"Make the desert blossom like the rose": Animal Acclimatization, Settler Colonialism, and the Construction of Oregon's Nature.

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Date: Fall 2021
From: Oregon Historical Quarterly(Vol. 122, Issue 3)
Publisher: Oregon Historical Society
Document Type: Article
Length: 14,632 words
Lexile Measure: 1610L

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IN 1893, the world's fair opened in Chicago. Among its many extravaganzas, the fair featured displays by individual American states designed to highlight their attractions. Oregon's exhibit extolled the state's natural beauty, employing taxidermy to showcase the ring-necked pheasant --Phasianus colchicus torquatus--a chicken-sized bird of handsome plumage, which made for excellent sport-hunting. (1) Local media was suitably impressed, deeming the bird both emblematic and alluring. The Morning Oregonian described the exhibit as a "beautiful example of the taxidermist's art" and opined that if such an exhibit failed to "give Eastern sportsmen a conception of the beauties of Oregon nothing save a trip to the Willamette Valley will." (2)

On the surface, nothing seems odd about a young state boasting about its natural beauty and animal inhabitants. As the ring-necked pheasant's contemporary colloquial name--the "Chinese pheasant"--reveals, however, it had not long been one of the "beauties of Oregon." (3) Introduced to the state from China in 1881 on the initiative of Oregon notable Owen Nickerson Denny, the bird thrived in its new surroundings under an initial hunting moratorium, lasting from 1882 to 1891. Denny intended the ring-necked pheasant to serve as a game bird for sport-hunting, an upper-class leisure pursuit that he practiced. (4) When the moratorium lapsed in 1891, hunters indeed were extremely enthusiastic about the bird; it was suitably challenging to hunt as well as delightfully "toothsome" to consume. (5) Those qualities quickly made it the game bird of choice in Oregon and beyond. Beginning in the 1890s and continuing throughout the first half of the twentieth century, all the other forty-seven continental American states attempted to introduce ring-necked pheasants, enjoying much success but also significant failure. Currently established in their millions in nineteen states, the ring-necked pheasant is now deeply enmeshed in American landscapes and culture alike. In 1943, it even became South Dakota's state bird. (6)

The pheasant's inclusion in Oregon's exhibit to the world's fair is an early sign of the bird's adoption into American culture as a beloved creature, symbolic of American environments and ideals. Yet how and why the bird came to exert such transcendent significance in Oregon and beyond --already so vividly apparent just twelve years after its transplantation from China--requires explanation. The importance of sport-hunting to American culture at the time is surely one factor, but deeper processes are at root. The pheasant's importation to Oregon was a product of, and later a touchstone within, American settler-colonialism--the multi-faceted ideology that alleged Euro-American superiority, marginalized Indigenous peoples, and glorified the renovation of landscapes in accordance with Euro-American norms and imperatives. (7) The centrality of the ring-necked pheasant to Oregon's world's fair exhibit is a case in point. Putting forth a recently introduced species as a symbol of Oregon's natural beauty exalted the settler state-building project that demanded the "improvement" and "civilizing" of newly settled environments, often at the expense of both Indigenous people and animals. (8) The story of the ring-necked pheasant also highlights an overlooked effect of American settlement. Oregon settlers did...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A676634555