The Buffalo Commons

The Buffalo Commons, Montana There is a stream of Western ideas. It meanders. Our great thinkers are tributaries. Their contributions each push the stream a little out of its way. Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalysis, Albert Einstein's Relativity, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, and Alvin Toffler's Future Shock were less scientific theories than philosophies elegantly expressed, which, because they were accessible by the popular imagination, penetrated the current of American thought and subverted it.
Frederick Jackson Turner, a native of Portage, WI, delivered his Frontier Thesis in 1893.


In 1987, Deborah and Frank Popper, writing from Rutgers, published a modest proposal to reverse the settlement of the plains and reestablish the American frontier.


The Poppers' work is backed up by recent census figures.


The Poppers' Buffalo Commons disparages European modes of settlement and land use on the plains and extols the advantages of indigenous modes. Turner's Frontier Thesis, does the reverse. At first glance, the Buffalo Commons seems opposed to the Frontier Thesis, but look more closely. Both touch upon the influence of a hypothetical frontier on American life. Both refer to population statistics, taking note of depopulation occurring on the plains in the 1890s. Both assume that the population of the plains is moving toward some hypothetical steady state, disregarding profound historic and prehistoric population swings because of disease and migration. Both approve assertion of Federal authority over the public lands to the detriment of local and state authority. Both approve the role of public domain to regulate land use. Both base their arguments on racial stereotypes. The Buffalo Commons is the dual of the Frontier Thesis. I believe it is as surely a wholly derivative work as I am safe to say that both Turner and the Poppers are the intellectual descendants of Thomas Malthus. That is the power of a great idea: It is a hundred years on, and we have nothing else to talk about.

Not all philosophers take themselves so seriously.


Works Cited

Egan, Timothy. "As Others Abandon Plains, Indians and Bison Come Back.". New York Times 27 May 2001: N. pag.

Isern, Tom. "Plains Folk: Buffalo Commons or Mammoth Savannah?" News for North Dakotans N. vol. (17 Aug. 2000): 10 pars. Online. Internet. 26 Aug. 2004.

Popper, Deborah Epstein, and Frank J. Popper. "The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust.". Planning Dec. 1987: N. pag. Online. Internet. 26 Aug. 2004.

Turner, Frederick Jackson. "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." The Frontier in American History. New York: Holt, 1935. Online. American Studies at the University of Virginia. Internet. 26 Aug. 2004. Available http://xroads.virginia.edu/%7EHYPER/TURNER/chapter1.html. N. pag.


Rhode, Chuck. "The Buffalo Commons." The Hi-Line and the Yellowstone Trail: To Glacier Park and Back Again. 1 Sept. 2004. Lacus Veris. 29 Mar. 2017 <http://lacusveris.com/The Hi-Line and the Yellowstone Trail/The Buffalo Commons/Buffalo Commons.shtml>. Last modified 6 Oct. 2015. Served 5071 times between 16 May. 2010 and 29 Mar. 2017. Contact mailto:CRhode@LacusVeris.com?subject=LacusVeris.