Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Keep America Beautiful -- Burn a Billboard!"


A little paper I wrote on Cactus Ed for an English class.


Edward Paul Abbey was born on January 29, 1927, in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Contrary to popular belief he was not born in Home and did not live nor die in Oracle. “This is a fictionalized account of himself” (Cahalan xi). His family moved to Home in 1936 and lived there for 5 years (Cahalan 13). While attending Marion Center High he was published twice in the school newspaper. He wrote “an anti-Hitler editorial, ‘America and the Future’… and ‘Another Patriot’ a short story” (Cahalan 22).
During the summer before his senior year he decides to explore the American southwest. He lived the life of a hobo, hopping trains and hitchhiking. The Grand Canyon is where his love of the west began. He returned to Pennsylvania and graduated high school in 1945. H was drafted right out of high school (Cahalan 27-29). He served 2 years as a typist and a military police officer he was honorably discharged in 1947 (Cahalan 34).
Abbey wrote an essay about his time in the military entitled; My life as a P.I.G.: The True Adventures of Smokey the Cop. ( Abbey, The Serpents of Paradise153) This essay also chronicles his time as a park ranger.
After his discharge he used his stipend from the G.I. bill to attend school at Indiana State Teachers College. While at ISTC he publicly proposed destruction of draft cards. This act put him on the F.B.I. watched list where he would remain for years to come (FBI). He attended ISTC for less than a year before moving on to the University of New Mexico. Abbey received 2 degree while there, a B.A. in philosophy and English (Bishop 88). He later received a master in philosophy from UNM.
Abbey became the editor for the student newspaper, while in this position he published an article called “Some Implications of Anarchy” The cover quotation stated  "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest." Obviously Ed was removed as editor and all copies of that issue were seized by the university. (Cahalan 44)
After graduation Abbey moved to Edinburgh, Scotland where he  attended the Edinburg University for a year as a Fulbright scholar. His master thesis was Anarchism and the Morality of Violence. In this thesis he posed two questions: "To what extent is the current association between anarchism and violence warranted?" and "In so far as the association is a valid one, what arguments have the anarchists presented, explicitly or implicitly, to justify the use of violence?"(Abbey).  These question helped shape the ethical foundation of Earth First!.
While studying at EU he took several trips throughout Europe. In 1952 he went to Austria, while there he attended a Conference in Defense of Children. A F.B.I. agent saw Abbey there. The agent felt this was a communist inspired meeting and reported his findings to his superiors. “The FBI began an investigation into the question of his loyalty to the United States” (Bishop 89).
Once Abbey discovered the F.B.I. was investigating him, he started toying with the agents. He began publishing letters in The Daily Lobo, a student paper, trying to get the FBI’s attention. He stated in one letter that he felt “the essential wrongness of war, and is searching for an alternative” (Bishop 93).
Fifteen other students signed Ed’s letter and announced they were starting a group “to discuss the ‘implications and possibilities of no wars’…F.B.I. agents suspected sedition” (Bishop 93). Even though several professors, students and collogues vouched for Ed’s loyalty to America the FBI kept tabs on him the majority of his life.
“A loyalty of government employee investigation was conducted while Abbey worked for the National Forest Service”(FBI) Nothing about pulling survey stakes, dismantling billboards or his overall hatred of industrial tourism was in the report.
When Abbey received a copy of the full report against him he found it amusing that they lacked any relevant information. Friends and fans wondered what would have happened if the F.B.I. had had actually read one of his books. It was obvious they had not or his file would have contained information regarding the removal of billboards and destruction of machinery.
          “Since at least as far back as the 1950 preservationists have been cutting down billboards, pulling up survey stakes, decommissioning bulldozers and committing other non-common acts of ecological sabotage” (Foreman 119). One of the few preservationist that Foreman describes was Edward  Abbey.
            Abbey recorded his first act of eco-defense in 1956 while working at Arches National Money-Mint as he called it. In his book Desert Solitaire he describes pulling survey stakes that the park service installed for the new road into the monument (67). He had moved on to larger acts of sabotage in just a short time.
            “By 1958 Edward Abbey was sawing down billboards in New Mexico” (Liddick 17). According to Doug Peacock, by the early 1970’s he and Ed were “taking out bulldozers and plotting against strip mines” (Peacock 32).
             It easy to see Abbey’s progression towards larger acts of eco-defense, this being the case I feel it is safe to assume that before the publishing of The Brave Cowboy in 1956 he had more than likely cut fences as well. My reasoning for this assumption is that Abbey did what he and his friends called “field research” for his books (Peacock 36).
        Abbey is most known for his book The Monkey Wrench Gang. This book is said to have inspired Dave Foreman to start the radical environmental group Earth First!, always spelled with an exclamation point according to Abbeys wishes. This is also the book people claim showed his environmentalism. Abbey on the other hand claimed that this was a work of fiction, a comedy with no truth to it. That is great way to cover up the truth when talking to the media.
       While some Abbey followers buy into that and claim he had nothing to do with the monkey wrenching besides writing about it. Other give actual accounts of monkey-wrenching they did while in his presence and with his help.
        I intend to show that Edward Abbey set the platform for the foundation of Earth First! I will show that Abbey was committing acts of eco-sabotage at least 30 years before writing The Monkey Wrench Gang and before Foreman proclaimed the name Earth First! (Cahalan 192).
       I also intend to show that George Hayduke and other characters in his books were based more off of his own exploits than his friends. I will do this by looking at his non-fiction writings and show how they directly relate to his fictional books. I will also investigate the writings of his friends who give first-hand accounts of adventures with Ed.
Many people overlook Abbey’s environmental and anti-industrialism themes in his books all of which to varying degrees have had direct influence on his later books. In The Brave Cowboy Jack Burns cuts fence’s as he rides across the southwest (11). Seldom Seen Smith a character in The Monkey Wrench Gang also has a fascination with cutting fences (139). Smith introduces George Washington Hayduke into the act by stating “Always cut fence. That’s the law west of the hundredth meridian” (140).
Though Jack was crushed by plumbing supplies at the end of the story he was brought back from the grave by Abbey in 1971 when he removed his death in the paperback edition printed by banatine. He felt the end of Brave cowboy was too closed. This allowed Burns to return in Good News, The Monkey Wrench Gang and Hayduke lives!.
Hayduke’s first appearance was in Fire on the Mountain. He was also a character in Good News. These 2 characters played the most important roles in Abbey’s books. They were the anarchists, they were the ones that got things done.  It is widely accepted that Doug Peacock was the inspiration for George Hayduke. I believe that certain parts were Peacock other parts were Marc Gaede, but the majority was Abbey.
Marc Gaede was a co-founder of Environmental Action, a group that published the book Ecotage. This book contained stories about groups and individuals such as the Arizona Phantom, who wreaked havoc against land developers in the early 70s.
In 1970 Gaede who was fed up with the destruction of the west “spontaneously began pouring sand and sugar into fuel tanks and cutting hydraulic lines on backhoes” (Chase 40). Four years later in The Monkey Wrench Gang; Hayduke and friend would play out a similar scenario.
Both Peacock and Gaede where ex-military as was Hayduke. Both of them committed various acts of eco-defense, but their real life exploits where minimal compared to what Abbey himself carried out in the name of Hayduke.
Marc went on to start the Black Mesa Defense Fund with Jack Loeffler. Dave Foreman assisted with the project for a while before going on to start a Wild River fund.
Loeffler was introduced to Abbey in the 60’s by a mutual friend John De Puy, but they didn’t really get together until the defense fund began. “Abbey stayed behind the scenes. But he developed a knack for appearing at the moments when Jack needed him most” (Zakin 51).
According to Loeffler, he and Abbey spent a lot of time on the Black Mesa  “thinking dire thoughts; that was some of the field research that happened for the book” (Simmons)
Several scholars and Abbeys friends agree that the idea for The Monkey Wrench Gang was based off of the exploits of “several groups and individuals in the Southwest” (Foreman 119). One such group was the Eco-Raiders; during the late 60’s and early 70 this group was responsible for cutting down billboards and torching a housing complex while still under construction. One individual was the Arizona Phantom who attempted to take out a strip mine on the Black Mesa. The phantoms identity  remains unknown.
While ideas may have come from these people, I believe that the story was based off of Abbey and his friends. It is possible that Ed knew the phantoms identity or maybe it was him. It is rumored that someone from the Black Mesa Defense Fund was the crusader.
In Walking it Off Peacock talks about Ed asking him what he knew about explosive in the early 70’s (32). He than he goes on to state; “that winter we started taking out billboards and bulldozers and plotting against strip-mines...‘The monkey wrench days’ had begun” (34).
As part of the research with Peacock, Abbey had “purchased a  lot of surplus army gear” (Peacock 36). On one occasion they used a camouflage net to stretch over Peacocks truck so it was hidden from military aircraft, Doug played look out as Ed conducted research(Peacock 36).
That may have been the beginning for Peacock, but John De Pry says the origins of The Monkey Wrench Gang began in 1959.
Developers started moving into Taos, New Mexico and “the shit hit the fan”, he recalls a “company in Las Vegas, New Mexico put up six huge signs north of town, big 40, 50 foot signs” De Puy and Abbey, “decided to remove them and that was the beginning of a long story” (Stilles).
April 24, 1975 after the release of his book he “sabotaged road-building bulldozers” (Cahalan xiii). This act was an attempted to kill Goliath as he wrote about in Hayduke lives!. Hayduke sets out to disable Goliath and in the end he drive’s the machine over the edge of the canyon (287). Another scene in the book accounts for Hayduke looking for an escape and the Lone Ranger comes to save him. A law enforcement officer from Moab tells a similar tale but he claims that Abbey was Hayduke and he was the Lone Ranger (Carithers).
Due to Abbey’s challenged mechanical abilities, his attempts to hot-wire the monsters ran into one frustration after another. Finally, unable to start the engines in any of the machines, Abbey went to his old gray panel truck and hauled out his reliable standby: sugar and shellac fuel additive! But hasty, clumsy fumbling’s in the dark and carelessness mixing the shellac and sugar left a trail that would alert the machine operators the next morning that "monkeys" had indeed been playing on their equipment. (Carithers)
 The story many believe about the founding of Earth First! is that Dave Foreman, Howie Wolkes  and Mike Roselle were at a rest-stop or somewhere in the Picante Desert on their way to Albuquerque in 1980. Out of nowhere Foreman exclaims Earth First! and Roselle draws a fist in a circle. Later that night they pledged “no compromise in defense of mother earth”.
If you get on any Earth First! Website it states that “Earth First! was named in 1979 in response to a lethargic, compromising, and increasingly corporate environmental community”. So which story is correct? I sent Foreman an e-mail and his assistant assured me that Dave started it in 1980, I am still skeptical.
1n the early 70’s Doug Peacock and Abbey where out doing field research for a book Abbey was writing. The books theme was “No compromise in defense of the wilderness” (Peacock 38).  If this information is accurate than Abbey came up with Earth Firsts! theme at least 7 years before Foreman claims he started the group. Is it possible that Abbey was the first person to say Earth First!. That information may be buried somewhere in the Abbey archives at University of Arizona.
Even though Abbey and Forman shared several friends they never met until March 21, 1981 at the Round River Rendezvous held outside the Glen Canyon Dam. While Abbey was advocating sabotage and displaying his hatred for the dam from the bed of his pick-up truck; a few Earth First!ers snuck off to the dam. They draped a 100 foot piece of black plastic over the dam to simulate a crack (Cahalan193).
While writing The Monkey Wrench Gang Abbey and Ken Sleight, better known as Seldom Seen Smith, go to the Glen Canyon dam. Sleight kneels down and prays that God will send a bolt of lightning to crack the dam in. This act was one of the many that ended up in the book.
Abbey always had a hatred for this dam which was apparent in almost every book he wrote. In Down the River he talks about someone floating down The Green with a “Rucksack full of dynamite” (188).   Lyman Hagen once asked Abbey how he felt about the dam his answer was ”My First reaction is to unzip my fly and piss on it….I think it was a terrible, tragic, mistake, damming the Glen Canyon” (29).
Abbey never claimed to be a member of Earth First! but he  was a “financial angel” for the group (Zakin 201). Abbey sold several of his books through the group and donated every penny of the profits to them, he referred to this as his “tithe” (Postcards 180-181).
It seems that after the group formed Abbey stayed away from monkey wrenching for the most part. He was not getting his hands dirty, but he funded several trips that Foreman and friends made. During this time he wrote a forward for Foreman’s Book Eco Defense: A Field Guide to Monkey Wrenching.
This book gave detailed instructions on how to spike trees, edit billboards and sabotage machinery. In Abbeys Forward! He states “I can think of nothing I could add nor of anything I would subtract; he says exactly what needs to be said, no more no less. I am happy to endorse the publication on Eco Defense” (Foreman 5).
Several interviews with Abbey took place during the first few years of Earth First!. Everyone wanted to know how Ed felt about the newly formed group and if he supported sabotage. In an interview at Pack Creek Ranch he was asked if he was still cutting down billboards he replied with “That gets harder to do these days because more and more of them are on steel beams. I resent that bitterly. I’m much more interested in the idea of ‘editing’ billboards” (Hafen).
During the first 10 years he was a defender and a promoter of the group. He became furious when  a writer Alston Chase published an article in Outside Magazine referring to Earth First! as terrorists. Abbey responded and asked Alston to apologize to both EF! and the readers of Outside for insulting their intelligence (Abbey, Postcards from Ed 224).
A friend of Abbeys, Dave Petersen, asked Abbey why he supported Earth First so faithfully. Abbey replied “It’s because I see Earth First! as precisely the sort of spontaneous, anarchacic, extemporaneous uprising I most desire” (Abbey,Postcards from Ed 174).
On March 4, 1989 Abbey made his last public appearance at an Earth First! Rendezvous. He read to the crowd from a section of his soon to released book Hayduke Lives!. A week later he died (Peacock 49). Earth First! lasted only 10 years in its original form. A similar group exists today, but Foreman was not willing to support the new group as they did not support Abbey and  it had become too far out there for his redneck tastes.
According to Abbeys wishes he was transported to an undisclosed location in the back of a pick-up and buried. After his death more information came to light about his affiliation with the group and his involvement in sabotage. Peacock suggests in Walking it Off that Abbey had inspired him and friends to commit sabotage. He believes that when Abbey died “the real Hayduke was buried” (49).
It is easy to speculate that Abbey contributed his fair share of monkey wrenching, but there are a few who know the truth and the evidence of his involvement is out there. The main barriers to the full story are those who do not wish to be implicated for felonious behavior.
Foreman was arrested shortly after Abbey’s death, he served a few months in jail before leaving Earth First! He has written several book including Confessions of an Eco-Warrior but gives minimal details into his activities with Ed.  He does state that Ed was not a “True Believer” (174). He felt that  Ed’s writing spurred the environmental movement, but Ed did not truly contribute to the cause.
I disagree with Foreman’s statement. There is a proven record that starts back in the 50’s, but ends with the formation of Earth First!  Abbey “pulled sensors out of the ground with a winch” (Loeffler 126). He ran “nightly attacks on route 66” (Loeffler 38) and at one point tried to acquire a bazooka (Loeffler 105).
I speculate that with the formation of the group and eco-raiders being arrested Ed quit his “night job”(Cahalan 99). He may have understood that monkey wrenching had become high profile and the law would catch up with him eventually.
There are only two  the possibilities in my eyes; Abbey was getting older and had a few
close calls with the law. He found that he could get more accomplished by writing books, defending the defenders and financing their operations inadvertently. By doing this he became the mastermind and inspired hundreds of activists to do what he could not have done alone.
The other possibility is that Abbey his friends and every person who wrote about him is a liar and the legend of Abbey was fabricated to sell books.




















 Work Cited
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  Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey. 1951-1989. Ed. Petersen. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994. Print.
 Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast. Ed. Petersen. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2006. Print.
 Desert Solitaire: a Season in the Wilderness. New York: Ballantine, 1971. Print.
Down the River. New York: Dutton, 1982. Print.
The Monkey Wrench Gang. Salt Lake City: Dream Garden, 1990. Print.
The Serpents of Paradise: A Reader. Holt Paperbacks, 1996. Print
Bishop, James. Epitaph For A Desert Anarchist: The Life And Legacy Of Edward Abbey.               New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Print
Cahalan, James M. Edward Abbey: A Life. Tuscan: University of Arizona Press, 2001. Print
Carithers, Douglas. "The True Story of a Lone Ranger Who Made a Friend In the Desert."             Http://www.abbeyweb.net. 1998. Web. 05 Nov. 2011.        
Davis, John. The Earth First! Reader: Ten Years of Radical Environmentalism. Salt Lake City:    
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De puy, John. An Interview with John De Puy. Interview by Jim Stilles.      Canyoncountryzephyr.com. Web. 11 Nov. 2011.
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Foreman, Dave. Ecodefense: A Field guide for Monkeywrenching.  Tuscan: Earth First! Books,                  1985. Print
Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. New York: Harmony Books, 1991. Print
Hafen, Lynon & Milo McCowan. Edward Abbey: An Interview At Pack Creek Ranch.
Santa Fe, New Mexico: Vinegar Tom Press, 1999, 2nd edition. Print
Hepworth, James & Gregory McNamee. Resist Much, Obey Little: Some Notes on Edward                              Abbey. Salt Lake City: Dream Garden Press, 1985  Eastlake. A note on Edward                                  Abbey 20-22 . Print
Loeffler, Jack. Adventures with Ed: a Portrait of Abbey. Albuquerque: University of New             Mexico, 2002. Print.
Ed Abbey, Hero Activist: A Conversation with Jack Loeffler. Interview by Todd                             Simmons. Http://www.matterdaily.org. Web. 11 Nov. 2011.
Love, Sam, and David Obst. Ecotage.  New York: Pocket, 1972. Print.
Peacock, Doug. Walking it off: A Veteran’s Chronicle of War and Wilderness. Spokane,WA.                                     Eastern Washington University Press, 2005. Print
Wall, Derek. Earth First! And the anti-roads movement: radical environmentalism and                                   comparative social movements. London: Routledge, 1999. Print
Zakin, Susan. Coyotes and Town Dogs: Earth First and the Environmental Movement. Tucson:                     Univ. of Arizona, 1993. Print.