Monday, April 18, 2016

The Unlikely Origin of Tourism’s Sense of Authenticity

Reaching back to a tent restaurant erected there in 1919, Lexington brands itself, at least in part, the “barbecue capital” of North Carolina, a state with considerable heritage in that regard.

But it was a tragic train accident eight years earlier that occurred between that would-be tent site and what is now High Rock Lake that is more symbolic for tourism historically across the nation.

My Tar Heel Roots go back to 1650 but because I am the last of a line of five generations of Idaho ranchers going back to the 1860s and didn’t make my way to North Carolina until 1989, I’m considered “adopted” by those who could be considered far more relative “newbies.”

But it seems that wherever I’ve lived, including my native Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho, I’ve crossed paths with William F. Cody.  It was least expected here in North Carolina as I began what would be the last half of a four decade career in community destination marketing.

When a freight train tragically smashed into one of three trains near Lexington, Cody’s “Buffalo Bill Wild West Show”s (sometimes known by other names) was in the midst of 40 performances throughout North Carolina between 1878 and 1916, including two in Durham where we live.

Over 100 horses were killed in the accident, and the vitality of the show that had also performed hundreds of times throughout the country and throughout Europe would never really recover.

But it is easily arguable that no other person did more to instill a curiosity for transcontinental travel across the United States in both Americans and those overseas.

His attention to detail and authenticity informed expectations. 

Equally significant, Cody redefined and instilled a deep appreciation for history, culture and artifacts among those living in relatively newly settled lands east of the Hundredth Meridian.

He seemed to innately grasp what place branding expert Bill Baker tries to impart wherever he is invited to teach.

The brand of a particular place is, in essence, its innate personality.  It exists at the intersection of what internal audiences and external audiences perceive it to be.

Today, more than ever, it is not something you conjure up or create, it’s simple who and what you genuinely are, something Cody understood was far more appealing than fantasy.

In a moment I will share a story or two about how Cody’s influence has helped shape the negotiation of authenticity over the decades about what it is and isn’t western, a negotiation still underway.

But first, for anyone unfamiliar or in need of a very quick refresher:

Cody was born in Iowa in 1846; the year after my ancestors began fleeing across the southern half of that soon-to-be state toward sanctuary in the Rockies.

Then his family moved to eastern Kansas where he lost his father.

At age 11 he worked as a rider carrying messages between drivers and workers on wagon trains before becoming a bullwhacker, then a trapper, miner and briefly a Pony Express Rider.

He enlisted in the Union Cavalry and after the war worked as a buffalo hunter for the railroad.  Cody then became a Chief of Scouts for the 5th U.S. Cavalry, leading the rescue of Wild Bill Hickok.

Eventually, he earned the Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars.

Cody became a public figure and the subject of dime novels as well as outspoken about the rights of Native Americans.  In addition, he became a performer and show producer.

As a close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, Cody was also instrumental in the nation’s first national forest and the national reclamation act.

The best way to get a sense of William F. Cody is to visit his namesake along the Absaroka Mountains in northern Wyoming as they give way to the Bighorn.

Cody, Wyoming is the eastern and to many the most scenic and least touristy gateway to Yellowstone Park.  It is also home to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which is comprised of four museums including one devoted to Bill Cody’s story as well as a research library.

The little town is also home to the still operating Irma Hotel which Cody co-founded a year after that train wreck back in North Carolina. 

He began by acquiring and then expanding the T E Ranch up the more secluded South Fork from Cody in 1895 and then built a hunting lodge up on the North Fork where the road now leads to Yellowstone since the dam was built.

But Cody first saw the potential of this area in 1870 while leading a scientific expedition up the Bighorn.  It happened to be the same year an expedition was being led to examine the potential of Yellowstone.

Until then, exploration of river valleys along the Rockies such as the Henry’s Fork where my ancestors would settle were dismissive of any settlement potential.  But fresh eyes such as Cody’s changed all of that.

William F. Cody had a sense of authenticity that has inspired 150 years of nomenclature about the old West and is preserved today in details and artifacts such as clothing and dress and speech.

His shows inspired audiences to travel and to know what to expect.  They also helped negotiate what experts call the ongoing interplay and socially-agreed upon construct that we designate as authentic.

Tourism faces much courser fault lines than just authenticity today.  Take for instance, the one that exists between commercial hucksterism and genuine sense of place.

The West does too, and not just recently with standoffs by a few militants in Nevada and Oregon.

In 1939, a movement anchored in the Sheridan Rotary Club began with a threat to secede and break off northern Wyoming including Cody and Yellowstone into the State of Absoroka.

The frustration back then, as it had been during the “range wars” 50 years earlier was more about intrastate politics with the federal policies as a surrogate.

But as it does today, another fault line separated the views of preservationist northwestern and fossil-fuel driven northeastern Wyoming.

I thought of this on a cross country trip through my homeland a few years ago while listening to a story on the radio far more reflective of the West in which I grew up.

A rancher down on the South Fork, near Cody’s T E ranch, was out irrigating his hay fields in June of 2013 when he accidentally came between a Grizzly and her cubs.

Watch this very short video of this remarkable account and listen carefully to Nic Patrick’s remarks at the end.

If you are a regular reader, you may recall that my great-great-great grandfather, Thomas B. Graham, was killed in 1864 by a Grizzly in Cache Valley, Utah under similar circumstances, after having put his rifle down to help my great-great grandfather load some wood.

Like many ranchers, Patrick is a conservationist.  Also like many ranchers, he has another occupation.  For nearly forty years, he and his family have built authentic log homes, often for people who are drawn to live a version of the life Bill Cody depicted.

He understands something that William F. Cody came to understand during his lifetime.

Tourism can help preserve nature and the things it loves.  But unmanaged tourism can also often introduce changes that can kill the very the things it loves.

A lot is written today about gentrification of historic neighborhoods.  If well-managed so that socio-economic diversity is preserved, it isn’t a problem.  If not, the very soul of those neighborhoods and the reasons they became so popular is rapidly hollowed out.

However, gentrification can also occur in areas of the West around public lands.   Studies show that for both kinds of gentrification, tourism popularity can provide warning signals to policy makers that they need to instill protections.

Unfortunately, tourism circles today have far too few Buffalo Bill Cody’s.  Instead of being willing to debate the broader issues society faces, they are prone instead to circle the wagons.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Legendary Journey

From a vista in the center of San Francisco known as Twin Peaks, you can look down on a spot in the Mission District with the Bay glimmering to the east.

For a few years in the early 1860s this was known as Camp Alert, a race track-turned-Union Cavalry training facility.

I’ve always wondered how Thomas K. Messersmith, one of my maternal great-great grandfathers, who was a fourth-generation Southerner and native Missourian came to enlist to fight for the Union and train there, so far from home.

Tracing genealogy is a journey, often beginning by tracking down documentation for family legends.  But even when found, each revelation usually still leaves a loose end or two, that once tied open yet another revelation.

By the 1860 census, my great-great grandfather, a few weeks shy of 26 years old, was bunking with two other miners who were well into their 30s, T.H. Wilson from Virginia and N.F. Scott from Maryland.

They were living in a boarding house in Virginia City, Nevada which was then a part of Utah Territory and the site of the Comstock silver discovery only a few months earlier.

I doubt he came out to the California Gold Rush a decade earlier because the census then shows him still at home in Missouri.

But Virginia City had not only been named by Southerners, it was a hotbed at the time for secessionists who were gloating at having defeated a proposal for statehood because it included a prohibition of slavery.

My great-great grandfather had somehow formed a friendship with Samuel Clemens, who was a year younger and yet to adopt his famous pen name “Mark Twain,”

Because they were born and raised in very different parts of Missouri, I suspect they had formed a bond once Twain arrived in Virginia City with his brother, probably as much over as shared prowess for playing cards as briefly sharing a mining claim.

These fragments can be pieced together from references in collections of Twain’s letters from that time, which also confirm that my great-great grandfather would often be referred to be “Smith,” a truncation of his last name, Messersmith, just as my great-grandfather Ralph would later do.

This discredits another family legend that the truncation was the result of discrimination during World War I. 

My great-great grandfather gave up on mining around the time he crossed paths with Twain or shortly thereafter and headed up and over the Sierra Nevada’s and down to Stockton to enlist for the Union on October 3, 1861.

Interestingly, Twain had already served a two week stint with a Confederate militia back in Missouri and still had Southern sympathies at the time.

This and the dissention back in their home state must have led to some interesting conversations between the two Missourians.

The California into which my great-great grandfather rode had been in deep turmoil since a deep spit the year before in the Democratic Party, which had resulted in the election of President Abraham Lincoln with just a third of the vote.

Rampant secessionist conspiracies had compromised local militias and more than a few law enforcement official, especially in Southern California, leading to public demonstrations by both sides.

At the same time, regular Union Army units were being withdrawn to the east and several new Union regiments of California Volunteers were being enlisted to protect communications and critical ore shipments needed to fund the war effort from sabotage and attack.

My great-great grandfather made a conscious decision which to my prior understanding was contrary to his both native state and his friends.

But digging further I have learned that it was me that was very much misinformed.

It took me a while to track down that he initially enlisted in Company A of the Third Regiment which was an Infantry unit, but that didn’t jive with family legend that he was Cavalry.

Nor did the date of that unit’s arrival in Salt Lake and its various assignments align with the date and place he eventually mustered out of the army at the end of his tour.

Finally, I found a small reference in one military citation that read, “see Company L Second Regiment Cavalry.”

After being outfitted at the Benicia Arsenal, he may or may not have participated with Company A in the Bald Hills uprising that ended at Fort Baker before being transferring to Cavalry.

It is more probable that he was moved to Cavalry training in San Francisco almost immediately.

A hint is provided in one of Twain’s letters, dated May 17, 1862, where he asks another friend to send a pair of Spanish spurs hanging back in his office out to my great-great grandfather.

Between late that summer and early fall, with Cavalry training at Camp Alert behind him, at least a part of my great-great grandfather’s company in detachment with another had joined Col. Patrick Conner in Stockton.

From there, along with 1,000 other Cavalry and Infantry, they moved in phases over the Sierra Nevada’s and out into the Great Basin along the Overland Trail.

They rode first to Fort Churchill about 30 miles east of Virginia City and then proceeded on to secure Fort Ruby, near, coincidentally, where two other of my great-grandparents would drive stagecoach a few decades later.

Eventually, they based at Camp Douglas (later re-named Fort Douglas,) a newly created installation on a bench of the Wasatch Mountains above Salt Lake City, where, again coincidentally, my father would be inducted into the army during WWII.

From there, my great-great grandfather’s Cavalry company would deploy to protect wagon routes in mountain valleys to the west where they were under constant attack.

This was all during the period when the Pony Express was phasing out and the first Transcontinental Telegraph was being completed along a major freighting corridor to the east carrying bullion and supplies for the war effort.

It is hard to relate just how broadly and intensely these facilities were under attack during the Civil War from warring bands of Paiutes and Shoshone-Bannock peoples, stretching in a “T” up the Upper Snake River Valley to what would become my birthplace eight decades later.

So I will insert this link as background.

Because so much of the family legend surrounding my great-great grandfather’s Union Cavalry experience has now been documented, I have no doubt that one day I will find verification of another part.

As the story has been passed down, the scar through his trademark mustache was the result of deflecting a Shoshone arrow that would have struck Colonel Connor.

My initial skepticism, at least of this particular hand-me-down family legend, has repeatedly proven groundless so far.

When digging into family history it helps to remember that legends are traditional stories regarded as historical but unauthenticated, usually because those details have been lost as the stories were passed down.

My great-great grandfather was notoriously quiet and solitary, spending weeks at a time herding sheep up into several of valleys along the Oquirrh Mountains where he had once patrolled near the end of his stint as a Cavalry trooper, including Rush Valley where attacks were especially frequent.

(Another, Cedar Valley, where he settled, is shown above.)

He became a Mormon and spent the remainder of his days alongside the very Overland Trail he had help protect as a means to hold the Union together never revealing what I now know of how he came to choose that side.

But in researching this blog, I think that has become clear.

Missouri, it turns out, may have had a very vocal population who had migrated from slaveholding states but by the time of the Civil War, while a neutral border state, it was firmly Unionist in sentiment.

It had its share of secessionist scheming.

But given the opportunity to vote for secessionist candidates to a convention, it overwhelmingly instead voted for Unionist representatives who voted 99-1 against secession and 70-23 against solidarity with Southern slave states.

Most telling about my great-great grandfather’s decision is that those fellow Missourians who enlisted to fight for the Union outnumbered those who enlisted to fight for the Confederacy by nearly 4-1 (110,000 to 30,000.)

Mystery solved at least for my great-great grandfather.

Unfortunately, far too many Americans are still fighting that war.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Origins of a Divide That Still Haunts Tourism Today

Once you turn off the country road toward our place on Mayo Lake there is a mile of gravel road before you reach the last stretch of pavement leading to our lakeside retreat.

It is what was called “macadam” when road surfaces in America first started to be improved in the 1820s (as depicted in the image below.) 

Many so-called paved roads in the countryside today are macadam bound together with a little asphalt tar.

By 1909, just as what is now called North Carolina Central University was founded, Durham, where we alternatively live a part of each week, was being heralded for already having laid 82 miles of macadam road.

Nationwide at the time, only 700 miles of road, about 10% of the total were as good or better than those in Durham.

By that year there were almost 306,000 cars and a few more than 6,000 trucks registered in America, up from 8,000 overall in less than a decade. 

Those known as “highway progressives” were already shifting the economic impact rationale for good roads from “farm to market” to “tourism.”

But ironically, roads had long been politically, as well as ideologically, controversial.

Other than military roads, Founding Father progressives on both sides of the isle, such as Washington and Jefferson, had only been able to push through the first “national road” along what is now I-40 as a means to open up western settlements for Revolutionary War veterans.

Conservatives argued that roads were too expensive and that they should be a state issue.

Then at the state level, such as in North Carolina, they were often able to pigeonhole roads as a county-by-county issue clear up until the eve of the Civil War.

It was about this time that pleasure driving/riding in carriages took hold, usually limited to grand city parks such as those created by Fredrick Law Olmsted or in cemeteries.

But in 1888 the re-invention of the pneumatic tire, which had been unsuccessfully introduced in 1846, galvanized a grass-roots coalition of activists to push for good roads.

The coalition was spearheaded by bicycle riders who teamed with “farmers, nature-lovers, conservationists and tourists” to spawn a national movement not only better roads but a national network of “hard-surfaced, all-weather roads.”

Soon they were joined by nascent automobile manufacturers.

The roads envisioned were a means to an end such as farm to market or home to resort but all roads were intended to be scenic along the way.

Then as the movement gained steam between 1911 and 1926 “highway progressives” were overwhelmed by commercial interests who coopted the movement.

It created a schizo-polarization of tourism that persists today.

At one end are those with a deep respect for sense of place, authenticity and scenic preservation. 

On the other is a hawker-huckster form frenetically enabling billboards, developer churn, mainstream mega-facilities and other forms of cookie-cutter architecture.

To overcome conservative opposition to a system of national roadways, “highway progressives” had begun to tout tourism as a rationale.

To enlist communities along proposed roadways they encouraged them to “manufacture” reasons for tourists to stop along these routes.

Rather than look to innate qualities, community boosters egged on by a chamber-of-commerce mentality fell instead for hyperbole, thus the manufacture of roadside amusements along with monikers such as the “Grand Canyon of the East” or the “Paris of the South.”

By 1930, many states, including North Carolina had begun to fight back against blight but the forces of blight this has fueled including a faction of tourism that had found political cover among a wing of conservatives.

This wing of conservatives, which cut across party lines, has consistently and inexplicably argued that blight is good for economic development, something still being repeated by a candidate running for governor in the last election.

Tourism, if it was more open to introspection as well as critical and strategic thinking would align in such a way that it could shift this paradigm.

But don’t hold your breath. 

It isn’t just that one side of the schizo-divide is somewhat superficial.  More problematic is that the other side lacks the moral courage and passion of those early “highway progressives.”

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Tracing The Influences of a Strategic Foresight

You wonder what was on the mind of North Carolina’s greatest entrepreneur in the last three decades of his life.

I suspect it was dirt.

By the 1930s, the Piedmont region of North Carolina had lost an average seven inches of soil to erosion, up to 18 inches in some places.

The reddish, sometimes yellowish, clay so prevalent now is actually a subsoil laid bare by this erosion according to historians such as Dr. Paul Sutter.

The effects of that erosion are clearly evident today.  It is why nearly all of our creeks, streams, rivers and lakes are muddy and will be, according to ecologists, for a thousand years.

A hundred years before we had “climate change deniers,” we had “erosion deniers.”  They, too, had policy makers who tried to outlaw science.

Deniers of both are still in office in some states today.

James Buchanan “Buck” Duke, who died in 1925 at age 69, would not have been among the latter nor were he alive today, the former I suspect.

Duke was eight and living with family in Greensboro during the chaotic end of the Civil War, as it was being negotiated near his home in Durham even as his recently released Confederate father, a Unionist, made his way back home.

He was 17 when his father moved their tobacco factory into town and just 21 when “Sons” was added to the name of the enterprise.  His father delegated manufacturing and marketing to Buck.

He is widely regarded today as the first genius in modern marketing.

But before relocating those four miles into Durham, Buck had earlier left the family farm during his teens first to attend what is now Guilford College in Greensboro.

But he soon left there to attend a business college called the Eastman National Business College, a school of business in Poughkeepsie, New York (the image at this link dates to his tenure there.)

He may have been the quintessential Tar Heel at the time, accent, chaw of tobacco and all, but uniquely for his time he also had formal business training including a curriculum that included practical experience to inform his innate entrepreneurial and strategic gifts.

At 24 he was made chief executive of his family’s business and opened a branch in New York.  Before he was 30 he took the company public.  By the time he turned 34, Buck Duke headed a trust that controlled 80% of tobacco production in the world.

In what we call today a SWOTs analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats,) he was well aware that one of the biggest threats to his company came not from federal regulators but the soil depletion associated with growing cotton and tobacco.

At first tobacco had required fertile land.  But the weed-like varieties that yielded a much milder and more popular tobacco not only formed the basis of the Duke corporate empire but they grew on lands depleted by cotton.

But after a few years, even this tobacco wouldn’t grow without huge amounts of fertilizer, which became prevalent after the Civil War, as well as large quantities of water and eventually pesticides.

Still growing tobacco was leaving swaths of abandoned farm land unproductive because its topsoil had washed away.

Buck Duke did not know of tobacco’s harmfulness to health but he could readily see during his time that it was not good for the environment or future business.

With half of his life still ahead of him including new entrepreneurial pursuits in hydroelectric power and higher education in his home state, Duke bought a farm 45 miles west of New York City and assembled nearly 40 others, for a total of over 2,700 acres in all.

Northern New Jersey had been deforested for agriculture and charcoal by 1850, resulting in heavy erosion into the Raritan River adjacent to his land.

Any forest remnants that remained, here and there, were in poor condition.

Buck Duke foresaw by several years a call in 1896 by the state geologist for reforestation and protection of watersheds.  Primeval forests were extinct and nearly half of the state had been cleared of trees.

Forest fires were ravaging what remained to the south. half of them caused by sparks from locomotives.

Through much of his 40s, Buck Duke worked feverishly to recreate more of a nature area than an estate including excavating and/or rehabilitating, enhancing and connecting a chain of nine lakes and associated waterfalls.

All of this was protected by extensive reforestation of more than 2 million trees.

His vision, in the wake of deforestation, was to create a natural “wonderland,” but he also experimented with sustainable hydroelectric power there and methods to make both land and water more sustainable as well.

Within a few years, his work would be the inspiration for forest parks in New Jersey.

Coincidentally, this was the same period in which his father, Washington Duke, aided by other Durham leaders was busy relocating the 1830’s Trinity College to Durham as the foundation for what would later be renamed Duke University.

But rather than a retirement for Buck Duke, this period of creating what is called Duke Farms in north-central New Jersey was more of an entrepreneurial interlude to be inspired by his intrigue with hydrology and forestation.

It was also about this time that soil research became a national priority, including its indispensable role in life and its birth from forest.

The system Buck created with his natural restoration at the turn of the 19th century was designed to pump a million gallons of water per day from a canal above the Raritan River up to a reservoir.

From there the water was then controllably-released through gravity to flow successively down through nine excavated lakes and related waterfalls as well as restored meadows, lagoons and other wetlands before being reintroduced to the river much cleaner than when it was removed.

Lets just say that before he turned his attention a few years later, when not yet 50, to a startup back in his home state that would become Duke Energy today, Buck Duke knew what he was doing.

That experience through his 40s gave him an understanding of how to later rehabilitate thousands of acres of depleted farm land in his hometown of Durham by laying the groundwork near the end of his life for what would become Duke Forest as part of his transformation of Duke University.

Soil scientists estimate that in North Carolina where under virgin forest exists, it would take approximately 468,000 years to remove a topsoil layer, something that takes only a matter of minutes with today’s method of site preparation in advance of buildings.

Soil science is a discipline fathered as we know it today by another North Carolinian, Hugh Hammond Bennett.

But some who had previously also cut their teeth in North Carolina had been “erosion deniers,” as some policy makers are today.

Back then, evidence was mounting in some studies that would show that an average of 5.3 feet of topsoil sediment had discharged between 1820 and 1830 atop pre-settlement floodplains.

Ironically, many areas we consider treasured wetlands now were really created by these sediment avalanches.

As a ten year old, Bennett has been observing erosion on his family farm near Wadesboro at about the same time Duke was experimenting with how to prevent it as well as restore and protect polluted waterways.

Bennett was graduating from UNC and starting out his career by performing soil surveys in North Carolina counties in the two years before Duke returned to his native Tar Heel state.

One subsequent 1920 survey of Durham soils is filled with descriptions and information about Durham at the time Duke spent much of the last years of his life back here.

Based on a plan hatched in 1919, Buck Duke at the time of the survey was already buying up what would be 5,000 acres (today more than 7,000) of mostly depleted farmland in Durham dotted here and there by remnants of old growth forests.

But this was much more than what was needed for what are now Duke University’s West and Central campuses.

While much of the land he acquired would be reclaimed by forest, telltale gullies are visible today in the undergrowth, tombstones for an era of topsoil erosion.

Only today, the culprits behind that continued destruction are more likely to be mechanized site preparation for buildings which not only scrape off or crush fragile top soils but compact it so as to be impervious.

Most credit those acquisitions from 1919 through the early 1920s stretching across west and southwest Durham as well as west into Orange and eventually Alamance counties to Duke’s strategic sensibilities, a means that guaranteed access roads and water availability.

But his past experience suggests something even more strategic.

The School of Forestry created five years after Duke’s death is credited to William Preston Few, a longtime friend who was the university’s then president, along with a Forest Service veteran turned professor and researcher named Clarence Korstian, with the creation of Duke Forest.

Korstian had served in the United States Forest Service out West including a stint in the Pacific Northwest during the period of The Big Burn in 1910 before an assignment in the North Carolina Mountains.

He followed that with a stint at Yale before returning for a consulting assignment at Duke.

Few had spent a lot of time with Buck Duke, and while intrigued by Harvard Forest, in the mid-1920s he had recruited an ecologist named A.S. Pearse who was even more intrigued with the potential of the lands Duke had purchased.

Pearse connected Few with Korstian in 1927.  Buck Duke had died suddenly in late 1925 leaving behind one last stroke of entrepreneurial genius, a vast endowment so visionary it is as relevant today as it was then.

At his death, he was one of only 23 multimillionaires who had been born in the South, out of 331 nationwide.  But unique to others, he directed his philanthropy back to his roots.

It isn’t a leap to conclude that his influence was very present as Few, Pearse and Korstian envisioned Duke Forest.  Not at all.

If only shorter sighted policy makers in Durham today had the strategic sense of this earlier native son when it comes to the overall urban forest canopy.

Monday, February 29, 2016

North Carolina’s Earliest Post Progressives

Following the American Revolution and creation of a new system of government, North Carolina spent the first four or five decades of the 1800s under the control of regressives.

Before delving into the small but determined resistance to regressives during that period and what they would be able to eventually change, as well as a state icon they couldn’t in time, it may be helpful to explain what regressive means.

Philosophically, regressives differ from other conservatives because rather than just seeking to tap the brakes on what they see as unbridled progressivism, regressives actually seek to reverse progress.

Following the American Revolution, most were not among the third of North Carolinians still loyal to Great Britain or, of course, the 25% in bondage.

But regressives represented a faction that lobbied for a return to those pre-war values and ideals.

In the Tar Heel state, a slightly higher percentage were regressives than than those who were characterized as radicals or rioters because they wanted even more change.

Together, these two group narrowly outnumbered the remaining loyalists, most of whom would emigrate elsewhere.

Throughout the nation, as other states perpetuated the progressivism upon which America was founded, regressives in North Carolina during those early decades earned it a reputation as the “Rip Van Winkle” state.

As a result, land values plummeted as more than a third of North Carolinians moved away.

Between 1830 and 1840 alone, nearly half of the counties lost population according to a superbly documented book entitled, North Carolina Through Four Centuries.

The 1850 census revealed that 31% of all native North Carolinians still living in the United States resided in some other state.  Backwardness had driven away more than 400,000 Tar Heels, two-thirds of whom were white.

This was equivalent to half the state’s population in that census.

For the first half of the 1800s, the legislature was controlled by less than 10% of the population, including slave-holding planters living down east who were adamantly opposed to public education, roads, government in general and taxes.

Fast forward two hundred years.  Sound slightly familiar?

Between 2000 and 2010, half of North Carolina’s counties were again losing population with most relocating to the state’s more progressive cities.

Regressivism is as much a part of America as any other view, if not a bit ironic in a nation forged by progressives.  But it doesn’t take popularity for this view to seize control.

Because very few voters today are able to vote for the handful of legislators who are in control of setting legislative agendas in many states, including North Carolina, those decisions are also essentially controlled by about 10% of the electorate.

In part, it is an inherent flaw in representative democracy vs. more “popular” forms of democracy, but not perhaps, a view currently held by regressives who often seem to rationalize overriding the views of the majority of voters by insisting that the same would be done to them were they not in power.

Fueling this partisan view of “screw them before they screw you back,” is the fact that since 1998 “fewer than 10% of both state senate and state house seats have been competitive,” a factor driven by partisan gerrymandering of districts.

The thing to remember is that during much of that earlier period of regression following the Revolution, a handful of deeply concerned and resilient North Carolinians were persistently advocating progressive ideas, which following the Civil War, would put “the state on a totally new course.”

They were named Yancey, Caldwell, Fisher, Swain, Gaston, Morehead and Graham.

But their architect was Judge Archibald DeBow Murphey who was born in Red House, which is now called Semora, a crossroads just northwest of what is now Hyco Lake, a twin in Person County just west of Mayo Lake where we now split time with our home just south in Durham.

The area of Murphey’s origins is now a part of Caswell County, but when he was born it was a part of Orange County. 

Judge Murphey eventually practiced law down in Hillsborough a few miles west from what is now Durham and established a residence in Hawsfield (southwest of current-day Mebane.)

It was during this period that Murphey crafted his plan for North Carolina’s salvation including “establishment of a public education system, construction of canals and turnpike roads, as well as a general public welfare system,” and eventually railroads.

In fact, regardless of sympathies, North Carolinians weren’t paying much attention to succession leading up to the Civil War.

Instead they were focused on constitutional reform and a struggle over ad valorem taxes as a means for wealthy plantation owners to pay their fair share to fund Murphey’s vision.

Many of Durham’s founding generation were heavily influenced by Murphey’s strategic views including his close friends here, the Camerons.

They encouraged others in what would become Durham to push for statewide progress such as building railroads and a strong banking system.

Keep in mind by 1820, only 7% of Americans lived in cities and progressives such as Murphey saw a scalable role in development and progress for state government. 

There were only 61 settlements with more than 2,500 people in the whole country at the time and only five with more than 25,000 people so progressives such as Murphey were clearly farsighted.

But progressives at the time were not able to save the longleaf pine forests that provided North Carolinians their “tar heel” nickname as well as a species of our state tree.

In pre-settlement times, these savannah-like forests dominated a swath from northeast North Carolina in a strip that straddled the fall line between the Piedmont and Coastal Plain continuing in an arc down through the south all the way to Texas, 90 million acres in all.

These would have been the forests where my 8th great grandmother Mary Jane was born on Salmon Creek, more than three hundred years before I would uncover my North Carolina roots.

But from a time before North Carolina earned its “tar heel” nickname until the mid-1800s, these trees were used for naval stores or in other words tar, pitch, rosin and turpentine.

More than just shipping, it was the “wagon” industry that relied on grease produced from these distinct trees as well as uses for their wood by settlers, such as fencing.

Colonists would gird or strangle the trees to death while replacing the understory savannah grasses with corn and other crops as well as letting livestock such as hogs range wild.

Soon huge numbers of hogs, cattle, horses, mules, sheep and goats eventually trampled through these forests contributing to their demise while depleting the soil across much of North Carolina by 1900.

By 1920, the longleaf pine was virtually extinct. 

Gone were not only trees that take 100 to 150 years to reach full size (between 98 and 115 feet) and may live to be 500 years old, but gone too were seas of understory savannah grasses.

Environmental and science historians have placed nearly as much blame on these practices for the sediments that will muddy North Carolina’s streams, rivers and lakes for a thousand years, as they do on the farming practices used to raise cotton and tobacco.

Another factor is that we know now that our soils in the South are much more fragile than other parts of the country.

Fully two-thirds of the deforestation that has taken place across America over the last 400 years occurred during the sixty years between 1850 and 1910.

When a movement took hold to re-plant pine trees in North Carolina, short-leaf pines such as loblolly were used instead of longleaf pines because they grow faster, much closer together and don’t require ground fire to reproduce.

Since the 1960s when collectively pines were named North Carolina’s state tree, efforts have been underway to re-establish longleaf pines using prescribed fire along their base as well as protecting the tiny old growth stands that have been discovered.

But one thing is for sure, for now this means that North Carolina has a much different natural sense of place than it once had.

It is in the wake of this desecration that culminated in the early 1900s that another strategic wave of progressivism took hold in North Carolina, launching its mainstream status as a tourism destination.

More on that in the next post, including a fourth wave in the early 1970s that voters embedded in the constitution, something that legislators including regressives today choose to ignore.