Richard Wilson Interview, September 17, 2015


Richard Wilson


Charles Palmer



Download Audio Interview (31.2 MB)

Download Transcript of Richard Wilson Interview (298 KB)


Richard Wilson discusses his career fighting fires both as a smokejumper and as part of ground crews in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, California, and Alaska. He focuses mainly on his time smoke jumping in Montana and details his experience cleaning up after the 1949 Mann Gulch fire tragedy in the Helena National Forest. He explains how he and a few other smokejumpers were scheduled to jump on the fire, but arrived too late at the airport, and another set of jumpers had taken their place. Wilson recounts going the following day as part of a rescue team to remove the bodies of his colleagues after the fire left no survivors. He describes the state of the bodies that he and the rescue crew retrieved from the burn site during the two-day mission. Wilson describes how the experience affected the rest of his firefighting career, and explains that he was always more willing to let structures burn than send his crews into high-risk situations.


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Document Type

Oral History


U.S. Forest Service; Smokejumpers; Mann Gulch Fire; Firefighters; Norman MacLean; Young Men and Fire; Forest fire victims; Forest fire destruction; Phillip McVey; R. Wagner “Wag” Dodge; William Hellman; Walter Rumsey; Robert Sallee; Helena, Montana

Original Date


Time Period

Twentieth century

Geographic Coverage




Original Collection

Forestry, Land Use, and Conservation Oral History Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Mansfield Library, University of Montana-Missoula

Digital Publisher

University of Montana--Missoula. Mansfield Library


Copyright to this collection is held by the interview participants and by the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, University of Montana-Missoula. Permission may be required for use. For further information please contact Archives and Special Collections: (406) 243-2053 /

Oral History Number

OH 447-001

Media Type

Sound; Text

Original Format

1 sound file (00:38:56 min.) : digital, + 1 transcript (13 p. : 28 cm.)

Digital Format

audio/mp3; application/pdf

Run Time

00:38:56 minutes

Local Filename

OH_447_001.mp3; OH_447_001.pdf

Richard Wilson Interview, September 17, 2015