THERE WERE GIANTS in the land. I always thought my uncle, Len Neal, was about 10 feet tall.
That’s why I went to the family reunion in Oregon, to visit the old folks at home.
It was a small crowd. Most of the Neals have moved on. That’s how we got here.
It may have started in Ireland, first populated about 8,000 years ago. Ireland was a paradise of big trees, elk and salmon.
It was good . . . too good to last.
Stone Age farmers cut down the trees, overgrazed the land and farmed some areas down to bare limestone. The elk were hunted into extinction.
Ireland may have been ruined before the British invasion in the 16th century.
That’s when the real trouble started. The natives were disposed of their lands. The survivors were shipped overseas as slave labor on plantations in the New World or herded into sharecropper plots.
The introduction of the potato to Ireland in 1600 set off a population boom and bust cycle of famine and disease best described by the British economist, Thomas Malthus, who observed that the population increased geometrically while subsistence increased arithmetically.
Jonathan Swift, an Anglo-Irish satirist came up with his own solution to the Malthus Theory.
Swift’s Modest Proposal advised Irish parents to sell their children as food for the rich.
At the time, you could get passage across the Atlantic Ocean by working six years as an indentured servant, which is how Robert Neal and an estimated 80 percent of the population of the American Colonies got there.
With the Revolutionary War, Neal served under Francis Marion, aka “The Swamp Fox,” whose guerilla force of black and white volunteers sometimes dwindled to 20 men that at times were the only resistance to the British in the state of South Carolina.
After the war, the Neals followed Daniel Boone, who had discovered the trail through the mountains to Kentucky.
Boone found the land rich in buffalo, elk and deer. It was known as “The Dark and Bloody Ground” by the time the Neals got done with it.
We moved on to Missouri. Before long it was time to go West.
In 1844, the Neals formed a wagon train and set off on the Oregon Trail. This journey has been described in excruciating detail by a number of sources.
The Neals hired James Clyman as a guide. He was a literate mountain man who kept a journal.
He described how our train was full of “discontent and grumbling” about serving night guard duty, and how we abandoned our posts to go buffalo hunting, leaving 40,000 ponds of meat to rot on the prairie.
Discipline was strict. One man was left staked out on the prairie in the rain for a day.
The Missourians’ arrival at Fort Laramie, Wyo., was noted by the historian, Francis Parkman, who described them as “tall awkward men, in brown homespun, women with cadaverous faces . . . being devoid of delicacy or propriety. . . .
“They are the rudest and most ignorant of the frontier population.”
We shot out the game, polluted the water holes and outraged the Indians.
We made it to Oregon anyway, settling in the Willamette Valley until the railroads had time to catch up.
With the invention of the chain saw, we followed the railroads north and west to the Sappho, where we logged the Forks Burn.
The North Olympic Peninsula was a paradise of big trees, elk and salmon. It was good, too good to last.
By the new millennium, the big trees were either gone or protected. The salmon were endangered. The elk were shot out.
I decided to go to Alaska.
(Continued next week.)
Pat Neal is a fishing guide and writer. His column appears in the PDN every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or [email protected] Check out his blog: http://patnealwildlife.blogspot.com.
Pat’s latest book, WildLife Volume 2, and a CD of WildLife Stories is available at Jim’s Pharmacy in Port Angeles.