"Timber fallers needed in the Rodeo/Chediski fire area" read the advertisement posted by a company called Dobson Logging. "May work five, six, seven days per week, your choice. Most fallers are making $150-375/day."
Those who called on this ad posted on the Internet, in saw shops and in Forest Service offices, spoke to the company's owner, Roger Dobson.
Dobson allegedly told the cutters that he had enough work for as many as 50 timber fallers until summer.
So they came --imber cutters from Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, even Alaska -- looking for winter employment only to find, not work, but unemployed cutters who answered the same ad.
Tracy Byington drove from Libby, Mont.
"I found an ad on the wall of Madsen's, a well-known saw shop in Washington," Byington said. "Dobson was advertising for over 50 cutters. I thought, if you're advertising for 50 cutters, it must be a reputable outfit."
Shortly after his arrival in Arizona, Byington spoke to Dobson, who was staying in a trailer at the Payson Campground, and was uneasy about their conversation.
"I asked him some questions like ‘How many million board feet do you have?' ‘How many cutters do you have?' He didn't know the answer," Byington said. "I've never met someone who didn't know exactly how many cutters they have. That's not normal."
The following day, Byington drove to the burn site and his suspicions were confirmed.
"I've been cutting for 12 years and I know how to look at timber, and when I went up the hill to look at the burn area, I knew there wasn't the kind of work he was claiming," Byington said.
According to the cutters at the campground, at least three individuals worked for Dobson and haven't been paid.
"That's what we know of," Byington said. "We don't know how many people have gone up the hill and turned around and went home."
Bo Dunson of Grants Pass, Ore. is still waiting to be paid for the work he did for Dobson.
"I put in four days for Roger Dobson and I have not seen a dime. He owes two other cutters a couple thousand apiece," Dunson said.
"I was supposed to be paid $2,200 on the 10th of January," Dan March of Moab, Utah said. "I put in 50 hours of labor for Dobson."
Dunson and March, like others, called Dobson about his ad and were told they were needed and to come to Arizona as soon as possible.
"I packed up my camper, bought (new) equipment and came down here," Dunson said. "The first day I worked, there were about five trucks following Dobson's looking for timber to cut. We drove and we drove and finally found a little patch of timber. Dobson told me and my partner to stay and fall the timber while he continued on looking with the other guys. When I got back to camp, I found out those guys never fell a single tree. They drove around the next day and still could not find anything they could cut. He barely had work for three cutters and yet we'd hear him on the phone still telling guys to come on down."
William Beckwith drove from Utah to work for Dobson.
"I spoke to him on the phone and he said he needed 65 cutters. I told him I was on my way," Beckwith said.
"Every single cutter that has showed up, over 20 since I've been here, has gone up the hill and said, ‘What is this guy talking about?' There's not a lot of wood, 15 to 20 cutters could take care of the whole burn, in my opinion," Byington said.
By Tuesday, Jan. 14, according to the cutters, it was evident that Dobson would not be putting them to work as he had promised and tensions at the campground began to escalate.
"That night, all of us cutters got together and decided to confront Dobson and tell him that he needs to pay the people who need paid and needs to start coming clean and quit bringing people down here for nothing," Byington said.
Dobson was in the campground office when the group of cutters went to confront him. Just as they arrived, three trucks pulled up. They were cutters from Idaho and Washington who were looking for Dobson.
"They had been called down to work and when we told them about the situation, they were very upset," Byington said. "One guy had hocked stuff to come down here."
By that time, about 15 cutters had gathered in the office seeking answers from Dobson.
According to Dunson, Dobson said he did have enough work for everyone, but had since lost his contract, and didn't have any money.
The cutters disagreed that Dobson ever had the kind of work he was promising, even for the people who had been in the area for the past month.
Jim Keller, owner of Keller Logging, is the man who hired Dobson. Dobson was charged with hiring his own crew.
"I told him I only needed four or five timber cutters. Every day for two or three weeks he'd tell me he had 14, 15 cutters and on three different occasions I had to take him aside and tell him that four or five was all I needed," Keller said
After leaving the office, Dobson returned to his trailer where he met with Dunson and March. According to Dunson, Dobson said that when he handed in his scale sheet with the board footage of the timber to Keller, he was only paid for 100,000 board feet instead of the 160,000 board feet they had cut.
"Well, 100,000 board-feet times $20 is still a pretty healthy check," Dunson said. "That still didn't explain why he wasn't paying no one."
Keller refutes Dobson's claim and describes hiring Dobson as "a big mistake."
"I fired Dobson on the evening of Jan. 11," Keller said. "His conduct was unprofessional. I terminated him for many reasons."
Keller declined to elaborate.
"I hope he's left the area. That's all I can say," he said.
Later that night, according to witnesses, Dobson came into Byington's campsite "yelling belligerently" that some of his chain saws were missing. When Dobson refused to leave their campsite, Byington's girlfriend, Crystal Schroeder, ran to the office to call the police.
Dobson also visited March's campsite where, according to March, Dobson threatened him and challenged him to fight.
Cathy and Carl Hall, managers of the Payson Campground, were concerned about the escalating tension and had already asked the Payson police to patrol the area.
Police officers were close by and arrived at the scene quickly. They arrested Dobson when March, Byington and other cutters reported his threatening behavior.
Lt. Don Engler confirmed that Dobson had been arrested at 9:14 p.m. on assault and intimidation charges and was taken to jail.
After Dobson posted bail the following morning and returned to his campsite, the Halls asked him to leave the campground.
That was the last time anyone saw Roger Dobson.
The Roundup repeatedly tried to reach Dobson for comment only to get a recording that his voice mailbox was full.
Three of the cutters, including Dunson, consulted a local attorney to see if they had any recourse against Dobson for not paying them.
"We wanted to put a lien on the logs, but were told that because it took place on the Apache reservation, we needed to consult someone who knew about Indian law," Dunson said.
According to Danny Sedillo, director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, timber removal on the Rodeo/Chediski burn area was a "tribal preference project" and Dobson had no place advertising nationally for 50 cutters.
"I am familiar with Mr. Dobson and will consult our attorneys because anyone who works on the reservation, regardless of tribal affiliation, needs to get paid," Sedillo said. "If we have to, we'll go after Dobson and see that these guys get paid."
A few of the cutters have since found work with other logging companies, but others remain unemployed and unable to get home.
"I am really impressed with these kids," Cathy Hall said. "I feel really sorry for them and can't understand why someone would do this kind of thing."
The timber fallers at Payson Campground said they were grateful for the kindness the Halls have shown them.
"They've let us use their phone to find work and have been so kind and generous to us," Byington said.
"The people in this town are good, honest folk," Dunson said. "It's just too bad we came all this way to work for someone who wasn't."