David Vaught is a professor of history at Texas A&M University. He is the author of four books: The Farmers’ Game: Baseball in Rural America (2013), winner of the 2014 Society for American Baseball Research SABR Baseball Research Award; Teaching the Big Class: Advice from a History Colleague (2011); After the Gold Rush: Tarnished Dreams in the Sacramento Valley (2007); and Cultivating California: Growers, Specialty Crops, and Labor, 1875-1920 (1999). His research has been funded by three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is a past president of the Agricultural History Society, former head of department, University Distinguished Lecturer, and recipient of the Melbern G. Glasscock Professorship in Undergraduate Teaching Excellence. He currently is writing a book with the working title, “Spitter: The Notorious Gaylord Perry,” a biography of the notorious Hall of Famer, for both scholarly and general audiences, that examines his rich and revealing life experience from his innovative ascent from rural poverty in eastern North Carolina, to baseball stardom, to his subsequent descent to failure on the farm during the 1980s agricultural crisis.
This lecture, through the experiences of "swamplander" Ransom S. Carey and other gold-rush migrants, examines the failure of early private, county, and state efforts to reclaim California's Sacramento Valley, which routinely filled up like a bathtub during the winter flooding season. Ignorant of the region’s volatile environment yet seduced by its “natural advantages,” confident in their ability to tame nature yet lacking due respect for its power, swamplanders were utterly unaware of the enormity of what lay ahead of them. More than a few would battle the forces of nature in the second half of the nineteenth century with a resolve and, indeed, a vengeance that can only be described as remarkable--if ultimately futile.