I’ve lived and traveled in the western United States for over 40 years. In that time, I’ve traveled parts of the Oregon Trail and the Lewis and Clark Trail. I’ve been to the areas where Indian wars were fought and the mountain men trapped for beaver. And along the way, I’ve learned a good deal of history of the region – mostly from reading.
The West is the mythos of the land of the rugged individualist. Whether it is the free trapper working alone in the high mountains to trap beaver; the small rancher struggling against both hostile nature and hostile humans; or the miner digging deep or working a stream to strike it rich – all were supposedly able to take just enough from the land to give them the freedom and independence they sought.
However, those myths are mostly false. The true story of the West is one of big government and big business, with individuals reduced to economic pawns supporting a much darker reality: one about destruction of land; extermination of wildlife and native peoples; and the poisoning of rivers and streams.
And by the end of the nineteenth century, before the myths had been developed and enabled by popular culture, the truth of what had been done in the West drove the American people to demand that lands and streams be protected as public lands.
Unfortunately, cynical politicians of today, working for the modern versions of those corporate interests, are trying use the myths to undo the protections put in place so long ago. In doing so, they want to return lands once held in the public trust to private ownership where exploitation becomes inevitable.
Hatch Magazine has a well-written article that details the movement to protect our natural heritage and the threats they face.
You can read the article here.