Dan Flores

American historian

Dan Louie Flores (born October 19, 1948) is an American writer and historian who specializes in cultural and environmental studies of the American West. He held the A. B. Hammond Chair in Western History at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana until he retired in May 2014. He currently resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


  • I actually tried to find some other analogy around the world in modern history that provided an example of any country that had killed this many animals in a short period of time of only a hundred years, and came to the conclusion that in American history between 1800 and about 1920 we engaged in the largest destruction of animal life discoverable anywhere in world history. We take out 30 million bison, 15 million pronghorns, probably between a half-million and a million gray wolves, a hundred thousand grizzly bears once ranged across the west. They were down to fewer than 500 by the end of the 19th century. I mean, and this story happens over and over again with every animal you can think of. We drove grizzlies into the mountains, drove elk off the plains into the mountains, wiped out all the bighorn sheep that were in the bad lands and canyons of the great plains, all gone by 1906. And so it's this slaughterhouse that takes place. And it takes place, interestingly enough, at the same time that the conservation movement is creating these big game parks in Africa, in Kenya, in what becomes Tanzania, in South Africa. And yet, on our own great plains we don't do it... because the great plains becomes the part of the west that we privatize with homesteads and with ranches, and everyone who settles on the great plains basically regards all these animals as an annoyance that we need to get rid of...
    • "Dan Flores, Historian and Author" Part 2 (aired Oct. 14, 2017) Report from Santa Fe produced by KENW, 13:03.

The Natural West: Environmental History in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains (2003)

  • I write this sitting in my hand-built adobe-style home looking out on the Bitterroot Valley... It's a place where the "Old" West and the "New" confront one another daily in often bazarre ways. ...I'm sort of a New Westerner myself. Because of relatively recent inventions like solar panels, satellites, cell phones, composting toilets, and four-wheel drive vehicles, I'm able to live where no one has since the Salish had the valley. ...perhaps it all just seems new because the prism through which we're accustomed to view the history of the region has only recently been polished sufficiently to gain the deep view.
  • But the conventional narrative is lumpy, a story that glosses what passes for quiescence to focus on "events": the appearance of Lewis and Clark and [Father Jean Pierre] DeSmut, the removal of the native Salish people, the arrival of the railroads, irrigation and logging and town-building, booms in sheep, busts in apples. Settlement, local politics, participation in the nation's wars, schemes to make money. And now the resources are tourism and real estate based on scenery and an amenity lifestyle in a mountain paradise. These seem to be what we think of as history.
  • I've spent most of the last few days looking at information to help me reimagine... a history... that digs into the stratum below the ones that carry wars or political affairs... many of the questions are new. ...they have to do with our interaction with our ecological landscape, with what we might call the "natural West," as both idea in the mind and as tangible rock, grass, and flesh...
  • Whose natural West has this been all along? Is it evolution's superorganism? Or did the United States inherit a natural stage actually shaped by the very long human inhabitation? ...Why do places like Hispanic New Mexico, Mormon Utah, and Montana seem so different when nature would seem so similar in all three? Or are they actually all that different? ...[I]s there something else more universal that our richly layered cultures disguise, perhaps something as essential as an evolutionarily derived "human nature" that influences the way that we—all of us—see and interact with the flux we call the natural world?
  • [T]he human past... belongs not only to (say) the Blackfeet or the Mormons, but to all of us. ...[W]e humans cannot be considered as separate from the earth of our evolution. We, too, are "natural."
  • The humanities have usually left evolutionary nature to the biologists. But some of the other questions here are... posed by the multidisciplinary field known as environmental history.
  • [M]any of us came... through a tradition in Western writing that harkens back to Frederick Jackson Turner... Walter Prescott Webb... and James Malin (who pioneered in systematic ecological history). All these pioneers in the field wrote between the 1890s and the 1950s. Brilliant contemporary writers like Donald Worster and Richard White may have made environmental history "the coolest history around"... but they didn't invent it. ...For many writers in the twentieth century, from Webb to the 1937 Committee on the Future of the Great Plains to Frank and Deborah Popper, the Great Plains are the ultimate proving ground of environmentalism's doomsday predictions for the Modernist experiment in a massively altered landscape.
  • Optimal Foraging Strategy models... have asserted that what appears to be "conservation" among hunting peoples was (and is) actually a by-product of attempting to maximize hunting efficiency and use of time. Thus hunter-gatherers ignored depleted habitats and placed taboos on certain species not to achieve conservation but in search of maximum yield for minimum effort. As wildlife populations shrank, this hypothesis argues, hunters actually hunted more, and they range farther afield.
  • Like Wilson and a slew of other authors working on what was once called "sociobiology" but is now usually called "evolutionary behavior" or "evolutionary psychology," I am convinced that there is a biological and universal human nature, and that it appears manifest in the human record.The question is, how might that insight... be folded into the narratives that give our immediate history meaning and power?

Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History (2016)

  • In one of the myriad ways humans and coyotes eerily mimic each one another, like us coyotes are cosmopolitan species, able to live in a remarkable range of habitats.
  • The ancestral canids that would eventually produce coyotes sprang from North American stock, a line of animals that evolved in the American Southwest. That ancient coyote line spawned animals that migrated to Eurasia and eventually to Africa to become Old World jackals. In North America, archeological sites from the late Pleistocene have yielded coyote remains from as far east as Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and genetic evidence indicates that coyotes thronged eastward out of their core range in the American West in at least two swarms, roughly between three hundred and nine hundred years ago. The truth is, roaming coyotes have probably been swimming the Mississippi River to eastern America during most decades since there have been coyotes.
  • Across the history of life on Earth, animals and birds of many species have routinely colonized new country. That's enough a marker of adaptive success that biologists apply the term "cosmopolitan" to species that are especially flexible regarding... habitats... Evolving in America, the ancestors of horses spread across Asia, Europe, and Africa, where they became zebras and quaggas. Bovine evolution in Southeast Asia eventually brought bison to North America... But the range expansion of a wild animal [i.e., the coyote] for thousands of miles in every direction, often through dense settlements of humans who in recent history have been committed to that animal's eradication, is truly remarkable. A suite of factors must be involved.
  • Southwestern Hispanos... have long said that the only thing smarter than a coyote is God.
  • Their colonization of our cities, from the small burgs... to the biggest, loudest, and most frenetic of our metropolises, has become the wildlife story of our time. It deserves some explanation.
  • [T]he truth is that coyotes have never been solely wilderness creatures. ...for the 15,000 years since we humans have been in North America, coyotes have always been capable of living among us. ...A coyote's primary prey happens to be... the mice and rats that flourish around and among us... By the time Europeans got to America, coyotes had long since sought out the major Indian cities of Mesoamerica.
  • A thousand years later we still use a form of the original Aztec name... coyotl, pronounced COY-yoht, accent of the first syllable... Their rich mythology produced numerous coyote gods... Huehuecoyotl, or "Venerable Old Coyote"... sounds so much like the widespread North American god-avatar... that the empire-minded Aztecs may have borrowed him from tribes far northward...
  • Chaco unquestionably had coyotes in town; coyote bones are common in the archeological sites of the inner city.
  • [C]oyotes have now become the most common large wild predators most Americans have ever seen... The tawny, tail-swishing, sharp-nosed wild dog of the American deserts is now our furtive alley predator everywhere from Miami to Anchorage, San Diego to Maine, and the stories are piling up.
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