. Sluggo’s name was dropped several times. Non baseball lovers and non fishermen were eager to have this rascal carried off by the police and brought to trial.
....The delegation arrived at the dry-house. One officer covered the back door while the other bravely opened the front door and with hand on the ready scanned the room. Unfor-tunately there was no butler! Just a few mice scurrying across the floor.
....The officer investigated the various clothes hanging about. Ah—ha, a button is missing off this pair of Stanfield drawers. And two more off a work shirt. And very carefully he pulled down a pair of work pants and the fly buttons were gone. Now look for clues.
....What’s this? Along this board on the wall where the coat hooks are driven in appeared tiny little pellets. Could a Sluggo do this? Never! No, it was not human. It was the work of — all eyes were on the policeman. The officer looked about the room—his eyes fell on the big 90-gallon hot water tank on its boxed stand. Quietly he walked over to it and knelt down. He tugged at a board and it came loose. He reached for his flashlight and put the beam through the crack under the tank. It was a historic moment—like one giant step for man. He told us to see what he had found. We were down on our knees all trying to look in at once. And like Tutkanhamen’s tomb when the archeologist gazed in through the hole—there was our mystery.
....A pile—a bunch—a whole lot of buttons! Big ones, small ones, coloured ones. Buttons and buttons and buttons. And there in the corner was the thief—or should I say one of the gang of thieves—bush mice.
....They had fooled us. We had thought of pack rats but knew there were none here. But who ever heard of pack-mice that took a liking to

buttons and clipped them off loggers’ clothes like a pair of scissors and carried them off to their vlair beneath the water tank?
....The case was cracked. By gosh that cop knew his business. Men smiled once more. Sluggo would not be carted off in handcuffs Loggers could once more stand erect without fear of their pants falling off! The “Button Thief” was apprehended. Calm fell on the camp once more.
....And strangely as the mice came so suddenly so they disappeared. A few diehards said it was because the buttons ran out. And one or two non St. Louis Cardinals fans still kept a close eye on dear old Sluggo. Could it have been a hoax — could Sluggo have masterminded


this ingenious logging camp caper? In the annals of crime strange things have happened.
....We thanked the two visiting policemen. The Mounties had got their man again. Or I should say their mice.
....Yes, faithful reader of the Forest Around Us—this really happened. If you don’t believe me — ask the loggers — or gently ask the next fan you meet of the St. Louis Cardinals — it may be Sluggo himself.

Keep out of the bight,


British Columbia Lumberman, August, 1975