"It's Free Because It's Yours" by Dominick Cavallo
Part Three (of five parts).


The Digger Play

Most of the notable Diggers were members of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. The Mime Troupe was founded in 1959 by R. G. Davis, a native of Brooklyn, New York, who had moved to San Francisco earlier in the decade. Davis believed the experience of radical theater could move an audience to question its assumptions about politics, society and their lives. His goal was to push American society beyond what he called the "stagnation of the fifties." Davis wanted to create a relationship between performers and audience that transcended the escapism of "bourgeois" theater and the pedantic pseudo-realism of the theater of the Old Left. "My own theatrical premise," wrote Davis, was that "Western [p. 118] Society Is Rotten in General, Capitalist Society In the Main, and U.S. Society In the Particular."(57)

By the mid sixties, when many of those who would become Diggers had joined Davis's company, the Mime Troupe emphasized what Davis called a "Guerrilla Theatre" approach to its productions. In part this was inspired by the idea of the "theatre of cruelty" developed by the French playwright and director Antonin Artaud in the twenties and thirties. Toward this end, the Mime Troupe specialized in theatrical formats that satirized the status quo, particularly mime and commedia dell'arte, which originated in the sixteenth century. In Davis's view, commedia dell'arte was theater from the "working-class viewpoint."(58) It was an inherently risqué and antiestablishment form of theater in which the anonymity of the masked characters (all commedia players wore masks except the hero and heroine) permitted them to mock social norms and economic elites with impunity.

Like commedia dell'arte, mime was historically associated with attacks upon the status quo. In addition, mime fulfilled one of the goals of the "theatre of cruelty" by emphasizing physical movement and improvisation over adherence to the play's text. In mime the plays message was signalled to the audience by physical movements and facial expressions that drew upon the actors' visceral, raw emotions rather than scripted dialogue. The physical gestures of the actors, performed within what Davis called "a motivated frame of reference," were supposed to change the audience, not inspire them to think. As Davis put it, words might "sharpen and define" issues but the "substance" of a play's "meaning is in action." "There is no such thing as acting," said Davis. "One does and one is."(59)

The idea behind both mime and commedia, said Davis, was "that all action on the platform was fake, masked, indicated, enlarged show biz, while everything off stage was real."(60) Theater, in short, should move rather than entertain the audience. It took a certain kind of actor to perform Davis's version of guerrilla theater. He had some types in mind. "I personally like to work with the kooks, the emotionally disturbed, the violent ones, the fallen away Catholics, non-Jewish Jews, the deviates. . . . They do what the well-trained actor can never do—they create."(61)

Many of those who called themselves Diggers in 1966 and 1967 worked at one time or another for the Mime Troupe. During the Diggers' brief history perhaps 20 to 25 men and women belonged to the group. Three individuals who met in 1965 while working for Davis were most responsible for developing the Digger's ideas and staging the group's "life-acts." All were born in the New York area.

The most famous, flamboyant, mercurial and mysterious was Emmett Grogan. Grogan was born Eugene Grogan in Brooklyn in 1944. His father apparently held a midlevel white collar position with a Wall Street brokerage [p. 119] company—Grogan's talent for inventing his history makes it difficult to be precise, or to separate fact from fiction when discussing his life. Especially when he was the source of the "facts." By the time he was 16, according to his autobiography, Grogan was an accomplished and cunning street fighter, loner, thief and heroin addict. After a brief stint in prison for stealing jewelry, an extended sojourn in Europe, and a short time in the army (he said he was discharged after feigning mental instability), Grogan went to San Francisco, where he acted in a few Mime Troupe plays. Peter Cohon, who was known as "Coyote" in the Diggers (and since the sixties as the successful film actor Peter Coyote), was born to an upper-middle-class family in New Jersey and graduated from Grinnell College. Peter Berg, called "the Hun" by Grogan, was born in 1937 and raised in a politically radical family in New York. Berg was a writer and director with the Mime Troupe.(62)

When Berg, Coyote, Grogan and others decided to leave what Coyote called the "safety-net" of the Mime Troupe's stage and bring improvisational theater to the streets of San Francisco, the influence of Davis upon the group was evident. It is possible that the Diggers' tactic of anonymity was to some degree inspired by the masks worn by commedia actors. Their notions that the "play" should be "free," that the gestures made by actors should jog the audiences' "frames of reference" and that the purpose of acting was to inspire the audience to "act," were all Mime Troupe perspectives.

The Diggers brought their own unique slant to these ideas, especially to Artaud's notion of the "theatre of cruelty." Artaud's purpose in developing this approach to theater was to invest the European stage with unmediated physicality, the "inescapably necessary pain without which life could not continue," as he put it. Artaud believed that twentieth-century Western society was soft and overly rational. Affluence, the scientific and industrial revolutions, and the rationalism spawned by the Enlightenment had created an emotionally sterile culture. Western society was dominated by a desiccated intellectualism and a narrowly framed rationality. Artaud wanted to create a theatrical experience that portrayed "life lived with authenticity. Life without lies, life without pretense, life without hypocrisy. Life which is the opposite of role-playing." A life, in short, in which intellect was informed by "action instead of making actions coincide with thoughts."(63)

The Diggers may have revered Artaud's basic propositions but they reversed his direction. Rather than create the experience of a "real," emotionally charged life in the theater, they brought these elements of the stage into the streets. Their implicit—and very American—assumption contrasted sharply with that of the European Artaud. Personal freedom was legitimated by American culture; it didn't have to be staged in a theater. In theory at least, the individual in America [p. 120] already possessed almost complete freedom of expression, and was invested with nearly total responsibility for the moral and economic decisions she made. If an American wished to make absolute autonomy the premise of her behavior, and to break free from the social and moral "roles" into which she had been "cast" by fate or by others, all she needed to do was "act" that way in "real" life. In other words, the Diggers' goal was to stage the improvisational elements of American culture. If the individual wished to act as though she were free from the constraints, traditions and limitations imposed by history, ethnicity, family and social class, who or what could stop her? What prevented her from directing and staging her own play of self-creation. Or from filling in the blank spaces of personal freedom, the tabula rasa that is American democratic culture, with her own "frames of reference"?


The Diggers were convinced the surge of rebellion and self-expression among young people in the Bay Area since 1964 provided the raw material—the "scripts" and "props"—for staging a real-life drama whose main character was unfettered American freedom. They believed that the New Left and the hippie music and drug culture missed the point. According to Grogan, the New Left was "as full of puritanical shit as the country's right wing was cowardly absurd."(64) New Leftists were not only self-righteous, but needed to dress themselves in the ideological armor provided by Marx, Lenin, Che or Mao. Instead of simply assuming and enacting their own freedom, they talked endlessly about power. They were more interested in robing themselves in a prefabricated, ideological version of the truth than in acting to liberate themselves. (There is a story about a Digger who attended a New Left conference in 1967. During one meeting he suddenly removed all of his clothes. When asked why he had stripped he replied, "Somebody has to be naked around here.")(65) As Coyote wrote years later:

From our perspective, ideological analysis was often one more means to forestall the time and courage necessary to actually manifest an alternative. Furthermore, all ideological solutions, left and right, all undervalued the individual, and were quick to sacrifice them to the expediencies of their particular mental empires. We used to joke amongst ourselves that the Diggers would be "put up against the wall" not by the CIA or FBI, but by peers on the Left who would sacrifice anyone that created an impediment to their being in charge.(66)

The Diggers were equally disdainful of what Grogan called "the absolute bullshit implicit in the psychedelic transcendentalism" promoted by the "tune-in, [p. 121] turn-on, drop-out jerk-off ideology" of Timothy Leary.(67) The "salaried hipness" of the psychedelic self-awareness movement, and the media celebrity enjoyed by Leary and millionaire rock stars, made a mockery of their criticisms of American life. While supposedly critical of the blandness of "the middle-class man," they covered their audiences "in the warmth of [false] security until we masturbate ourselves into an erection of astral rapaciousness and grab whatever pleasures we might in the name of Love."(68)

The Diggers did not believe capitalism, or any other institution, was the real problem. The problem and the solution resided within American culture itself. The problem was the inability or fear of Americans to act upon the freedom their culture claimed to endorse and, in any case, legitimated. The solution was to simply improvise one's freedom, to act viscerally and theatrically. As Coyote said, "the Diggers knew what was wrong with the culture and believed that if we created enough examples of 'free-life' by actually acting them out on the streets, without the safety-net of the stage, then people would have alternatives to society's skimpy menu of life choices."(69)

Among the "alternatives" offered by the Diggers were free stores and free food. The Diggers also provided free legal and medical services, donated by lawyers and physicians who worked with them. The services were given to poor people and hippies who were harassed by police or haunted by the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases in Haight-Ashbury. But the free goods, services and food were not acts of charity. The point was to create moments of theater in which people were compelled to put aside their "normal frames of reference" and cultural scripts concerning hierarchy, property and authority.

For example, at their free stores on Page, Frederick and Cole Streets (the last, called Trip Without A Ticket, was the most famous) a variety of goods were displayed. They included clothing, blankets, shoes and, at times, household appliances. Many of the goods were new and possibly stolen. "Customers," regardless of their appearance or incomes, could enter the stores and take whatever they wished, in whatever quantities they desired. There were no cash registers. If a customer asked to speak with someone in charge, he was told, "You re in charge."(70)

The Trip Without A Ticket free store was run by Peter Berg, who called it a "social art form" and "ticketless theater." According to Berg, the free store was an example of guerrilla theatre, the creation of a free space of theatrical "territory," designed to "liberate human nature."(71) It did this by forcing people to perceive the store and its goods as props and the positions of customers and consumers, clerks and owners as roles that they performed without thinking, Once they became conscious that their roles could be changed simply by altering the script, anything was possible.

[p. 122]

Coyote, who took his turn as "manager" of the Trip Without a Ticket, said the point of the free store was to show the "customers" that one's "life was one's own, and if you could leap the hurdles of programmed expectations and self-imposed limits, the future promised boundless possibilities." "There was," he declared, "no one or system to blame" if you failed to assume your own freedom. "The condition of freedom," after all, "had been presented as an actual possibility" in the free store "play."(72) In Berg's view, the example of buying and selling involved moral and hierarchical (as well as economic) assumptions that "prop" up the social system. People and objects were categorized in a way that legitimated, consciously or otherwise, the status quo. The free-store experience was supposed to bring all this out into the open. "First free the space, goods and services," wrote Berg, then

let theories of economics follow social facts. Once a free store is assumed, human wanting and giving, needing and taking, become wide open to improvisation. . . . No owner, no manager, no employees and no cash register. . . . When materials are free, imagination becomes currency for spirit. . . . The question of a free store is simple: What would you have?(73)

As it turned out, some "customers" answered Berg's question by emptying the free stores of all their goods.(74) Many free-store life-actors did not understand the Digger distinction between the goods as "props" and property. But there were moments, painfully rare ones to be sure, when the Digger version of freedom hit home. "One day, on my shift as 'manager,'" recalled Coyote,

I noticed an obviously poor black woman, furtively stuffing clothing into a large paper bag. When I approached her she turned away from the bag coolly, pretending that it wasn't hers. In a conventional store, her ruse would have made sense because she knew she was stealing. Smiling pleasantly, I returned the bag to her. "You can't steal here" I said. She got indignant and said, "I wasn't stealing!" "I know" I said amiably "But you thought you were stealing. You can't steal here because it's a Free Store. Read the sign, everything is free! You can have the whole fucking store if you feel like it. You can take over and tell me to get lost."
She looked at me long and hard, and I went back to the rack and fingered a thick, warm sweater. "This?" I queried. She looked at it critically then shook her head, "No, I don't like the color. What about that one?" We spent a good part of the morning "shopping" together. About a week later, she returned with a tray of donuts, "seconds" from a bakery somewhere. She strolled in casually, set them on the counter for others to share, and went to browse the racks.(75)

[p. 123] 

But for the most part, and despite their many admirers in the Bay Area, Digger exhortations to "act" free were met with hostility, bewilderment or indifference. Their free services were subject to constant police surveillance and harassment. The police periodically closed the free stores because they lacked a business permit (the stores would then resurface in another location). The police were also an intimidating presence at the daily free food distribution at the Panhandle. Nor did the Diggers succeed in convincing many people that the free food, free stores and free medical services could be the basis for "the people to set up an alternative power base." Despite these problems, the Diggers persisted in advancing the notion that "freedom means everything is free."(76)

Ironically, the Digger belief that everything should be free was inseparable from a naive and rather traditional faith in the power of American abundance and technological ingenuity to solve social problems. Like many cultural and political radicals of the sixties—and other thoughtful Americans since the mid nineteenth century—the Diggers assumed American enterprise and technology could create unlimited abundance and leisure for everyone. They inadvertently hitched their radical dreams to the wagon of American enterprise, affluence and innovation.(77)

They believed machines would liberate most blue and white collar workers from boring and routine labor. "Give up jobs so computers can do them," read a Digger leaflet. "Computers render the principles of wage-labor obsolete by incorporating them," went a more cryptic broadside.(78) One Digger said that within ten years "machines and computers will do most of the work," making people lords of their time.(79)

The Diggers' view of American technology as ultimately benign and liberating was cast in a classic pastoral motif by the poet (and Digger advocate) Richard Brautigan in the poem "All Watched over by Machines of Loving Grace." Brautigan, who admired the Diggers for their free services to the needy, "gave" them the poem, which they reproduced and distributed throughout the city. Unlike the Diggers, Brautigan was not naive about the implications of technology: he envisioned a future in which humanity was "watched over" by God-like machines of its own creation. But much like the Diggers, his poem spoke of a computer paradise where human beings were liberated from routine, boring labor. Brautigan's poem conjured up a futuristic "cybernetic forest," a plugged-in, harmonious ecological Utopia in which people, animals and machines peacefully co-existed amid a pristine, naturalistic setting of "pines and electronics." Human beings were not only freed from labor but also reconnected to nature. This was a landscape of reconciliation, a middle ground between the mythic freedom associated with the primitive American forest and what the Diggers and others in the counterculture saw as the sterility of modern American life. In Brautigan's poem, nature, human beings and their machines existed in [p. 124] "mutually programming harmony." It was the quintessential American Eden: social concord achieved through technological progress, a Digger-world devoid of the rat race, careers and endless quests for status and power.(80)

To some extent, the Diggers' assumption that American technological innovation was boundless, and that the economic bounty it created was limitless, informed their hope that money was nearly antiquated. They organized a street pageant in Haight-Ashbury to celebrate the "death of money." Bills and coins were placed in a coffin. Hundreds of marchers and spectators were given penny whistles, flowers, incense, bags of (lawn) grass, and signs that read "Now!"

Three hooded figures carried a silver dollar sign on a stick. A black-clad modern Diogenes carrying a kerosene lamp preceded a black-draped coffin borne by six Egyptianesque animal masks. Other Mime Troupers . . . all made up like cripples and dwarves from the Middle Ages—walked down the sidewalks in two groups on either side of the street.(81)

Within a few months of their debut the Diggers were well known in San Francisco and Berkeley. They were widely admired for their efforts to provide food, clothing and legal and medical services for those in need. Some people mistook the Diggers for a hip version of the Salvation Army. San Franciscans who witnessed the daily free food service at the Panhandle in Golden Gate Park would offer money to Grogan and the other Diggers. They said the money should be used to purchase food and continue their work (most of the food was stolen or donated). The Diggers thanked the donors, asked them to wait a moment, then produced a match and burned the money. Charity and philanthropy, they told the donors, were "indulgences" for the conscience, "cheap" ways of avoiding commitment.(82) When Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and other writers organized a benefit for the group at a North Beach bar, the Diggers refused to accept the money. "The only type of benefit that could be thrown for the Diggers," Grogan told Ginsberg, "is one where everything is free."(83)

A group called the Love Conspiracy Commune held a dance at the Winterland Theater called the First Annual Love Circus, featuring the Grateful Dead. The Diggers picketed the show, as they often did Graham's Fillmore. They claimed that the word "love," along with the music and other features of a supposedly revolutionary youth culture, were being transformed into commodities. They carried signs that read "Suckers buy what lovers get for free" and "To Show Love Is To Fail." The Diggers told the "marketers of expanded [p. 125] consciousness" that "Love isn't a dance concert with a light show at $3 a head."(84) "Whose trip are you paying for?" inquired a Digger leaflet aimed at the young people who purchased tickets to listen to "their own" music at the Fillmore and the Avalon dance halls:

How long will you tolerate people (straight or hip) transforming your trip into cash?
Your style is being sold back to you. New style, same shuck, new style, same shuck, new style, same shuck.
The Diggers will not pay for this trip. As you buy a ticket, you kill the Digger in yourself . . . yourself.(85)

By the middle of 1967 the Diggers' notoriety had spread to the East Coast. Their antics and free services were described in publications with national circulations. Groups calling themselves Diggers opened free stores in New York and other cities.(86)

Meanwhile the original Diggers explored new and more bizarre territory. In June 1967 they acted like thugs while disrupting a Students for a Democratic Society conference in Michigan.(87) A few weeks later a New York television talk show host named Alan Burke expressed interest in interviewing Emmett Grogan. Peter Berg went on the Burke show accompanied by a woman he introduced as "Emma Grogan." It seemed, Berg told the audience, that people had the wrong impression. The famous Digger named Grogan was a woman. As Burke spoke and the cameras rolled, Diggers in the studio audience ran onto the stage and hit Burke in the face with cream pies. Berg stood up and addressed the television audience as he moved toward the exit: "I am in a box looking at you through a box. And you are in a box, watching me through a box. I am leaving my box and the things which make up my box. I've made my decision. What are you going to do about the box you are in?"(88)

Despite their outrageous behavior, the Diggers were more than the sum of their frequently bizarre life-acts. And more than the decade's most adroit choreographers of the anarchistic deed. They connected their generation's amorphous, powerful urges for autonomy, self-invention and independence to a medium compatible with radical expressions of American freedom: theatrical improvisation. The Diggers said their goal was to "jog consciousness" by inspiring people to "break addiction to identity, to money, to job, to whatever." This meant that the individual in America who was willing, as Coyote said, to assume responsibility for his behavior could act as he pleased, and change roles as the spirit moved him. In the free stores "not only the goods were free but the [p. 126] roles as well." The individual could become his "own poem" if he approached his life as "a social art form."(89)

The Diggers understood the potential hidden within the ideal of individual liberty if pushed to its American democratic extreme. "There are no leaders," said the Diggers. "I'd like to have a life that is free," said Coyote, "so I begin living that life. "(90) It was that simple. (The Diggers and some accomplices set up a table on the side of a freeway during rush hour. They arranged four places. Crystal glasses, linen and champagne graced the table. Two of them sat in chairs, reading a newspaper. Two chairs were empty. It was a silent invitation to drivers robotically crawling to or from laborious jobs and pointless or painful family lives. Anyone driving by who wished to leave his car, and his life, and join the Digger repast was "free" to do so.) "Motives don't matter," they said. "The act, not the reasons," was the thing. "Conditioning can be de-conditioned," went a Digger saying. "How, is a miracle."(91) Or, perhaps, simply an act.

The Diggers' notions about freedom would not entice most Americans (the two empty chairs on the side of the freeway remained empty). But the ways and means of Digger images of personal freedom, and their inclination to view it as an "act," did resonate with some pre-twentieth-century concepts of American liberty. The claims for individual liberty that animated the democratic impulses of the American Revolution were largely inspired by the ideology of English radical Whigs. As one of them said in a sentence that could have been composed by the Diggers two centuries later, freedom was the individual's right to "pursue the Dictates of his own Mind; to think what he will, and act as he thinks."(92) The idea of "acting" free, of approaching life as though it was a play, was among the motives that inspired Henry David Thoreau's move to Walden Pond. Thoreau retreated from the constraints and pretensions of "civilized" society into the solitude and "wildness" of Walden, where, he said, "I can have a better opportunity to play life," and not "when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."(93)

The Digger connection between life-acts, purposeful, morally informed action and American liberty was presaged in Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1837 essay "The American Scholar." In this essay Emerson staked a claim for the independence of the American intellectual from the "courtly muses of Europe." The American was distinguished by his inclination to "create through action." "Life"—that is, action—"is our dictionary," Emerson said. By contrast, abstract thought was relatively meaningless unless "catalyzed by action." It might be true, Emerson conceded, that in this new and raw country the American scholar lacked the traditional "organs or medium" possessed by Europeans. Nevertheless, [p. 127] "to imprint his truth" he could "fall back on this elemental force of living them. This is a total act. Thinking is a partial act."(94)

Although William James would have been scandalized by the anarchic behavior of the Diggers, the brand of pragmatism he articulated toward the end of the nineteenth century had something in common with the Diggers inclination to view freedom as an indeterminate, open-ended process. "Pragmatism," as James pointed out, was derived from the Greek word for "action." As a philosophy, pragmatism assumed that "our beliefs are really rules for action." By contrast with rationalist abstractions and "bad" a priori reasoning, pragmatism leaned toward "concreteness and adequacy, towards facts, towards action. . . . It means the open air and the possibilities of nature, as against dogma, artificiality, and the pretence of finality in truth." Among other things, James believed pragmatism lent support to the idea that "chance" and freedom were possible, in spite of the determinists, who questioned the existence of free will. "Chance," as James suggested in another sentence the Diggers might have composed, was a precious thing, for when chance appeared it came "as a free gift or not at all."(95)

Of course, the Diggers were not inspired by these thinkers, and they operated in very different social and economic universes. But, along with Thoreau and Emerson, the Diggers saw America as an endless empire of open spaces that the individual was free to fill according to his emotional needs, long-term aspirations or momentary whims. They believed that freedom was attained through action—by "doing it" as those in the counterculture put it—and in the process, by tolerating what James called the "open air" of uncertainty.

But unlike James, the Diggers and other cultural rebels of the sixties assumed individual freedom preceded the requirements and demands of social life. The moral claims of personal liberty were superior to those of the collective society. Digger acts, like their street happenings or the free stores, were meant to make explicit (and bring into the "open air") the tension between personal freedom and social conformity. Their antics were media for testing people, for compelling them to make the choice between assuming command of their lives or living the roles imposed upon them by others, "[O]ne wants to be real," said Peter Berg, "to feel that one's being is actually there."(96)

To some degree, this explains the crude behavior of the Diggers. The requirements of formal civility carried cultural cues about status, hierarchy and obedience to authority. According to Berg, the individual needed to push himself past "the crap of recognition. You know: 'Yes-sir-no-sir-thank-you."'(97) Digger life-acts were deliberately crude and sometimes cruel devices for bringing to [p. 128] consciousness the idea that the individual need not submit to the pretense and domination implied by formal civility. The Diggers would have agreed with Emerson, who said that the "world is his who can see through its pretension. What deafness, what stone-bred custom, what overgrown error you behold is there only by sufferance—by your sufferance."(98)

Digger behavior was crude, implicitly violent and anarchic both because they acted that way and because they perceived the obstacles to freedom in modern America as nearly insurmountable. The children of the forties and fifties, Coyote pointed out, were raised in a "loony bin" that was at once "permissive" and stultifying. Postwar affluence, the cult of security, political oppression and sexual repression deprived them of "adequate tests of personal worth" and self-knowledge. The Diggers, he said, were members of a generation who needed their own "wild turf" as a way of "measur[ing] themselves." They needed to take a journey into an "emotional and intellectual wilderness" they could call their own."(99)

The most important and symbolically rich example of a Digger foray into the "emotional and intellectual wilderness" was described in a lengthy portion of Emmett Grogan's autobiography. Grogan claimed that in the spring of 1967 he met a Pueblo Indian named Larry Little Bird in the Haight-Ashbury apartment of a fellow Digger. Little Bird was described by Grogan as a "black-pearl-eyed" 25-year-old from the hill country of New Mexico. The Indian was "as graceful and strong as a birch tree dancing in the wind." According to Grogan, within 30 minutes of their introduction Little Bird invited the "white man" to return with him to New Mexico. Grogan struck Little Bird as "a man who could learn what every man needs to learn about himself and what every Indian like Little Bird [already] knows."(100)

Grogan accepted Little Bird's invitation. The two of them set out on what would become a month-long sojourn in the still-pristine hills bordering New Mexico and Colorado. The ostensible purpose of the trip was for Little Bird to teach Grogan how to hunt, kill and skin animals. In fact, however, Grogan's narrative of his hunt in the wilderness reenacted mythic stories of the historic encounters between the "civilized" white man, the "savage" (noble or otherwise) Indian and a primitive American environment. Grogan, the supreme life-actor, self-consciously improvised a "play" in which a white man alienated from organized society retreated into the open spaces of the wilderness in order to forge a new identity for himself. In the process he experienced a spiritual and intellectual rebirth. Like Thoreau at Walden over 100 years earlier, Grogan [p. 129] discovered a new way to "play" American life. He would confront the country's open spaces of freedom by undertaking an adventurous, and in this instance dangerous, foray into the American wilderness.

The story of Grogan's hunt with Little Bird is fascinating because it restaged American literary myths associated with a variety of relationships: between the wilderness and the sources of national "identity," between the hunt and the ideal of masculine individualism, and between Euro-American values and Native American culture. It both re-created and fulfilled what historian Richard Slotkin defined as one of the purposes of literary myths: to act as "narratives that dramatize the world vision and historical sense of a people or culture, reducing centuries of experience into a constellation of metaphors."(101)

Grogan's narrative described the New World as a space both vast and, in cultural terms, empty. Within that space a white man could fashion an endless series of new beginnings for himself. Ultimately, that is what the counterculture represented: the reconnection of individual autonomy with images and myths, however ahistorical and fanciful they might be, of pre-twentieth-century notions of American freedom.


Creative Commons License
The Digger Archives is published under a Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Cite As: The Digger Archives (www.diggers.org) / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0