Historical Markers
Edward Abbey Historical Marker
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Edward Abbey

Laurel Highlands/Southern Alleghenies


Marker Location:
US 119 at North end of Home

Dedication Date:
September 28, 1996

Behind the Marker

"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human sprit, as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself."
                                                 - Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire, 1968.

Edward Abbey working at a typewriter, surrounded by the windows and expansive views of his Arizona fire tower.
Edward Abbey working at a typewriter, surrounded by the windows and expansive...
Born in Indiana, Pennsylvania in 1927, Edward Abbey was a shy kid who loved to hike and camp in an area of old forest he and his brothers called "the big woods," which lay on the Chambersville side of the town of Home.

"I was born and raised in the northern fringe of the Appalachian country," Abbey would later write, "and know the life of the marginal farmer and out-of-work coal miner in my bones and blood." At the age of seventeen, Abbey hitchhiked out west. His first view of the "impossible beauty" of the Rocky Mountains struck "a fundamental chord in my imagination that has sounded ever since." It was then and there that he "became a Westerner," as he put it.

After moving to Albuquerque in 1948, Abbey bounced around for years, traveling, doing odd jobs, and picking up seasonal work as a park ranger and fire lookout in some of the nation's most spectacular wilderness areas. During a year of wandering, he wrote a series of essays based on the journals he had kept while working as a forest ranger in Utah. After its publication in 1968, Desert Solitaire became a rallying point for America's emerging environmental movement and established Abbey's persona as "Cactus Ed," a cantankerous, independent-minded outdoorsman.

Edward Abbey with his shotgun and freshly bagged television complete with a bullet hole through the screen.
Edward Abbey with his shotgun and freshly bagged television, Tucson, AZ 1986.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Southwest underwent explosive growth. Abbey was outraged at the damage done to wilderness areas by the logging and mining companies, cattle ranchers, developers and tourists who demanded paved roads to every scenic outlook. Abbey's father had been a farmer, school bus driver and devout socialist who followed Walt Whitman's maxim to "resist much, obey little." In the American Southwest, Abbey took that maxim to heart. Alone and with a small group of close friends, he burned unsightly billboards and "monkey wrenched" bulldozers, putting sand in the transmissions and shooting holes in the tires to stop them from destroying the unspoiled wilderness that they loved so well.

In 1975 Abbey published The Monkey Wrench Gang, an angry, comic novel in which he fictionalized his exploits and laid out a philosophy for resistance. "I'd say that a bulldozer tearing up a hillside, ripping out trees for a logging operation or a strip mine is committing terrorism - violence against life. I feel that when all other means fail, we are morally justified - not merely justified, but morally obligated - to defend that which we love by whatever means are available." The Monkey Wrench Gang became his most popular novel and cemented his reputation among radical environmentalists and readers of contemporary American fiction as the "Thoreau of the American West." It also helped inspire organization of Earth First!, the leaderless movement of environmental radicals, who in the tradition of Henry Thoreau and Edward Abbey, engaged in acts of civil disobedience to protect old-growth forests against the chain saw and the bulldozer.

After Abbey's death in March 1989, his friends and family buried him in his beloved desert in a spot that still remains a closely guarded secret. One of America's most eloquent defenders of the American wilderness, the shy Easterner who became a brash western hero always loved the "land of the breathing trees, the big woods and the rainy forests" of his Appalachian youth.
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