THE DESCENT OF CIVILIZATION - AMERICAN BISON, SOUTH DAKOTA

These animals have largely forsaken the nomadic tendencies of their ancestors and are generally content to remain the year around on the home range. Only occasionally does one wander away. Such was the case in 1936 when an old buffalo appeared in a farmer’s yard near Witten in the Rosebud country. The children screamed and climbed the windmill; the excited parents called the neighbors on the party telephone line and soon all were there with automobiles. Using cars, the farmers chased the decrepit old buffalo until he fell exhausted and died.

A South Dakota Guide (WPA, 1938)

Before Alexander Hamilton’s visage graced the ten dollar bill, it was Andrew Jackson’s mug leering from the note. But just preceding Old Hickory, for an all-too-brief period of 13 years, the sawbuck sported a far worthier American symbol—the bison. When the Treasury released the “Buffalo Bill” in 1901, there were only a few hundred living animals remaining. 

The American bison was one of the first and best cases for conservation in the United States, largely because their near incalculable numbers were relentlessly exterminated within an incredibly short span of time. White buffalo hunters, government policies targeting American Indians, the Transcontinental Railroad, and even telegraph companies were all drivers behind the bison’s systematic annihilation.  

In 1889, William Hornaday, the first director of the Bronx Zoo, wrote, “Of all the quadrupeds that have lived upon the earth, probably no other species has ever marshaled such innumerable hosts as those of the American bison. It would have been as easy to count or to estimate the number of leaves in a forest as to calculate the number of buffaloes living at any given time during the history of the species previous to 1870.”

Today there are about 500,000 bison in North America (some 10 percent of which belong to Buffalo Bill wanna-be Ted Turner) and the animals continue to be a source of controversy. In Montana, ranchers fear the spread of brucellosis from roaming bison to their cattle herds, and are trying to stop the restoration of wild buffalo to the land. One state legislator remarked, “Why do you want to spread this creeping cancer, these wooly tanks, around the state of Montana? We’ve got zero tolerance left in our bones.”

All wrangling aside, when you round a bend and see for the first time the hulking black masses dividing flat green from flat blue, it is heart-stopping. A shadow play of the Great Plains myth moving slowly across the horizon, never to be forgotten. 

Guide note: During the summer months Custer State Park’s Wildlife Loop Road is packed with RVs and minivans, but it’s also a good place to get the merest hint of what bison herds must have been like in the 19th century. And if you’re up for roughing it in the primitive camping area of the park, you may wake up to the snorts, snuffles and bellowing grunts of a herd surrounding your tent.

Further reading: 

Ghost Dances: Proving Up On the Great Plains by Josh Garrett-Davis begins at the Bronx Zoo’s bison enclosure and unspools the deeply layered history of the Great Plains alongside a memoir of growing up in South Dakota.  

The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley contains (amongst other fascinating conservation tales) the story of Roosevelt and William Hornaday’s attempts to save the bison from extinction.

Images - Erin Chapman & Tom McNamara; Words - Erin Chapman; Archive - Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Burton Historical Collection - Detroit Public Library

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Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of The American Guide. 

GOD AND COUNTRY – CUMBERLAND, MARYLAND
An American Legion abuts the Amtrak stop in Cumberland, Maryland. Veterans sit and drink beer on a deck they built to watch the trains: a morning and evening Capitol Limited between D.C and Pittsburgh, punctuated by the passing of freight cars.
“This is what we do in Cumberland,” said Kevin, an Air Force vet who spent eight years in Iraq. “We look at the trains go by. There’s a t-shirt we’ve got around here… ‘Allegany County – A good place to live if you don’t have to work.’”
It’s dollar Yuenglings at the Legion. Two-twenty-five pitchers. Kevin has a pitcher. Even in his middle age, he is cut like the Cumberland Narrows that surround him—severe hills shaping a low valley.
“I worked corporate intelligence for 25 years—a private eye. I was all over the place. But I got tired getting shot at,” he said.
How many times were you shot?
“Three times. I was born in Cumberland, now I’m hiding out in Cumberland.”
* * *
On the tracks below the deck is what the drinkers say is the only Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars memorial in the United States. (As it turns out, there’s also a similar memorial in Marseilles, Illinois—the “Middle East Conflicts Wall.”) Kim, with a rock as big as the Ritz on her ring finger, sitting on a picnic table next to Kevin, lost her stepson in Iraq. She and her husband, with support from the Legion and the locals, built a memorial to him surrounded by stark black granite tablets engraved with the names of soldiers dead in all these wars.
“Come back to Cumberland this October,” said an older woman smoking mentholated cigarettes in a red, white and blue embroidered sweatshirt. “We’re raising money to add more names and as sad as that is, with the money you give you have a one in 18 chance to win $500 in a raffle.” Telling it all with a smile, she goes on to say that she shared the pot the last time around.
* * *
The train pulls in, the Legion locals wave goodbye and you’re on your way. Looking back, the red brick Legion wall reads, “For God and Country.” And in the Narrows, it is God’s country: the train bends through land lined by creek, rock and homes; mobile homes look like mansions; families play town ball; and an old man in a shotgun house stands proud on display on his porch wearing only a blue Speedo.
Guide note: The Gulf War Memorial is in the form of four black books engraved with the names of all the fallen soldiers in the U.S.’s recent wars. It is located on Gulf Memorial Drive just next to Cumberland’s Amtrak station.   
Words: Tom McNamara; Images: Tom McNamara and Erin Chapman
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Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
Zoom Info
GOD AND COUNTRY – CUMBERLAND, MARYLAND
An American Legion abuts the Amtrak stop in Cumberland, Maryland. Veterans sit and drink beer on a deck they built to watch the trains: a morning and evening Capitol Limited between D.C and Pittsburgh, punctuated by the passing of freight cars.
“This is what we do in Cumberland,” said Kevin, an Air Force vet who spent eight years in Iraq. “We look at the trains go by. There’s a t-shirt we’ve got around here… ‘Allegany County – A good place to live if you don’t have to work.’”
It’s dollar Yuenglings at the Legion. Two-twenty-five pitchers. Kevin has a pitcher. Even in his middle age, he is cut like the Cumberland Narrows that surround him—severe hills shaping a low valley.
“I worked corporate intelligence for 25 years—a private eye. I was all over the place. But I got tired getting shot at,” he said.
How many times were you shot?
“Three times. I was born in Cumberland, now I’m hiding out in Cumberland.”
* * *
On the tracks below the deck is what the drinkers say is the only Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars memorial in the United States. (As it turns out, there’s also a similar memorial in Marseilles, Illinois—the “Middle East Conflicts Wall.”) Kim, with a rock as big as the Ritz on her ring finger, sitting on a picnic table next to Kevin, lost her stepson in Iraq. She and her husband, with support from the Legion and the locals, built a memorial to him surrounded by stark black granite tablets engraved with the names of soldiers dead in all these wars.
“Come back to Cumberland this October,” said an older woman smoking mentholated cigarettes in a red, white and blue embroidered sweatshirt. “We’re raising money to add more names and as sad as that is, with the money you give you have a one in 18 chance to win $500 in a raffle.” Telling it all with a smile, she goes on to say that she shared the pot the last time around.
* * *
The train pulls in, the Legion locals wave goodbye and you’re on your way. Looking back, the red brick Legion wall reads, “For God and Country.” And in the Narrows, it is God’s country: the train bends through land lined by creek, rock and homes; mobile homes look like mansions; families play town ball; and an old man in a shotgun house stands proud on display on his porch wearing only a blue Speedo.
Guide note: The Gulf War Memorial is in the form of four black books engraved with the names of all the fallen soldiers in the U.S.’s recent wars. It is located on Gulf Memorial Drive just next to Cumberland’s Amtrak station.   
Words: Tom McNamara; Images: Tom McNamara and Erin Chapman
* * *
Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
Zoom Info
GOD AND COUNTRY – CUMBERLAND, MARYLAND
An American Legion abuts the Amtrak stop in Cumberland, Maryland. Veterans sit and drink beer on a deck they built to watch the trains: a morning and evening Capitol Limited between D.C and Pittsburgh, punctuated by the passing of freight cars.
“This is what we do in Cumberland,” said Kevin, an Air Force vet who spent eight years in Iraq. “We look at the trains go by. There’s a t-shirt we’ve got around here… ‘Allegany County – A good place to live if you don’t have to work.’”
It’s dollar Yuenglings at the Legion. Two-twenty-five pitchers. Kevin has a pitcher. Even in his middle age, he is cut like the Cumberland Narrows that surround him—severe hills shaping a low valley.
“I worked corporate intelligence for 25 years—a private eye. I was all over the place. But I got tired getting shot at,” he said.
How many times were you shot?
“Three times. I was born in Cumberland, now I’m hiding out in Cumberland.”
* * *
On the tracks below the deck is what the drinkers say is the only Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars memorial in the United States. (As it turns out, there’s also a similar memorial in Marseilles, Illinois—the “Middle East Conflicts Wall.”) Kim, with a rock as big as the Ritz on her ring finger, sitting on a picnic table next to Kevin, lost her stepson in Iraq. She and her husband, with support from the Legion and the locals, built a memorial to him surrounded by stark black granite tablets engraved with the names of soldiers dead in all these wars.
“Come back to Cumberland this October,” said an older woman smoking mentholated cigarettes in a red, white and blue embroidered sweatshirt. “We’re raising money to add more names and as sad as that is, with the money you give you have a one in 18 chance to win $500 in a raffle.” Telling it all with a smile, she goes on to say that she shared the pot the last time around.
* * *
The train pulls in, the Legion locals wave goodbye and you’re on your way. Looking back, the red brick Legion wall reads, “For God and Country.” And in the Narrows, it is God’s country: the train bends through land lined by creek, rock and homes; mobile homes look like mansions; families play town ball; and an old man in a shotgun house stands proud on display on his porch wearing only a blue Speedo.
Guide note: The Gulf War Memorial is in the form of four black books engraved with the names of all the fallen soldiers in the U.S.’s recent wars. It is located on Gulf Memorial Drive just next to Cumberland’s Amtrak station.   
Words: Tom McNamara; Images: Tom McNamara and Erin Chapman
* * *
Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
Zoom Info
GOD AND COUNTRY – CUMBERLAND, MARYLAND
An American Legion abuts the Amtrak stop in Cumberland, Maryland. Veterans sit and drink beer on a deck they built to watch the trains: a morning and evening Capitol Limited between D.C and Pittsburgh, punctuated by the passing of freight cars.
“This is what we do in Cumberland,” said Kevin, an Air Force vet who spent eight years in Iraq. “We look at the trains go by. There’s a t-shirt we’ve got around here… ‘Allegany County – A good place to live if you don’t have to work.’”
It’s dollar Yuenglings at the Legion. Two-twenty-five pitchers. Kevin has a pitcher. Even in his middle age, he is cut like the Cumberland Narrows that surround him—severe hills shaping a low valley.
“I worked corporate intelligence for 25 years—a private eye. I was all over the place. But I got tired getting shot at,” he said.
How many times were you shot?
“Three times. I was born in Cumberland, now I’m hiding out in Cumberland.”
* * *
On the tracks below the deck is what the drinkers say is the only Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars memorial in the United States. (As it turns out, there’s also a similar memorial in Marseilles, Illinois—the “Middle East Conflicts Wall.”) Kim, with a rock as big as the Ritz on her ring finger, sitting on a picnic table next to Kevin, lost her stepson in Iraq. She and her husband, with support from the Legion and the locals, built a memorial to him surrounded by stark black granite tablets engraved with the names of soldiers dead in all these wars.
“Come back to Cumberland this October,” said an older woman smoking mentholated cigarettes in a red, white and blue embroidered sweatshirt. “We’re raising money to add more names and as sad as that is, with the money you give you have a one in 18 chance to win $500 in a raffle.” Telling it all with a smile, she goes on to say that she shared the pot the last time around.
* * *
The train pulls in, the Legion locals wave goodbye and you’re on your way. Looking back, the red brick Legion wall reads, “For God and Country.” And in the Narrows, it is God’s country: the train bends through land lined by creek, rock and homes; mobile homes look like mansions; families play town ball; and an old man in a shotgun house stands proud on display on his porch wearing only a blue Speedo.
Guide note: The Gulf War Memorial is in the form of four black books engraved with the names of all the fallen soldiers in the U.S.’s recent wars. It is located on Gulf Memorial Drive just next to Cumberland’s Amtrak station.   
Words: Tom McNamara; Images: Tom McNamara and Erin Chapman
* * *
Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
Zoom Info
GOD AND COUNTRY – CUMBERLAND, MARYLAND
An American Legion abuts the Amtrak stop in Cumberland, Maryland. Veterans sit and drink beer on a deck they built to watch the trains: a morning and evening Capitol Limited between D.C and Pittsburgh, punctuated by the passing of freight cars.
“This is what we do in Cumberland,” said Kevin, an Air Force vet who spent eight years in Iraq. “We look at the trains go by. There’s a t-shirt we’ve got around here… ‘Allegany County – A good place to live if you don’t have to work.’”
It’s dollar Yuenglings at the Legion. Two-twenty-five pitchers. Kevin has a pitcher. Even in his middle age, he is cut like the Cumberland Narrows that surround him—severe hills shaping a low valley.
“I worked corporate intelligence for 25 years—a private eye. I was all over the place. But I got tired getting shot at,” he said.
How many times were you shot?
“Three times. I was born in Cumberland, now I’m hiding out in Cumberland.”
* * *
On the tracks below the deck is what the drinkers say is the only Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars memorial in the United States. (As it turns out, there’s also a similar memorial in Marseilles, Illinois—the “Middle East Conflicts Wall.”) Kim, with a rock as big as the Ritz on her ring finger, sitting on a picnic table next to Kevin, lost her stepson in Iraq. She and her husband, with support from the Legion and the locals, built a memorial to him surrounded by stark black granite tablets engraved with the names of soldiers dead in all these wars.
“Come back to Cumberland this October,” said an older woman smoking mentholated cigarettes in a red, white and blue embroidered sweatshirt. “We’re raising money to add more names and as sad as that is, with the money you give you have a one in 18 chance to win $500 in a raffle.” Telling it all with a smile, she goes on to say that she shared the pot the last time around.
* * *
The train pulls in, the Legion locals wave goodbye and you’re on your way. Looking back, the red brick Legion wall reads, “For God and Country.” And in the Narrows, it is God’s country: the train bends through land lined by creek, rock and homes; mobile homes look like mansions; families play town ball; and an old man in a shotgun house stands proud on display on his porch wearing only a blue Speedo.
Guide note: The Gulf War Memorial is in the form of four black books engraved with the names of all the fallen soldiers in the U.S.’s recent wars. It is located on Gulf Memorial Drive just next to Cumberland’s Amtrak station.   
Words: Tom McNamara; Images: Tom McNamara and Erin Chapman
* * *
Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
Zoom Info
GOD AND COUNTRY – CUMBERLAND, MARYLAND
An American Legion abuts the Amtrak stop in Cumberland, Maryland. Veterans sit and drink beer on a deck they built to watch the trains: a morning and evening Capitol Limited between D.C and Pittsburgh, punctuated by the passing of freight cars.
“This is what we do in Cumberland,” said Kevin, an Air Force vet who spent eight years in Iraq. “We look at the trains go by. There’s a t-shirt we’ve got around here… ‘Allegany County – A good place to live if you don’t have to work.’”
It’s dollar Yuenglings at the Legion. Two-twenty-five pitchers. Kevin has a pitcher. Even in his middle age, he is cut like the Cumberland Narrows that surround him—severe hills shaping a low valley.
“I worked corporate intelligence for 25 years—a private eye. I was all over the place. But I got tired getting shot at,” he said.
How many times were you shot?
“Three times. I was born in Cumberland, now I’m hiding out in Cumberland.”
* * *
On the tracks below the deck is what the drinkers say is the only Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars memorial in the United States. (As it turns out, there’s also a similar memorial in Marseilles, Illinois—the “Middle East Conflicts Wall.”) Kim, with a rock as big as the Ritz on her ring finger, sitting on a picnic table next to Kevin, lost her stepson in Iraq. She and her husband, with support from the Legion and the locals, built a memorial to him surrounded by stark black granite tablets engraved with the names of soldiers dead in all these wars.
“Come back to Cumberland this October,” said an older woman smoking mentholated cigarettes in a red, white and blue embroidered sweatshirt. “We’re raising money to add more names and as sad as that is, with the money you give you have a one in 18 chance to win $500 in a raffle.” Telling it all with a smile, she goes on to say that she shared the pot the last time around.
* * *
The train pulls in, the Legion locals wave goodbye and you’re on your way. Looking back, the red brick Legion wall reads, “For God and Country.” And in the Narrows, it is God’s country: the train bends through land lined by creek, rock and homes; mobile homes look like mansions; families play town ball; and an old man in a shotgun house stands proud on display on his porch wearing only a blue Speedo.
Guide note: The Gulf War Memorial is in the form of four black books engraved with the names of all the fallen soldiers in the U.S.’s recent wars. It is located on Gulf Memorial Drive just next to Cumberland’s Amtrak station.   
Words: Tom McNamara; Images: Tom McNamara and Erin Chapman
* * *
Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
Zoom Info
GOD AND COUNTRY – CUMBERLAND, MARYLAND
An American Legion abuts the Amtrak stop in Cumberland, Maryland. Veterans sit and drink beer on a deck they built to watch the trains: a morning and evening Capitol Limited between D.C and Pittsburgh, punctuated by the passing of freight cars.
“This is what we do in Cumberland,” said Kevin, an Air Force vet who spent eight years in Iraq. “We look at the trains go by. There’s a t-shirt we’ve got around here… ‘Allegany County – A good place to live if you don’t have to work.’”
It’s dollar Yuenglings at the Legion. Two-twenty-five pitchers. Kevin has a pitcher. Even in his middle age, he is cut like the Cumberland Narrows that surround him—severe hills shaping a low valley.
“I worked corporate intelligence for 25 years—a private eye. I was all over the place. But I got tired getting shot at,” he said.
How many times were you shot?
“Three times. I was born in Cumberland, now I’m hiding out in Cumberland.”
* * *
On the tracks below the deck is what the drinkers say is the only Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars memorial in the United States. (As it turns out, there’s also a similar memorial in Marseilles, Illinois—the “Middle East Conflicts Wall.”) Kim, with a rock as big as the Ritz on her ring finger, sitting on a picnic table next to Kevin, lost her stepson in Iraq. She and her husband, with support from the Legion and the locals, built a memorial to him surrounded by stark black granite tablets engraved with the names of soldiers dead in all these wars.
“Come back to Cumberland this October,” said an older woman smoking mentholated cigarettes in a red, white and blue embroidered sweatshirt. “We’re raising money to add more names and as sad as that is, with the money you give you have a one in 18 chance to win $500 in a raffle.” Telling it all with a smile, she goes on to say that she shared the pot the last time around.
* * *
The train pulls in, the Legion locals wave goodbye and you’re on your way. Looking back, the red brick Legion wall reads, “For God and Country.” And in the Narrows, it is God’s country: the train bends through land lined by creek, rock and homes; mobile homes look like mansions; families play town ball; and an old man in a shotgun house stands proud on display on his porch wearing only a blue Speedo.
Guide note: The Gulf War Memorial is in the form of four black books engraved with the names of all the fallen soldiers in the U.S.’s recent wars. It is located on Gulf Memorial Drive just next to Cumberland’s Amtrak station.   
Words: Tom McNamara; Images: Tom McNamara and Erin Chapman
* * *
Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
Zoom Info
GOD AND COUNTRY – CUMBERLAND, MARYLAND
An American Legion abuts the Amtrak stop in Cumberland, Maryland. Veterans sit and drink beer on a deck they built to watch the trains: a morning and evening Capitol Limited between D.C and Pittsburgh, punctuated by the passing of freight cars.
“This is what we do in Cumberland,” said Kevin, an Air Force vet who spent eight years in Iraq. “We look at the trains go by. There’s a t-shirt we’ve got around here… ‘Allegany County – A good place to live if you don’t have to work.’”
It’s dollar Yuenglings at the Legion. Two-twenty-five pitchers. Kevin has a pitcher. Even in his middle age, he is cut like the Cumberland Narrows that surround him—severe hills shaping a low valley.
“I worked corporate intelligence for 25 years—a private eye. I was all over the place. But I got tired getting shot at,” he said.
How many times were you shot?
“Three times. I was born in Cumberland, now I’m hiding out in Cumberland.”
* * *
On the tracks below the deck is what the drinkers say is the only Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars memorial in the United States. (As it turns out, there’s also a similar memorial in Marseilles, Illinois—the “Middle East Conflicts Wall.”) Kim, with a rock as big as the Ritz on her ring finger, sitting on a picnic table next to Kevin, lost her stepson in Iraq. She and her husband, with support from the Legion and the locals, built a memorial to him surrounded by stark black granite tablets engraved with the names of soldiers dead in all these wars.
“Come back to Cumberland this October,” said an older woman smoking mentholated cigarettes in a red, white and blue embroidered sweatshirt. “We’re raising money to add more names and as sad as that is, with the money you give you have a one in 18 chance to win $500 in a raffle.” Telling it all with a smile, she goes on to say that she shared the pot the last time around.
* * *
The train pulls in, the Legion locals wave goodbye and you’re on your way. Looking back, the red brick Legion wall reads, “For God and Country.” And in the Narrows, it is God’s country: the train bends through land lined by creek, rock and homes; mobile homes look like mansions; families play town ball; and an old man in a shotgun house stands proud on display on his porch wearing only a blue Speedo.
Guide note: The Gulf War Memorial is in the form of four black books engraved with the names of all the fallen soldiers in the U.S.’s recent wars. It is located on Gulf Memorial Drive just next to Cumberland’s Amtrak station.   
Words: Tom McNamara; Images: Tom McNamara and Erin Chapman
* * *
Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
Zoom Info

GOD AND COUNTRY – CUMBERLAND, MARYLAND

An American Legion abuts the Amtrak stop in Cumberland, Maryland. Veterans sit and drink beer on a deck they built to watch the trains: a morning and evening Capitol Limited between D.C and Pittsburgh, punctuated by the passing of freight cars.

“This is what we do in Cumberland,” said Kevin, an Air Force vet who spent eight years in Iraq. “We look at the trains go by. There’s a t-shirt we’ve got around here… ‘Allegany County – A good place to live if you don’t have to work.’”

It’s dollar Yuenglings at the Legion. Two-twenty-five pitchers. Kevin has a pitcher. Even in his middle age, he is cut like the Cumberland Narrows that surround him—severe hills shaping a low valley.

“I worked corporate intelligence for 25 years—a private eye. I was all over the place. But I got tired getting shot at,” he said.

How many times were you shot?

“Three times. I was born in Cumberland, now I’m hiding out in Cumberland.”

* * *

On the tracks below the deck is what the drinkers say is the only Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars memorial in the United States. (As it turns out, there’s also a similar memorial in Marseilles, Illinois—the “Middle East Conflicts Wall.”) Kim, with a rock as big as the Ritz on her ring finger, sitting on a picnic table next to Kevin, lost her stepson in Iraq. She and her husband, with support from the Legion and the locals, built a memorial to him surrounded by stark black granite tablets engraved with the names of soldiers dead in all these wars.

“Come back to Cumberland this October,” said an older woman smoking mentholated cigarettes in a red, white and blue embroidered sweatshirt. “We’re raising money to add more names and as sad as that is, with the money you give you have a one in 18 chance to win $500 in a raffle.” Telling it all with a smile, she goes on to say that she shared the pot the last time around.

* * *

The train pulls in, the Legion locals wave goodbye and you’re on your way. Looking back, the red brick Legion wall reads, “For God and Country.” And in the Narrows, it is God’s country: the train bends through land lined by creek, rock and homes; mobile homes look like mansions; families play town ball; and an old man in a shotgun house stands proud on display on his porch wearing only a blue Speedo.

Guide note: The Gulf War Memorial is in the form of four black books engraved with the names of all the fallen soldiers in the U.S.’s recent wars. It is located on Gulf Memorial Drive just next to Cumberland’s Amtrak station.   

Words: Tom McNamara; Images: Tom McNamara and Erin Chapman

* * *

Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.

THE HAIR INDUSTRY - POUGHKEEPSIE, NEW YORK

[Poughkeepsie’s] chief manufacturing concerns are the De Laval Separator Company, producers of cream separators and oil clarifiers, and the Schatz Manufacturing Company, makers of ball bearings. There is one large cigar company, one trousers factory, and two companies producing neckties. Numerous smaller shops make men’s and women’s garments, machine parts, woodwork, cough drops, ice cream, and loose-leaf notebooks.

Dutchess County (WPA, 1937)

At one point, Poughkeepsie was quite a manufacturing hub in New York. These days a few engineering component makers, a woodworking machine maker, and the Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl manufacturing company remain, but industry and commerce ain’t what they used to be.

One thing we do, though, is hair. 

We wash, set, blow dry. We touch up roots. We do color rinses and highlighting and permanent color. We’ve got weaves and wigs. We do West African braiding. We do razor work. We do foil lites and low lites. 

Main Street is the place to get it all. 

Images - Tom McNamara & Erin Chapman; Words - Erin Chapman

* * *

Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of THE AMERICAN GUIDE. They live in Poughkeepsie from whence they send this dispatch for Field Assignment #10 - Products and Manufacturing/Industry.

THE OIL VEIN - SPEARFISH, SOUTH DAKOTA / GLENDIVE, MONTANA

Gold: Men in all ages have lived for it, fought for it, died for it… It was gold that filled the Black Hills with tens of thousands of people drawn from all parts of the country and that gave to the State an impetus which still is felt.

A South Dakota Guide (WPA, 1938)

You could say the same about oil today. Oil: We live for it, fight for it, die for it. It is oil that has filled the not-so-long-ago barren acres of North Dakota—just east of that state’s badlands—with tens of thousands of people drawn from all parts of the country.

The promise of gold in the latter half of the 19th-century made the region. Because after the gold veins stopped bleeding, people stayed and put down roots, even if they stayed only because they didn’t have the means to leave. Yes, there was (and still is) ranching—along with a dogged sense of self-sufficiency—but it was that shot at fortune, and therefore freedom, that gave the Dakotas its frontier spirit. And it’s what’s remaking the region now: the Bakken shale, stretching across 200,000 square miles with the city of Williston at its center, and its promise of 7.4 billion barrels of oil and 6.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

There’s gold in North Dakota.

—SPEARFISH, SOUTH DAKOTA—

Go to the Back Porch bar in Spearfish, South Dakota, and you just might meet Jake, in his big yellow tinted glasses and wild white mustache. Shake his hand and you’ll feel just three fingers in your grip. It’s a ghostly feeling, but one he doesn’t mind letting you experience.

The way Jake tells it, the other two digits were lost working in the oil fields during North Dakota’s last boom in the 1970s and ‘80s. He’s a Texan by birth and after he was discharged from the Army, he asked for a one-way ticket to the Dakotas—a place he’d never been—to follow the promise of work and oil.

He found it. Just not for long. In 1980, the price of oil was a record $40 a barrel. Thousands of workers flooded Williston and nearby Dickinson in North Dakota. But the high energy prices of the 1970s bottomed out and by 1986, the price dropped to $9 a barrel. The New York Times said, “when prices crashed…workers in the small city of Dickinson left the coffee in their cups when they quit their trailers.”

Today, the oil boom is again in Williston and Dickinson. What’s changed is that the price of a barrel of oil is again high and reserves that were previously inaccessible have been made accessible by hydraulic fracturing. First discovered in 1951 with only moderate prospects, the U.S. Geological Survey now calls the Bakken shale foundation the largest continuous oil accumulation it has ever seen.

—GLENDIVE, MONTANA—

There are stories of people coming from all over—as far away as Florida, even—to work the Bakken. On a Friday night about an hour and a half west of the shale in Glendive, Montana, the Beer Jug bar rail is lined with Coors Lite and Miller Lite cans, many claimed by oil workers who spend their days on the other side of the state line.

You start overhearing talk of the Bakken. And when the pyramid of cans is stacked high enough, it’s alright to ask questions. Out here, they might as well say the Bakken is better than Jesus. It’s a savior to a land that hasn’t had much since the last boom went bust. The bar talk is about $40 an hour jobs and an economy that will last 15, maybe 30 years—something to raise a family with.

A recent estimate puts over 40,000 oil industry jobs in North Dakota, plus an additional 18,000 jobs supporting the industry. The state has a three percent unemployment rate and the Williston region is around one percent. When you hear that, you say, “I’m moving to North Dakota.”

But, people out here know what follows the good times. This is a one-generation boom. The children of the workers today will not inherit their parents’ jobs. Many workers don’t even bring their families with them when they come to work the Bakken. So, the infrastructure is in a stasis. Looking at the landscape, investments are made in hotel building, where rooms can run you over $650 a week.

Service jobs are in such demand that McDonald’s pays a starting wage of $15 an hour. Strippers say they can earn more in one night of tips than most Americans take home in pay for a month.

Driving down Interstate 94—right through the Bakken—you ask yourself: what will happen once the region’s population grows 50 percent, as it’s predicted to, in the next 20 years and then disappears in the 20 years after that?

Map Note: “An aerial view of farmland dotted with oil rigs and pumps, near Ray, North Dakota, in 2009. The image is 11 miles across (north is to the left), and the contrast has been boosted to distinguish oil rig pads from farmhouses and natural features. See this region on Google Maps. (© Google, Inc.) (Source: The Atlantic.)

* * *

Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.

STEEL & RIVER - PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - STATION TO STATION

Pittsburgh’s a city of steel and river. Its architecture, its buildings are skeletal: bare like bones. Water flows in, around and through it like blood in veins. The muscle is its people. These elements collide on the North Shore waterfront just outside Heinz Field, home to Steelers football on any given Sunday

There are some 24,000 boats registered in Allegheny County – one for every 13 city residents. And it looks like half of them are there on game day, at the confluence of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers. So while summer holds out — before it gives way to fall and fall succumbs to winter — the water’s colors shift: river gray to Steeler yellow and black.

Today is opening day and most have tied up their boats a week in advance to grab prime real estate. Big screen TVs, generous buffets and coolers of beer line the wharf. Friendly Pittsburghers are quick with a cold one and good words about their city. 

When did you show up?

“Two weeks ago. Started partying around eight this morning, most will be here past dark.” 

What’s the score?

"Doesn’t really matter who wins, as long as I get that white envelope on Tuesday. You know what I’m saying? The numbers."

* * *

Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.

* * *

THE AMERICAN GUIDE is joining STATION TO STATION for a cross-country train ride. Stop: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

 Follow your guide along the rails and see America. [Track A/G’s trip here]  
LAWLESS: LOVING IT AND NOT IN SOUTH FLORIDA
For the traveler—and the local, too—there’s a sort of lawlessness—a coast-to-coast sensation—when you’re in South Florida, below the Lake Okeechobee shoreline.
Our guide—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, published by the WPA in 1939—says it in plain words: “Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.”
And in that new realm, you do whatever the hell it is you want to do. You see it in the faces of those just passing through to the faces of the snowbird, the country cracker, the Miccosukee, the Cuban, the black American—anyone and everyone.
But, it’s not that you’re up to no good if you’re in these parts. No, because down here you’ve either been left to yourself or abandoned outright—something you either fought for and won or fought against and lost. That’s the prettiness and the ugliness of the place.
Just ask our guide: “Throughout more than four centuries, from Ponce de Leon in his caravels to the latest Pennsylvanian in his Buick”—You can throw in Walt Disney, HMO-barons, spring-break bros and hoes, and sub-prime mortgage lenders—”Florida has been invaded by seekers of gold or of sunshine. The result of all of this is a material and immaterial pattern of infinite variety, replete with contrasts, paradoxes, confusions, and inconsistencies.”
"Seekers of gold or of sunshine"—that’s a damn fine line to walk: between the Freedom—with a capital F—that we all seek and the temptations and trappings of its pursuit.
It’s all the “seekers of gold or of sunshine” where that lawless feeling comes from.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE. 
Zoom Info
LAWLESS: LOVING IT AND NOT IN SOUTH FLORIDA
For the traveler—and the local, too—there’s a sort of lawlessness—a coast-to-coast sensation—when you’re in South Florida, below the Lake Okeechobee shoreline.
Our guide—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, published by the WPA in 1939—says it in plain words: “Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.”
And in that new realm, you do whatever the hell it is you want to do. You see it in the faces of those just passing through to the faces of the snowbird, the country cracker, the Miccosukee, the Cuban, the black American—anyone and everyone.
But, it’s not that you’re up to no good if you’re in these parts. No, because down here you’ve either been left to yourself or abandoned outright—something you either fought for and won or fought against and lost. That’s the prettiness and the ugliness of the place.
Just ask our guide: “Throughout more than four centuries, from Ponce de Leon in his caravels to the latest Pennsylvanian in his Buick”—You can throw in Walt Disney, HMO-barons, spring-break bros and hoes, and sub-prime mortgage lenders—”Florida has been invaded by seekers of gold or of sunshine. The result of all of this is a material and immaterial pattern of infinite variety, replete with contrasts, paradoxes, confusions, and inconsistencies.”
"Seekers of gold or of sunshine"—that’s a damn fine line to walk: between the Freedom—with a capital F—that we all seek and the temptations and trappings of its pursuit.
It’s all the “seekers of gold or of sunshine” where that lawless feeling comes from.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE. 
Zoom Info
LAWLESS: LOVING IT AND NOT IN SOUTH FLORIDA
For the traveler—and the local, too—there’s a sort of lawlessness—a coast-to-coast sensation—when you’re in South Florida, below the Lake Okeechobee shoreline.
Our guide—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, published by the WPA in 1939—says it in plain words: “Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.”
And in that new realm, you do whatever the hell it is you want to do. You see it in the faces of those just passing through to the faces of the snowbird, the country cracker, the Miccosukee, the Cuban, the black American—anyone and everyone.
But, it’s not that you’re up to no good if you’re in these parts. No, because down here you’ve either been left to yourself or abandoned outright—something you either fought for and won or fought against and lost. That’s the prettiness and the ugliness of the place.
Just ask our guide: “Throughout more than four centuries, from Ponce de Leon in his caravels to the latest Pennsylvanian in his Buick”—You can throw in Walt Disney, HMO-barons, spring-break bros and hoes, and sub-prime mortgage lenders—”Florida has been invaded by seekers of gold or of sunshine. The result of all of this is a material and immaterial pattern of infinite variety, replete with contrasts, paradoxes, confusions, and inconsistencies.”
"Seekers of gold or of sunshine"—that’s a damn fine line to walk: between the Freedom—with a capital F—that we all seek and the temptations and trappings of its pursuit.
It’s all the “seekers of gold or of sunshine” where that lawless feeling comes from.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE. 
Zoom Info

LAWLESS: LOVING IT AND NOT IN SOUTH FLORIDA

For the traveler—and the local, too—there’s a sort of lawlessness—a coast-to-coast sensation—when you’re in South Florida, below the Lake Okeechobee shoreline.

Our guide—Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, published by the WPA in 1939—says it in plain words: “Florida is at once a continuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm.”

And in that new realm, you do whatever the hell it is you want to do. You see it in the faces of those just passing through to the faces of the snowbird, the country cracker, the Miccosukee, the Cuban, the black American—anyone and everyone.

But, it’s not that you’re up to no good if you’re in these parts. No, because down here you’ve either been left to yourself or abandoned outright—something you either fought for and won or fought against and lost. That’s the prettiness and the ugliness of the place.

Just ask our guide: “Throughout more than four centuries, from Ponce de Leon in his caravels to the latest Pennsylvanian in his Buick”—You can throw in Walt Disney, HMO-barons, spring-break bros and hoes, and sub-prime mortgage lenders—”Florida has been invaded by seekers of gold or of sunshine. The result of all of this is a material and immaterial pattern of infinite variety, replete with contrasts, paradoxes, confusions, and inconsistencies.”

"Seekers of gold or of sunshine"—that’s a damn fine line to walk: between the Freedom—with a capital F—that we all seek and the temptations and trappings of its pursuit.

It’s all the “seekers of gold or of sunshine” where that lawless feeling comes from.

* * *

Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE

ROAD TRIP WITH THE AMERICAN GUIDE 

What: Downtown Literary Festival

Where: Housing Works Bookstore Cafe - NYC

When: Sunday - April 14 - 2:30PM 

Facebook: RSVP

For a visitor to New York City in the 1940s, no guide was more comprehensive than the WPA Guide to New York City, a block-by-block encyclopedia of the neighborhoods, covered by some of the city’s most talented writers. The book was a part of the “American Guide Series,” published by the Federal Writers Project between 1935 and 1943, which encouraged Depression-weary Americans to explore their own backyard.

For our exploration of the American Guide, we’re joined by Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara, creators of the The American Guide Tumblr, which aims to capture the spirit of travel and discovery fostered by the original guide. Also joining us is Gabriel Kahane, composer of Gabriel’s Guide to the 48 States, a suite based on the American Guide, which will have its world premiere at Carnegie Hall on April 27th. Discussion moderated by Michelle Legro of Lapham’s Quarterly.

Guide Note: Follow your guide and hear about 1939’s Lower East Side. See The Bowery, “sinister street of lurid fiction and drama,” and its pawnshops, beer saloons, flophouses and missions. (The Bowery “Salvation” and “Rain” illustrations by Eli Jacobi, WPA.)

* * *

Road Trip With The American Guide is a part of the inaugural Downtown Literary Festival in New York City, from McNally Jackson and Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. It’s a daylong celebration of the literary culture of the city. The festival will take place at both bookstores simultaneously throughout the day on Sunday, April 14, 2013. 

TEN PIN JESUS - SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA
There’s a friendly reminder when you walk into the St. Francis Bowling Center in Saint Paul, Minn., players are asked to “be courteous and respectful to other players by using appropriate, Christian behavior.”
That’s because this is a church basement bowling alley.  
Once common across the Midwest and parts of the Northeast, there are less than 200 church bowling lanes left in America today. German immigrants started building these holy alleys in the 1860s as meeting places and moral refuges for wholesome, after-quitting-time fun (i.e. to keep family breadwinners from blowing their paychecks at the bar).
Most started closing down in the 1980s and ’90s. But, you might be glad to know, some of the church lanes that are left now sell beer.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
Zoom Info
TEN PIN JESUS - SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA
There’s a friendly reminder when you walk into the St. Francis Bowling Center in Saint Paul, Minn., players are asked to “be courteous and respectful to other players by using appropriate, Christian behavior.”
That’s because this is a church basement bowling alley.  
Once common across the Midwest and parts of the Northeast, there are less than 200 church bowling lanes left in America today. German immigrants started building these holy alleys in the 1860s as meeting places and moral refuges for wholesome, after-quitting-time fun (i.e. to keep family breadwinners from blowing their paychecks at the bar).
Most started closing down in the 1980s and ’90s. But, you might be glad to know, some of the church lanes that are left now sell beer.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
Zoom Info
TEN PIN JESUS - SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA
There’s a friendly reminder when you walk into the St. Francis Bowling Center in Saint Paul, Minn., players are asked to “be courteous and respectful to other players by using appropriate, Christian behavior.”
That’s because this is a church basement bowling alley.  
Once common across the Midwest and parts of the Northeast, there are less than 200 church bowling lanes left in America today. German immigrants started building these holy alleys in the 1860s as meeting places and moral refuges for wholesome, after-quitting-time fun (i.e. to keep family breadwinners from blowing their paychecks at the bar).
Most started closing down in the 1980s and ’90s. But, you might be glad to know, some of the church lanes that are left now sell beer.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
Zoom Info
TEN PIN JESUS - SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA
There’s a friendly reminder when you walk into the St. Francis Bowling Center in Saint Paul, Minn., players are asked to “be courteous and respectful to other players by using appropriate, Christian behavior.”
That’s because this is a church basement bowling alley.  
Once common across the Midwest and parts of the Northeast, there are less than 200 church bowling lanes left in America today. German immigrants started building these holy alleys in the 1860s as meeting places and moral refuges for wholesome, after-quitting-time fun (i.e. to keep family breadwinners from blowing their paychecks at the bar).
Most started closing down in the 1980s and ’90s. But, you might be glad to know, some of the church lanes that are left now sell beer.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
Zoom Info
TEN PIN JESUS - SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA
There’s a friendly reminder when you walk into the St. Francis Bowling Center in Saint Paul, Minn., players are asked to “be courteous and respectful to other players by using appropriate, Christian behavior.”
That’s because this is a church basement bowling alley.  
Once common across the Midwest and parts of the Northeast, there are less than 200 church bowling lanes left in America today. German immigrants started building these holy alleys in the 1860s as meeting places and moral refuges for wholesome, after-quitting-time fun (i.e. to keep family breadwinners from blowing their paychecks at the bar).
Most started closing down in the 1980s and ’90s. But, you might be glad to know, some of the church lanes that are left now sell beer.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
Zoom Info
TEN PIN JESUS - SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA
There’s a friendly reminder when you walk into the St. Francis Bowling Center in Saint Paul, Minn., players are asked to “be courteous and respectful to other players by using appropriate, Christian behavior.”
That’s because this is a church basement bowling alley.  
Once common across the Midwest and parts of the Northeast, there are less than 200 church bowling lanes left in America today. German immigrants started building these holy alleys in the 1860s as meeting places and moral refuges for wholesome, after-quitting-time fun (i.e. to keep family breadwinners from blowing their paychecks at the bar).
Most started closing down in the 1980s and ’90s. But, you might be glad to know, some of the church lanes that are left now sell beer.
* * *
Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
Zoom Info

TEN PIN JESUS - SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA

There’s a friendly reminder when you walk into the St. Francis Bowling Center in Saint Paul, Minn., players are asked to “be courteous and respectful to other players by using appropriate, Christian behavior.”

That’s because this is a church basement bowling alley.  

Once common across the Midwest and parts of the Northeast, there are less than 200 church bowling lanes left in America today. German immigrants started building these holy alleys in the 1860s as meeting places and moral refuges for wholesome, after-quitting-time fun (i.e. to keep family breadwinners from blowing their paychecks at the bar).

Most started closing down in the 1980s and ’90s. But, you might be glad to know, some of the church lanes that are left now sell beer.

* * *

Tom McNamara is the co-editor of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.

SUGARLAND

A guide to Harlem, Florida, using Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State (WPA, 1939) as your map. 

You see the sign — Harlemand turn off the Sugarland Highway just past Clewiston. Unless you lived in it, you wouldn’t know Harlem, Florida. You drive up and are introduced by a white church outlined in yellow abutting a graveyard. So many of the structures are white: from the blindingly-so church to the faded, off-white houses up and down the streets. In the cemetery, white cattle egrets strut among the headstones, skittering off when you get too close. 

Your WPA Florida guidebook says Harlem was a settlement established by the transient blacks that worked in the U.S. Sugar Corporation fields. And, in the square-mile wide Harlem skyline, the U.S. Sugar plant is still there. It is the Harlem skyline. You get the feeling it always will be.

Today, the town remains almost all black, half live below the poverty line, and half still work in agriculture.

Florida-born Zora Neale Hurston, in her 1937 book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is quoted by your guide; describing the scene of itinerant pickers in and around Lake Okeechobee, not far from Harlem:

Day by day now, the hordes of workers poured in. Some came limping in with their shoes and sore feet from walking. It’s hard trying to follow your shoe instead of your shoe following you. They came in wagons from way up in Georgia and they came in truck loads from east, west, north and south. Permanent transients with no attachments and tired looking men with their families and dogs in flivvers. All night, all day, hurrying in to pick beans. Skillets, beds, patched up spare inner tubes all hanging and dangling from the ancient cars on the outside and hopeful humanity, herded and hovered on the inside, chugging on to the muck. People ugly from ignorance and broken from being poor.

In Harlem, take out the black glossy SUVs and beat-up pick-ups, imagine half the number of headstones in the church graveyard: sometimes years gone by can still leave things in stasis, just more of the same and the same.

Words - Tom McNamara; Images - Tom McNamara & Erin Chapman

* * *

Tom McNamara and Erin Chapman are co-editors of The American Guide.