Found … in an archive somewhere, I think, when I was researching rationing last fall? It is the pefect valentine for my gentleman friend, who is an outspoken defender of Hoover.
Arctic explorer Peter Freuchen and his wife Dagmar Gale
In addition to dogsledding 1,000 miles across Greenland in 1912—a journey called “the finest ever performed by dogs”—and amputating his own toes with shears and a hammer, in 1956 Freuchen won $64,000 on The $64,000 Question.
Plath’s tragic death can make her seem legacy more important than it really is.
LARB wants to know: What is Plath’s legacy?
Truly, I am so psychic about important authorial anniversaries. If only there were a way to put this gift to work…
This morning, before coffee, before media, I was conversing with myself about Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath and how surprisingly my relationship with their works has changed as I’ve aged. Both were poets I loved when I was very young, my two primal poets really. Hope is a thing with feathers was the first poem I ever memorized, and Dickinson’s collected works was the first book of poetry I ever owned. My much-mourned cat was Ariel, after the sprite and for its meaning, but at the time largely for Plath — Stasis in darkness. / Then the substanceless blue / pour of tor and distances. / God’s lioness, / how one we grow.Today, older, I cringe to read so many of Plath’s poems; they remind me of my younger self, of the deep, dangerous identification I felt with Plath’s poetry. The volumes of her poetry have gotten pushed to the back of my triple-stacked poetry shelf, continually rejected as companions for insomnia. Dickinson, though! She only grows more marvelous as I get older, and that same childhood volume of her poems lives on an entirely different shelf so as to be always easily accessible. Despite the fact that Emily, too, contributed to my teenaged moribundity, somehow she has emerged untainted, more perfect. Why? I thought about this all morning. I do not know.
I do still have a poem of Plath’s hanging on my bedroom wall, beside the light switch; every few months I stare at it upon waking and consider taking it down, but always find I cannot. I can still recite her. Sometimes I find myself walking to the cadence of her lines, having fallen into them without realizing it.
What is Plath’s legacy? Despite the linkbaiting title, the above is a fair consideration. I can read articles like that all day, from both sides, and still not know my own answer. All I do know is that should I—God forbid—ever have a daughter, I would not willingly hand her Plath in her teenage years.
G. Klutsis, poster for the 1927 movie Spartakiada (a Red Sport International). (via http://thecharnelhouse.org/2014/02/09/spartakiade-a-bolshevik-alternative-to-the-olympics/)
This is the only acknowledgment I will give that there are Olympics going on. (I hate sports that involve the cold, high speeds, and blades near heads.) I do love these pretty colors & the nationalistic pageantry.
Much as I can still only handle reading about ten lines of Stein at a time, as the years go on I am increasingly convinced that she and Alice B. would be delightful to hang out with.
Sergeant Stubby, so named for his lack of a tail, was a stray pitbull found wandering Yale campus by some soldiers there during drill.
"He learned the bugle calls, the drills, and even a modified dog salute as he put his right paw on his right eyebrow when a salute was executed by his fellow soldiers."
He was smuggled into WW1 by a soldier, and allowed to stay when he saluted the man who would later become his commanding officer.
He was sent to the trenches where he was under constant enemy fire for over a month. He was wounded in the leg by a German hand grenade, sent to a hospital to convalesce, then returned to the front lines…
After being wounded in a gas attack, Stubby developed such a sensitivity that he would run and bark and alert the other soldiers of incoming gas attacks AND artillery attacks precious seconds before they occurred, saving countless lives. A canine early warming system.
He would go into no man’s land, find wounded men, shouting in English, And stay with them, barking, until medics arrived.
He once captured a German spy.
The spy, mapping out Allied trenches, tried to call to Stubby, but Stubby got aggressive and then chased down and attacked the spy when he attempted to flee, allowing Allied soldiers to capture him.
For this he was awarded the rank of Sergeant- the first dog to do so.
After helping the Allies retake Château-Thierry in France, Sergeant Stubby was sewn a uniform by the women of the town, on which to wear his many medals.
He went on to meet multiple Presidents, dignitaries and ambassadors and become the mascot of Georgetown University football.
A strange, somber sort of day here: rain-on-snow, the rain so fine it is mistlike in the distance, a leaching filter on the world, reducing it nearly to black and white.
A photograph from the 1870’s showing tens of thousands of bison skulls. They were mass slaughtered by the U.S. Army to make room for cattle and force Native American tribes into starvation.
Mass slaughter of buffalo and bison took place in Canadian territory as well, and was part of a deliberate campaign to break Indigenous resistance to (further) settler incursions onto Native land and the railroad. The removal of the buffalo also meant that when it came time to sign treaties, the Canadian government could more or less set any terms it saw fit and Indigenous leaders basically had to comply with them or their people would freeze and starve (that’s if gov officials even bothered to translate the actual terms of the treaty at all).
The “disappearance” of the buffalo is narrativized as part of a larger myth surrounding the “disappearing Indian” whose absence clears the land for the incoming white pioneers to take their place. The murder, destruction, slaughter of bison and buffalo was a tactic essential to the genocidal colonial project.
So it has come to this. I have finally reached that point in my historical education where, like the so many paladins of grammar who emerge from the mists of the internet every time someone confuses their/there/they’re, I feel compelled to dash into the nearest phone booth and transform into an intellectual superhero whenever someone is slightly wrong about facts. History Avenger! My weapons will be dense, heavily footnoted tomes; my battle cry, “It’s more complicated than that!" And, of course, my futile attempts at superheroic correction will make no impact against the (to date) 18,000+ notes this simplistic post already has. Nevertheless. It is more complicated than that.
Before I begin: it would be foolish to argue that history of white actions towards the native peoples of the Americas were not genocidal at worst and blinded by exceptionalism at best. The above posts aren’t incorrect exactly — it’s just that the near-extinction of the bison is more complicated and more upsetting than “the whites were trying to deprive the Indians of their food supply.” Knowing a little more about it will actually strengthen any arguments you, Internet, would like to make along these lines. Consider:
- No one really knows the exact population of the bison prior to the westward migration of white Americas. I have seen very high numbers and much lower ones; we will go with a mid-point and call it an estimated 30 million. By the 1890s—when Frederick Jackson Turner announced the closing of the frontier—their numbers hovered around a dangerous 1,000. While it did not help, overhunting as depicted in the above picture and others like it did not solely cause the bison populations to drop from 30 million to 1,000 in less than a century.
- A very important factor to understand is that, whatever the estimates for the 18th and early 19th century bison populations, they were in violation of Liebig’s Law of the Minimum. Our 30 million was falsely high to start with as a result of a very wet cycle that ended with the droughts of the 1840s; never since then has the west been as wet as it was prior. The bison population was bound to fall regardless of human intervention when the wet cycle came to its natural end.
- Even before white Americans flooded into the territory en masse, the bison populations were being impacted by other humans: the Native Americans. Now, I am not a fan of the “mystical Indian in perfect spiritual symbiosis with the land” trope; I think that, like the “magical negro,” it has the effect of dehumanizing a subjugated people, thus making it more difficult for many to grasp them as fellow humans. Furthermore, it’s a rather integral part of the romanticized “disappearing Indian” myth that we see in Western fiction and film. Native Americans were and are people too, and while many of their cultures had of course evolved into a better balance with the land than the Christian, capitalist, exceptionalist ideology of the early Euro-Americans, they weren’t mystically infallible. Many of the plains tribes favored especially the young female bison of about three to four years of age—she was fattier, her fur more luxurious, and she often was nursing, thus making her a source of clotted bison milk, a delicacy. The plains tribes knew how to recognize this bison demographic and targeted her specifically in their very sophisticated and effective hunting. Bison cows between three and four years of age are, obviously, at the beginning of prime calf bearing years; many already had calves who likely did not survive the loss of their mothers. Yes, the plains tribes may have—as moderns are so fond of marveling—used every last bit of the lady bison’s corpse, but the fact remains that the portion of the bison population most essential to the propagation of the species was also the most likely to be overhunted due to the cultural preferences of the natives. Scholars debate the extent of the impact that this had on bison populations, but it cannot be doubted that it contributed in some way to the decline precipitated by the above weather factors.
- Remember, also, the fur trade (which reached the west in the early 19th century and declined by about the 1840s) and its disruptive force on the traditional ways of Native Americans. Just as it was not Puritans but eastern tribes who hunted nearly into disappearance the beaver in the previous centuries, the plains tribes were quickly folded into the globalized, capitalistic market as taste for fur shifted from beaver to bison. I do not intend it as a value judgment when I say that plains tribes were major participants in the early 19th century craze for bison robes. After all, history is complicated: they had their reasons, and they were, recall, humans. It’s an entirely different lengthy thread, but like the rest of the native populations of the Americas, plains tribes suffered massive numbers of deaths from smallpox, cholera, etc., which destabilized their traditional societies and left power voids and opportunities for personal advancement. The fur trade provided young men the opportunity to gain tools and status symbols—guns, horses, capital!—that would enable advancement in their rapidly changing societies. “Fur traders” are called such because they traded goods for fur that the Native Americans hunted and provided to them; they didn’t kill significant numbers of animals themselves. The coveted goods offered by the fur traders was incentive for further overhunting by the plains tribes, who were by far more efficient hunters of bison than the whites in the first half of the 19th century.
- As the floodgates opened and tides of white settlers began moving west, they brought with them huge numbers — thousands, millions — of species that had previously been relatively scarce in the western ecology: cattle, mules, sheep. The mid-to-late-19th century growth of ranching as an industry encouraged settlers to transport and breed numbers of these species far beyond the amount needed for family units to provide for themselves. These animal colonists were competition for the range grass that the bison depended on for subsistence — which, recall, was already diminished by the dry cycle.
- You know what else the pioneers brought with them? Fences. Railroads. Roads. All infrastructure that further cut bison off from access to the necessary huge swaths of open range. The trappings of civilization always upsets ecological balance; bison were starving because they were increasingly prohibited access to enough food.
- As if all of that weren’t enough, the bison, like the native peoples, were susceptible to new diseases. The diseases of cattle in the 19th century and today is another side thread that I could spill a lot of words on. Let me just say that there were a lot, and that they were devastating. As an example, I will offer only brucellosis, also known as Bang’s disease, also known as contagious abortion. That latter name for it rather says it all: it was a disease that caused sudden contagious miscarriage of calves. Put a star by this one on your personal tally of factors that endangered bison regeneration; it’s huge.
- One species that western ranchers hate and fear to this day is the wolf. Pioneers launched into full-scale war against wolves from the moment they brought their livestock west. As common as bounties were for wolves that had been shot and killed, it was less time consuming to lay out poison for them. I can’t remember the exact name of the most common poison, but it was similar to strychnine: after ingesting, it would cause the wolves to vomit all over that sweet, increasingly limited prairie grass in the open range before they inevitably died, their poisoned bodies rotting into the soil. Ingestion of contaminated grass was yet another factor that surely impacted bison populations.
So, you see: the swift decline from 30 million bison to 1,000 is not at all encapsulated by pictures of white men lounging on mountains of bones or hides. Since this is tumblr and I’m not a conscientious scholar enough to feel compelled to footnote a publication on a site that’s missing its E, I will ask that you just take my word for all of the above. However, I am a helpful sort of superhero, so I will leave you with a short list of suggestions for further reading on this and related subjects:
- In addition to class lectures and conversations with academics, many of my facts come from Dan Flores’ bombshell of a western/ecological history paper, “Bison Ecology and Bison Diplomacy on the Southern Plains.” Google it, check Jstor: it’s an important paper, one that has garnered a lot of attention and response. Flores also has several books on the complicated webs of western ecology in history; I haven’t read them, but I’ve heard good things.
- Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England by William Cronon — I just finished reading this a few days ago. While it deals with an earlier period and different American geography than the west, many of the culture clashes and ideological differences that Cronon describes in incredible, astute detail apply to the 19th century as well. Chapter 5, in particular, is my source of information on the fur trade; it is a devastating portion of the book, providing some of the best case studies of the impact of the fur trade that I’ve yet encountered. As long as you can handle occasional lengthy descriptions of pond ecology, this is a great book and a must-read for anyone who is interested in ecological history and/or Native American history.
- The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado by Elliott West — If the Cronon deals with a different century, the West is perhaps a little more specific than the wide-view I’ve tried to detail above. West describes the 1850s Colorado Gold Rush and the ensuing culture clashes between the white Americans and the Cheyenne. I think West is a marvelous writer; he is engaging without sacrificing academic rigor. He’s particularly good at being fair-minded about two very different cultures, attempting to thoroughly understand and communicate their motivations and their beliefs. Of course, this book reads like a tragedy, for it culminates in the Sand Creek Massacre, but I consider it essential reading for anyone who hails from, lives in, or ever thinks about the west.
- The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change Among the Choctaw, Pawnees, and Navajos by Richard White — Unlike the others I’ve mentioned, I haven’t actually read this one, but it’s been coming up a lot recently in conversation with academics who know more about this subject matter than I do. I have read other work by White and like him; if this book weren’t so goddamn expensive and if I had more free time I would definitely buy a copy for myself because I hear it’s very good.
There you are! It’s time for me to shed my superhero cloak and re-don my normal garb. Farewell, Internet! Go forth and educate yourself so you can construct better arguments about these still-relevant issues.
IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Today is the centennial of the debut of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character! A frequent argument in my household is the correct ranking of the great silent comedians. Me, I say Chaplin, always Chaplin, though the choice is less unique than my gentleman caller’s favourite, Harold Lloyd. The quintessential humanity of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp is, to my mind, unparalleled in cinema in his time or ours.
In short, you are robbing yourself if you don’t take this opportunity to shirk your duties this weekend and put on a home marathon of Chaplin. I have helpfully provided you the titles, ranked in order of my personal preference, of his three best films, widely available through the magic of google.
"Illustrations from a Victorian book on magic"
Word of the day: charabanc
I am so happy to have discovered the Oxford University Press’ tumblr.
Image credit: Motorized Charabanc of 1920s from The Book of Knowledge, by Harold F.B. Wheeler, 1924. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.