Wednesday, 7 September 2011

last of the buffalo by atlantic in 54mm

  • American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character. The true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic coast, it is the Great West.
  • The frontier is the line of most rapid and effective Americanization. The wilderness masters the colonist. It finds him a European in dress, industries, tools, modes of travel, and thought. It takes him from the railroad car and puts him in the birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin. It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois and runs an Indian palisade around him. Before long he has gone to planting Indian corn and plowing with a sharp stick, he shouts the war cry and takes the scalp in orthodox Indian fashion. In short, at the frontier the environment is at first too strong for the man. He must accept the conditions which it furnishes, or perish, and so he fits himself into the Indian clearings and follows the Indian trails. Little by little he transforms the wilderness, but the outcome is not the old Europe, not simply the development of Germanic germs, any more than the first phenomenon was a case of reversion to the Germanic mark. The fact is, that here is a new product that is American.
  • The competition of the unexhausted, cheap, and easily tilled prairie lands compelled the farmer either to go west and continue the exhaustion of the soil on a new frontier, or to adopt intensive culture. Thus the census of 1890 shows, in the Northwest, many counties in which there is an absolute or a relative decrease of population. These States have been sending farmers to advance the frontier on the plains, and have themselves begun to turn to intensive farming and to manufacture.
  • As frontier States accrued to the Union the national power grew. In a speech on the dedication of the Calhoun monument Mr. Lamar explained: "In 1789 the States were the creators of the Federal Government; in 1861 the Federal Government was the creator of a large majority of the States."
  • On the tide of the Father of Waters, North and South met and mingled into a nation. Interstate migration went steadily on--a process of crossfertilization of ideas and institutions. The fierce struggle of the sections over slavery on the western frontier does not diminish the truth of this statement; it proves the truth of it. Slavery was a sectional trait that would not down, but in the West it could not remain sectional. It was the greatest of frontiersmen who declared: "I believe this Government can not endure permanently half slave and half free. It will become all of one thing or all of the other." Nothing works for nationalism like intercourse within the nation. Mobility of population is death to localism, and the western frontier worked irresistibly in unsettling population. The effect reached back from the frontier and affected profoundly the Atlantic coast and even the Old World.
  • Since the days when the fleet of Columbus sailed into the waters of the New World, America has been another name for opportunity, and the people of the United States have taken their tone from the incessant expansion which has not only been open but has even been forced upon them. He would be a rash prophet who should assert that the expansive character of American life has now entirely ceased. Movement has been its dominant fact, and, unless this training has no effect upon a people, the American energy will continually demand a wider field for its exercise. But never again will such gifts of free land offer themselves. For a moment, at the frontier, the bonds of custom are broken and unrestraint is triumphant. There is not tabula rasa. The stubborn American environment is there with its imperious summons to accept its conditions; the inherited ways of doing things are also there; and yet, in spite of environment, and in spite of custom, each frontier did indeed furnish a new field of opportunity, a gate of escape from the bondage of the past; and freshness, and confidence, and scorn of older society, impatience of its restraints and its ideas, and indifference to its lessons, have accompanied the frontier. What the Mediterranean Sea was to the Greeks, breaking the bond of custom, offering new experiences, calling out new institutions and activities, that, and more, the ever retreating frontier has been to the United States directly, and to the nations of Europe more remotely. And now, four centuries from the discovery of America, at the end of a hundred years of life under the Constitution, the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history.

In 1987, Deborah and Frank Popper, writing from Rutgers, published a modest proposal to reverse the settlement of the plains and reestablish the American frontier.

  • We believe that over the next generation the Plains will, as a result of the largest, longest-running agricultural and environmental miscalculation in American history, become almost totally depopulated. At that point, a new use for the region will emerge, one that is in fact so old that it predates the American presence. We are suggesting that the region be returned to its original pre-white state, that it be, in effect, deprivatized.
  • "Grass no good upside down," said a Pawnee chief in northeast Colorado as he watched the late-nineteenth-century homesteaders rip through the shortgrass with their steel plows. He mourned a stretch of land where the Indians had hunted buffalo for millennia. It grew crops for a few years, then went into the Dust Bowl; farmers abandoned it. Today, it is federal land, part of the system of national grasslands. Like most of the Plains, it is an austere monument to American self-delusion. Three separate waves of farmers and ranchers, with increasingly heavy federal support, tried to make settlement stick on the Plains. The 1890s and 1930s generations were largely uprooted, as the 1980s one soon will be.
  • The most intriguing alternative would be to restore large parts of the Plains to their pre-white condition, to make them again the commons the settlers found in the nineteenth century. This approach, which would for the first time in U.S. history treat the Plains as a distinct region and recognize its unsuitability for agriculture, is being proposed with increasing frequency. Bret Wallach, a University of Oklahoma geographer and MacArthur fellow, has suggested that the Forest Service enter into voluntary contracts with Plains farmers and ranchers, paying them the full value of what they would cultivate during each of the next 15 years but requiring them not to cultivate it. During this time, they would instead follow a Forest Service-approved program of planting to reestablish the native shortgrasses. Afterwards, the service would, as part of the original contract, buy out their holdings except for a 40-acre homestead.
  • Similarly, Charles Little, former editor of American Land Forum, suggests that by expanding the national grasslands, the grazing districts operated by the Bureau of Land Management, and the anti-sodbusting national conservation reserve, we could retire enough agricultural land to slow the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer. Robert Scott of the Institute of the Rockies in Missoula, Montana, urges that 15,000 square miles of eastern Montana, about a tenth of the state, be transformed into an East African-style game preserve called the Big Open. With state and federal help, fences would come down, domestic animals would be removed, and game animals stocked. According to Scott, the land could support 75,000 bison, 150,000 deer, 40,000 elk, 40,000 antelope. A ranch of 10,000 acres (nearly 16 square miles), by now a normal size for the area, would net at least $48,000 a year from the sale of hunting licenses alone. Some 1,000 new jobs -- for outfitters, taxidermists, workers in gas stations, restaurants, motels -- would develop in this sparsely settled area.
  • It will be up to the federal government to ease the social transition of the economic refugees who are being forced off the land. For they will feel aggrieved and impoverished, penalized for staying too long in a place they loved and pursuing occupations the nation supposedly respected but evidently did not. The government will have to invent a 1990s version of the 1930s Resettlement Administration, a social work-finance-technical assistance agency that will find ways and places for the former Plains residents to get back on their feet.
  • The federal government's commanding task on the Plains for the next century will be to recreate the nineteenth century, to reestablish what we would call the Buffalo Commons. More and more previously private land will be acquired to form the commons. In many areas, the distinctions between the present national parks, grasslands, grazing lands, wildlife refuges, forests, Indian lands, and their state counterparts will largely dissolve. The small cities of the Plains will amount to urban islands in a shortgrass sea. The Buffalo Commons will become the world's largest historic preservation project, the ultimate national park. Most of the Great Plains will become what all of the United States once was -- a vast land mass, largely empty and unexploited.

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