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Author Topic: John Muir's "The Bee-Pastures"  (Read 425 times)

Offline The15thMember

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John Muir's "The Bee-Pastures"
« on: December 29, 2020, 07:43:31 pm »
Our family loves the writings of naturalist John Muir, and we just finished reading the The Mountains of California recently.  The last chapter was titled "The Bee-Pastures", and it was an amazing description of wild California's flowery meadows during the mid-1800s, which I'm under the impression are all but gone now, sadly.  Muir also included a brief description of the first honey bees to be brought to the west coast which I thought I'd share in part with everyone.  I'd highly recommend the entire chapter, and indeed all of Muir's books, to anyone who loves nature. 

"The first brown honey-bees brought to California are said to have arrived in San Francisco in March, 1853.  A bee-keeper by the name of Shelton purchased a lot, consisting of twelve swarms, from some one at Aspinwall, who had brought them from New York.  When landed at San Francisco, all the hives contained live bees, but they finally dwindled to one hive, which was taken to San Jose.  The little immigrants flourished and multiplied in the bountiful pastures of the Santa Clara Valley, sending off three swarms in the first season.  The owner was killed shortly afterward, and in settling up his estate, two of the swarms were sold at auction for $105 and $110 respectively.  Other importations were made, from time to time, by way of the Isthmus, and, though great pains were taken to insure success, about one half usually died on the way.  Four swarms were brought safely across the plains in 1859, the hives being placed in the rear end of a wagon, which was stopped in the afternoon to allow the bees to fly and feed in the floweriest places that were within reach until dark, when the hives were closed."

The chapter also contained an illustration based off one of Muir's sketches which looks surprisingly familiar, particularly in light of its age.   
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Offline Bob Wilson

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Re: John Muir's "The Bee-Pastures"
« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2020, 09:49:59 am »
You are right 15.
Very interesting. Thanks. Its amazing to think of Bee Fever capturing the hearts of beeks down through the ages.

Offline Brian MCquilkin

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Re: John Muir's "The Bee-Pastures"
« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2020, 01:09:29 pm »
swarms were sold at auction for $105 and $110 respectively: That has to be a big chunk of change in those days.
Despite my efforts the bees are doing great

Offline JurassicApiary

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Re: John Muir's "The Bee-Pastures"
« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2020, 04:55:06 pm »
swarms were sold at auction for $105 and $110 respectively: That has to be a big chunk of change in those days.

I was thinking the same thing.  Not too surprising though given the difficulty in getting them across the country alive.  Obviously the concept of supply and demand was alive and well even in 1853.  Bees would have been a rare and valuable commodity and their honey certainly a rare treat at the time in the west.

I've just started reading Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation by Tammy Horn.  Currently reading about how bees arrived into the colonies from Europe.  I'm beeking out.  ;)

Offline The15thMember

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Re: John Muir's "The Bee-Pastures"
« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2020, 08:35:40 pm »
swarms were sold at auction for $105 and $110 respectively: That has to be a big chunk of change in those days.

I was thinking the same thing.  Not too surprising though given the difficulty in getting them across the country alive.  Obviously the concept of supply and demand was alive and well even in 1853.  Bees would have been a rare and valuable commodity and their honey certainly a rare treat at the time in the west.
I know, I was surprised as well.  That's about the same as a package today.  I think another reason that the auction prices were so high is that, as you can imagine, beekeeping was much easier in those days, and there was not a great chance the bees would perish in their first year once they made it to CA.  The only trouble for keepers that Muir mentions is severe drought.  He says that beekeeping is a great way to make money on the side of another business, saying that only a few people were full time beekeepers, and those that were often managed around 1000 hives with "every scientific appliance of merit being brought into use".  Not so very different from today.     

I've just started reading Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation by Tammy Horn.  Currently reading about how bees arrived into the colonies from Europe.  I'm beeking out.  ;)
Hey, that sounds good, maybe I'll check that one out.  :happy:
« Last Edit: December 30, 2020, 08:59:42 pm by The15thMember »
I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led.  And through the air, I am she that walks unseen.

Offline Bob Wilson

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Re: John Muir's "The Bee-Pastures"
« Reply #5 on: December 31, 2020, 10:09:18 am »
But wait!
Why even spend such money and effort back then?
Why didn't the guy just bring empty boxes/frames, and then catch some swarms?
Is this an argument for the belief that honey bees were not indigenous to the Americas? I personally thought they were already here.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2020, 10:23:47 am by Bob Wilson »

Offline Bob Wilson

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Re: John Muir's "The Bee-Pastures"
« Reply #6 on: December 31, 2020, 10:22:37 am »
Here is another thread on the western migration of bees.
https://beemaster.com/forum/index.php?topic=53117.msg481158#msg481158
Look at reply #62

Offline The15thMember

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Re: John Muir's "The Bee-Pastures"
« Reply #7 on: December 31, 2020, 10:41:12 am »
But wait!
Why even spend such money and effort back then?
Why didn't the guy just bring empty boxes/frames, and then catch some swarms?
Is this an argument for the belief that honey bees were not indigenous to the Americas? I personally thought they were already here.
Here is another thread on the western migration of bees.
https://beemaster.com/forum/index.php?topic=53117.msg481158#msg481158
Look at reply #62
That is certainly a debate that continues, and I personally agree with you and Michael Bush based on his very convincing evidence, but just because there were bees that made honey that were native to North America doesn't mean that they were the same as Muir's "brown bees", which perhaps were known to be better honey producers than any natives.  And that is assuming that native honey bees were still around by the settling of California, or that they ever inhabited California at all.  That reply #62 mentions that there were only references for native honey bees as far north as GA.  Perhaps Mr. Bush, with his stock of older bee references, could enlighten us further on this subject. 
I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led.  And through the air, I am she that walks unseen.

Offline Bob Wilson

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Re: John Muir's "The Bee-Pastures"
« Reply #8 on: December 31, 2020, 11:37:02 pm »
It's interesting to read about beekeeping in those days. However they came to be here, I am glad they are.

Offline rast

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Re: John Muir's "The Bee-Pastures"
« Reply #9 on: January 01, 2021, 09:45:53 pm »
Reading this reminded me of something I had read years ago about native Indians and "white mans flies" being a precursor to the white mans arrival to an area. I had to search and found this which is interesting. Being factual is your decision.
http://www.revolutionarywarjournal.com/honey-bees-in-early-america-white-mans-flies-fact-and-fiction/
Fools argue; wise men discuss.
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Offline Brian MCquilkin

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Re: John Muir's "The Bee-Pastures"
« Reply #10 on: January 02, 2021, 02:58:40 pm »
Reading this reminded me of something I had read years ago about native Indians and "white mans flies" being a precursor to the white mans arrival to an area. I had to search and found this which is interesting. Being factual is your decision.
http://www.revolutionarywarjournal.com/honey-bees-in-early-america-white-mans-flies-fact-and-fiction/
Great read thanks.
Despite my efforts the bees are doing great