Tyson Valley, a Lone Elk, and the Bomb

Christmas Eve, I spent at a local place, Lone Elk park, just outside of St. Louis. It’s a large animal preserve and outdoor facility, with a 3.2 mile hike around the perimeter. My hiking book described the hike as ‘easy’ but the park labeled it difficult. I tend to side with the park–though the trail was very well marked and in decent shape (meaning no rocks to trip over), there was some pretty stiff climbs at times.

The park has some old buildings left over from World War II, and a nice small man-made lake in what’s called ‘Elk Hollow’. However, the stars of the park are the animals: the herds of bison, deer, and elk. Especially the elk.

Out walking, I saw a few deer and the geese on the frozen surface of the lake, but the only elk I saw were a couple of females at a distance, partially obscured by trees. When I got back to the car, though, I saw two young bucks by the side of the road, not ten feet away, browsing on the winter dried grass. I grabbed my camera and had just started taking photos, when I noticed out of the corner of my eye, across the lot in another clearing, a mature male, with a beautiful rack, sun reflecting on his gold/brown fur. He was stunning. Absolutely stunning.

I moved closer to him, but not too close to be a threat, and started taking more photos. After a few minutes of me dancing about, taking shot after shot, he stopped eating and looked at me. He started to step to the parking lot, and I backed up to the car, not sure if I had antagonized him. But when I moved back, he moved back. I moved forward, and he started moving forward. We danced back and forth for a few minutes, until I got the point and just stood still. He carefully stepped into the lot, and then walked in front of the cars that were now stopped to enjoy his (and I have a feeling my) antics.

The other two elk, in turn, followed him toward the lake — keeping an eye on me, but not particularly worried at my presence (they’re used to people). I followed them to the lake, trying not to crowd them, snapping all the way.

All in all, I have a lot of elk photos. You knew this was coming, didn’t you? I thought then that rather than just dump them in the page, I would tell you the story about Tyson Valley, its history, and the reason that the park I walked in is named Lone Elk Park. It’s a story of war and peace, and war and peace, again. It’s also a story of perseverance and deep loneliness.

And the atom bomb.

The Lone Elk

No one knows for sure how old the lone elk was; they didn’t even know he still existed, much less the year he was born. When he was finally discovered in the hollow of the old Tyson Valley Powder Farm by the surprised park worker, he was a full grown male, …standing over seven feet tall.

At a minimum, he had to be at least seven years old, because elk are dependent on their mothers for their first year; and his mother, along with every other member of his herd, had been rounded up by members of the US Army and shot within a three month period, exactly six years before his discovery. But I’m getting ahead of my story.

From Peace to War

Tyson Valley is the area framed by the Meramec River and old Route 66, what is now Interstate 44. Prior to the 1940’s, the area served primarily for mining by whatever people were dominate at the time. Before Europeans appeared, the native American people would mine the area’s chert deposits, and trade the high quality material with other tribes. After the 1800’s, the area served as a limestone mine and quarry, generating enough business to start a town, which eventually attracted it’s own railway line. However, the mine played out in 1927, and aside from some planned lumber operation, the land lay fallow.

All this changed when the US was suddenly drawn into World War II. In 1941, the government bought the land under the concept of imminent domain, purchasing over 2600 acres of hilly country pocketed with the remains of shallow mines. It turned the old town and the rest of the space into the Tyson Valley Powder Farm: an ammunition dump, chemical storage center, and weapon test site. The Army built concrete storage shelters, vaults, and several buildings, along with several miles of road, and enclosed all but a few hundred acres of it with a strong, wire fence. Patrols in jeeps carrying machine guns, or on mules with rifles, rode the parameter keeping intruders out.

There were no elk in the area at that time, and chances are, none of the white-tailed deer that are so ubiquitous now. However, even if there were larger animals trapped within the military fence, its unlikely that animals would have been allowed among the firing ranges, and near the buildings, where the TNT and PETN were stored. They especially wouldn’t be allowed near the building that stored the uranium refined by Mallinckrodt Chemical for the Manhattan Project.

From War to More War

In 1942, several members of the Manhattan Project paid a visit to Edward Mallinckrodt of the Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, in St. Louis. They had a problem and wanted to know if he could help them. Their problem was that they needed uranium refined to a higher degree of purity than had ever been produced before.

Following a procedure designed by the University of Chicago, the people at Mallinckrodt were able to meet the needs of the project; the company re-tooled a plant in St. Louis specifically to produce this refined uranium.

Most of the workers had no idea what they were working on.

An operator working for Walter Schmidt read an article in the newspaper about uranium-235–the story was about some work the Austrians were doing at the time. Later that day, as an Army official watched the men work, the man quite innocently asked if the material was similar to U-235. Shocked speechless, the Army man literally ran from the scene and soon returned with three more officials. A barrage of questions followed and they were stunned to learn that the operator had read the very small article and connected it with the work Mallinckrodt was doing.

Not until that day in August, 1945 did the men of Mallinckrodt know how vital their work had been to the winning of the war. A holiday was declared for the people of the uranium project — a brief respite for relaxing and celebrating. Then, on with the job, because there was still much work to do.

Mallinckrodt ended up providing uranium fuel for weapons and for nuclear plants. In the process, due to the contamination of the Weldon Springs area, it also helped create one of St. Louis major superfund site (see here).

During the production of the uranium, an issue of where to store the material arose. It had to be stored in an isolated place, with good security, and already set up for storing hazardous material. It didn’t take the powers that be all that long before turning their eyes to Tyson Valley. From documents released by the DoE, Tyson was used to store refined uranium, consisting of 0.7% u-235, from 1942 to 1947. Just a few years later, when the guns of war stilled yet again, the same area that housed uranium was used to house mushrooms.

From War back to Peace

In 1947, at the end of World War II, the government no longer needed the ammo dump and started looking around for a buyer. One of the first and most interested was the St. Louis County, which sought to turn the area into a park, with hiking trails and horseback riding. Tyson Valley Park officially opened in 1948, and included among its attractions a miniature railway. It also served as a wildlife refuge, as elk from Yellowstone, Bison from South Dakota, and white-tailed deer from Grant’s Farm were brought in.

The Park thrived, attracting a number of visitors, and the park management made good use of the roads and facilities left by the government. Buildings were turned into restaurants and hot dog stands, and shelters were used to store animal feed. Even the concrete storage ‘igloos’ were put to use, leased out to mushroom farmers who found the dark, damp interiors ideal mushroom growing conditions. The animals imported into the park also thrived, and the elk numbers especially started to grow. However, Tyson Valley and the animals peaceful existence was short-lived, because following on the heels of World War II, the United States was about to embark on another war, this time with Korea.

From Peace back to War

In 1951, invoking provisions written into the original contract of sale, the government decided to re-instate the Tyson Valley Powder Farm, and return buildings and the land to their former uses. At first the Army leased the space, but eventually they bought it back from the county–all but a small portion outside of the fence, which ended up becoming West Tyson County Park.

The County tried to find homes for all the animals it brought in, and finally moved the Bison to the zoo at Kansas City. However, no one wanted the elk or the deer so the county left them; they co-existed for years with the military.

It’s into this environment that the lone elk was born, somewhere in the late 1950’s. By now, the original herd of ten elk had grown hugely, and now numbered 108 members; too many for the area to support. It must have been tough for the little elk and his mother to survive; since all the elk were penned within the military fence, they couldn’t migrate to find food, and had to scavenge for what green they could find–even to pulling up grass edging around the ammo dumps and the chemical storage. The scents must have been confusing: faint shadows of mushroom and hot dogs overlaid by that of TNT.

One fall day, a bull elk in the midst of rutting behavior attacked and damaged one of the Army’s cars. An officer at the time decided that the animals were no longer safe to have about — especially since there was now no longer any vegetation for the animals to live on, and the military did not ‘have the funds’ to feed the animals.

The officer gave the order to gather all the elk together and shoot them, donating the meat to the local Pantry, as food for the poor. From October 1958 to March 1959, soldiers shot any elk they discovered, until no more could be found. They left the deer be, which may have been the saving grace for our young, and now very much alone elk.

It’s that old peace thing again

The Korean War ended, or faded to an end is more realistic. For a while, the land was used by the government for storage of odds and ends, such as the storage of surplus corn and wheat. However, in 1961 the government decided it no longer needed the Tyson Valley Powder Farm and put the land up for sale. The County wanted to re-claim as much land as they could, but Washington University also wanted as much as possible for biological and medical research. The government sold 2000 acres to Washington University, with an odd stipulation that it must conduct research for twenty years. Of the rest, the County was able to buy back an additional 465 acres to add to the West Tyson County Park.

The County had plans to make the park into a winter playground, with skiing and sledding and support for other winter sports. It was while work was underway for both sections of land–the Tyson Research Center and the now expanded Tyson Valley Park, including building fences between the two–that the park worker stumbled on to the large elk, trying to stay hidden in among the trees.

The elk had been hiding for six years (I’ve read reports of ten, but this longer length doesn’t match other records), keeping out of way of any humans, and living off of whatever green it could find in the enclosed area. It’s discovery was to soon change everything. As Conor Watkins wrote:

At the same time, the county was busy constructing a chain-link fence between the park and Washington University’s Tyson Research Center. The park Superintendent, Wayne Kennedy, ordered that a gap be left in the fence until the elk was on the park side of the fence. Kennedy told the park Supervisor, Gene McGillis, to oversee this task. McGillis was an American Indian and familiar with tracking animals. He dumped a truckload of sand at the gap in the fence and waited a few days. When a set of elk tracks was seen entering the park with none leaving, McGillis called Kennedy to have the gap in the fence closed. The gap was closed when Kennedy spotted the elk in the park from a helicopter.

St. Louis County originally planned to turn the hilly park into a winter recreation area with ski slopes, sled and toboggan tracks, camping, and an archery range. Once the elk was in the park, it was decided that the area be used for hiking and picnicking, activities more friendly for an elk. Soon the park was re-named to Lone Elk. The public became involved and students from elementary schools in the Rockwood School District collectively donated $300 to transport more elk from Yellowstone National Park. Students were encouraged to bring dimes to school to help the cause. Any student contributing a dime or more earned a certificate for a share of ‘Elk Stock’. The truckload of elk stopped at Ellisville Elementary and was viewed by exited students. The Fred Weber Corporation donated a $50,000 dam to build a lake within the park. The elk story even gained enough national attention for Walter Cronkite to cover the event.

When the five female and one male elk were brought into the now newly renamed Lone Elk park, the lone elk, formerly so shy, showed up within 20 minutes of their being released. He stayed with the herd until he was found dead a little over a year later. However, several of the elk in the park I was able to appreciate on Christmas eve were descended from the lone elk; perhaps even the beauty I photographed at the start of this story.

Speaking of which, does this Story have an Ending

There is no statue to the lone elk, and no burial mound to stand at with bowed head. His story is a testament to the will to survive, and no memorial is more fitting than to take a moment and stand at the banks of the frozen lake in Elk Hollow and watch the geese walk carefully across the ice; or to watch two buck males casually lock antlers, as they work through hierarchy and dominance. Life is, itself, a memorial, and perhaps the only truly worthwhile one at that.

As for Tyson Valley, the marks of war are mostly gone in the park area, though the old Army buildings are still being used in the Tyson Research Center. The government did find buried metal and discarded ammunition in the park, which had to be cleaned up. However, a specially trained medical team from Washington University investigated both the park and the Center and reported in 1988 that they could find no traces of radioactive contamination from the stored uranium.

Who is to say if this is always so, and wouldn’t there be irony, as there was in the last set of links, and perhaps even some justice if there was some radioactive contamination in the meat taken from the elks gathered up and hunted? Or in the grain stored for so long, the mushrooms grown in the dark, or the hot dogs served those many years ago?

Most likely not. However, if there’s ever a blackout in St. Louis and those in Illinois still see a dim glow out our way, listen for the faint bugle of a triumphant lone elk in the wind.

What’s next

I have been sending emails to groups that have and still are organizing marches for peace, basically posing to them the question: what’s next. Specifically, I sent emails to MoveOn and a more local organization Instead of War. The only email I’ve gotten in return from both is group emails for new actions.

Instead of War sent an email listing several new peace marches, some focused around the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. According to the note, one of the marches is sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr Holiday Committee. I’ll be honest that even if I were still marching to protest the war in Iraq, I would not march in a protest sponsored by a committee that considers the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr a ‘holiday’. I’m sorry, but I only commemorate Dr. King’s life. This march has a very confused message.

I’m not surprised that I haven’t received any response from Instead of War in regards to “What’s Next?” From my previous experience with protests against the Vietnam war and transporting nuclear waste across Washington state as well as several other environmentally and politically related issues, I have found that protest organizations are very conservative.

The MoveOn organization, though, sent an email that started with the following:

The war with Iraq continues. No one knows if it will last weeks, months, or years. Even after the fighting stops in Iraq, the fallout from this war could span decades. We can only hope that it ends quickly, with an absolute minimum loss of life.

The email addresses the question of What next? by starting a letter to the editor campaign focusing specifically on the issues that I find myself focused on — working against a US controlled occupation of Iraq:

Even as the troops march towards Baghdad, a big controversy is brewing over what will happen when the war does end. The neoconservatives like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle envision a longer U.S. occupation of Iraq, directed entirely by the Pentagon and with only minimal participation by other countries and the U.N. Their scheme calls for setting up a provisional government in which Americans head each of the 23 ministries. In essence, they want to win the peace the way the U.S. has pushed for war: alone.

The U.S. State Department, the C.I.A., Prime Minister Tony Blair, the major humanitarian relief organizations, France, Germany, and most of the rest of the countries in the world disagree with this plan. They’d like to see the reconstruction of Iraq as a collaborative, international effort lead by the U.N. And many of them believe the Pentagon plan is a recipe for disaster.

The decision on how post-war Iraq is to be managed will be made in the next several days, and the Administration is split. The consequences will play out in Iraq and around the world for generations. By writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, you can help to sway the balance away from the unilateralism that has done so much damage and toward a collective rebuilding process.

I’m not sure that a letter to the editor campaign will help sway the balance away from the unilateralism but it will start the conversation in that direction, and this is not a bad thing. In fact, the same letter should be sent to congressional members and local politicians, in addition to those who are campaigning for political positions in upcoming elections. Start the letters with, “I am a registered voter…”.

Not saying stop is not the same as saying go

In some ways I regret my Peaceblog no more writing, not because I don’t believe what I wrote — I do. And not because I feel like I’m selling out — I’m not. It seems to me this issue is on the minds of other people who marched and worked for peace. And it’s not an easy issue to discuss either.

I am aware that there are some people who are unhappy that I’m not continuing to protest the armed conflict in Iraq. That doesn’t bother me, as I knew that there will be people protesting the war until the end and that some will understand where I’m coming from, others won’t. I can accept this.

No, what does bother me is that others see this as a form of support for the war, as some sort of right-thinking move. (I hate that term with a passion, almost as much as I dislike neo-con.)

Let me be blunter: I am still against this war in Iraq. I believe, strongly, that the United States has no right to make what amounts to a unilateral invasion of Iraq. People are suffering and dying because of super inflated egos who have worked out a ‘strategy’ on paper and who refuse to acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers; in most cases, they don’t even know what the questions are. No, I believe the US screwed up.

However, I am also most interested in focusing my energy on what we can do to help the people of Iraq as soon as possible, as well as minimize the anger in the rest of the Arab world. In my opinion, this means establishing an interim government that will be acceptable to the Iraqi people and the majority of countries in the Middle East. At least until the Iraqi feel comfortable enough, as a whole, for everyone to “please just leave now”.

To me, this interim government should be overseen by more neutral parties, in my opinion, something joint between the Arab League and the UN.

I think the worst possible thing will be for the United States to continue in any form of controlling position in this country. Not only will this increase the stress and the anger in the Middle East, quite bluntly, I don’t trust the current leadership of this country not to screw up.

I also want to ensure that the US does not invade any other countries without cause. Not on my watch at least.

Now, taking all that, and borrowing from Jonathon’s upcoming “‘How to Respond to Idiots’ for Dummies” book, I don’t know how one gets from being sadly resigned to the belief that pulling troops out at this time would do more harm than good to the Iraqi people to I am now behind this war to give freedom and human rights to the Iraqi people.

However, there may be some confusion because of a mixed message I’m sending. After all, I am behind a war for freedom and human rights; it’s just that this war is being fought within the United States, not Iraq.

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From the Ashes arises the bird of converse

Sheila probably spoke for many yesterday when she declared no more war. The anger and bitterness surrounding the issue of the war in Iraq can drain even the most energetic of people. However, my hope is the war of rhetoric has managed to burn itself out, and from the ashes can come true conversation.

Soldiers are heading to Baghdad, and eventually, this city will be in US hands. This isn’t to say the ‘war’ will be over — this is not a typical war, fought by typical warriors. The question was asked — what next? Steve Himmer made a start on answering this question, without rhetoric, providing practical suggestions as to directions. In particular, his suggestion of the UNESCO loan program is a viable, reachable start to helping the people in Iraq. However, equally important, in my opinion, was that he was making an attempt to bridge differences between people with different views of the war in Iraq. And doing so in a non-confrontational manner.

Jonathon Delacour commented on Steve’s efforts, in the same writing where he responded to an accusation of racism levied against him in his comments. His remarks are about the most rational and effective response to that type of accusation I have seen. Rather let loose a stream of invective, and wade in with shirt sleeves rolled up, ready for a virtual showdown, he calmly refuted the accusation; managing to deflect the anger of the accusation, not back at the accuser, but outside the conversation, completely.

That’s what we need to do.

Primarily because of Steve’s reasoned response, Jonathon has also re-directed his discussion about protest marchers into expressing a specific issue rather than the use of more colorful and rather pithy adjectives.

Their conversation, and the comments associated with them give me hope. Hope that could only be increased if other voices join in.

(Hint. Hint.)

There is a conversation waiting to be born about the presence of the US in Iraq, about UN involvement, and the makeup of an interim government. There is also a conversation waiting to re-born about human rights at a global level — a closely related topic. Allan Moult pointed to two documents detailing human rights abuses in the world, including violations in this country. These are a start.

(How poetic that the twin issues of freedom and human rights for the people of Iraq are the same issues that we need to address here in the United States. )

From these conversations, common agreements can be found, perhaps even unified, positive actions. At a minimum, we may come away with a better understanding of our own reactions to the war, the UN, the US involvement, and human rights in general.

It’s just too bad we’re all so burned out. And I’m fresh out of Burningbird magic Rising from the Ashes Pixie Dust to sprinkle about.

And as I was finishing this, I looked up and out the window at a sky filled with black smoke. But it was just a fire at an auto shop nearby.

Peaceblog no more

I have removed the Peaceblog logo from the sidebar. I’m not sure at this point exactly what a peaceblog is. After three difficult days of thinking, I’m not sure what ‘peace’ is.

Before the invasion, ‘peace’ meant to me working to prevent my country from invading Iraq without good and decent cause and world support. By world, I mean UN support.

I never at any time considered Iraq an imminent threat. We are not justified attacking the country for this reason. We’re not justified attacking the country for 9/11. The only justification we could have for an armed conflict is to remove Saddam Hussein because of his oppression of the people of the country, but talk about Weapons of Mass Destruction is not concern about the Iraqi people. Too late the people of Iraq entered our regard.

Once we entered the country, once we dropped the bombs, we started something and to leave now will just result in a stalemate that will result in yet more death in a country that’s seen too much of it. The same type of death that resulted when we encouraged the Iraqi people to revolt 12 years ago and then didn’t stay around to help them. I bitterly regret that we started this war, but we can’t just leave now.

However, acknowledgment of finishing what we’ve started is not support. I do not support Bush and his administration. I do not support their short-sighted arrogance or their frightening long-term view for the Middle East.

The Sydney Morning Herald had a story today about disagreement within the Bush Administration about post-war strategy. It notes that the State Department (Colin Powell), as well as Britain’s Blair, believe in turning over the administration of Iraq to the UN after the war, though Powell has shown he won’t publicly refute the President’s and the Pentagon’s interest in maintaining US control.

I agree with turning the temporary administration of Iraq to UN control, as the country goes through what will be an extraordinarily difficult time. Replacing US control of Iraq with UN control is my push and my focus now, and that’s what I’m working for. The US presence will still be there, including our money and aid — we did start this after all — but under UN supervision as part of the UN forces.

And I do not agree with American corporate profiting from this war. Period.

The US staying in control of Iraq makes this a war of imperialism, regardless of how we want to wrap it. Not only will this inspire more terrorism, it will further destabilize the Middle Eastern region with fear of what the US will do next. I won’t soon forget the discussion about Syria and Iran last week. I won’t forget the implications of those words, and neither will Syria or Iran. Or, most likely, North Korea.

I also support direct Arab League involvement in the administration of Iraq. We have to start getting over our distrust of each other — Western world and the Arab world. Being the enemy without is not going to stop the spread of Muslim fanaticism or any form of fanaticism for that matter.

A most vivid image in my mind is that Iraqi driver the morning of the first bombing of Baghdad. The country was under war and the city had just been bombed, but the driver still signaled to turn, still stopped at a red light. Of all the images of destruction and violence and death from Iraq, this is the image that haunts me the most.

What the people of Iraq, and the Middle East, want is what we want — normalcy. Nobody wants war but the fanatical and the ambitious.

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