In Albuquerque, New Mexico, twenty-six-year-old Aldo Leopold—whose philosophy was the antithesis of Wilson’s “unlock the storehouse” approach to natural resource management—felt liberated by Our Vanishing Wild Life. It had the same galvanizing effect on him that Uncle Tom’s Cabinhad on William Lloyd Garrison and the other abolitionists of the pre–Civil War generation. A whole new way of considering wildlife rights infused Leopold. No longer would details of policy or a political balance swamp his conservationist principles. Smoking his omnipresent pipe, carefully reading every line of Hornaday, he thought about all the animals he had seen slaughtered in the Flint Hills of Kansas, along the Mississippi River near Davenport, by market hunters. He thought of how the Midwest lowlands he so loved had been skinned by one-crop agriculture. Determined to make Carson National Forest of New Mexico his Walden Pond, Leopold was evolving into a combination of Thoreau (preservationist), Pinchot (forester), and Hornaday (advocate of wildlife protection). “The book galvanized Aldo’s conviction,” Leopold’s biographer Curt Meine wrote. “Never before had the case for game protection been so alarmingly stated. Never before had the argument been made so strongly that man bore a moral responsibility for the preservation and perpetuation of threatened game species.”1
Later, in the early 1930s, when Leopold was writing Game Management, inspired by Our Vanishing Wild Life, he explained how “the crusader” William Temple Hornaday had affected his thinking: “He insisted that our conquest of nature carried with it a moral responsibility for the perpetuation of the threatened forms of Wildlife. This avowal was a forward step of inestimable import. In fact, to anyone for whom wild things are something more than a pleasant diversion, it constitutes one of the milestones in moral evolution.”2
That same spring of 1913, when Our Vanishing Wild Life was published, Theodore Roosevelt left Oyster Bay by train to explore the Southwest. He first spent time in southern New Mexico. The Roosevelt party then moved into El Tovar Hotel on the south edge of the Grand Canyon. Roosevelt’s reasons for coming to Arizona were many. One was that he hoped Grand Canyon National Monument—which he had saved during his presidency, by an exective order in 1908—could be upgraded to a national park. The whole Kaibab Plateau was a wildlife paradise. Charles Sheldon, in fact, had spent much of 1912 studying the habits of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) in the inner gorge of the Grand Canyon for the U.S. Biological Survey. “The sheep here act exactly like all the northern sheep I have ever seen—very watchful and alert,” Sheldon wrote in his Havasupais field journal on November 24, 1912. “Sheep (at least a few) probably go up the rim when the snow melts to get green food which may not grow down in the canyon until later. I have only seen two lambs. There are no enemies of sheep here, except golden eagles. The bobcats are so scarce as to be negligible.”3
With Roosevelt at the Grand Canyon were his two youngest sons, Archie and Quentin. The guide, cook, and horse wrangler was Jesse Cummings of Mesa, Arizona. In the days to come, the bristly-bearded Cummings, a native of Kentucky, would repeatedly impress the party, and Roosevelt in particular, with his expertise in this terrain. He had traveled from the Alleghenies to the western prairies and had never gotten lost. Cummings skillfully shepherded the Roosevelts toward a bank of the serpentine Colorado River where white-water rapids had cut gorges through rock for aeons. He continually pointed out colorful bird species such as mountain bluebirds, juncos, and chickadees—and homely ones, too. And Cummings, it turned out, could procure anything in the way of supplies; he was like an army quartermaster with the Midas touch.4
True to form, Roosevelt slept outside his tent more often than inside it. The riparian coyote willow, arrow weed, seep willow, and western honey mesquite were like tonics. Although Roosevelt wrote about coyotes (Canis latrans) and cougars (Puma concolor) during this Grand Canyon journey, and wanted the boys to hunt these predators, his own eyes seemed more attracted to the wildflowers and birds. He was eager to share his own counts of Grand Canyon wildlife with Sheldon, proud that he was adding to the U.S. Biological Survey’s cataloging of the Southwest. “Although we reached the plateau in mid-July, the spring was just coming to an end,” Roosevelt wrote. “Silver-voiced Rocky Mountain hermit-thrushes [Catharus guttatus] chanted divinely from the deep woods. There were multitudes of flowers, of which, alas! I know only a very few, and these by their vernacular names, for as yet there is no such handbook for the flowers of the southern Rocky Mountains as, thanks to Mrs. Frances Dana, we have for those of the Eastern United States, and, thanks to Miss Mary Elizabeth Parsons, for those of California.”5
Roosevelt’s prose from the Grand Canyon in the Outlook, later collected in A Book-Lover’s Holidays in the Open, was unusual for its ease and impressionistic quality.6 His tone had tempered and softened considerably since he wrote his Dakota trilogy of the 1880s, and certainly since he wrote the gory African Game Trails. He now conveyed a feeling of tranquillity and harmony. Portraits and photographs from the southwestern trip, in fact, seem to confirm this alteration, capturing a less strident-looking Roosevelt—the hard lines of his famous grimace are somewhat softened by traces of a smile. The hats he wore were more floppy, no longer crisp and uncreased. He was playing the father and uncle. Roosevelt had always been a child of nature: this new Roosevelt seemed to verge on beatific pastoralism. The reader of his essay on the Grand Canyon, which appeared inA Book-Lover’s Holidays in the Open, is almost relieved when Roosevelt finally betrays a familiar ferocity, snapping at the despoilers of nature like a provoked grizzly bear: “Continual efforts are made by demagogues and by unscrupulous agitators to excite hostility to the forest policy of the government, and needy men who are short-sighted and unscrupulous join in the cry, and play into the hands of the corrupt politicians who do the bidding of the big and selfish exploiters of the public domain. One device of these politicians is through their representations in Congress to cut down the appropriation for the forest service.”7
One national forest Roosevelt surely had in mind in 1913 was Alaska’s Chugach. In the coming months a bill was introduced in Congress to dissolve the Chugach National Forest. According to two U.S. senators—Wesley Jones of Washington and Thomas Walsh of Montana—the Forest Service was thwarting the economic development of Alaska. Likewise, the territorial government issued a report declaring that the Chugach was an example of abuse by the federal government. The commercial timber industries, these politicians argued, should be given free rein in the Chugach. Backing this campaign to abolish the Chugach was Secretary of the Interior Walter Fisher, who wanted an Alaska commission created to lease out the land for timbering. Luckily, the U.S. Forest Service still had a lot of conservationists willing to wage an all-out war over the Chugach.8
Roosevelt dutifully dispatched notes from the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, and Utah’s Rainbow Bridge for the Outlook, and Leopold was riveted by TR’s words, amazed that the ex-president had spent time in Deming, New Mexico, an afternoon’s drive from Carson National Forest.9When Hornaday came west to Albuquerque in 1915 on a book tour, orating with holy-roller fervor, Leopold was in the audience cheering his every word. A mesmerizing showman, full of the indignant rage of a true believer, Hornaday showed horrific slides of seals being slaughtered, clubbed, and skinned alive. The images were so gruesome that even New Mexican sportsmen in the audience, accustomed to blood and guts, winced. A cowboy hat was passed around to collect money for Hornaday’s Wildlife Protection Fund (used to pay legal fees in his successful battle against the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor for using unethical practices to hunt marine mammals in Alaska). Leopold asked Hornaday to inscribe both Our Vanishing Wild Life and a copy of his newest book, published by Yale University Press, Wild Life Conservation Theory and Practice.10 “To Mr. Aldo Leopold,” Hornaday wrote in the latter book: “On the firing line in New Mexico and Arizona.”11
But Roosevelt, Pinchot, and Leopold’s style of “wise use” conservationism was on the firing line in California. John Muir had expended all his vitality, futilely, in trying to save Hetch Hetchy, at Yosemite National Park, from being destroyed by a dam. It perplexed Muir why the people who espoused the “Roosevelt doctrine” couldn’t see that Hetch Hetchy was one of the priceless Rembrandts or Raphaels the ex-president had written about in Outlook—a national treasure to be protected and preserved. Throughout 1913, congressional hearings had considered the pros and cons of building O’Shaughnessy Dam and thereby flooding the Hetch Hetchy Valley to create a reservoir. Because Hetch Hetchy was part of Yosemite National Park, an act of Congress would be required to build a dam. Unfortunately, President Wilson had selected a former San Francisco city attorney, Franklin Lane—an advocate of the dam—as secretary of the interior. Lane was actually a conservationist-minded lover of national parks. But he was no good on Hetch Hetchy. Muir used eloquent language about Hetch Hetchy: he said it was a “mountain temple” under attack by “despoiling gainseekers” and “mischief-makers of every degree from Satan to supervisors, lumbermen, cattlemen, farmers, etc., eagerly trying to make everything dollarable.” This was powerful stuff. Also, U.S. senators received bags of mail, echoing Muir, urging them not to destroy the lovely Hetch Hetchy.12
But by the end of 1913 Congress, after intense debate and deliberation, passed the Raker Bill, which approved the flooding of the Hetch Hetchy Valley. President Wilson signed the bill on December 19. Disappointed by the death warrant for his beloved Tuolumne Yosemite, an exhausted Muir hoped that “some sort of compensation must surely come out of this dark damn-dam-damnation.”13 The following year Muir hiked in the Hetch Hetchy Valley for the last time before the huge, groaning construction vehicles entered the national park. On Christmas Eve 1914, Muir died. Many of his loyal supporters claimed that his tireless work to protect Hetch Hetchy had impaired his immune system and thus lowered his resistance to disease. The Sierra Club, his lasting institutional legacy, attempted to obtain legal injunctions, but construction of the O’Shaughnessy Dam nevertheless commenced. In 1923, at the cost of billions of dollars and the loss of sixty-eight lives, the dam was completed. Muir, before his death, had felt defeated by the “despoiling gainseekers” intent on taking “pocket-filling plunder” from his beloved Sierra Nevada.14
The death of Muir was like a body blow to Americans who loved the great outdoors. Muir’s lungs and legs were strong until the end; so to his wide circle of friends his demise from pneumonia was a surprise. He had seemed uncollapsable, imperishable, as if his enthusiasm would spill over mountaintops forever. But although the corporeal Muir was gone, his exaltation of the wilderness remained timeless, influencing every environmentalist for decades to come. His legacy—the Sierra Club—was stronger than ever. What had worried Muir most was that America, his hallowed land, was being recklessly destroyed by developers. “Even the sky,” Muir noted, “is not safe from scathe.”15
Muir’s concern wasn’t just for preservation of the land, but also for the people who were victimized by oil drillers and strip miners. Large investment banks, such as Barnette’s Washington-Alaska Bank (with headquarters in Seattle), were starting to ship heavy dredging equipment to the territory. There was an array of new players, Alaska Petroleum and Coal, Clarence Cunningham, Amalgamated Development, Saint Elias Oil, and Alaska Coal Oil among them. As a rule, Muir used to say, wherever an extraction company owned a town, the long-term future of the community was bleak. In Nevada, not far from where Mark Twain saw the “celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County,” Muir once encountered a mining boomtown that had, seemingly overnight, turned into a ghost town. According to Muir, only one man remained: “a lone bachelor with one suspender.”
But Muir, a true believer, never touched by pessimism or despondency, was fearless about passing from the Earth. All over California, friends of Muir wept because they would never again see him picking berries or leaning on a walking stick. The following year the John Muir Trail was established to honor the Sage of the Sierras, running 200 miles at high altitude from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney.16 “Ordinarily,” Roosevelt wrote in Outlook, “the man who loves the woods and the mountains, the trees, the flowers, and the wild things, has in him some indefinable quality of charm which appeals even to those sons of civilization who care for little outside of paved streets and brick walls. John Muir was a fine illustration of this rule. He was by birth a Scotchman—a tall and spare man, with the poise and ease natural to him who has lived much alone under conditions of labor and hazard. He was a dauntless soul, and also one brimming over with friendliness and kindliness.”17
The words Hetch Hetchy became important to conservationists in Alaska. The name was a rallying cry like “Remember the Alamo!”—a call to protect Alaska’s legacies, such as Glacier Bay and Lake Clark, from meeting a similar fate. If Yosemite National Park wasn’t safe from desecration, then neither was Mount McKinley National Park or Tongass National Forest or Yukon Delta Federal Bird Reservation. Federal protection was a sham, and permanency was an elastic or slippery term that depended on the whim of Congress and the White House. The wilderness movement seemed to be losing momentum, at least in America. In November 1913, only a few months after Hornaday’s Our Vanishing Wild Life was published, an international conference for the protection of wild places was convened in Basel, Switzerland. Sixteen nations discussed issues of global conservation and wildlife protection; but the Wilson administration had, inexplicably, refused to participate. A worldwide movement was under way to start protecting special places in every nation as something akin to the present World Heritage sites. The United States was no longer leading the world in the conservation revolution that Muir, Burroughs, and Roosevelt had popularized.18
Posthumously, however, Muir gave the Alaskan wilderness movement—and Rooseveltian conservation in general—a powerful boost in the age of automobiles. In 1915, Houghton Mifflin published Muir’s memoir Travels in Alaska, modeled on Thoreau’s Cape Cod and Maine Woods. It began with Muir steaming out of San Francisco on the Dakota in 1879, then up past glorious Seattle all the way to Sitka. Muir vividly recounted his adventures along the Alexander Archipelago and beyond. Voyaging northward, he wrote of whales (“broad back like glaciated bosses of granite heaving a lot in near view, spouting lustily, drawing a long breath, and plunging down home in colossal health and comfort”) and porpoises (“a square mile of them, suddenly appear, tossing themselves into the air in abounding strength and hilarity, adding foam to the waves and making all the wilderness wilder”).19
The Grand Canyon and the Great Smoky Mountains have never found their bard, but Muir delivered for Glacier Bay in Travels in Alaska. Suddenly, in 1915, the glacier rambler of 1879 was very much alive; his enthusiasm gushed forth from Travels in Alaskawith the force of Niagara Falls. In the memoir Muir’s wise take on Glacier Bay—both landscape and wildlife—stands as a high point of American travel literature: “To the lover of pure wilderness Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world. No excursion that I know of may be made into any other American wilderness where so marvelous an abundance of noble, new born scenery is so charmingly brought to view as on the trip through the Alexander Archipelago to Fort Wrangell and Sitka.”20
Muir’s approach to nature was that of the “wandering eye.” Calculations were made, in Travels in Alaska, of the discharge of glaciers, gravel deposits, and the search for wild mutton. The gray mundane flashed with the same cerebral insight as garden spots lit with the bright colors of epilobium, saxifrage, and sedges. Place-names like Sam Dum Bay, Taylor Bay Glacier, Mount Fairweather, and Island of the Standing Stone were given prominence. Religious imagery was offered, but in the subtlest ways. “A pure-white iceberg,” Muir wrote, “weathered to the form of a cross, stood amid drifts of kelp and the black rocks of the wave-beaten shore in sign of safety and welcome.”21
The Presbyterian minister S. Hall Young was among those who couldn’t accept the fact Muir had died. To Young, the gray-bearded naturalist was eternal, a sequoia tree destined never to topple. At age sixty Muir was still climbing mountains, undertaking dangerous journeys through the wild lands of California. Instead of slowing down at seventy, Muir took extended voyages to South America and Africa. All his books—Mountains in California, Our National Parks, and The Yosemite among them—radiated youthfulness. Wanting to eulogize Muir, as ministers are apt to do, Young published his reminiscences about their days together going up the Inside Passage, titled Alaska Days with John Muir, later that year.
“I cannot think of John Muir as dead, or as much changed from the man with whom I canoed and camped,” Young wrote. “He was too much a part of nature—too natural—to be separated from the mountains, trees, and glaciers. Somewhere I am sure, he is making other explorations, solving other natural problems, using that brilliant, inventive genius to good effect; and sometime again I shall hear him unfold anew, with still clearer insight and more eloquent words, fresh secrets of his Mountains of God.”22
Charles Sheldon had initially been considered the next Rooseveltian leader, but it was Aldo Leopold who eventually led the conservationist movement—in his low-key, deeply honest, visionary, academic way—after John Muir died. In 1917 Leopold was thirty and good to look at, with a deep wrinkle between his eyes and a high forehead. He was in good trim and balding. Every day Leopold’s conservationist convictions grew stronger and his controlled writing style more lyrical. Leopold never wrote a florid line in his life. Energized by Hornaday’s book and by Roosevelt’s dispatches to the Outlook from the Southwest, Leopold spearheaded the New Mexico Game Protection Association (NMGPA)—an unusual step, considering that he was an employee of the U.S. Forest Service. Sick of politicians’ blather, Leopold demanded that New Mexico’s game law alwaysbe enforced the same way. If you poached a white-tail in the Carson National Forest, for example, jail time should be imposed, no matter who was governor in Santa Fe. Inspired by Roosevelt’s effort as governor of New York in 1899–1900, Leopold now claimed that a head game warden should be appointed in New Mexico, an overseer independent of political parties. Using The Pine Cone, a newsletter, as his megaphone, Leopold also called for new federal wildlife refuges, known as the Hornaday plan. However, unlike Hornaday, who saw refuges as places where hunting was illegal, Leopold hoped these federal reserves would be places that produced wild game for sportsmen. Regardless of this difference, the two men were brothers in arms for the cause: wildlife protection.23 The Hornaday plan failed to pass Congress, but a step had been taken toward the Wilderness Act of 1964.
Conservationist circles in America during World War I were like an underground railroad, with an inexhaustible spirit. The members passed along circulars, newsletters, and correspondence, much as the Y2K generation would later do on the Internet. Nature was wounded in forestlands and waterways, and conservationists were vigilant in starting the healing process. A ranger in the Tongass knew intimately what a game warden in Okefenokee Swamp was up to. It was much more than gossip, or a grapevine. Facts about birds, insects, mammals, and trees were traded. The bourgeois were belittled for never turning down a dollar, for their predictable greed, avarice, and overconsumption. The conservationists praised the legacy of both Muir and Pinchot. There was a growing post-Darwinian belief that the natural world held the key to unlocking the mysteries of man. Among the U.S. Forest Service publications that were being privately printed across the country, Leopold’s The Pine Cone was the most audacious. It became mandatory reading for all those in the outdoors world, including Theodore Roosevelt.
A letter that Roosevelt sent to Leopold in 1917 has, over the decades, become the connective tissue between his and Leopold’s generations of conservationists. Leopold received it courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service in his mailbox at Albuquerque, and it was as unexpected as the snowy owl Roosevelt had shot in Long Island many years earlier. It was neatly typed and quite brief. But to Leopold it was a stamp of approval for his career, as when Thomas Edison told the young Henry Ford at the Oriental Hotel on Long Island that the gasoline-run internal combustion engine, not the electric car, represented the future.
My Dear Mr. Leopold,
Through you, I wish to congratulate the Albuquerque Game Protection Association on what it is doing. I have just read the Pine Cone. I think your platform simply capital, and I earnestly hope that you will get the right type of game warden. It seems to me that your association in New Mexico is setting an example to the whole country.
Sincerely Yours, Theodore Roosevelt.24
Roosevelt was in his late fifties when he praised The Pine Cone. His health was declining. After losing the 1912 election he had several high points—such as hiking in the Grand Canyon with his family and exploring a hitherto undiscovered river in Brazil’s Amazon (named Rio Teodoro in his honor) with Kermit, who had saved his father’s life in the jungle. After practicing the strenuous life for so long, Roosevelt was burned out, exhausted to the point of depletion. Jack London died in 1916. Buffalo Bill died the following year, and was buried in a tomb on top of Lookout Mountain in Colorado.25 The whole Rough Rider generation, it seemed, was going . . . going . . . gone.
Most of Roosevelt’s characteristic vitality had disappeared by 1916. He was blind in one eye; a bullet was still lodged in his chest; he occasionally experienced bouts of malarial shivers and fever lingering from the arduous trip to the Amazon in 1913–1914; some minuscule parasite still lived in his body, eating away at his energy; his digestive system was a wreck. Unable to tap into his physical reserves, Roosevelt retired his gun and took up philosophizing. Instead of telling bear yarns, he spoke of nature, the universe, the planet Earth, hardship, existence, and destiny. At home at Sagamore Hill, forgetful of his bearings, looking out the window to the west and thinking for a second he might see Old Faithful or Pikes Peak, somber in its blue snow at sunset, Roosevelt grew melancholic. After he wrote Through the Brazilian Wilderness—a memoir of hunting and camping with Kermit in the Amazon jungle—his prose was understandably less action-packed and aimed more at the horizon, toward distant buttes, calving glaciers, and shore mud. He turned once again to the vast expanses of Alaska.
Roosevelt’s infatuation with Alaska was notable in A Book-Lover’s Holidays in the Open (1916), his elegant celebration of the world’s cragsmen, explorers, scientists, and faunal naturalists. Trumpeting his own conservationist record, he called for a revolutionary ethos of game management like the one Leopold was promoting in The Pine Cone. He wanted Americans to take seriously the dire Biological Survey reports by Edward W. Nelson about the danger Alaska’s caribou herds were in when the long winters shut down food supplies. “The man should have youth and strength who seeks adventure in the wild, waste spaces of the earth, in the marshes, and among the vast mountain masses, in the rotten forests, amid the streaming jungles of the tropics, or on the desert, or sand or snow,” Roosevelt wrote. “He must long greatly for the lonely winds that blow across the wilderness and for sunrise and sunset over the rim of the empty world.”26
As an appendix to A Book-Lover’s Holiday in the Open, Roosevelt wrote an individual paragraph about all the federal bird reservations he had created by means of executive orders during his presidency between 1903 and 1909. They were his secular shrines. Many of them were in Alaska. Roosevelt continued to work his magic by lobbying legislators on Capitol Hill as a voice of the National Conservation Association. Although he had lost the 1912 presidential election, it was largely through his strong influence that the Morgan-Guggenheim syndicate had been thwarted in its repeated efforts to purchase mines around the Tongass and Chugach national forests. This was a policy victory for Roosevelt despite his defeat as a third-party candidate. In 1911, Roosevelt had successfully championed the Weeks Law to purchase lands for national forests in the White Mountains and Appalachian Mountains (where there was no public land). Further, in 1914, Congress passed landmark bills regarding coal and oil leasing, and these acts were in accordance with Roosevelt and Pinchot’s philosophy of keeping huge corporations out of public domain lands. Roosevelt was also a powerful advocate of the Federal Water Power Act to provide for development by private enterprise (under federal ownership and control) of waterpower for the public domain and navigable streams. It even seems possible that Roosevelt’s staunch conservationist agenda had influenced his former antagonist William Howard Taft. Before leaving the White House in 1913, Taft, as if in a face-saving gesture, had signed executive orders saving Alaskan bird-breeding areas on Forrester Island, Wolf Rock, and the Hazy Islands.27
Through lobbying, the Rooseveltian conservationists won numerous battles in Alaska, one at a time. Roosevelt’s “Terminator” was Hornaday, the genius zoologist, who never pulled a punch. The Camp Fire Club of America (CFCA) had ceremoniously placed the head of a Montana bison—one that had died on the Flathead Reservation, a federal game reserve that Roosevelt and Hornaday had founded in 1908—over the fireplace at its Chappaqua lodge in New York. This head was a present to the club from Hornaday; emphasis was placed on the fact that the bison died of natural causes. Toward the end of his life, Hornaday—who remained active in the campaign to protect Alaska’s northern seals until his death in 1937—crusaded against allowing motorized vehicles into national parks; these vehicles disrupted wildlife sanctuaries. “As everyone knows,” Hornaday growled, “the automobile has become a fearful scourge to the game of our land, by enabling at least 2,000,000 men of the annual army of hunters to cover about four times as much hunting territory as they formerly could comb with their guns.”28
Hornaday also sympathized with Native Alaskans who lived just outside McKinley National Park, the Tongass and Chugach national forests, and the huge bird refuges in Alaska.29 Furious at the shoddy way Natives were behaving as stewards of the land—they were too readily bribed by timber and coal interests—he lambasted leaders of the Aleuts, Tlingit, Athabascan, and Inuit. Hornaday didn’t believe that Natives should have special eminent-domain rights to shoot caribou or sell out a habitat to despoilers. From Hornaday’s perspective, the parks and refuges existed for wildlife, not for people. Global overpopulation was forcing a more rigid policy for saving wilderness. Humans—including Alaskan Natives—who ignored conservation laws were, like locusts landing on a crop, a plague.
World War I also caused worries in wildlife protection circles. Roosevelt was a leading proponent of war against Germany, believing that the United States could not sit in comfort and allow the Hun to wreak havoc in Europe. But he lost his temper when game market syndicates used the war as a pretext to abolish hunting restrictions in Alaska and elsewhere. Only money-grubbing thugs, Roosevelt said, would wipe out animal species “for all time” to “gratify the greed of the moment.”30 The premise of the market hunter syndicate was that meat—including deer, elk, antelope, moose, and caribou—was needed to feed U.S. Army troops in training. Hornaday—who had a peak named after him in the Absaroka Range in Yellowstone National Park—was unleashed by the CFCA to be an attack dog. This time, however, Roosevelt was even more vehement and threatening. “To the profiteering proposal of the Pseudo-patriots, the patriots for revenue only, that protection of wildlife in wartime be relaxed, the united hosts of conservation reply,” Roosevelt said, “You Shall Not Pass.”31
A local Alaskan conservation society—the Tanana Valley Sportsmen’s Association, based in Fairbanks—backed the pugnacious Roosevelt. The association was founded in 1916, and its headquarters eventually were located alongside the lovely Chena River; it was made up of hunter-anglers from interior Alaska. The members oversaw the transporting of almost thirty bison from Montana to Delta Junction, Alaska. In coming decades they also backed the repopulation of Alaska with musk ox; supported the protection of bears;32 and helped protect the Mulchatna caribou herd, which as a result of their efforts grew into one of the largest in Alaska. All around Twin and Turquoise lakes, in what became Lake Clark National Park, these Alaskan hunter-conservationists helped the Dall sheep survive, too.
One area where Roosevelt seemingly wanted to say “You shall not pass” was the Arctic; scientists, naturalists, and explorers—not extraction industries—were needed at the pole. Roosevelt wrote a fine article for the Outlook, “Is Polar Exploration Worth While?” Looking at the bright side of exploration, Roosevelt said there was a need for more Pearys, Amundsens, Stefanssons, and Shackletons. The natural history of Antarctica was an opportunity for someone hoping to make a name for himself as a mammalogist or zoologist. “The leopard seal is as fierce as the great spotted cat of the tropics from which it takes its name; and there are other seals, fat, good-humored, helpless, who, unless cruelly undeceived, treat men merely as friendly strangers, objects of mild curiosity only,” Roosevelt wrote. “The penguins never touch dry land and never know warmth. They pass their whole lives upon the ice and in the icy water. The emperor penguin, standing erect on its two flippers, is almost as tall as a short man.”33
But it was the abundant wildlife of Arctic Alaska that most intrigued Roosevelt. The Inupiat (or Eskimos) actually lived above the Arctic Divide. (By contrast, there was no permanent human habitation in Antarctica.) With no hard-packed trails to follow, they traveled by dogsled over frozen creeks and shorelines along the Beaufort Sea. The whole North Slope was a tide of caribou in migration. During the fall months, hundreds of thousands of lesser snow geese landed like a blizzard on the coastal tundra; some observers claimed it was the greatest avian spectacle on American soil.34 “There is an abundant life stretching very far towards the Pole, and probably there are some representatives of this life which occasionally stray to the North Pole,” Roosevelt wrote. “Both in the water, and on the ice when it is solid over the water, and on the land, in the brief Arctic summer when the sun never sets, the Arctic regions teem with life as do few other portions of the globe. Save where killed out by men, whales, seals, walruses, innumerable fish literally swarm in the waters; myriads not only of water birds but of land birds fairly darken the air in their flights; and there are many strange mammals, some of which abound with a plenty which one would associate rather with the tropics.”35
Under Roosevelt’s leadership, the Boone and Crockett Club started amassing data on the inequitable treatment of Alaska’s game animals. Madison Grant, a cofounder of the Bronx Zoo who had a spotty reputation as a eugenicist, wrote for the club a Darwinian-style essay on why the wolves, bear, moose, and deer were all bigger in Alaska than elsewhere. The club called for more game reserves in Alaska—like the moose reserve on Fire Island—where no hunting, trapping, or sled dogs would be allowed. And, most significantly, the Boone and Crockett Club, America’s most prestigious hunt club, was calling for a roadless wilderness. The members were inspired by examples such as Afognak Island, near Kodiak, Alaska, which Benjamin Harrison had put under protection during his presidency and which was now teeming with elk. The Boone and Crockett Club also took note of strips of land along the Uganda Railway in British East Africa that had been preserved as game ranges. As Madison Grant noted, those carved-out ranges were “absolutely swarming with game.”36
Sportsmen’s clubs viewed Alaska as an opportunity to preserve and protect a land rather than just try to restore it. For ardent outdoorsmen Alaska was the “last chance to do it right.”37 The Arctic was a unique resource, a vast land of extremes: long winter darkness and around-the-clock summer daylight; mountain ranges and permafrost prairie; snowy deserts and tundra wildflowers as far as the eye could see. Some parts of Alaska were ice fields year-round. Aldo Leopold noted that a wilderness like the Arctic was a unique geographic resource, which could shrink but never expand. “Invasions can be arrested or modified in a manner to keep an area usable either for recreation, or for science, or for wildlife,” he wrote, “but the creation of new wilderness in the full sense of the word is impossible.”38
Because Alaska was a ward of the federal government, the teeming caribou herds of the Arctic that migrated thousands of miles annually could be saved in a game reserve. And it was the U.S. Congress, not the residents of Alaska, that sportsmen’s clubs of the Lower Forty-Eight turned to for the enactment and enforcement of suitable wildlife-protection laws. Federal control of Alaskan land was essential, they believed, if wildlife was to thrive. Some conservationists wanted to see the U.S. Army get back into the effort to protect nature, as it had done in Yellowstone from 1872 to 1917. As Madison Grant wrote in Hunting at High Altitudes (copublished by the Boone and Crockett Club and the Camp Fire Club of America), “The men who live in Alaska constitute a floating population—for the most part of miners who have no permanent interest in the country in the sense that farmers are attached to the soil. . . . The stable elements of the population are chiefly the keepers of local saloons or roadhouses. Miners are accustomed to live off the country, with little care for its future. It would be extreme folly to entrust to such a population the formulation and enforcement of complicated game laws, which require a thorough knowledge of the habits of animals.”39
The late John Muir was still, through his published works, beckoning naturalists to explore and preserve underreported areas of Alaska. Muir’s literary executor, William F. Bade, skillfully put together the great naturalist’s scientific articles and unpublished journals about the Arctic as The Cruise of the Corwin; it was published in 1917. Presented as a seafaring adventure story, Muir’s book described the Arctic Ocean as a boundless nursery for bird flocks and marine mammals. The farther north the Corwin went, the less heat the sun provided, and the richer Muir’s prose became. “This is the region,” Muir declared on his 1881 trip, “of greatest glacial abundance on the continent.”40
Frederick Vreeland had admired Muir’s memoir The Cruise of the Corwin because it had opened up an unknown Alaskan ecosystem—the Bering Sea—to the general public. The Lake Clark region—named after a trader of the Alaska Commercial Company (ACC), John C. W. Clark (1846–1896)—was one of the least explored areas in the territory.41 Lake Clark is the sixth-largest lake in Alaska; it covers 110 square miles and is at least 900 feet deep. Clark first came to Russian Alaska in 1866 (with the Western Union Telegraph Company’s Russo-American Expedition). Among his first customers at ACC were Yupik Eskimos (who lived along the Bering Sea coast), and Dena’ina Athabascans (situated in the Iliamna–Lake Clark region of the 55,000-square-mile Bristol Bay basin).
Recognizing that Bristol Bay was the greatest wild salmon area in the world, Clark ran the ACC post very profitably from 1879 until his death in 1896. His most lasting achievement was his pivotal role in the creation of the shore-based commercial salmon industry in Bristol Bay. Clark put up thousands of barrels of salt salmon for the ACC to feed their Aleut employees, who were living in the Pribilof Islands and killing northern fur seals for the company. Clark produced salt salmon (sold by the wooden barrel) at his trading post. And he founded the Clark’s Point cannery and was the leading investor for the Nushagak Canning Company (which owned the Clark’s Point cannery in 1887). Clark, as a representative of ACC, also traded furs with Alaskan Natives throughout the Bristol Bay re- gion.42
The ACC valued Clark for his entrepreneurial attitude. The German-Jewish businessmen, Louis Sloss and Louis Gerstle, who owned ACC, did close business deals with Clark at Nushagak Canning and trusted him with thousands of dollars. There wasn’t much Clark didn’t sell. He mass-marketed red fox furs, walrus ivory, caribou hides, and beaver pelts. Clark, in fact, knew of the existence of what would soon be named Lake Clark because he served customers from the remote village of Kijik. These Natives shopped at his Nushagak trading post in the 1880s and 1890s, loading up on staples such as tea, sugar, pots and pans, tobacco, pilot bread, traps, guns, knives, and axes as provisions for the winter.
Although Clark never wrote a word himself, he successfully led the Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper Expedition of 1891 to look for the northern source of Iliamna Lake. The members of the expedition were going to do a census around Lake Clark and Iliamna Lake. A writer for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, after an expedition to the Bristol Bay basin, named the big lake after John W. Clark. Even though Clark knew that the Dena’ina called the lake Kijik, as had the Russians, Lake Clark stuck; it was the white explorers’ prerogative.43
Now, in June 1921, with Colonel A. J. Macnab as a trail mate, Vreeland held his own scaled-down expedition to Lake Clark. Instead of weathering winter conditions, the two men were equipped for the best weeks of summer. What worried Vreeland and Macnab more than grizzlies or hailstorms was disease. In 1902, a lethal combination of measles and flu had devastated the village of Kijik on Lake Clark. Between 1902 and 1909, the epidemic’s survivors relocated their village to Old Nondalton (located twenty-five miles southwest on Sixmile Lake). In 1909, the explorers G. C. Martin and F. J. Katz of the U.S. Geological Survey visited the Iliamna–Lake Clark country on a reconnaissance mission. Their 1912 map was used by Vreeland and Macnab to get around the region (unfortunately, it was an incomplete map north and east of Tanalian Point on Lake Clark). They also relied heavily on a work by Wilfred Osgood of the U.S. Biological Survey: A Biological Reconnaissance of the Base of the Alaska Peninsula.
Voyaging down the Cook Inlet coast, Vreeland and Macnab were amazed by how underpopulated the landscape was south of Anchorage. They hadn’t expected to see nobody. There were enough huge ice fields and braided streams, however, to uplift any outdoorsman’s spirit. A cannery boat first took these advance agents of the Camp Fire Club of America (CFCA) to Iliamna Bay. Their adventure at Lake Clark commenced in earnest after a wonderful night’s sleep at the Iliamna Pass. In the morning, they laced their heavy boots and put light wood on the fire to make coffee. The wind was roaring. The Chigmit Mountains engulfed them, calling out to their romantic yearnings. Vreeland and Macnab hiked over the twelve-mile Iliamna portage, where they met a local man, Fred Phillips. With relative ease they then crossed the seventy-mile Iliamna Lake in a canoe (towed behind Hans Seversen’s gas boat). They soon reached the lower Newhalen River. They put their canoe in the upper part of the river, which was twenty-two miles long, and paddled hard to Sixmile Lake and on to Lake Clark. Having become friends through CFCA, they were ready to explore Lake Clark. They kept diary notes tracing their route from Cook Inlet to Lake Clark: Iliamna Bay, Iliamna Portage, Old Iliamna Village (on the Iliamna River), Iliamna Lake, Seversen’s Roadhouse, the upper Newhalen River, Sixmile River, Lake Clark itself, and at last Tanalian Point on Lake Clark.
What most startled Vreeland about the Lake Clark–Lake Iliamna region was the shortage of visible wildlife. “This has every evidence of having been once a good game country,” Vreeland reported in a long letter to E. A. Preble of the Biological Survey. “But at present every native is armed with a high-powered rifle and kills everything that he sees with the result that there is very little game left except in inaccessible places. Grouse and Ptarmigan however quite plentiful.”44
The Lake Clark country had some of the prettiest meadows in America, soft grass sloping up hillsides, fringed by forest; the whole panorama was one of stunning mountains and creeks, with no settlements in sight. Sometimes a sudden, absolute silence made it seem sacrilegious to talk on the trail. The rivers in the region—Beluga, Chakachatna, McArthur, Drift, Tuxedni, and Big—created the tidal flats of Cook Inlet. These rivers, as Muir knew, had been born from the huge glaciers located northwest on the Chigmit and Tordrillo mountains.45 The largest tributary of the Cook Inlet—the Susitna River—was here. Iliamna Lake—the largest body of freshwater in Alaska—was enormous, covering 1,000 square miles; it was seventy-eight miles long, twenty-two miles wide, and as much as 1,192 feet deep.46