Monthly Archives: July 2018


Tin Cup Creek, Caribou County, Idaho

By William Deverell

Back on the road, July 21, 2018.  We left Jackson this morning around nine.  As we drove alongside the mighty Snake River, we saw a bald eagle splash down into the river from about forty of fifty feet above, probably doing a lot better at fishing than we have.  We made our traditional and always-fun stop at Tin Cup Creek just over the Wyoming line into Caribou County, Idaho.  It’s a small stream of about ten miles’ length, beautiful and cold.  Each year, I love this part of the drive the most.  Not much looks to have changed – a big ranch or two notwithstanding – in a long, long stretch of years.


Tin Cup Creek, Carbou County, Idaho

I pulled over at this interesting historical marker in Wayan, ID (population just over 200, with a surprisingly young median age of less than thirty).  John Grey, who may have been mixed race Iroquois and Scottish (with perhaps Cree lineage as well) was a long ways from home when he wandered into the Wayan Valley looking for beaver in 1819 or 1820 for the North West Company out of Montreal (which would soon thereafter merge with the Hudson’s Bay Company).  Kanye West and Kim Kardashian named their daughter for this famed fur-trading operation.  No, they didn’t.

Grey’s other name – Ignace Hatchiorauguasha – signaled his Catholic loyalty to St. Ignatius.  Aside from famed grizzly-fighting abilities, Grey seems to have been a gifted intermediary between whites and Indians in this most rugged terrain of the early 19th century mountain West.


John Grey and the Wayan Valley

Not long after, we encountered this dust devil about a quarter mile in front of us.  I thought at first it was a fire, then a smudge on my windshield.   But, no, it was some wild atmospheric something-or-other, and it was amazing.


Idaho Dust Devil

In Salt Lake for the night.   We’ll hit the fabulous climbing gym, The Front, in the morning (or one of us will).  St. George tomorrow evening, then back home in Pasadena around lunchtime on Monday.  We have had a stellar trip, but we miss our loved ones (human and canine).


9781626400535_grandeWhat questions are you considering thanks to your summer reading list? In After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame (Angel City Press, 2018), Lynell George asks the big questions, “How do you want to contribute to the story of the city? How do [you] want to influence and shape history?” Her vibrant and personal work walks through the L.A.(s) of her life and memories – from the scents of the city in 1971 through today’s interplay of language, gentrification, and displacement (and the intertwined realities of ethnicity, race, and class). Her “cul-de-sacs of fading memory” invite one to consider how place is both location and time and how Angelenos are a living museum of the city. Change is reality. Yet for those feeling lost or a sense of dislocation, how might we collectively work to “launch” the L.A. of the future that delivers promises of respect, of context, and of a sense of belonging? Which historical realities must be investigated to generate positive change for L.A.’s next episode?

Replica Fur Trapper Shelter

Replica Fur Trapper Shelter by William Deverell

By William Deverell

July 14, 2018.  Daniel, Wyoming.   John and I went in to Pinedale today for the annual festivities wrapped around the famed Rocky Mountain Rendezvous.  These were held all over the Rocky Mountain West from the mid-1820s to the 1840s, though the most of them were put on right here at Daniel, on the banks of the Green River.  We pass the commemorative sign each day we leave the ranch for the drive into Pinedale.  Trappers, traders, Indians, and (once the word got out) even tourists mingled for weeks on end, and the gatherings became famous for their merriment and the various contests put on between the trappers.  The mixed-race trapper James Beckwourth, born a slave in Virginia (and later freed by his master/father), said this of the rendezvous: “Mirth, songs, dancing, shouting, trading, running, jumping, singing, racing, target-shooting, yarns, frolic, with all sorts of extravagances that white men or Indians could invent.”

I have a few doubts about just how innocently joyful these were, but I easily admit I would love to see one.  I can’t imagine, in the days before the Gold Rush, any gathering in the far West that would feature more human diversity than one of these.  Anyone wanting to know more should consult Anne Hyde’s splendid book, Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West. 

We had fun at the rendezvous commemoration.  Just above town, the excellent Museum of the Mountain Man (where, a year ago, John and I discovered the late 1850s photographs of Oregon Trail migrants made by none other than Albert Bierstadt) had put up a fur trapper encampment with re-enactors showing off their gear, clothing, and handicrafts.  I think I have a pretty good radar about re-enactors and re-enactments, and I generally shy away from them.  These participants, men and women alike, were tremendous.  I think some of them, even in the 21st century, may actually try to live the life, or at least do so in stretches of time and place.  The equipment looked right, the clothing looked right (if too clean), the guns and knives looked lethal and utilitarian.  One of the trappers scoffed at what was going on “in town” (literally a few hundred yards away); that was tourist stuff, he intimated.  Up on the hill, in the encampment, they took this all very seriously.  He had a point.

We did go down the hill.  A parade was heating up, and John and I watched the whole thing.  It was classic small-town Rocky Mountain fare, and fun for it.  Horses, buckboards, politicians and wanna-be politicians.  One sitting U.S. Senator, John Barrasso, who is one of the only 21 Senators from this relatively new state (all white men).  Fire trucks, classic cars, people trying with less success than those on the hill to look, act, walk, and ride like fur trappers.  One man at the parade, a very warm and friendly guy about my age, said that he had seen us the other day at the “Burger Barn.”  “You two have such a great relationship,” he said, “it was fun to watch you together.”  I thanked him, and I introduced him to John.  “Is he your grandson?” he asked.  Once again, life in the mountain West, and I took no offense whatsoever.


Trout on the Roof, Pinedale by William Deverell

At one point, a parade vehicle came by with veterans aboard.  An announcer, who had trouble speaking through tears, asked us all to stand and sing happy birthday to a 94 year-old World War II veteran.  We did.  I hesitated, I admit.  It’s not exactly my thing, though I recognize the man’s duty and sacrifice.  Only a few minutes later, as I had a quiet conversation with myself about this, a younger man walked by us with a T-shirt on that depicted an automatic weapon and the words “But first, coffee.”  There it is, I thought: that slippery seam between … between what? Patriotism and mere fascination with violence?  Between knee-jerk exuberance about mayhem and something more complex?  Between honoring an elderly man’s service in the so-called “good war” (I hate that designation) and back-slapping, winking brotherhood about masculinity, violence, guns, and coffee?

I am not going to figure it out.  Suffice to say that the festivities were fun for the both of us.  But the history wrapped around all of it – the fur trade, the western exploration, the genocidal assault on indigenous peoples, and everything that’s come since (including another T-shirt, new to me, that said, simply “Trumplican”) go together in some complex alchemy that will stick with me awhile.

A T-shirt ethnography of mountain West just might tell us something.

Tomorrow: Jackson: another town, maybe another Wyoming, maybe another planet.


Car Dealership on Wilshire Blvd

Car dealership on Wilshire Blvd (circa 1937) courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

By Michael Block

Through a grant administered by the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, I am helping to research the early history of automobile dealerships in Los Angeles. Scholars have frequently written about “car culture” (especially as it developed in Los Angeles), but they have focused almost exclusively on the roles of manufacturers, drivers, and drivers’ advocacy groups like the Automobile Club of Southern California. History has paid far less attention to the role of car dealers. The car industry in the early twentieth century was similar to the technology sector today: innovation and competition meant that firms popped rapidly in and out of existence. Los Angeles, led partly by its car dealers and partly by heavy demand for cars, wanted to be at the forefront of the excitement. In 1907, car dealers in Los Angeles organized the first car show west of the Mississippi, narrowly beating out San Francisco. In 1917, the chair of the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce declared the Los Angeles dealers’ association to be the largest in the country, and claimed that Los Angeles had “more cars than in any other county in the country, and judging by the traffic conditions in Los Angeles, it has more cars per mile of street than New York or any other city.”[1] Despite the excitement at the time, we know very little today about how the automobile selling business took shape in Los Angeles. Part of the project will involve mapping the locations of dealerships (the auto row on Figueroa Street turns out not to have been the first such concentration). My research so far has focused on the collections of the Seaver Center for Western History Research at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

[1] “Reeves Praises California,” Motor West 26, no. 11 (15 March 1917): 13.

Don Lee Cadillac LaSalle in Pasadena

Don Lee Cadillac and LaSalle dealership in Pasadena (circa 1935) courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Michael Block received his PhD in history from USC in 2011. He is currently a lecturer in the history program at CSU Channel Islands. 


White Mountain Petroglyphs in the Red Desert, Wyoming

By William Deverell

July 11, 2018

Rock Springs to Daniel.  We stayed last night in a Best Western (“The Outlaw”) in Rock Springs.  Very accommodating, nice pool, warm people.  Architecturally, the strangest motel I’ve ever stayed in.  Everything is arrayed off a large and central courtyard, enclosed, and set up kind of like a convention.  All original construction they told me – ca. 1966 – kind of “mid-century awkward,” but we were well looked after and had a good time.

Just out of Rock Springs, we took a detour I’ve long wanted to take, over to the White Mountain petroglyphs.  Probably between 200 and 1000 years old, carved into a huge sandstone butte pockmarked with holes and caves.  It was amazing.  We were the only ones who’d taken the dirt road out there, and we stayed quite awhile looking at the carvings.  Deer, elk, birds, men, even a mounted man with a sword or lance (which gives it a convenient post-contact date).  The local indigenous people regard the site as sacred – utterly understandable and fitting.  We found ourselves in a kind of hushed reverie out there.  One of the carvings was of a man standing, face forward, and we could stand just where the native artist stood to do it – 100, 200, 500 years ago.



On the way out, we could see the Boar’s Tusk volcanic spire rising from the floor of the Red Desert.  This was surely a landmark for not only the indigenous people, but the Oregon- and California-bound emigrants in the mid-19th century.  I bet it still is for oil and gas workers out here.

Rolling towards Pinedale we hit a rain squall, common in the summers anywhere in the Rockies.  We passed a few Oregon Trail markers – a campsite, a fork in the wagon road – these are always fascinating to me.  I can see them out there – caravans of hardscrabble farmer mostly, generally unprepared for what they faced on this perilous journey that could stretch to five or six months’ duration.  It wasn’t the Indians – the natives knew enough to stay away, for the most part, or to interact only in brief trading sessions.  It was disease, the bad water, the accidents, the stupid gunplay, and the drownings – that’s what got most of them.  I disagree with my colleagues who blip over this chapter in 19th century American history as either too romantic or a story already told over and over again.  There is still so much to learn from the stories of these 200,000 or 250,000 people, shock troops of Manifest Destiny, settler-colonials who re-made history on foot, for good, for ill, and for everything in between.

If you are interested in learning more about this era, let me direct you to the work of the historian Sarah Keyes, who did her doctoral work with us at USC.  See, for instance, her articles “Western Adventurers and Male Nurses: Indians, Cholera, and Masculinity in Overland Trail Narratives,” Western Historical Quarterly<> (Spring 2018) and “Like a Roaring Lion’: The Overland Trail as a Sonic Conquest,” Journal of American History (June 2009).


Rain Squall Coming into Pinedale


Wyoming Territorial Prison

By William Deverell

Headed north into Wyoming.  An eventful day on the road.  Drove north out of Colorado Springs, cut west to hug the mountains above Fort Collins, then punched into Wyoming to make our way to Rock Springs for the night.  Had the road more or less to ourselves, at least until I-80 at Rawlins.  We stopped at the Wyoming Territorial Prison, now a museum.  Well done – the buildings and cells have been preserved, and even the grounds are foreboding.  It is a grim place – as you’d expect – the incarcerated must have suffered year round in the heat and the freezing cold.  They even beat the guards for dereliction of duty.  The site, now run well by Wyoming State Parks, points out the life stories of a number of prisoners: men and women alike, the career criminals, the bank and train robbers, and those who looked simply to have made a few very bad choices.  The prison’s practice of shaving the heads of the male prisoners did not prevent individuality from staring out at us from huge black and white photographs made at booking.

We had a start when we visited the “broom factory.”  The imprisoned worked as master broom makers in a big factory on site, and Wyoming State Parks puts historical actors – who stay silent – in prison garb making brooms as you walk through the factory.  Very effective, even creepy.


Wyoming Territorial Prison

History and geography roll back on themselves, and prisons keep coming up in our travels.  We drove I-80 through Sinclair, Wyoming.  I’ve noticed it before, but I had never made the connection before.  Population 450 (tops), the landscape given over to a huge array of oil refining equipment.  I’m going to make a reasoned guess that this place is named for Harry Sinclair (of Sinclair Oil, which you can still see at Sinclair service stations in the West). Harry Ford Sinclair got caught up in the notorious Teapot Dome oil scandal of the 1920s, and he served six months in federal prison for witness tampering.  It whacked him and his reputation, for sure, but he proved remarkably resilient (with uninterrupted wealth as a cushion, no doubt), rebounding to a life of leisure in Pasadena until his death in the mid-1950s. Someday I’ll find out which house he lived in, as I bet it still stands.

We are now in Rock Springs – tough railroad town and, like Los Angeles, the site of a horrific massacre of Chinese in the 19th century.

The high and barren landscapes of Wyoming and the spaces and places of greater Los Angeles – linked by all kinds of stories and histories, oil and infamy and violence and racism among them.


Northern Colorado, Southern Wyoming

By William Deverell


Kettle Lake, Air Force Academy, summer storm by William Deverell

July 8th.  More fishing, same result.  It feels ok.  It’s the fishing, not the catching.  And the cormorant, the falcon, and the heron seem to be doing just fine.  Today we fished as a summer storm brewed and then let loose.  Cold, heavy, rain – fun and drenching and filled with memories of such storms when I was a kid. Except that now, I think aloud about fires and firefighting and the respite that the rain hopefully brings.

We drove through Colorado City today: the old part of Colorado Springs. Early 20th century home construction, with the occasional 19th century house peeking out at us.  Must have been something back then.  Gold and silver mining booms, some coal, some wealthy tourists, a lot of health seekers trying, in vain, to cure tuberculosis.  A town that tried to stay above the fray of labor troubles in nearby places: Cripple Creek, Victor, Ludlow, Pueblo.  But how could it?  It was all part of the same extractive economy and the colonial politics that accompanied it all.  Colorado Springs was the polite city in the mix, but I suspect that politesse ran only so deep.

Makes me think about these times.  All this call for civility – I am suspicious of it.  It strikes me as a way to blunt democratic rights of assembly, protest, speech.  Whenever I see the call for civility, I want to check the credentials of the supposedly aggrieved.  What is it that they are upset about?  What are they objecting to?  There’s a fine line here, in my view.  My governor on all this is to see when I  — one person, one point of view – side with those I’d usually not side with.  That does happen, and it makes me think hard.  But that doesn’t usually happen.  Most often, I draw a fairly conventional line, and I find myself making solidarity in spirit or voice with the “uncivil.”

The historian Tom Sugrue nailed it, in my opinion, in his recent essay in the New York Times:

This road trip with my son is amazing – it is a fun privilege to be able to drive the West with him, to have the time to talk, listen to lots of Cheap Trick, and see the mountains and canyons.  But these are perilous times: these landscapes are threatened by climate and fire and by policy malfeasance, ignorance, and greed.  The stakes are, in my opinion, higher than the bars that supposedly polite behavior expect.