Grinnell: America's Environmental Pioneer and His Restless Drive to Save the West

Grinnell: America's Environmental Pioneer and His Restless Drive to Save the West

by John Taliaferro

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Before Rachel Carson, there was George Bird Grinnell—the man whose prophetic vision did nothing less than launch American conservation.

George Bird Grinnell, the son of a New York merchant, saw a different future for a nation in the thrall of the Industrial Age. With railroads scarring virgin lands and the formerly vast buffalo herds decimated, the country faced a crossroads: Could it pursue Manifest Destiny without destroying its natural bounty and beauty? The alarm that Grinnell sounded would spark America’s conservation movement. Yet today his name has been forgotten—an omission that John Taliaferro’s commanding biography now sets right with historical care and narrative flair.

Grinnell was born in Brooklyn in 1849 and grew up on the estate of ornithologist John James Audubon. Upon graduation from Yale, he dug for dinosaurs on the Great Plains with eminent paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh—an expedition that fanned his romantic notion of wilderness and taught him a graphic lesson in evolution and extinction. Soon he joined George A. Custer in the Black Hills, helped to map Yellowstone, and scaled the peaks and glaciers that, through his labors, would become Glacier National Park. Along the way, he became one of America’s most respected ethnologists; seasons spent among the Plains Indians produced numerous articles and books, including his tour de force, The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Ways of Life.

More than a chronicler of natural history and indigenous culture, Grinnell became their tenacious advocate. He turned the sportsmen’s journal Forest and Stream into a bully pulpit for wildlife protection, forest reserves, and national parks. In 1886, his distress over the loss of bird species prompted him to found the first Audubon Society. Next, he and Theodore Roosevelt founded the Boone and Crockett Club to promote “fair chase” of big game. His influence among the rich and the patrician provided leverage for the first federal legislation to protect migratory birds—a precedent that ultimately paved the way for the Endangered Species Act. And in an era when too many white Americans regarded Native Americans as backwards, Grinnell’s cries for reform carried from the reservation, through the halls of Congress, all the way to the White House.

Drawing on forty thousand pages of Grinnell’s correspondence and dozens of his diaries, Taliaferro reveals a man whose deeds and high-mindedness earned him a lustrous peerage, from presidents to chiefs, Audubon to Aldo Leopold, John Muir to Gifford Pinchot, Edward S. Curtis to Edward H. Harriman. Throughout his long life, Grinnell was bound by family and sustained by intimate friendships, toggling between the East and the West. As Taliaferro’s enthralling portrait demonstrates, it was this tension that wound Grinnell’s nearly inexhaustible spring and honed his vision—a vision that still guides the imperiled future of our national treasures.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631490149
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 06/04/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 624
Sales rank: 175,817
File size: 40 MB
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About the Author

John Taliaferro is a graduate of Harvard College, a former senior editor at Newsweek, and the author of five previous books, including All the Great Prizes, winner of the Douglas Dillon Award. He lives in Texas and Montana.

Table of Contents

Maps xiv

A Note on Names xv

Introduction: Evolution and Extinction 1

Part 1 Boy Hunter (1849-1876)

Chapter 1 Audubon Park 17

Chapter 2 Member of the Class 38

Chapter 3 The Yale Expedition 43

Chapter 4 A Wild Gallop 59

Chapter 5 The Black Hills 75

Chapter 6 A Nation's Park 84

Part 2 Natural Historian (1876-1886)

Chapter 7 Age of Surprises 103

Chapter 8 Thorough Sportsman 112

Chapter 9 No Tenderfoot He 123

Chapter 10 Dear Partner 137

Part 3 Preservation, Reservation (1886-1807)

Chapter 11 The Audubon Society 149

Chapter 12 The Rock Climbers 156

Chapter 13 Fair Chase 167

Chapter 14 Ghost Dance 180

Chapter 15 Sacred Range 190

Chapter 16 Standing Menace 196

Chapter 17 The Ceded Strip 211

Chapter 18 A Plank 228

Chapter 19 Diverse Voices 242

Part 4 American Anthropologist (1897-1902)

Chapter 20 Eclipse of Memory 255

Chapter 21 The Alaska Expedition 269

Chapter 22 Indians of To-day 286

Chapter 23 Winning of the West 295

Part 5 Mr. and Mrs. Grinnell (1902-1911)

Chapter 24 The Captured Woman 309

Chapter 25 Temporary Sojourners 327

Chapter 26 Pulverizing Engine 348

Chapter 27 Stuyvesant Square 370

Part 6 Principled Pragmatist (1911-1919)

Chapter 28 Break the Old Habit 385

Chapter 29 Undue Destruction 402

Chapter 30 Fighting Cheyennes 413

Chapter 31 The National Park Service 430

Part 7 Gray Guardian (1919-1938)

Chapter 32 All This Better Work 455

Chapter 33 A Complex Life 478

Chapter 34 Melting Rapidly 496

Chapter 35 A Strong Strand 513

Epilogue: Do More Good 517

Acknowledgments 521

Notes 525

Bibliography 559

Illustration Credits 583

Index 587

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