It’s "Talk Like a (Log) Pirate" Day

By James Lewis on September 18, 2009

In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19, we here at Peeling Back the Barrrrk bring you the dramatic tale "Log Pirates of Puget Sound." Although "Log Pirates" is an article by Stewart H. Holbrook that appeared in the January 1937 issue of American Forests, it reads like a pulp thriller/film noir from the 1940s, complete with a put-upon hero more married to his job than to his first wife, criminals with names like "High Pockets" and “Dark Moon,” cops on the take, stakeouts and undercover disguises, and keen detective work with a lot of gumshoeing. The film version would have starred Humphrey Bogart as William E. Craw, the battle-hardened former police captain-turned-log patrolman who suffered neither love nor corrupt loggers lightly.

Log Pirates of Puget Sound

This is how we envision the film having been cast if it were produced by Warner Bros. back in the late 1930s. If written as a swashbuckler, Robin Hood-type film, Errol Flynn would have made a great log pirate, stealing logs from villainous lumbermen along with the heart of a mill owner's daughter played by Olivia de Havilland.

What a great subject for a noir film this would be. Log theft was a major problem in the 1920s in the Tacoma, Washington, area. The high demand for lumber both in the U.S. and overseas had driven up prices, making piracy quite profitable and leading to the organization of gangs. The timber industry turned to the State of Washington for help. The legislature passed a law but did little else.  Desperate, seven timber companies came together to form the State Log Patrol in February 1928. They hired Craw, an ex-Marine with combat experience. He quickly assembled a crack squad of men and boats to start patrolling the waters and bust up the crime rings. Holbrook’s discussion of the use and abuse of log brands to identify ownership of logs is fascinating. The story of how Craw busted “High Pockets” Peterson because the ex-cop just happened to know about the properties of iron is straight out of Sherlock Holmes or, today, CSI. When the price of lumber dropped during the Great Depression, Craw had little crime solving to do and tried to start his own electronics shop to put food on the table for his second wife and children. Craw, his wife, and one of his two daughters were killed by a drunken reveler on July 4th, 1941, just a few months before lumber prices shot back up due to America’s entry into World War II and put the Log Patrol back in business.

Incidentally, Stewart Holbrook's article was an excerpt from his book, "Holy Old Macinaw!", which he brought up to date for the magazine. The article is a much better read. Once you’ve read “Log Pirates,” feel free to dig in a little deeper to the story over at the Washington State archives’ "History Link" website. Meanwhile, my piratical friend, hoist a tankard of grog to the memory of Cap’n Craw. Even a pirate must respect a lawman who can beat them at their own game.

Our thanks to American Forests for their permission to post this article!