Jacoby's Hidden History of American Conservation
By William Walter Kay
American environmentalism existed in a clearly recognizable form in the 1860s. The movement, then known as conservationism, became a dominant political force in the 1885 to 1915 era. Some salient features from that era:
The overwhelming, and explicit, consensus of conservationists was that wilderness could be protected only by imposing martial law.
Conservationist zealot Army Captain George Anderson incarcerated suspected wilderness wrongdoers in solitary confinement cages; keeping them on bread and water diets for over month at a time. He freely admitted there was no legal basis for such punishment.
New York conservationists pulled off an exquisite climate change hoax in their successful campaign to enclose the massive Adirondack Forest Preserve.
Senior conservationist William Hornaday, declared the town of Gardiner, Montana should be “wiped off the map.” He claimed there were 1,000 towns in the West in a similar “degenerate state, bordering on barbarism” because their inhabitants were “afflicted with a desire to do as they please with the natural resources of that region.”
William Rockefeller bought most of the land in and around the Adirondack town of Brandon, New York. He razed the houses, planted trees in their stead and for this was hailed as the “Maker of Wilderness” by Collier’s magazine.
Arizona’s Havasupai tribe were given a tiny reservation completely surrounded by a federal forest reserve and later were banned from the forest reserve.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Professor Jacoby and his Book
Jacoby's General History of Early US Conservationism
Summary and Conclusion
Professor Jacoby and his Book
Karl Jacoby teaches environmental history at Brown University. His PhD (History) is from Yale. Jacoby is a member of the American Society of Environmental Historians and sits on the Board of Editors of The Encyclopaedia of American Environmental History. He has won over a dozen awards including one from the Forest History Society in 1998 and the George Perkins Marsh Prize in Environmental History in 2002.The ultra-green Mellon Foundation and Yale Agrarian Studies Program helped fund the researching and writing of his first book, Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2001).
Crimes Against Nature is an “environmental history” – a genre never to be confused with regular history. The genre is predicated on the notion that human settlement of an area equals the ecological devastation of that area. However, within this genre, Jacoby fancies himself a myth-buster; a man who speaks to truth to power. For instance:
“In the case of American conservation, memory formation and policy making evolved in tandem with one another, for in justifying their programs, many of the movement’s leading proponents found it useful to offer a vision of the past to which conservation emerged as the only logical response. With rural folk seldom possessing the same means by which to disseminate their own versions of events, the accounts put forth by Marsh, Fernow, Pinchot and other early conservationists have come to occupy a prominent place in American popular memory.”
Jacoby challenges the myth that conservationists acted on wildernesses unclaimed by locals. Early conservationist Franklin Hough boasted:
“We may at least congratulate ourselves that rights of common are quite unknown among us, as regards the woodlands of our country, and dismiss them from further notice.”
This alleged absence of local usufruct contrasted with European situations where customary rights circumscribed conservationism. However, as the Adirondacks, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon episodes reveal, Americans regarded usufructure as a valid ideology, especially if natural resources were appropriated for necessities.
Another challenged myth is that conservationists protect unchanged and unchanging wilderness. In reality, conservationism itself transformed the countryside. The rise of conservation involved unprecedented intervention into the hinterland involving fire suppression, hunting laws, and the re-stocking of wildlife. Plant and animal populations underwent significant shifts. “Wilderness” should not be viewed as the primordial character of a place but as a propaganda tool used by conservationists in their conquest of the hinterland.
Central to Jacoby’s effort is dispelling the “myth” that rural folk opposed conservationism. He proffers a few feeble examples of frontiersmen supporting conservation, but they are either employees of the conservationist juggernaut, like hunting guides, or persons acting on ulterior, non-conservationist motives. It is not a “myth” that prospectors, homesteaders, and lumbermen were pro-development and eagerly transformed the environment in pursuit of wealth. Jacoby acknowledges this obviousity, then wastes many pages failing to establish otherwise.
Every environmental history has its obligatory fascist wink. Jacoby’s parting words are:
“Americans have often pursued environmental quality at the expense of social justice. One would like to imagine that the two goals are complimentary and that the only way to achieve a healthy environment is through a truly democratic society. But for now, these two objectives remain separate guiding stars in a dark night sky, and we can only wonder if they lead us to the same hoped-for destination.”
What Jacoby, and his fellow enviro-historians, have in their cross-hairs is basic republicanism; something he thrice disdains as being incompatible with environmentalism. Republicanism fosters independent landowners through the conversion of the public domain into small privately owned plots of land. The homestead ethic derived its authority from the republican belief that land ownership was critical to personal independence. 19th century conservationism’s main aim was stopping homesteading. As well, unlike most of Europe where hunting was limited to the aristocracy, republican citizens have a right to pursue wild game. Conservationists opposed not just the right to hunt on public lands but the right to take timber, water, and minerals from those lands. Such issues remain central to the environmentalist/republican conflict.
Jacoby's General History of Early US Conservationism
Conservationism is a 300-year old international movement rooted in the often violent social struggle over Europe’s forests. Armed poachers, the “Blacks,” stalked British woods during the 1720s. Prussia, “the cradle of forestry,” experienced a rise in violence when peasants continued hunting and gathering in woods formerly under village oversight but which were coming under state control. In the “War of the Demoiselles” peasants in the Pyrenees greeted the French National Forest Code of 1827 with a wave of arson. As Europe exported conservationism, new conflicts were sparked. In India, rural folk excluded from the forests where they had foraged resorted to arson. In India, as in the post-Civil War US South, park enclosures forced rural folk into towns. Everywhere, the emergence of forest reserves reconfigured property rights.
In the USA, “the appreciation of wilderness,” according to enviro-historian Roderick Nash “appeared first in the minds of sophisticated Americans living in the more civilized East.”This began mid-19th century as Frank Forester’s books introduced eastern elites to the aristocratic tradition of sports hunting. (Forester, a.k.a. Henry Herbert,was a recent immigrant from England.) Simultaneously, the USA witnessed an efflorescence of literature and art extolling Nature. This awaking included: the philosophical musings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the exhibits of the American landscape painters, and the rise of “natural history” as heralded by the journals Nature and American Naturalist.
In 1864 George Perkins Marsh published the bestseller Man and Nature (originally titled Man, the Disturber of Nature’s Harmonies). Marsh, a newspaper editor from Vermont, served as American envoy to the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 to 1882. He claimed to have witnessed first-hand how Mediterranean peoples desiccated their land with reckless forest clearances. This ecological collapse was spreading worldwide:
“The earth is fast becoming an unfit home for the noblest inhabitant, and another era of equal human crime and human improvidence…would reduce it to such a condition of impoverished productiveness, of shattered surface, of climatic excess, as to threaten the depravation, barbarism and perhaps even extinction of the species.”
Marsh pointed approvingly at German forest policy. He pointed disapprovingly at the American pioneer. He repeatedly denounced “the improvident habits of the backwoodsman” and “the slovenly husbandry of the border settler.” The root problems were the republican tendency to transfer public land to the masses and the overriding belief that the masses had a right to harvest the forest.
“It is a great misfortune to the American Union that the State Governments have so generally disposed of their original domain to private citizens. It is vain to expect that legislation can do anything effectual to arrest the progress of the evil (destruction of the woodland)…except so far as the state is still the proprietor of extensive woodlands.”
“Even now the notion of a common right of property in the woods still lingers, if not as an opinion at least as a sentiment. Under such circumstances it has been difficult to protect the forest, whether it belongs to the State or to individuals.”
Man and Nature, “the fountainhead of the conservation movement,” introduced Americans to the degradation discourse. This narrative’s axioms are: a) Nature is stable; b) rural people engage in bad environmental practices; c) with potentially catastrophic ecological consequences; thus d) state intervention is necessary. This refrain was embraced by the “environmental history” genre during the ferment of the 1960s. In Dust Bowl (1979) and Changes in the Land (1983) enviro-historians Donald Worster and William Cronon complain capitalistic settlers viewed ecosystems as mere bundles of commodities. In Wilderness and the American Mind (1982), Nash asserts Euro-Americans possess a “wilderness hatred.” Enviro-historians share the early conservationists’ vision of themselves as saving Nature from the “ignorant or unprincipled.”
Marsh’s prophecies were battle cries. They were incorporated into the “On the Duty of Governments in the Preservation of Forests” speech Franklin Hough gave to the 1873 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The Association promptly submitted a memo on forest preservation to Congress who promptly passed the Timber Culture Act making homestead grants conditional on cultivating trees on one fourth of the granted land.
In 1876 Hough became the first federal forestry agent. A subsequent coup was the 1881 establishment of a Division of Forestry within the Federal Department of Agriculture, with Hough in charge. In 1882 Hough, Bernhard Fernow et al. founded the American Forestry Congress with Fernow opining:
“The United States alone, among the civilized nations, has as yet failed to perceive the wide bearing which a proper forest policy has on the material and moral development of a country.”
Early conservationism accompanied a flurry of Indian reservation building across the West. In 1878 conservationist John Wesley Powell’s Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States reduced forest protection to a single problem with a single solution:
“Can these forests be saved from fire? ...in the main these fires are set by Indians…the fires can be very greatly curtailed by the removal of the Indians.”
Conservation greatly impacted Indians. Hunting and foraging grounds were often enclosed within federal parks and preserves. Clashes between conservationists and Indians continued for decades. In 1889 the Boone and Crockett Club declared the “destruction of forests and game caused by these Indian hunting parties…a serious evil.” In 1894 the Commissioner of Indian Affairs complained of Indians slaughtering herds of game merely for the sake of killing. In 1895 a Ute hunting party engaged in a shoot-out with a Colorado game warden. In 1897 a group of Chippewa killed a Minnesota game warden trying to arrest them for trapping muskrats.
To conservationists, however, Indians were the lesser problem. When the American Forestry Association (AFA, founded 1875) began its push for preserves, their stated concern was not Indians but the white settlers supplanting Indians. Joining AFA’s campaign, and sharing their antipathy for pioneers, were activists like Hough, Fernow, and George Bird Grinnell, editor of Forest and Stream magazine.
Hough’s writings are indicative of early conservationism. Here, pioneers are an “unstable and transient class.” Pioneers are people with “little to lose” and “accustomed to regard the world around them as open for their use.” Such views appeared in an 1882 American Association for the Advancement of Science report warning about depredations of public timber. Such views appeared a few years later in a General Land Office (GLO) report complaining “depredations upon public timber are universal, flagrant and limitless.” Conservationist journals decried frontier hunting and lumbering as “criminal practice sanctioned by custom.” Inactivity in the face such pilfering risked ecological disaster and undermined law and order. A New York State Assembly committee concluded that rural folk inherently favoured relentless exploitation of Nature. A Wisconsin State Forestry Commissioner declared:
“The backwoodsman has the poverty, the ignorance, the lack of civilized ways which we found in his predecessor, to an exaggerated degree.”
Conservationists also focused their ire on:
“...unscrupulous companies, composed of men of wealth and influence…(that) seek by every means known to such combinations to thwart the efforts of the Government.”
Conservationists as with “Progressives,” with whom they overlapped, stressed the need to rein in capitalism. The goal was not industrial capitalism’s elimination but its reformation. Industrialists at times welcomed conservationist measures eliminating “inefficient” competitors.
The late 1880s proved fruitful for conservationism. In 1886 Fernow became federal Forestry Chief, Grinnell founded the Audubon Society, and the US Army occupied Yellowstone Park. In 1887 Theodore Roosevelt and Grinnell founded the Boone and Crockett Club and Charles Sargent launched Garden and Forest. (Sargent wrote the ‘Forests of North America’ section for the 1884 Federal Census.) In 1889 Robert Underwood Johnson, a close associate of John Muir and Roosevelt, published several pro-conservationist editorials in his Century magazine.
Conservationism’s push into governance was evidenced in 1890 as Congress established three new National Parks (Sequoia, General Grant, and Yosemite) and the Census Bureau announced the “closing of the frontier.” In 1891 Congress repealed the homestead-friendly Timber Culture Act and passed the Forest Reserve Act. Motivated by the example of the Adirondack Forest Preserve and by Marsh’s hydrological theories, Congress authorized the President to permanently withdraw from settlement any tract of public land “wholly or in part covered with timber or undergrowth.” Consequently, on March 30, 1891, President Harrison created the Yellowstone Park Timberland Reserve, embracing 1.2 million acres on the park’s edges and taking in the headwaters of the Yellowstone and Snake Rivers, areas previously outside the park. Forest reserves were imposed wherever trees were deemed vital in protecting water supplies. By 1894 fifteen reserves enclosed 17 million acres of western USA.
Only established homesteads on land enclosed within a forest reserve could remain in the reserve. The GLO stressed:
“No one will be allowed to settle within the reservation after the date of said proclamation…a mere squatter, with no intention of acquiring title, is a trespasser, and has no rights that the government is bound to respect.”
Enforcing these laws proved difficult as the GLO had only 20 agents. One conservationist bemoaned:
“These millions of acres have nothing but the President’s proclamation to protect them from sheep herders and timber-thieves.”
In 1894 the federal government posted signs around forest reserves. Locals tore down these signs. Conservationists claimed this was:
“indicative of the spirit of lawlessness prevailing among those depredating upon these lands.”
For most conservationists the solution was martial law. The leading advocate of militarizing conservation, Garden and Forest, declared:
“Unless the reservations are protected by detachments from the army, as has been done in the Yellowstone…there is no way to save them from the depredations of thieves or still more sweeping desolation from fire… The army is the only force that will be likely to represent with any firmness the dignity of the nation against the local interest, and against the right which herders and lumbermen, and, in fact, settlers of all kinds feel they have acquired.”
Robert Underwood Johnson’s Century magazine ran a series of influential articles linking forest protection with national security with lines like:
“In time of peace no other work of national defence or protection is so valuable as this which the army can perform…the national forests cannot be adequately guarded and protected by any other means.”
In 1889 the AFA recommended the Army “be employed to protect the public forest from spoliation.”
In 1890 Army units were dispatched to Yosemite, General Grant, and Sequoia national parks.
Pushing for further militarizing conservation was the Sierra Club – founded in 1892 under John Muir’s leadership. Muir rejoiced at the Army’s arrival at Yellowstone as did Harper’s Charles Dudley Warner. This enthusiasm for “military discipline” was not unique. Noting the prominent role the British Army played in forestry in India, many US conservationists supported further militarizing conservation. Poachers would be subjected to Army tribunals. Forestry could be a regular course at West Point.
In 1896 the GLO, complaining “forest reserves have been made which are in name only,” begged the Secretary of War for more troops, but the Army brass resisted. The GLO then obtained, via the Forest Management Act (1897), funds to hire its own corps of forest rangers. Within two years the GLO had 445 rangers, 39 supervisors, and 9 superintendents.
Euro-forestry beachheads in American academia began with Carl Schenk’s 1898 opening of the Biltmore Forest School. Schenk was a product of the famed forestry academy in Saxony. One month later, Prussian-trained Bernhard Fernow established a forestry school at Cornell. In 1900 Gifford Pinchot helped found the Yale School of Forestry. (European-trained Pinchot launched America’s first “forestry consultancy” out of an office in New York City in 1893. He became federal Forestry Chief in 1898.) In 1902 the first issue of Fernow’s Forestry Quarterly came off the presses.
In 1901 Theodore Roosevelt became President. Highlights of his administration include the 1908 Governor’s Conference on Conservation of Natural Resources organized by Pinchot and held at the White House. This meeting spawned the National Conservation Commission. In 1909 TR presided over the North American Conservation Convention with delegates from the US, Canada, and Mexico.
By 1902 fifty-four federal forest reserves enclosed 60 million acres. Arizona’s eight reserves covered an aggregate of 6.7 million acres (9% of Arizona’s land mass). California and New Mexico possessed another 11 reserves containing 12 million acres in total. By 1911 federal forest reserves enclosed 190 million acres; almost all of this land was west of the Mississippi.
Between 1900 and 1916 several federal conservationist laws passed. The Lacey Act prohibited interstate shipment of wildlife killed in violation of state game laws. The Transfer Act transferred controlof federal forests to the Forest Service. The American Antiquities Act authorized the President to proclaim national monuments. Soon after, Devil’s Tower (Wyoming) and Petrified Forest (Arizona) became national monuments. The Migratory Bird Act placed migratory birds under federal oversight. Lastly, a National Park Service was established within the Department of the Interior.
This period saw deep divisions develop within conservationism that contributed to the movement’s marginalization. After San Francisco applied for a permit to build a reservoir in Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley in 1901, a schism emerged between “utilitarian” and “preservationist” wings of the movement. Leading the utilitarian-conservationists was Pinchot who declared:
“The first principle of conservation is development…(Conservation) proposes to secure a continuous and abundant supply of the necessaries of life, which means a reasonable cost of living and business stability.”
Despite such utilitarian posturing, Pinchot was not pro-development enough for President Taft who fired him during Taft’s first year in office. Pinchot then presided over the National Conservation Association (founded 1909) while penning the apocalyptic The Fight for Conservation. In 1913 Congress permitted San Francisco to convert Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley into a reservoir.
The Adirondacks Park project was America’s first comprehensive experience with conservation. Franklin Hough, Bernard Fernow, Theodore Roosevelt, and Gifford Pinchot cut their activist teeth during this campaign. Several prominent conservationist organizations, including the American Forestry Congress and Federal Division of Forestry, used the Adirondacks initiative as a model.
Marsh’s Man and Nature singled out northern New York’s Adirondack Mountains as urgently needing protection. Also attracting attention to this area was William Murray’s 1869 much-hyped Adventures in the Wilderness; or Camp-life in the Adirondacks.
In 1872 New York’s legislature, prodded by a strange new alliance of sports hunters, struck a committee to explore the viability of a forest preserve/hunting ground in the Adirondack counties. The committee, dominated by Franklin Hough, drew heavily on Marsh’s theories in its report, which complained of wanton forest destruction before endorsing a wilderness preserve.
The Adirondacks were not wilderness. Sixteen-thousand people lived there, and the economy was booming. About half Adirondack households farmed. About 20% were involved in forestry. Agriculture was primarily for household usage as transportation costs were prohibitive, but this was changing. Forests and lakes provided Adirondackers with berries, deer, and fish. Adirondackers joked they lived on “fish and potatoes” but for a treat ate “potatoes and fish.” They regarded undeveloped land as open to hunting and foraging.
Marsh’s climate and hydrological theories proved instrumental to “conserving” the Adirondacks. In 1883 a drought lowered New York’s river levels alarmingly. Scary scenarios about low water levels interrupting transport were used to recruit New York’s Board of Trade and Chamber of Commerce into the campaign to preserve the Adirondacks. The myth was that deforestation in the Adirondacks caused the low river levels. In response, New York’s legislature prohibited further Adirondack land sales and appointed a commission to re-consider a forest preserve. The commission was chaired by Charles Sargent, professor of arboriculture at Harvard and head of the Arnold Arboretum. On his recommendation the legislature, in 1885, reorganized public landholdings in the Adirondacks into an Adirondack Forest Preserve to be supervised by a Forest Commission.
Deforestation in the Adirondacks could not have caused the low water levels of 1883. Forestry in the Adirondacks was primitive. With no railway servicing the industry, only trees within about a mileof a good waterway could be cut and only species that floated well, soft-woods, were commercially harvestable. As late as 1891 the Forest Commission noted:
“the lumberman did not take more than 8 trees an acre…Generally there is so much of this hard wood (maple, birch, cherry) left on a ‘lumbered’ tract that an inexperienced eye glancing over it would scarcely detect the work of an axe.”
Forest Commission records from 1897 state that most Adirondacks lands retained their tree cover and many had never heard the woodman’s axe.
The prominent lumberman who became the first Forest Commissioner quickly denounced all those who believed they had the right to cut trees as they wished. He was flabbergasted by otherwise law-abiding citizens who considered it no crime to take logs from state land. Finding it impossible to prosecute so many trespassers at once, he singled out certain offenders so as to “strike terror” into the rest.
Adirondackers thought it justifiable to take wood for fuel or housing. They thought it justifiable to sell public timber if the resulting cash bought necessities. Much to the authorities’ annoyance, juries comprised of Adirondackers accepted such defences against charges of timber theft. There was a thriving local traffic in shingles and “fiddle butts” (stumps used to make violins, etc).
Measured in board feet, by far the most common form of timber theft was large-scale harvesting by illicit lumber companies. The rise of the railroad and the pulp mill in the late 1880s liberated these crews from dependence on river transport. Despite the creation of the Forest Preserve, lumber production in the Adirondacks doubled between 1885 and 1910. The heyday of the timber gang lasted little more than a decade, peaking in 1900. Subsistence pilfering continued but posed little threat to the forest.
In the 1860s well-to-do urban New Yorkers took up the macho pastimes of hunting and fishing in the Adirondacks, often hiring local guides and cooks. By the 1870s, entrepreneur Apollos Smith’s hunter retreat business served ten clients at a time. By 1912 he owned 35,000 acres and a four-storey hotel overlooking St. Regis Lake. His clientele were eastern upper-crusters like Gifford Pinchot who as a child summered in the Adirondacks. The young Theodore Roosevelt stayed at Smith’s during his first Adirondack excursion. Smith sold lots to wealthy vacationers who built luxurious estates they called “camps.” To Smith, he created places where “millionaires go to play at housekeeping in log cabins.”
Sport hunting, imported to the USA by English expats, is a romantic search for authentic experience; a pretentious desire to recreate an imagined world of the frontiersman. Members of the Adirondack League Club found the chase glorious only if it fulfilled cultural, not economic functions. In the sportsman’s code, how one hunted was as important as what one hunted. To real frontiersmen, hunting was no amusement and their methods differed radically from the sportsman’s.
Catering to sportsmen,Forest and Stream magazine(founded 1873) led the crusade to limit the hunting by locals. Beginning in the mid-1880s hunting laws were imposed. Low bag limits (three deer per year, later lowered to two) suited the sportsman but undermined those who depended on wild game for food. To accommodate sportsmen, a “hunting season,” unheard of to frontier folk, was restricted to late summer/early fall. The common and effective practice of hunting with bright lanterns was banned. Fishing with nets was outlawed as only the angler’s rod and reel was considered “sporting.”
Adirondackers hunted for food, not fun. They were appalled that people would “shoot these beautiful creatures for sport.” Frontier-people never fished with rod and reel. Nets catch more fish with less labour. One Adirondacker, repeatedly arrested for net fishing from a lake near his home, took the stand in his own defence. He told the court:
“My father did not believe it was right to catch fish for sport but for food only and the right method for catching fish was with a net…the (tourists) prefer to torture the fish for the fun they get out of it. A fish, as well as a man, has a sense of feeling and suffers after being hooked, and the longer this period of torture can be extended, the more fun the so-called sportsman can get out of it.”
To enforce these rules, forest police were authorized to arrest, without warrant, any person found upon the preserve violating any regulation. Initially, forest police were overwhelmed by rule-breakers.The Fisheries Commission bellowed “utmost lawlessness prevails.” Forest and Stream denounced the Adirondackers for “continually poaching on the lakes of northern New York.” In 1889 New York Times ran articles like “Pirates of the Forest,” “Stealing is Their Trade,” and “Useless Forestry Laws.”
The Forest Commission started with 25 forest police. This force numbered 125 by 1912 but was still not large enough to satisfy conservationists. Outraged letters to the editor complaining of unprosecuted violations of game and timber laws were standard features of Forest and Stream and Garden and Forest, with some writers calling for 1,000 forest police.
The Commission hired some Adirondackers as forest police, but they tended to turn a blind eye to lesser infractions and took bribes to ignore large-scale timber cutting. Zealous forest police were kept under local surveillance and occasionally were shot at while on patrol. Then an Adirondacker would approach them in town to say “you sure look like a deer” and implore the officer to be careful in the woods lest there by an accident.
In 1892 New York State inaugurated Adirondack Park, thereby enclosing 2.8 million acres of public and private land. In 1894 a New York State Constitutional Convention passed a constitutional amendment stating the lands of the Forest Preserve “shall be forever kept as wild forest”.
The most volatile issue was homesteading. The Chief Warden identified his main concern as “squatting.” When the Park was launched, there was no map delineating public and private lands. This was vital information because while it was now illegal to homestead or cut trees on state property, such activities remained permissible on private land within the Park. In the 1880s the Adirondack Survey sought to clarify land parcels. Adirondackers gave the surveyors misleading information and destroyed boundary markers. In 1888 penalties were increased for such obstruction; still, it took a decade to compile a definitive list of property parcels.
In 1905 the Commission sent 15 men to Raquette Lake to destroy 50 houses on state land, only to be repulsed by angry Adirondackers. The New York Times reported “threats of violence to the state officers if property was harmed by them were freely given out at the village, and it was to be expected that there would be trouble.” The Commission bided its time and expelled the squatters after 1910. (Property rights in portions of Adirondack Park, including Raquette Lake, remain contested today.)
Settlements could be cleared by private citizen’s initiative. Brandon, New York was a lumber town with 1,200 residents. The lumberman who owned much of the land around Brandon sold out to William Rockefeller who then purchased many houses in the town, razed them, and planted trees where the houses once stood. For this Collier’s magazine christened Rockefeller the “Maker of Wilderness.”
Private parks inside Adirondack Park surged in the early 1890s as the legislature, reluctant to purchase land and seeing private park owners’ interests as identical with their own, revitalized a law facilitating private preserves. By 1893 sixty private parks covered 940,000 acres. The Forest Preserve owned only 730,000 acres. Private enforcement measures exceeded state efforts. William Webb’s 112,000 acre park was ringed with an 8 foot wire fence and patrolled by a 16-man force.
Adirondackers hated private parks. In ten years, private parks sealed off the region’s best hunting and fishing areas. Fences and guards were powerful symbols of the class biases lurking at the heart of conservation. In 1899 even a New York State Assembly committee queried “are we aping the English plan of barring the poor man from the hunt?”
In 1903 Orando Dexter, an Adirondack estate owner who had sued numerous trespassers, was shot dead as he drove his carriage down a once public road he had enclosed within his estate. His father, the founder of American News Co., offered a $5,000 reward for information and hired Pinkerton’s to search for the killer. Dexter’s murder prompted private park owners and the Forest Commission to beef up security. Locals responded by threatening park staff, ripping down ‘No Trespassing’ signs, cutting wire fences, and setting fires. The Adirondacks was a tense, armed camp. The NewYorkTimes reported:
“The position of guard on the vast forest preserves of William Rockefeller is not one to be much desired. Several of those guards have been fired at recently while patrolling their lonely beats.”
Even sports hunters complained about private estates enclosing hunting grounds. In 1903 several New York newspapers criticized the private park law. The Albany Press-Knickerbocker declared:
“William G. Rockefeller, J. Pierpont Morgan, Dr. Seward Webb, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, and other landed proprietors in the Adirondacks are only doing with our woods what they have already done with our industries. They are bringing forests and streams under the control of the few, for the benefit of the few, at the expense of the many.”
Such propaganda may have been orchestrated by estate owners. In 1897 William West Durant, whose estate was repeatedly vandalized, grew so weary of the hassles he sold a portion of his park to the state. In the same year the legislature set up a fund to buy additional land for the Forest Preserve. By 1901 this effort increased state-owned acreage in the park to more than a million acres; surpassing for the first time private preserve acreage, which dipped to 705,000 acres. The state’s new acres were purchased from private park owners. By 1907, $3.5 million had been spent on such purchases. (A significant portion of Adirondack Park remains in private hands.)
Sports hunting summoned a profession of well-paid, well-organized hunting guides. By 1883 most guides belonged to clubs which allocated turfs. In 1891, two-hundred guides formed the Adirondack Guide’s Association (AGA) to establish a disability benefits program and to fix rates of pay, etc. The AGA welcomed sports hunters as dues-paying non-voting members. Forest and Stream reported:
“Many of the prominent citizens of New York State have enrolled. Among them are State officials, hotel men, prominent physicians, and attorneys and members of the press.”
This made for a curious “union” as sportsmen were the guide’s employers. By 1898 the AGA had 280 guides and 107 sportsmen. The latter could be lavish in their support of the “union.”In 1902, after the AGA sent a dozen reps to a sportsman’s market at Madison Square Gardens, financier William Whitney treated them to a Broadway show followed by a champagne party at the New York Athletic Club.
Guides accommodated the new conservationist order. AGA members voted for resolutions recommending stronger game laws and more parks. In 1899 New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt invited AGA reps to Albany to discuss conservation law.
Guides also helped conservationists re-stock wildlife. Efforts to build up moose and elk populations failed; however, beavers were restored. In 1905 the ‘Army of Liberation’ (comprised of guides) introduced Canadian beavers into the Adirondacks. By the 1920s beavers numbered over 20,000.
For Adirondackers not aboard its gravy train, conservationism was resented. The Forest Commission saw these people thusly:
“In every Adirondacks village there is a disreputable class whose presence is inimical to the preservation of our forests. They are the men who, having been arrested at some time for violation of the Game Law or timber stealing, have a grievance against the authorities.”
The increase in arson circa 1908 may have been politically motivated, but this is hard to verify given the many uses of a forest fire. (Timber thieves set fires to destroy evidence. Poachers set fires to drive game onto lands where they might be hunted. Others set fires to earn wages as fire-fighters.) Following the devastating fires of 1908 the Commission erected observation stations. By 1914, fifty-one towers staffed by rangers with binoculars and telephones, stood as powerful symbols of the surveillance conservationists now had on Adirondackers.
Yellowstone National Park sits on 2 million acres at the juncture of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. Its 10,000 hot springs make for snow-free winter grazing on sprawling biota-rich meadows. Yellowstone was coveted by Indians, but conservationists denied any Indian attachment to the area.
Conservationism haphazardly engulfed Yellowstone. In 1872 Congress created Yellowstone Park ostensibly to preserve the region’s geothermal oddities as a laboratory for natural scientists. Little was known about Yellowstone’s geography (it was not mapped until the mid-1880s) but congressional conservationists were keen to draw park boundaries generously enough to encompass the headwaters of several rivers. As Congress did not provide funds, Yellowstone’s first superintendent kept his full-time job at an eastern bank. Congress made no provisions for punishing wrongdoers in the park. Only much later, at the urging of Grinnell, Roosevelt, and the Boone and Crockett Club, did Congress intensify Yellowstone’s timber and wildlife regulations. In 1895 Congress re-characterized Yellowstone’s purpose as: natural wonder, forest reserve, and game preserve.
Calls for imposing martial law on Yellowstone date to recommendations of Army officer William Ludlow in 1875. Conservationists arrived at similar conclusions. Their main concernwas Indian hunting parties slaughtering herds of elk. Forest and Stream claimed 7,000 elk were slaughtered between 1875 and 1877. The Army reported 4,000 elk killed in one valley in one summer. In 1878 Yellowstone’s superintendent made the first of several appeals to get the Army to block Indian incursions.Forest and Stream ran regular articles on “bands of roaming savages” ravaging Yellowstone. Roosevelt called for strict supervision of the Bannock, Shoshone, and Crow who threatened to “waste and destroy” the park.
Tribes hunted in groups of 50 to 100. These sizable camps, given their use of hunting fires, were easy for authorities to locate and suppress. By the 1890s the Crow, Shoshone, and Bannock were reluctant to hunt anywhere off-reserve because of conflicts with authorities and settlers.
Indians were not conservationism’s main worry; settlers were.When Yellowstone Park was established, there were few towns nearby. The arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad (1880) led to the founding of Livingston, Montana 50 miles north of the park. Homesteads soon dotted the Yellowstone River between Livingston and the park. In 1882 these encroachments led a New York congressman to propose placing Yellowstone “under the exclusive care, control and government of the War Department.”
In 1883 Gardiner, Montana sprouted on Yellowstone’s border and fast grew into a depot for ranchers and tourists. Gardiner facilitated homesteading on the park’s edge. Conservationists portrayed Gardiner as a nest of poachers and outlaws. William Hornaday, New York Zoological Society’s director, declared:
“In the town of Gardiner there are a number of men, armed with rifles, who toward game have the gray-wolf quality of mercy…If the people of Gardiner cannot refrain from slaughtering the game of the Park…it is time for the American people to summon the town of Gardiner before the bar of public opinion, to show cause why the town should not be wiped off the map.”
Hornaday broadened these views in a lectures series at Yale:
“In the Western third of the United States, and especially in the so-called ‘frontier,’ it is a common occurrence for a sympathetic jury of neighbours and friends to acquit a red-handed violator of the game-law by saying: ‘Not Guilty! He needed the meat’…Any community which tolerates contempt for law and law-abiding judges, is in a degenerate state, bordering on barbarism; and in the United States there are literally thousands of such communities…Many men of the Great West – the West beyond the Great Plains – are afflicted with a desire to do as they please with the natural resources of that region.”
In 1884 the Interior Department persuaded the Wyoming Territorial Assembly to police Yellowstone. The Assembly hired two constables and two justices to administer a 5,000 square mile area. A year later these constables, in a botched arrest of a visiting congressman, exposed themselves as using their badges to shake down tourists. The Wyoming Assembly abandoned efforts to police Yellowstone.
An 1884 federal act authorized the Army, upon request of the interior secretary, to send troops to Yellowstone. The secretary held off making such a request until an 1885 budget battle stripped him of the funds to administer the park. Finally, on August 17, 1886, Captain Moses Harris and 50 cavalrymen from Fort Custer rode into Yellowstone. The Army remained at Yellowstone until relieved by the National Park Service in 1918.
Conservationists rejoiced at the Army’s arrival. The sentiment in Montana was different. The Livingston Enterprise declared:
“Military rule in time of profound peace is distasteful to American people under any conditions.”
The Livingston Post delighted in portraying Yellowstone’s new superintendents as despots. Their favourite target, Captain George Anderson, superintendent from 1891 to 1897, was a Boone and Crockett Club member who aggressively sought to rid the park of miscreants. He was lionized by Forest and Stream, but according to the Livingston Post:
“Captain Anderson’s greatest activity has taken the form of arresting citizens of Montana and charging them with various offences which he has failed to prove. When he isn’t doing that, he is bothering his alleged brain trying to invent some new form of oppression under the authority of his shoulder straps, or to pick out the next citizen whom he will arrest.”
Regulations against cutting trees in Yellowstone lay dormant until the town of Gardiner appeared. Then, for a few years, the Department of Interior tolerated Gardiner residents taking fallen timber for fuel. Gardinerians interpreted this right broadly. Captain Anderson, finding this practice too open ended, instituted a system of wood collecting permits. His replacement, Colonel Young (whom locals dubbed “the Czar”), prohibited any wood gathering.
Ranchers grazed their livestock on the rich plains outside and inside the park. Gardinerians let their animals roam. Anderson ordered all livestock found in the park impounded and all dogs shot. Colonel Young decreed any livestock found in the park be driven out through the distant Wyoming entrance.
In 1892 Captain Anderson surmised, “there is gradually settling about the park boundaries a population whose sole subsistence is derived from hunting and trapping.” Particularly perturbing the Captain, “poachers operated with the seeming cooperation of the local population.”
As in Britain, poaching at Yellowstone increased during periods of high unemployment or high food prices. Yellowstone officials knew poached animals fed families that otherwise had a slim meat ration. Nevertheless, to eradicate poaching, Anderson dispatched a network of secret agents to mingle with locals and bring back reports of poachers’ names and hide-outs. One Montana newspaper complained the captain had “spies on every turn.” Another newspaper derided the park’s “mysterious scouts.”
Anderson forbade transporting game (even game killed outside the park) across park borders, prompting bitter criticism from hunters and guides. Even less popular was his order that park visitors either surrender their firearms or have their triggers sealed during shipment through the park.
Anderson punished wrongdoers with confinement in Fort Yellowstone’s guardhouse, sometimes for over a month, during which time prisoners endured solitary confinement in cages and were fed bread and water diets. Anderson admitted there was no legal basis for such imprisonment. Similarly, while Department of Interior regulations permitted the confiscation of hunting and trapping equipment, Anderson seized horses, saddles, tents, or anything else of value from suspected poachers.
Against poaching, the Army deployed tactics developed in Indian warfare including regular patrols between far-flung lines of guard posts. Scouting teams rode, or skied, from post to post checking on wildlife and looking for poacher’s tracks. They were occasionally fired upon. Soldiers evinced little enthusiasm for conservation work and often colluded with lawbreakers. During the winter of 1897-1898 only two wrongdoers were captured. Commanding officers complained that when violators were turned over for civilian prosecution, they were tried by “a jury composed of men more or less engaged in breaking Montana game laws.”
While much poaching resulted from the frontier custom of killing for the table, there was also a black market in trophies. Buffalo hides and heads fetched $100 to $400 in Montana towns from where they were shipped east.
On March 14, 1894, Army scouts arrested Ed Howell red-handed, skinning a buffalo. Howell’s capture became an immediate national sensation because Field and Stream correspondent, Emerson Hough, who was visiting Yellowstone, telegraphed Grinnell with the news. Grinnell and the Boone and Crockett Club made much of the fact that Howell’s only punishment was expulsion from the park. One Forest and Stream correspondent wrote of how he “instinctively hated” Howell. The solution, cried Grinnell, was increased penalties. The Boone and Crockett Club’s congressional network used the Howell controversy to rush through “An Act to Protect the Birds and Animals in Yellowstone National Park” (National Park Protective Act). Signed into law by President Cleveland 60 days after Howell’s capture, this act made violations of park regulations punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or two years in prison.
The master criminal at the centre of this brouhaha, Howell, was an unemployed sheep shearer from Cooke City, Montana who earned money during the winter by dragging a toboggan loaded with hides through deep snow. The Livingston Post asked: “Was he like many another man in these times, out of employment and destitute of the means of securing clothing, a bed or perhaps even food.”
The ‘Henry’s Lake Gang’ were also fashioned into a nefarious menace by the conservationist press. Less organized than British poaching fraternities, this “gang” (a few brothers and brothers-in-law) sold poached elk meat at mining camps. With improved Army intelligence, the gang was taken down.
In 1899 Forest and Stream began running articles about elk being shot for their teeth. Elk teeth had long been worn as an adornment by natives; but the main market was the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elk, a fraternal organization founded in New York City in 1868. This fraternity started a fashion trend wherein elk teeth, especially tusks from adult males, were used as watch fobs, cuff links, and hat pins. A good set of tusks fetched $5 in New York, which was more than some labourers around Yellowstone earned in a week.In 1916 park scouts counted 257 elk corpses killed for their teeth. Trial records refer to men being arrested with dozens of teeth in their possession. When a certain William Binkley was arrested with 300 teeth, the story was spun into a national sensation.
The congressmen who drew Yellowstone’s rectangular borders knew little of the area’s topography. The borders did not follow rivers or ranges but ran along lines that proved disorientating when viewed from the ground. To rectify this, the Army Corps of Engineers mapped the park’s borders, erecting stone markers every half mile along the perimeter. They discovered a lattice of paths made by Indians, trappers, and prospectors, then revamped this system into one that funnelled travelers through four guarded entrances. In 1903 they erected a 4 mile wire fence between Gardiner and the park. In 1914 they replaced this fence with 5 foot high iron spikes.
The Army dramatically altered Yellowstone’s ecosystem. Their campaign against forest fires allowed sagebrush and conifers to invade grazing areas, thereby diminishing the grass available to ungulates. Fire suppression disrupted the reproductive cycle of the park’s dominant tree, the lodge-pole pine (which were considered pests by foresters who often replaced them with more valuable species). Prohibiting wood-gathering allowed fuel to accumulate so that when fires did erupt they were uncommonly fierce. The Army introduced tame buffalo purchased from commercial ranches. Soldiers planted and harvested hay inside the park to feed deer, antelope, and mountain sheep during the winter. When wildlife wandered outside the park, soldiers herded them back. Army campaigns against mountain lions, coyotes, and wolves led to soaring numbers of elk that in turn ate the leaves from trees beavers used for dams. The Army shipped thousands of “surplus” elk via railroad to zoos and other parks.
Tourism, promoted as an alternative to regular development, also impacted the environment. Yellowstone had 500 visitors in 1876. As the railroad brought ever-growing numbers of tourists in the 1880s and 1890s, hotels and campsites spread across the park.
Conservation at the Grand Canyon resembled the conservation Europeans imposed on Africa and Asia – unilateral imposition of state authority onto disempowered indigenous peoples. The main Indian group with a stake in the Canyon, the Havasupai, numbered 265 in 1886.
Following Havasupai protests about intruding miners, President Hayes, in 1880, set aside a 5 mile by 12 mile block of land as their reservation. This area was impossible to plot amid the jagged landscape, and ultimately the Havasupai were given a 2 mile by ¼ mile block – the smallest reserve in the country. What the Havasupai thought about this is unclear. They were active in the 1890s Ghost Dance movement – a ceremony, originating with the Paiute, consisting of dances and the conjuring of spirits who would, it was hoped, exterminate white people.
By executive order on February 20, 1893, President Harrison created the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve. This reserve – a 1.85 million acre rectangle straddling the Colorado River – took in all land for miles in every direction from the Havasupai reservation, leaving their village an island in a conservationist sea.
The Grand Canyon Forest Reserve hired five men to watch for white squatters and Indian hunters. In 1898 the supervisor reported Havasupai were still hunting antelope and deer in his reserve. To this he added:
“…the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River is becoming so renowned for its wonderful and extensive natural gorge scenery and for its open clean pine woods, that it should be preserved for the everlasting pleasure and instruction of our intelligent citizens as well as those of foreign countries…I deem it just and necessary to keep the wild and unappreciable Indian from off the Reserve and protect the game.”
He banned any travel by tribe members through the Forest Reserve. This edict paralleled bans on Indians in other federal forest reserves; however, because this Forest Reserve surrounded the Havasupai reservation, this ban made it illegal for tribe members to set foot off their reservation.
Attempts to get the Havasupai farming met with little success; however, they did take to cattle grazing, and to cattle rustling. By 1918 their herd numbered about 80 head. There were conflicts between ranchers and the Havasupai over watering ponds, including one 35 miles from the reserve.
Cattle grazing changed the canyon’s ecology and the Havasupai economy. Cattle consumed water and browse that formerly supported deer and antelope. Cattle ate plants the Havasupai traditionally gathered. Cattle ownership introduced class schisms.
As late as 1904, hunting still provided the Havasupai with much of their meat. To accommodate this practice, the Forest Service set aside 75,000 acres on the canyon’s south rim as “Indian Pasture”, giving the tribe a legal grazing area and a de facto hunting ground. However, “grazing permits” ran for 12 months and had to be renegotiated. As well, non-Indians could also graze on this land.
The Grand Canyon became a “game reserve” in 1906, a “national monument” in 1908, and a “national park” in 1919 – hence, managed by the Park Service. These designations accompanied efforts to open the region to tourism. Park officials built a village on the south rim near a fashionable hotel owned by the Santa Fe Railroad Co. Well-groomed trails led out from the village to scenic overlooks with exotic Indian names. Trees and brush were cleared to make for a more “touristic wilderness.”
Conservationism pulled the Havasupai into the cash economy when the Park Service began hiring them to build trails, etc. In 1925, thirty-eight Havasupai, most of their able bodied men, worked for several months digging the sewage plant. In1928, forty-two Havasupai helped build a suspension bridge.
Havasupai labourers built a camp of ramshackle huts out of salvaged lumber and cardboard near the tourist village. Authorities tolerated the camp but restricted its occupants to park employees. Havasupai welcomed all family members. Confrontations followed. The Park Service burned the camp in the 1930s while the tribe was hunting.
Summary and Conclusion
Environmentalism is not a 1960s child. It is older than the Industrial Revolution. It is the landed estate’s resistance to republicanism. These two meta-movements have battled over the globe for over 400 years. The rhetoric changes, but not that much. Passages about eco-catastrophes arising from deforestation could be cut from Marsh’s Man and Nature and pasted into the propaganda tracts of modern environmentalists without perplexing their readership.
The meta-movement, now called environmentalism, was always internationalist but Euro-centric. Events in America track events in Europe. The US wing of the movement was embodied within the loyalist, counter-revolutionary forces during the War of Independence. During the subsequent era, some north-eastern metropolitan elites achieved rapprochement with Euro-conservatism and came to share their antipathy toward opening public land to entrepreneurial exploitation. The resulting economic impasse was broken by the Civil War. Consequently, there was an explosion of railway building and homesteading across the continent. Jacoby chronicles the process whereby eastern metropolitans regained their bearings and, over 40 years, struggled to stifle this robust expansion. The movement was then marginalized as a result of the technological surges and political ruptures accompanying the two world wars. After each world war, the movement regained its footing and pressed on. Between these wars, the movement’s European wing was fascism. After WWII, the movement regrouped slowly before surging in the 1960s under the eco/green/enviro banner.
To 19th century Boston Brahmins and Philadelphia lawyers, the great dread was westward exodus. Leading this exodus were the pioneers who blazed trails, scouted lucrative lands, and brought back nuggets of gold. To vanquish their demons, what did the Yankee dandies do? They donned coonskin caps and buckskin jackets. They founded the Boone and Crockett Club and became more frontiersmen than thou. Those percipient men who criminalized the log cabin did so dressed in pioneer drag.
The “sport” of hunting requires a large playing field. Not satisfied with a 100 yard pitch or even a sprawling 18-hole golf course, these jocks require half continents for their game. The real purpose of sports hunting, like eco-tourism, is to create a hinterland industry whose commercial survival depends on the hinterland remaining undeveloped. Along with conservation officials and conservation biologists, the sports hunting sector are defenders of, and acknowledged spokespersons for, the “wilderness.” Sport hunting and sport fishing are phony, ill-intentioned relics combining flagrant cruelty to animals with unconscionably uneconomic land use. It is no surprise that this industry steadfastly opposes commercial domestication of wildlife, including freshwater fish-farming, even though such activities are our best guarantors against species extinction.
Areas like the Adirondacks and Yellowstone are optimal for settlement. By the Civil War’s end, the Adirondacks were overdue for development. Had not New York’s land magnates pre-emptively struck, there would have been a steady caravan of farmers and businessmen abandoning the seaboard for Upstate where there was better weather, abundant water, beautiful scenery and, above all, cheap land. This shift would have visited great losses upon New York’s landlords and great gains upon New York’s entrepreneurs. Yellowstone has enormous volumes of piping hot water predictably, perpetually percolating from the ground – a civil engineer’s dream. With the mildest winters in the Midwest, Yellowstone is a choice place for agriculture and a capital site for a big city. Early conservationists presciently, proactively blocked settlement in many areas of excellent natural hospitality. These areas lie waiting for the next post-Civil War surge.