Easygoing Guide to Natural Florida; Volume 2, Central Florida by Douglas Waitley. Pineapple Press, paper 2008.

Easygoing Guide to Natural Florida; Volume 2, Central Florida by Douglas Waitley. Pineapple Press, paper 2008.

Douglas Waitley has, indeed, provided us with an easy-does-it guide to Florida’s wonderful and accessible natural areas. That does not mean, however, that he is easygoing in his opinions, which are presented to us in large doses. He gets around in his car, avoids overnight camping and arduous hikes. He boards riverboats rather than paddling a canoe. He notes that cyclists are interested in speed, not terrain. Mostly traveling alone, he gets into one-on-one conversations with the solitary fishermen that he encounters. Or birdwatchers.

Next to fishermen, birdwatchers constitute the largest audience for his often contrary remarks. He talked with a woman who had been watching a hawk fishing and voiced her admiration for this aggressive bird. Waitley’s dry response to her exuberance: “What about the fish?”

The first half of the book finds him at the headwaters of the St. Johns River, where he contemplates this largely managed river and the chain of lakes which it drains. Much of the area is in the Ocala National Forest, east and south of Ocala. Several magnificent springs feed the St. Johns its waters, via the Ocklawaha River. The St. Johns is perhaps the most “historic” of Florida’s rivers. It saw action in the Civil War, participated in the cattle business, and later the cotton economy. Its fresh waters have been the cause of many a squabble over water rights.

Much of the area was logged in the early part of the last century, and the forests that Waitley admires are mostly second growth. Exotic flora and fauna are a major problem; “suburban estates” are a relatively recent exotic. But the original biodiversity of the swamps and drier areas is recovering. He admires the mix of longleaf pines, turkey oaks, and wiregrass. Lots of water birds and indigenous mammals, including the black bear, are coming back – despite the fragmentation of the forests. There is a continuing threat of wild fires, usually caused by lightening.

The St Johns acquired a tourist industry in the early twentieth century. President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corp and the Works Progress Administration acquired land and built infrastructure to facilitate that use. The pleasantly quaint structures are now serving as visitor centers

More recently the proposal for a Cross Florida Barge Canal threatened to alter the Ocklawaha and other tributaries of the St. Johns. Begun in the 1930s during the New Deal, the Canal’s construction was halted during WWII. Fortunately the Canal never happened thanks to The Florida Defenders of the Environment. But we still have the Kirkpatrick Dam, part of the Canal’s infrastructure, and hence their continuing demand that we “Set the Ocklawaha Free.”

On to the “Nature Coast,” beginning at Tampa Bay. Waitley has crossed over a peninsular “divide,” a central “highland” that results in the St. Johns and its tributaries flowing north into the Atlantic, while another set of rivers on the west side of the Florida peninsula flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida’s Gulf Coast is a product of its salt marshes which dominate the mouths of its rivers, the Withlacoochee and the Suwannee. The Gulf does not provide waves, hence no sandy beaches. The Big Bend’s most prominent vegetation are the mangrove swamps. Its bays shelter several good-sized mammals: the porpoise (dolphin) and the manatee. The marshes are the winter habitat for migratory birds. This region is looked after by the Southwest Water Management District called Swiftmud.

Cedar Key is perhaps the most interesting of the Gulf’s coastal towns. This and adjoining keys lost their cedar trees, harvested to be used as railroad ties. After the adoption of creosote, cedar railroad ties were phased out. Cedar was a common ingredient in lead pencils and Cedar Key continued to be a manufacturing town. It was also a port city, being the terminus of a railroad from its wharfs to Fernandina, on the Atlantic Ocean side. The Key’s mangrove swamps are recovering nicely from a hard freeze 30 years ago.

Leaving the salt marshes and driving north and east brings the motorist into Gainesville and the nearby Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park and Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The Devil’s Millhopper is a huge sink hole, the result of Florida being on a limestone shelf that is vulnerable to salt water intrusion and collapse, in this case centuries ago. The Prairie is the remains of a large, shallow lake. It played a role in the establishment and then demise of the region’s citrus industry.

Waitley pays relatively little attention to the Seminoles or other Native Americans, the invasion of their lands by white agriculturalists and their slave workforce. Nor does he mention East Florida and West Florida, chunks of the Spanish New World along the Gulf Coast.

I’ll take Douglas Waitley’s Easygoing Guide to Natural Florida with me when I explore the various State Parks and Preserves. The parks are a wonderful resource, and damn it, not to be swallowed up by coastal condominiums and golf courses.

Cattle Kingdom; The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton. Harcourt, 2017.

Cattle Kingdom; The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton. Harcourt, 2017.

Some years ago the eminent historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, located the closing of the American land frontier in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Christopher Knowlton has made a similar declaration to explain the history of the ‘cattle frontier’. Cattlemen were exploiting the grass lands of the Great Plains to fatten their cattle. The US investing community saw opportunities and bought up huge parcels of ranchland being used for grazing. The construction of trans-continental railroads and cow towns along their right-of-way facilitated the growth of the ‘kingdom.’ Eventually the cattle kingdom reached its environmental limits.

Knowlton includes a colorful description of these cow towns and their institutions, their saloons, ramshackle hotels, and retailers that supplied the cowboys with their needs. The most famous cow towns were Dodge City and Abilene in Kansas and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

It was impractical to ship livestock in cattle cars for long distances, so the cattle were converted into beef steak and then transported. That in turn required refrigerated railroad cars. Chicago, where those cross-continental rail lines terminated, became the center of a meat-packing industry.

Not just US investors got involved. English and Scottish nobility were intrigued by the cattle business, entertained by the lore of the cattle drive and the cowboy it fashioned. The cattle kingdom offered employment and adventure for their younger sons. (Winston Churchill’s father had tried his hand at herding cattle on the Great Plains.)

These European nobles joined young males from prominent US families hoping to prove their manly virility. Theodore Roosevelt had some fun playing cowboy “out west”. In 1884, he interrupted his political career, bought a ranch in the Dakotas, and took on a cattleman persona. He learned the hard way about the perils of the business; a severe freeze in the winter of 1886-87 devastated his herd.

Most ‘cowboys’ were hard-up for employment and the cattle business, though seasonal, was an opportunity. The required skill-set was minimal. The would-be cowboys tended to specialize: shooters or skinners, cooks in charge of the chuck wagons, wranglers who looked after the saddle horses.

The Western prairie had not always been as “empty” as it appeared in the last decades of the nineteenth century. It was empty only because of the slaughter of the vast bison (buffalo) herds for their hides, long exploited by Native Americans. Recreational hunters joined in the decimation. A motivation not acknowledged at the time was to rid the plains of the bison and its population of migratory Indian tribes, creating that empty space that the cattle industry could exploit.

While Knowlton acknowledges the gun violence of these cattle towns, he contends that they were no more violent than the eastern seaboard cities. The problem was law enforcement. In the absence of a working justice system, there were numerous “necktie occasions.” Cattle rustlers and horse thieves were the most common offenders that were strung up, usually without a legal procedure.

Although the cowboys did not normally go around armed, there were armed confrontations generated by feuds between homesteaders and small ranch owners vs. the owners of the large spreads and the gangs they employed to keep order, including Pinkerton Detectives.

Perhaps the most violent episode in the years of the cattle business on the Great Plains was the Johnson County War in Wyoming. Knowlton describes in some detail the feud between one group of wealthy ranch owners associated with the Wyoming Stockowners Association headquartered in Cheyenne and another group, mostly smaller ranchers, challenging their dominance. The former accused the latter of cattle and horse theft. There were several impromptu hangings and shootouts by hired gunmen out of Texas. Eventually a unit of cavalry from Fort McKinney near present-day Buffalo, Wyoming was sent in to quell the violence. The story of the War was later retold in a novel published in 1902 by Owen Wister entitled The Virginian.

Knowlton acknowledges that the Johnson County War may have had environmental elements as well. The overgrazing of the Great Plains in these years had pitted ranchers against ranchers. He also suggests that the disappearing cattle may have been the result of the revival of the gray wolf.

Cattle Kingdom; The Hidden History of the Cowboy West explains a good deal of the standard plot of the ‘Western’ book genre that my dad’s generation enjoyed.  That cavalry sent out to quell disturbances pictured in many a Western film thrilled my generation of youthful movie goers in the 1950s and 1960s.



Empire of Cotton A Global History by Sven Beckert. Vintage, paper 2015.

Empire of Cotton; A Global History by Sven Beckert. Vintage, paper 2015.

Sven Beckert’s history of the cotton trade contends that the production of cotton yarn and cloth was one of man’s greatest accomplishments. For almost a millennium, cotton production was the world’s most important manufacturing industry. And for most of that time, raw cotton was the most valuable agricultural commodity as well. Critics of Empire of Cotton believe, however, that Beckert has understated the negative side of cotton production: the expropriation of land from indigenous peoples, exhaustion of the soil, and the enslavement of an agricultural workforce. On the other hand, he gives due credit to the manufacturing regions and country-sides that pioneered the cotton economy.

There are four different species of cotton. Gossypium hirsutum or “upland cotton” is Mesoamerican in origin; it represents 95% of the cotton crop grown in the US. It is the best species both in terms of the length and uniformity of its fiber. Cotton will grow where there are two hundred frost-free days.

Manchester was the initial location of England’s spinning and weaving mills, and England dominated the cotton trade for the fifty years between 1775 and 1825. The enclosure movement in England and Scotland had created a class of landless labor that could then be recruited by the cotton mills. And without any overwhelming loss of agricultural productivity.

Cotton production has always been associated with technological ingenuity. The most frequently mentioned example is the development of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in the 1790s. His machine drastically reduced the workforce needed to prepare the cotton for the spinning process. And many small adjustments and improvements in the machinery kept improving productivity at little extra cost. “British tinkering,” Beckert calls it.

Britain then became the major source for machinery. Falling water was the first form of energy that ran the machinery in these humongous mills. Later steam power.

Britain did not grow the cotton that it used in its mills. The New World dominated raw cotton production, the American South, Mexico, and Peru in particular. The growth of British sea power and its empire can be explained by this need to connect cotton growing with manufacturing.

Cotton production came to a screeching halt during the American Civil War, 1861 to 1863 and the resulting ‘cotton famine’ produced a scramble for cotton and an effort to find both a new labor force and suitable lands for growing cotton. Eventually Southern planters worked out an arrangement called sharecropping and a set of social-racial arrangements that became Jim Crow. Land was made available for this cotton production by the removal of Native Americans from regions west of the Mississippi. Confiscation!

There is a strong relationship between the success of the cotton economy and the expansion of European colonies into Asia and Africa. It was, Beckert argues, the continuing demand for raw cotton that shaped Britain’s colonial expansion. The British Empire in India is the best example of this connection. The manufacture of cotton yarn had long been a cottage industry and successful as an export sector.  Most generally the work of women in their cottages.

In the 1890s an Indian mill sector established itself, concentrated in Ahmedabad and Bombay (Mumbi) in western India. The spread of the milling sector eventually led to competition with India’s home-spun cottons both exports and local consumption. Nothing was done; the Government of India believed in the dictates of the market place. But more to the point, it would be inopportune to levy duties on British cotton cloth.

The Government of India was less willing, however, to stand aside and watch Japanese cotton cloth undermine local production. The Brits also felt it necessary to cultivate the Bombay Millowner’s Association. In the 1930s they decided to impose a duty on cotton imports from Japan to protect the Indian machine industry. It was done under the pretext of cotton production being an infant industry.

One of the most interesting aspects about the Indian market is the way in which it utilized traditional institutions within caste and kinship networks for capital mobilization. Entrepreneurs were drawn from Eurasian diaspora communities: Armenians, Parsees, Georgians, Jews, and in India: banias, chettis, Muslim merchants, and British East India Company employees.

Perhaps the most unsavory aspect of the cotton economy in the nineteenth century was the importance of child labor in the workforce.  The largest number of workers in Britain were in the age range of ten to eighteen. Very young girls and boys and unmarried women lived in dormitories associated with a mill. This first industrial force was mobile. Absenteeism was high. Shifts were as long as eleven hours.

Cotton cloth overwhelmed other fabrics, woolens, linens, and silk. We are now experiencing the replacement of cottons by polyesters.

Hitler’s American Model; The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law by James Q. Whitman. Princeton University, Press, 2017.

Hitler’s American Model; The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law by James Q. Whitman. Princeton University, Press, 2017.

The Nuremberg Laws were drawn up in the first years of the National Socialist Government in Germany. The inspiration for Nazi racial law was, James Whitman claims, was the racial regime in the US. In particular, Adolf Hitler admired the segregation in the public schools in the South, in transportation, restrooms, and even drinking fountains. The Nazi lawyers that drew up the earliest version of the Nuremburg Laws were, however, more interested in our interest in the “science of eugenics,  immigration law, and our decades-old success at pushing Native Americans out of tribal lands. The latter they found comparable to the Nazi geopolitical goal of lebensraum.

Provisions in American immigration laws were aimed at the feeblemindedness and other inheritable diseases. Strains of the American pseudo-science of eugenics and German racial murder.

Our exclusion of immigrants on the basis of race, ethnicity, and religion dated back to the early years of the Republic. But the U.S. Immigration Act of 1924 clarified what had long been a series of federal and state laws, based on a percentage of the number of immigrants of that nationality that were already living here, 2%. That favored Immigrants from Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia, and Germany. It penalized immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, and particularly, Italians, Russians and Polish Jews. Our National Origins and Asian Exclusion Acts excluded all Chinese and Japanese immigrants from the West Coast and Hawaii, mostly at the urging of Californians concerned about the “yellow peril”.

Perhaps the Nazi Party official most responsible for the Nuremberg Laws and the interest in American models was the Nazi Minister of Justice, Franz Gürtner. He had been an early enthusiast for the National Socialist Party and had secured Hitler’s release from prison after his arrest for participation in the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. Yet he argued for borrowing carefully from the American judicial practice. It was based on a longer tradition of liberal legal traditions with which he and his fellow jurists disagreed. He admired the independence of the American judiciary, but dubious of the harshness of our criminal law.

On the other hand, Gürtner found our separation of the US population into two categories, Caucasian and non-Caucasian, would have been far too simplistic for Germany. Whitman points out that the creation of a German race law must take into account the presence of substantial Jewish populations in eastern Germany. That was not an issue in the US.

The Nuremberg Laws had first to define the ethnic category “Jew.” Germans had lived amongst other ethnic groups for centuries, and found America’s “one-drop” rule impossible. In Germany you were deemed to be a Jew if either of your parents were Jewish or descended from two fully Jewish grandparents. Or, and this had nothing to do with ethnicity or race, if you belonged to a Jewish community or subsequent to the legislation were to marry into a Jewish family.

While the Germans who drew up the Nuremberg Laws found the legal and social structure of our Jim Crow South to be close to what they hoped to create, they were less admiring of the liberal outlook of the Amreican legal system in general. The US had many social-political arrangements that had matured over the decades and were worthy of German emulation. But the reverse was not so much the case. By the mid-1930s, there was considerable street violence in German cities which was abhorrent to most Americans.

In many ways German jurists believed our race laws to be “harsher” than theirs. For example the Germans were, even then, struck by the harshness of our criminal law and particularly our treatment of repeat offenders.

Wisely Whitman is careful not to exaggerate this, but Germans were, he reports, taken with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and its similarity to the German success in easing the severe depression with which both countries were contending. While there were no doubt more differences that congruencies between the two socio-economic programs, both involved authoritarian elements in their relief programs.

James Whitman’s Hitler’s American Model; The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law tells the story of forty-five Nazi lawyers put on a luxury ocean liner in September 1935 bound for the US on a “study trip” to look firsthand at the structure of American racial law. By the time it arrived at our shores, things were chaotic, and no doubt these German Nazi lawyers welcomed a return to the ‘order’ that the National Socialists brought to Germany.


Fear Itself; The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Kra Katznelson. Liveright, paper, 2014.

Fear Itself; The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Kra Katznelson. Liveright, paper, 2014.

Kra Katznelson’s book looks at the New Deal, including both the Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman Administrations, a twenty-two year span dominated by Democratic control of both Houses. He admires both Presidents but does not fail to mention their omissions. “Fear Itself” is taken from FDR’s inaugural address in 1933, “[The] only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

The author’s grand theme is the importance of the Southern Democrats in forming the New Deal. Its essential support in those years explains FDR’s unwillingness to take on its social system: Jim Crow involved white supremacy, a restrictive franchise, and racial segregation. The ‘solid South’ also opposed the international role that the Roosevelt-Truman Administrations resolved to play in World War II and its aftermath.

One criticism of Fear Itself is that Katznelson doesn’t discuss the Hoover Administration, its efforts to deal with the country’s massive unemployment prior to 1932 and the role that the alliance of Southern Democrats played in limiting Hoover’s response to the Depression. Roosevelt understood that revitalizing the national economy and rebuilding our armed forces in the face of German aggression would include a huge increase in military spending. that greater federal efforts to restore the economy would require a larger bureaucracy. Hence the construction of the Pentagon building in 1941-1943.

Not only did the Southern Democrats shape American response to depression and war, they were also able to shape racial policy during the New Deal. The new Pentagon was a segregated building as were most federal office space. The Armed Services also remained segregated throughout both world wars. Truman ordered their integration in 1948 at the beginning of his second term.

But African-Americans served in our segregated army and hence should be given the opportunity to vote. “Ballots for Soldiers” would seem to have been a given. Yet federal intervention to expand the franchise threatened Jim Crow. Katznelson points out that there were difficulties involved in facilitating voting by soldiers stationed overseas. Also voter registration in the South was in the hands of local and state officials. Collecting the poll tax, common in the South, could not be part of any federal initiative.  Roosevelt’s solution was to create a simple federal ballot, but leaving its administration in the hands of those state and local officials

Historians talk of two New Deals, the First New Deal (1933-1935) involved an array of federal interventions into the American capitalist economy. Those first hundred days of the Roosevelt Administration have become a model for nearly all subsequent pro-active Administrations.

The Second New Deal (1935 to 1941) was in part the result of the Southern Democrats and their continuing “veto” as a restraint on a federal response to the Depression. (FDR was also having difficulty getting his legislation through court challenges.) However the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the passage of the Civilian Conservation Corps got past the Southern “veto.” Both authorized relief programs that employed unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 25.  The camps were segregated and the benefits to African-Americans fewer. The CCC was perhaps the most popular measure of the Second New Deal, and many of its projects are still around for everyone to enjoy.

Americans watched while fascist regimes triumphed in both Italy and Germany. We felt comparatively safe from European entanglements, oceans protecting us. From a distance the US could admire the Italian and German regimes addressed their own troubled economies in ways not open to a capitalist democracy.

We were divided over Roosevelt’s isolationist position. The various Neutrality Acts passed in 1930s were intended to ensure that the US would not become entangled in European conflict.

Roosevelt found ways, however, to support Britain, most notably the Lend Lease Act. War materiel from destroyers to machine guns were supplied on credit in exchange for bases on various islands within the British Empire – Destroyers for Bases. In the meantime we began our own rearmament efforts. This time the South was not left behind with the industrial surge resulting from that war production.

The fear of which Roosevelt spoke in his first inaugural was the result of economic collapse. We now feared German submarines sinking American merchant ships in the North Atlantic. We had no German bombers dropping their loads on our cities, or American boys dying on the battlefield. But we anguished as the British cities were bombed repeatedly and the Russians lost millions of young men on the Eastern Front. In 1941 we entered World War II.

Several final chapters discuss the anxiety of atomic warfare in the late 1940s. Looking back, it seems to have been an effort to keep the nation mobilized for a prolonged ‘cold war’ with the Soviet Union. 1952 is a good year to end the story that Ira Katznelson tells. General Dwight Eisenhower’s two presidential terms provided a different set of fears and anxieties. Who can forget the grade school drills when we crouched under our desks fearing an atomic attack?