There is nothing remotely radical about Alvin M. Josephy Jr., or if there is, he hides it in his memoir, A Walk Toward Oregon. There was a comfortable childhood in Manhattan; well-to-do relatives like his uncle, the founder of the firm that published this book; a couple of years at Harvard, until his father's financial difficulties forced him to leave; a stint as a screenwriter for MGM in Hollywood, thanks to another relative; a budding career on Wall Street; service as a combat photographer in the U.S. Marines in the South Pacific; and finally, a decade as special projects editor for Henry Luce's Time magazine, then one of the world's most influential publications.
If there were an American Decade
in the just-closed American Century, it was the 1950s, and Josephy
was at its heart. During those 10 years, he produced special
Time projects on the interstate highway system;
the modern forestry that leveled vast forests and replaced them
with better seedlings than nature had provided; the St. Lawrence
Seaway; the Pick-Sloan dams on the Missouri River; the Colorado-Big
Thompson Project that moved water from western Colorado, where
nature had put it, to the Front Range, where it was needed; the
Columbia Basin irrigation project and various nuclear weapon and
He was a believer in the American
Dream, writing for millions of other dreamers.
If anyone should have bought a lifetime subscription to industrial
progress, it was Josephy. His commute from the comfortable suburb
of Greenwich, Conn., to the east side of Manhattan was an easy one,
his job with Time was a privileged one, and he was being paid well
to describe how the most powerful nation in the world was laying
the foundation for yet more wealth and power.
But amid the new and exciting developments, Josephy saw something
old and depressing: the plight of American Indians. He also began
to see the destruction of the natural world caused by the progress
he was extolling.
Josephy turned away from
Time and a belief in the 1950s' brand of
progress. He went to work for American Heritage
magazine and became an historian who wrote books about Indians.
Along the way, he became an environmentalist who fought progress,
if progress meant the damming of rivers and the cutting of forests.
Finally, he bought a small ranch in Wallowa County, Ore., and
although he and his wife, Betty, never lived there year around, it
attached him to the West.
usually the ones who worry about America's water, but it is
conservatives who should be concerned. There must be a subversive
substance in our water that turns the best of this nation's
privileged class into champions of conquered people and damaged or
threatened land and rivers. This century's most famous turncoats
were the three Roosevelts: Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor, and all
influenced Josephy. He was a Teddy Roosevelt Republican until he
learned, as a young man, that the Republican Party had repudiated
Roosevelt because of his reformist tendencies and his passion for
The young Josephy became a
supporter of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, and after his 10
years of writing about the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation and Weyerhaeuser and other exemplars of
progress for Time, he became a Westerner in
spirit, and a supporter of the Native Americans and the
He was a pioneer, traveling early the path
more and more Americans are now choosing.
An industry booster becomes a supporter of Western land
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