On September 6, 1909, while on safari in the northern foothills of Mount Kenya, Theodore Roosevelt—less than six months after leaving the White House—received three cables announcing that Commander Robert E. Peary had reached the geographic north pole. Peary’s telegraphed message was sent from Indian Harbor, Labrador, and read: “Stars and Stripes Nailed to the Pole.” Roosevelt, on a ten-month safari to British East Africa, accompanied by his twenty-nine-year-old son, Kermit, and a retinue of eminent naturalists, was delighted for Peary. America had beaten the Russian explorers to the world’s rooftop. Voyages of discovery toward the geographic north pole had always held a special fascination for Roosevelt. The ex-president considered collecting scientific information about the Arctic region a sign of national greatness (the modern-day equivalent would be NASA going to the moon). Roosevelt had followed Peary’s adventures with keen interest during his eight months in British East Africa. Prophetically, the great Norwegian Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen had told Roosevelt at a dinner in Washington, D.C., “Peary is your best man; in fact I think he is on the whole the best of the men now trying to reach the Pole, and there is a good chance that he will be the one to succeed.”1
Roosevelt had been riveted by Peary’s heroic stories of dogsledding and building igloos between 1886 and 1891 in the Arctic light, and he considered Peary’s book Northward over the Great Ice (1898) a valuable contribution to exploration literature. In 1905–1906 Peary, then a U.S. Navy lieutenant, had patrolled the coast of upper Greenland in the ship Roosevelt—another point in his favor. In 1908 President Roosevelt had boarded Peary’s ship to bid him godspeed on his historic voyage to the north pole.2 Now, with his Arctic Club expedition and his successful historic dash to the north pole, Peary had outdone himself. All his life, Peary had sought glory—the one heroic deed that would reverberate forever in history. “Too much credit cannot be given him,” Roosevelt wrote to his friend William Robert Foran. “He has performed one of the great feats of the age, and all his countrymen should join in doing him honor.”3
Barry Lopez, one of America’s finest writers, meditated in his Arctic Dreams (which won a National Book Award) on Peary’s obsession with the north pole. Lopez remarked on the hardships Peary endured for the sake of Arctic exploration: leaving his wife behind, determining to prevail over blizzards, camping on permanently frozen ground to which he clung like a dwarf plant, not seeing another human being for months at a time, facing many desperate moments, always running out of provisions, being forced to kill sled dogs for food, making astute solar observations in order to stay alive. Literature is replete with such quest stories. But Peary’s undaunted attempt to find the geographic north pole transcends the imagination. Weathering temperatures of minus fifty degrees Fahrenheit (not including windchill) and combating hypothermia for days at a time, the walrus-mustached Peary had planted an American flag near the north pole, even though he had, by then, lost eight toes to frostbite.4 Peary’s entourage of twenty-three men, 133 dogs, and nineteen sleds had encountered a rich continuum of wild environments never before marked. The Arctic, an almost desert landscape, was a different realm where snow geese (Chen caerulescens) ice-walked and polar bears ran as fast as shooting stars. On their trek, wrapped in Arctic furs to stay warm, Peary’s team shot more than 600 musk oxen to keep their camp stocked with high-protein meat. Cold weather burned away calories very quickly. By surviving the sea ice, the pressure ridges, and frostbite, Peary was, in Roosevelt’s estimate, a sustainable American hero in the tradition of Zebulon Pike.
When the explorer Frederick Cook claimed to have beaten Commander Peary by reaching the north pole first, nearly a year earlier, Roosevelt was dismissive. Writing an introduction to Peary’s memoir, The North Pole, Roosevelt lauded Peary for his “iron will” and “unflinching courage” in overcoming physical weariness in pursuit of Arctic knowledge.5 He thought it idiocy that Peary was being criticized by jealous explorers for not having a solar expert confirm his latitude. (Although Roosevelt enjoyed reading Cook’s memoir To the Top of a Continent—particularly the parts about climbing the Alaskan peaks McKinley, Foraker, Russell, and Dall—it was Peary’s descriptions of the north pole that he considered priceless.)*
But although Roosevelt was ecstatic that the American flag had been planted at the north pole, President Taft reacted with a yawn. To Taft, the geographical blankness of the Arctic made the region uninteresting; he was a city man. What could America possibly do with a frozen landscape where towns like Barrow lived in darkness between Thanksgiving and late January? Why would anybody want to explore north of the timberline where animals were lucky to survive? Roosevelt saw the Arctic from the scientific perspective of a Smithsonian Institute expedition: young caribou migrating 2,700 miles annually and snow geese building up fat reserves on the tundra before flying down to Mexico. But the very notion of twenty-four-hour light at the summer solstice, at a latitude of 66° 33' North, was disturbing to Taft; and the fact that the Yenisey and Lena rivers flowed in the Arctic with more freshwater than the Mississippi or Nile bored him.6 When Peary offered to put the Arctic at Taft’s disposal, the president was unable to imagine that the north pole held any hidden biological secrets. “Thanks for your interesting and generous offer,” Taft wrote to the fifty-three-year-old Peary. “I do not know exactly what to do with it.”7
As a student of geography, Roosevelt was perplexed that the United States wasn’t more proud of its northern lands. In Russia the Arctic was a part of nationalistic pride. Norway considered the Arctic the core of its economic future. Canadians viewed their Arctic real estate as a symbol of their greatness. But in America the north pole was viewed as a frozen wasteland not worth the time it took to consider. Years later, Peary, now an admiral in the U.S. Navy, recalled how bravely Roosevelt had stood by him when envious critics claimed that he had exaggerated his exploits at the north pole. In an article published in Natural History, Peary wrote that old-fashioned loyalty was Roosevelt’s finest quality; that was a fact. Those who actually knew Roosevelt always thought of him as a strong ally. Upon returning to American soil from the north pole, Peary sent Roosevelt the finest polar bear skin he had collected on his daring expedition. It became the drawing room rug at Sagamore Hill, Roosevelt’s estate in Oyster Bay, New York. The ex-president was also given an ivory walrus tusk. Holding court over pots of black coffee, Roosevelt would talk with Peary about what a precious “heirloom” Arctic Alaska would be to future generations. “The friendship of Theodore Roosevelt was indeed a most precious possession,” Peary wrote. “Whenever and wherever extended, it had the effect of a superlative to greater deeds.”8
With boyish enthusiasm Roosevelt read everything published about the musk ox herds found in the Arctic. The last known one perished in 1909. It sickened him that the musk ox had disappeared from Alaska by the late 1800s, overhunted and weakened by blue winter cold. These hardy, stocky, oxlike bovids had roamed the permafrost valleys from Alaska to Siberia. Roosevelt had high hopes that a new subspecies of musk ox would be discovered in the north pole or Greenland. With zoological dispatches about exploration at the north pole sent to him in Africa by the Smithsonian Institution, Roosevelt started studying everything published about these weird-looking, 800-pound, curly-horned beasts that plodded Arctic Alaska’s tundra. And he planned to have the musk ox (and wood bison) reintroduced in Alaska. Standing about four feet tall at the shoulder, the musk ox had a noble lineage not unlike that of the American bison. Throughout France and Germany, in fact, ivory and stone carvings 250,000 years old depicted the musk ox accurately. Musk oxen, nervous and suspicious by disposition, were coveted for their straggling quviut (an underfur), which was combed out and used for caps and coats.
Roosevelt’s Yukon Delta Federal Bird Reservation indeed proved to be the ideal place to breed stock to help restore musk oxen to their former ranges in Alaska. By the late 1930s a small herd from Greenland was indeed shipped to Alaska and released on the sweeping tundra of Nunivak Island Refuge.10
As an ex-president, Roosevelt regularly wrote zoological articles for the Outlook (where he was on the masthead as “contributing editor”), Scribner’s, and the American Journal (although these treatises seldom received much public notice). The musk ox became one of Roosevelt’s favorite species to analyze from an evolutionary perspective. With meticulous precision he learned every biological fact he could about the species the Inupiat called omingmak (“the animal with skin like a beard”). Calling the musk ox the “last survivor of the ice age,” Roosevelt marveled at how the beast used its long skirtlike guard hair—much bushier than that of bison—to stay warm.11
“These musk-oxen,” Roosevelt wrote in the magazine Outlook, “which once lived in what is now Ohio and Kansas, just as they once lived in England and France, have followed the retreating glacial ice belt toward the Pole; and there, in the immense desolation of the North, they still dwell side by side with men, the Eskimos, whose culture is at the same stage of development as that of those inconceivably remote ancestors of ours who hunted the musk-ox when it was still a beast of the chase in mid-England.”12
Roosevelt would later personally interview Peary for detailed information about the chain of life around the north pole, everything from the behavior of orcas to the patterns of wind currents. He was riveted to learn how wolves were “hangers-on” around musk ox herds, preferring ox meat to caribou. Yet the migrating musk ox had evolved to survive bitter subzero weather. To Roosevelt, the musk ox brought a certain majesty to the Arctic ecosystem. He fixed his attention on these shaggy ambassadors from ancient times, ice age relics who had once shared vast stretches of Arctic tundra with woolly mammoths and short-faced bears. “The musk-oxen [are] helpless in the presence of human hunters, much more helpless than Caribou, and can exist only in the appalling solitudes where even arctic man cannot live,” Roosevelt wrote in A Book-Lover’s Holidays in the Open, “but against wolves, its only other foes, its habits of gregarious and truculent self-defense enable it to hold its own as the Caribou cannot.”13
When Roosevelt left the White House in March 1909, he was proud of his conservation accomplishments in Alaska. Having left Gifford Pinchot ensconced as chief of the U.S. Forest Service, ex-president Roosevelt felt confident that his Alaskan legacy of natural forests and wildlife refuges would be properly protected. All that his handpicked successor—William Howard Taft, a distinguished Yale man who had served him admirably as secretary of war—had to do was let the very able Gifford Pinchot micromanage the Forest Service and read the riveting field reports of William A. Langille. Taft, with Pinchot as a witness, had promised Roosevelt, as a quid pro quo for his support, always to put conservation first—especially in Alaska. “The way is long and cold and lone,” Roosevelt’s friend Hamlin Garland wrote about Alaska. “But I go . . . where pines forever moan their weight of snow.”14
Little could Roosevelt have foreseen that Taft, not understanding the need to preserve the moaning pines, would fail him with regard to Alaskan land issues. Taft, it turned out, thought Rooseveltian conservation, while essentially a noble cause, had ventured too far in protecting forest and marine environments (Tongass National Forest), saving glaciers (Chugach National Forest), and protecting wildlife (Yukon Delta Federal Bird Reservation). The Tongass, Taft believed, should be leased off for harvesting timber and canning salmon. He also had problems with the legality of Roosevelt’s executive orders on behalf of wildlife habitats. Taft, in his first year in office alone, compromised the integrity of huge expanses of wild Alaska. He gave in to syndicates involved in forest clear-cutting; fur trading; salmon canning; whaling; and gold, ore, and copper mining. New sawmills in Hope, Alaska, had a cut capacity of 20,000 feet per day. In Homer, Alaska, a Philadelphia coal company had built major new facilities, complete with a shipping dock. The Chugach Mountains formed an arc 50 million years old around Prince William Sound and the Copper River delta. Many conservationists feared that mining companies were going to ruin the scenery in a decade if Taft didn’t keep the brakes on.
From Roosevelt and Pinchot’s perspective Taft was intent on letting the U.S. government reap lucrative revenues by exploiting the precious metals of the far north, recklessly and unregulated; such metals were usually found in the remote white wilderness, reachable only by dogsled. “Despite his promise to Roosevelt that night in the White House,” Timothy Egan has explained in The Big Burn, “Taft believed the conservation movement had gone too far, too fast, and that too much land had been put in the public’s hands.”15
In late 1909, Roosevelt was in the Lado Enclave in the Belgian Congo, hunting white rhinoceroses, when he received a shock. A special runner sprinted into Roosevelt’s holiday camp with the news that Gifford Pinchot had been fired as chief forester by President Taft ten days earlier. It was as if Roosevelt aged on the spot. He shuddered and paced about, desperate for accurate information about Pinchot’s apparent contretemps with President Taft.16 It was hard to fathom the implications. Why had America’s most eminent forestry professional been dismissed? Pinchot was like a son to Roosevelt. Together they shared a historic legacy of saving more than 230 million acres of wild America by creating national parks, national monuments, national forests, and federal wildlife reserves. They had injected the concept of conservation into public discourse. A self-critical Roosevelt now wondered how he had let Taft worm his way into his good graces. Seething with contempt and feeling that he had been double-crossed, Roosevelt was dismayed that Taft didn’t have the courtesy to continue his predecessor’s federal forestry and wildlife protection policies in Alaska. Taft, he soon declared, was a “great pink porpoise of a man.”17 All of Roosevelt’s deepest suspicions regarding Taft came to the fore. “I cannot believe it,” Roosevelt immediately wrote to Pinchot on January 17, 1910. “I don’t know any man in public life who has rendered quite the service you have rendered; and it seems to me absolutely impossible that there can be any truth in this statement. But of course it makes me very uneasy.”18
Roosevelt had no way of communicating directly with Pinchot from the Belgian Congo. He was baffled by Taft’s action. Was the president trying to change Roosevelt’s entire approach to national forests? Was Taft seeking corporate kickbacks? Were big businessmen suddenly outmaneuvering conservationists? Or had Pinchot become an intolerable nuisance to the Taft administration? Roosevelt had a genius for understanding bureaucracy, although he loathed it, but he could not deconstruct the fact that under the Taft administration, Alaska had more than twenty separate bureaus and offices in the departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, the Navy, and War.19 A frustrated Roosevelt sent a message to Pinchot through the American embassy in Paris, instructing Pinchot to give him a detailed report of the firing.20
An anxious Pinchot decided to do more than just send an “Ivy League confidential” to Roosevelt via the American embassy in Paris. Determined to discuss his firing face-to-face with Roosevelt, Pinchot left Grey Towers, his home in Milford, Pennsylvania, and bought a ticket on an ocean liner to Denmark. At the ex-president’s invitation Pinchot planned to meet with his old boss that April somewhere in Europe and deliver chapter and verse on the controversy.21 Loyally, Roosevelt wrote to Pinchot that history would vindicate him for being the “aggressive, hard-hitting leader” of “all the forces struggling for conservation.”22 Wandering around Africa with Kermit, to whom the outdoors life was an opiate, Roosevelt plotted revenge on Taft. Kermit—fluent in Spanish, French, Greek, and Romany (Gypsy); able to read Sanskrit; and with encyclopedic knowledge of animal ecology—bonded with his father in Africa as never before. They used playful nicknames for each other, encouraged by their African guides. Roosevelt was Bwana Makuba (“Great Master”); Kermit was Bwana Merodadi (“Dandy Master”).23 Peary, to both Roosevelts, was the King of the North Pole: a hero. Pinchot was . . . politics . . . politics . . . pioneering modern forestry . . . and more politics.
Pinchot’s grievances against the Taft administration were many. For starters, the new president had flat-out rejected a World Conservation Congress that Roosevelt had proposed in February 1909. Roosevelt had gotten the queen of the Netherlands to join him in actually creating a United Nations for Conservation; Taft scoffed at this notion. Adding insult to injury, Taft replaced the preservation-friendly James R. Garfield (son of the assassinated twentieth president) as secretary of the interior with a Republican land dealer, Richard Ballinger of Seattle, who favored the rapid exploitation of western resources.24 Garfield had been an excellent secretary of the interior, and had regularly gone on long hikes in Rock Creek Park and swims in the Potomac River with Roosevelt.25 Ballinger, by contrast, had been vehemently opposed to the Roosevelt administration’s creation of both the Tongass and the Chugach national forests.
An investigator for the Department of the Interior, Louis R. Glavis, had documentary evidence, which he handed to Pinchot, that Ballinger was expediting the sale of federal coalfields in Alaska’s Wrangell–Saint Elias Mountains to sell to the financial titans J. P. Morgan and Solomon R. Guggenheim, sometimes called the Alaska syndicate or, more often, derided as “Morganheim.” According to Pinchot, Ballinger was offering sweetheart deals to railroads, mining outfits, cattle concerns, and logging conglomerates on public lands. Ballinger insisted that the U.S. Land Office had only one job: let private concerns divvy up the public domain in orderly fashion. “Morganheim” dominated the district’s economics in the early twentieth century. Starting with the Kennecott copper mine deposits, “Morganheim” wanted to form an industrial empire in Alaska. Corporation heads such as George Hazlett, Stephen Birch, and David Jarvis constantly flouted U.S. government regulations, maintaining an adversarial attitude. Luckily for America, they were thwarted by conservationist leaders of the progressive era such as Roosevelt and Pinchot, along with some muckraking journalists.26
Arrogant, and opposed to the very concept of forest management, Ballinger—who had strong affiliations with western land barons—even opposed fire control because it involved state, federal, and private cooperation. “A stocky, square-headed little man who believed in turning all public resources as freely and rapidly as possible over to private ownership,” Pinchot complained in his diary about the new secretary of the interior.27 With Ballinger spearheading the effort, more than 1.5 million acres that the Roosevelt administration had set aside for future federally controlled waterpower sites had been forfeited.28 With Wall Street putting pressure on his administration to open up Alaska’s storehouse of natural resources, Taft capitulated, weakening federal authority over public lands in the Chugach. “Taft’s betrayal was a constant topic of conversation,” Pinchot later recalled, “between TR and his intimate advisers.”29
Ballinger, a lawyer who was a former mayor of Seattle, thought that between 1901 and 1909 President Roosevelt, Pinchot, and Garfield had withdrawn too much public land for national forests in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Were huge federal forest reserves such as the Tongass really necessary? Why did Roosevelt want to save the Chugach, which held one-third of all the territory’s glacier-covered land, including the Bering Glacier (one of the largest glaciers in North America)?30 Ballinger, who distrusted easterners and science, wanted the pendulum to swing back to nonregulated capitalism. He respected Puget Sound business interests. Roosevelt and Pinchot’s crusade had, he said, “gone too far.”31 Not only did Ballinger consider the acreage of Mount Olympus National Monument (in Washington state)—which President Roosevelt had created with an executive order in March 1909—excessive, but he thought more Alaskan coalfields should be opened up to the private sector. The Roosevelt administration had favored leasing U.S.-owned coalfields in Alaska whereas Ballinger wanted them sold outright to the private sector.
When Garfield left Washington, D.C., Pinchot tried to stop the newly appointed Ballinger from undoing the achievement of the Roosevelt administration regarding Alaskan public lands. By the fall of 1909, Pinchot had come to the conclusion that Ballinger was two-faced, the worst swindler he’d come across in decades, a toady for “Morganheim.” Pinchot met personally with President Taft in the White House, pleading with him to control Ballinger before Alaska’s boreal forests became permafrost wastelands of rotted tree stumps. Pinchot was worried that in the early summer months, the towering Chugach Mountains, rising dramatically from the sea, were a tinderbox. (Ballinger and his associates believed fires didn’t happen around glaciers.) A wildfire caused by an industrial accident or by a bolt of lightning could suddenly ignite the forestlands. Strong prevailing winds would spread the flames uncontrollably in all directions.32 Pinchot strongly feared that the major development projects of the Morgan-Guggenheim syndicate—the Kennecott Copper Company and the Copper River and Northern Railway—were monopolistic in in- tent.
Even though Taft thought Pinchot too zealous a promoter of federal forestry, Pinchot was a Yale man of stature, with impeccable New England credentials. Strong-willed, devoted to natural resource management, and convinced that God was in forests, Pinchot would often sleep outdoors with a wood block pillow to increase his hardiness. When he went camping, he would order his valet to wake him in the mornings as bracingly as possible—by dousing him with water from an icy stream.33 “I do regard Gifford as a good deal of a radical and a good deal of a crank,” Taft wrote to his brother, “but I am glad to have him in the government.”34 But Taft also frequently mocked Pinchot for being a sycophant of Roosevelt, engaging in “sort of a rough rider fetish worship.” To Taft, GP, as his troops in the Forest Service lovingly called him, was a troublemaker. “G.P. is out there again defying the lightning and storm and championing the cause, or the oppressed and downtrodden,” Taft wrote his brother, “and harassing the wealthy and the greedy and the dishonest.”35
If President Taft had an Achilles’ heel, it was his stout refusal to grant interviews. This was not smart for a president trying to get traction. Ballinger called it White House “nopublicity.”36 Unsure how to cope with the Taft administration’s indifference toward federal land protection and its virtual boycott of the press, Pinchot founded the National Conservation Association as a watchdog group in 1909. The outgoing president of Harvard University, Charles W. Eliot, who sympathized with Roosevelt and Pinchot’s land ethic, signed on as its honorary president; Pinchot served as president until 1925. Garfield joined the executive committee; so did Henry Stimson, a leader of the Boone and Crockett Club (later to be secretary of state for Herbert Hoover and secretary of war for Franklin Roosevelt) and a rising star in the wildlife protection movement. The purpose of the new association was to enact laws to promote conservation. “This association is to be the center of a great propaganda for conservation,” Pinchot wrote. “It is hoped that all organizations interested in special phases of the conservation movement will become affiliated with it.”37
No sooner had the National Conservation Association been formed, in the summer of 1909, than Pinchot, to his great dismay, discovered that Ballinger was allowing fraud to operate in the General Land Office (GLO) in the West. Alaska—in particular the areas surrounding the Chugach—was being leased to huge timber and mining operations so that quick profits could be made. Further irritating Pinchot was the fact that President Taft had killed Roosevelt’s grand notion of a Global Conservation Congress. Pinchot truly believed that Taft and Ballinger were hell-bent on deprioritizing conservation, and forcing it underground, back to mere “garden club” status. The populist movement of the early twentieth century viewed big business—particularly the railroad industry—with deep suspicion. A combination of conservationists, muckrakers, and trustbusters insisted, as Pinchot did, that Alaska should remain public land saved for public use.38
On November 13, 1909, Collier’s published a scathing “insider” article by Louis Glavis that linked Ballinger directly to the J. P. Morgan—Guggenheim syndicate. This New York–based syndicate had purchased the enormous Kennecott-Bonanza copper mine and monopolized the Alaskan steamship and rail transportation from Seattle; it also owned twelve of the forty canneries in the territory.39 “Gradually,” M. Nelson McGeary writes in Gifford Pinchot: Forester-Politician, “by highly intricate financial arrangements, this partnership extended its holdings in Alaska until by 1910 it controlled copper mines, a steamship company, and a salmon-packing concern.”40 Pinchot echoed Glavis’s article, charging that greedy, oppressive trusts had subservient lawmakers in the Taft administration doing their bidding—a barely concealed smear of Ballinger. In Pinchot’s mind, Roosevelt’s Alaskan policy was being compromised and ignored because of Taft’s complicity with “Morganheim.” Pinchot declared that under President Taft, the GLO reeked as badly as sulfur water. He wanted to clean the Augean stables; he wanted Roosevelt’s conservationist directive—the simple rule of always making the land better than you found it—upheld by Taft. Having the U.S. Forest Service give huge corporations and banks free rein in the Alaskan lands they leased, without federal regulation, was a recipe for disaster: long-term deforestation.
Pinchot had become a whistle-blower. Using information provided by Glavis, he declared that Ballinger was a traitor to the federal government and to the conservationist movement. If the Morgan-Guggenheim syndicate wasn’t stopped, the rivers in Chugach National Forest—the Copper, Russian, and Trail—would become contaminated from copper pit runoff. The margin of life for mountain goats and Dall sheep would become narrow. The finest salmon runs in Alaska—like those in the Bristol Bay Basin—would become stinking mudholes. Backing Pinchot was James Wickersham, Alaska’s lone congressional delegate in Washington, D.C., who was a rip-roaring critic of the Morgan-Guggenheim syndicate (although he preferred that the Tongass and Chugach be redesignated as state forests). An Alaskan district judge, Wickersham loved wild country. In 1903 he tried to climb Mount McKinley but aborted the attempt at 8,000 feet. Wickersham, whose memoir Old Yukon: Tales, Trails, and Trials is an Alaskan classic,41 understood that all the syndicate wanted to do was mine copper ore for its smelter in Tacoma, Washington. “The delegate approved of federal conservation policies,” the historian Peter A. Coates writes, “as a restraint on outside interest that creamed off Alaskan wealth.”42
What truly concerned Roosevelt about the Morgan-Guggenheim syndicate was that it was planning to bring hydraulic machinery to Alaska to supersede small, individual placer operations. Rooseveltian conservationists did not want any monopoly to get a sweetheart lease for timber, copper, or ore in Alaskan national forests. Roosevelt and Pinchot’s policy was for the General Land Office to lease coalfields in Alaska, whereas Ballinger and Taft wanted outright selling of the lands—a big difference.43 From his experience with the construction of the Panama Canal, Roosevelt knew how brutally destructive such large-scale construction projects could be to pristine landscapes. (When Roosevelt visited the Canal Zone in 1907 as president, he kept natural history records of the tropical foliage.) Pacific Northwest banks, however, were itching to clear-cut the Chugach and Tongass national forests. Because the U.S. Forest Service didn’t have a team of full-time rangers, bootleggers set up distilleries on federal property, convinced that they could operate undetected in such expansive outdoors settings. Whether as president or as a private citizen, Roosevelt wasn’t about to let a few New York or Seattle bankers desecrate America’s great rain forests. The fact that the Morgan-Guggenheim syndicate wanted to keep its Tacoma smelter burning around the clock didn’t mean Alaska should be recklessly exploited.
Roosevelt always took the high ground with regard to Alaskan affairs. But as proof that he hadn’t been antidevelopment, consider this: in 1906 he had appointed Wilds Preston Richardson, a U.S. Army officer from Hunt County, Texas, who had attended West Point, to become the first chairman of the Alaska Roads Commission. During the Klondike gold rush, Richardson, in command of the Eighth Infantry (eighty men), kept law and order around Skagway. He later oversaw the construction of army posts at Rampart, Eagle, and Nome. Then in 1906 Roosevelt ordered the army to build what today is known as the Richardson Highway, the two-lane road connecting Valdez (the seaport on Prince William Sound) to Fairbanks (gateway to the Brooks Range). Clearly, Roosevelt wasn’t antidevelopment. He just wanted the U.S. government, not private concerns, to control the infrastructure of Alaska.44 Nevertheless, in 1909 the Cordova Daily Alaskan ran a headline that evidently spoke for the majority of district citizens: “Pinchot Is Daffy over Conservation.”45
The feud between Pinchot and Ballinger had become a brouhaha in America throughout 1909. On August 12, the New York Times ran the headline “Pinchot in Danger of Losing His Place.” The charge against Pinchot was insubordination. No president likes leaks from or even dissension in the ranks, let alone whistle-blowers. From Taft’s perspective, Pinchot was a socialist-minded menace: arrogant, fanatical about trees, one-dimensional, and unable to understand that American politics involved the art of give-and-take. The biographer Nathan Miller wrote in Theodore Roosevelt: A Life that Pinchot was desperate to expose Taft’s deficiencies and in doing so “courted martyrdom.”46 In truth, Pinchot was a lot more politically pragmatic than that. Under Taft, scant progress was made in pushing conservation forward. A sworn enemy of reckless corporate despoilers, Pinchot was willing to shatter the Republican Party for the sake of the western forest reserves. “Without fully intending to do so,” Pinchot wrote, “I think I have probably forced Taft to take his stand openly for or against the Roosevelt policies in act as well as in word.”47
From September to December 1909, Taft was looking for a convenient way—or any way—to fire Pinchot while TR was still collecting specimens in Africa. Pinchot stumped the West, calling citizens to fight for public land: it was their birthright as Americans. Although Pinchot had staunch allies in the establishment—for example, the agribusinessman Henry C. Wallace—leaders of the big corporations wanted the chief forester gone. Pinchot fumed that the “great oppressive trusts” existed in the United States because of “subversive law-makers.”48 In 1908 there were 770 serious placer mines in Alaska, employing 4,400 men.49 Taft and his supporters wanted to see that number doubled, for the sake of the economy of the Pacific Northwest. They sought jobs, jobs, jobs, and quick money over long-term land management.
Taft, you might say, was complicit in the radical anticonservation movement in Alaska. He simply wouldn’t enforce scrupulous federal protection of the Chugach and Tongass. With the advantage of hindsight, we can see that Taft initially ignored the issue but then became pro- development and pro–big business concerning Alaskan affairs. Clearly Taft was untouched by Thoreau’s belief (shared by the Tlingit Indians) that wilderness represented the preservation of the world; money was what drove Taft forward. “We have fallen back down the hill you led us up,” Pinchot wrote to Roosevelt (who was in Khartoum, in the Sudan). “There is a general belief that the special interests are once more substantially in full control of both Congress and the Administration.”50
Feeling the pressure from being constantly in the public eye during the feud with Ballinger, Pinchot headed to Santa Catalina Island, California, in the blue Pacific, to clear his head. Armed with a fishing pole, transported by a skiff, Pinchot perhaps thought about the role of dissenters from Thomas Paine to William Lloyd Garrison to John Muir. As he was riding Pacific swells, drifting eight miles from shore, hoping to catch a few good yellowtail or albacore tuna for supper, Pinchot’s rod nearly split in half from a titanic tug. Suddenly a blue marlin as large as William Howard Taft leaped from the water. “High out of the water sprang this splendid creature,” Pinchot wrote, “his big eye staring as he rose, till the impression of beauty and lithe power was enough to make a man’s heart sing with him. It was a moment to be remembered for a lifetime.”51
Pinchot soon returned to Washington, D.C., ready for combat. By December, the situation concerning Ballinger had become even messier for Taft. People were always quoting Pinchot to him, and muckrakers were stepping up their attack on Ballinger as a crook.Collier’s magazine ran an inflammatory story, “Are the Guggenheims in Charge of the Department of Interior?”52 Meanwhile, Alaskan forests were front-page news in New York City. Should the virgin stands be federal reserves? Or should they be clear-cut for the pulp industry to help the Pacific Northwest economy? By January 1910 Taft, exhausted by the feud, knew he had to “wrestle with Pinchot,” as he put it. Taft composed a stern letter charging Pinchot with disrespecting the office of the president. “By your own conduct you have destroyed your usefulness as a helpful subordinate of the government,” Taft wrote, “and it therefore now becomes my duty to direct the secretary of agriculture to remove you from your office as the forester.” What a bad political move by Taft! Why fire the honest protégé of TR and keep the money-grubber from Seattle? At the very least, Taft should have also asked Ballinger, who resigned in 1911 anyway, to leave simultaneously with Pinchot. Truth be told, from the White House perspective, bothPinchot and Ballinger were behaving badly in the public sphere.53
Pinchot took his dismissal like a gentleman, or so it seemed at first. But as his biographers have remarked, he was ultimately simply unable to accept it. Seeking revenge, he hatched a hidden agenda against Taft. With the help of Garfield, Pinchot composed a sixteen-page memorandum for Roosevelt to read in Africa. Written as a prosecutorial brief, the memo detailed how Roosevelt’s conservation policies were being ravaged by the Taft administration, which had connections to unsavory syndicates. Taft, while not personally corrupt, was the enabler in chief. Pinchot told Roosevelt that “complete abandonment” of his Alaska policies was taking place. Furthermore, Pinchot claimed, Taft had surrounded himself with “reactionaries” from big business who were bragging about a “vicious political atmosphere” aimed at undoing Roosevelt’s conservationist accomplishments. According to Pinchot, Taft had “yielded to political expediency of the lowest type.”54
What was initiated here was the eventual breakup of the Republican Party in the early twentieth century. Ballinger represented its free enterprise, big business wing; Pinchot represented the progressive-reform wing, with the “conservation doctrine” at its core. Taft was now the leader of the corporate conservatives; Roosevelt, essentially unreachable in the African bush, was the champion of the left-leaning progressives.
While field collecting for the Smithsonian Institution along the White Nile, Roosevelt received from a runner Pinchot’s sixteen-point indictment of Taft in January 1910. He pored over the bracing document with gloomy curiosity. Was this memo accurate? Or was it a distortion by Pinchot? Cleverly, Taft had appointed Henry Solon Graves as Pinchot’s replacement to lead the U.S. Forest Service. Graves had been a fine director of the Yale School of Forestry from 1900 to 1910 and was a solid forester incapable of making a fuss. A graduate of Yale (in 1892), he was book-smart, and he had studied forests abroad at the University of Munich. As replacements went, Taft had chosen wisely. This did not mollify Roosevelt, however, because Graves had worked as a forester for the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Corporation in Michigan. Graves was too much of a forest industry insider to be trusted fully as a regulator of the federal forest reserve.55
“The appointment in your place of a man of high character, and a noted forestry expert, in no way, not in the very least degree, lightens the blow,” Roosevelt wrote to Pinchot on March 1, 1910, attempting delicately not to trumpet a rival. “For besides being the chief of the forest bureau you were the leader among all the men in public—and the aggressive hard-hitting leader—of all the forces which were struggling for conservation, which were fighting for the general interest as against special privilege.”56
Deeply disturbed by the feud, Roosevelt asked Henry Cabot Lodge to advise him in an unbiased way. Sentimentally, Roosevelt wanted very much to see Pinchot personally. But at the same time, internal warfare in his party wearied him. His affection for and his sense of obligation toward Pinchot won out. “I’m very sorry for Pinchot,” Roosevelt wrote to Lodge. “He was one of our most valuable public servants. He loved to spend his whole strength, with lavish indifference to any effect on himself in battling for a high ideal and not to keep him thus employed rendered it possible that his great energy would expend itself in fighting the men who seemed to him not to be going far enough forward.”57 Lodge, by contrast, wasn’t so affectionate toward Pinchot: he warily advised Rooseveltnot to meet with the former forestry chief in Europe. Pinchot was guilty of vicious gossip and shameless politicking and had been wrong to smear Ballinger in the press by using allegations of Alaskan fraud.58
Glad that Lodge had given him sound counsel, Roosevelt nevertheless wanted to hear from his forty-four-year-old protégé directly upon reaching Europe. By the time Pinchot reached Denmark in April 1910, Roosevelt was agitated about Alaskan forestlands being opened up by the Taft administration to big coal interests. But he was also cautious about publicly entering the Pinchot-Ballinger feud. Worried that his conservation legacy was deteriorating under Taft’s lackadaisical custodianship, Roosevelt nevertheless stayed mum. Perhaps Roosevelt also heeded his sixteen-year-old daughter, Alice, who warned him in a letter that Pinchot was self-serving and an advocate of “practically rank socialism.”59
By telegram, Roosevelt suggested to Pinchot that they meet in Italy in April. Together, without drama or distress, they would calmly consider how best to protect Alaska’s natural resources. Word of this scheduled meeting leaked out to newspapers. “There is no question that this meeting created widespread anxiety among Republicans,” Pinchot’s biographer McGeary noted. “Administration stalwarts, as well as others, primarily interested in party unity, feared the political consequences of having current events presented to Roosevelt from Pinchot’s point of view.”60
When Roosevelt finally appeared in Khartoum for his first press conference after months off the beaten path in the African bush—disheveled from travel, his shirtfront wrinkled, but his face glowing with a deep tan—questions were hurled at him by anxious reporters. Why was Pinchot fired? Will you challenge Taft in 1912 for the Republican nomination? Is conservation still the most pressing issue facing America? Fearful of giving clumsy answers, and not wanting to take on Pinchot’s encumbrances as his own, Roosevelt refused to discuss the controversial matter. He would talk only about his experiences in the African bush. He purposefully made many references to giant elands, but none to American politics.
When Pinchot finally met with Roosevelt in Italy on April 11, they had a lot to talk about. The dapper Pinchot looked as elegant as ever, wearing exactly the right clothes for a daytime walk through vineyards and olive groves. A breeze made it a perfect day for an outing. With regard to American politics, however, Roosevelt was between a rock and a hard place. The nasty fact was that Taft had been Roosevelt’s choice as his successor. If Roosevelt attacked Taft outright, that would cause a deep rift in the Republican Party. So Roosevelt stalled. At a press conference in Porto Maurizio, he refused to talk about U.S. conservation policy until August 27, when he would deliver a major speech in Colorado.61 And Roosevelt’s stalling worked. The pack of European reporters backed off, just walking away en masse to look for a headline elsewhere. Roosevelt’s tactics effectively defused Pinchot as well.62 “One of the best and most satisfactory talks with T.R. I ever had,” Pinchot wrote of their meeting in Italy. “Lasted nearly all day, and till about 10:30 at night.” In Breaking New Ground, published after World War II, Pinchot admitted that he had put his mentor, Roosevelt, “in a very embarrassing position, but that could not be helped.”63
That spring of 1910 Pinchot published his first book, aptly titled The Fight for Conservation. Capitalizing on his feud with Ballinger, Pinchot excoriated “stupidly false” businessmen who were either too greedy or ignorant to comprehend that there was no such thing as inexhaustible resources.64 Echoing George Perkins Marsh, whose work of 1864, Man and Nature, remained a bible to conservationists, Pinchot warned against plagues such as wildfires, dust bowls, famines, and floods that would devastate America unless huge forest reserves were maintained. Playing Cassandra, Pinchot warned that only a fool would think America’s supplies of coal, timber, petroleum, soil, forage plants, and freshwater were infinite.65 These resources belonged to the Americans and were not to be recklessly squandered for the benefit of a single generation. Pinchot ripped into financial titans who demanded special privileges or sought a monopoly with regard to natural resources. The only person mentioned by name in the slender volume, however, was Theodore Roosevelt, who, Pinchot declared, had promoted the “rapid, virile evolution of the campaign for conservation of the nation’s resources.”66
Much of The Fight for Conservation reads like recycled speeches or mannerly bureaucratic white papers. After a few retrospective pages about the prescience of the founding fathers in holding American citizens responsible for “our great future,” the reader could be forgiven for dozing off. There is too much dull political speechifying and schoolmarmish scolding for the volume to be truly important. Nevertheless, Pinchot built his conservationist arguments on solid underpinnings from Yale’s forestry school. Ironically, asThe Fight for Conservation celebrated its centennial in 2010, the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico was being destroyed by an oil spill of terrible proportions from a well owned by BP. Pinchot had always feared that corporations—if poorly regulated by the Department of the Interior—would abuse their privileges. In those hours of darkness during 2010, Pinchot seemed like an environmental sage from a distant era. Furthermore, he had envisioned the environmental movement of the 1960s when writing The Fight for Conservationism. Whenever U.S. natural resources were despoiled, he wrote, nature lovers would, like a “hive of bees, full of agitation,” swarm down on the corporate abusers “ready to sting.”67
Never before had a former American president, not even Ulysses Grant, been sought after by the press corps as ardently as Theodore Roosevelt was in April to June 1910. Everybody in Europe wanted to read about his exploits in the wild African bush. Even the sophisticates of London, Rome, Copenhagen, and Berlin were awed by his gloriously strange articles for Scribner’s, accompanied by bizarre grayish photographs of an ex-president attired almost like a scarecrow. A beaming Roosevelt, proud of his trophies, had made Africa accessible to all. He was irresistible. As Roosevelt traveled around Europe sightseeing, he was peppered with questions about the Panama Canal, Africa, the Great White Fleet, the Grand Canyon, and Arctic exploration. And his conservation policy had been embraced by many European intellectuals. For example, Paul Sarasin, a celebrated Swiss zoologist, promoted the Rooseveltian notion of global conservation in speeches, articles, and books.
Besides being the toast of the Sorbonne in Paris, Roosevelt was greeted in Vienna and Budapest by throngs of admirers who saw him as a representative American in Ben Franklin’s tradition. Admired for his African exploits, Roosevelt was also called the “king of America”! Nobody believed he was a “former” anything. Crowds waved big sticks and rawhide thongs in his honor, stamping their feet enthusiastically. A successful new cigarette in Scandinavia was marketed as “Teddies.”68 On May 5, in Oslo, Norway, Roosevelt finally delivered his Nobel laureate’s speech—he had won the Peace Prize for ending the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. He made headline news when he proposed a “League of Peace” to stop war forever; he also suggested that international disputes be mediated at The Hague.69
Following his travels in Europe, Roosevelt went to Great Britain to serve as the U.S. special ambassador for the funeral of King Edward VII, who had died unexpectedly. For a few days, Roosevelt stepped into the world of the British royals, regaling them with tales of wildebeests, monkeys, and swarms of bugs. He and his son made a visit to Rowland Ward Ltd., in Piccadilly, to get some trophies mounted. Elephant feet were turned into ashtrays for the Roosevelt family to hand out as souvenirs. So much for science! So much for wildlife protection! And, as prearranged, Lord Curzon, the chancellor of the University of Oxford, had Roosevelt deliver the prestigious Romanes Lectures there. George John Romanes had been an intimate of Charles Darwin and the custodian of Darwin’s notebooks on animal behavior. He enraptured Roosevelt with vivid stories of the great naturalist. An impressed Roosevelt wrote to Henry Cabot Lodge that Romanes was “right in my line.”70
Although Roosevelt’s Romanes Lectures were well received, he felt that the students at Oxford were too subdued. Was there anything worse than a know-it-all twenty-year-old devoid of humor? But he fell in love with Cambridge University, which was less formal and more garden-like. He went there to receive an honorary doctorate and had a grand time, as if he were at the Hasty Pudding Club. “On my arrival [the students] had formed in two long ranks leaving a pathway for me to walk between them, and at the final turn in the pathway they had a Teddy Bear seated on the pavement, with outstretched paw to greet me,” Roosevelt wrote to a friend, “and when I was given my degree in a chapel the students had rigged a kind of pulley arrangement by which they tried to let down a very large Teddy Bear upon me as I took the degree—I was told that when Kitchener was given his degree they let down a Mahdi upon him and a monkey on Darwin under similar circumstances.”71
While Roosevelt was in London, the British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey (later Viscount Grey of Fallodon), a fanatical bird-watcher, escorted him around the soggy woodlands of England to hear songbirds. Grey was flabbergasted at Roosevelt’s precise knowledge of avian species. If bird-watching were a trade, Roosevelt assuredly would have been a guild master. In his memoirs, Grey noted that their hike in the Itchen River valley, southwest of London, was an especially remarkable experience. Roosevelt had lectured Grey, saying that the English countryside should remain undefiled by industrialization. Bird reserves were necessary. “Though I know something of British birds, I should have been lost and confused among American birds, of which unhappily I know little or nothing,” Grey wrote. “Colonel Roosevelt not only knew more about American birds than I did about British birds, but he knew more about British birds also.”72
What especially captivated Roosevelt about ornithology in 1910 was the growing bird-banding movement. John James Audubon had long been hailed in ornithological circles as the “father of bird-banding” (in 1804 he had attached silver wire rings to the toes of phoebe hatchlings).73 For more than eighty years, he owned the franchise. Beginning in 1899, however, Denmark started banding birds by attaching aluminum strips on the legs of white storks and starlings. It was the sort of breakthrough, Roosevelt believed, for which Nobel Prizes should be given. Denmark owned all of Greenland and was properly studying its abundant wildlife. Roosevelt hoped that at last the migratory patterns of Arctic birdlife could be scientifically understood. As U.S. president, Roosevelt had encouraged the Smithsonian Institution to follow Denmark’s lead and band more than 100 black-crowned night herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) with the inscription “Return to the Smithsonian Institution.” From 1909 to 1923, the ornithologist Paul Bartsch personally banded at least 20,000 Canada geese. Other bird enthusiasts did the same for Arctic Alaskan birdlife such as the tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus) and long-tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis).
While in Africa, Roosevelt, in fact, had praised thirty members of the American Ornithological Union (AOU) for creating the American Bird Banding Association of New York City on December 8, 1909.74 Drumming up scientific support for the experimental monitoring technique, ornithological journals such as Auk and Bird Lore freely distributed bands to birders from Alaska to Florida. Fascinated by the migratory patterns of Arctic birds, about which virtually nothing was known, Roosevelt recognized banding as a way to monitor not only bird populations but also their migrations at the same time. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) also began issuing bulletins to farmers about how the stomach of an average mountain plover contained forty-five locusts, and the message was clear: birds would help the farmers combat pests, making the land more productive. When it came to nongame birds, Roosevelt was for leaving the bullet boxes at home. Roosevelt was also proud that the National Association of Audubon Societies had been formed by thirty-six state groups. The Audubon Movement, for which Roosevelt had signed up in 1887, was going to be around for the ages.75
What worried ex-president Roosevelt most in Alaska was that “fair chase” hunters were a dying breed; market syndicates were wiping out all the wildlife. Taft seemed to have the U.S. government back in the seal slaughtering business in the Bering Sea. With improved rifles and ammunition becoming easy to obtain, Roosevelt feared the age of the slob hunter was arriving. Word had it that George Bird Grinnell, longtime editor of Forest and Stream, the most popular conservationist periodical in America, was about to lose his job. After thirty-five years as editor Grinnell was, indeed, retired. When Grinnell was at the helm of Forest and Stream, Alaskan wildlife had remained front and center. No longer. Roosevelt tried to rectify the situation by telling the “governing board” that this important periodical must continue to crusade for wildlife conservation. The new owners of Forest and Stream placated Roosevelt somewhat, allowing Grinnell’s and Merriam’s names on the masthead. But in reality the new editor was catering to a new market, and its readers were uninterested in the life expectancy of Dall sheep around Mount McKinley or the need to save Medicine Lake in North Dakota as a wildlife refuge.76 By 1915 the once irreplaceable Forest and Stream went from being a weekly to being a monthly. And by 1930 the magazine was defunct (although its subscription list was sold to today’s magazine Field and Stream).77
What Roosevelt was experiencing in 1910 and later was a backlash against the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Biological Survey. Leading Democrats in Congress went so far as to demand that all national forest lands should be turned over to the states. The “two frothing horsemen” of anticonservationism—representatives William Humphrey of Washington and A. W. Lafferty of Oregon—deemed Roosevelt and Pinchot zealots. These westerners pushed for congressional bills to cut off all funding for the U.S. Forest Service. But Roosevelt and Pinchot had two Republican allies in the Senate who belong in any conservation hall of fame: Miles Poindexter of Washington (soon to be a Bull Moose) and later Charles L. McNary of Oregon.78 Most important, from 1910 to 1920, the Supreme Court continually validated virtually every facet of the Roosevelt administration’s conservation policies from federal bird reservations to national monuments.79
Also riding to the rescue of Rooseveltian conservation was the fine novelist and memoirist Hamlin Garland. When Garland was thirty-one years old, in 1891, he received wide acclaim for Main-Traveled Roads, a collection of short stories inspired by his days in Wisconsin as a farm boy. Turning to the American West for material, Garland headed to the Yukon in 1899 to cover the Klondike gold rush. He ended up writing The Trail of the Gold Seekers in 1899, but something more important happened to him in northern Canada and Alaska: he became an ardent conservationist. The northern wilderness had him transfixed. Building on the success of Owen Wister’s best seller The Virginian, in 1910, Garland published Cavanaugh: Forest Ranger, a sophisticated western dime novel in which the protagonist is a brave U.S. Forest Service officer who rides the Great Plains on his horse along a “solitary trail” protecting federal lands. Garland’s realistic prose about the prairie was controlled and elegant, never purple. He described little fly-bitten cow towns like Bear Valley (paradise) and Sulphur City (grimly provincial) with marvelous exactitude.
Unfortunately, Garland’s dialogue seems artificial; and what really prevents Cavanaugh from being first-rate literature is the hokey, cartoonish way he described American women, as damsels in need of male protectors. Nonetheless, from a modern-day perspective on environmental history, Cavanaugh—a Rooseveltian conservationist foot soldier—is a welcome new type of western hero, determined to save treasured landscapes for future generations. Like a hardwood birch, Cavanaugh was straight-grained, with few knots. Take, for example, the following dramatic exchange between Cavanaugh, anxious to explain his federal oath to protect the western reserves from clear-cutting, and his love interest, the beautiful Lee Virginia:
She perceived in the ranger the man of the new order, and with this in her mind she said: “You don’t belong here? You’re not a Western man?”
“Not in the sense of having been born here,” he replied. “I am, in fact, a native of England, though I’ve lived nearly twenty years of my life in the States.”
She glanced at his badge. “How did you come to be a ranger—what does it mean? It’s all new to me.”
“It is new to the West,” he answered, smilingly, glad of a chance to turn her thought from her own personal griefs. “It has all come about since you went East. Uncle Sam has at last become provident, and is now ‘conserving his resources.’ I am one of his representatives with stewardship over some ninety thousand acres of territory—mostly forest.”
She looked at him with eyes of changing light. “You don’t talk like an Englishman, and yet you are not like the men out here.”
“I shouldn’t care to be like some of them,” he answered. “My being here is quite logical. I went into the cattle business like many another, and I went broke. I served under Colonel Roosevelt in the Cuban War, and after my term was out, naturally drifted back. I love the wilderness and have some natural taste for forestry, and I can ride and pack a horse as well as most cowboys, hence my uniform. I’m not the best forest ranger in the service, I’ll admit, but I fancy I’m a fair average.”
“And that is your badge—the pine-tree?”
“Yes, and I am proud of it. Some of the fellows are not, but so far as I am concerned I am glad to be known as a defender of the forest. A tree means much to me. I never mark one for felling without a sense of responsibility to the future.”80
Adorned with an introduction from Gifford Pinchot, Cavanaugh succeeded in showcasing Forest Service rangers as defenders of nature, honest protectors ready to arrest poachers and market hunters who disobeyed federal laws in the West. Garland, by writing the novel, had rendered America a genuine creative public service. He was trying to inform people that the forest rangers—who “represented the future”—were noble guardians of the gorgeous western landscape, protecting it from plunder by black-hatted rogues.81Pinchot applauded Cavanaugh for explaining the historic transformation of the old West (buffalo hunting) to the new West (forest conservation). “The establishment of the new order in some places was not child’s play,” Pinchot wrote to Garland in March 1910. “But there is a strain of fairness among the western people which you can always count on in such a fight as the Forest Service has made and won.”82
What infuriated Roosevelt about Taft’s people—including the chief forester, Graves—was the notion of running all of Alaska’s natural resources under a so-called Alaskan Commission (big business before conservation). Led by Alaska’s congressional delegate James Wickersham, western corporations denounced Roosevelt and Pinchot’s “broad arrow” policies (i.e., locking up natural resources that rightfully belonged to miners, fishermen, and farmers). War against the Tongass and Chugach was under way.
By 1910, Roosevelt, Garland, and Pinchot were concerned that the United States had very little wilderness left. With western expansion petering out, at least from an explorer’s perspective, Alaska became the last frontier. They were determined to see that its natural resources would never be exhausted. Jack London described Alaska in his adventure novels as a “vast silent” wilderness region that demanded heroism. Susan Kollin, in Nature’s State: Imagining Alaska as the Last Frontier, describes London’s and Roosevelt’s obsession with the far north as a means of “reinvigorating U.S. men” to “test their strength and endurance against the challenges of wilderness.” Kollin, a modern environmentalist influenced by the 1960s ecology movement, approved of Rooseveltian conservation, which allowed wild places like the Tongass and Chugach to be saved. But Kollin insisted that the motivation for men like Roosevelt and London was to save a “new frontier where Anglo Saxon males could reenact conquest and reclaim their manliness.”83
Although London has been considered the “Kipling of the Arctic” for his stories of American expansionist fortune-seeking in Alaska and the Yukon, the novelist James Oliver Curwood brought an environmentalist perspective to his brutal tales of the far north. Curwood, a die-hard Rooseveltian conservationist, was the lead lobbyist promoting legislation to create Superior National Forest in Michigan. During the early twentieth century, more than 4 million hardcover copies of his books were sold in the United States. His novels, such as The Alaskan and Son of the Forests, were translated into twelve languages. Curwood wrote about reindeer farms, Eskimo culture, and grizzly bears.84 In The Alaskan his heroine, Mary Standish, bursts out with patriotic rhetoric about the wonders of Mount McKinley, the Pribilofs, and the Tongass: “I am an American. I love America! I think I love it more than anything else in the world—more than my religion even. . . . I love to think that I first came ashore in the Mayflower. That is why my name is Standish. And I just want to remind you that Alaska is America.”85
Curwood did a fine job of injecting conservation into his novels. Worried that Alaskan waters were overfished, Curwood lamented that the “destruction of the salmon shows what will happen to us if the bars are let down all at once to the financial bandit.” More of a weekend recreationist than a wilderness cultist like Muir, Curwood championed proper game and land management ethics in Alaska. The Alaskan Native Brotherhood was founded in 1912 and promoted the same conservationist principles. “Roosevelt’s far-sightedness had kept the body-snatchers at bay, and because he had foreseen what money-power and greed would do, Alaska was not entirely stripped today, but lay ready to serve with all her mighty resources the mother who had neglected her for a generation,” Curwood wrote. “But it was going to be a struggle, this opening up a great land. It must be done resourcefully and with intelligence.”86
Although Rooseveltian conservationists of the progressive era such as Garland and Curwood were often perceived as a united front, always promoting forestry and wildlife science, there was at least one fault line among them. This was as menacing as the San Andreas Fault, and it had to do with whether to dam the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park. Following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, when widespread fire had caused catastrophic damage downtown, the city applied to the Department of the Interior for a water rights lease to Hetch Hetchy, a breathtakingly beautiful valley in Yosemite National Park. A vicious fight ensued between those who wanted the O’Shaughnessy Dam built and those who wanted the glacial valley protected. Ironically, Pinchot, who was working against big mining interests in Alaska, sided with San Franciscans in the controversy over Hetch Hetchy because the dam, in his mind, represented “the greatest good for the greatest number of people.”87 Pinchot objected to the views of his naturalist friends—Muir, in particular—in California, who were always ready to cut a rancher’s fence or torch a sheepherder’s wagon to protect the Sierras from development. “When I became Forester and denied the right to exclude sheep and cows from the Sierras, Mr. Muir thought I made a great mistake, because I allowed the use by an acquired right of a large number of people to interfere with what would have been the utmost beauty of the forest,” Pinchot testified before the U.S. Congress Committee on Public Lands. “In this case I think he has unduly given way to beauty as against use.”88
From 1910 to 1913 the fight over Hetch Hetchy, which many scholars believe was the birth of the modern environmental movement, reached epic proportions.89 The newspapers built the drama into a feud between two types of conservationists: Gifford Pinchot, a utilitarian conservationist, who was in favor of damming Hetch Hetchy; and John Muir, the wilderness prophet of the Sierra Club, who resembled Saint Francis of Assisi and was vehemently opposed to the dam. The fracas made for good theater. Uncharacteristically, Roosevelt—who on December 8, 1908, had declared Yosemite a “great national playground” where “all wild things should be protected and the scenery kept totally unmarred”—sat on the sidelines of the controversy.90 Defending his Alaskan forest reserves was an easy decision for Roosevelt. They were largely remote and isolated from large population settlements. But San Franciscans, still recovering from the earthquake of 1906 and needing a water reservoir, were a different matter to him. It was Muir, working on Travels in Alaska, who held the moral high ground; his righteous fury on behalf of Yosemite echoed all the way from the snowcapped Sierra Nevada peaks to Alaska’s Brooks Range up to the coastal plain of the Beaufort Sea.
“Dam Hetch Hetchy!” a furious Muir declared. “As well dam for water-tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.”91