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Natale Zappia

Revolutions in the Grass:

Energy and Food Systems in
Continental North America,

This article draws connections between the political revo-
lutions of the Atlantic World and the equally powerful envi-
ronmental revolutions occurring in North America between
1763 and 1848. The political-economic transformations that
shook coastal cities also reverberated in the reorganization
of food production and indirectly grass consumption, re-
vealing deep interconnections between imperial objectives,
continental land use practices, and the emergence of a
global food system. Understanding the critical role of non-
human actors, including grass and herbivores, reveals
deeper relationships shared between early modern politi-
cal, cultural, and environmental history.

C The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American
Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved.
For permissions, please e-mail:
*The title of this article is inspired by the recent work of Pekka Hämäläinen, who
has challenged historians to look more closely at the relationship of grass to
Indigenous political-economy. See “The Politics of Grass: European Expansion,
Ecological Change, and Indigenous Power in the Southwest Borderlands,” William
and Mary Quarterly 67 (April 2010): 173–208.

Natale Zappia, “Revolutions in the Grass: Energy and Food Systems in Continental
North America, 1763–1848,” Environmental History 21 (2016): 30–53
doi: 10.1093/envhis/emv117
Advance Access Publication Date: 22 October 2015

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Revolutions in the Grass 31

No exaggeration can convey the aptness of these provinces

for the raising and maintaining of all kinds of livestock. It
can be shown that without the livestock exported from these
provinces to the viceroyalty of Mexico, neither its inhabi-
tants nor its great mining operations could subsist.

—José Cortés, Lieutenant in the Royal Corp of Engineers,

Report on the Northern Provinces of New Spain, 1799

In 1799 as the Atlantic World convulsed amid numerous political,
economic, and scientific revolutions, José Cortés observed in aston-
ishment a region completely dominated by herbivores. Antelope, elk,
buffalo, cattle, sheep, mules, and horses all grazed over millions of
square acres.1 As a lieutenant in New Spain’s Royal Corp of Engineers
charged with surveying a remote corner of Spain’s crumbling overseas
empire, Cortés reported the rise of Indigenous pastoralists who raised
livestock: “But what better proof could be offered than to observe in
some of the northern frontier lands numerous herds of wild horses,
vast and lovely plains covered with buffalo, and an extreme abun-
dance of every kind of game, large and small, which sustain so many
Indian nations?”2
As an “age of revolutions” shook both sides of the Atlantic between
the Seven-Years War (ending in 1763) and the Mexican-American
War (ending in 1848), hundreds of Native and Euro-American com-
munities across the continent developed complex and lucrative pas-
toral economies that produced domestic and wild animals.3 Indeed,
as Cortés readily admitted, any expansion of infrastructure, industry,
or people rested primarily on large-hooved grazers. As Mexico shed its
colonial skin, officials continued to direct their attention at develop-
ing herbivore economies. Toward the end of this revolutionary period
in 1830, for example, Tucson presidio captain Antonio Comaduran
similarly observed the proliferation of Native pastoralism across a
new Mexican nation-state: “This day I studied completely that ter-
rain, and learned that two days before they [Apaches] had collected
all the horses that they possessed. Without any exaggeration at all
they graze more than 2000 animals on those lands, not in pastures as
might be assumed. In such an open country, it all serves as their pas-
tures.”4 Thus across the borderlands of continental North America,
Ute, Apacheria, and Comancheria territories expanded alongside buf-
falo and horse habitats. Navajos and Puebloan communities similarly
converted a parched landscape into immense sheep pastures. Within
Euro-American boundaries too, cattle steadily consumed landscapes
across vast stretches of the continent. What Cortés and Comaduran

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32 Environmental History 21 (January 2016)

both witnessed, then, were revolutions in the grass. Although thou-

sands of miles separated them from the wave of upheavals shaking
the Atlantic World and three decades separated their reports, Cortés
and Comaduran inadvertently captured one of the most far-reaching
results of this turbulent period: the transformation of inedible grass-
lands into a seemingly inexhaustible bank of storable and transferable
energy. This repository simultaneously expanded Euro-American
frontiers, created new Indigenous nations, forged new borderlands,
provided new commodities, and fostered the near complete globaliza-
tion of the food system.
Of course, the exchange of food commodities had already altered
the diets, demographies, economies, and environments of the early
modern world for more than three hundred years.5 But the conver-
sion of the grasslands by large mammals produced new herbivore
frontiers that radically transformed most of continental North
America and similarly influenced oceanic networks of exchange. Just
as the rapidly changing eighteenth-century Atlantic World unlocked
the political-economic and scientific potential of newly emerging
nation-states, so too did a sea of grass facilitate the production,
manufacturing, and export of vast quantities of food and energy har-
nessed by Indigenous and Euro-American individuals, communities,
and states. North American grass became a reservoir for the transfor-
mation of the world economy, feeding the fledgling nations of the
United States, Mexico, and later Canada.6
This article argues that the ability to capture grassland energy
through herbivore production and consumption created a rapidly ex-
panding “food frontier” dramatically shaping global politics and
economies during the age of revolutions. While it shines a light on
particular regional case studies and links in the food system chain, its
primary purpose is to invite scholars to look more closely at the
historical intersections between Latin and Anglo-American revolu-
tionary politics, continental and global commodity chains, and long-
term ecological times. It also asks us to locate similar multidirectional
connections hidden in plain sight that sometimes buttressed or col-
lided with the more apparent political forces unleashed during this
period.7 These overlooked connections can be found in many rocks
already turned over: travel accounts, explorer diaries, material cul-
ture, ship manifests, merchant accounts, and other archival materials
scoured by earlier generations of scholars focusing primarily on oce-
anic exchanges. Taking another look at these sources with an eye to-
ward land and grass-based food and energy networks can identify
new ways to understand seemingly disparate regions, peoples, time-
scales, and events. Furthermore this essay contributes to two lines of
inquiry that have increasingly gripped scholars focused on early
American, Indigenous, and borderlands history. The first focuses on
the ways Atlantic World revolutions fueled dramatic ecological

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Revolutions in the Grass 33

Figure 1. Cattle frontiers before and during the age of revolutions. Source: Andrew Sluyter, Black
Ranching Frontiers: African Cattle Herders of the Atlantic World, 1500–1900 (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2012), 6. Credit: Used by permission from Andrew Sluyter.

changes occurring in regions outside the imperial core. The second

corollary debate is over how the so-called periphery—where all the
grasslands lie—influenced the very heart of the Atlantic World. Such
questions echo recent studies probing overlooked people, commodi-
ties, and ecological forces fundamentally shaping the age of revolu-
tions.8 In similar ways, a food systems lens breathes new life into
local, regional, national, and global analyses, bridging macroscopic
and microscopic lenses.
The term food system has surfaced in recent decades to capture myr-
iad relationships shared between producers, consumers, political enti-
ties, infrastructure, transportation networks, and environments.
Attempting to link all of these dimensions to their full extent could
prove perilously all consuming.9 Food systems, while often global in
scope, are also intensely local, lending themselves effectively to both
comparative and microhistorical analysis.10 Disparate regions may
evince divergent or convergent patterns of land use, trade, and envi-
ronmental degradation or sustainability. Following particular food

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34 Environmental History 21 (January 2016)

products, like domestic animals or crops, also reveal historical patterns

of human and environmental interactions.11 Recent scholarship
has ably analyzed the relationship between modern political move-
ments and the industrialization of food systems. Studying earlier con-
nections can further reveal similar connections between politics and
food while also disrupting our understanding of “core-periphery”


Grass is fundamental to the fragile existence of all humanity—indeed
of all terrestrial life. Grasslands feed both domestic and wild herbi-
vores that convert inedible but energy-rich plant material into digest-
ible food in the form of meat.13 Add the cultivation and
consumption of rice, wheat, and corn, all descendants of undomesti-
cated grass species, and the overwhelming importance of grass
quickly becomes apparent. More than just a food source, grass
stitches together distant economies, communities, and, in the age of
revolutions, new nation-states. Focusing on its place in history en-
courages us to question long-held assumptions about the primacy of
the coastline in imperial and national development and turn our at-
tention toward the grasslands of the interior.
For several centuries, controlling North America’s grassy mead-
ows—and thus the meanderings of domestic animals—had been one
of the most fundamental concerns of colonists and Natives.14 During
the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, however, new
forms of plantation agriculture and metropole consumption triggered
an assault on a wider range of the continent’s native grasses.15
Furthermore, the pull of Atlantic World revolutions created addi-
tional opportunities and demand for expanded food sources. The re-
sult was that marginal regions, soils, and ecosystems in the interior
suddenly became vehicles for growth on the coast, thanks in part to
the expansion of herbivores.
Efforts by political elites to promote new grassland settlements and
expand herbivore frontiers were a vital component of the relationship
between new political identities and the evolution of a global food
system.16 Herbivores occupied an important niche in the ecosystems
and economies of early America, converting marginal environments
unsuitable for farming into habitable frontiers. Large herbivores share
a complex relationship with their human masters; some are more in-
dependent than others, moving according to their own intuitions
and dietary needs, whereas others require intensive care and manage-
ment.17 Pastoralists like the Comanches and Californios, for example,
harnessed the energy of buffalo, cattle, and horses by taking advan-
tage of the animals’ ability to find and consume grass.

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Revolutions in the Grass 35

Increased demand for meat and other products from livestock pre-
cipitated changes in other sectors. Grain and corn cultivation intensi-
fied along the Pacific coast and rivers like the Gila and Colorado both
to support missions and feed animals.18 Between 1780 and 1840, over
a million head of cattle in Sonora and Alta California alone grazed on
wild grass and ate grains provided by farmers. In New Mexico, at least
three million sheep provided mutton and wool for export.19 Two mil-
lion wild and domesticated horses roamed the New Mexican and
Comancherı́a borderlands. Millions more buffalo did the same on the
Plains.20 This intensified grazing dramatically altered grassland envi-
ronments. Herbivores like mules, cattle, and especially horses also
served as vital modes of transportation connecting vast stretches of
the continent. Horses facilitated the movement of people, goods, and
ideas in similar ways as ships transported such things across the
ocean. Cattle and oxen plowed soil, blazed trails, hauled lumber, and
cleared paths.21 While opening paths to the Atlantic World, herbi-
vores themselves became global commodities. Alongside tea, coffee,
sugar, and silver, so too did hides, tallow, lard, fur, and pemmican
crisscross the globe.22
The expansion of herbivore frontiers revealed the tension between
competing habitats that in turn led to competing economic models.
For example, buffalo, sheep, and horse herds dramatically prolifer-
ated under the management of Comanches, Utes, Apaches, Kiowas,
Lakotas, and Navajos during the eighteenth century, leading to the
parallel expansion of borderlands raiding and slavery that challenged
American and Mexican state formation in the West.23 Indigenous
and Euro-American (particularly Spanish-Mexican) borderlands econ-
omies clashed with cattle frontiers overseen by Anglo, Californio,
New Mexican, and Texas ranchers during this time period.24 All over-
whelmingly relied on hooved sources of food—and thus vast reser-
voirs of grass developed and maintained over even larger distances
and scales of time. In short, time, distance, and culture became com-
pressed through herbivore expansion.25


One appreciates in the vast expanse of these countries the
three realms of [n]ature. There is a fertile soil which, with
little manual effort, yields every grain and fruit in abun-
dance. The natural pastures and meadows are covered in
grass, and the hillsides and banks of rivers and streams
abound with thick, robust tress. . . . This rich portion of
America is irrigated by abundant rivers and an infinite
number of streams. In the former breed various kinds of fish,
and the latter bestow their water to the surrounding soil.
— José Cortés26

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Scholars studying the age of revolutions and globalization typically

look to the seashore and the politics of Philadelphia, Paris, London,
and Boston, but they could as fruitfully gaze at the ecological trans-
formations in the Great Plains, the Colorado Basin, California’s
Central Valley, and the Columbia Plateau, where thick grasses
evolved alongside buffalo, elk, antelope, cattle, sheep, and horses.27
They could turn to that seemingly isolated region between Sonora
and Alta California described by José Cortés where, beginning in the
sixteenth century, the Colorado River enticed conquistadors, mis-
sionaries, and pobladores to settle on its banks (see figure 2). Within
the Colorado Basin, the struggle over accessing drought-tolerant pas-
tures vividly reflects the important role of grass in shaping political
and economic strategies.
Colonization of this Indigenous borderland failed until the end of
the eighteenth century, a remarkable contrast to the relatively suc-
cessful expansion of Spanish colonists in the surrounding regions.28
Until the mid-nineteenth century, Indigenous peoples such as
Quechans, Mojaves, Cocopahs, and others fiercely defended the rich
alluvial soils that fed their corn, beans, squash, melons, and even
wheat.29 Then, distant political and fiscal-military convulsions, in-
cluding Mexican independence, the initial expansion of US popular
democracy, and the initiation of national infrastructure projects like
the Erie Canal, National Road, and the Old Spanish Trail, transformed
these communities’ local food systems and ecologies through intensi-
fied herbivore production.30 Quechans consistently resisted outside
influences, but other Indigenous peoples forged partnerships with
Euro-Americans in the eastern Pacific Basin, where cattle and sheep
entered global markets and supplied revolutionary movements—links
feared by the royal governor of New Spain viceroy Conde de
Revillagigedo (1789–94), who outlawed any importation of revolu-
tionary texts from France.31
To counteract both internal and external threats, namely calls for
Mexican independence and US expansion, scientifically minded
Spanish subjects like Cortés surveyed much of Provincias Internas—
where the Colorado River basin and vast stretches of grasslands lay—
in order to better assess the economic and political capabilities of
Indian territories.32 Other Spanish officials looked toward the Pacific.
In a letter to the prime minister of Spain in 1793, for example, Conde
de Revillagigedo proposed a restructuring of economic priorities:
“Those seas are frequented by numerous vessels of different nationali-
ties, all employed in the fur trade; and the continual intercourse with a
diversity of Europeans is fast awakening the cunning of the Indians . . .
[I propose] to form in this capital (Mexico) a company of “Free
Commerce” for the object of carrying on a direct trade between Canton
and the coasts of California.”33 Such requests fell on deaf ears, and
booming oceanic economies outpaced the willingness of Spanish

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Revolutions in the Grass 37

Figure 2. The Colorado Basin (2009). Source: (accessed

September 9, 2015). Credit: US Bureau of Reclamation, Upper Colorado Regional Office.

officials to engage in interregional commerce. Ranchers of New Mexico

and Texas compensated by smuggling livestock into French markets in
Louisiana while those on the Alta California coast traded cattle hides,
tallow, and otter pelts with visiting British and American ships.
Annually, at least fifteen thousand head of cattle made their way east to
the Gulf Coast and perhaps even more to the Pacific.34

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The exploits of John Hudson aptly illustrate the illicit trade. One of
many illegal entrants into Las Californias, Hudson meticulously docu-
mented the exchange of hundreds of furs, hides, and head of live-
stock. Traveling up and down the chain of missions, a typical day
between 1805 and 1807 included the purchase of anywhere from 50
to 250 otter pelts, valued at $8 apiece. Hudson also purchased cows,
flour, water, and lard from priests and Native traders behind the backs
of Spanish soldiers.35 Along the Pacific Raincoast further north, the
brisk otter trade also facilitated the demand for wool, meat, and tal-
low, further expanding herbivore frontiers into the Willamette
Valley.36 The lucrative smuggling of animals and food commodities
can thus be seen as political-economic acts by local communities de-
fying colonial and imperial edicts—not unlike the seditious actions
undertaken in other ports during the age of revolutions.37
Mexican independence in 1821 removed most of the remaining re-
strictions to trade and land ownership, directly affecting corporate
entities like the Catholic Church and Indigenous milpas. Private
owners seized any and all grazing land.38 In the northern Mexican
states, new landowners expanded cattle production for frontier towns
and mines.39 Thus the Colorado River Basin, New Mexican border-
lands, and Southern Plains began to converge through overlapping
herbivore frontiers.40
At the same time these political and ecological transformations
spread across the western borderlands, the American Revolution
shook the Atlantic World and ushered in new ecological relationships
with grass and meat consumption, allowing cultivators like Thomas
Jefferson to realize an “Empire of Liberty” rooted in foreign weeds.41
The proponents of the Anglo-American Enlightenment, as Mark Fiege
has argued, “looked west from Monticello, and the mountains, the
forests, the prairies, the rivers, and the distant horizon. . . . Out there
lay the happy democratic dream that he [Jefferson] and the other fa-
thers had enshrined in the Declaration.”42 Exploitation of new grass-
lands served as a central focus of Jeffersonian America.
Similar to the settlement schemes proffered by Mexican nationals,
the earliest Anglo boosters of agrarian settlement in grassland envi-
ronments coveted the productive capacity of wild herbivores that en-
tered the food systems and global fur trading networks of the Plains
and Mississippi River Valley. Citing the “statistical view” of Lewis and
Clark, Thomas Jefferson reported as much in his 1806 Message to
Congress quantifying the economic value of the Louisiana Territory,
meticulously estimating Native consumption of animal products.
The Lakotas and other Siouan-speaking communities, for example, al-
ready engaged in the mass production of “deer skins principally, skins
of the black bear, otter, fisher, marten rackoon [sic], grey foxes, musk-
rats, and minks . . . [large] proportion of beaver . . . bufalloe [sic] robes
and wolf skins . . . grease & tallow, and some dried meat.” Others

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Revolutions in the Grass 39

possessed “immense quantities of horses” for trade and hunting.43

Grass captured the imagination of revolutionary migrants on several
levels—as farmers, land speculators, hunters, and ranchers. The earli-
est national expeditions and infrastructure projects reflected this pre-
occupation with grassland settlement. While the Lewis and Clark
Expedition is rightly understood as an effort to gain access to the
Pacific, its most immediate and long-reaching legacy was its capacity
to capture the imagination of Jefferson and other agrarians delighted
by the vivid descriptions of rivers, tillable land, Indigenous agricul-
ture, and, of course, herbivores.
Alongside the emerging states of Mexico and the United States,
new Indigenous nations also set the stage for the globalization of the
food system. By the end of the eighteenth century, Indigenous
equestrianism swept across Apacherı́a, Dinetah (Navajo), Ute territory,
and especially the Comancherı́a. Linked by livestock and territory,
raiding complemented shifting economic winds that shaped New
Mexico, Sonora, and Alta California.44 Feral and domesticated herds
of horses, sheep, and cattle required more pastures for grazing, simul-
taneously expanding and encroaching on Native foodscapes.45 The
Indigenous food systems of Comanches, Kiowas, and Lakotas thrived
by rotating buffalo and horse grazing. Paradoxically, though, increas-
ing Indigenous reliance on livestock ultimately moved many commu-
nities further away from other forms of food production and
pyrogenic land use strategies that facilitated the growth of particular
grasses. Now, in contrast, grass became increasingly commodified, its
use primarily serving the needs of larger herds of voracious creatures
that could efficiently convert its energy and make it more readily
available for consumption in much further flung markets. This fur-
ther complicated territorial boundaries as Indians, Mexicans, and
Americans lurched closer to all-out war.


The revolutionary convergence of regions and peoples through herbi-
vore conduits, of course, rested on the ability of the soil to sustain food
production and energy extraction. But the very fertility of the soil that
these political-economic acts rested on—and which Cortés and
Comaduran thought came about “with little manual effort”—actually
evinced its own complex history evolving over generations of careful
cultivation, range management, and selective burning—long before
the arrival of Afro-Eurasians and their accompanying biota. Briefly ex-
ploring the deeper and much longer history of native grasses and their
dependents further reveals the enduring relationships between hu-
mans, herbivores, and ecosystems during the age of revolutions.
In the five hundred years prior to Mexican and US independence,
Indigenous communities, particularly those thriving in grassland

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40 Environmental History 21 (January 2016)

Figure 3. Indian ricegrass in a parched landscape (Diamond Range, Sierra County, California). Source:¼achy_004_ahp.tif. Credit: VC Gary A. Monroe, 2007,

used by permission.

environments, experienced several prolonged drought cycles that up-

ended the economies, food systems, and cultural geography across
the continent—a period between 1350 and 1850 now popularly
known as the Little Ice Age.46 Such a dismantling occurred after an
equally prolonged period (800–1350) of warmer and wetter weather
otherwise known as the Medieval Climatic Anomaly.47 After 1350 a
steady decline in rainfall limited intensive agriculture to major river
valleys like the Missouri, Rio Grande, Colorado, and Gila Basins.
Once plentiful and stable water sources, for instance the formerly im-
mense but shrinking Lake Cahuilla (present-day Salton Sea) in south-
eastern California, had shrunk, diverted, or evaporated across the
region, limiting intensive forms of agriculture that once supported
large human populations.48 In the Great Plains, ancestral Mandans
and Arikaras began to move further north and cluster along the upper
Missouri, increasing their dependence on gathering edible native
grasses like marshelder (Iva annua).49 Further west in the Colorado
Basin, Native communities like the Mojaves employed more efficient
storage techniques that preserved acorns and mesquite beans for lon-
ger periods of time. These technologies facilitated greater mobility
and trade.50 In every corner of the West, overlapping patterns of
long-term drought initiated by larger global climate change created
new histories of food production and grass management.

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Revolutions in the Grass 41

Figure 4. Shaded areas indicate the native range for Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides).
Adapted from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Database. Source: http://¼ACHY&mapType¼nativity (accessed September 9, 2015). Credit:
USDA National Plant Data Team.

At the same time, migration patterns also reconfigured plant use

and seed dispersal of a wide variety of species.51 Perennial grasses like
Indian ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides) and needle-and-thread (Stipa
comata), for example, served as backup grains cultivated and traded
when drought disrupted maize production but also hitched rides on
inadvertent human transporters traveling great distances. These
grasses fed immense herbivore populations across the meadows and
prairies in between mountain ranges.52 Before 1500, bison popula-
tions ranged between 30 and 40 million. Elk and pronghorn main-
tained similar numbers.53 In the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, successful and stable colonies of grass also provided crucial
pastures for newly arriving cattle and horses.

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Two transitional zones that straddle grass habitats, mountains, and

deserts further illustrate the complex intersections between human
migration patterns, grass evolution, and shifting food systems. On
the eastern side of the Colorado River Basin, Indigenous migrants
(known by archaeologists as the Hohokam) resettled along the Gila
River after abandoning major sedentary communities such as Pueblo
Grande (just south of present-day Phoenix, Arizona) around 1300.54
During the Medieval Climatic Anomaly, Pueblo Grande residents
constructed complex, extensive irrigation systems that fed their
crops. Successful Pueblo Grande and Hohokam irrigation networks
led to an estimated Southwest population of forty thousand people.
Like the inhabitants of the Mojave Desert and northern Plains,
Hohokams abandoned failing towns during the great drought.55
Within the farthest grassland environment near the Pacific coast,
Native communities also developed new horticultural innovations to
meet the ecological challenges presented by the Little Ice Age.
Yokuts—the most densely populated society of precontact North
America above the Rio Grande—left a deep ecological impact across
California.56 During the early modern period, extensive acorn and
oak tree cultivation grew in sophistication, producing a wide range of
commodities.57 The management of oak groves also created deer and
elk habitats that provided a predicable food supply.58 Annual anthro-
pogenic fires also encouraged the growth of edible mushrooms and
deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens), especially prized for basket making.
Other grasses flourished in this region including creeping wildrye
(Elymus tricoides), slender wheatgrass (Agropyron trachycaulum), and
prairie wedgescale (Sphenopholis obtusata).59
Centuries of grass management, seed and acorn cultivation, and
pyrogenic land management strategies across marginal ecosystems
led to conditions where particular native grasses thrived in savannah
environments within and outside the direct orbit of human interac-
tion. However, the trickle of biota that began arriving on the grass-
lands as early as the sixteenth century usurped seed dispersal cycles.
These foreign annuals—including red brome (Bromus rubens),
European foxtail (Festuca bromoides), and hare barley (Hordeum glau-
cum)—acted differently from their perennial cousins, disrupting the
stability of the soils due to their short life cycles and leaving wide
swaths of the landscape prone to uncontrolled wildfires. Human part-
ners further assisted these opportunistic annuals. By the seventeenth
century, Spanish missionaries, soldiers, and pobladores established
Mediterranean food systems within a chain of missions hugging the
Pacific coast. Farmers enforced fire suppression ordinances that com-
peted with Indigenous cultivators and halted pyrogenic propaga-
tion.60 Similar efforts occurred at the missions and towns expanding
along the river valleys and desert grass environments that once sup-
ported the Hohokams. By the late eighteenth century, then, colonial

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Revolutions in the Grass 43

economies in California and Sonora had largely disrupted and even

replaced many native ecosystems. These transitional zones set the
stage for an herbivore convergence during the age of revolutions.


Grass is ever verdant and nutritious, rendering California
one of the best grazing countries on the globe.
Albert M. Gilliam, 184761

Despite the development of new food systems around the Colorado

River Basin and Central Valley of California during the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, native plants like Indian ricegrass contin-
ued to reign supreme across the continent, particularly within the
Great Plains (see figure 3). The age of revolutions, though, unleashed
a global convergence of forces definitively challenging the domi-
nance of native perennials and herbivores. Political independence
movements coincided with unprecedented demand for hides, food,
leather, and tallow. Commodity networks transported herbivores to
regional distribution centers where land met the sea.62
Economic reforms in Mexico and the United States sparked simul-
taneous vaquero/Anglo settlement, mining booms, Indigenous com-
modity exports, and new wage labor regimes. They also unleashed
millions of grazers that voraciously digested native grasses. In the re-
gions directly impacted by the Bourbon Reforms and Mexican inde-
pendence, commercial development dramatically increased between
1780 and 1821. In Sonora, commerce boomed as much as 360 per-
cent, reflecting productivity but also more streamlined bureaucratic
machinery.63 Much of this development rested on the availability of
grass. Ironically, Mexican independence temporarily disrupted the
northward drive of Spanish capitalism as conservative and liberal fac-
tions struggled for power and control of the Mexican nation-state be-
tween 1810 and 1821. These violent political battles allowed
American emigrants to more easily expand west into northern
Mexico, setting the stage for one of the most rapid seizures and trans-
formations of grasslands in world history.64 But from the perspective
of grasslands and the human communities that relied on them, the
political and ecological revolutions shaking North America between
1763 and 1848 meant, more than anything else, a complete conver-
gence on pastoral economic development.
At the end of this period in 1848, the US-Mexican War violently ex-
posed the uneven benefits bestowed by the age of revolutions.
Mexican capitalism was in some ways stunted in the Bajı́o and the
northern provinces while Anglo-America immediately experienced a
market revolution after the War of 1812.65 Similarly, some
Indigenous nations (Comanches, Utes, and Cherokees) benefited

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44 Environmental History 21 (January 2016)

from the spread of market-driven agriculture and commerce while

others (Shawnees, Apaches, and Iroquois) faced encroachment and
displacement by both Native and Euro-American forces.66 The war
also further exacerbated the division over two competing forms of in-
dustrial agriculture that shaped the Atlantic World. Thanks in part to
technological innovations and more efficient global supply chains,
slave labor proliferated alongside the expansion of democratic insti-
tutions.67 As in other parts of the world experiencing the revolutions
of 1848, antiwar intellectuals surfaced, vociferously denouncing the
imperial tactics of the United States as an example of unrestrained
capitalism. One of the most prominent critics, the transcendentalist
Henry David Thoreau, equated the war with the destruction of na-
ture.68 For different but overlapping and interconnected reasons, up-
risings across Europe battled against the overreach of expansionary
states that failed to protect its citizens from oppressive wage labor
In many ways, the dominance of cotton fostered the conditions for
these conflicts.70 But perhaps equally as important—although not as
easily recognized—the convergence of herbivore frontiers reflected
global interconnections through livestock exports and immigrant ex-
pansion.71 Livestock raised on North American grass (particularly
beef) began to influence domestic markets in Britain and other parts
of Western Europe, a phenomenon also developing in the southern
grasslands of Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil.72 The increased
urbanization of Atlantic World cities led to higher levels of meat con-
sumption, a trend that continues today.73 Improvements in the infra-
structure and supply chains further gave the world direct access to
the grass reservoirs of North America.74
At the same time, the very success of Indigenous herbivore pro-
ducers made them vulnerable to the rapid expansion of competing
habitats.75 After peace was reached in Alta California, for example,
statehood and the steady influx of foreigners required a consistent
supply of meat. The US military immediately established outposts at
the edges of transitional zones that funneled herbivore production
and transport—places like Forts Yuma, Tejón, Mojave, and Bridger.76
American forts represented a new economic landscape serving more
intensive cattle production that undermined open-range pastoral
economies.77 Cattle producers streamed in alongside miners and
farmers. One final reflection by a California Gold Rush immigrant, B.
Schmölder, encapsulates this herbivore convergence: “Live stock [sic]
of all kinds thrive exceedingly well in the western part of California,
and are found in numberless herds, which hardly cost anything to
keep, as they feed themselves on the rich pastures; nor do they want
shelter, and they are at all times in good condition for being slaugh-
tered . . . . [M]any a settler is said to have as many as twenty or thirty
thousand [cattle].”78 The global reliance on cattle—a cheap, plentiful,

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Revolutions in the Grass 45

readily available, and nutrient-dense food product—took its modern

form during the age of revolutions. Many other political, economic,
cultural, and ecological forces were unleashed in the period between
1763 and 1848, but the ubiquitous layers of herbivore expansion—
from the rapid transformation of grass management to the establish-
ment of global supply chains to the reorganization of labor to the
emergence of Indigenous producers—generated a deep, enduring leg-
acy emerging out of the revolutionary period: a new age of meat con-
sumption never before experienced in human history.

Natale Zappia is an assistant professor of history at Whittier

College. He is the author of Traders and Raiders: The Indigenous
World of the Colorado Basin (University of North Carolina Press, 2014)
and The Many Faces of Edward Sherriff Curtis: A Collection of
Portraits and Stories from Native North America (with Steadman
Upham, University of Washington Press, 2006). Zappia is now at work on
a new book, Food Frontiers: Borderland Ecologies in Early America.

I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers of Environmental History for their
critical feedback and editor Lisa Brady for her valuable comments. I would also like
to thank Elizabeth Fenn, Peter Mancall, Keith Pluymers, Seth Archer, and fellow
2014 WMQ-EMSI “Age of Revolutions” workshop participants for their encourage-
ment and suggestions during earlier stages of the piece.
1 See Elizabeth John and John Wheat, trans., José Cortés, Views from the Apache
Frontier: Report on the Northern Provinces of New Spain by Jose Cortes, Lieutenant
in the Royal Corps of Engineers, 1799 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press,
1989), 22.
2 Ibid.
3 Scholars have coined the term age of revolutions to account for the series of global
political-economic uprisings that transformed empires and colonies into nation-
states. The dates for this period continue to shift. Sarah Knott synthesizes much
of this recent debate in the William and Mary Quarterly (forthcoming). Also see
Roger R. Palmer, The Age of Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and
America, 1760–1800, rev. ed. (Princeton: Princeton University press, 2014); and
Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolutions, 1789–1848, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage
Books, 1996).
4 Henry Dobyns, From Fire to Flood: Historic Human Destruction of Sonoran Desert
Riverine Oases (New Mexico: Ballena Press, 1981), 23–25.
5 See Alfred Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–
1900, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Timothy Silver, A
New Face on the Countryside: Indians, Colonists, and Slaves in South Atlantic Forests,
1500–1800 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Elinor G. K. Melville,
Plague of Sheep: Environmental Consequences of the Conquest of Mexico (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1994); Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The
Fate of Human Societies (New York: Norton, 2005); and J. R. McNeill’s Mosquito
Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620–1914 (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2010).

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46 Environmental History 21 (January 2016)

6 See, for example, Elizabeth Fenn, Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of
the Mandan People (New York: Hill and Wang, 2014); Anne Hyde, Empires,
Nations, and Families: A New History of the North American West, 1800–1860
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011); Peter Pope, Fish into Wine: The
Newfoundland Plantation in the Seventeenth Century (Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press, 2004); and David Igler, “Diseased Goods: Global
Exchanges in the Eastern Pacific Basin, 1770–1850,” American Historical Review
109 (June 2004): 693–719.
7 On the impacts of the Atlantic World and its revolutions on the continental in-
terior, see Claudio Saunt, West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of the
Revolution (New York: Norton, 2014), and Michael Witgen, An Infinity of Nations:
How the Native New World Shaped Early North America (Philadelphia: University
of Pennsylvania Press, 2013). Recent syntheses include Jack P. Greene and
Phillip P. Morgan, eds., Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2009), and James Sidbury and Jorge Canizares-Esguerra,
“Mapping Ethnogenesis in the Early Modern Atlantic,” William and Mary
Quarterly 68 (April 2011): 181–246. Food studies exploring the push-pull rela-
tionship between continental and Atlantic zones include Marcy Norton, Sacred
Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008). See also Molly A. Warsh, “A Political
Ecology in the Early Spanish Caribbean,” William and Mary Quarterly 71, no. 4
(October 2014): 517–748.
8 See, for example, Jennifer L. Anderson, Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early
America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), and Ellen Hartigan-
O’Connor, The Ties That Buy: Women and Commerce in Revolutionary America
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009). Also see Elizabeth Fenn,
Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775–82 (New York: Hill and
Wang, 2002).
9 For an excellent overview of the food systems literature, see Jeffrey Pilcher,
Oxford History of Food (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). Other notable re-
cent works include Michael Dietler and Brian Hayden, eds., Feasts: Archaeological
and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power (Mobile: University of
Alabama Press, 2010), and Brian McWilliams, A Revolution in Eating: How the
Quest for Food Shaped America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007).
10 For an excellent example, see Brian Donahue, The Great Meadow: Farmers and the
Land in Colonial Concord (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).
11 Notable commodity biographies include Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History
(New York: Penguin Books, 2003); and Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed
the World (New York: Penguin Books, 1998); Judith Carney, Black Rice: The
African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 2002); and Sydney Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern
History (New York: Penguin Press, 1986).
12 More recent work on the modern industrial food system includes Michael
Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: Penguin
Books, 2007). For “core-periphery” approaches, see Immanuel Wallerstein, The
Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-
Economy in the Sixteenth Century, rev. ed. (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2011), and Eric Wolf, Europe and the People Without History, 2nd ed.
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).
13 See Pekka Hämäläinen, “Politics of Grass”; Alan Mikhail, “Unleashing the Beast:
Animals, Energy, and the Economy of Labor in Ottoman Egypt,” American
Historical Review 118 (2013): 317–48. Other innovative works that look at the

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Revolutions in the Grass 47

relationship between livestock and people include Jon T. Coleman, Vicious:

Wolves and Men in America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006); Carolyn
Merchant, Ecological Revolutions: Nature, Gender, and Science in New England
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989); John Richards, Unending
Frontier: An Environmental History of the Modern World (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 2006); and Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Creatures of Empire: How
Domestic Animals Transformed America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
14 Many scholars have explored the role of livestock and their ability to shape
Euro-American relationships with indigenous ecologies, particularly within
New England. See Anderson, Creatures of Empire; Coleman, Vicious; Cronon,
Changes in the Land; Allan Greer, “Commons and Enclosure in the Colonization
of North America,” American Historical Review 117 (April 2012): 365–86; and
James D. Rice, Nature & History in the Potomac Country: From Hunter-Gatherers to
the Age of Jefferson (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). For global
comparisons, see Douglas V. Campana, Pamela Crabteee, S. D. deFrance, Justin
Lev-Trov, and A. M. Choyke, eds., Anthropological Approaches to Zooarchaeology:
Colonialism, Complexity and Animal Transformations (Oxford: Oxbow Press,
15 This essay is also heavily indebted to William Cronon’s masterful Nature’s
Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York: Norton, 1991), which makes a
similar argument about land use, consumption, and livestock frontiers during
the latter half of the nineteenth century. Also see Andrew Isenberg, Destruction
of the Bison; Flores, “Bison Ecology and Bison Diplomacy”; and Carolyn
Merchant, Ecological Revolutions.
16 As Peter Mancall has recently asked early American historians to do. See “Pigs
for Historians: Changes in the Land and Beyond,” William and Mary Quarterly
67 (April 2010): 347–75.
17 A point made by Anderson in Creatures of Empire.
18 For commodity production expansion in Alta California and Sonora, see José
Francisco Velasco, Sonora: Its Extent, Population, Natural Productions, Indian
Tribes, Mines, Mineral Lands, Etc. Etc, trans. William F. Nye (San Francisco: H. H.
Bancroft, 1861); Steven W. Hackel, Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint
Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769–1850 (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 2005); George Harwood Phillip, Vineyards
and Vaqueros (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010).
19 Andrew C. Isenberg, “Between Mexico and the United States: From Indios to
Vaqueros in the Pastoral Borderlands,” in Mexico and Mexicans in the Making of
the United States, ed. John Tutino (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012), 5.
20 While bison are not usually considered livestock, Native communities manipu-
lated these herbivore populations and their grazing patterns. Estimates range be-
tween 24 and 100 million buffalo in the northern and southern plains on the
eve of Anglo/Mexican independence. See Isenberg, “Between Mexico and the
United States,” 5–6; also see Maria Nieves Zedeño, Jesse A. M. Ballenger, and
John R. Murray, “Landscape Engineering and Organizational Complexity
among Late Prehistoric Bison Hunters of the Northwestern Plains,” Current
Anthropology 55 (February 2014): 23–58; M. Scott Taylor, “Buffalo Hunt:
International Trade and the Virtual Extinction of the North American Bison,”
American Economic Review 101 (December 2011): 3162–95; and George Colpitts,
“Provisioning the HBC: Market Economies in the British Buffalo Commons in
the Early Nineteenth Century,” Western Historical Quarterly 43, no. 2 (Summer
2012): 179–203.

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21 Ann Norton Greene, Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America

(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008).
22 Before the age of revolutions, other herbivore environments (particularly beaver
and deer) in the forests of northeastern Canadian and the American South also
became entangled in global markets. See Kathryn Holland Braun, Deerskins and
Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685–1815 (Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 2008); and Timothy Brook, Vermeer’s Hat: The
Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World (New York: Bloomsbury
Press, 2008). Barnet Pavao-Zuckerman provides a detailed inventory of exports
from colonial Sonora. See “Rendering Economies: Native American Labor and
Secondary Animal Products in the Eighteenth-Century Pimerı́a Alta,” American
Antiquity 76 (Winter 2011): 3–23.
23 For the clash of borderlands economies, see James Brooks, Captives and Cousins:
Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 2002); Ned Blackhawk, Violence Over the
Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 2006); David Weber, Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the
Age of Enlightenment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005); Cynthia
Radding, Wandering Peoples: Colonialism, Ethnic Spaces, and Ecological Frontiers in
Northwest Mexico, 1700–1850 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997); Andrés
Reséndez, Changing National Identities at the Frontier: Texas and New Mexico,
1800–1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); and Juliana Barr,
Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indian and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands
(Chapel Hill: University of California Press, 2007).
24 For Texas, see Gary Clayton Anderson, The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in
the Promised Land, 1820–1875 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005);
and John Tutino, ed., Mexico and Mexicans. For New Mexico, see Ross Frank,
From Settler and Citizen: New Mexican Economic Development and the Creation of
Vecino Society, 1750–1820 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).
25 Many Indigenous communities played a direct role in grassland management
leading to herbivore production, approaching what some scholars and ecolo-
gists consider “cultivation.” See Pekka Hämäläinen, “The Politics of Grass,” esp.
193–96. Also see M. Kat Anderson, Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge
and the Management of California’s Natural Resources (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 2005).
26 John and Wheat, José Cortés, Views from the Apache Frontier, 22.
27 This article builds on several fields of scholarship including borderlands, early
American, Indigenous, environmental, and food history. Works not mentioned
yet include Paul Mapp, The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 2013); Londa Schiebinger and Claudia Swan,
eds., Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005); Richard White, The
Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–
1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); and Daniel Usner,
Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy: The Lower Mississippi
Valley before 1783 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992).
28 For the Native history of this Colorado Basin, see Natale A. Zappia, Traders and
Raiders: The Indigenous World of the Colorado Basin, 1540–1859 (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 2014).
29 The Quechans of the Lower Colorado River, in particular, decisively rejected
livestock in favor of corn and wheat production during an uprising that de-
stroyed two Spanish missions in 1781. See Mark Santiago, Massacre at the Yuma

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Revolutions in the Grass 49

Crossing: Spanish Relations with the Quechans, 1779–1782 (Tucson: University of

Arizona Press, 1998). José Dario Argüello, who would become presidio com-
mander of Santa Barbara in 1797, documented the abundance of Quechan corn
and wheat fields after the uprising. See “Informe q[u]e el Then[ien]te Dn. José
Argüello,” presenta al Sor. Governador Dn. Diego de Borica en virtud de su supe-
rior Or[de]n del numero de naciones de Yndios gentiles q[u]e sitan las marjenes
del Rı́o Colorado . . . 1797,” Argüello Papers, MS C-A 308, Bancroft Library (here-
after, BL).
30 For the intersection of energy and infrastructure during the early nineteenth
century, see Christopher Jones, “A Landscape of Energy Abundance: Anthracite
Coal Canals and the Roots of American Fossil Fuel Dependence, 1820–1860,”
Environmental History 15 (July 2010): 449–84; for northern Mexico, see Ana
Marı́a Alanso, Thread of Blood: Colonialism, Revolution, and Gender on Mexico’s
Northern Frontier (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995). The historiography
on Latin American revolutions is immense. Notable examples include John
Tutino, Making a New World: Founding Capitalism in the Bajı́o and Spanish North
America (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011); Scott Eastman, Preaching
Spanish Nationalism across the Hispanic Atlantic, 1759–1823 (Baton Rouge:
Louisiana State University Press, 2012); Eric Van Young, The Other Rebellion:
Popular Violence, Ideology, and the Mexican Struggle for Independence, 1810–1821
(Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2002); Elisa Servı́n, Leticia Reina, and John
Tutino, Cycles of Conflict, Centuries of Change: Crisis, Reform, and Revolution in
Mexico (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007); and Marı́a Eugenia Romero,
Mineria y Guerra: La Economı́a de Nueva España, 1810–182I (Mexico City:
Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 1997).
31 John Carlson, “The ‘Otter-Man’ Empires: The Pacific Fur Trade, Incorporation
and the Zone of Ignorance,” Journal of World Systems Research 8 (Fall 2002): 390–
32 For the intersection of Indigenous knowledge, Spanish power, and the scientific
revolution, in other areas of the Spanish borderlands, see Cameron Strong,
“Indian Storytelling, Scientific Knowledge, and Power in the Florida
Borderlands,” William and Mary Quarterly 70 (October 2013): 671–701.
33 Letter from Conde de Revillagigedo to Manuel Goday, Principe de la Paz, April
12, 1793, Huntington Manuscripts (hereafter, HM) 296, Huntington Library
(hereafter, HL).
34 Bison and their grasslands also piqued the attention of French colonists during
this time. The explorer Francisco Amanguala, for example, encountered “great
quantities” of bison while traveling between San Antonio and Santa Fe in 1808.
See Francisco Amangala, Expedition de Amanguala, March 30, 1808–May 19,
1808, HM 2052, HL. For the livestock trade between northern New Spain and
French Louisiana, see Richard W. Slatta, Comparing Cowboys and Frontiers
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), 77–78; Terry Jordan, North
American Cattle-Ranching Frontiers; and Andrew Sluyter, Black Ranching Frontiers,
88–97. For California, see George Philips, Vineyards and Vaqueros. This export
market to the Gulf Coast continued during the Mexican period. See Henry
George Ward, Mexico in 1827 (London: H. Colburn, 1828).
35 Journal and logbook of John T. Hudson, 1805–1807, HM 30491–30492, HL.
Also see Kent Lightfoot, Indians, Missionaries, and Merchants: The Legacy of
Colonial Encounters on the California Frontier (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2005).
36 See Gray Whaley, Oregon and the Collapse of Illahee: U.S. Empire and the
Transformation of an Indigenous World, 1792–1859 (Chapel Hill: University of

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50 Environmental History 21 (January 2016)

North Carolina Press, 2010); and Boyd Cothran, “Loks and Lalaki: Slaves,
Chiefs, Medicine Men and the Indigenous Political Landscape of the Klamath
Basin, 1820s–1860s,” in Linking the Histories of Slavery in North America, ed. James
Brooks and Bonnie Smith (forthcoming, School of American Research Press). By
1848 sheep exports from the Puget Sound Agricultural Company (a subsidiary
of the Hudson Bay Company) exceeded thousands of fleeces annually. See
Daniel Hayard and Sons, “Accounts [of] sales of wool . . . for . . . the Puget
Sound Agricultural Co.,” 1844–1869, Fort Nisqually Collection, HM 372, HL.
37 Boycotts and illegal trading were seen as explicit political acts in cities like
Boston, Philadelphia, and New York during the tensions leading up to the US
Revolutionary War. See Edmund S. Morgan and Helen M. Morgan, The Stamp
Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
38 It is important to point out that the transition to secular authority was not with-
out conflict or simple missionary acquiescence. Upon his election in 1825,
Tucson’s first mayor, José León, immediately had to deal with disputes between
soldiers, settlers, and a priest at San Xavier del Bac over livestock ownership. See
Kieran McCarty, A Frontier Documentary: Sonora and Tucson, 1821–1848 (Tucson:
University of Arizona Press, 1997).
39 This effort also corresponded with a renewed interest in shutting out foreign
competitors including American hunters. Ignacio Pacheco, the mayor of
Tucson in 1826, arrested and fined American beaver hunters for trespassing on
the Gila River. See “Introduccı́on de unos Pescadores americanos al Rı́o Gila, 11/
4/1826,” selected papers relating to affairs in Sonora, MS M-A 19:1, BL.
40 For concerted efforts to link the Pacific coast with Sonora, see Lowell Bean and
William Mason, Diaries and Accounts of the Romero Expeditions in Arizona and
California, 1823–1826 (Palm Springs: Palm Springs Desert Museum, 1962), 60–77.
Also see Andrew Isenberg, “Between Mexico and the United States.” Californios
also sought to protect livestock exported to New Mexico and Sonora by planning
to station a small fort (which never materialized) on the Colorado River. See Jose
de la Guerra, Guerra Family Collection, June 1, 1819, and April 24, 1821, HM box
20, folder 904, HL. For increased trade between New Mexico and California, see S.
Houck to Manuel Alvarez, February 25, 1853, folder 25, box 2, Manuel Alvarez
Papers, New Mexico State Records and Archives, Santa Fe. For efforts to monopo-
lize the cattle and hide trade away from Native pastoralists, see letter from
Antonio Buelna to Antonio Suñol, November 9, 1841, Landon Fellom San Jose
Document Transcriptions, 3146, California State Library.
41 See Gordon Wood’s Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) for an overview of Jefferson’s ideology
and the impacts on agricultural development. Also see Mark Fiege, Republic of
Nature, esp. chap. 2.
42 Mark Fiege, The Republic of Nature, 99. For the role of the environment in the
founding documents and principles of the United States, see Benjamin R.
Cohen, Notes from the Ground: Science, Soil, and Society in the American Countryside
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009); Edwin C. Hagenstein, Sara M. Gregg,
and Brian Donahue, eds., American Georgics: Writings on Farming, Culture, and the
Land (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), and David B. Danbom, Born in
the Countryside: A History of Rural America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 2006).
43 Thomas Jefferson, Message from the President of the United States, Communicating
Discoveries Made in Exploring the Missouri, Red River and Washita, February 19,
1806 (New York: Hopkins and Seymour, 1806), 30.

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Revolutions in the Grass 51

44 Recent work on the role of Indigenous raiders in shaping Mexican national bor-
ders and identities includes Brian DeLay, War of a Thousand Deserts (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 2010); Lance Blythe, Chiricahua and Janos:
Communities of Violence in the Southwestern Borderlands, 1680–1880
(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012); and S. Valerio-Jiménez,
River of Hope: Forging Identity and Nation in the Rio Grande Borderlands (Durham:
Duke University Press, 2013)
45 In many parts of northern New Spain, this pattern emerged even earlier. See
Yetman, Conflict in Colonial Sonora, esp. chap. 6 and 7.
46 For settlement impacts in the Mojave Desert, see L. Mark Raab and Terry L.
Jones, eds., Prehistoric California: Archaeology and the Myth of Paradise (Salt Lake
City: University of Utah Press, 2004), esp. 12–32.
47 Recent studies have investigated the effects of the Medieval Climatic Anomaly
and Little Ice Age in the Americas and across the globe. See Thomas Wickman,
“‘Winters Embittered with Hardships’: Severe Cold, Wabanaki Power, and
English Adjustments, 1690–1710,” William and Mary Quarterly 72 (January
2015): 57–98; Elizabeth Fenn, At Center of the World, chap. 1; Daniel Richter’s
Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2011);
and Brian Fagan’s The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300–1850 (New
York: Basic Books, 2000), which looks primarily at the impacts in Europe.
48 Don Laylander, “The Last Days of Lake Cahuilla: The Elmore Site,” Pacific Coast
Archaeological Society Quarterly 33, no. 1–2 (1997): 1–138.
49 Elizabeth Fenn, Encounter at the Heart of the World, 9–12; James E. Sherow, The
Grasslands of the United States: An Environmental History (Santa Barbara: ABC-
CLIO, 2007), 20–28.
50 For mobility within the Mojave Desert, see Bruce B. Huckell, A Ground Stone
Implement Quarry on the Lower Colorado River, Northwestern Arizona (Arizona:
Bureau of Land Management, 1986), 42–55.
51 See Julie Courtwright, Prairie Fire: A Great Plains History (Lawrence: University of
Kansas Press, 2011). For Latin America, see Shawn William Miller, Fruitless Trees:
Portuguese Conservation and Brazil’s Colonial Timber (Palo Alto: Stanford
University Press, 2000), chap. 1 (esp. 30–34).
52 Almost all species of herbivores prefer Indian ricegrass to other types of forage.
See Robert R. Humphrey, Arizona Range Grasses: Their Description, Forage Value,
and Management (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1970), 115; and Beecher
Crampton, Grasses in California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974),
37. For grass structure, dispersal, life cycle, and management, see Lyn G. Clark
and Richard W. Pohl, Agnes Chase’s First Book of Grasses: The Structure of Grasses
Explained for Beginners (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996);
S. Clark Martin, The Santa Rita Experimental Range: A Center for Research on
Improvement and Management of Semidesert Rangelands (Washington, DC: US.
Forest Service, 1966); Dwight R. Cable, Ecology of Arizona Cottontop
(Washington, DC: US. Forest Service, 1979).
53 See Henry Epp and Ian Dyck, “Early Human-Bison Population Interdependence
in the Plains Ecosystem,” Great Plains Research 12 (Fall 2002): 323–37. James
Sherow argues that before 1820, larger herbivore populations were roughly
equal (except in mixed grass areas, where bison outnumbered elk and ante-
lopes). See The Grasslands of the United States, 34–36. It is important to note that
baseline population estimates are ever changing and not without controversy.
See Yolanda F. Wiersma and John Sandlos, “Once There Were So Many:
Animals as Ecological Baselines,” Environmental History 16 (July 2011): 400–7.
For elk populations, see L. L. Eberhardt, P. J. White, R. A. Garrott, and D. B.

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Houston, “A Seventy-Year History of Trends in Yellowstone’s Northern Elk

Herd,” The Journal of Wildlife Management 71, no. 2 (April 2007): 594–602.
54 The exact causes of the migratory patterns have long been contested. For a syn-
thesis of this literature, see James Brooks, “Women, Men, and Cycles of
Evangelism in the Southwest Borderlands, A.D. 750 to 1750,” American
Historical Review 118 (June 2013): 738–64.
55 For O’odham migrations, see Donald Bahr, ed., O’odham Creation and Related
Events (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001). For Hohokam history, see
David R. Abbott, ed., Centuries of Decline During the Hohokam Classic Period at
Pueblo Grande (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003); and Robert E. Gasser,
“Hohokam Use of Desert Food Plants,” Desert Plants 2 (1982): 216–34.
56 For an overview of the Yokuts, see Frank Latta, Handbook of Yokuts Indians
(Oildale, CA: Bear State Books, 1949), and Lisbeth Haas, Saints and Citizens:
Indigenous Histories of Colonial Missions and Mexican California (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2013). M. Kat Anderson provides an excellent
synthesis of Yokuts cultural geography in Tending the Wild: Native American
Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2005).
57 See Erick Wohlgemuth, “Resource Intensification in Prehistoric Central
California: Evidence from Archaeobotanical Data,” Journal of California and
Great Basin Anthropology 18 (1996): 58–66; Philip J. Wilke, “Bow Staves
Harvested from Juniper Trees by Indians of Nevada,” Journal of California and
Great Basin Anthropology 10 (1988): 3–31.
58 Ibid., 174–76.
59 Crampton, Grasses in California, 30; Anderson, Tending the Wild.
60 For the ecological impacts of fire suppression within Sonora, see Dobyns, From
Fire to Flood, 36–41. For annual Afro-Eurasian weeds, see Crampton, Grasses in
California, 30.
61 Albert M. Gilliam, Travels in Mexico During the Years 1843 and 1844: Including a
Description of California, the Principal Cities and Mining Districts of that Republic;
the Oregon Territory, Etc. (G. Clark, 1847).
62 For Pacific Basin trade in the early American Republic, see Kariann Yokota,
Unbecoming British: How Revolutionary America Became a Postcolonial Nation
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), and David Igler, The Great Ocean.
63 John Tutino, Making a New World, 456–57.
64 This was rivaled, of course, by the Mongol expansion six hundred years earlier.
See Janet Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250–
1350 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
65 Christopher Clark, The Roots of Rural Capitalism: Western Massachusetts, 1780–
1860 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992).
66 The Cherokees initially benefited from the market revolution in agriculture un-
til the Jacksonian era when the first of many Indian Removal Acts forced Native
farmers off their land. See Alan Taylor, The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and
the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage Books,
2007); Theda Purdue, “The Legacy of Indian Removal,” Journal of Southern
History 78, no. 1 (February 2012); and Stephen Warren, The Worlds the Shawnees
Made: Migration and Violence in Early America (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 2014).
67 Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America,
1815–1848 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
68 Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience (1849). Lawrence Buell explores
Thoreau’s antiwar efforts in The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature

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Revolutions in the Grass 53

Writing, and the Formation of American Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University

Press, 1995).
69 For the influence of the revolutions of 1848 on the United States, see Timothy
Roberts, Distant Revolutions: 1848 and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism
(Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009).
70 Several recent studies have explored the global dimensions of cotton including
Brian Schoen, The Fragile Fabric of Union: Cotton, Federal Politics, and the Global
Origins of the Civil War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). Gavin
Wright’s classic study Political Economy of the Cotton South: Households, Markets,
and Wealth in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Norton Press, 1978) pioneered
approaches to the global environmental dimensions to commodity crops like
71 Jon T. Coleman, for example, argues that Mormon expansion also helped pave
the way for Anglo-American livestock production on the Great Plains. See
Vicious, chaps. 7 and 8.
72 See Cynthia Radding, Landscapes of Power and Identity, chaps. 7 and 8.
73 Susanne Freidberg, Fresh: A Perishable History (Harvard: Harvard University Press,
74 Cronon brilliantly documents this transformation in Nature’s Metropolis.
75 See Andrew Isenberg, “From Mexico to America,” 9.
76 See Irene J. Brennan, ed., Fort Mojave: 1859–1890. Letters of the Commanding
Officers (Manhattan: Kansas State University, 1980). For the establishment of
Fort Yuma and protecting cattle, see Sweeny Diary, MS SW 85, HL.
77 Although outside of the scope of this article, forts in the Northwest (like Forts
Nisqually, Victoria, and Vancouver in the Puget Sound) also facilitated (and pro-
tected) livestock production for multinational corporations like the Hudson Bay
Company during the 1840s. Puget Sound Agricultural Papers, FN 1-1290, Fort
Nisqually Collection, HL.
78 B. Schmölder, The Emigrants Guide to California, Describing Its Geography,
Agricultural and Commercial Resources. Containing a Well-Arranged List of the
Commodities Most Desirable for Exporting to that Country, with a Table of the Duties
(London: P. Richardson, 1849).

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