Producing Predators: Wolves, Work, and Conquest in the Northern Rockies

Producing Predators: Wolves, Work, and Conquest in the Northern Rockies

Producing Predators: Wolves, Work, and Conquest in the Northern Rockies

Producing Predators: Wolves, Work, and Conquest in the Northern Rockies

Synopsis

In Producing Predators, Michael D. Wise argues that contestations between Native and non-Native people over hunting, labor, and the livestock industry drove the development of predator eradication programs in Montana and Alberta from the 1880s onward. The history ofthese anti-predator programs was significant not only for their ecological effects, but also for their enduring cultural legacies of colonialismin the Northern Rockies.
By targeting wolves and other wild carnivores for extermination, cattle ranchers disavowed the predatory labor of raising domestic animals for slaughter, representing it instead as productive work. Meanwhile, federal agencies sought to purge the Blackfoots, Salish-Kootenais, and other indigenous peoples of their so-called "predatory" behaviors through campaigns of assimilation and citizenship that forcefully privatized tribal land and criminalized hunting andits related ritual practices. Despite these colonial pressures, Native communities resisted and negotiated the terms of their dispossession by representing their own patterns of work, food, and livelihood asproductive. By exploring predation and production as fluid culturallogics for valuing labor, rather than just a set of biological processes, Producing Predators offers a new perspective on the history of the American West and the modern history of colonialism more broadly.

Excerpt

In January 1870 a young immigrant named Peter Koch used the metaphor of “living like a wolf” to express the realities of his new life in the frontcountry of the Northern Rockies. For seventy-five dollars a month, Koch labored as a clerk at the confluence of the Musselshell and Missouri Rivers, selling whiskey, strychnine, and other provisions out of a small storehouse to men who went “wolfing” on the plains above the river bluffs, killing wolves, coyotes, and other carnivores by baiting them with poisoned animal carcasses. Koch reflected on the predatory characteristics of this work in a series of letters written home to his family in Mississippi. in contrast to the bounty payments offered for killing wolves at his boyhood farm, which he had left a year earlier, Koch remarked that “Montana is not civilized enough for putting a prize on their scalps, but their skin is worth $2.00 here and probably more in the states.” Instead of killing wolves for bounty, Koch and his employer, George Clendinnen, took advantage of an eastern demand for furs by shipping hundreds of wolf pelts to wholesalers in St. Louis and beyond and outfitting local wolfers with poisons and other supplies. Like the emerging class of sharecroppers back in the Reconstruction South that Koch had left behind, these wolfers risked insolvency with each harvest, “in debt so deeply,” he recalled, that “it takes half the winter to get clear.” Observing his own complicity in this system of indenturing human labor . . .

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