Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Down Country and the Persistence of Colonialism in New Mexico

I've been thinking about colonialism as endemic to New Mexico.

It's part of Pueblo culture and other Native culture, too, including Diné/Navajo.

I've been reading Lucy Lippard's magisterial "Down Country" (mostly) about the Tano people of the Galisteo Basin, just to the north over a ridge from our own place in the Estancia Basin. The Tano came as colonizers from the north and west in -- perhaps -- 1200AD or so; there were already scattered settlements in the Galisteo, some a thousand years old, perhaps (then again, maybe not so old.) The inhabitants were overwhelmed, driven out or incorporated into the new Tano pueblo villages, the ruins of which are found all over the Galisteo. The Spanish, in their turn, overwhelmed the Tano pueblos, and eventually, they were all abandoned, the remnant Tano people moving to Hopi-land where their descendants still are.

The Spanish settled in after a while, and they in their turn were overwhelmed and the Anglo colonists moved in. Galisteo itself has been a Tano pueblo, a Spanish pueblo and it is now (mostly) an Anglo artist colony, an offshoot of Santa Fe's art colony.  Fancy people, all 250 of them,  in their fancy houses and studios, with their fancy (non-functional) mailboxes, lording it over... well, their own domain. A domain taken from others, who took it from others, who in turn took it from others still.

I'm a colonist too. Ms Ché is in a slightly different category being Native and all, but Cherokee are not the local indigenous even so.  Cherokee are more or less in charge of IAIA, and even though it is Indian-centered and Indian run, IAIA is very much a colonial enterprise.

Where we are, the Empty Quarter, has a similar pattern to that of the Galisteo Basin, though much attenuated, as no one (much) lived here to take the land from, and there were few resources easily exploitable.

The closest pueblos were fifteen/twenty miles away. This was an open grassland where buffalo roamed. The deer and the antelope played in the hills and mountains round about, among the cholla, pinon, and juniper. Before the Spanish, the Tompiro people coming from the west established a few outposts which became large pueblo trading centers, the chief product being salt which the people collected from the salt ponds to the east, the remnants of the once mighty lake that had filled the Estancia basin. The trade was between the local pueblos, the pueblos along the Rio Grande on the west side of the mountains, and the Plains tribes, chiefly the Kiowa and Comanche who roamed and were fierce in their war paint wherever and whenever they wished. They followed the buffalo, but so did the Pueblo peoples whose hunts were legendary.

The Tompiro fought the Spanish and submitted to the Spanish and that was their undoing, for once they sumitted, they no longer were able to rely on their own customs and resources to ensure their survival, they had to rely on the Spanish -- who literally had no concern for the well-being/survival of the People, only for themselves. Ultimately, the remnant Tompiro people (perhaps only a few hundred by then) left en masse and joined the Rio Grande pueblos, chiefly Isleta, just before the outbreak of the Pueblo Revolt.

They never came back. The land was empty -- except for the birds, the buffalo, the deer and the antelope, the coyotes and the occasional forays from the Kiowa and Comanche, who now had to scale the mountain passes to get to the pueblos and the Spanish settlements for slave-raiding and trade. Such an inconvenience, but they managed somehow.

This land became part of contested and competing land grants and was used primarily for sheep-raising when it was used at all. It was wild-country, no-man's land.

There were a few Spanish villages along the east foothills of the Manzanos and there was a ranch headquarters at Estancia, and that was pretty much it for settlement. The ruins of the stone-built pueblos did not dissolve back into the ground like adobe would but still stood stark, rigid and crumbling, not unlike tiny versions of Chaco and Mesa Verde.

Anglo colonists came from Texas with their multitudes of cattle and claimed the land for their own, demanding that the sheep-ranchers and their sheep withdraw forthwith. There was a notorious shoot-out after a friendly poker game. The colonists came from Texas, but the Anglo colonial enterprise was directed from California, via Boston, or vice versa. I had no idea until after I'd lived here for a while that the cattle operation was owned by the Whitneys who had a vast ranch and experimental farm outside of Sacramento which turned into one of the many microchip suburbs and where I had worked from time to time. The Whitneys came from Boston at the tail end of the Gold Rush. In New Mexico, the Whitneys claimed to be from Boston, though their entire expansion program was being run from their California ranch. Colorado didn't escape their ministrations, either, I'm told, but that's another tale for another time.

(I'm sure I've told this story before) The Whitneys fought the Oteros on the ground and in court for decades for control of the land, and finally they both lost at the Supreme Court, and the land was opened for Anglo homesteading/settlement. The railroad promptly laid tracks, and the remnants of history are all around, as are the many ruins of broken dreams. Our house was one of those ruins until we, colonists from California, "rescued" it and rehabbed it enough to live in. With the skunks underneath and the song birds nesting in the eaves.

Now and then, we still hear a coyote howl or see an eagle soar. There are no buffalo, though, no more. I don't know why not. There are vast ranches nearby where they could be raised and roam, ranches that host numerous cattle, horses, llamas, or goats, and if they can host any of those, they can host buffalo, but they don't. The pronghorn, they say, are not the Native variety -- they were hunted to extinction in historic times -- they are an imported variety from Wyoming; colonists you might say, in their own right, like the cattle, the horses, the llamas and the goats.

The Russian olives are colonists as are most of the plants that now cover the grasslands. The farms and most of their crops are colonists, though corn, beans and squash are raised in abundance and are highly sought after by city-folk who flock to the country at harvest time. Colonists. The farm nearby where the cranes roost in the daytime is a working farm, but also an "attraction," hosting thousands of school children bussed in from the city every year to see what a "real farm" is like.  Colonists.

All I'm saying is that there is no escaping colonialism in New Mexico. Even the Diné/Navajo are colonists -- coming in from the north so late in the game they were practically simultaneous arrivals with the Spanish, within a hundred years or so. They were raiders like their cousins the Apaches. The pueblo peoples feared and despised them. Some still do. Colonists all.

The question is whether colonialism will continue to be imposed by force and bloodshed. That's the issue of police violence in a nutshell. That's the issue raised by so many of the Indians we've come to know in New Mexico -- who say, almost to a one, "It didn't have to be this way."

The violence was never necessary.

The taking and the stealing and the use of force and bloodshed was never necessary. Matters could be worked out (relatively) peacefully. Accommodations could be made. They still can be.

That's what I'm hoping to see happen in the next phase of opposition to police violence -- and implicitly to the violence of Anglo-colonialism.

The Spanish and the Indians learned -- the hard way -- to accommodate one another in this harsh and unforgiving land. As I've heard said, they're all related now, they're children of one another's mothers, and though they may maintain distinctive cultures, they are still family. They often unite to oppose more Anglo colonial impositions and these days they can and do succeed in their opposition.

The question is whether the Anglos will learn there is another way. In my view, they must learn.


  1. I love this. Thank you for writing it down.

    1. Bless your heart. I sometimes get into a reverie here. Can you tell?


  2. Interesting read but I have a question that is really off off topic as I have no personal knowledge of New Mexico and it's people and it's history..... You used a interesting phrase above : " microchip suburbs " in around Sacramento...

    I lived in Sacramento from 1963-65 as it was a very brief homecoming for my Father who was, er, well born in Folsom Prison in the 1920's because his father was the warden and so they lived in what was the Warden's Mansion then. So we lived there in Sacramento very briefly before before my parents divorced moving in various makeups and break-ups to to Oakland, SF and then L.A.

    I went back to visit a Aunt and Uncle in the early 1990s who lived in Davis....We drove to Sacramento and then up to the hills around Folsom, I had not been there since 1965..the development going up highway 80 was a was the areas around Folsom.... Did Intel have a large building - development center there in the hills somewhere near Folsom in those foothills? Hence your use of the term microchip suburb ?

    Is it all still there, or did Intel go off shore and take those jobs with it? like Netscape and others did when you wrote at Liberal America years ago about the abandoned tracks of cheaper housing on the other side of the mountain range from Silicon valley?

    Your writing on N.M. and police matter is always good, and your blog here is a frequent stop for me...

    1. "Microchip suburbs..." Yep. The one I was referring to specifically was Sunset Whitney Ranch out of Rocklin. The Whitneys sold their California ranch in the 1950s I believe, and grand New Community plans were made and then aborted. Who wanted to live out there in the middle of nowhere in the 50s? (I lived briefly in Loomis in 1959. At the time, the population hovered around 500, mostly Japanese Nisei who had returned from the camps and were still trying to put their lives back together... but that's another story for another time...)

      The idea of planned communities lingered and really took off in the latter part of the 80s and 90s. Sunset Whitney Ranch is a huge housing development between Rocklin and Lincoln now. It's there -- as are many other suburban developments, including those around Folsom like Granite Bay and so forth -- because of HP, Intel, Apple and the many subsidiary electronic and technical operations. As far as I know, they're still there, but their employment numbers go up and down all the time, they've never been stable.

      There's an Intel plant in Rio Rancho near Albuquerque, and it caused a huge growth in population in the area, but their employment numbers, too are very unstable.

      We're out in the country now where it's still very rural. Horses, cattle, goats, farms, ranches .... I remember well when Folsom, Rocklin, Loomis, Penryn, Lincoln and so forth were like that, and they sure aren't now. The transformation is stark, and not particularly pleasant. Of course I remember when the Santa Clara Valley was covered with orchards, too, and the heady smell of their blossoms in the springtime. Find a fruit tree now.

      Google has purchased a drone research/manufacturing outfit not too far away from us, and while they haven't expanded it significantly yet, word has it that they plan to. Some people are looking forward to the day, others aren't. There's lots of potential for follow-on industry and population growth. The real limiting factor is water, and I'm not at all sure that water resources around here can handle much more population or industry.

      The growth around Sacramento could happen because there's lots of water -- or there used to be. I'm getting conflicting stories about the drought. Some say the water situation in and around Sacramento is about the same now as it's been historically. Others say it's bad and getting much worse as the ground water is pumped out. I dunno what to believe. There have always been so many lies about water in California in any case. I learned long ago to believe little that was said about it.

      Out here though, there just isn't much water at any time, and when droughts hit, there's no recourse, so I doubt we'll see too much more population growth in the near-term future.

      Your connection with Folsom Prison is interesting! I have one through an uncle who was housed there briefly after his transfer from San Quentin in the 1950s. But again, another story for another time.

      Thanks for stopping by and your kind words regarding this place -- which I have neglected for some time...