"The Great Columbia Plain: A Historical Geography",
A review by Carroll Quigley in Georgetown Today Vol. --, No. -- (197x),
of a book:
The Great Columbia Plain: A Historical Geography,
by D. W. Meinig. University of
Washington Press, 1968.
"The Great Columbia Plain: A Historical Geography"
The Great Columbia Plain: A Historical Geography
by Donald W. Meinig
University of Washington Press, 1968,
The Great Plain of the Columbia is a barren, distorted triangle,
about 250 miles on each side, intruding into the three states of Oregon, Idaho,
and Washington. It is the meeting place of numerous rivers, including the
Columbia, the Snake, the Yakima, Spokane, Kootenay, and others, which flow at
the bottom of deep canyons far below the parched surface of the plain.
The earliest explorers, trappers, and migrants regarded it as a
worthless desert, to be crossed as quickly as possible, en route from the high
plains on the east to the drenched forests of the Cascade Mountains on the west.
Yet, in the course of the century 1810-1910, men's ideas of this
territory were transformed from the picture of an inhospitable and useless
desert to recognition of its value as an area of almost unbelieveable
productivity and apparently inexhaustible fertility for wheat farming. The story
of how that came about is the subject of this long book. It is a fascinating
story told with skill and great scholarship by this talented young geographer.
This work deals with an area that is unique, but, nonetheless,
shows the history of the American frontier in a way which illuminates the
history of our country as a whole. Meinig describes the process of development,
stage by stage, from the early explorers (in this case, Lewis and Clark),
through the eras of the trappers, the missionaries, the soldiers, the
prospectors and miners, the cattlemen, the farmers, the railroaders, and,
finally, the traders, townspeople, and scientists.
Much of what Meinig tells is of more than local interest,
especially such matters as the perennial problem of relations with the Indians,
the recurring triumph of political considerations over economic or technological
ones in the development of the West, the vital role played by communications and
transport, and the urge for quick profits which jeopardized any natural or
rational development of the available resources.
I remember Donald Meinig (FS’48) more than twenty years ago, as an
outstanding student and a fine gentleman. He went on to take advanced degrees in
geography and now is a professor of geography at Syracuse University. This is
his second book, and an outstanding example it is of high-level intelligence
combined with impressive research and a broad educational background.
Professor of History