Nancy Nall who linked to it today)
There was only one teensy-tinsey little problem with that; geography and topography. Which is to say...reality.
Because Harney County – just like every other deserted shithole part of rural America – is WAY the hell out in the middle of nowhere; it’s almost perfectly equidistant from anywhere in the Northwest where people live and people want to live; the population centers of Oregon to the west, Nevada and Utah south, Idaho and Washington north and east. Shipping anything to market is punitive, given that wetter places (better for timber, grain, and livestock) are closer to those markets.
Badtux the Rural-travelin' Penguin encountered a similar sort of place out in the Mojave, of which he notes:
"These people are stranded, like so many other Americans, stranded in the desert of what was once the American Dream but now is just a hardscrabble existence in a harsh and brittle place. I haven’t looked around to see if I can see lots of red caps. But I bet I’ll find plenty of them there. Because where the American Dream has died, something evil this way comes."Harney was homesteaded back in the 19th Century and an overwhelmingly large number of those operations failed. The distances were too large, the transportation grid too poor, and the water too scarce. The place is scenic as all hell…but not great for small farming or ranching without serious white-people welfare (a.k.a “farm subsidies” and below-market-low grazing fees).
What makes it even more fucked-up is that the collapse of places like Harney County wasn't a mistake or an accident. It was engineered by a combination of greed, stupidity, and unscrupulousness.
The “great plains” and the intermontane deserts of eastern Oregon were shrub- and grassland steppe for a reason and the Plains tribes and the high desert outfits like the Northern Paiute weren’t horse nomads because they were easily bored with the local scenery.
Without large-scale irrigation the bulk of the lands West of the Mississippi and east of the Sierras/Cascades are too arid to support tilth agriculture. Even pastoralism (for European cattle, anyway...) was fairly iffy in a lot of places.
But “real estate developers”, manifest destiny floggers, and grifters – the 19th Century Trumps – conned tens of thousands of proto-Trumpeters into believing nonsense like “rain follows the plow” (the theory that tilling semiarid grasslands releases soil moisture that then returns as rain. Seriously; I shit you not people believed that stuff…). Plus the U.S. government wanted white farmers to replace the Dangerous Savages.
So what would happen is that every couple of decades North America would get a change in the ENSO (the “El Nino/La Nina” variation) and the Plains would have a couple of wet years or five...enough to get a bunch of sodbusters through the winter. And the homesteaders would proliferate; suddenly Harney County was Great Again!
Aaaaand…then the climate would return to the semiarid norm, crops would fail, cattle starve, the homesteaders go bust. The bank would foreclose, everybody would move on...until the next wet cycle.
Wash, rinse, repeat; this happened something like 3-4 times between 1865 and the beginning of widespread irrigation in the Fifties - a change that was hugely supported by those damn imperialists of the BLM and the U.S. government irrigation programs.
As P.T. Barnum would have said; there’s one born every minute…
IF the federal drylands were opened the only real claimants would be the big timber and big ag outfits, if them, simply because only those deep-pocketed corporate entities would have any hope of making a go in Harney County and that only because of their ability to cover bad years and their economy of scale.