The Conundrum Of Corn

It’s our most important, profitable, and adaptable crop—the true American staple. But where did it come from?

In 1748 an inquisitive Swede named Peter Kalm, a protégé of the great botanist Linnaeus, came to America to find plants that could be useful in his country. He went around asking questions of everybody about everything. He asked Benjamin Franklin about hardy trees and was told that English walnuts did not survive Philadelphia’s winters. He asked John Bartram, the most knowing botanist in the colonies, about timber and was told that American oaks were not as tough as European.Read more »

George Washington Carver And The Peanut

New Light on a Much-Loved Myth

The election of a peanut-growing President has evoked much journalistic analysis of his rural Southern roots.Read more »

The Social History Of A Singular Fruit

In southern California the orange found a home.

For more than thirty years it stood at the corner of Highland Avenue and Del Rosa Avenue in San Bernardino, California, bordered at the rear by a line of eucalyptus trees and behind that by a thirty-acre grove of fat green trees that joined others in a march to the foothills of the San Bernardino Range. It billed itself as “The World’s Largest Orange Juice Stand,” and perhaps it was. It was big enough—a monstrous globe about sixty feet in diameter, constructed of plaster and chicken wire over a rickety wooden framework and painted a glistening orange.Read more »

Mules

IN THE DELTA

The low-lying Delta—six and a half million acres of land rich with soil left by the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers in flood—was first opened to a cotton-hungry world in the mid-1820’s. The price of cotton was high. The profitable bluff country along the Mississippi had already been pre-empted. Second sons and questing newcomers were pressing for a chance of their own. Read more »

Saving the Longhorns

These hardy Texas beasts with “too much legs, horns, and speed” had long since been replaced by stodgier breeds. Now they were facing extinction…

If you are someone who thought the Texas longhorn was as dead as the passenger pigeon, here is a bit of news. At one time closer to extinction than the buffalo ever was, this historic breed is again doing quite well, thanks to a few dedicated cattlemen who recognized the debt owed by the Southwest to the millions of longhorn beeves that plodded up the Chisholm and Western trails to Kansas and Nebraska railheads in the two decades following the Civil War and brought a large measure of prosperity to the impoverished Lone Star State. Read more »

Charlie Russell’s Lost West

Charles Marion Russell, born outside St. Louis, in Oak Hill, Missouri, of a locally prominent family in 1864, came west to Montana Territory four days short of his sixteenth birthday. Charlie Russell, the “Cowboy Artist,” died there in Great Falls forty-six years later, in 1926.Read more »

The Late, Late Frontier

What started as fun and games at spring roundups is now a multi-million-dollar sport called rodeo

The crowd roars. The bell clangs. The chute gate swings wide and a beleaguered animal dashes into the arena to put on an exciting exhibition of pain and panic.

The rodeo is presented as a colorful epic of the cattle industry in the days of the Chisholm Trail, evoking the sturdy moral values of frontier life or, as the Pendleton (Oregon) Round-Up recently rephrased the idea, “Four Big Days of Fun in the Ol’ West.” But what is rodeo, really? Read more »

“We Are Going To Do Away With These Boys …”

The black laborers on John Williams’ plantation never seemed to leave or complain. It took some digging to find out why

Out of the ashes and ruins of the Civil War the shadow of slavery once more crept over the South. Even while some southern Negroes tried to achieve political power, civil rights, and personal security during Reconstruction, many laborers became mired in the quicksand of debt. Booker T.

The Deadly Dust: The Unhappy History Of DDT

Everyone knows a little about the rise and fall of DDT—how it was once hailed as a great boon to mankind; how useful it was in field and garden, house and yard; and how at last to our dismay it was unmasked as a killer, the chemical Al Capone, a threat to our environment and possibly our very existence. Everyone knows that the federal and state governments are acting to end the DDT menace, saving us, if narrowly, from disaster. We can breathe easy again. . . . Or can we? Read more »