George Tannehill, forest legend

By James P. Barnett
Journal Correspondent

George Tannehill served as the Winn District Ranger for 38 years, the longest tenure of any ranger on the Kisatchie National Forest and the second to only one ranger in the entire U.S. Forest Service.

Mr. Tannehill was reared in Urania and was a member of the Tannehill family that was closely connected for many years to the historic Urania Lumber Company. George came from a forestry family and was reared in a forestry community, so it is not surprising that he grew up to be a professional forester.

As a youth, he traveled to California and in 1929 began to work for the Forest Service. After a few months he returned to Louisiana and enrolled in the Louisiana State University's School of Forestry. Upon graduating in 1932, he returned to work for the Forest Service, accepting a position on Ouachita National Forest. In 1935, he came to Winnfield to accept the position as Ranger of the Winn District. Although he was responsible for the timber program, recreation, fire control, and road construction and repair, his biggest challenge was supervising an extensive reforestation program. Today, more than 100,000 of the district acres have been planted.

It was Tannehill's choice to remain to the Winn District until retirement, although the Forest Service wanted to transfer and promote him many times. He refused to leave the District because he believed that he could do more good on the Winn District than anywhere else. If pushed to transfer, George would call "Cousin Allen", Senator Allen Ellender who was President pro tem of the Senate, who could cut through a lot of bureaucracy. George also had a close relationship with Senator Russell Long. These friendships helped protect George's position in an agency that typically moved employees every few years.

Tannehill had a very good relationship with co-workers and citizens of the community. He was held in great respect for his professionalism-he was among the earliest graduate foresters on the Kisatchie-and his fellow citizens demonstrated love for "Mr. George." The many "Mr. George" stories show the high regard with which he was held. Perhaps the secret of George Tannehill's success was that "he treated the lowest man on the job the same as someone from the Supervisor's office."

Friends and colleagues believed Tannehill was a millionaire and the wealthiest ranger in the Forest Service. If so, this wealth must have come from his family's forestry enterprise. Certainly, he did not flaunt his wealth. In fact, one would never know it from the old automobile he drove. According to one of his supervisors, George gave away "two or three fortunes" because he was a "sucker for a sob story." He kept his charity secret, usually sending help through a third party.

Mr. George believed in taking care of the forest. A colleague remembers him as "different from any other ranger I ever worked for-a business type didn't carry on any foolishness. It he promised something, he'd work hard to try to get it done." Others remember him as always being immaculate. When in civilian clothes, he dressed with shirt and tie, looking as if he had "just stepped out of a band box."

He developed a unique relationship with the public by using unconventional methods. The arson problem common to all districts was reduced on the Winn District when he reduced the number of fires by hiring the woods burners. In those early days it was critical to win over the local citizens who for years had done as they pleased with stock, timber trespass, hunting, and fire on what had become government land.

Tannehill was described as the "type that would not tell you any more than he had to, letting you go your merry way and get yourself into trouble." When two fire inspectors came from the Atlanta office, they thought that Tannehill should keep his fire towers manned at night because the wind had not died down. After dark, they called him from their hotel with an "I-told-you-so" tone, and told him the whole country was burning-they could see the glow in the sky. George drove the men out to Sparta, where a gas well flare was burning, lighting up the sky just as it did every night.

Mr. George is remembered fondly by those who worked for him as one of the smartest foresters they ever knew, "a man with a lot of horse sense as well as college sense." He was respected greatly by employees, colleagues, and the general public.

(Anna Burns' "History of the Kisatchie National Forest: A Forester's Dream" was used as a resource for this article)