Snoqualmie Valley History: Forest Ranger Cougar Pete

[Guest Post by Kaitlyn Murray, Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum staff member]

President Theodore Roosevelt made great strides to protect land in the United States for future generations. He prompted the government to develop environmental conservation initiatives, including creating the United States Forest Service in 1905.

In 1908, the Washington Forest Reserve was divided into two separate forests, the Washington National Forest and the Snoqualmie National Forest. The first United States Forest Ranger appointed by President Roosevelt for the Snoqualmie National Forest was a North Bend local named Pete Peterson, known to many by his nickname Cougar Pete.

Pete Peterson. Photograph taken c. 1910.

Peterson was born in Denmark in 1880, and as a young man, he joined the Danish Navy. Inspired by James Fenimore Cooper’s adventure stories in the American Frontier, he left Denmark and moved to the United States in 1903. After arriving in North Bend, he became a blacksmith and was appointed the Town Marshal.

He married Selma in 1924, and they soon started a family. In 1928, he moved from North Bend to Renton and built a new home. Although he resided in Renton later in his life, he frequently came to the area to enjoy the beautiful nature of the Snoqualmie Valley.

Peterson on a canoe with a group of hunting hounds.

As a forest ranger, Peterson was responsible for various tasks while overseeing and caring for local forests. Some ranger responsibilities include hiking accident rescues, ensuring resident’s safety during forest fires, and monitoring wildlife.

Peterson gained his nickname of Cougar Pete from being a bounty hunter for cougars. In the early 1900s, individual counties in Washington state had cougar bounty programs. Local governments were concerned about the negative effects cougar attacks had on farming in areas where livestock farms were a primary source of food and income.

Mindful hunting methods used by the Snoqualmie Tribe since time immemorial ensured sustainable animal populations and maintained a healthy environment. Cougar bounties were placed to protect livestock unknowing of the negative effects hunting would have on the cougar population and the ecosystem. Bounty hunters followed government advisements during this time period and worked to protect local livelihoods and food sources.

Peterson holding a wild Salmon he caught while fishing on the river. PO.274.0038

Peterson greatly enjoyed the outdoors and being in nature. In his free time, he was an avid hunter and fisher. During the 1920’s the state hired him to hunt a specific grizzly bear who was killing large amounts of livestock in Okanogan County. This large bear was stuffed and displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Peterson invented new technologies to use during his outdoor adventures. He patented some of his inventions to share them with others who enjoyed the outdoors. Among these inventions was a specialized hatchet with an inside compartment for matches or other tools you may need in the wilderness.

Peterson’s hatchet design.

Peterson lived until 95 years old and passed away in 1975. Forest Rangers like Pete Peterson are remembered for their efforts to protect community members from the natural dangers that can be found in the wilderness. Rangers help ensure safe recreation in the Snoqualmie National Forest, creating more opportunities for people to connect with nature.

[Featured Image: Peterson stands beside a packtrain horse while transporting supplies in the forest. PO.274.0015]

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