Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Looking back at your vocation. If it were a century ago, would you be doing it?

I know that I wouldn't.  At least I think I wouldn't.

Which puts me into sort of an odd situation vis-à-vis the purported purpose of this blog.But its something worth considering in general for the folks who like to ponder such "what ifs".

We claim, after all, this blog to be about the following:

Lex Anteinternet?

I started practicing law in 1990 after having graduated from the University of Wyoming's College of Law that May.  But I only entered the law school as an intended career in geology didn't work out.  Having said that, as I've noted here before, I had it in mind (thanks, I guess, Jon Brady), prior to that.  Indeed, all the way back when I was in Casper College.

But would I have done that in 1917?

I very much doubt it.

Which puts my central protagonist, assuming that I'm incorporating some of my own experiences in the work, which I now know will require my retirement in order for me to finish, in an odd position.

If it were 1917, rather than 2017, I could still homestead. And frankly, that's likely what I would have done.

 Canadian homestead, 1917.

Now, I realize that's an easy thing for a person to say.  After all, if you look at photos of homesteads in 1917 (although not the very nice one above), a lot of them were dirt poor.  Indeed, they were so poor that even the dirt was richer.

Okay, now I'm exaggerating, particularly about 1917.  World War One was actually the height for American (and Canadian. . . and Australian) homesteading. The big spat in  Europe had a lot to do with that and people were getting rich from farming, which was a rarity.  Having said that, up until 1919 American farmers tended towards economic parity with people in urban areas. They never have since that year.

But it's not the money that would have attracted me.  It would have been the independent outdoor life.

That's all but impossible now.  

You can't homestead, obviously, and you likely can't buy enough land to be a working rancher.  If you can, that's because you are rich.  And I'm not.

So that's a career field, on a full time basis, fully closed to me and to most people.  

But I've always been cognizant of having that outdoor yearning.  And its one of the ironies of my being a lawyer.  It's an indoor occupation.  Perhaps that's been why I've always been keener on site visits and the like than other lawyers I know.  It gets me out there (which isn't the only reason or even the conscious reason I do it).  So I'd have homesteaded.

I know some families here whose ranches started in this era.  Indeed, I once knew one such homesteader.  He was a soldier in World War One and came out, right after the war, and homesteaded.  He ranched with his son (World War Two U.S. Navy) who never married.  His sister inherited the place and now one of his nieces runs it.  It's quite small, but its a beautiful place.  I used to hunt deer there every year.

An accountant I once sort of knew had a similar story.  His father had taken a train while on leave, while in the U.S. Navy, during World War One, to Natrona County Wyoming, and he filed on a homestead. Rather obviously, by the time he got back to his Navy base he was AWOL, but apparently that was forgiven.  That place became a combined farm/ranch.

Now, there are other outdoor occupations.  I considered, for example, becoming a Game Warden.  At least one other lawyer I know is appalled by this suggestion, even though he considered it himself. A European immigrant, he's fully of the mind that a contemplate person has, as options, careers in the clergy and the law and that's just a crazy concept on my part.  But it is an outdoor career.  At least one other practicing lawyer I know started off in that direction as well.  I did focus on that for a time, and my chance to work for the Game & Fish came after I was already a  practicing lawyer and engaged, and the poor pay deterred me as a responsible, soon to be married man (perhaps my European friend is right).  Still, I tinge with envy every time I see that Game Warden Green truck in the field.

Game Wardens existed in my state in 1917, but there weren't very many of them and their job was pretty darned tough and dangerous.  The job appealed to me when I was in my 20s (heck, it appeals to me now) but it likely would not have in 1917.

Of course, going back to agriculture, a person could work as a full time cowboy in 1917, and you still can in 2017.  For some reason, however, except when I was right out of high school, that line of work isn't something I would have been likely to do in this era, or probably a century ago.  I love ranching, but I probably would not have liked ranching or farming for somebody else.  Indeed, John K. Rollinson, who left two really good written accounts of life in Wyoming around the turn of the prior century, went down this trail and left it.  Coming into Wyoming as a runaway from his home in Buffalo, New York, he worked for the Two Bar and other ranches until becoming a Federal ranger in the Yellowstone Timber Reserve in 1907.  He worked that steady job, but with a massive region to patrol, for several years until going to work for the Painters at a dude ranch. Finding that he wanted to marry the ranchers daughter, which was complicated by a series of things, and feeling that he could never afford to ranch himself, he pulled up stakes and relocated to California where he became a patent medicine salesman, a position he occupied until his death.

So, as we can see, things don't always work out.  Rollinson's range legacy is made up of his books. But in terms of work, he worked in the second half of his life in a completely different occupation, finding the doors he hoped would be open, one of which I'm citing as something that was open in 1917, to be closed.

That may have been because homesteading was expensive.

So maybe that too is unrealistic on my part.  Some successful homesteaders spent years acquiring the assets to get a start.  Others didn't seem to.  Many failed.  I'm pretty cautious.  I could see myself starting out in something else with the idea that I'd start homesteading and then never get around to it.

Maybe I would have started down that geologist track and have made it work.  In 1917, the Wyomign oil patch was booming.

Of course, it's booming in 2017 and I am a geologist by training (but I have no license, something that came in later), so I'd really have to look at 1886 to determine what I would have done with that, or indeed with any career. Would I have pursued geology in the early 1880s?  That strikes me as unlikely.  And I frankly don't know how much work there was for a geologist in the 1880s, for that matter.

Oil strike, Oil City Pennsylvania, 1880s.

I suspect that being a soldier would have appealed to me in the 1880s, and it still does now for that matter. The difference is that soldiers moved around less at the time then they do now.  That's the part of being a serviceman that deterred me from entering that field.  I don't like moving much, or at all. For that matter, I'm very provincial and Wyoming is my home.  I likely would have had similar views at the time.

1886 or so would have been right before the close of the Frontier Era.  So its odd to think that, if I had done that, I'd have still been serving in 1917, but I would have.  Older officers of World War One, by which I mean men in their 50s (and they were all men) had started their service before the Frontier was closed, had seen service during the Spanish American War, had served in the Philippines, probably, and then closed out their careers with the Great War.  That is a lot of moving. Maybe that's not that different from now.

Maj. Gen. Harry C. Hale, commander of the Army's 84th Division, during World War One. He'd entered the service in 1884 and had demonstrated great heroism in 1890 by entering a camp of Sitting Bull's, decked out for war, alone to discuss their coming in.  We don't tend to think of the officers who lead the American Army during World War One as having cut their teeth in the Frontier Army, but the older ones did.

Of course, there were a whole range of jobs that existed in 1917 that do not now.  Jobs like farriers were once common, for example.  I'd likely not have done that, but I have always found their work to be interesting.  Another one that existed were market hunters and trappers.  The elimination of market game hunting is correctly seen as a real triumph in the conservation movement, and a great thing for the average hunter, and I'm glad of that, but in 1917 that profession may very well have called to me.  I love hunting.  Of course, by my current age, 54, I'd likely have to be looking for retirement from it as its days were closing out. And there was never that much of it in Wyoming, frankly.

There were full time "wolfers" here, however.  Those were men who were employed, often by the Federal Government, in hunting wolves.  They lived out on the range in sheepwagons and devoted their lives to that. While some now would find looking at that romantically as hopelessly odd, for some of us it doesn't seem that way.  Indeed, while a law student employed to research the topic of wolf reintroduction in Wyoming (which hadn't yet been done) I learned about wolfers and was fascinated by their job.  I remain fascinated by it.  I can actually see myself having done that, living in wolf hunting poverty.

Wolfer, North Dakota, 1904.

Or so says I.  Animal Damage Control still exists and I'm not working for them.  Indeed, Federal and county trappers are still around, but I'm not one.

Trapping, I should note, as a market enterprise was still a big thing a century ago and would be for a long time thereafter.  There were full time trappers at least up until World War Two.  Now, save for the far North, that's pretty much a thing of the past.

Native trapper, early 20th Century.

Of course, there are a lot of jobs that people occupy today that didn't exist a century ago.  Those of you occupying them would have had to have done something else, like it or not. What would that have been?  Give us your thoughts (please).

And women, of course, had a lot of doors closed to them a century ago.  There were a few, but very few, women lawyers.   There were only a few women doctors. Even female secretaries were brand new at the time.  Most women worked in their homes, or their parents homes, like that or not.  Women did work, of course, and in all classes, but most working women were likely from the poorer classes and employed in roles that few would wish to do today. . . save for those who remain in that class and occupy those roles for the same reason their ancestors in occupation did in 1917.

Well, I'm still think the homesteading thing would have called.  How about for you?


Anonymous said...

It's fascinating to think about what our careers might have been in a different era. I enjoyed the old pictures.

Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...