American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Roger W. Toll, 1883-1936

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1937

ROGER W. TOLL 1883-1936

On February 25th, 1936, the National Park Service incurred a staggering loss when two of its outstanding leaders, Roger W. Toll, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, and George Wright, chief of the Wild Life Division, met death in an unavoidable automobile accident near Deming, N. M.

Toll, long a leader in western mountaineering and a member of the American Alpine Club, was born at Denver, Colo., on October 17th, 1883. He attended the Denver schools and later Columbia University, where he graduated in civil engineering in 1906. The next year a tour with his brother gave him opportunity to climb in the Swiss Alps. Returning, he found employment in 1907 with the Massachusetts Board of Health. In 1908 he passed highest in a class of forty-four who took competitive examinations for a post with the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, and as a result became member of the survey party that during the summer of 1908 charted the coast line of Cook Inlet and vicinity, Alaska. In the fall he returned to his home city to accept an appointment as chief engineer of the Denver City Tramway Company. With participation of our country in the World War, Toll became captain in the Ordnance Department, later being promoted to the rank of major.

In 1919 while climbing in the Hawaiian Islands occurred Toll’s significant meeting with Stephen T. Mather, then director of the recently-established National Park Service. In September of the same year Toll became superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park. In 1921 he was transferred to Rocky Mountain National Park and, when in 1929 a superintendent was sought for the largest and oldest of the National Parks, Yellowstone, Toll was the inevitable choice.

Toll’s superintendency of Yellowstone continued until his death, but his sphere of influence during this period was as far-flung as our land itself, and its outlying possessions—this because for a portion of each year he served in the pecular rôle of investigator of all proposed national park and monument areas. At his death, “only about a dozen areas, out of one hundred and fifty, remained yet to be investigated and reported upon. A tireless worker and a wizard for detail, he has compiled hundreds of reports of inestimable value. Of everything he did he made a neat, accurate, and comprehensive record. No other man has the first-hand knowledge of our national scenic resources which was his” (Trail and Timberline, March-April, 1936; port.). It was while en route with Wright to investigate the proposed international park in the Big Bend region of Texas, Chihuahua and Coahuila, that Toll met his death.

Mountaineering was one of many interests that Toll pursued in his quiet, earnest way, and in which his enthusiasm translated itself into tangible achievement. He was a charter member of the Colorado Mountain Club and, as set forth in a statement by that organization, during its early days gave unstintingly of his time and of himself to its development. He originated the club’s system of trip reports and designed the club’s peak register cylinders, which are now widely used in the Rocky Mountain region. He compiled and edited the “Data on Colorado Mountaineering” which, in 1915, for the first time made available a mass of information relating to this subject. Later he wrote “Mountaineering in the Rocky Mountain National Park,” a bulletin published by the government in 1919, and another work on “The Mountain Peaks of Colorado,” published by the Colorado Mountain Club in 1923. Many other publications and activities give evidence of Toll's active interest in mountaineering.

Toll was a man of magnificent physique, and as was said of him many years ago truly he had “heart and spirit to match.” That he was a great leader was in no small measure because he was himself unfailingly sincere and considerate, and his staff gave him in return a loyalty of a kind all too rare.

F. M. F

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