28 January 2011

American Wealth: Timber

The history of the United States is fundamentally a history of rapid exploitation of immensely valuable natural resources. The possession and exploitation of these resources have given most of the distinctive traits to American character, economic development, and even political and social institutions. Whatever preeminence the United States may have among the nations of the world, in industrial activity, efficiency and enterprise, in standards of comfort in living, in wealth, and even in such social and educational institutions as are dependent upon great wealth, must be attributed to the possession of these great natural resources; and the maintenance of our preeminence in these respects is dependent upon a wise and economical use of remaining resources. Thus the question of conservation is one of the most important questions before the American people ...
John Ise, The United States Forest Policy (1920), xix.

Remember this: this text criticizing wasteful over-cutting of timber and other wanton exploitation of the sources of American wealth was published in 1920. Its criticism of wrong-headed government actions was published a dozen years prior to the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the office of President of the United States. Long before publicly funded welfare existed for the poor and destitute, it existed for the railroads. These railroads, and companies with which they made sweet deals (Weyerhaeuser), came to own most of the nation's timber resources.

The three largest timber holdings in the United States— those of the Southern Pacific, the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, and the Northern Pacific—aggregated about 9,000,000 acres of timber land—since the forfeiture of the Southern Pacific lands in Oregon, only about 7,000,000 acres—some of it among the finest in the world. The five largest holdings in the country included 12,794,000 acres, an average of 2,560,000 acres each. Among holdings smaller than these were 9 of from 500,000 to 1,500,000 acres, averaging almost 1,000,000 acres each; 27 holdings of from 300,000 to 500,000 acres each; 48 holdings of from 150,000 to 300,000 acres; 124 of from 75,000 to 150,000 acres; and 520 holdings of between 18,000 and 75,000 acres. Thus 733 holders owned in fee a total of 71,521,000 acres of timber land and land owned in connection with or in the vicinity of this timber land—an average of nearly 100,000 acres each. There were also 961 smaller holders owning a total of 6,731,000 acres, an average for each of 7,000 acres—the equivalent of forty homesteads. This makes a total of over 78,000,000 acres owned in fee by 1,694 holders—nearly one twentieth of the land area of the United States, from the Canadian to the Mexican border.
John Ise, The United States Forest Policy (1920), 317.

15 January 2011

Indian Names: Nez Perce

Tribal names, as the names Native, Native American, Indian, American Indian, Native American Indian, are inventions more often than not. Some of these inventions stem from simple confusion, as when Captain James Cook heard the Nuu-chah-nulth offering instructions on where to anchor his ship, he heard "Nootka" and gave them that name. Some names are corruptions of what their enemies call them, as is the case with Sioux. Some names remain shrouded in the mists of time.

Already by 1835, the reasons for calling the Salish people in Montana, Flathead, and for calling the Ni-Mii-Puu, Nez Perce, had been forgotten. At least Samuel Parker could not discern the reasons during his travels.
I was disappointed to see nothing peculiar in the shape of the Flathead Indians, to give them their name. Who gave them this name, or for what reason, is not known. Some suppose it was given them in derision for not flattening their heads, as the Chenooks and some other nations do, near the shores of the Pacific. It may be so, but how will those, who indulge this imagination, account for the Nez Perces being so called, since they do not pierce their noses. That those names are given by white men, without any known reason, is evident from the fact, that they do not call each other by the names which signify either flat head or pierced nose.
Samuel Parker, Journal of an Exploring Tour Beyond the Rocky Mountains (1838), 76.
Many years ago, when I was a graduate student, my friend Otis Halfmoon told a class that I was teaching that the name Nez Perce probably stems from the Ni-Mii-Puu sign language term for themselves in which they pointed from right to left across their face to indicate that they had crossed over between those mountains. He speculated that someone thought they were piercing their noses with the gesture, adding that he is glad they did not think it was an act of cleaning their noses.

03 January 2011

Young's Cauldron

In early 1836, Ewing Young purchased a large iron cauldron from Courtney Walker. Walker had the job of disposing of the goods left behind by Nathaniel Wyeth's abandoned Columbia River enterprise. A successful ice merchant in New England, Wyeth had come west with dreams of making a fortune packing and shipping Pacific salmon for consumption outside the region. Along the way, Wyeth also sought profits from trapping for furs, brokering timber sales, and importing goods to Oregon from Hawaii and the east coast. Wyeth's Oregon enterprise failed to turn a profit so he liquidated his assets in the region and returned to the ice business. Meanwhile, Young had carried on successful trade between New Mexico and Missouri for more than a decade before working his way west to California, and from California driving a herd of horses into Oregon. Wyeth's cauldron had been shipped to Oregon for pickling salmon. Young originated from Tennessee and saw in the kettle potential for preparing sour mash that he could then distill into whiskey.

Oregon was not a wholly lawless frontier, but with joint occupation by the United States and by England, and with a small non-Indian population, enforcement authorities were far from prominent. United States law banned sale of liquor in Indian Country. The Hudson's Bay Company, England's presence in the region, understood that liquor sales to Indians had a deleterious effect on the fur trade--their business in the region. Young's plan to build a distillery provoked cooperation between HBC employees, American settlers, and missionaries that had recently arrived from the United States with the professed purpose of bringing Christian civilization to Oregon's Native population. The Oregon Temperance Society formed and started a petition drive to dissuade Young from manufacturing spirits.

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