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Dan Saults, Wry, Witty and Talented

By Keith G. Hay

Like many OWAA Legends, Dan Saults enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a dedicated conservationist and outdoor journalist. He knew his craft from A to Z and was passionate in practicing it. Although his heart and head were sharply focused on fish and wildlife conservation issues, Sault’s appetite for knowledge spanned an amazing breadth of interests.

He loved the Missouri Ozarks and its history, especially that of the Irish Wilderness. Irish emigrants from St. Louis settled there in the 1850s only to mysteriously disappear during the Civil War. He was fascinated with Mexico, its many cultures and colorful past, and enjoyed visiting. He was a fan of good music and good food, and his culinary feats included the best darn chili I ever tasted. He loved engaging in philosophical discussions with people from all walks of life. In short, he was a quintessential Renaissance man. Fun loving, even mischievous at times, he was at his best telling stories between puffs of his ever-present pipe. He was totally devoted to his beloved wife Helen, who worked close by his office in the Interior Department as assistant to the director of the National Park Service. I can see them now, walking hand-to-hand down the hall after a long day’s work.

I first met Saults at a meeting of the American Association for Conservation Information at the grand Colorado Hotel in Glenwood Springs, Colo., in 1956. He had been editor of Missouri Conservationist magazine for a decade, and I just had been offered the job of assistant editor of Colorado Outdoors magazine, leaving an apprenticeship as game warden with the Colorado Game and Fish Department. We immediately communed in our love of the outdoors and in the fact that we both had served as army infantry officers, albeit in different wars. Saults was decorated in WWII — he led a frontal assault on a German machine-gun nest — and was captain of a company in the 339th Infantry Regiment, serving in North African and Italian campaigns. His stories and adventures were riveting. Ten years later, with the help of another OWAA Legend, Joe Linduska, I would join Saults as his assistant in the Information Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This unique man still holds the title with most of his staff as “the best boss we ever had.” Always patient and supportive, he encouraged his staff who were not members of OWAA to join. Of course we did. During his tenure with the Service he was largely responsible for editing and production of such class books as Birds in Our Lives, Waterfowl Tomorrow and Fifty Birds of Town and Country.

Saults was born in the little town of Knob Noster, Mo., halfway between Jefferson City and Kansas City, on May 20, 1911. After high school he attended Central Missouri State Teachers College and graduated from the prestigious journalism school at the University of Missouri. In 1934, at age 22, he purchased the Knob Noster Gem, a weekly newspaper, and became editor and publisher (the youngest publisher in Missouri at that time). WWII soon would end his newspaper career. After military service he spent a year as a freelance writer in Brownsville, Texas, before he assumed editorship of Missouri Conservationist magazine and became chief of the Office of Information. Later, he became the department’s deputy director. In 1964, he joined the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as assistant to the director and chief of information in Washington, D.C. A year later he became chief of information for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (then called the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife). He retired in 1973.

He and Helen then moved to Branson, Mo., and he continued his writing with a weekly column, “Saulty Observations,” for the Branson Beacon and the Springfield News Leader, as well as articles for Ozarks Mountaineer and Missouri Life Magazine. He completed volumes one and two of a historical novel titled Children of Hunger. During these years, he remained active in OWAA. He was elected to the Circle of Chiefs in 1973 and co-authored, with Jim Bashline, the 1976 book America’s Great Outdoors. This book, now a collector’s gem, chronicles 200 years of outdoor journalism. In 1979 he was elected president of OWAA. He remained active in conservation matters, co-chairing the 50th anniversary committee for the Conservation Federation of Missouri.

After his death in September of 1985, the Dan Saults Writing Award was established by the Ozark Writer’s League to honor his memory. A year later he received the National Wildlife Federation’s conservation award from the Conservation Federation of Missouri for his pioneering conservation efforts. In 1990 he was inducted into the Conservation Hall of Fame. The Dan Saults Collection of newspaper columns, articles, editorials and correspondence was given to the University of Missouri’s journalism school.

Joel Vance, OWAA historian, reports, “Dan was already a legend when I started working for the Missouri Conservation Department in 1969. Although he had been in Washington, D.C., for five years, his influence here was still strong. He was Jim Keefe’s mentor and Keefe (another OWAA Legend) was mine. Dan and Keefe dominated editorial duties on the Missouri Conservationist magazine for nearly 40 years. Their inside-front-cover editorial was the voice of the Conservation Department. The magazine grew from a fledgling to one with the largest circulation of any state conservation publication — more than 400,000. Jim, who succeeded Dan as editor, loved to tell how his boss was a compulsive editor. If he was eating in some Ozark cafe and noticed a typo in the menu, the black pencil would come out, and he’d edit on the spot.”

Don Cullimore, whose dad was a Ham Brown Award recipient, said, “Dan was a significant mentor to me. He shaped my reading habits, encouraged my intellectual curiosity and honed my passions in politics and philosophy. Dad and Dan’s research and articles undoubtedly led to the protection of the Irish Wilderness as a federally designated wilderness area. I’ve never found a friendship equal to his.”

Chuck Cadieux (an OWAA living legend and former OWAA president) worked with Saults in the National Association for Conservation Education and Publicity in the early 1950s and said he was a “master of words. He once wrote a story about four Ozark coon hunters setting around the campfire, and you could smell the smoke and hear the hounds tree the raccoon.”

Jim Carroll remembers, “He was the best boss I ever had, but I worked too long and he lived too short to tell him that. I have never known a person more knowledgeable on so many subjects. My only regret is that I never learned how to tell a story like the master from Knob Noster.”

Pete Anastasi said, “A literary genius at work — fits Dan Saults to a ‘T’. I never met anyone who could match his editorial expertise. When I handed him copy I always got back half and soon learned how to keep the gobbledygook out.:

Don Pfitzer, a B-17 pilot in WWII, recalls long discussions with Saults, who Pfitzer met after the war when both were state information and education supervisors — Saults in Missouri, and Pfitzer in Tennessee. “Among all the subjects we discussed, the most memorable hinged around our faith. Dan surprised me by his strong belief in the Bible and its literary value. He read and reread Solomon’s books, especially Ecclesiastics. I remember so vividly evenings listening to him read aloud passages with intense feeling. Just another facet of this remarkable man that few of his contemporaries had occasion to enjoy.”

Saults rests in Knob Noster and left his wife, a daughter, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren that he would have adored. In my book, he was a great man and one of the finest conservation editors of our time.

Keith Hay, an OWAA member since 1965, retired as conservation director for the American Petroleum Institute. He is vice president for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial in Oregon and lives near Newberg, Ore., on his tree farm and vineyard.

© Outdoor Writers Association of America