It seems from today’s vantage that solutions for our personal liberties and economic wellbeing are out of reach, especially for the young. Few hold little hope for a return to the principles derived from self-determination, a prerequisite for freedom and a foundation our country was built upon. Our forgotten history, especially the causes and effects of western expansion, has been lost upon the youth and sparks only a faint glimmer of recollection for the over 50 crowd. I’m hoping you will join me to retrace our roots and revive the pioneering spirit during a time when indeed men and women of these United States “built it”.
The West blossomed as a consequence of settlement founded upon the premise that if you could improve the land, build your home and provide for your family it was yours. The Homestead Act of 1863 established a precedent like no other. The Act not only expanded the new nation but fueled desperately needed capital to a nation at war. Homesteading brought more to the Treasury than by any previous land sale agreements. The fortunes provided to the people by these lands lead to agricultural and mineral production which spurred revenues far surpassing any previous land development program. At the time there were no government stipends, no low interest loans or grants to stimulate eager potential land owners, just the promise of a brighter future held in their hearts and the determination of their hard work held in their hands. Opportunity to build a new future, a future which would transform America to a new dimension of individual and national prosperity. Without land ownership there is no chance for people to secure wealth and pass on that piece of the rock that laid the foundation for an expanding middle class.
I’m not saying the rewards were easily won. In fact the hardships involved were many and diverse as lonesome grave sites along all routes westward attest. Conditions were difficult at best but still men and women pushed on. The result of these ambitious adventurers was settlement, statehood and a new prosperity. I suspect having known many an old timer of the day that they would bare great consternation to the notion that they didn’t build this nation.
The grand experiment to develop valuable lands by the hand of the little guy was a hearty success. Today though the exclamation of fear that our neighbors may destroy something we think collectively owned has stifled the pioneering spirit and left too many in the West at the mercy of our federal masters. No longer can one extract themselves by their own hand from the leviathan who controls access to hidden wealth. Our youth, now products of a modern era, can no longer till the land, prospect the mountains or harvest the timber our forefathers leveraged as collateral for a better future. The outcome looks bleak for our coming generations. Robbed of the “American Dream” and filled with pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo they plod through a virtual world clueless to the facts and history of our humble beginnings. Yet the fabulous wealth our nation is blessed with, most particularly Custer County, remains in abundance and is yet untapped. Who can unlock this fortune and boon to the world? No one I know in Washington, let alone Boise, only by ground swell of a determined free people.
It is for these reasons that I bend your ear and solicit your action. Dorothy and I live amongst the ghosts of prosperity past, high in the mountains of the Salmon River drainage. Ours is a land where gold strikes brought great fortune to some but mostly forged a handhold for many an individual and family to climb the ladder of success insured by abundant mineral and timber resources. The families who once called the Lands of the Yankee Fork home have now long since passed into history’s silence. There is little opportunity here today, just whispers of lost hopes and dreams that once echoed excitedly throughout the boom towns of Bonanza and Custer.
I can only hope that you too feel drawn toward the rugged individualist characters of our past for promise of new solutions by advancing and elevating the possibility of rekindling a dawning of new adventure. We must look to the mountains, prosperities fountains, for opportunities in the lands of our recent rigidly hostile keepers. Americans have an inalienable birthright to such land. Time draws near for which we may all need the opportunity to pay our debts and feed our families by our own hands on our own lands.
My family lives off the electric grid on a 10 acres parcel of land patented from the federal government by the perfection of a mineral claim. A task no longer possible today. We live on one of the last mineral patents issued under the terms of the 1872 mining law. Life is grand here with no utility bills, subscription dues, pesky ordinances, home owner’s association compliance orders and prying neighbors. The grasp of happiness we have on life reassures us that the course set upon over ten years ago is paying dividends. A dividend once available to all Americans. There is no cell service, no traffic jams, no waiting in line and no hustle and bustle of modern life with all its time killing, time saving devices.
How to join you say? By teaching people how to live better on less and by rolling back the clock to a time when relationships meant more than gold. Did I mention we live on a gold mine? Yes, it’s true and you can too, or at least stake a claim on your future by turning away from today’s maddening pace. More about that next time.
Image shows miners at the Lucky Boy Mine in 1903.