More on pioneer and settler greed

Something that is always left out of the portrayal of pioneers and settlers as secular saints is how rapacious they were.  FDR’s administration had to intervene during the Depression because whites only a generation or so removed from pioneers were so careless with forest harvesting that they were creating massive hazards and epic forest fires.  There was also the poisoning of water supplies for gold mining, there was the overfishing and rapacious hunting.  The ecological types arose in response to the fairly astonishing way in which (white) Americans were scooping up resources and hollowing out land with no particular thought to keeping it going for some future beyond the next few harvest seasons.

And the pioneers themselves worked hundreds of acres alone or nearly so with the aid of technology so they could have more money.  Wall Streeters putting up 100 hour weeks are working extremely hard, but I don’t see reactionary conservatives jumping up to explain how their hard work means they earned everything they have and that we should all look to them as role models for how to really live the Christian life.

Note, I’m not saying the pioneers and the first couple generations following didn’t work very hard.  I’m saying they chased them dollahs until they hollahed and whatever that is, it’s not saintly.  There’s this strain in American conservatism of slaving really hard for any extra profits and I think you have to consider the socialist and communism infiltration in that light.  There was a competing strain that did not win out of using the technology to work only enough to be “comfortable”, a sort of proto-distributism, and it’s very interesting to see it rise up alongside the “gotta get ’em all” mentality of the settlers and their children and even some of their grandchildren.

I have to throw in that “pioneer” and “settler” are terms along a continuum.  Pioneers and settlers were homesteading into the 1950s (Alaska) and there were still what moderns would consider “real Ingalls-style pioneers” as late as the 1920s in parts of the Mountain West and Pacific Northwest.


2 thoughts on “More on pioneer and settler greed

  1. In other words, the hustle is the real American way. Where does the Protestant work ethic fit into all this and was it a integral part of the hustle back then is what I want to know. Were these people of genuine faith, or just the same as our culture today, choosing a lifestyle and bending the Scripture’s interpretation to fit it. The Bible has always warned that the love of money is the root of evil.


    • The “protestant work ethic” is an artificial construct. It was a book written by a German in the early 20th century whose mother was as described, and from there he extrapolated and shoehorned Protestantism into a work-ethic-as-salvation framework. As far as Americans go, it was always something used as a bludgeon, not something meant to be seriously analyzed and placed in historical context.


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