Rutland, the editor's daughter & the
admonishment that led to his column:
(The Fable that started the Fable)
‘Bill’ Rutland was born William Clayton Rutland VII in Macon, Georgia on
January 31, 1900 with the titanic echoes of the Civil War
ringing in his ears. He was the only Rutland son, had two
sisters and thereby was male heir to the Rutland name -- a
family who had emigrated from the county of Rutland in England
in the 1760s, moved via Barbados sugar growing to Georgia
cotton, owned plantations and by the Civil War, were lawyers to
slave owning families and dealt in the auctioning and trading of
In 1916 with the US joining the European war,
Rutland who was of middle height, had a sharp quizzical face
and blond hair, ran away from a military boarding school –
really ran from the claustrophobic atmosphere of his family and
a sense of deep human disgrace that he felt and his parents did
They had traded humans. They saw the northern victory as an Armageddon and
lived in decay and regret. His 1916 escape involved trying to
fudge his age to join the US army. He was rejected, had bad
eyesight and got himself taken on as an auxiliary at Vanderbilt
Medical School in Nashville.
He had hiked from Georgia to Tennessee and now he carried on hiking.
Medicine appealed to him so far, the forests more. He began
writing reports for nascent conservation groups and the Audubon
society, became interested in the extinction of American bird
species, the Passenger Pigeon and the nearly-gone Ivory Billed
Aged twenty, he paid a pilgrimage visit to where the pioneer
conservationist John Muir had lived in California. He spent nine
months living rough in the Sierra Nevada and reviewed Muir’s
book on his hike from Missouri to Florida which was
A national magazine took his review and asked him for more. He became a
writer on environmental matters and quizzical about other
aspects of ‘progress’ in the modern world.
In the mid 1920s, scraping a living, he came to national attention by
showing that the Ford company were using Kentucky hundred foot
virgin timber to make spokes for the Model T Ford, discarding
ninety five percent of the wood and leaving the forest a
derelict mess, then moving on. This was enlarged to a longer
article on northern capital buying up the forests of the south
for cents an acre, taking only the best timber, often just using
it for plywood and never replanting. The land was so cheap to
buy you just moved on. God provided. This was the American
destiny, plenty for ever.
Rutland hated this. He remained a southerner to a significant degree,
shown in nuances in his accent, his courtesy which showed in the
restraint in his prose.
In 1930 his writing on the destruction of American forests and sounding
warnings on cultivating unsuitable land in the northern
prairies, he came to the attention of a newspaper owner, Edgar
Fellowes Senior. The Fellowes family had started as local
newspaper proprietors in Washington State, ran their operations
tightly and gradually brought up other – mainly farm community –
papers across the west, tried to support their readers as farm
prices fell. Edgar Fellowes was a Democrat and wanted more
government say in the spoiling of American resources. He liked
In the summer of 1930, he asked Bill Rutland to
write a series of articles on the broad question of agricultural
depression. Rutland did this and his articles represented a step
from news reporting to feature style journalism for the
Fellowes. The pieces were duplicated in all the Fellowes papers.
Then he was asked to do more, became interested in bad land
practice and as part of that, the erosion left by the gold rush
in California and the poisoning of water supplies that resulted.
Rutland fell in love with the western desert and between trips
to write he lived in a rusted over corrugated iron shack that
was near a small spring and some cottonwood trees in the Nevada
desert mountains north of Reno, living mainly on jack rabbits he
trapped and rice he packed in. He was, of course a human. He
felt he became part of earth and these stays reinvigorated him.
The place is thought to be part of the Black Rock desert where
now the Burning Man festival takes place.
As he worked, moving from place to place in a car
Fellowes lent him, the handsome Fellowes’ daughter and heiress,
Melinda came to observe.
‘Observe’ led to drive for.
‘Drive for’ led to share rooms with. In order not to be noticed they
stayed in out of town little cabins or motels.
Melinda Fellowes was older than he, thirty five to
Rutland’s thirty one in 1931. With her brother dead from poison
gas in World War I, and her mother dead in the flu epidemic of
1919, she was the force behind the expansion of her father’s
Rutland, she thought, represented their future, a writer of depth. She
adored him, wanderer, principled, quizzical in his steel rimmed
spectacles, austere, not obviously handsome yet seldom staying
still, preferring to stand to sitting, preferring to walk to
standing, preferring really to climb trees or hillsides to
walking. He carried in his furrowed brow the inclination to
think deeply even though not college educated and he was always
aware of the burden of his family’s trading in humans. With the
collapse of Wall Street he was developing a sense that the new
had an ugly way of biting back.
He told Melinda, his square jawed love, an anecdote. The new bites back.
He had learned this from a doctor.
Until 1850 there had been no anaesthetics. Then came ether and then
cocaine which arrived via Vienna. On his travels he had worked
gardening for an ex-World War I doctor and the man was now
addicted to something which had enabled thoracic surgery and
kept him awake nights in battlefield hospitals. The man was
ruined as a cocaine addict, was caught stealing hospital
supplies and shot himself with his war service pistol.
The good cocaine brought to anesthesia making local numbing possible then
turned inwards to problems of addiction.
There was the case of her gassed brother. Bill Rutland had heard that a
German scientist who was a Jew converted to Christianity helped
develop chorine and phosgene as poison gases. His name was Fritz
Haber. And yet a Haber won the 1919 Nobel Prize for the
discovery of how to synthesize ammonia.
This latter was a benign act, major progress. Suddenly fertilizer,
previously only available from dung or some complex nitrate
extraction processes was plentiful. ‘Artificial’ fertilizer
could transform crop yields. This was the man who developed the
poison gas that killed her brother?
And why did we need to transform crop yields, farm every last corner of
the USA with risks of bad erosion? There had been a hundred
million people in 1800 and a billion in 1900 and by the 1930s
that was heading to two billion. Call this progress?
Yet more and more of them had cars and electricity. Dark side of progress?
Light side of progress?
Whether he or she invented Planet Technopolitana
is not recorded. The modest Rutland said she did. She wrote it
in lipstick on the mirror glass of the cheap motel room:
P L A N E
T T E C N O P O L I T A N A
Like many of their speculations on how to solve the
problems of a confused world, this began in bed, in an old and
flea ridden hotel in Salinas, California where they were
pondering the fate of decent American farm families becoming
homeless migrants and met the writer John Steinbeck. His
approach was fiction. Theirs was to be factual journalism.
The column News and Views from Planet Technopolitana would not
damn progress. It would be a way of asking quizzical questions
on the subject of science biting back. ‘And my father wants to
launch a new magazine,’ she said.
Yes, Fellowes senior did have such an idea. Or
rather she did. He also had an idea that he could not hire
Rutland unless something changed. Gossip got out to Edgar
Fellowes’ that these two were up to no good. Rutland was
investigating the environmental damage done by gold mining, the
erosion and leeching of metals into water systems -- this at a
place called Rough and Ready, California. Fellowes senior
decided to teach his errant daughter and the talented writer a
lesson. He sent in the sheriff, off duty, and another man.
The two men knocked down the cabin door. They tore the naked daughter off
the bed, made her dress and held up the smaller Rutland with a
night stick, threatened to whip him and did not. They took the
car and they took the Fellowes heiress.
He could to a degree take it. He had been beaten
before and had dogs set on him for trespass to US national
forests being illegally logged. Rutland was five eight, lithe,
had a body like a slightly bent tree and a craggy face that was
always worried, yet big grey eyes that suggested he could cope
with the worry. He climbed rocks with true agility.
His cheap spectacle frames gave him an air of being inquisitive. He
dressed easily and always wore a green scarf in homage to the
forest canopies he saw disappearing, particularly in the south.
Sometimes he made love to Melinda Fellowes wearing the scarf. He
was self-conscious about his height -- yet was lithe enough to
make up for it. He carried a notebook, small binoculars and
magnifying glass. He looked constantly for birds and for insects
and had a compendious knowledge of American animal and plant
species and their distribution, was thereby was an encyclopaedia
on the growing scarcity of some.
How could America have killed the last Passenger
Pigeon when there had been flocks of millions? The question had
no answer, at least no sophisticated answer until you began to
work out the ethic of progress and manifest destiny. We were mad
for conquest and we did not care for nature.
Humans shat in the house.
Sometimes carried away pondering, these questions
obsessed Bill Rutland so much that he had a tendency to fumble,
more like an old man. loosing things, glasses, his cigarettes,
trains of thought, notebook, even the scarf and that vagueness
which was not entirely uncultivated made people feel for him and
got him his reputation for enticing all kinds of people to talk
about all kinds of things they had not imagined they would. The
same enabled him to get a number of women on his travels to shed
clothes they had imagined were firmly on their bodies.
Melinda was not the first. Nursing his anger,
wondering if he should have fought the fat sheriff, in the
small cabin at Rough and Ready – rough and ready indeed,
stepping outside gingerly, the owner of the cabins had a Western
Union telegram for him. He was to collect wired funds and take a
transcontinental train to Philadelphia. Mr. Fellowes would like
him to present himself at the Fellowes apartment in Rittenhouse
Square in Philadelphia.
He had better go. This could not get worse. No one
had work in '31 and he was ready to beg for mercy to continue
writing for Fellowes.
A week later he had crossed the country. He wanted
to apologize to Mr. Fellowes. He wore a new grey suit from J.C.
Penny, grey shirt, black brogues, dark green silk tie and a
cotton scarf that was a lighter green with some yellow, almost
mustard colour. Fellowes was suited, tailored, austere and
‘Sit down, Rutland.’ A uniformed maid brought coffee
and Fellowes offered him a Cuban cigar.
Thinking he would be bawled out, he was given a
condition and an offer.
‘My daughter is a trollop. I don’t care about that.
Never, never transgress when you are on my nickel. That I do
care about. When I pay your expenses and you are in a town with
strong conservative views, I do not expect you to be screwing
around in a cheap way in a cheap place. Do you want to go on
‘Then square up and write with a pen.’
NOW! magazine started publication as a Democratic rival to the more
triumphal and Republican Time. It backed Franklin Delano
Roosevelt for President and it backed federal interventions as a
way of rescuing a country for which the Planet Technopolitana
theme was appropriate. How could so much land and opportunity
lead to a land of still and bankrupt factories, broken banks,
mass unemployment? Was not Science meant to build Invention,
Invention to build Industry and that to build the Good Life? The
column was right for the magazine and the magazine was right for
the time. The writer Ayn Rand adulated the triumph of great
capital, Rutland sought its harnessing.
Along the way Rutland crossed swords with a
capitalist who taught him a good deal about naked corruption and
a good deal too about how bad men or ones you see that way can
have good thoughts. The man’s name was Sacheverell Wessler. He
was a student of the seventeenth century lawyer, royal courtier,
organizer of science and father of the idea that man existed to
conquer nature – Francis Bacon. Wessler was other things too.