Friday, October 28, 2005

Christianity: Flying in the Face of Popular Culture, Part VI

Good Things and Bad Things about American Culture, Part III

The Pioneer Spirit

I love the Pioneer Spirit. I'm a pioneer myself, and I'm not just talking about the busy beard here. I'm a member of the Southern Oregon Historical Society designated as a "Pionner" member since my great-grandmother came on the Oregon Trail as a baby in a basket.

It doesn't start there. Actually, if you go back far enough, there was Daniel Boone's grand parents who came over on one ship or another and settled in the new world. Two generations later, young Daniel was making his way into the vast wilderness of the Wild, Wild West and settling there. They called the place Kentucky. Well about four generations later finds my ancestors in Illinois.

Then about the time that many were beginning to travel along the Oregon Trail, these folks headed into the Wild West and settled in a place called Kansas. From their, the same family sent their son on into the REAL Wild, Wild West: Oregon. Oregon was not even a part of the United States when those first settlers began to come. This great-great uncle of mine became a gold prospector outside of Jacksonville Oregon in the 1850s. Later his family moved from Kansas to a home in the Rogue Valley,
Southern Oregon where they were farmers.

About four different families met there in the Gold Hill, Sams Valley, Jacksonville area. Their daughters and sons married, becoming my great great aunts and uncles.

Some of you know I've been researching "The Old West" - the pioneer expansion of the United States as background material to a novel I'm working on (set in Southern Oregon in the 1850s.) Several things have come to amaze me about these people and how they survived:

Cowboys: For one thing, you watch a lot of cowboy movies, and you think that the old west was nothing but lawlessness and crime. Well it simply isn't true. A person could easily live out his whole life and not see a killing (unlike today when it is constantly shown on TV). One of the most profound things I think about the gold prospectors that came to Southern Oregon is that they were all strangers, and they all came to a lawless land that didn't officially belong to any country and the established law and order! The entered into agreements together as to how they would operate the mines and share the duties. An example for you: someone had to cook, right? But if you cooked you couldn't be out there digging up gold. So they established a rotating schedule where everyone would sometimes have to cook. And on their cooking day, everyone else had to share some of their gold with them - so it ended up working out equitably.

What amazes me is the amazing endurance of these people: the way they created things from nothing. They were incredibly innovative. When they first started west on the Oregon trail, the only gun they had was something that fired one single shot and had to be loaded with gunpowder, a ball, and a tiny bit of cloth. By the time my ancestors were coming to Oregon (on the later wagon trains) Sam Colt had invented his six-shooter, and repeating rifles that you could load several cartridges into were starting to come into being. These things were important back then. You needed a gun because there were wild animals roaming around, and unfriendly indians who would ambush you to steal your horse.

The Pioneer Spirit, I think, continued in American society, and continues to this day. Everyone wants to start his own company: doesn't matter if it is waxing floors, or printing business cards. Everyone wants to innovate and create: look at the web, that has grown up to be this enormous thing: and people do it for no other reward than the reward of creating, the satisfaction of knowing that you MADE something.

Look at the American homeowner today: he works hard to constantly upkeep his house: always improving something, always changing something. And if it isn't his house it's his yard. I've lived among natives in other countries (well, in Russian anyway) and I can tell you, people elsewhere in the world do not have this sort of Pioneer Spirit. They don't come home from a hard day at work, and then work several hours at home the way we do.

Well, unfortunately there is a flip-side. Pride and selfishness can creep in. At one time there was "Manifest Destiny" and the concept empowered many to conquer the New World and bring it into submission (without carefully preserving the natural beauty of all that was there before them.) It still happens today: one man lives in a house and plants beautiful gardens, but in his old age he has to sell it because he cannot keep it up any more. Someone else takes it and paves it all over with a parking lot.

There are other negative things I can say here. I suspect in many ways the Couch Potatoe is slowly conquering the The Pioneer. We are worked so hard at the office that we come home and have little more energy than to pop some frozen dinner into the microwave and turn on the TV. Not a good thing, I think.

Up next: How is it that Christianity flies in the face of popular culture?


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