Letter to the editor

Note:  Published in this morning’s Shoshone News-Press (slightly edited), Dec. 19, 2014, p. A5.

evolution-sign-on-headframe

I suppose some sort of reverse psychological process was at work.  I read with interest in this morning’s Press about the couple who settled in Kellogg because “God kept telling them this was where they needed to be.”  It struck me there’s at least a whiff of colorful historical irony in this contention.

How so?  Well, and as many of the Press’s readers will know, the Coeur d’Alene Mining District’s mineral riches were first made widely known by a man named A.J. Prichard – he, a confirmed “freethinker,” or today what we might call an “agnostic,” an “atheist,” or a “secular humanist.”  Indeed, Prichard hoped to see this area settled by likeminded souls drawn from Montana’s Liberal League, a not-too-far-away society of contemporary secularists.  In January, 1883, Prichard wrote of this intention in a letter to a potential prospector-settler and news-bringer to other freethinkers:  “There are two good and natural town sites where will be built cities representing thousands in less than two years,” he wrote,

and the country is traversed with hundreds of mineral bearing lodes of quartz. And now for good reasons which I have not time to explain I would like to see as much of this go into the hands of the liberals as possible, and also see them build a city where they can have their own laws and enough of this vast mining region to support it, which they can do if they will go at it cool and work together.  

As so often happens, however, word leaked out of Prichard’s discoveries and, before long, prospectors of all sorts of theological stripes flocked here.

One bold indicator of Prichard’s secularism, incidentally, was his preference for the word, “evolution,” in  bestowing names on places or things around him here – e.g., on his encampment, on his mining site, on a trail he used, etc.  “Evolution” was, of course, a fighting word in the cultural climate of the time – as Darwin’s revolutionary theory diffused its way across the Atlantic and into American scientific, philosophical, and religious disputation.  The word is still prominently displayed atop the headframe at the outdoor Mining Heritage Exhibition on the Wallace Visitors Center’s spacious grounds — thanks, even after so much time has passed, to Prichard’s secularism.

And so perhaps the Almighty is still a little peeved with Mr. Prichard for his unbelief.  And thus has called this couple to Kellogg to help make the point.

God knows, stranger things have happened around here.

— Ron Roizen, Wallace

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