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Know the West

Conservation history


Brian Calvert’s recent commentary on the cowboy hat’s symbolism in the West is an accurate portrayal of the Trump administration’s values regarding non-whites in our society (Worse for wear,” January 2020). However, one must be careful about conflating the ideas that Euro-American Manifest Destiny was in any way related to the creation of parks or wilderness. Calvert writes: “Roosevelt and his peers went on to create a ‘virgin’ wilderness by forcibly removing the Bannock, Crow, Shoshone and other Indigenous groups from the land to create Yellowstone National Park, even as the Blackfeet were displaced to create Glacier National Park.” The idea that Teddy Roosevelt removed tribal people to create Yellowstone Park is obviously wrong, since Roosevelt was only 14 years old when Yellowstone was created, in 1872. Indigenous peoples were relegated to reservations to make the West safe for the exploitation of nature by miners, ranchers, loggers, settlers and railroads. It would have been laughable if anyone proposed “protecting wilderness” in 1872.  Yellowstone was not any different than the surrounding tens of millions of acres. The original goal of park creation was to protect the geological features from private resource exploitation. It had nothing to do with putting tribes on reservations. In all these early dealings with Indigenous peoples, there was no talk about preserving “wilderness or parks.” That is simply made up by people with little understanding of conservation history.

—George Wuerthner, via email