Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Vibration of One Person Believing

On July 3, the Caravan of Wonder moseyed its way south from Coram, Montana through Big Fork, along the eastern shore of Flathead Lake, through Polson, where we ate lunch in a Wal-Mart Parking lot and resisted the rusty, flaky appeal of The Miracle of American Museum, and finally into Missoula, where we enjoyed the luxuries of a very well maintained KOA Campground.  We usually avoid the pricier campgrounds, but every so often we need pools and hot tubs, reliable wifi and such.
At the KOA in Missoula
            At the campground, Captain Crunch made friends with a girl his age, who was camping with her mother and a family friend. They were visiting from Spokane.  The dad had remained at home to tend their horses.  The family friend was a young woman whose husband is deployed in Afghanistan.  So we were in heaven.  Captain Crunch had a friend; Knightsmama had women to drink wine with, Dr. J. had wifi; and I had some time to write the fifth essay for the class I am taking.  We have been reading the Journals of Lewis and Clark.  I don’t have much faith in the essay I wrote—it is rather difficult to believe that one has said much of importance, let alone with sense and accuracy, when one has two weeks to read a book, locate several other books and articles, and find something to say that is not out and out theft.  If you care, that essay is located here.
            A piece of unplanned luck occurred, however, as we enjoyed the Fourth of July weekend in Missoula.  Nearby is a little state park called Traveler’s Rest.  The park is lucky to have a really dedicated group of citizens that support it.  It really is a tiny park, no camping or anything like that.  It sits on the West Fork of Lolo Creek, a few miles south of Missoula.  It includes a rather large open field with a DAR plaque, and a quite adequate museum with interesting and well-organized displays concerning Native American and Western cultural practices.  The heart of the park, however, is a field out back, smaller than a football field, behind the buildings alongside the creek.  It is there that Native American Tribes camped, and where Lewis and Clark bivouacked both on their way west, September 9 - 11, 1805, and again from June 30 - July 3, 1806, on their way back east.   Did you notice the date?  We were visiting July the Fourth,  two hundred and six years and one day later.
Kinghtsmama and the Major Dude Join
the Lewis and Clark Expedition
            Until recently, people didn’t really know exactly where this camp was situated.  Everyone knew that the expedition had traveled through the area, but, you know, people didn’t leave signage everywhere they camped, and it has been two hundred years.  What is more, it is not that the Lewis and Clark Expedition achieved instant iconic status in the American imagination.   For centuries, this land was owned by ranchers who did what ranchers do—let the land feed their stock until they sold the stock to feed us.
            But as time passes, sometimes certain historical moments begin to rise in the collective imagination.  By the 1960’s, Traveler’s Rest—this is what William Clark called it—made it’s way generally on to a list of national historic places.  I say “generally” because no one knew exactly where it was.  We sort of knew—you know, like, “It was over there along one of those creeks.” 
            Now, I don’t know the full story.  Maybe one day I will do enough research to get the full story. But you know how it is, and I am guessing, but several imminent historians like David Lavender and Stephen Ambrose write books like The Way to the Western Sea (1988) and Undaunted Courage (1996) respectively, and the bicentennial of the expedition begins to loom, a concerned group of local history junkies start talking and organizing, and then before you know it a hydrogeologist and history buff, Robert N. Bergantino, starts reading the journals very carefully.  In 1998, he writes up a little paper, that I guess he distributes among like-minded buffs.   It is still unpublished, as far as I know.   Then by 2002, somebody gets a grant to pay for an archeological study that really nails some things down. There is a report if we can find it: 
Hall, Daniel S., William A. Babcock, Susan L. Knudsen, Jamie R. Lockman, Noel L. Philip, Frederick R. Higgins, Natalie R. Morrow, and William Eckerle. 2003. Travelers Rest National Historic Landmark: Validation and Verification of a Lewis and Clark Campsite. Report prepared for Missoula County Office of Planning and Grants, Missoula, MT.
I haven’t found it.  Instead, I am relying on a National Historic Landmark Nomination, NPS Form 10-900, OMB Number 1024-0018, which you can read for yourself and more carefully than I have.
West Branch of Lolo Creek
            But the short of it is that they found some small but significant evidence that Lewis and Clark had camped in this one particular area beside the creek.  This evidence included a button and a blue bead.  It included some basic evidence of kitchen set up and a latrine, arranged, significantly, in the manner recommended in military manuals of the day.  And remember than both Lewis and Clark were Captains in the Army and most of their men were sergeants or privates.   The fact that everyone loves to repeat is that samples were taken from the latrine and these were analyzed.  What did they find?  Raised levels of mercury.  Why is this important?  Well, we know from the journals that one of the most important medicines that Lewis and Clark gave their men was Dr. Benjamin Rush’s Pills, which contained very high levels of mercury.  For the scatological among you, these pills were nicknamed “Thunder Clappers” because of the great rush of diarrhea they produced.  For the prurient among you, these pills had many uses but one important use was as a cure for syphilis, which the Lewis’s and Clark’s journals report several men suffered from due to their liaisons with Native American women.
            So now nine hundred words into this post let me get to my point:  One of the themes of the Caravan of Wonder that has textured our daily observations is that often it is the determined work of one person, a lone citizen, maybe two, and sometimes a small group, that has enticed, persuaded, a community, a state, a nation to understand the significance of a natural or historical site. 
            Now, of course, I am writing here only of recent history.  I am speaking here only of the history of the invaders, the Europeans and, later, the Americans.  I think some would argue that things were just Hunky Dory until the White Man showed up.  There was no need to protect or preserve natural sites in State and National Parks because they were not under threat from a rapacious greed that wanted to turn every rock and tree into profit.   And the truth is I have not attempted to learn all that much about what history was preserved by Native Americans and shared among themselves. 
            One example:  was anyone protecting, studying, discussing the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde before Richard Wetherill and his brothers learned of them from an Ute and then later stumbled upon them in 1888 and began collecting and cataloging artifacts?  Well, the Ute said that the place was sacred and nobody went up there.  But Wetherill went and he even brought a photographer and professional explorer types.  Sure, together, they did a great deal of damage.  And, sure, it can well be argued that there was a higher ownership than theirs.  But by 1906, the land belonged to the United States government and was, generally, protected.
The Caravan in Joshua Tree NP
            Or what about James Larkin White who “discovered” and promoted Carlsbad Caverns.  In 1898, the sixteen-year old Larkin was out riding his horse and noticed the black plume of bats, and soon went exploring.  The rest of his life was spent working in the cave (mining guano), exploring and mapping it, conducting tours, serving as park ranger, and selling paperback copies of his story in the cafĂ© 700 feet below the surface.  In 1923 Carlsbad became a National Monument, and in 1930 a National Park.  When White died in 1946, “The Discoverer of Carlsbad Caverns” was engraved on his tombstone.
            How about Meteor Crater in Arizona?  At first, scientists did not know what to think about it.  Was it the remains of a volcano?  Or, as a few thought, of a meteor.  At the turn of the century, Daniel Barringer, wealthy mining engineer, thought it was a meteor and thus, most likely, the sight of a great deal of iron, just waiting to be mined.  Well, there really wasn’t much iron to be mined, but Barringer kept arguing that the hole was caused by a meteor.  Basically, the scientific community scoffed.  Barringer died in 1929, but the land remained within the family.   Finally in the 1960’s science caught up with Barringer’s hunch, and everyone now  agrees that that great big hole in the ground west of Winslow, Arizona, is where a meteor hit the earth 50,000 years ago.  The property still remains in the Barringer family, so it cannot be designated a national park, but it is a National Natural Landmark.
Meteor Crater
            So the list is long.  How about Minerva Hoyt, a wealthy socialite, who fell in love with the desert and desert plants and devoted her life to preserving them.  In 1936, due to her efforts, Franklin Roosevelt set aside 800,000 acres for Joshua Tree National Monument.  In 1994, it became a National Park.  Or how about William Gladstone Steele?  We looked at his photograph in the visitor center at Crater Lake.  He is called “the father of Crater Lake,” which, of course, is unfair to The Klamath Indians who have always told stories about the volcano that exploded and collapsed about 10,000 years ago.  Most likely their ancestors were there when it happened.  At 16 years old, back in Ohio, Steele read a newspaper story about Crater Lake.  He made it to Oregon to see it in 1885 and began writing and promoting the idea that it needed to be protected.  Steele was by no means a perfect man, by today’s standards.  He treated Native Americans poorly, and respected the profit motive more than the usual nature lover.  Yet his efforts led to the Crater Lake being named the sixth National Park in 1906.
William Gladstone Steele
            I think my favorite might be Galen Clark, who moved to California during the Gold Rush.  He was ill with tuberculosis and decided to head into the Sierra Nevada.  He found the Mariposa Grove of the giant Sequoias.  It was his lobbying that led President Lincoln to sign the first Yosemite Grant, which allowed California to protect the trees.  Sure he built a small hotel, promoted it, and brought in visitors.  But he also struggled to manage the park in a gentle respectful manner.  He fought the exploiters.  He is said to have been a poor businessman and found himself in later life strapped for money.  John Muir said of Clark:  “Galen Clark was the best mountaineer I ever met, and one of the kindest and most amiable of all my mountain friends.”  That’s good enough for me.
            And, of course, we have John Muir.  I remember a summer car vacation I took with my father in 1977, when he was 66 and I was 24.   We visited many of the places in the West that the Caravan of Wonder is seeing.  At Yosemite, I purchased a cheap paperback John Muir book on Yosemite, and read it, off and on, during the trip.  One night I sat in the restaurant of Old Faithful Inn by myself having a beer or something reading John Muir and watching Old Faithful.  I experienced that scene in a haze of romanticism, and I cannot shake that even now.   I wrote a little bit about the complicated life of John Muir in another blog post.  But everyone’s life is complicated.  Back there in the haze of the past, we have people like John Muir loving a place beyond reason, and promoting the protection of that place with great fierceness to other people like Theodore Roosevelt.  And then in 1906, Roosevelt returned Yosemite to the United States Government.  Individuals can change the world.

            Muir, Clark, Steele, Hoyt, Barringer, White, Wetherill.  And many many more.  As a twenty-first century intellectual guy, I am supposed to be wary of “The Great Man” theory of history.  It is the theory that says all history is made by these few dominant personalities.   Presidents, Kings, Generals, the best painters and writers.  You know, from Abraham to Caesar to Napoleon to Sitting Bull to Martin Luther King, Jr.  The rest of us are unimportant.  Well, I sort of subscribe to that, but I also rebel.  On this trip, I have visited a great number of graves and monuments and museums to pay homage to men and women who have done truly amazing things.  But I have also learned about so many other people who just had a conviction about something nearby, something they loved, something they wanted to build or protect.  That is the life most of us live, or could live.  Like those folks who discovered mercury in the latrine at Traveler’s Rest, and established, for certain, one exact spot where the Corps of Discovery laid their tired bodies.   Here we were on the Fourth of July.  That seems worthy of celebration.

Soundtrack.  The United States Marine Band:  "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

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