The word history can often be literally defined as "his story." However, since the late 1960s, many American scholars have focused on "herstory" (women's history). One of these pioneering historians is Mary Beth Norton, (Founding Mothers and Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society) an early Americanist at Cornell University. In 1980 she published Liberty's Daughters on the Revolutionary War's impact on American women, which became a revolutionary book in the emerging field of women's history. Norton does not focus on iconic women like the legendary Molly Pitcher who supposedly carried water to American soldiers at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. Instead, she examines eighteenth-century women across race and region (North and South) in revolutionary America and the early Republic. She has succeeded admirably, utilizing the personal papers of 450 American families in her research.
Norton portrays eighteenth-century colonial American society as divided into two spheres: the public (male-controlled) and the private (or domestic), which women dominated. White women's roles were as wives in the household and household production, especially on farms. Among African American women, slavery broke apart families as blacks were bought and sold throughout the colonies. By the 1760s, amidst unrest against Great Britain, as American male leaders called for economic boycotts against the mother country, women's domestic roles took on greater political importance. As housewives, white women boycotted imported British goods such as tea and increased production of homespun cloth. Most Americans know about the Boston Tea Party, but they may not be aware about the Edenton Ladies' Tea Party of 1774, when fifty-one women in North Carolina declared their "sincere adherence" to the resolves of the Continental Congress and their "duty" to support the "public good" as Americans. Women used men's language in the struggle against British tyranny; in 1776 Abigail Adams wrote her husband (and future president) John to "Remember the Ladies" and "Remember all Men would be Tyrants if they could." The Revolution seemed empowering to most white patriot women as they raised money for the American army and supported the rebel cause. However, women faced the ugly side of the war, as many of them were forced to quarter British troops in their homes in occupied cities and towns.
In short, Norton portrays the American Revolution as liberating and beneficial to most American women. True, slavery persisted after the Revolution and African American women in the South would remain in bondage until the Civil War. White women did not receive equal political representation as men in the early Republic, but they found their voice in society and built on their gains in this period, especially at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in New York, where women adopted the language of the Declaration of Independence of 1776 to their cause. Interestingly, women were granted the right to vote in New Jersey after the ratification of the Constitution, but that privilege was revoked by 1807. Women gained ground in the education reforms in the years following the Revolution, as girls' early education improved and the first female academies were founded. During the nineteenth century, women came to dominate the teaching profession. The growth of women's roles as teachers was an extension of the ideal of republican motherhood (as defined by historian Linda Kerber), in which it was a woman's civic duty to raise morally upright husbands and children as an extension of the private female sphere. (It is interesting to note that Kerber published her book on revolutionary American women, Women of the Republic, in 1980, the same year as Liberty's Daughters!)
Liberty's Daughters raises key issues in women's history, first how wars (and revolutions) impact women's lives. For example, the image of "Rosie the Riveter" is a cultural symbol from the Second World War, illustrating how women were empowered during the conflict. It can be argued that the balance of work roles shifts from male to female in wartime because of men's prolonged absence from the home in combat. What is interesting in what happens to these roles after wars are over. Second, by including African American women in her study of Revolutionary America, Norton shows how female experiences differed by race and region. Women's history is divided by race, region, and class. The field of women's history has grown considerably since the publication of Liberty's Daughters, but Norton's book remains a classic on how the American Revolution changed the lives of eighteenth-century American women.
Norton, Mary Beth. Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800. New York: Cornell University Press, 1980, 1996)
This post stands aside from my previous reviews in that I have known the author, Jason Pierce, for almost 20 years since our undergraduate history days together at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. I always remember Jason as eager to push beyond the boundaries of existing scholarship into new ground in the fields of Western and environmental history. While I made a detour into librarianship, Jason went on into academia and earned his PhD in History at the University of Arkansas, where he studied under renowned Western historian Elliott West. Currently he teaches the history of the American West and Native American and environmental history at Angelo State University in Texas. It is a privilege to read and review his book Making the White Man's West, which is based on his doctoral dissertation.
According to Pierce, the construction of white racial identity in the American West began in the early nineteenth century with the Louisiana Purchase. President Thomas Jefferson saw virtuous (white) yeoman farmers as the embodiment of democracy for the young republic in the West. Jefferson and others viewed the West as a racial "dumping ground" for Native Americans and even former African American slaves to separate them from white society east of the Mississippi River. (The dumping ground argument was later used during the Indian removal policies of the Jacksonian era). What surprised me is how many Federalist opponents of the Louisiana Purchase used race as justification for their arguments against Jefferson's acquisition. Many critics believed Louisiana's mixed population to be racially inferior who could not understand the nature of American republicanism. By the mid-nineteenth century, railroads like the Illinois Central recruited German and Scandinavian immigrants over the unruly Irish Catholic ones to settle the northern Great Plains because these Northern Europeans were seen as more white. By late century, the West was seen as a white man's refuge away from industrialization and waves of Southern and Eastern European immigrants on the East Coast. Pierce makes it clear that it was not just American westward expansion, but white American westward expansion.
Pierce also argues that climate was related to white racial progress. White racial theorists believed that because Anglo-Saxons had learned to survive through struggle in climates neither too hot (such as Africa) or too cold (the Arctic), they were the strongest peoples. To whites, Mexicans in California were racially backward not only because they were a mixture of Spanish and Indians, but because they had been perverted by the region's's pleasant climate, which provided for all their needs with abundant fruit trees and other foods. During the late ninetieth century, writers like Charles Fletcher Lummis and Helen Hunt Jackson took a particular fondness toward Southern California, where they believed a benevolent climate existed that would not stifle white intellectual growth. Lummis used his magazine Land of Sunshine/Out West to promote and open Southern California to future white American settlement. This is one of many examples that stand out in the book.
Making the White Man's West is an excellent, provocative historical analysis that will hopefully challenge readers' understanding of the history of the American West, as it did mine. The book's thesis covers almost every aspect of the nineteenth century West, including the California gold rush, the Mormon westward exodus to Utah, the expansion of the railroads, and ethnic violence against Hispanics and Chinese immigrants. The amount of research Pierce put into his dissertation/book is incredible. His research is very relevant to today's events, especially in the wake of white working class anger that elected Donald Trump to the White House.
Pierce, Jason E. Making the White Man's West: Whiteness and the Creation of the American West. University Press of Colorado, 2016.
The traditional image of slavery in the United States is one of Africans taken from their homeland in packed, disease-ridden ships across the Middle Passage of the Atlantic Ocean to plantations of the American South. Although this statement is historically accurate, there is another side of slavery in the Americas that many of us do not know. In a pathbreaking book, historian Andrés Reséndez (Changing National Identities at the Frontier: Texas and New Mexico, 1800-1850) examines the "other slavery"- Native American slavery- from the time of Christopher Columbus' "discovery" of the "New World" to the early twentieth century after the American Civil War, when African Americans and Indians were supposedly emancipated but other forms of slavery existed.
One theme that emerges from this book is that even though legal and legislative prohibitions against Indian slavery existed on paper, slavery continued. In 1542, in response to reformers like the Dominican friar and first appointed "Protector of the Indians" Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566), the Spanish monarchy issued the New Laws, seeking to prevent the exploration of Indian peoples by the encomenderos, or large landowners. However, Spanish administrators in the Americas did not feel compelled to implement these orders, as many officials benefited from indigenous slavery. In 1674, responding to new reforms proposed by the crown against slavery, Governor Juan Enriquez of Chile wrote defiantly in a letter to the king in the tone of the dictum "Obedezco pero no cumplo"(I obey but not comply). And in the United States, Congress enacted the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865 prohibiting enslavement of African Americans, but failed to eradicate Native American slavery in the West and Southwest (only with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 did Congress offer federal citizenship to all Indians living in the United States).
True, many Native Americans participated in the slave trade from the beginning of European colonization, especially the Comanches of the American Southwest, as Reséndez points out. Among the Indian nations in the American South prior to removal in the 1830s, the Cherokees owned the largest number of African slaves. Tribes like the Iroquois adopted captives to replace warriors slain in battle. By the late seventeenth century Indians in the Southwest had acquired European weapons and horses and were able to become more adept at taking slaves. It can be argued that Europeans transformed the power of the Indians' slaving as peoples like the Comanches had more mobility in taking captives with horses.
Like Reséndez's previous book Changing National Identities at the Frontier (2004), The Other Slavery is an excellent example of the new, transnational history unrestricted to the boundaries of any one country. He starts with the Caribbean and moves on through Central America and Mexico and into North America, particularly the Southwest under Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo American rule. His book builds on other scholarship on Indian slavery, including Alan Gallay's The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670-1717 (2002) and Brent Rushford's Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France (2014). Reséndez's work also shows that there were slaveries, not one singular slavery, in American history.
Reséndez, Andrés, The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.
This year marks the the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of The Middle Ground, a book that completely changed interpretations of Native American history. It won numerous history awards, including the Francis Parkman Prize. As the title suggests, the book is set in the Great Lakes area (which the French called the pays d'en haut, or the "upper country") of North America between roughly the mid-1600s, when the French entered the region, and 1815, following the War of 1812. Although the book is not about the Southwest (as most of my blog reviews have covered), its concepts have been borrowed by historians studying contacts between Europeans and Southwest Indians. As an academic book, The Middle Ground is loaded with information and can seem overwhelming in places, so I hope that I have covered all its major points and not omitted any important material.
Prior to The Middle Ground's publication (1991) most histories of Indian-white relations were quite simple- either Indians were conquered by invading Europeans or survived conquest. Instead, White argues for a "middle ground" in his analysis of European contact with the Algonquin Indians, beginning with the French. Neither the French nor the Algonquins were strong enough to achieve their ends through force, so they had to find another way to gain the cooperation of the other side. Gift giving and exchange were crucial parts of the relationship, cementing ties between the two peoples. Both sides needed each other- the French competed against the British as imperial rivals while the Algonquins faced the Iroquois Indians, who the British supported. Frenchmen took Indian wives and produced children of mixed descent. Through compromise, a society was created that was neither completely Indian nor European. It was not an ideal place; there were Indian murders and violence committed against the French.
Of course, this society could not last indefinitely. The cost of supplying presents to the Indians proved too high to the French, and British naval blockades in wartime reduced the supply of trade goods. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession, opened the trade of the Great Lakes region to both Great Britain and France. Over time, British traders slowly eroded away French influence among the Indians. Native Americans in the Ohio Valley could play the British and the French against each other as the Europeans competed for influence among different tribes. However, in 1763, following their defeat in the Seven Years' War, the French lost all of New France and withdrew from the pays d'en haut. The Great Lakes Indians faced the British (who struggled to sustain the previous French relations with the tribes) and encroaching Anglo American settlers, many of them from Virginia (whom the Indians grouped together as the "Big Knives"). The American colonists, of course, were expansionists who wanted the Indians out of their way. Consequently, most Indians were British allies during the American Revolution. With victory over the British in the Revolution and in the War of 1812, the Americans were now the only major group of white people left in North America, and they regarded the Indians of the former pays d'en haut and elsewhere as savages who could not share any common meaning with them.
The Middle Ground is an excellent book that should be on any top list of United States history titles. Richard White performed an exhaustive but incredible amount of research in primary sources (original materials), including those in French and Canadian archives. He also connects events in the Great Lakes region within the larger scope of what was happening in the American colonies. For example, he discusses how the rum trade (which produced violence) devastated Indians as British traders were forced to rely on alcohol heavily due to American boycotts of British imports during the 1770s prior to the American Revolution. Many readers might be surprised to learn that the American military presence in the Ohio Valley was weak in the early years of the Republic and that Native American tribes defeated the United States Army in several key battles during the 1790s. White's book is not just a story of Indian-white relations, but also how cultures interact with each other. He quotes anthropologist Eric Wolf: "Human populations construct their cultures in interaction with one another, and not in isolation." Since 1991 other books have been published on certain aspects of the pays d'en haut region in more detail, including relationships between Frenchmen and Native American women. However, White's conclusions will likely continue to shape the course of Native American Studies and historical scholarship.
White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
After reviewing Reclaiming Diné History (which cites this work, at that time was in the process of publication) I picked this book to read. The federal government's livestock reduction program on the Navajo Reservation during the 1930s stands as one of the most significant events in Diné (Navajo) history during the twentieth century. In the midst of the Great Depression federal officials hoped to stop overgrazing on Navajo lands in the Southwest and to prevent another environmental disaster like the Dust Bowl. However, the livestock reduction program proved to be a disaster of its own. Historian Marsha Weisger presents a new interpretation of Navajo pastoralism and why the livestock reduction of the 1930s failed.
By the early 1700s the Navajo began to herd small flocks of sheep after the Spanish introduced these animals and other domesticated livestock to the Southwest. However, the Navajo considered sheep as an integral part to their identity going back to their very beginnings. In the creation story Changing Woman gave life to Diné and their livestock by forming people of the first four clans from her own skin and with another piece of skin created horses, sheep, and goats. These animals were the most important gifts to the Navajo, offering subsistence, a medium of exchange, and a spiritual identity for the Diné. As one Navajo man stated in the 1950s in the program's aftermath: "With our sheep we were created."
However, New Deal officials (particularly Bureau of Indian Affairs Commissioner John Collier) made a grave mistake by ignoring the cultural relationship of sheep to the Navajo. They believed that the range had been overgrazed and overstocked and relied on conservation, which treated ecological problems facing the reservation as a mathematical equation solved in universal terms. After all, the New Deal had rescued the southern plains from the Dust Bowl by introducing new farming methods, but government agents did not face a cultural divide there. Several advisers warned Collier against harsh measures to reduce livestock and prevent erosion, but he went ahead with his plan. Consequently, many Navajos were outraged at Collier and the New Deal, having been forced to slaughter hundreds of thousands of sheep. he Navajo believed as a result that the rain disappeared. Conservationists were correct that environmental damage had been done to the range (partially due to encroachment by Anglo and Hispanic ranchers), but their faith in science blinded them from utilizing Diné knowledge of vegetation and soil and realizing the cultural implications of stock reduction. To this day, Collier's heavy-handed approach has left the Navajo with a deep distrust of the federal government.
One of this book's most intriguing parts is how gender and ecology are intertwined. Navajo women owned most of the sheep herds and almost all of the goat population. When a woman married, she typically brought her husband to live with her and her hogan was situated near those of her mother and married sisters. Women stood at the center of Diné life, including spiritual beliefs, kinship, and residence patterns. Most importantly, Navajo women were important to economic production, especially weaving, producing rugs for sale in commercial markets. Women's economic status increased through weaving as they traded rugs at trading posts for food, coffee, clothing, fabric, and other supplies. Livestock reduction had a direct impact on women's status in Navajo society because dwindling flocks reduced women's claims to land. After World War II (in which many Navajo men and women served with distinction in the armed forces, including the Code Talkers) men increased their power in Diné households as wage earners in coal or uranium mines and other jobs. However, according to Weisiger, women still remained influential in Navajo society. I believe that Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country is only one of a few environmental history books to incorporate gender and ecology together.
Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country is an extension of Jennifer Nez Denetdale's argument in Reclaiming Diné History that our views of Navajo history and culture have been mainly shaped by whites and their belief system. When conservationists like John Collier set out to plan stock reduction in the 1930s they were driven by Western science, not Navajo cultural considerations. True, the Navajo lands suffered from years of environmental degradation as more people and animals were hemmed in by non-Indian ranchers, but slaughtering livestock in mass numbers without recognizing the importance of sheep in Diné society was not the answer. Weisiger's book illustrates how white American and Native American understandings of nature clashed as the federal government imposed its values on the Navajos with disastrous effects.
Weisiger, Marsha L. Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009.
To many people, the prospect of living in the city of Phoenix, Arizona, with its oppressive desert heat, is unthinkable. But since 1940, when Phoenix was only a small, agricultural community of 65,000 residents, the city has grown to over 1.5 million people and become the sixth most populous metropolis in the United States. Cheap electricity has been the key to its growth, as Phoenix lawyer Frank Snell attributed “airplanes and air conditioners” in an interview in the 1970s, claiming, “If you hadn’t had either we’d never grown.” This energy is produced by coal-burning power plants and mining on the Navajo Reservation, which has taken a toll on both people and the environment of the Southwest. Severe pollution has marred the landscape. While Phoenix residents have taken inexpensive power for granted, a large percentage of impoverished Navajo households have remained without electricity and viewed the power lines as a form of white colonialism. This uneven social structure is the subject of Andrew Needham’s book Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest.
Coal deposits exist throughout the Southwest, storing ancient energy to be harnessed for electricity. However, this resource remained buried until technology made it accessible in the twentieth century. During the 1930s the Bureau of Indian Affairs found that coal was found “very cheaply and with very little trouble” on Navajo land. By the middle of the decade, thirty-four mines had opened on the reservation, producing 3,300 tons of coal annually. It seemed like a win-win situation for the Navajo. Coal mining provided jobs for many tribal members seeking employment. Coal could be exchanged for cash or credit, like wool at trading posts. A report by the Bureau of Reclamation in the 1950s declared that the coal supplies of northern Arizona would “last one thousand years.” Moreover, coal production was cheaper than natural gas or atomic power. Many Navajo leaders stressed energy development as a way to improve the economic status of their people.
After the end of World War II a consumer culture ethos emerged in white American society as domestic appliances (powered by cheap electricity) became linked to social status. Phoenix was no exception. Most of the city’s white population had all the trappings of middle class life. Although the Navajo supplied Phoenix with electricity from power plants on reservation land, they did not share any of these benefits. It was only a matter of time before many Navajos spoke out against the colonial nature of the electrical system. One disgruntled letter to the Navajo Times newspaper in 1970 complained that Phoenix’s white population “destroyed our land so they can use electric can openers and tooth brushes.” Much of the criticism was directed at the Navajo leadership, which did not use energy profits to help the common people and instead used the money to enrich themselves. Navajo resentment against the power plants and coal companies sharply increased during the 1970s, a time of Native American nationalism throughout the United States.
Power Lines is a sobering, eye-opening book that raises awareness of the electric utility system’s social effects in the Southwest. Previously I was unaware of the significance of coal as a energy source, which is even more important than dams and hydroelectric power. There are no easy answers, as I was disturbed to learn that environmental groups like the Sierra Club opposed the construction of a dam at the Grand Canyon (a picturesque Southwest landscape) during the 1960s while supporting coal plants on Navajo lands because they were removed from public view. However, this current system is unsustainable. For example, the Four Corners Power Plant in northwestern New Mexico (and the largest coal-fired plant in the state) produces almost 16,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, significantly contributing to climate change. The Southwest's population is expectedly to grow significantly during this century, putting more strains on natural resources.
As I read this book I was reminded of William Cronon's classic environmental history Nature's Metropolis (1991) of nineteenth century Chicago and its relationship to the entire West. Like Chicago, Phoenix has reached out into the hinterlands of rural areas with commodity flows (in Phoenix's case, electricity). Power Lines is an excellent combination of urban, environmental, and Native American history that illustrates how one society's wealth often comes at the expense of another culture.
Needham, Andrew. Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest. Princeton University Press, 2014.
In my earlier blog review of The Spanish Frontier in North America, I listed James F. Brooks as one of the premier historians of the Southwest borderlands. When I heard about his new book Mesa of Sorrows about the Awat'ovi Massacre on Arizona's Antelope Mesa in 1700, I rushed to read it. Brooks' examination of this atrocity committed against the Hopi community by fellow Hopi Indians belongs in the same category as Karl Jacoby's Shadows at Dawn (previously reviewed) concerning the history of violence and Native Americans in the Southwest. It is intriguing that many Hopis would not claim the land and have attempted to forget these tragic events at Awat'ovi over three centuries ago.
The word Hopi translates into "The Peaceful People," but after reading Mesa of Sorrows, this name seems very contradictory. Based on his excellent use of historical and archaeological records and Hopi oral traditions, Brooks argues that the massacre occurred as a result of tensions among the Hopi- between those who had converted to Catholicism of the Spanish Franciscans (under coercion) and others who felt that Awat'ovi had fallen into koyaanisqatsi (moral chaos and corruption) and forgotten the old ways. The massacre was the climax of the Pahaana prophecy, the Hopi cycle of destruction, resurrection, and renewal to purge the social order of all evil. The Franciscan missionaries were forced out of the Southwest along with the rest of the Spanish settlers during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 by Indians led by Po'pay (or Popé), allowing many Hopis to return to their old traditions. However, the friars returned to Awat'ovi in 1700 following the Spanish reconquest of New Mexico, creation tension between Hopi Catholic converts and those who practiced traditional religion, culminating in the slaughter of men, women, and children that fall. The fact that the Hopi did not consider themselves as belonging to the same tribe, but rather by village (Walpi, Oraibi) contributed to the tragic event.
Brooks' argument of upheaval and renewal at Awat'ovi is convincing not only because of his sources but also because he draws on other similar examples in history. For example, when Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés led an expedition into Mexico and conquered the Aztecs in 1519-20, the Aztecs conjoined the story of the feathered serpent deity Quetzalcoatl with the cataclysmic arrival of the Europeans. During the early 20th century, a schism emerged between Hopi Indians opposed to the allotment policies of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs who did not want their children to be exposed to white culture and those who believed in acculturation. The Pahaana prophecy seemed to be back again as a severe drought struck the Hopi in 1902-03 during this turbulent period with the U.S. government. In 1906 the "Oraibi split" occurred, dividing the village between the pavansinom (Indians conciliatory to white reforms) and the sukavungsinom (Hopis hostile to Anglo culture).
Overall, Mesa of Sorrows adds to our understanding of the history of the Hopi Indians and the American Southwest. It is academic in style and can be repetitive in places, but it examines a very important event: historical memory and how we remember events, even tragic ones. This theme runs across all cultures in the world.
Brooks, James F. Mesa of Sorrows: A History of the Awat'ovi Massacre. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.
Like all fields of history, Native American history has many classic works. However, this title is different in that it is one of the first recent books on the North American Indian past written by a Native American. Jennifer Nez Denetdale, a graduate of Northern Arizona University, is the first Navajo to earn a PhD in History and currently teaches at the University of New Mexico. Her great-great-great grandfather is the Navajo chief Manuelito (1816-1894), who helped lead his people against the United States Army before, during, and after the Long Walk (the forced removal of the Navajos) in 1864 to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. Manuelito’s wife Juanita, or “Weaver Woman” (1845-1910), is relatively unknown compared to him, although she is visible in many photographs. This book is excellent because it represents a more inclusive perspective of history with Native Americans telling their own story themselves.
Denetdale gives an excellent analysis of the historiography (writing of history) on Navajo Indians. She claims that two images of the Navajo emerge in Anglo history texts: one, as hunter-gatherers who migrated to the Southwest between 900 and 1500 A.D. and were cultural borrowers with little or no cultural knowledge of their own, and second, as one of the most aggressive, warlike Native American nations in North America. She also points out that the Navajo telling of the past, including its emphasis on oral history and weavings telling stories, is much different than Western education (which has tried to eradicate Native American culture). This book is superb as a starting place for anyone wanting an overview of historical literature on the Navajo.
In her study of Juanita's place in Navajo history Denetdale analyzes gender relations, arguing that Navajo women possessed a significant amount of power and autonomy in their society. The author discusses Diné creation stories that illustrate women's central role in Navajo society. For example, in the story of how Asdzáá Nádleehé (Changing Woman) created the first Diné clans, Sun tried to persuade her to move to the sky where he could visit her every time he appeared. However, Changing Woman told Sun that she would think about his request and would do so if it suited her. According to Denetdale, these narratives illustrate Navajo women's autonomy and empowerment among their people. Navajo women also established kin relationships across tribal cultures. The author also examines how photographs of Navajo women (including Juanita) shaped white American perceptions of Native American women.
One of the most important questions raised by this book is who owns history. Denetdale illustrates this point In her Introduction when she describes her 1998 visit to the Southwest Museum, a repository of Native American objects, in Los Angeles. She found a dress woven by Juanita and appropriated by George Wharton James, an English-born journalist and collector of Southwest Indian artifacts in the early twentieth century. As Denetdale writes: "The dress, like the history of Navajos, has been appropriated, classified, and defined by non-Navajos." More Native Americans are writing their history, such as Ned Blackhawk, a Western Shoshone and author of Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West (2006), a historical account of the Great Basin Indians. Reclaiming Diné History also shows how the Navajo Indians have retained their culture despite assaults from European and American colonialism over the centuries.
Denetdale, Jennifer Nez. Reclaiming Diné History: The Legacies of Navajo Chief Manuelito and Juanita. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007.
Transnational history has grown in recent years as historians are moving beyond confining themselves to national borders. One of these books is Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands by Samuel Truett, an excellent study of the United States-Mexico border (specifically the Arizona-Sonora border) during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During this period Mexican statesmen and American entrepreneurs joined together to control nature and society and turn the borderlands into a region of economic growth. However, efforts to tame this “fugitive” mining frontier were obstructed by labor struggles, social conflict, and revolution. Not only does this book explore how ordinary people resisted the domination of empires, nations, and corporations, it also invites comparisons on how individuals have challenged recent neoliberal economic policies, particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
During the second half of the nineteenth century, American capital expanded into Sonora. Although the United States gained the entire modern Southwest from Mexico by force in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 ending the Mexican War, by 1864, as Secretary of State William Seward stated, Americans were beginning to “value dollars more, and dominion less.” Despite repeated attacks by Apache Indians, copper mining grew in Cananea, Sonora. The growing push to electrify America, especially after copper was introduced as an electrical conductor in the 1880s, increasing the need for refined copper. The growth of U.S. railroads expanded markets further. American entrepreneurs and corporations had support from Mexican president Porfirio Díaz, who after taking power in 1876 tried to attract foreign investment in the Mexican mining industry.
The labor environment and unrest in the Arizona-Sonora borderlands seems to echo current debate over NAFTA’s effects. American mining corporations relied heavily on Mexican workers; according to Truett, over 80 percent of workers in the Santa Rita and Heintzelman mining camps in 1860 were Mexicans, and 94 percent of laborers at the Mowry mine in 1864 were from Mexico. Mexican workers tolerated lower wages than Americans. However, Mexican miners resisted corporate dominance, especially in the bloody Cananea strike of 1906. Within four years the Mexican Revolution erupted, toppling Díaz as opposition grew to his policies favoring foreign investment at the expense of labor unions. The use of Mexican labor at low wages brings to mind the maquiladora plants that have moved to Mexico from the United States after the passage of NAFTA in 1994.
One of the strengths of Truett’s book is that it illustrates how the Arizona-Sonora borderlands were truly an international frontier. In addition to Anglo Americans, Mexicans, and Indians, the Chinese lived in the borderlands. Much of the Chinese population were railroad workers who moved to Sonora amid anti-Chinese sentiment in the American West during the 1870s and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Chinese took a prominent role as merchants and launderers in the towns of Cananea and Nazcozari. Fugitive Landscapes illustrates how industrial development often rarely turns out as planned and the power of ordinary people to resist corporations.
Truett, Samuel. Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006.
In February 2005 the National Atomic Testing Museum opened in Las Vegas, Nevada, commemorating the nuclear tests in the American West during the second half of the twentieth century that helped the United States "win" the Cold War. One photograph of a sign read “Always Ready,” capturing American vigilance in the conflict against the Soviet Union and Communism. But many critics claimed that the exhibits provided no voice to the human costs, especially to the uranium-affected people known as “downwinders” who lived in counties of Utah, Nevada, and Arizona during nuclear blasts between January 1951 and October 1958 and June and July of 1962. The downwinders are the subject of Sarah Alisabeth Fox’s book Downwind: A People’s History of the Nuclear West.
Following the atomic bombing of Japan and the subsequent end of World War II in 1945, American nuclear tests were conducted in the Marshall Islands of the Pacific Ocean. However, these tests were expensive and difficult to hide from international scrutiny, so the Atomic Energy Commission decided that a test site in the continental United States was better. To government officials, southern Nevada and the desert region north of Las Vegas seemed like a wasteland. However, much of the land that the U.S. military claimed belonged to Native Americans, especially the Western Shoshones.
What makes Fox’s book compelling (and horrifying) is the human costs in the name of national security. Navajo Indians, facing few work opportunities on the reservation, sought jobs in the uranium industry only to face health problems in their later years and many of them died young. Both Anglo and Native American sheepherders lost significant numbers of livestock due to nuclear contamination. When residents first noticed the symptoms they still trusted the federal government’s story that nuclear testing posed no threat to them. For example, in Utah, the large Mormon population, who emphasized obedience as the first law of God, did not question the government. Anyone who asked questions risked being labeled a Communist. Only with the discontent from the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal of the 1970s did residents express suspicion with the government. Consequently, downwinders and their families today face a host of health problems, including leukemia, multiple myeloma, lymphoma, primary cancer of the pharynx, and more.
I was attracted to Fox’s book because at my current special library position we have a downwinders reference section that many patrons frequently use. Downwind gives a good overview of how residents in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona trusted the federal government about nuclear testing only to later face a terrible legacy of health complications. Another good source on the Cold War’s environmental effects on the American West is Judy Pasternak’s 2010 narrative Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed (which Fox cites), describing the effects of uranium poisoning on the Navajo population. Both accounts greatly enhance our understanding of the history of the Cold War.
Fox, Sarah Alisabeth. Downwind: A People's History of the Nuclear West. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2014.
The decades following the end of the Civil War in 1865 saw the emergence of the United States as the world’s leading industrial power. The railroad became a key symbol of industrialization, particularly in the American West and Southwest. As optimistic and forward thinking as many white Americans were towards their new destiny at the close of the nineteenth century, they longed for a simpler, spiritual place in harmony with nature. Many Americans became interested in patterns of life other than their own, particularly the Native American, who had recently been vanquished in the West in the name of white “civilization.” This is the focus of filmmaker T. C. McLuhan's book Dream Tracks: The Railroad and the American Indian, 1890-1930.
Dream Tracks shows the railroads’ commoditization of Native American culture in the Southwest. The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway was one of these railroads. In 1896, E. P. Ripley, the Santa Fe’s new president, announced the company’s focus on the natural heritage of America, the wilderness, and Indians in the face of bankruptcy and repairing the railroad’s image as a symbol of the abuses of late 19th century capitalism. During the 1890s the company brought many painters to the Southwest to re-create the picturesque scenery as a way to attract tourists. Painters and writers from all over of the United States traveled to Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico and formed an artist colony there, attracted to the Southwest for its beautiful landscapes and exotic blend of Native American and Hispanic cultures. In 1907 the Santa Fe Railway introduced a calendar alerting the public to a romantic Indian culture in the Southwest. The art portrayed Indians as living in a preindustrial society with freedom and harmony with nature.
What is interesting is how famed restaurateur and businessman Fred Harvey (of the Fred Harvey Company) worked closely with the Santa Fe Railway. Harvey’s relationship with the company began in 1876, when he opened Harvey House, his first hotel, at Florence, Kansas, on the railroad line. Harvey opened restaurants along the railroad and was not charged rent and started a number of hotels, including the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe and the El Tovar at the Grand Canyon. In these ways, Harvey (in conjunction with the Santa Fe Railway) helped “brand the Southwest.”
The greatest strength of McLuhan's book is its extensive collection of art and photography of Native Americans from the William E. Kopplin Collection. Artists distorted photos by the use of hand-coloring. By adding color to the monochrome image, the picture looked more real, heightening the viewer’s perception. Until modern color photography became available for the general public in the late 1930s, hand-colorists satisfied the demand for colored photos (many artists were portrait painters who were out of work as a result of photography). These photographers captured many Southwest Native American customs, including the Hopi Snake Dance ceremony. Interestingly, many Hopi Indians refused to be photographed, believing that it would bring bad luck, shorten their lives, and ultimately lead to certain death. Her book’s images are excellent historical sources that display not only Native American life in the Southwest but how white Americans distorted Indian culture to reflect their own romantic views.
McLuhan, T. C., Dream Tracks: The Railroad and the American Indian, 1890-1930. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1985.
Today one hears about global warming, or climate change, from the entire media on a regular basis. But we often wonder how climate change will impact us where we live. In A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest, William deBuys (Enchantment and Exploitation: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range) offers a scary forecast of what the American Southwest might look like under climate change as temperatures rise and water dries up. According to deBuys, the Southwest is likely to bear the brunt of future global environmental change in the United States. In 2012 I met deBuys at a book-signing event for A Great Aridness in Flagstaff, Arizona. He was as sincere in person as the arguments he put forward in his book.
What makes A Great Aridness intriguing is how deBuys shows that climate change is already changing the Southwest. Rising temperatures bring insects and fire. Three of the worst wildfires in the region occurred in the early 21st century. In 2000, after an exceptionally dry spring, the Cerro Grande Fire partly engulfed Los Alamos, New Mexico, leaving 43,000 acres charred. Two years later, in the Mogollon Plateau of central Arizona, the Rodeo-Chediski blaze burned 468,638 acres. And in 2011, the Wallow Fire, the largest fire in Arizona history, threatened Show Low and several communities before it was extinguished, burning 538,409 acres (841 square miles). These fires are more explosive due to the growth of fuel from underbrush accumulated by years of the U.S. Forest Service suppressing fire. Drought and bark beetles have taken their toll in the forests of Arizona and New Mexico; in 2003 die-offs in the two states totaled over twice the size of Delaware. Under warm conditions, beetles start their reproductive cycle earlier in the spring. As winters remain mild, beetles and other invasive insects continue to grow in number, destroy trees, and threaten species like the red squirrel and the Mexican spotted owl that depend on spruce trees for habitat.
Temperatures are already rising across the Southwest. For example, in Phoenix, Arizona prior to 1945, overnight low temperatures at 90° Fahrenheit were unheard of. However, with the dramatic population rise in the Sunbelt after World War II, overnight lows have regularly reached 90°F as concrete (from rapid urban growth) absorbs heat. The drought in the early 2000s was hotter by 1-1.5° Celsius than the previous 1950s drought that struck the region. Climate computer models indicate at least a 4°C increase in temperatures over the course of the 21st century.
Critics would argue that climate change predictions are hypothetical, that the Southwest has a long history of droughts before the Industrial Revolution began, and that current changes are regional in scale. True, a major drought in the late thirteenth century is believed to have driven the Anasazi (Ancestral Pueblan) civilization out. However, when global changes are added into the equation, the picture in the Southwest becomes frightening. Sea levels continue to rise at about 3.3 millimeters per year (nearly double the rate for the majority of the 20th century). In 2011, the same year A Great Aridness was published, California entered one of its worst droughts in history, bringing fires and water shortages. Indeed, climate change will put more strain on the already-stressed Colorado River, which 30 million people currently depend on for their needs.
A Great Aridness is a wake-up call for action on climate change based on a study of the Southwest. William deBuys deftly puts the Southwest under a microscope using evidence that is hard to ignore. Every corner of the earth will be affected in some way by climate change. The American Southwest is no exception.
DeBuys, Wiliam Eno, A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
The collapse of the Anasazi civilization is perhaps the greatest “unsolved mystery” of the prehistoric Southwest. It is also the focus of Craig Childs’ book House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest. The word Anasazi comes from the Navajo language meaning “enemy ancestors,” not “old ones,” as it was once thought. The Hopi Indians, who are descendants of the Anasazi people, prefer the term “Hisatsinom” or “Ancestral Puebloan.” Childs explores this and other issues in Southwest archaeology concerning the disappearance of the Anasazi in the thirteenth century.
House of Rain reads like a travel guide, a mystery, and an archaeology book. Childs explores ancient ruins and kivas throughout the entire Colorado Plateau region, including Chaco Canyon in New Mexico (the cultural center of the Anasazi) and Mesa Verde in Colorado, and even northern Mexico. The book is more interesting with descriptions of his adventures, such as wading through floods in canyons or other adverse weather conditions. Along the way Childs postulates on various archaeological theories for the decline of the Anasazi. It has been well established that a long drought in the Southwest beginning in the late thirteenth century drove these people out. But other theories abound. For example, Childs explores the validity of archaeologist Stephen H. Lekson’s theory of a “Chaco Meridian,” a connection between the peoples of Chaco Canyon, Aztec, New Mexico, and Paquimé (or Casas Grandes) in northern Mexico that explains phenomena including the Great North Road, macaw feathers, Pueblo Indian mythology, and the rise of kachina ceremonies.
Overall, House of Rain is an excellent introduction to the collapse of the Anasazi population for the general reader. What makes this subject fascinating is how researchers have to rely on archaeological evidence like pottery shards and human remains for their answers, not the written record.
Childs, Craig, House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2007.
David J. Weber (1940-2010) was one of the premier historians of the Spanish borderlands. I had the honor of meeting him in 2001 as a graduate history student at the University of San Diego. Weber sought to dispel the notion that United States history started entirely with the thirteen English colonies along the Atlantic seaboard. The Spanish Frontier in North America is a narrative of Spanish colonial history from California to Florida between 1513, when explorer Juan Ponce de León landed in Florida, to 1821, when Mexico won independence from Spain and control of the Southwest.
Although this book is a complete history of Spain’s empire in the American Southwest and Southeast, much of it focuses on Spanish relations with Native Americans. For years, the Spanish have been portrayed as uniquely cruel under the “Black Legend.” Instead, Weber argues that Spanish behavior was shaped by the 15th century Reconquista (“reconquest”), when the “pagan” Moors and Jews were driven out of Catholic Spain. In the Spanish mission system in the Southwest, Spanish Franciscans exploited Indian labor. However, harsh treatment of Native Americans was not confined to the Spanish; for example, as Weber points out, during the early years of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia the English committed numerous atrocities against Indians. Weber offers an excellent analysis of the causes and events of the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 in New Mexico against Spanish rule. After the Spanish restored order in New Mexico they fought together with Pueblo Indians against attacks from Apache and Navajo Indians and other threats.
One of the most interesting aspects of Weber’s book is the discussion of human and environmental transformations of Spain’s presence in North America. Throughout North America the Spanish introduced domestic animals, including sheep in the Southwest. Sheep play an important role in Navajo culture where wool is woven into textiles. Horses completely transformed the Apache, Comanche, and Indians of the Great Plains into powerful societies and brought further ecological changes. Grazing animals transported Old World grasses and the Spanish brought new plants, including watermelon and peach seeds. The presence of the Spanish mission system in California and throughout the Southwest is testimony of the Spanish period.
Many excellent titles have been published about Spanish borderlands history since Weber’s book, including James Brooks’ Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands (2002) and Juliana Barr’s Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands (2007). (Both titles are available at Cline Library). More scholarship will likely build upon Weber’s fine work.
Weber, David J., The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992.
Western American history is dominated by violence toward Native Americans, most notably the Bear River Massacre of the Shoshone Indians of 1863, the Sand Creek Massacre of the Cheyennes and Arapahos in 1864, and the Wounded Knee Massacre of the Lakotas in 1890. However, one massacre that has not attracted much attention until recently is the 1871 Camp Grant massacre in the Arizona borderlands. Unlike the other incidents, there were more sides than whites and Indians. On April 30, 1871, a force of Anglo Americans, Mexican Americans, and Tohono O’odham Indians attacked a camp of Apache Indians near Tucson, killing scores of women and children. All of the parties involved had a history of conflict with the Apaches.
Jacoby (Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation) deftly presents each side’s historical point of view of the events, going back, in the case of the Tohono O’odham, to the first Indian encounters with the Spanish in the late seventeenth century. The area where the Camp Grant massacre occurred, part of the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, remained a tenuous borderland governed by three separate entities (Spanish, Mexican, American). After the purchase the United States initiated conflicts with the Apaches (who had long fought the Tohono O’odham and the Spanish) during the Civil War. Following the war, the federal government launched its “Peace Policy” towards Indians, which incensed many white Arizona settlers, leading to the 1871 massacre.
Jacoby provides many insights into each side’s story. For example, the Apache repeatedly stole free-ranging Spanish livestock (a source of conflict), which the Indians did not view as private property and instead saw as wild game. Although Americans believed the Apache to be one unit (as the Indians called themselves “The People,” or Nnee), they were actually a group of distinct communities possessing no formal organization. What is interesting is the interpretations of the events by each side. Many 19th-century white Arizonans refused to call the 1871 events a “massacre” and defended the killings as necessary to usher in a new era of “civilization.” The Mexican Americans and Tohono O'odham Indians had their own separate narratives as well.
Shadows at Dawn is a very well written book with a clear message that there are many voices in history with different stories needing to be heard. The same applies with the peoples of the Southwest and the Camp Grant massacre.
Jacoby, Karl, Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History. New York: Penguin Press, 2008.
Tom Schmidt lives in Prescott Valley, AZ.