SAGEBRUSH COUNTRY: Land and the American West by Philip L. Fradkin

SAGEBRUSH COUNTRY: Land and the American West

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It seems that today writers have replaced miners as the prospectors of the American West. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Fradkin (California, The Golden Coast; A River No More; Fallout) now stakes his claim to Utah's Unita Mountains and, while not discovering a mother lode, produces a few nuggets of pay dirt. Fradkin offers a workmanlike, though somewhat inconclusive, historical/ecological/ travel narrative that considers the waves of emigrants that for centuries have swept over this corner of the West, the various agencies that have attempted to control its development, and the joys and miseries of backpacking through its peaks and valleys. The most familiar material he incorporates here concerns the shortcomings of the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. These agencies have been vilified repeatedly in the past for their bureaucratic and sell: preserving ways; the author adds little in the way of revelations. He is on firmer ground, however, when he turns his attention to the various Native Americans, trappers, miners, homesteaders, religious groups, cattle barons, and railroad men who have come seeking livelihoods in these forbidding mountains. There's Ann Bassett, for example, a hard-riding early settler who might have given Calamity Jane pause, or the better-known Jim Bridger, who led what seems to have been a productive and satisfying life in this rough-and-tumble world. There are also the fossil hunters such as Joseph Leidy and O.C. Marsh, who vied with one another for dinosaur remains. In all, it's a colorful bunch--and far more appealing than the early Mormons (at least as they are depicted by Fradkin--as conniving and arrogant). John Ford, Fradkin isn't--but he does deliver a few worthwhile insights.

Pub Date: April 11th, 1989
ISBN: 394-52935-9
Publisher: Knopf
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