A Girl of the Timber Claims is another of the films that have gained the subtitle of: unknown status or lost; making itself known now, only by the gossamer threads of distant memories. The reception that Timber Claims received from the critics was mixed, while it garnered a good sized budget for advertising and a large enough preoccupation from the Hollywood trades and newspaper announcements; after all, D. W. Griffith was supervising the project. Timber Claims is now more a part of the history of Santa Cruz, California, having been filmed there almost entirely, than that of Hollywood. The film came in at five-reels, produced by Fine Arts and distributed by Triangle.
Of course, the standard (for the era) staggered release was in store for Timber Claims, and the film was seen as a premier as late as July of 1921 (at the Drohen’s Ave. Theatre, in Dunkirk, NY), making the majority of the circuit by the end of 1918. For your illumination and entertainment I have included short bios for each actor, and members of the filming crew (pictures when available). Some of the images from old magazines have not seen the light of day, in decades. And with the help of Lilly Library at Indiana University, we are providing a rare slide (seen above) that was used to advertise the upcoming release of Timber Claims.
Behind the scenes:
David Wark Griffith (supervisor) supervised the production, leaving the directing to Paul Powell. I will at this time list just a few facts regarding Griffith, rather than a short bio. As writer he accumulated two-hundred-twenty-eight credits, while producing sixty-three films; Griffith acted in forty-three movies. As if that were not enough he also edited two (The Birth of a Nation, 1915 and Intolerance, 1916) films, composed music for Intolerance, 1916 and The Struggle, 1931. Griffith also arranged the music for Intolerance, 1916 and for Hearts of the World, 1918; also pulling part-time duties (with one credit each) as assistant-director, costume designer, makeup, production design and manager. And of course five-hundred-thirty-four films directed including a staggering four-hundred-ninety-six short-subjects, with five-hundred-thirty-two movies made from 1908 through 1931; his first feature-length was Judith of Bethulia, which he filmed in 1913.
Paul Powell (director) was chosen to direct this feature-length movie (his first feature was Up from the Depths in 1915), his most note-worthy works were The Matrimaniac, starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., in 1916, All Night and A Society Sensation, in 1918 and Pollyanna, 1920. Paul began as a reporter in Chicago, and then he moved on to Los Angeles, with the Express as the political writer and city editor.
John W. Leezer (Cinematography) while early on in his time with Fine Arts this cinematographer was confined to the studios on Sunset Blvd., in Hollywood, but with Timber Claims, Leezer made his mark and then set about making the best of each opportunity to photograph in the outdoors. Mr. Leezer worked on two Strongheart the Dog pictures; for The Love Master, Leezer and crew went to film in the Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, and returned to the same for White Fang, another Strongheart movie.
Mary Hamilton O’Connor (writer) was the daughter of Bridget Nash O’Connor (a writer as well, contributing articles for magazines and newspapers) and sister of actress Loyola O’Connor Johnson (forty-eight film appearances-all silent) and the aunt of assistant-director Richard Johnson (Brewster’s Millions, 1921, starring Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle… all of Johnson’s work was in non-talkies). O’Connor wrote the story The Girl Homesteader, of which A Girl of the Timber Claims is based on. O’Connor, although born in Minnesota, spent enough time in the north-west (Portland) that her writing was influenced greatly. Not only was The Girl Homesteader/A Girl of the Timber Claims, set in the great north-west but her young-adult novel, The Vanishing Swede (1905), had its heart and action in the forests of Oregon, with a subplot of filing a claim; her book (Vanishing Swede) was well received, and clearly O’Connor had a knack for communicating her passion and fascination for the great-outdoors.
When first hired by the Vitagraph Company of America, O’Connor wrote nineteen scenarios in just six weeks; and when not penning scenarios she stayed busy by occasionally reporting for the local newspaper in Santa Cruz, California. Also O’Connor acted as facilitator for the Fine Arts Film Company and the city of Santa Cruz, California, where she thought the area would fill in nicely for Oregon. O’Connor was active in Hollywoodland, a member of the Writers’ Guild and a champion of early Hollywood.
In front of the camera:
Allan Sears (Francis Ames), like so many actors of the silent era Sears’ career is not easily tracked, especially one-hundred years removed. He was a leading man of some renown and considered a tasty acquisition by Triangle Pictures in 1917; his heyday was confined to the non-talkies, slipping into smaller and uncredited roles with each step taken toward sound films. In 1920 Sears was signed to play the lead in Kindred of the Dust, based on the novel of the same name, written by Peter B. Kyne, Frank Borzage was set to direct, with on-location shooting to take place at Big Bend, Oregon… but the deal fell through; eventually (1922), Ralph Graves took the lead role and Raoul Walsh directed Kindred of the Dust.
Constance Talmadge (Jessie West, our girl homesteader), had her debut in Buddy’s Downfall AKA Buddy’s First Call. Constance was only briefly a second tier player, by February of 1915 her picture was included in the Motion Picture Magazine Gallery of Picture Players, and with Timber Claims she had her first starring role, a vehicle for her unique talents; this was her next to last (Betsy’s Burglar, released in March of 1917, was her last) film for Fine Arts-Triangle Pictures, moving to Select Pictures Corp. In 1919 Talmadge would start up her own production company (Constance Talmadge Film Company) with A Temperamental Wife, 1919, being the first title produced and Breakfast at Sunrise, 1927 the last for her namesake. Constance made eighty-three films in fifteen years, with her last short-subject (The She-Devil) released in January of 1916.
Constance Talmadge was the youngest of her family, and being such, it fell upon Constance to act alongside her mother Margaret Talmadge. Mother Margaret was considered the prototypical Hollywood stage mother, and probably the most intimidating and forceful during all of the silent film era.
Margaret “Peg” Talmadge (Mrs. Kiesey), had just this one film appearance to her account; her success was not measured by her acting ability, but by the accomplishments of her three lovely and talented daughters: the eldest, Norma Talmadge, because of her early-start (her first movie, A Broken Spell, premiered in March of 1910) and her short-film work, she was able to make twice as many movies as Constance. The middle sister, Natalie Talmadge, was the least successful of the three, with just nine films and one story (Out West, 1918) taking a back-seat to the career of Buster Keaton after they married in 1921. And of course there was the baby of the family, Constance, an absolute mega-star and comedienne supreme!
Margaret Talmadge, or Peg as everyone who knew her by, even her daughters called her Peg, is best known for her offspring, her smothering parental skills, and the book she wrote about them: The Talmadge Sisters: Norma, Constance, Natalie; an Intimate Story of the World’s Most Famous Screen Family, by Their Mother. Notice that Natalie the middle-child is listed last in the sub-title and mother Margaret Talmadge could not resist putting herself into the sub-title. She finished the book in late 1922 and it was finally published in 1924 by J.B. Lippincott.
Clyde E. Hopkins (Bob Mullen), another actor not easy to trace, it seems he began on stage, but in what productions I am not able to discern. He made 19 film appearances, from 1915 through 1924 and on one occasion (Wild Papa, 1925) he acted as assistant director. We do know that Hopkins was highly involved in society in and around San Bernardino, California; he became the sergeant at arms with the American Legion, Post No. 14, and worked with the Forty & Eight Society.
Fred A. Turner (Jess’s father) who made seventy-one films in nine years, (Turner made his bread & butter by playing fatherly characters) appeared as Jessie (Constance Talmadge) West’s father. Turner began his acting career in New York, and was in two Broadway (Pierre of the Plains, 1908 and Gypsy Love, 1911) productions before making his film debut in 1913 in Kathleen Mavourneen.
Beau Byrd (Cora Abbott, friend of Francis Ames), an enigma, wrapped up in a paradox with seemingly no past and no future with regards to acting; this one film appears as the only credit for this actress. And we would not know whether Beau Byrd was man or woman except for the fortuitous description in Moving Picture World.
Bennie Schuman (Eddie Stanley, secretary to Francis Ames), if we thought that the entertainment history of Beau Byrd was difficult to track down, then Schuman takes the cake… nothing, absolutely nothing, beyond this one film reference.
Joseph Singleton (Leather Hermit) was a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ author, lecturer, world-traveler, stage-actor, playwright, poet and he worked in moving-pictures from 1913 through 1925, with eighty-one credits to his résumé. In Australia, in 1904, Singleton appeared with the Coulter Dramatic Company which was a theatrical-touring-group. As well Singleton appeared with the William Anderson touring company, another Aussie troupe.  In the United States Singleton was a part of The American Stock Company, touring the mid-west and east.
Wilbur Higby (Senator Hoyle) was on stage (stock and touring companies, not making an appearance on Broadway) long before his lengthy foray into filmdom. He was part of the Moore & Livingstone Dramatic Company, which in 1897 found itself in Michigan, collecting rave reviews. Mr. Higby was associated with the Harry Glazier Company, in 1901, a well traveled acting troupe. Our man Higby worked with the Spooner Stock Company, in 1903 and then in 1904, Higby established his own group: the Wilbur Higby Dramatic Company. By May of that same year Higby Dramatic had to reorganize and hire a new manager.  His next stop was the J. J. Flynn Stock Company during 1906. Higby, yet again authored another touring-band of thespians, his Wilbur Higby Stock Company had to end their engagement in St. Louis, Missouri, early because of him being taken ill.
Wilbur Higby had seventy-six film credits to his name, working into the talkie era; his most notable celluloid work came early, playing alongside Douglas Fairbanks in The Matrimaniac and Reggie Mixes In, both films made in 1916. He also had some success with the D. W. Griffith movie-making-machine in Hoodoo Ann, 1916, and True Heart Susie, 1919. One thing is for sure Wilbur Higby often portrayed the father, uncle or some other elder or person in a position of authority; his silver-screen career lasted twenty years, with his last two pictures (St. Louis Woman and The Mighty Barnum) released in the same year of his death, 1934.
Charles Lee (A Homesteader) had his one shot on Broadway in Fixing Sister in late autumn of 1916; 1917 was his third in the film industry, it would be his last, making just two more movies (twelve total in his short career) after Timber Claims.
By C. S. Williams
 The Motion Picture News, July 25, 1914
 Exhibitors Herald, January 5, 1924
 Exhibitors Trade Review, January 27, 1923
 The New York Times (New York, New York) Saturday, May 6, 1905
 Santa Cruz Evening News (Santa Cruz, California) Wednesday, April 30, 1913
 Santa Cruz Evening News (Santa Cruz, California) Friday, November 7, 1913
 Santa Cruz Evening News (Santa Cruz, California) Friday, November 24, 1916
 The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) Sunday, May 14, 1922
 Motography, Saturday, November 10, 1917
 The Washington Herald (Washington, D. C.) Sunday, November 14, 1920
 Motion Picture Magazine, October, 1914
 Motion Picture Magazine, February, 1915
 Altoona Tribune, (Altoona, Pennsylvania) Friday, September 10, 1915
 The San Bernardino Daily Sun (San Bernardino, California) Sunday, March 25, 1928
 The San Bernardino Daily Sun (San Bernardino, California) Thursday, September 10, 1931
 The San Bernardino Daily Sun (San Bernardino, California) Saturday, September 19, 1931
 The Marion Star (Marion, Ohio) Saturday, June 14, 1913
 The Moving Picture World, Saturday, February 17, 1917
 The Huntington Herald (Huntington, Indiana) Tuesday, April 27, 1915
 Traralgon Record (Traralgon, Victoria, Australia( Friday, April 8, 1904;
Riverine Herald (Echuca, Victoria, Moama, New South Wales, Australia) Wednesday, September 14, 1904;
Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia) Saturday, December 24, 1904; Barrier Miner
 The Register (Adelaide, South Australia, Australia) Monday, May 8, 1905
 The Evening Telegram (Elyria, Ohio) January 26, 1912
 The New York Dramatic Mirror (New York, New York) Saturday, June 15, 1907;
The Daily Times (Beaver, Pennsylvania) Wednesday, Tuesday, October 6, 1908
 The Morning Record (Traverse City, Michigan) Sunday, August 22, 1897
 Sandusky Daily Star (Sandusky, Ohio) Monday, October 28, 1901
 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) Tuesday, November 10, 1903
 The Fort Wayne Evening Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana) Monday, April 18, 1904
 The Fort Wayne Daily News (Fort Wayne, Indiana) Thursday, May 12, 1904
 The New York Clipper (New York, New York) Saturday, April 7, 1906
 Variety, Saturday, May 6, 1911