Weekly E-book: Cruisings in the Cascades

shields-cruisingWe switch it up a little with this week’s e-book. Chicago denizen George O. Shields wrote eight books on camping, hunting and fishing around the United States in the late 19th Century. While he was sometimes decried, as all hunters are, for “pandering to blood tastes” by naturalists like Martin Heade, Shields was a different character.

For one, his sensitivity to natural description was exceptional.

A solitary woodpecker, perched on the topmost branch of a dead giant of the forest, reaching out far above the surrounding network of leafy branches, from which he might survey the surrounding country, sounded his morning reveille and awaited the coming of his mate. The dry leaves with which mother earth was carpeted, rustled now and again to the bound of the saucy red squirrel, the darting hither and thither of the shy wood-mouse, or the tread of the stupid, half-witted porcupine. The chill October wind soughed through the swaying tree-tops, laden with the rich ozone that gives life, health, and happiness to all animate beings that are permitted to inhale it.

On such a morning, and amid such a scene of natural loveliness, I left the train at Junction City, on the Wisconsin Central Railway, started on a three-mile jaunt to a logging camp, for a day or two on a deer roundup.

And despite whatever people may think of hunters as senseless butchers of animals et cetera, et cetera, Shields writes with a deep respect for the unwritten (and sometimes legal) rules of hunting, and for animal life.

The antelope, one of the brightest and most graceful and beautiful of all our Western game animals, is fast disappearing from our broad plains, owing to the ceaseless slaughter of it that is carried on by “skin hunters,” Indians, “foreign noblemen,” and others who come to this country year after year and spend the entire summer in hunting. Hundreds of them are killed every summer by this latter class, and left to rot where they fall, not a pound of meat, a skin, or even a head being taken from them. I have seen with my own eyes this butchery carried on for years past, and know whereof I speak.

Nearly all the Territories have stringent laws intended to prohibit this class of slaughter, but in these sparsely settled countries the provisions for enforcing them are so meagre that these men violate them day after day and year after year with impunity. This is one of the instances in which prohibition does not prohibit. And what I have said of the antelope is true of all the large game of the great West. The elk, deer, mountain sheep, etc., are being slaughtered by the hundreds every year — tenfold faster than the natural increase. And the time is near, very near, when all these noble species will be extinct.

Shields’ book, Cruising in the Cascades: A narrative of travel, exploration, amateur photography, hunting, and fishing, with special chapters on hunting the grizzly bear, the buffalo, elk has a seemingly all-too-exact title. Yet only the first 18 of its 31 chapters deal with the Cascade region. While Shields was a respectable amateur photographer, line illustrations far outnumber photographs in the book–a consequence of the relatively expensive process of halftone screen printing, which did not truly become affordable for publishers until the 1890s. However, this actually makes the photographs more interesting. Their matter-of-fact realism stands completely distinct from the forced elegance of the line drawings. It would hardly take a deconstructionist to muse on the use of illustrations as another example of trying to “tame” the natural wildness/wilderness of the west by forcing it into neat compositions.

mt tacomaThe real interest in the book for Seattleites and other citizens of the Pacific Northwest are the descriptions of the young towns of the coast.

Tacoma:

Tacoma is situated on Commencement Bay, an arm of Puget Sound, and has a harbor navigable for the largest ocean steamships…. All the waters hereabouts abound in salmon, several varieties of trout and other food-fishes, while in the woods and mountains adjacent, elk, deer, and bears are numerous; so the place will always be a popular resort for the sportsman and the tourist. The chief attraction of the city, however, for the traveler, will always be the fine view it affords of Mount Tacoma.

Victoria:

We reached Victoria, that quaint, old, aristocratic, ultra-English town, just as the sun was sinking beneath the waves, that rolled restlessly on the surface of Juan de Fuca Strait. We were surprised to see so substantial and well-built a town as this, and one possessing so much of the air of age and independence, so far north and west. One might readily imagine, from the exterior appearance of the city and its surroundings, that he were in the province of Quebec instead of that of British Columbia.

Vancouver:

Through this picturesque body of water our good boat cleft the shadows of the overhanging mountains until nearly noon, when we landed at Vancouver, the terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In consequence of this important selection, the place is a busy mart of trade. The clang of saw and hammer, the rattle of wheels, the general din of a building boom, are such as to tire one’s nerves in a few hours.

And of course, Seattle:

Seattle is another of those rushing, pushing, thriving, Western towns, whose energy and dash always surprise Eastern people. The population of the city is 15,000 souls; it has gas-works, water-works, and a street railway, and does more business, and handles more money each year than many an Eastern city of 50,000 or more….

Elliott Bay, on which Seattle is built, affords a fine harbor and good anchorage, while Lakes Union and Washington, large bodies of fresh water—the former eleven and the latter eighteen feet above tide level—lie just outside the city limits, opposite. There are rich coal mines at hand, which produce nearly a million dollars worth each year. Large fertile tracts of agricultural lands, in the near vicinity, produce grain, vegetables, and fruits of many varieties, and in great luxuriance. Iron ore of an excellent quality abounds in the hills and mountains back of the city, and with all these natural resources and advantages at her command, Seattle is sure to become a great metropolis in the near future.

Check it out.