West of Winthrop: Landscape and Language in the Washington Territory
Lindholdt, Paul J., ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly)
He was born in New Haven, Connecticut, twenty-four years before his six-month tour of the West commenced. He traced a family line on his father's side to John Winthrop, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. On his mother's side, he claimed among his forebears the evangelical Jonathan Edwards, the foremost theologian-philosopher in America, and Timothy Dwight, of the literary coterie at Yale College known as the Connecticut Wits. Theodore Winthrop accordingly had the expectations of literary greatness thrust upon him. A scion of New England gentry, descendant of seven college presidents, he graduated at the top of his Yale class in 1848. Thereafter he lived and worked abroad, tried his hand at legal practices in St. Louis and New York, socialized with prominent landscape painters, and composed the four novels and three nonfiction books on which his slender reputation rests. He died young, in a botched Civil War battle he helped plan.
Winthrop's temper, education, and pedigree center him squarely in the master narratives of Euroamerica. With money in his pocket and estimable attire, he toured the territories of California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia in 1853. His ensuing adventure books, set in the waters and mountains of the West, reveal the social constructions of nature and culture accessible to well-heeled New England aesthetes. What his books fail to reveal about that nature and culture is even more significant. The Washington Territory in particular, where he spent most of his sojourn in the West, was a place of racial and ecological turmoil at the time he was writing. It was moving from an "open" frontier to a "dosed" frontier, that is, one where Euroamerican dominance would become a permanent state (Lape 13). Indians were dying from diseases, bullets and drink, their economies transformed by white contact, their ancestral lands and lore usurped and ridiculed. Winthrop alludes to conspicuously few of these historical tensions, even though he traveled 320 miles under the guidance of Klallams and Klickitats, whose tribal names he planned to adopt to entitle his most enduring book, until a Confederate bullet and his editors' whims eclipsed his plans.
That most enduring book, a travel account entitled The Canoe and the Saddle, and its companion text, the western-genre novel John Brent--both published posthumously in 1862--share documentary value for the study of exploration and adventure during the period. They divulge some of the ways that privilege and presumption shaped the West. The nonfiction book has accorded Winthrop a reputation as an ecological prophet of the Pacific Northwest who, long before the first Earth Day in 1970, composed a moving elegy for the untouched wilderness of an America that was disappearing fast. Critics have praised the book for decades. Yet, in hindsight, Winthrop's reputation may seem spurious and undeserved. For students of American studies, and for ecological critics in particular, Winthrop's racial and religious intolerance complicates his environmental record. His elitist outlook generates a highly partisan view. Just as a beauty strip of standing trees along a highway camouflages clear-cut logging scars on distant hills, so the splendid scenery of Winthrop's travel narrative camouflages or obscures offensive sites of conquest and imperial power.
In The Canoe and the Saddle, which time has proved to be the most popular of his books, Winthrop exercises a painterly eye on the seashores, peoples, forests, and storms of Washington Territory. By education and inclination, Winthrop is a writer of the Hudson River School: a visual art movement that indulges in rhapsodic scenes that attend keenly to color and landscape space. The painter Frederic Edwin Church--whose Heart of the Andes has been called "America's first one-man, one-picture blockbuster" (Hughes)--mentored Winthrop and served to model and inspire his work. Considered ideologically, however, Hudson River artists tend to overlook history and ignore the injuries inflicted by manifest destiny in their earnest valorization of landscape. Using a theoretical concept that environmentalists know today as ecopornography, I shall argue that Winthrop's privileges and predilections drove him toward an exploitative regard for the land.
To Find One's Way along through Life
"It was my own fault that I looked for gold-bearing quartz, and so found it bogus and a delusion. What right have we to demand the noble from the ignoble!" (John Brent 8-9)
Winthrop's father, a merchant who owned a library of 2,000 volumes, died when Theodore was twelve. Even at that age, though, he recognized the family tradition as one of "intellectuality, patriotic soldiering, devotion to cause, and constant connection to Puritanism" (Colby 18). Admitted to Yale at fifteen, he was expelled early in his sophomore year for breaking windows in younger students' rooms (Eliot 6). He returned the next year, more complaisant, "somewhat fastidious in dress," a Yale classmate wrote, "but decidedly aristocratic and a man of high principles" (9). Following college, the graduate embarked on a tour that took him throughout Western Europe, permitted him a polyglot's ostentation, and heightened his taste for great art and cuisine.
The influence of visual arts on his developing sensibilities proved profound. In Paris he spent time with his college classmate Richard Morris Hunt, who was then studying architecture, and with Richard's brother William Morris Hunt, who was studying art. Both men went on to make enduring reputations for themselves in their fields. Meantime, in 1850, two years after finishing at Yale, Winthrop was mapping out a book on art. All that came of that, however, was a lecture entitled "The Fine Arts in America," delivered in 1856 (Woolf xi). In New York, at the Tenth Street Studio Building where Winthrop rented workspace in the mid-1850s, the painters Frederic Church and Sanford R. Gifford likewise had their studios. Winthrop "delighted to haunt the studio of his friend Church, the painter, and watch day by day the progress of his picture, The Heart of the Andes" (Curtis 10), which was later displayed in the Tenth Street Studio, where a skylight naturally illuminated the commercially triumphant painting. Viewers paid 25 cents to see it. Church, an entrepreneur, had arranged for concurrent publication of pamphlets of this painting by the Reverend Louis LeGrand and by Winthrop-his first published work. The painter "received an additional tribute in the form of a two-piano 'march' in New York by the composer George William Warren" (Carr 14). In the many years of their relationship, Winthrop and Church took journeys to the Adirondacks and Maine, one account of which Winthrop wrote up at great length as "Life in the Open Air," coyly naming Church "Iglesias" there. On that Maine trip, which took the men paddling a canoe and hiking far up Mr. Ktaadn, Winthrop watched Church work and praised his technique. Winthrop might have flourished as a gentleman of leisure and independent wealth, and his mother might have supported him, but instead he felt driven to make himself a fortune.
In Paris he met American millionaire William H. Aspinwall, who took him under wing and became his employer off and on from 1851 to 1854. Winthrop first tutored Aspinwall's son in New York in 1851, then headed back to Europe to find the pupil a place at a Swiss school. In the States again, he bought paintings for Aspinwall's art gallery, at one point paying "$300 for a Thomas Cole landscape" (Cantwell 119). Mostly, though, he copied papers and received a clerk's salary. Eventually he moved to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company that Aspinwall founded. That position took him traveling again, to Panama, where he sold tickets, guarded supplies and gold going to and from the California mines, and suffered fevers in the tropical heat. The job did not advance him as he hoped it would, however. He quit and made his way up the western seaboard, exploring coastal California, Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver Island, gathering material for the western books that would make his literary reputation, always training an eye on ways to gain a fortune. He contemplated investing in cattle, gold, coal and real estate. At Fort Dalles, though, on the Columbia River, he contracted smallpox. During his three-week convalescence, he indulged his abiding homesickness, drafting poems to himself and letters to his beloved sisters and mother.
Bending homeward at last, he traced his way on horseback via the Oregon Trail to St. Louis, an adventure that gave him fodder for John Brent. The sentimental narrator of that prototype of a Western novel, in language that presages its Yankee author's final sacrifice in the Civil War, reflects, "It is easier to die for a holy cause than to find one's way along through life" (151).
By all accounts he was never well. Spiritually and physically a valetudinarian, disabled by dyspepsia but emotionally in flux, too, he fretted over his health. One biographer called Winthrop's condition a "delicately constructed conscience that had not yet come to terms with itself" (Woolf 11). Another named him a "semi-invalid" (Williams 229), in spite of which he managed to sprint across the Washington Territory in record time. While travelling the Oregon Trail toward home, still shaky from the smallpox, he reported in his journal he had acquired "a little laudanum [and] a cholera powder--some saleratus [or baking soda]" (29), to dose himself with. The baking soda should have alleviated his indigestion or dyspepsia, but the laudanum--a narcotic drug that contains opium or an opium derivative--must have been addressing greater pains (Fig. 1).
He struggled earnestly with his faith, like many of his Puritan forebears. During college "[h]e experienced a religious conversion and spent so many hours praying in his room that his sisters feared he was losing his mind." In later years, "Nervous exhaustion, vague and unlocalized illnesses, stomach pains, and recurring attacks of crushing despondency alternated with brief periods of feverish sociability and enthusiasm" (Cantwell 116). When he confessed by letter to his mother that his Christianity was faltering, she grieved to friends, whereupon he became the subject of much gossip in New York, New Haven, and Boston. One distant relative, George Templeton Strong, sniffed in his journal that Theodore, by this time living in New York, "was always letting off gas about atheism, and propounding horrible paradoxes. He takes every opportunity of giving judgment on heaven and earth and all things visible and invisible, and generally puts their alleged Creator out of court in a summary way" (450). Winthrop's struggle with religion also seeps into the books. The narrator-protagonist of John Brent complains that "[h]e wanted to make the nation's prayers; but the [Puritans] pronounced his prayers Paganism" (44). Winthrop's journal profiles a spiritual man as well, an overreacher who believed in a kind of interspedes evolution: We live in an "unfinished world and when next great convulsions come we shall give place to other beings more advanced than us[;] who knows what places we shall take" (16). His discarded Christianity was giving way to other beliefs, unorthodox but equally hierarchical.
By 21 August 1853, the aristocratic traveler was wrapping up his Northwest excursion. His greatest adventure lay before him: a 330-mile sprint the length of the Washington Territory. At a rustic Port Townsend, in northern Puget Sound, he hired a forty-foot dugout canoe and Klallam paddlers to carry him some 100 miles to Fort Nisqually in the southern reaches of the sound near present-day Tacoma. First he bartered harshly with them; in the canoe, he seized their liquor to keep them in line, even flourishing a Colt six-shooter to forestall a mutiny. That night he fed his paddlers well and watched them as they slept. Arrived at Fort Nisqually late the next day, he paid off his Klallam guides, hired a Klickitat scout for the overland route, then purchased "pork and hard-tack" (50) and three "scrubby mustangs" (59) before hitting the Naches Trail bound for Fort Dalles on the Columbia River 220 miles away. Over the Cascades, the 4,800-foot Naches Pass had to be scaled, a treacherous task. Intimacies with his Klickitat guide soon soured, and on the East side Winthrop found himself lost and wandering in a desert prairie near Yakirna, ill and alone. His uncivil behavior toward his "frowzy" Indian companion (79) led to his being deserted on the trail. Following a drenched and restless night spent in a thunderstorm, Winthrop passed out, toppled from his horse, perhaps relapsing from the smallpox that had laid him low some weeks before.
Throughout these exploits he donned the identity of a cultural minister, in fine shirts and breeches and tasseled hats, who was called to proffer enlightenment and leaven heavy episodes of "savage ire suddenly flashing forth" (39). During his more reflective interludes he praised nature's glories, waxed ecstatic in their light, when his black puritanical moods did not intrude. One possible explanation for his mood swings, and insistence on his civilizing influence over Indians, might be a guilty conscience for his participation in the treacherous designs of manifest destiny.
Racial tensions certainly were high when he visited the Washington Territory and took notes for his book. Six years earlier, in 1847, Cayuse Indians had murdered Marcus Whitman and family in Walla Walla, an act that hardened extant animosities. When Winthrop visited, in 1853, the Gadsden Purchase "extended southward the New Mexico and Arizona territories [and] completed the modern boundary of the United States" (Matthiessen 133), appropriating Indian lands. Also in 1853, Congress spun off the Washington Territory from the Oregon Territory. President Franklin Pierce appointed Isaac Stevens as Territorial Governor and charged him with surveying a rail route from the Great Lakes to Puget Sound, with "240 soldiers, surveyors, engineers, and naturalists" (Cantwell 147), before yielding the Pacific Railroad Survey to the other "young Napoleon," George B. McClellan (Richards 21). As Superintendent of Indian Affairs, McClellan enjoyed the power to clear Indians from lands new settlers needed. On the East side of the Cascades, an Indian chief named Kamiakin, a memorable figure in Winthrop's nonfiction narrative, "led a coalition of interior tribes against the Americans in what became known as the Yakima War of 1855-56" (Ruby and Brown 274). These skirmishes followed a series of meetings, conducted by Stevens on both sides of the Cascades, to soften fractious Indians for treaty signings.
In his treaty proceedings, Governor Stevens disingenuously adopted the cramped and inadequate Chinook Jargon to render treaty terms and answer questions, even though translators were available who spoke both English and the regional Native languages. Winthrop learned to speak this jargon, too. In the jargon he rendered much of the stagy dialogue that passes for Indian-white communication in The Canoe and the Saddle. He prided himself on his polyglot command of all tongues ancient and modern alike and compiled a glossary of this "incoherent coagulation of words" which he appended to the book (12). His glossary seems prescient, a wise anthropological touch, until one recalls glossaries of colonial promotion tracts. Chinook Jargon was the medium of commercial exchange in the Northwest. Intrepid travelers, adventurers and investors alike, would have benefited from knowledge of this bastard vernacular "of English, French, Spanish, Chinook, Kallapooga, Haida, and other tongues civilized and savage" (12). So he communicated with his guides.
His guide on the overland route, an Indian whom he knew as Loolowcan, came to Winthrop at the behest of the man's father, Yakama chief Owhi. No record of the name Loolowcan appears in other histories, however; one must conclude with A.J. Splawn that this man actually was Lo-kout (129). One Winthrop biographer has acknowledged that "[m]ost of the Indians of the Northwest refused to give the white man their names, fearing the anger of their tamanous [vengeful god] if they did so" (Probst 241n). Five years after he arranged for his son to scout for the Yankee traveler, Owhi would be captured and shot by cavalry near Spokane, Washington; his other son, Qualchan, would be hanged for an alleged murder. But Lo-kout, who was Winthrop's guide and Qualchan's brother, would slip the noose and live another 50 years (Fig. 2). He survived Euroamerican exploration, settlement, and war. Aged but unyielding, he gave an interview in 1906 that Winthrop scholars unaccountably have overlooked. There, Lo-kout declared how much he wished that he had murdered Theodore Winthrop when he had the chance. The reasons for Lo-kout's bitter memones will come into fuller focus as his and Winthrop's narratives unfold, but it might suffice now to say that Winthrop considered his Indian guides much less picturesque and fit for genteel delectation than he did nature's glories. Behind the scenes he abused them and helped further imperialist goals (Fig.2).
In 1862, almost ten years after his tour of the Pacific Northwest concluded, Winthrop's books based on his western travels appeared. Generically The Canoe and the Saddle is a travel account, a novelized memoir that is reminiscent of Thomas Morton's hybrid saga of life among the Indians, New English Canaan (1637). That comparison breaks down, however, when we remember that Morton befriended the Indians and allied with them against Captain Shrimp (Miles Standish) and the other Puritan militants living in Plymouth in his time. His ur-Western, John Brent, explores themes of natural nobility as they play out among migrants who were trekking through the Rocky Mountain basins and ranges of the Oregon Trail. John Brent reputedly was accepted for publication if the author would cut an anti-slavery scene, which he refused to do (Eliot 14). To contemporary eyes, though, that equestrian saga of a novel is as flawed by its religious bigotry, especially anti-Mormonism, as The Canoe and the Saddle is by its ethnocentric deprecation of the natives.
Although during his life he had failed as a writer--all his books rejected by publishers, due in part to his religious and ethnic prejudices--his death on the Civil War battlefield conferred on him a notoriety that got publishers bidding on the same manuscripts they first had spurned. (It helped to boost his repute that the Atlantic Monthly had in its pipeline two of his early military accounts, which it issued in the days and weeks succeeding his death.) Winthrop set his best work in the American West, capturing the unagination of eastern readers, so that "fifty-five editions of his five books appeared between 1861 and 1876, and Winthrop was, for nearly a decade, one of the most popular of American writers" (Cantwell 160). Many parts of the West as Winthrop shaped it still prove fascinating, but particularly so his behind-the-scenes role in the closing of the frontier.
"It is unphilosophical to suppose that a strong race, developing under the best, largest, and calmest conditions of nature, will not achieve a destiny." (Canoe 130)
A majority opinion is emerging among art historians that the most successful landscape painters were advancing manifest destiny (Novak; Kelly; Wilton and Barringer). A belief in manifest destiny meant it was manifest--evident beyond all politics and laws--that the new nation was intended to muscle its way across the continent to the Pacific. The intention belonged to God. The best evidence lay in God's handiwork as evident in nature. Such a belief, of course, situated God in opposition to the Native Americans of the West who stymied Euroamerican expansion, and this opposition was consistent with millennial prophecies that had currency since colonial days. "As Tocqueville noted, 'honest citizens' commented to him: 'This world here belongs to us.... God, in refusing the first inhabitants the capacity to become civilised, has destined them in advance to inevitable destruction. The true owners of this continent are those who know how to take advantage of its riches'" (Novak 145). In harmony with Toqueville's report, Winthrop meditates at length upon his own New England ancestors, whom "the indiscriminate revenge of the savage" forced into forts like those of the Hudson's Bay Company where he found succor and supplies (Canoe 54). To celebrate the natural splendors of creation was not only to praise God, therefore, but also to add defensive splendor to God's impenetrable will that Indians should yield to Christian dominance.
The commercial interests of the most successful landscape painters, e.g., Cole and Turner, Church and Bierstadt, made them adventurers in the early American sense of the word--venture capitalists, willing to invest in journeys to the hinterlands to create canvases to sell. Church and Bierstadt remain the most pertinent here; in their landscapes, nature is almost always significantly barren of humankind. That illusion helped their audiences believe that Native Americans had not lived in these ecosystems for millennia; that Euroamericans were not already building roadbeds and railbeds, trapping furs and felling trees; that God's handiwork was still intact. Indeed, humankind is scarcely part of nature at all, pictorially speaking, in the wish fulfillment that generates landscape art. Such subterfuge still is possible in the West, God's country, because some 48% of the land still is :held in public trust. It is a place, as the 1964 Wilderness Act says, "where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." In the case of Winthrop's Pacific Northwest, spruces and firs already were being cut and limbed and shipped at a great rate to San Francisco, a city booming with wealth from the gold fields, to build piers and pilings and fine new homes. None of this industrial development intrudes on his bucolic narrative, however. Winthrop, an adventurer in the same dual sense as the painters, traveled to a barbarous land and socially shaped it in a way he hoped would sell.
Literary studies of the nineteenth-century American West are refining theoretical discourse on manifest destiny further. Richard Slotkin's work has proven enduring enough in its implications that a 1996 television special on visual art, entitled The Wilderness and the West, featured him as a speaker. Slotkin gains a complementary update in a recent study by Kris Fresonke, in whose view manifest destiny effectively supplanted God as a philosophical prompt in works of adventure and exploration like Winthrop's. Another way of saying manifest destiny, Fresonke wisely notes, is "the American territorial imperative" (106). Taking her cues from the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fresonke discovers "buoyant and apparently counterintuitive accounts of the dazzling abundance of nature, no longer proof of Christianity for Emerson, but of American exceptionality" (97). The exceptionality of Mt. Rainier in Winthrop's narrative comes to mind: serenely it anchors and oversees tumultuous events in the region, affording continuity and stability amid great racial chaos, transcending the genocide going on below. Too long have we glorified Europe, Winthrop said, sounding much like Emerson. "Let us, therefore, develop our own world. It has taken us two centuries to discover our proper West across the Mississippi ..." (Canoe 47-48). A nature-based nativism was busily supplanting God, but to read the book of nature aright still meant to learn to descry divine designs and correspondences, as Governor John Winthrop was doing back in 1630, to firm up one's imperial certitude. Like the howling wilderness that Governor Winthrop found, the West was wild, but God had blessed this West. As it is in Emerson and Theodore Winthrop, it is interesting to observe in Margaret Fuller and Henry David Thoreau "the seriousness with which they accepted that the West was the American Muse" (Rosowski 3). A complicated muse, by turns violent and gentle, splendid and grim, the West became a synecdoche for nature's possibilities.
Besides the insightful work of art critics and literary critics, ecological criticism offers some productive approaches to adventurers like Winthrop. Indeed, the genesis of ecocriticism may be found in the American West, in 1993 the Western Literature Association gave rise to the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (http://www.asle.umn.edu/), a stronghold for ecocritics today, an organization that has conducted biennial conferences and issued its own periodical in the intervening decade. Scholars of Western literature long have noted environmental tones in conversations about the West. Insofar as ecocriticism can help to interrogate Winthrop's rhetoric of his adventures in the Washington Territory, a pertinent term is "ecopornography."
It does not yet appear in any dictionaries, but the word enjoys currency in the environmental community and among scholars. It produces dozens of hits on the World Wide Web. It yokes the adjective eco- with the noun pornography to decry the analogous exploitations of nature and the human body. "Some environmentalists have spoken of stylized, exquisite nature photography and films as a kind of 'ecoporn" because such works objectify nature for human aesthetic pleasure" (Hegarty). Ecoporn often gives fraudulent views of nature void of human presence. To define it by example, one might do worse than this quotation from a recent novel set in the West by Annie Proulx, an adoptive Westerner herself: "Calendars, especially the scenic types with their glowing views of a world without telephone lines, rusting cars or burger stands, enraged him ..." (14-15). It is deceptive--and a source of rage for some--to tart up "glowing views" of nature barren of the debris of industry, especially when those same glowing views disguise the ills caused by industrial civilization. Environmentalist Jose Knighton has written disparagingly of landscape photography as ecopornography for the ways it can inspire tourism and thus increase the damage that comes from trampling lands to dust. Even in high school curricula the term has currency. Witness a lesson that defines it as words or images "used to denote claims made by individuals or corporations who wish to present themselves as environmentally conscientious but who are in fact merely using the language of environmental friendliness to score political gains or to increase sales" (Zoeckler).
The semantic range of ecopornography is wide. Often it is synonymous with the concept of "greenwashing," yet another hybrid neologism, this one suggesting that the white of innocence may be supplanted surreptitiously with the phony green of environmental stewardship. Individuals and corporations alike cleanse themselves of culpability by laving their names with the color. A sort of protective coloration ensues, a green concealment that makes it harder for detractors to single them out for castigation or blame. The first use of the word traces to the early 1970s when Gerry Mander coined it to describe aggressive ways the advertising industry usurps the banner of environmental propriety. Once he took his leave of that industry, Mander went on to produce some provocative research on technology and the Indian nations. Some thirty years after Mander coined the term, a young scholar at a conference used Kenneth Burke and other rhetoricians to focus theoretically on ecoporn as "the visual rhetoric of stakeholder publications in contemporary and corporate culture" (Durfee 2). Here, again, the visual balances the ecological. As a term that occupies a vacant niche in the American psyche today, ecopornography shows every indication of being here to stay. To my knowledge, no one yet has applied the concept to American art and culture prior to the twentieth century.
There is a variation on the pristine theme within the ecopornographic. This variation gives a vision of nature pleasantly altered by human impacts--changed but still functional and pleasing. In a classic example from 1969, the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation commissioned painters to portray results of agency efforts to "reclaim" the arid West. These artists transformed dammed rivers into sites where opportunities for recreation and scenic beauty still abound. The dozens of paintings include pieces by Richard Diebenkorn and Norman Rockwell, the latter perhaps the most beloved of American painters in his time. Rockwell painted the Glen Canyon Dam, which itself has been perhaps the most widely reviled of all Western development projects. (Edward Abbey's saboteurs in The Monkey Wrench Gang hoped to blow it up.) Rockwell posed a family of Indians on a bluff over the dam, as if to show how power generation and wasteland "reclamation" could coexist with traditional uses. A pair of hawks, looking for food or enjoying the view, soar above the dam face (Fig. 3). More than a century after Winthrop visited the West, visual arts had come again to enhance the designs of manifest destiny. This time the United States government hired the artists outright.
West of Winthrop
"I have really grown quite tired of green grass, and well-kept lawns, and the shaved, beardless, effeminate look of my native country. This rough nature is masculine. It reminds me of the youth of the world. I like to be in the presence of strong forces." (John Brent 122)
The Norman Rockwell image of hawks and Indians in placid coexistence with one of the world's largest dams brings us back to Winthrop, who enjoys a reputation as an avatar of environmental philosophy in the West. William Dean Howells wrote in praise of Winthrop's Western work:
Of the three novels John Brent is easily the most interesting by reason of its vigorous narrative of adventures in the Far West, at that time a region still barely touched by fiction, and its magnificent hero, the black horse Don Fulano. That Winthrop's real talent looked forward in this direction rather than backward to Hawthorne appears still more clearly from The Canoe and the Saddle, a fresh, vivid, amusing, and truthful record of his own journey across the Cascade Mountains, and an established classic of the North-west. (68)
Contemporary readers can agree that The Canoe and the Saddle is "fresh, vivid, and amusing," while still attending to its shortcomings. Winthrop's 1913 editor of the book, John H. Williams, lathered his introduction and notes with twisted opinions. Williams dubbed the Chinook Jargon the "deadliest of stupidities" (xxv), for instance, and apologized for the many Indian place names in the book. Those names are apt to "inspire horror and disgust" in the civilized reader (10n). His other apparatus is rife with contemporary bias, too, as when he calls the book "a picture of the great stage set by Nature for the drama of state-building" (vii), thus buying into the manifest destiny theme. Williams was catering to readers of his day. Robert Cantwell, an historian writing in 1972, praised Winthrop for his recognition of ways the Northwest environment shapes character. Cantwell's lavish praise goes on for pages. "The influence of the wilderness was not a moral force in itself," he writes of Winthrop's prescience; "it was powerful for what it said of life elsewhere" (164). Timothy Egan, co-winner of a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, lauded the book and adopted Winthrop as a kind of spirit guide on his literary tour through the Pacific Northwest. "The idea that mountains, especially ones with such an evil reputation, could be ... transcendent ... was visionary" (40, ellipses Egan's). He hints Winthrop was "influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson," a possibility when one considers Winthrop's debt to the Hudson River School and luminist aesthetics, visual movements that found their "analogue in American Transcendentalism ..." (Radaker 267).
If Hudson River School painters of Winthrop's time favored mountains--the Andes, the Catskills, the Adirondacks, the Rockies, and the Sierras--Winthrop brings the mighty Cascades to the page. His lengthy narrative of a summer thunderstorm atop Naches Pass is a model piece of ecoporn, reminiscent of Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt in its atmospherics. "A gloomy purple storm lay over the Cascades, vaster than they" (152). Winthrop, with his "trio of mustangs" and his Indian companion, weary from a long day's ride, watches dark clouds advance from the direction they had come. "Beside that envelope of storm hiding the west from floor to cope, there was only to be seen, now softened with dull violet haze, the large, rude region of my day's gallop--thirty miles of surging earth, seamed with frequent valleys of streams flowing eastward, where scanty belts of timber grew by the water-side" (253). The living landscape transcended minutiae of military muscle and white dominion. Such scale might have astounded many audiences back East. There is no cover to be had; the cavalcade stands vulnerable to the storm. "Fitful bursts of weeping rain were now coming thicker, until control ceased, and the floods fell with no interval, borne on furiously, dashing against every upright object as great crushing wave-walls smite on walls of cliff by the sea-side" (254). This is the sublime, as the landscape painters gave it: so vast, grand, and perilous that it must inspire awe and veneration. As ecopornography, the storm imagery supplants the violence of imperialistic endeavors with nature's own violence, as though God were approving of and conspiring with governors and travelers, loggers, and railroaders. "There were sudden clefts, and ravines with long sweeping flanks, and chasms where a cloud mountain-side had fallen in, leaving a precipice all ragged and ruinous, ready itself to fall" (255). Magnificent and threatening at once, the scene recalls the many accomplished paintings of storms and mountains in the century.
The wild salmon, an icon of the Northwest that ran some sixteen million strong in 1853, give Winthrop ecopornographic opportunity to explore themes of barbarism and civility, loathsomeness and beauty. The native people of his acquaintance "were oozier with [salmon] juices than I could wish of people I must touch and smell for a voyage of two days" (20), but he buys salmon from them nonetheless and transforms the fish through his culinary arts into objects to admire. If the people do not warrant his respect, the fish they catch do. On the Naches Trail, preparing dinner, he gives a painterly perception of a salmon he bought from Indians and props up to roast: "The colors that are encased within a salmon, awaiting fire that they may bloom, came forth artistically. On the toasted surface brightened warm yellows, and ruddy orange; and delicate pinkness, softened with downy gray, suffused the separating flakes" (74). His cultivated taste and touch transforms the fish: "how much better than feeding foul Indians it was to belong to me, who would treat his proportions with respect, feet the exquisiteness of his coloring, grill him delicately, and eat him daintily!" (84). This callous passage-as Anders Stephanson has written of Rudyard Kipling--demonstrates "the need to put the act of ruling alien peoples without their consent in the best possible light" (88). In other words, noblesse oblige makes Winthrop praise the salmon if not the Indians, the eaten if not the eaters. A salmon is a grand creature, Winthrop concedes, even if he buys it from "a singularly fishy old gentleman, his wife an oleaginous hag, [and] an emotionless youth ..." (85). The salmon represents his artistic power to refine the coarse and clashing particulars of his frontier experience.
Literally and aesthetically, Mr. Rainier looms over Winthrop's account. At 14,411 feet (4,392 meters), it is the highest peak in the contiguous United States. The natives knew it only as Tacoma, an appellation that Winthrop sanctioned, today the name of Washington's second-largest city. "It was a giant mountain dome of snow," Winthrop wrote of his first glimpse of the peak from the Indian canoe, "swelling and seeming to fill the aerial spheres as its image displaced the blue deeps of tranquil water" (43-44). The day-dreaming young traveler, suddenly viewing this image reflected in the calm of Puget Sound, thinks he is hallucinating. His Indian paddlers are plying the paddles; he wants to slough their presence. Mountains exert an "ennobling influence" over humans (49), he writes, and the Yankee traveler seems to have welcomed the reminder of his own nobility in the presence of his Klallam guides. In the peak's shadow especially, he feels nobler and more at ease, where "[t]he summer evening air enfolded me sweetly, and down from the cliffs and snowy mounds of Tacoma a cool breeze fell like the spray of a cascade" (74). As if chosen by God, he fantasizes the mountain sharing the grace of its breeze for him alone. Aesthetically the mountain
shares both male and female qualities, in the serene time of year that he passed through; there is "feminine beauty in the cones, and more of masculine force and hardihood in the rough pyramids ..." (45). Such imagery drives home the pornographic elements in ecopornography. His breathless renditions of Mr. Rainier help to camouflage the injustice being perpetrated on the plains below.
Anesthetizing himself to withstand his Indian companions, Winthrop studies Rainier from many angles, precisely as painters do, from all points of the compass, circumnavigating it on his journey to Fort Dalles. Here is a view of what would be named the Winthrop Glacier on Rainier:
The blue haze so wavered and trembled into sunlight, and sunbeams shot glimmering over snowy brinks so like a constant avalanche, that I might doubt whether this movement and waver and glimmer, this blending of mist with noontide flame, were not a drifting smoke and cloud of yellow sulphurous vapor floating over some slowly chilling crater far down in the red crevices. (125)
Something ethereal and permanent, Olympian and austere in the peak, distances Winthrop from his present circumstances, allowing him to transcend territorial history and his dubious participation in it. This is how the ecopornographic functions: to screen off history and society, anxiety and doubt.
Environmentally speaking Winthrop too often grates today. He praises roads and rails in spite of the destruction they bring, noting that "the unenlightened" always have disparaged "the destruction that precedes reconstruction" (102). This language is rich in implications for Indians, as it is for the delicate fabric of ecological relations, as when habitats are fragmented to build roads; the Indians must be destroyed, like the forest, before they can be rebuilt. Like the Hudson River painters who influenced him, his observations reside somehow outside of time, shuttering history, privileging the present moment and the private perceiver. Peter Matthiessen reminds us of the actual civilization that Winthrop seizes every occasion to praise. "Just after mid-century were undertaken the War Department surveys for a Pacific railroad," prompting "the final frenzied assault upon the bison, not only by trappers, Indians, and settlers but by professional meat hunters like Buffalo Bill Cody" (148). Not a meat hunter, Winthrop wounds a fleeing black bear for sport, vigorously vying to "discontinue the days of such a shaggy monster" (189). Washington Irving similarly, in his 1835 tour of the West, noted, "I found my ravenous and sanguinary propensities daily growing stronger upon the prairies" (90). Savagery and civilization are always at odds in Winthrop's text. In several pertinent and amusing paeans to pork-his foodstuff of choice, a staple of the trail-Winthrop commends the cooking fumes of settlers wafting across the West as an essence of national culture (86; 170-71; 259). Pork fumes are more wholesome than "the rude, dangerous forces of nature" (174) that stand ready to seduce a man of quality. The Hudson's Bay Company forts, where he sought refuge, served trappers and traders exporting furs to Europe-a fact he never mentions. Indeed, the mighty Mount Rainier, object of his constant meditation and veneration, was one of the sole sources of stability in a world so swiftly shifting in terms of culture and ecology.
Winthrop appears most hopelessly regressive in his attitudes toward ethnicity and race. He lathers the Indians with unflattering adjectives. His guide, "low-browed Loolowcan" (86), more specifically "a half-insolent, half-indifferent, jargoning savage" (183), possesses a "superstitious soul" (78). Prospective visitors to the territory, Winthrop imagines, will benefit from his prudence and sagacity, when any future "attempt is made to manage Pagan savages" (79). The opening of The Canoe and the Saddle explains his haste to cross the territory and join his companions; he hires Indian paddlers and demands that they depart immediately. Instead, they want to sleep off some liquor, which enrages Winthrop. "I became wroth, and, advancing where the king of all this region lay, limp, stertorous, and futile, I kicked him liberally" (9). "Yes!" he reports in triumph. "I have kicked a king." At that time, such a coup de pied was counted as the "deadliest of insults to an Indian" (Splawn 457n). Heedless of their cultural practices, Winthrop exults in his impudence and makes a mockery of the occasion. And of course he gets his way; the Indians pack up and leave as he commands, even abiding with him in the canoe when he takes their liquor and trains his pistol on them. "Look down this muzzle," he addresses them or pretends to, "as I whisk it about and bring it to bear on each of you in turn" (27). He lards his account with a great deal of bravado, actual or feigned, an aesthetic accouterment or artifice of adventure that would have entertained his readers.
Overlooked research by regional historian A. J. Splawn helps us to measure Winthrop's involvement in the violent culture collisions that were closing the Northwest frontier. In 1906, Splawn found and interviewed the guide who deserted Winthrop 53 years before, Lo-kout. Asked if he was Loolowcan of that adventure, the man "quickly rose to his feet; with flashing eyes, he said, 'Yes, I was then Loolowcan, but changed my name during the war later'" (129). By 1906 Lo-kout was living with his hanged brother's widow, whom he had embraced as his wife, where the Spokane River meets and empties into the Columbia River in eastern Washington. During his encounter with the white militia, when his brother died in 1858, "Lo-kout, with two bullet holes through his breast fainted. A volunteer, in passing, struck him with his gun stock, in the forehead, crushing in his skull and leaving him for dead" (81; Fig. 4). When Splawn interviewed Lo-kout, at the age of 84, "His skull had a hole in it that would hold an egg. How he ever survived such an injury I do not know." Lo-kout said, "Seven bullets have passed through my body and you see my skull has been crushed" (126). His deplorable experiences with Winthrop had helped to make a warrior of him. He said of Winthrop, in language that The Canoe and the Saddle largely confirms,
I did not like the man's looks and said so, but was ordered to get ready and start. He soon began to get cross and the farther we went the worse he got, and the night we stayed at the white men's camp who were working on the road in the mountains, he kicked me with his boot as if I was a dog. When we arrived at Wenas Creek, where some of our people were camped, I refused to go farther; he drew his revolver and told me I had to go with him to The Dalles. I would have killed him only for my cousin and aunt. I have often thought of that man and regretted I did not kill him. He was me-satch-ee (mean). (130)
Acting moody, reviling his guide, delivering a kick while he slept, and using his gun to get his way: these details line up well with Winthrop as he profiles himself in the book. No wonder he needed to turn away from himself and his behavior, from his Indian guides and the domination over them by his own kind, to nature as a transcendent space that language gave him the power to control.
Reading The Canoe and the Saddle less for its environmental prophecy and sensitivity than for its contribution to cultural studies abrades Winthrop's reputation and brings him into fuller focus for readers of the twenty-first century. As a commentator on the nineteenth-century American West, he tells the truth as he sees it. If the truth he gives is partisan and partial, still "the story of a civilized man's solitary onslaught at barbarism cannot lose its interest" (6), he writes, in rhetoric his audiences would have understood and applauded. Chauvinism has vaunted him unconscionably to the top ranks of Northwest travel writers. "He predicted," Timothy Egan observed, "that a regional style and outlook would evolve as the North Cascades were appreciated for their singular beauty" (75). If Winthrop's outlook often borders on the ecopornographic, "screening off the actual violence perpetrated there," (1) that outlook ultimately takes nothing from the geography that inspired him.
Eastern Washington University
(1) My analysis of Winthrop's travel narrative is indebted to the German scholar Hannes Bergthaller, from whose unpublished essay this quotation comes, and who generously shared with me his insightful work. In personal correspondence via email, Bergthaller wrote: "It was definitely the part of my thesis I had most fun with-Winthrop is such a beautifully Quixotic figure, poised between Newport parlors and Northwest peaks, and the text has so many tellingly blank spots."
Abbey, Edward. The Monkey Wrench Gang. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1975.
Bergthaller, Hannes. "Staking Claims-Literatur und Landnahme im Pazifischen Nordwesten." M.A. Thesis. U of Bonn, 2000.
--. "Re: The Canoe and the Saddle." Email to Paul J. Lindholdt. 22 Feb. 2002.
Cantwell, Robert. The Hidden Northwest. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972.
Carr, Gerald L. "Frederic Edwin Church as a Public Figure." The Early Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church, 1845-1854. Ed. Franklin Kelly and Gerald L. Cart. Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter Museum, 1987.
Colby, Elbridge. Theodore Winthrop. New York: Twayne, 1965.
Curtis, George William. "Biographical Sketch of the Author." Preface to Theodore Winthrop, Cecil Dreeme. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1861.5-19.
Durfee, Jessica. "Images of Nature in Organizational Stakeholder Publications: The Rhetorical Function of Ecopornography in Greenwashing." Communication Association Conference, New Orleans, November 23, 2002.
Egan, Timothy. The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest. New York: Vintage, 1991.
Eliot, Ellsworth Jr. Theodore Winthrop. New Haven: Yale U Library, 1938.
Fresonke, Kris. West of Emerson: The Design of Manifest Destiny. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003.
Hegarty, Emily. "Dirty Pictures, Dirty Places: Environmentalism and Pornography." Center for Literary and Cultural Studies, Harvard U, Cambridge, MA. March 1996.
Howells, William Dean. "The Later Novel: Howells." Cambridge History of American Literature. Vol. 3. Later National Literature, Part II. Ed. William Peterfield Trent, John Erskine, Stuart P. Sherman, Carl Van Doren. New York: Macmillan, 1921.66-95.
Hughes, Robert. The Wilderness and the West. Dir. and prod. Kent James. American Visions Series. Time, Inc., BBC: Alexandria, VA: 1996.
Irving, Washington. A Tour on the Prairies. 1835. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1956.
Kelly, Franklin. Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 1988.
Knighton, Jose. "Eco-porn and the Manipulation of Desire." Wild Earth 3.1 (1993): 76-78.
Lape, Noreen Groover. West of the Border: The Multicultural Literature of the Western American Frontiers. Athens: Ohio UP, 2000.
Mander, Gerry. "Ecopornography: One Year and Nearly a Billion Dollars Later, Advertising Owns Ecology." Communication and Arts 14.2 (1972): 45-56.
Matthiessen, Peter. Wildlife in America. New York: Viking, 1959.
Morton, Thomas. New English Canaan. 1637. Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon, 2001.
Novak, Barbara. Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting, 1825-1875. New York: Oxford UP, 1980.
Powers, Alfred, ed. and introd. Canoe and Saddle by Theodore Winthrop. Portland, OR: Binford, 1957. iii-xiv.
Propst, H. Dean. "Theodore Winthrop: His Place in American Literary and Intellectual History." Diss. George Peabody College for Teachers, 1964.
Proulx, Annie. That Old Ace in the Hole: A Novel. New York: Scribner, 2002.
Radaker, Kevin. "Henry Thoreau and Frederic Church: Confronting the Monumental Sublimity of the Maine Wilderness." Yearbook of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Fine Arts I (1989): 267-88.
Richards, Kent D. "The Young Napoleons: Isaac Stevens, George McClellan and the Northern Railroad Survey." Columbia 3.4 (1989): 21-28.
Rockwell, Norman. Glen Canyon Dam. Bureau of Reclamation Fine Art Collection. Denver, CO. 6 Jan. 2004
Rosowski, Susan J. Birthing a Nation: Gender, Creativity, and the West in American Literature. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1999.
Ruby, Robert H., and John A. Brown. A Guide to the Tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Norman and London: U of Oklahoma P, 1986.
Slotkin, Richard. Regeneration through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1973.
--. The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization. New York: Atheneum, 1985.
--. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Atheneum, 1992.
Splawn, A. J. Ka-mi-akin: Last Hero of the Yakimas. 1917. Portland, OR: Binford, 1944.
Stephanson, Anders. Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right. New York: Hill, 1995.
Strong, George Templeton. The Diary of George Templeton Strong. Vol. 2: 1850-1859. Ed. Allan Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas. New York: Macmillan, 1952.
Wilderness Act: The Wilderness Legislation of 1964.8 Jan. 2004
Williams, John H. Introduction. The Canoe and the Saddle; or Klalam and Klickitat, to Which Are Now First Added His Western Letters and Journals. Ed. John H. Williams. Tacoma, WA: Williams, 1913.
Wilton, Andrew, and Tim Barringer. American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820-1880. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2002.
Winthrop, Theodore. The Canoe and the Saddle, Adventures among the Northwestern Rivers and Forests, and Isthmiana. Boston: Ticknor, 1862.
--. A Companion to The Heart of the Andes. New York: Appleton, 1859.
--. John Brent. Boston: Ticknor, 1862.
Woolf, Eugene T. Theodore Winthrop: Portrait of an American Author. Washington DC: UP of America, 1981.
Zoeckler, John. "A.P. Environmental Science: Research on Ecopornography." 6 Jan. 2004
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: West of Winthrop: Landscape and Language in the Washington Territory. Contributors: Lindholdt, Paul J. - Author. Journal title: ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly). Volume: 18. Issue: 3 Publication date: September 2004. Page number: 155+. © 1999 University of Rhode Island. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.