While Rockwell Kent was living on Fox Island, Theodore Roosevelt—who turned sixty on October 28, 1918—was dying. A certain listlessness was evident. Physically spent, he often sat very still, his eyes glazed. Owing to deafness in his left ear, his balance was off, and there were many other health issues. He had spent some of the year at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City as a patient, receiving emergency surgery to remove abscesses in the leg and thigh. “I feel as though I were a hundred years old,” he wrote, “and hadnever been young.”1 Adding to his general misery, his feet were so swollen from inflammatory rheumatism that he couldn’t wear shoes. Gout, headaches, and sinus congestion—he suffered from a host of discomforting afflictions. One thing that cheered him up was receiving letters from readers who had enjoyed Through the Brazilian Wilderness. And he was pleased that an utterance of his had been adopted as the motto of the twentieth-century conservation movement: “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”2
Shortly after the armistice was announced on November 11, 1918, with Germany surrendering unconditionally to the Allied forces, thus ending World War I, Roosevelt again entered a hospital in New York; he spent forty-four days there. At times he was incontinent. He had lost his strength and felt like a broken-down engine that couldn’t make it over the next hill, an old gnarled oak about to come down.3 His doctors wouldn’t allow him to return to Sagamore Hill until Christmas Day. Writing for the Kansas City Star from his hospital bed, Roosevelt claimed that he was praying to God in his “infinite goodness and mercy” to give him a “speedy death.”4 But once he was back on Long Island for the holiday season, Roosevelt busied himself with reading William Beebe’s A Monograph of the Pheasants and keeping up his lists of birds and wildflowers. “In it you say by inference that the grouse of the Old World and the grouse of the New World are in separate families,” Roosevelt complained to Beebe in a letter, “although I believe that three of the genera and one of the species are identical.”5
Harold Ickes made an appointment to see the Colonel, as he and others called Roosevelt, at his Manhattan office, only to be told that Roosevelt had been rushed to a hospital. Ickes found himself wondering whether to visit his hero’s sickbed, perhaps offer a final good-bye, and cheer him up with Bull Moose stories, or to give the family privacy. He chose the latter. He came to regret the decision. On January 6, 1919, Roosevelt died in his sleep at Sagamore Hill of a lung embolism made worse by multiple arthritis. He also had serious heart problems.6 Instead of mourning, Ickes, like many other Bull Moosers, reread Roosevelt’s writings about how conservation had taught him to achieve peace in dying. “Nature is ruthless, and where her sway is uncontested, there is no peace, save the peace of death,” Roosevelt had written, “and the fecund streams of life, especially of life on the lower levels, flows like an immense torrent out of non-existence for but the briefest moment before the enormous majority of the beings composing it are engulfed in the jaws of death, and again go out into the shadow.”7
Funeral services were held on January 8 at Christ Church in Oyster Bay. The Army Air Corps dropped laurel wreaths over Sagamore Hill to start the day of national mourning.8 Four hundred to 500 people attended the Episcopalian service to celebrate the ex-president’s life. They buried him in Young’s Cemetery, a village burial ground on a knoll situated between Sagamore Hill and downtown Oyster Bay. He was eulogized as the only American president who hadn’t needed a crisis to be great. Today the grave is surrounded by the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge: 3,204 acres of freshwater ponds, salt marshes, and subtidal habitats. “He was the most encouraging person in the world,” said Edna Ferber, who would later write a novel about Alaska, Ice Palace. “The strongest character in the world has died. I have never known another person so vital, nor another man so dear.”9
After Roosevelt’s death, all the conservationist groups in the country, particularly those Roosevelt had been associated with at the uppermost level of New York society, offered ideas about how to honor him properly. William Temple Hornaday, for example, suggested placing a marble shaft, like the Washington Monument, on the highest point in Central Park.10 Charles Sheldon wanted a second moose reserve (like the one on Fire Island) created in his honor in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Dr. C. Hart Merriam thought a new subspecies of bear should be named after the Colonel. President David Starr Jordan of Stanford University, a leading teacher of Darwin and a progenitor of Pinnacles National Monument, lobbied for a new national park in California, to be named after Roosevelt. The novelist Hamlin Garland, saying that a “mountain had slid from the horizon,” wanted to name the Front Range of the Rockies after Roosevelt. “Death and Roosevelt do not seem possible partners,” Garland wrote in his diary. “He was life abounding, restless life.”11
A consensus soon developed that Roosevelt wouldn’t have liked sad remembrances.12 A few weeks after Roosevelt’s death, the Grand Canyon was at last upgraded by Congress from a monument to a national park. The American Society of Mammalogists started publishing the Journal of Mammalogy as a quarterly aimed at researching and protecting mammals in the wild.13 The Boone and Crockett Club urged that Sequoia National Park be renamed Theodore Roosevelt National Park to honor Roosevelt’s conservationist ethos.14 Secretary of the Interior Franklin Lane and Director of the National Park Service Stephen Mather both approved of this idea within a week of Roosevelt’s death (but for bureaucratic and political reasons, the name was never changed). Eventually, in 1978, 70,447 acres of the Badlands near Medora, North Dakota, where the Colonel had spent time as a cowboy in the 1880s, would become Theodore Roosevelt National Park. As he would have wanted, buffalo and antelope were reintroduced into the park; his Maltese Cabin and Elkhorn Ranch sites were preserved as the “cradles of conservation.”15
Gifford Pinchot decided that Roosevelt’s death was an opportunity to inspire people to take action for wild Alaska. The Colonel, he believed, hadn’t really died but like a big brown bear had lumbered into a deep winter sleep. Pinchot served on the Roosevelt Permanent Memorial National Committee, and he knew that the Roosevelt mystique would continue to influence a national audience for only so long. Pinchot wrote an aggressive article, “Overturning Roosevelt’s Work,” for the Christian Science Monitor,lambasting corporate Republicans who wanted to put Alaska’s natural sites on the auction block. Concerned that Roosevelt’s national forests in Alaska—the Tongass and Chugach—were going to be irreparably marred by private-sector entities searching for oil, gas, and phosphate, Pinchot reminded leaders that Roosevelt, in a message to the Fifty-Ninth Congress, had denounced the “looting” of public lands. Pinchot argued that the real memorial to Colonel Roosevelt would be for big business itself to renounce the molestation of Alaskan landscapes.16
Harold Ickes, a feisty, combative bureaucratic infighter, wanted to keep the Bull Moose conservation movement alive, and he succeeded. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected U.S. president in 1932, he selected Ickes as secretary of the interior. For the next eight years, Ickes always asked himself when reading documents: What would Theodore Roosevelt do? The answer was quite simple—promote the outdoors life, save parts of wild America, create wilderness areas, and properly manage forests and game for future generations to enjoy. Ickes had learned from the Colonel, who always promoted conservation, a central lesson: the U.S. government was the best steward of public lands—not the corporations or businesses that leased them for quick, short-term profits.
A roster of those who sought to thwart Roosevelt’s conservation movement from 1901 to 1919 isn’t worth a lot of ink. The Bristol Bay canneries Roosevelt had worried about succumbed to coastal erosion and fires.17 There were also the Alaskan timber barons who tried to destroy the Tongass, politicians in Juneau who wanted to blast gaping holes in the Wrangell–Saint Elias, and reindeer and caribou breeders in Nome, ignorant of genetics. A group of U.S. senators from western states almost persuaded Congress to abolish the Chugach National Forest. Rich and powerful in their day, they’ve ended up in the trash can of U.S. history as exploiters of public lands. During his seven and a half years in the White House, Roosevelt outflanked the land skinners by withdrawing coal, minerals, oil, phosphate, forests, and waterpower sites from private ownership, and thereby saving wilderness from ruin for the people. Abusers of the land, when attacked by Roosevelt, curled up into a ball, afraid to be poked at under the glare of publicity. William Howard Taft learned the hard way what double-crossing Roosevelt with regard to Alaskan lands meant in raw political terms. Taft’s allowing Alaskan coalfields to be exploited by the Morgan-Guggenheim syndicate, in essence, impelled Roosevelt to leave the Republicans to form the Bull Moose Party.18 Taft is now remembered as a nearly bottom-rung president, lacking in executive skill.
“America has known over-concentrations of power before,” David Brower, executive director of the Sierra Club, wrote in a foreword to Wilderness: America’s Living Heritage. “Such men as Theodore Roosevelt, assuming a mandate summoning great courage, and deciding that he would rather wear out than rust out, came to grips with the graspers of power. He won that round. But graspers don’t stay down, are not self-limiting, and are usually too insensitive to perceive the damage they do. The people have to speak.”19
One old-school naturalist who truly grieved over Roosevelt’s death was John Burroughs. Oom John, as Roosevelt had called him, purposefully avoided the funeral on Long Island; he felt unable to bear the spectacle of thousands of mourners lining up pro forma to stare at an ex-president’s coffin. Burroughs waited for all the horse-drawn carriages and automobiles to leave Oyster Bay and then made his own journey from Poughkeepsie to Long Island with only an escort. Burroughs, now at least eighty, needed a walking stick to climb up the knoll to Roosevelt’s grave. A drizzling rain cast a pall over the woods. A meditative Burroughs contemplated the burial site in silent reverie. Roosevelt had died; what more could be said? He had been a great man; with more humility, he might have equaled Lincoln. Now he was decomposing in the ground. For all his grandeur, Roosevelt never wanted a mausoleum. According to his instructions, he wanted to be buried among the living Long Island birds; his name was to be engraved on his simple headstone, along with his dates: “1858–1919.”20
Burroughs knew that Roosevelt, whose appetite was insatiable, had tasted all of summer’s bounty. Roosevelt was always talking about public service and the national spirit. He was a wilderness warrior. He was seldom neutral. Yet for all his ability to arouse people, Roosevelt was a calming force in the outdoors. Somehow he saw himself in a birch, a bear, or a bee. Yes, Burroughs was certain, Roosevelt had been the indispensable force in the fight for conservation in America from the Civil War to World War I. Unafraid to accept both God and Darwin, inspired by On the Origin of Species, Roosevelt had helped save birds, shores, rivers, lakes, mountains, mammals, fish, and forests. Certainly, Roosevelt knew the demonic side of nature, the brutal laws of the jungle, the crushing potential of instantaneous death by predator. But, more important, the fresh air and wonderful solitude of the outdoors would allow future American citizens to feel free.21
Walking silently away from Roosevelt’s grave, carefully taking small steps to avoid slipping, Burroughs coughed. The trees were bare except for a stand of evergreens. Flicking his cane absentmindedly, Burroughs, with his wizened face and long, gray beard, seemed to be in a trance. Was this really the end of the road? Would the owlish eyes of Theodore Roosevelt no longer watch over the forests? Much as when Walt Whitman died, Burroughs realized that Roosevelt’s spirit was somewhere . . . down the road, released from his grave, marching in a parade. And Burroughs knew that he himself was not long for this world. Feeling older than the Catskills, he did a lot of metaphysical thinking that winter. “More and more I think of the globe as a whole,” he wrote, “though I can only do so by figuring it to myself as I see it upon the map, or as a larger moon. My mind’s eye cannot follow the sweep of its curve and take in more than a small arc at a time. More and more I think of it as a huge organism pulsing with life, real and potential.”22
Burroughs died in 1921, somewhere in Ohio, on a train traveling from California to New York. His last words were: “How far are we from home?”23
With the deaths of Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and John Burroughs, the popular actors in the early environmental movement, the first thrust of the U.S. conservation crusade had come to an impasse. The stalwarts, however, forged forward with commitment and verve. Dr. E. W. Nelson, chief of the Biological Survey, for example, traveled to Alaska to establish an experimental laboratory in Unalakleet (at the head of Norton Sound just north of the Unalakleet River) to study parasites and diseases in reindeer. A veterinarian, a pathologist, and two grazing analysts were assigned to Unalakleet to investigate whether the reindeer browsing over huge spreads were killing native grasses. Two years later, the survey moved the domestic reindeer-caribou experimental station to Nome.24 A major concern of Nelson’s was the inherent genetic problems of native caribou breeding with imported reindeer from Norway and Russia.
Dr. C. Hart Merriam survived until 1942, collecting data on Alaskan bears as his lasting tribute to Roosevelt. With Muir gone, Merriam also focused his studies on California’s Sierra Nevada, which extend 400 miles from Fredonyer Pass in the north (just west of Summerville) to Tehachapi Pass in the south (seventy miles northwest of Los Angeles). Like Nelson, Merriam continued his detailed taxonomic work on Alaskan species, with a scowl of distrust toward technology. The wildlife biologist Olaus Murie of Minnesota, always self-sufficient in the outdoors, became both Nelson’s and Merriam’s point man in Arctic Alaska, studying the great migratory caribou herds south of the Brooks Range.
When Charles Sheldon, the “father of Denali National Park,” heard of Roosevelt’s death, he felt discouraged. Without Roosevelt to rally the conservationists, many wildlife preservation initiatives in Alaska were bound to lose steam. Sheldon had hoped to bring Roosevelt with him to see the grizzlies of Denali; now that idea would never happen.
Sheldon turned more and more to his conservation-minded children to help him collect data for the Biological Survey and the Smithsonian Institution. He began seeing everything in terms of stewardship. His daughter Carolyn Sheldon, for example, published authoritative papers on Vermont jumping mice (genus Zapus).25 His son William Sheldon started collecting new biological information on Dall and stone sheep, and made an expedition in China to conduct comprehensive research on giant pandas.26 William went on to earn a PhD in biology from Cornell University. He later published a definitive work, The Book of the American Woodcock, with the University of Massachusetts Press, about the squat, short-legged shorebird whose range was the Atlantic coast and the Midwest in America.27
Anybody interested in wildlife and exploration in the 1920s eventually ended up spending time at Charles Sheldon’s home in Washington, D.C. His library of works about the outdoors had more than 6,000 volumes; Roosevelt had called it the “choicest” in America. Yale University later acquired the rare books to form the core of a special collection. Regularly, Sheldon hosted dinners at his home for polar explorers such as Richard Byrd and Roald Amundsen. Peary had died in 1920, and Sheldon deemed it necessary to embrace the new generation of Arctic and Antarctic pioneers. But it wasn’t all cold weather for Sheldon. Famously, he lived with the Sere Indians on Tiburon Island in the Gulf of Mexico, collecting artifacts and oral histories. He also became associated with the National Conference on Outdoor Recreation from 1924 to 1928, helping President Calvin Coolidge advance national wildlife policy in Alaska, and he joined forces with Professor William S. Cooper to stress the importance of a signed executive order to create Glacier Bay National Monument out of Muir’s Inside Passage wonderland.28
After Roosevelt’s death, Sheldon began corresponding intensely with George Bird Grinnell about fauna and flora. Both conservationists had been alive during the Civil War. And now, suddenly, it was 1920; automobiles had replaced horses, and new, younger, more technocratic types had entered the fields of wildlife biology and ecology. Taxidermy was fast becoming a lost art. But purposefulness, drive, and commitment never leave a person whose vocation or trade happens to be his lifelong passion. Together these outdoorsmen—Grinnell and Sheldon—remained determined to save Alaska’s declining bear population, and to make sure that Admiralty Island would not be ruined. They had their work cut out for them. Secretary of the Interior Franklin Lane—appointed by President Woodrow Wilson—opposed the protection of bears. Sheldon also reported to Grinnell that the Alaskan legislature was lampooning members of eastern sportsmen’s clubs like the Boone and Crockett Club as aristocratic New Yorkers who were out of touch with the hardscrabble north country. Alaskan newspapers derided bear protection as Hornadayism. “There are rumors that Hornaday is writing a pamphlet on the protection of the Alaska bear,” a worried Sheldon wrote to Merriam on February 28, 1920. “If he does, this will finally prevent future possibility of ever agreeing with the Alaskans on the protection of it and will consider it on the basis of their dislike of him. I hope that these reports are not true.”29
Within the Biological Survey a feud developed. Sheldon had bitten his tongue instead of criticizing Hornaday’s extreme animal rights rhetoric while the Colonel was alive. Although Roosevelt had prevented Hornaday from joining the Smithsonian Institution’s safari in British East Africa (not wanting to deal with a loose cannon for months at a time), in 1910 he had firmly endorsed Our Vanishing Wild Life in the Outlook. Sheldon, an unrepentant hunter, thought Roosevelt had made a mistake linking himself with such an uncompromising maverick as Hornaday. Now, with Roosevelt gone, Sheldon tried to discredit Hornaday as being an irresponsible rabble-rouser with only a few good ideas about protecting seal rookeries. Sheldon worked hard as a lobbyist to build bridges. Hornaday, by contrast, was always accusatory, always at war, and he always used the sharpest language possible. Even though Hornaday had legions of enemies, he continued leading the wildlife protection crusade until his death in 1937.
Clearly, the deaths of Roosevelt, Muir, and Burroughs were a political setback for a conservation movement with Hornaday at the helm. While these three wilderness warriors were alive, there had been a sense that victory was certain, a radiant confidence that corporate despoilers would be contained. All Roosevelt had to do was shout Those swine! and the conservationists felt empowered, felt that history was on their side. Muir, through the Sierra Club, was influential and even feared: his every article or utterance seemed to be etched for the ages like the Ten Commandments. Burroughs, admired by everybody, was always able to get financial titans such as Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, and Henry Ford to lobby Congress for bird protection laws—his clout (aided by his twinkling eyes of good faith) was strong, and his influence was compelling, even with profit-driven industrialists.
With these conservation leaders gone, the public debate over the value of wildlife in America degenerated. Presidential leadership for conservation during the 1920s, in fact, was anemic. The cause suddenly seemed out of joint with the antiregulatory spirit of the times. A popular belief in eastern business circles was that Alaska’s Brooks Range and Arctic Circle were nothing but wastelands, frozen flats where only caribou and lemmings lived, valuable only if oil or gold could be extracted. Lacking any order except nature’s own, the North Slope, according to the pro-development argument, could be divided, surveyed, regulated, mapped, and separated into homestead sections that anyone could own for a minimal fee. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Alaska promoted private ownership rather than forest reserves and wildlife reserves. Mount McKinley National Park, with its famous peaks, inviting to the eye, was accepted by Alaskan boomers because it would attract tourists to the railroad stop and curio shop of McKinley Station, a leg-stretch junction between Seward and Fairbanks with North America’s tallest mountain looming in the near distance. But the rest of Alaska was available for the plundering of natural resources. In America during the booming 1920s, greed was king, and coal and oil were the prized sources of energy. Also, a new technology was being applied off the beach near Santa Barbara, California—offshore drilling. Oil speculators were starting to look for oil leaks all around Alaska’s seas.30
Every decade in Alaska brought a new buzzword to promote industrialization and the conquest of the wilderness. During the Great War, the newest things in large-scale mining were hydraulic mining and dredging. Roosevelt had promoted both of these techniques to construct the Panama Canal. But now, in Alaska, wealthy absentee owners were buying up or leasing claims along rivers, shipping in heavy machines, and ripping into the land. The dredges were boatlike vessels that floated in artificially formed ponds. Using an array of steel buckets, they dragged gravel from the bottom of a pond, searching for gold. By the time of Roosevelt’s death there were more than twenty-five dredges in the Seward Peninsula alone. A mill could process more than 12,000 tons of ore daily. By 1920 the Alaska Juneau Mining Complex along the Gastineau Channel was the biggest low-grade-lode gold mine on earth.31
And oil was starting to be discovered all over Alaska—good news for the territory. Between 1902 and 1933 twenty-seven new oil wells were dug. Eight of these failed to reach oil-bearing rock, and eleven were “no shows” (the term used at the time), but eighteen—all in the Katalla Slough claim—did produce oil. According to Alaska Business Monthly, the depth of the wells ranged from 366 feet to 1,810 feet. It was understood by conservationists that once Alaska became a desirable oil field, saving vast tracts of wilderness through congressional action or even by executive orders would be a far more difficult proposition.32
Aldo Leopold took the deaths of Roosevelt, Muir, and Burroughs just as hard as Merriam, Nelson, Hornaday, and Sheldon did. All three had, to one degree or another, been Leopold’s inspirations. No longer would Leopold defer to anyone in his own area of expertise—he himself was the new front line. Quitting the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, he rejoined the U.S. Forest Service to help protect more than 20 million acres of the Southwest. Leopold’s partially formed vision of roadless wilderness lands inside national forests started to take firmer shape. In 1922, he submitted a formal proposal to the chief of the U.S. Forest Service, William B. Greeley, to have the Gila National Forest of New Mexico administered as a wilderness area; it was approved on June 3, 1924. That same year Leopold, a father of four, moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and started working for the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory as an assistant (later associate) director. Daily, Leopold grew perturbed that in the 1920s, the idea that bigger was better held sway. What worried Leopold was the fortune seekers’ insistence that having steam shovels create ditches to drain marshes dry or giant circular bandsaws to cut up sequoias was somehow a technological advancement for modern America. In a series of letters and articles, he described big companies as being blind to the ecological destruction they often wrought.33
Leopold felt that the market hunting in Alaska was reminiscent—morally—of what had happened to the Great Plains buffalo in the nineteenth century. Without proper game laws, Alaskan caribou and Dall sheep would vanish. His revulsion at such slaughter of wildlife deepened. Wildlife resources, he insisted, should be handed down to future generations undiminished. “It appears to be a fact that even in the remotest region of Alaska indiscriminate slaughter is spelling the doom of the game supply,” he said, at around the time of Roosevelt’s death. “No wilderness seems vast enough to protect wildlife, no countryside thickly populated enough to exclude it.”34 The U.S. Biological Survey urged Alaskan fur wardens to arrest and prosecute poachers, whose carnage amounted to criminality. “No people,” Ernest Walker warned Alaskans in 1921, “should forget that it is their duty to pass into posterity all that can be saved of our wildlife, for future generations likewise have a claim to it.”35
Following the lead of Roosevelt—who had created fifty-one federal bird reservations—Leopold started calling for new wildlife refuges to protect threatened species such as the ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis). “It is known that the Ivory-bill requires as its habitat large stretches of virgin hardwood,” Leopold wrote in an article in American Forests. “The present remnant lives in such a forest, owned and held by an industry as reserve stumpage. Cutting may begin, and the Ivory-bill may be done for at any moment. The Park Service has or can get funds to buy virgin forests, but it does not know of the Ivory-bill or its predicament. It is absorbed in the intricate problem of accommodating the public which is mobbing its parks. . . . Is it not time to establish particularly parks (or their equivalent) for particular ‘natural wonders’ like the Ivory-bill?”36*
While Leopold—like Sheldon—continued hunting, he had become an activist like Hornaday with regard to species protection. But, haunted after shooting a wolf in New Mexico and watching its eyes as it died, Leopold was repentant by the 1920s. Over his objection, roads had been constructed in the Gila National Forest to allow hunters easier access to deer. By killing off wolves to make the Gila “safe” for sportsmen looking for a few days of kicks in the controlled wild, Leopold had inadvertently robbed the Gila of its primeval wildness. Leopold, along with his wife, Estella Bergere, started hunting with a bow instead of using a rifle, as part of the concept of a “fair chase.” And he worked overtime to save North American species from extinction.37 Whether it was a refuge for the condor in California, antelope in Nebraska, grouse in Missouri, or spruce partridge in Minnesota, Leopold was for it. Dispelling the misperception of bears as predators to be eradicated, he promoted their abundance everywhere. “That there are grizzlies in Alaska,” he wrote, “is no excuse for letting the species disappear from New Mexico.”38
An ardent supporter of Leopoldian conservation in Alaska was Frank Dufresne. Nobody knew the Alaskan wilderness quite as intimately as Dufresne. Brrrr . . . was a regular condition in his life. The hyperactive, wiry Dufresne traveled 17,000 miles by dogsled to inspect herds of moose, caribou, seals, otters, deer, and walrus.39 He lived for months at a time in solitude. He could predict the weather. And as early as April, before the bushes bloomed, he could tell whether it was going to be a good year for wild mountain cranberry, salmonberry, or rose hips. Dufresne first came to Alaska from New Hampshire to both hunt and protect big game. More naturalist than game warden, he ended up writing three influential books about his outdoors life: Alaska’s Animals and Fishes (1946),My Way Was North: An Alaskan Autobiography (1966), and No Room for Bears (1965).40
What made Dufresne unique among agents of the U.S. Biological Survey were his elegant dispatches from the Arctic, coupled with his soldier’s sense of duty. Influenced by Roosevelt and Sheldon, Dufresne wrote government reports with panache, as if he were submitting them to The New Yorker. They conveyed a sense of life cycles; of death from old age and disease; of January’s hardships; of desolation. When he saw a raven or a magpie hovering overhead, he knew there was a fresh kill. “There comes a particular uncanny, deathly stillness in the air at seventy below zero,” he wrote in his report of January 1924, to E. W. Nelson at the Biological Survey. “No wild thing seems to stir. . . . The heavy breathing of our dogs, the squealing of the sled runners and the crackling of our own breaths in the air sound loud and harsh and seem to be violating this brooding silence of the north woods. It seems we are the only things that dare move—But no! There in the riffling shallows of an open waterhole a tiny, grey bird dashed and flits about with all the grace of a flycatcher. . . . Our map tells us we are forty miles north of the Arctic Circle; our thermometer tells us it is seventy below zero, yet there is a frail little bird seemingly unsuited to cold weather having the very time of its life. It is, of course, the Water Ouzel, or Dipper. . . . It requires considerable steeling of one’s conscience to blast that little life into eternity for the cause of science.”41
Dufresne was collecting specimens for the Biological Survey by killing and tagging them. Because Dufresne was respected as a hunter—and everybody knew he was the Alaskan outdoorsman, amazingly adept with a gun or a coil of rope—many sourdough Alaskans listened to his pleas to squeal on poachers in the backwoods and to make citizen’s arrests of game hogs. Regularly he reached out to fellow Alaskans about protecting both bears and salmon. Dufresne refused to travel with ultra-conservationists like those in the Sierra Club. Nevertheless, he recognized the essential role that such preservationist groups played in protecting wild Alaska. “In a way I believe we owe something to the ultra-conservationists,” he wrote, “who, by the very unreasonableness of their demands, have rationalized the press of Alaska to assume the middle ground.”42
Preservationists of the 1920s and 1930s in turn owed Dufresne a debt for holding the fort in Alaska, for methodically teaching citizens of the territory to recognize that their wildlife resources weren’t limitless. By taking a good old boy’s approach to being a warden, being part of the day-to-day Alaskan milieu, Dufresne helped conservation principles take firm root in outback towns and hamlets. At public forums, his firm persuasiveness—expressed on his face by something halfway between a grin and a scowl—was palpable. “Help us keep this kind of fishing,” was his simple plea to civic groups. “Your own boy might want to come up here some day.”43