LastFront335-BlackHill

Jim Harris

Tragedy Just North & East of Lea:

Indians, Buffalo Soldiers, Buff Hunters

            Just a few miles north of present-day Lea County one hundred and forty-three years ago this summer, one of American history’s epic tragedies took place.

            The participants were Native Americans, US Military forces, buffalo hunters, horses, and mules, all in a setting that also had an antagonist in a drama that was as exciting as a Shakespearian tragedy.

            It is a narrative that in some ways says something about the conflicts Americans have today over such subjects as the policing of residents, particularly African-Americans in large cities.

            What took place in July of 1877 on the Staked Plains of West Texas and Eastern New Mexico involved black US soldiers, called Buffalo Soldiers, pursuing, capturing, and killing Comanche and Apache Indians in some of the last battles waged to remove Native Americans from their territory on the Southern Plains, a region that had been their home for centuries.

            How do the events that year relate to 2020?

            The black soldiers then were fighting an ethnic people, the Indians, in an America that for the most part saw the black soldiers as inferiors who did not deserve to have the rights of white Americans and were not equal in any respects.

            That was exactly the attitude of the American government toward the Indians.  In many ways the Indians and the black soldiers were in the same class in a theoretically classless society.

            Some readers may be aware of movie director Spike Lee’s new film entitled  “Da 5 Bloods,” which is a story of contemporary black US soldiers visiting Viet Nam where they fought as a team in the American war there in the 1960s and early 1970s.

            Although I have not seen the movie, I understand from a review in “The New Yorker” that Lee’s film has to do with the ex-soldiers grappling with the idea that they were pursuing mostly rural and marginalized Vietnamese people from another part of the world while at the same time they did not feel that back home they or other people of color had the same rights and opportunities America offered white people.

            Who can imagine such a feeling?  I can’t imagine such a feeling.

            And how about the feelings of the combatants on the Llano Estacado in July of 1877?

            A group of 170 Comanche warriors and their families had escaped from their Oklahoma reservation–a prison without fences–in December of 1876.  They established a camp near the western caprock in New Mexico, and made raids into Texas.       

            Led by Captain Nicholas Nolan from Fort Concho, soldiers tracked them and were joined in the hunt by a large group of buffalo hunters who had been raided by the Comanches.  

            Led by the Comanche Chief Quannah Parker, a second group of Comanches were tracking the renegades in an attempt to get them to come back to the reservation.

            This story is a complex and complicated narrative to relate in just a few sentences, the four groups meeting at different times, with their narratives of the encounters varying in many details.

            However, the results of several days of trackings and encounters saw several soldiers and buffalo hunters dying in harrowing deaths from starvation and thirst on both sides of the New Mexico and Texas line, and some warriors and squaws being killed by those pursuing them.

            But the final outcome saw most all of the Indians riding together back to their reservation in Oklahoma, and the defeated and lost soldiers struggling back to Fort Concho with the help of rescue operations sent out from the fort.

            You can find many accounts of that military summer of 1877 online at web sites such as the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas History.

            The best summary of the episode, in my opinion, is by the late Roswell historian Elvis Fleming in a 1973 “Southwest Heritage Magazine” published in Hobbs.

            Fleming sums up the narrative by writing that the story is about “how Indians outsmarted both cavalry and buffalo hunters on the Llano Estacado of Eastern New Mexico and Northwest Texas.”

            The last paragraph of Fleming’s essay reads as follows:

            “The little hill (where several soldiers died) continues to stand as a monument of sorts to the ‘buffalo soldiers’ and the role they played in helping to remove the last Comanche menace to the settlement of the Staked Plains by Anglo-American ranchers and farmers.”

            This western military episode was no mass slaughter, like “Little Bighorn” in 1876 in eastern Wyoming on the plains to the north several hundred miles.

            What happened near Lea in Roosevelt County in July, 1877, was not like the slaughter of 200 Indians at Sand Creek some 200 miles to the north in 1864 in southeastern Colorado.

            However, when Quanah Parker and led his warriors back to Fort Sill and the Comanche reservation in Oklahoma, his actions signaled the end of the war between the US Government and the Plains Indians in the south and north plains.

            Quanah Parker went to his new home in Oklahoma as a triumphant leader of his bands of antelope Comanche, but he also traveled there as the symbolic leader of the defeated Native American tribes of the continent.

            It was the tragic end of the first nations of North America and the most important turning point in their life ways here.   

            They won the battles with Captain Nolan, but they lost the war with the United States.

LastFront336-Rudy Anaya

Jim Harris

Rudy Anaya: New Mexico Novelist and Teacher

Correction From Last Week’s Last Frontier: 

Though I have been to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument at least a dozen times, in last week’s column I wrote that it is located in eastern Wyoming.  Of course, it is in eastern Montana near Crow Agency, Montana.

            When I first moved to New Mexico in 1974 to teach literature and writing classes at New Mexico Junior College, I attended a gathering of writers in Albuquerque so that I could get acquainted with some of the men and women who had written books that I might be using in my literature classes, including one class in Southwest Literature I taught for many years.

            The informal group of writers called themselves the Rio Grande Writers Association, and one of the first men in the RGWA I met was Rudolfo Anaya, who was teaching in the English Department at the University of New Mexico.

            In 1972 Rudy had published a novel called “Bless Me, Ultima.”  It was his first novel to be published, but it had become an instant success.  It’s a fascinating read about a young New Mexico kid growing up on the eastern plains of the state.

            The book was very popular in part because it was by a Hispanic-American at a time (the 1960s) when readers in the United States were anxious to read literary and historical works by and about minorities—Native Americans, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and others.

            Rudy Anaya passed away last week at his home in Albuquerque, but from the early 1970s until his death, he was one of the most popular Hispanic writers in the country, and he was one of the most beloved and honored individuals in his home state.

            A few years after we met, I interviewed him in his home in Albuquerque for a series of video works I used in my classes at NMJC.  In the late seventies and early eighties, I was around him several times, and in 1985 Rudy and his wife Pat met Mary and me in Galveston where we had a fine time at a meeting of the Texas Folklore Society, which was having its annual gathering for the first time on the island along the Texas Coast south of Houston.

            I was the President of the TFS that year, and the president got to choose the city where the society met and the speaker for the annual banquet.  I asked Rudy to be the speaker, and he agreed, giving a fascinating speech about how New Mexico folklife differed from traditional life in Texas.

            Of course, Rudy was incredibly qualified for the subject, having grown up near Pastura outside of Santa Rosa not too far from the Texas state line.  Many literary critics have written about how folklore (Hispanic customs and practices) creates a sense of reality in his books.

            But the novels, in particular, have a bit of the magical to their plots.  He wrote something critics called “magical realism” in which spirits and unseen life forces seem to be directing the lives of his characters.

            For instance, the elderly Ultima of his first novel was a “curandero,” a healer who practiced natural medicine and prayers to aid the rural residents of her community in getting well from a variety of illnesses.

            How popular was Rudy in his home state when he passed away last week?

            In Santa Rosa there is a bronze sculpture of Rudy in the city park at Santa Rosa Lake.  The sculpture is by famed New Mexico sculptor Sonny Rivera, and it shows Rudy sitting with a book, one hand resting on an open page.

            One final note about Rudy in Galveston.  As a result of being around his wife Patricia in Galveston, I invited her to Hobbs and NMJC to give a presentation about women writers.  Pat, who died in 2010, was like her husband, a writer and a teacher.  She was a lovely woman and good speaker, and she and Rudy were very close in the years of their long marriage.

            After teaching literature and writing classes at the University of New Mexico, and after publishing many books, Rudy became known as the “Dean of Chicano Writers.”  He published books in a variety of genres–novels, short story collections, literary essays, folktales, poetry, plays, and even bilingual children’s books.

            His books include Albuquerque, Curse of the ChaupaCabra, Jemez Spring, Zia Summer, Cuentos Chicanos, Heart of Aztlan, Serafina’s Stories, Tortuga, and children’s books, such asThe Santero’s Miracle andThe First Sortilla.

            Rudy received numerous awards, including the Premio Quinto Sol, the national Chicano literary award, the National Medal of Arts for Literature, the PEN Center West Award for Fiction, the American Book Award from The Before Columbus Foundation, the Mexican Medal of Friendship from the Mexican Consulate, and the Western Literature Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award.

            In 2017 President Barack Obama presented him with the National Humanities Medal.  President Obama said,

Anaya’s “fiction and poetry celebrate the Chicano experience and reveal universal truths about the human condition.”

            Rudy grew up in the country west of Santa Rosa. His family members were farmers and vaqueros.  When he was 14, his immediate family moved to Albuquerque where they settled into the barrio known as Barelas.

            His novels and short stories are set in rural New Mexico and New Mexico cities,   and many of his fictional narratives are good texts for the study of New Mexico folklore.

            My favorite of his books is a collection of short stories which I used in several of my Southwest Literature classes at NMJC. The title is “Silence of the Llano,” published in 1982.

            To show the range of subject matter in his books, I will end this Last Frontier by referring to a 2008 book he published at the University of New Mexico Press.  The title is “Chupacabra and the Roswell UFO,” and it is a mystery novel, in the same genre as Rudy’s close friend Tony Hillerman, another favorite writer of New Mexicans. 

            The reading level for this book is 14 years of age and up, and it has as its protagonist Rosa Medina, a college professor.  The dust jacket of the book reads as follows:  

            “In this fast-paced mystery, Anaya expands the Chupacabra folklore into a metaphor that deals with new powers inherent in science.”

            For much of their lives, Rudy and Pat advocated for literacy among the young.  They donated much to less fortunate New Mexico children.

            The author of over 40 books, Rudy Anaya is a man who will be missed by fans and friends.

LastFrontier337-Fishing

Jim Harris

High, Dry, and Hot:   Dreams of Fishing

            When Englishman Geoffrey Chaucer  (1343-1400) chose a pilgrimage as the framework for his “Canterbury Tales,” he knew he was picking the proper literary plot, a journey, to tell what turned out to be his internationally human story.

            But Chaucer also knew the religious nature of the Middle Age pilgrimage would set the right tone he wanted to appeal to his readers of the 15thcentury. 

            So Chaucer was in my first thoughts when I woke on Tuesday morning of last week from one of the most pleasant dreams I have ever had in all my life.

            In modern English and in his preface to the “Canterbury Tales,” Chaucer writes, when April’s soothing showers pierce the drought of March, and bathe every vein with its sweet liquor, then folks long to go on pilgrimages. 

            Those are the words I heard just after I awoke from dreaming about a pilgrimage to fish waters on the far northern plains.

            For what seemed like a feature-length, wide-screen movie, something like “Lawrence of Arabia” but with a wet setting, I dreamed of a journey 2000 miles north of my Lea County home and a number of boat excursions on the familiar waters of a place named Jan Lake in northern Saskatchewan.

            How familiar to me is that lake surrounded by three adjoining ones and blanketed with hundreds of coves, bays, narrows, and streams?

            If I had been able to cross the US border into Canada in May or June of 2020, this would have been my 30thyear to have fished a heavenly boreal forest created after the last ice age scooped out depressions in granite and created thousands of lakes that were later filled to the brim with walleye, northern pikes, and a variety of other fishes.

            Yes, 30 years without missing a single year, a record and enough pilgrimages to create countless memorable dreams.

            Therefore, the remainder of this Last Frontier will be a brief description of my resent journey-in-dream; the experiences of low, wet, and cold environments; the history one passes on such pilgrimages; a selection from a sacred fish text; and a lesson to be learned from life’s journeys and dreams.

            Preparation and Drive

            In preparing for the trip north, I organize such objects as rods, reels, lures, winter clothing, camping gear, and I make a list of foods, drinks, and cigars to carry me through two weeks.

            By traveling up the North American Plains, I sail through sites that were jumping off locales for the settlement of the American West, from exploratory trails by Lewis and Clark, and the settlement trails to Oregon, California, and New Mexico.

            I pass by historic forts, such as that near Laramie on the Platte River and Buford at the junction of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers.

            I travel through regions of infamous massacres, such as a slaughter of Native Americans at Sand Creek, Colorado.  I travel through geographic sights as beautiful and unique as any on the earth, such as the grasslands of northwestern Nebraska and the tall mountains of western South Dakota, where for several decades sculptors have been altering the top of a mountain into a rock figure of Chief Crazy Horse.

Fish and Fishing

            Each day of the eight or nine nights on the Churchill River or La Ronge Lake, Baldy Lake, or Jan Lake is like a dream, floating early in the morning around ice floes and islands, anchoring in the still waters of an isolated bay, eating fresh fried walleye on the shore at lunch, catching the fish that appears almost limitless, and motoring slowly back to the camp at sunset when the magic hour turns into four or five red skies before you fall asleep, perchance to dream of the next day. 

The Fishing Text

            Just a few weeks ago, heirs to the library of fisherman and novelist Ernest Hemingway released an unpublished short story that instantly joined Papa Hemingway’s canon of sacred texts on fishing.

            Here is a paragraph near the end of the short story titled “Pursuit as Happiness”:

            “ ‘All right,’ I said, and we fished another month. We had forty-two marlin by then and still the big ones had not come. There was a dark, heavy stream close in to the Morro—sometimes there would be acres of bait—and there were flying fish going out from under the bows and birds working all the time. But we had not raised one of the huge marlin, although we were catching, or losing, white marlin each day and on one day I caught five.”

A Lesson

            The act of fishing and the exercise of fishing metaphors teach us much about our physical and spiritual world.  Traveling each year to the Great North of Canada can be much more than a getaway from the routine world.  It is more like the pilgrimage of Chaucer’s 14thcentury than it is a vacation in 2020.

            Each year there is a new lesson on this spiritual trip, and for this year when the Corona virus has changed so much of our daily routines and kept me from my traditional appointment in Canada, I have been rereading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s best-known sermon-essay.  It is titled “Self Reliance”, and it is filled with as many memorable sentences as Jan Lake is filled with walleye and northern pike.

            As a young man, how could anyone argue the truth of Emerson’s sentence, “Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist.”

            Or “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron sting.”

            Or “The only person you are destined to become, is the person you decide to be.”

            Or “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

            Or “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”
            If Emerson were alive today, he might think that my 30 years of pilgrimages to one place is foolish consistency, but there is much more than just relying on the self in a pilgrimage that makes us happy we are breathing, the heart pumping, and the lungs filling.

            Fishing has taught me that there is also much happiness in what might be called the collective reliance of a journey with a neighbor or brother.  It has to do with a sacrificing of the self for the good of group.  It is an acknowledgement of the importance of the family, the community, the country, and Mother Nature, who sometimes seems bent on taking us down.

            In fact, at this time in our history when so much seems broken or fragile enough to break, it’s collective reliance and even pilgrimages that make for sweet dreams and a kind of eternal journey beyond being high and dry, on beyond the heat to a place low, wet, and cool, and to a heavenly place.

A young walleye on his journey to lunch. With an open pit mine and blue haulers on the horizon behind them, buffalo take their meal on the rich, rolling plains of eastern Wyoming. Former Hobbs resident and artist Terry Bumpass looks back at water from nearby Dechambeault Lake falling into a river and bay on the western edge of Jan Lake.

HistNote888-Roswell Jazz

Jim Harris

Roswell Jazz Festival: Great Live 

Music Nearby

            On Saturday, October 19, wife Mary and I drove two hours to Roswell for an event I had heard about for several years but never had experienced.

            That Saturday was one day in the 14thAnnual Roswell Jazz Festival, a five-day celebration of a type of music I learned to appreciate when I was a high school student in Dallas.

            I have heard quite a bit of live music this year, visiting in Austin several times, and at the Roswell Jazz Festival (RJF) I heard some of the best music I have heard in a long, long time, no matter what the genre.

            The RJF put on a great set of concerts by a number of world-class musical artists, and Roswell isn’t that far away from anywhere in Lea County.

            In addition, the admission to the programs is incredibly reasonable, many of the performances taking place conveniently in downtown at the city’s Convention Center, which is adjacent to the Roswell Art Museum, one of the fine museums in all of New Mexico.  A few of the programs were free.

            Often called America’s classical music, jazz is a type of music that originated in the African-American community, and in particular, black communities in New Orleans.  It emerged in the late 19thcentury and early 20thcentury from several other kinds of music present in America at the time.  That root music included blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, and ragtime.

            During the last century, many different types of jazz emerged.  They include hard bop, free jazz, jazz-rock fusion, smooth jazz, and cool jazz, all being variations on a style that included much improvisation by individual members of a band.

            Some music lovers think of jazz as America’s “classical” music.

            Today jazz can be found around the world, and different countries or regions have developed their own variations, such as that found in Brazil, Germany, and Cuba.

            Over thirty musicians and vocalists performed at the RJF. They included Ted Rosenthal, piano; Houston Person, tenor saxophone; Rande Sandke, trumpet; Ricky Malichi, drums; Scott Edmunds, clarinet; Chuck Redd, vibraphone; Richard Simon, bass; and vocalist Hillary Smith.

            That last name should be familiar to some folks in Lea County.  Hillary went to high school in Hobbs.  She is the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Charlie Smith.  Just before his death, Dr. Smith donated a number of family items to the Lea County Museum.  The Smith-Watson Room is on the second floor of the 1931 Lister Building. 

            Below is the opening sentence of Hillary’s biography on her web site “hilljam.com”:

            ”With a deep soulfulness rooted in the Gospel driven churches of her youth, a classically trained vocal instrument that’s a natural wonder, and a God-given instinct for swinging a lyric, vocalist Hillary Smith has been electrifying audiences across the United States for more than 30 years.”

            Her biography on that site goes on to say that she is “as comfortable with swinging jazz as she is with funky blues.”

            Readers of the History Notebook may not be as familiar with the other performers at the RJF, but many of them are world-renown artists with interesting biographies.  I will mention just a couple of them here.

            Upright bass player Richard Simon was the featured “Guest of Honor” at this year’s Festival.  He was born in Roswell in 1947 when his father was in the Air Force, but he has lived many other places and experienced many other kinds of jobs for being a jazz base player.

            In fact, several years ago he was teaching college English in California when he decided to make music his career.  He Has a Masters degree in English at the State University of New York/Stony Brook.  He taught English in the Los Angeles Community College District.

            Of his discovery of jazz, he says, “I was transfixed and transported by the lush and swinging sounds.  I re-discovered my love for music—left not a few English compositions’ participles dangling unfortunately.”

            The one other musician at the festival I will mention played music with Simon on the evening I was in Roswell.  That is Houston Person, who plays the saxophone.

            Here is a Wikipedia entry about him just to let you see the quality of the musical artists present at the RJF:

            “Houston Person (born November 10, 1934) is an American jazz tenor saxophonist and record producer. Although he has performed in the hard bop and swinggenres, he is most experienced in and best known for his work in soul jazz. He received the Eubie Blake Jazz Award in 1982.

            “Person grew up in Florence, South Carolina, and first played piano before switching to tenor saxophone.[1] He studied at South Carolina State College where he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1999.

            “In the United States Air Force, he joined a service band stationed in West Germany, and played with Don EllisEddie HarrisCedar Walton, and Leo Wright. He later continued his studies at Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut.

            “He first became known for a series of albums for Prestige in the 1960s. Contrary to popular belief, he was never married to the vocalist Etta Jones, but did spend many years as her musical partner, recording, performing and touring, and for much of his career this association was what he was best known for. They first met playing in organist Johnny Hammond‘s band.

            “Person has been a resident of Newark, New Jersey.”

            For sure, I will be back in Roswell for the 2020 RJF.

            I wish we could have a music festival in Lea County that could be of the quality found in the UFO city to our west, and I can imagine the amount of work that went into putting on this year’s jazz fest.

            City of Roswell residents, I’m sure, are proud of the kind of quality-of-life experiences offered withIN their city limits.  The list of those offerings are extensive, including two world-class museums, the Roswell Art Museum and the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art.

            To conclude this History Notebook, in the future I am going to be paying just as much attention to what is happening in Roswell as I am in what is going on in Lubbock.

LastFrontier889—Lea Image

Jim Harris

            Lea’s Image Isn’t Everything, but …

            Back in the early 1990s, the Cannon camera company was running television ads with tennis star Andre Agassi hitting balls and saying, “Image is everything.”

            It’s one of those annoying advertisements that just won’t leave the memory, no matter how hard you try to just forget it, although one of the reasons it stays with me is that about the same time the ads were running, wife Mary and I walked out of an elevator in the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas and bumped into the high-profile athlete.

            Of course, Agassi was not the only person of note to be connected to the sentence.  Writers have written dozens of quotable lines that say something similar, especially at the end of the last century when most countries were gearing up for the coming digital universe.

            Since I moved to Hobbs in 1974, I’ve been conscious of the image of Southeast New Mexico and Lea County, as seen in other parts of New Mexico and the Southwest, partly because that image seemed in contrast to the image of the state, as touted by chambers of commerce.

            After all, I had moved to the “Land of Enchantment.” 

            Nationally, this corner of New Mexico doesn’t really have an image, other than being the general territory where Billy the Kid roamed during his murderous and psychotic rampages just before he was killed by Sheriff Pat Garret.                   

In some literary and pop culture circles, Southeast New Mexico may be thought of as by the Pecos River valley where Oliver Loving roamed too far from  his herd of Texas cattle and got himself ambushed by Indians just after the Civil War, injuries that led in a few weeks to his death.

            Both of those western narratives took place around 150 years ago.

            Although we won’t know for some decades, there is a possibility that Lea County is currently developing a newer version of another oil-boom image, that is for being part of the productive Permian Basin.

            However, as a cover photo and article in an August, 1985 New Mexico Magazine makes clear, Lea County had for several decades the reputation of being a “cowboy capital” since it produced quite a few rodeo champions.

            The cover photo showed Lea County rancher Fern Sawyer dressed in skin-tight cowgirl gear, including a white cowboy hat, and sitting on her white horse Sloan.

The caption for the cover reads, “Meet Fern Sawyer and Her Horse Sloan From Lea County, The Champion Cowboy Capital of the World.”

            The long story inside the magazine contains three images.  They are another photo of Fern, along with one each of rodeo cowboys Tuffy Cooper and Troy Fort.

            All three of individuals have by now gone on to that great roundup in the sky, and in many ways the image they projected for Lea has passed on too.

            This is not to say that the county does not have some great rodeo cowboys.  As seen each year in the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, there are still a good number of them are successful nationally.  And you can see many of them roping in local arenas just about every weekend.

            Here are a few passages from the 34 year old magazine article: 

            “The people of Lea County, for instance—down in the southeastern part o the state, where Indians are few and the natural beauties normally associated with New Mexico are almost nonexistent—aren’t going to let you forget abou their cowboys.

            “Lea County is more likely to be labeled oil country than cattle country, because it seems to a traveler driving through at seesawing oil pumps far outnumber the stock.  But while Lea County cowboys will admit that oil pays a lot of the county’s bills, they still maintain that this is prime cowboy country.  And that’s no idle boast.  They measure and back it up by the number of cowboys who have been bred here on the high plains beyond the caprick and then gone on to be world champion rodeo performers.”

            The author of the Lea County story goes on to visit and quote Fern, Tuffy, and Troy about their lives in Lea.  In addition, he took fine separate photos of the three of them.

            Then here is the last paragraph of the story with the author sitting in the stands of the Lea County rodeo arena as the show was going on despite days of heavy rain:

            “Looking down on what bore a closer resemblance to a front pond than a rodeo arena, I thought that there probably would be some grass on the high plains next year.  And that maybe the cowboy had been right about the tought gittin’ goin’ when the goin’ gits tough—at least it seemed to be true down here in Lea County, the Champion Cowboy Capitol of the World.” 

            Part of our attraction to the cowboy image of Lea stems from the western pioneer narratives that developed when this corner of the state emerged from being one of New Mexico’s last frontiers.  It was at the beginning of the 20thcentury that the first permanent settlers began to create the dozens of small towns which were forming where there had only been ranches.  The ranches, of course, were the economic institutions that ended the occupation of the region by nomadic Native Americans who had passed by here for centuries, ending their forays only following the end of the Civil War and in the last years of the 19thcentury.

            Thinking of the short history of Lea makes me curious about what sort of image Lea land had for the pre-digital Apache, Comanche, and other tribal peoples of what would become Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

And, of course, I am curious about the image of Lea in the future.

LastFront301—Rounders

Jim Harris

Rounders, writers, and round-ballers

            Over the last two weeks, I have found myself inadvertently reading and listening to rounders, writers, and roundballers who have a lot to say about the subject of history, which has occupied much of my thoughts over the last two decades. 

            On October 24, I was at the Governor’s Mansion in Santa Fe to attend the 29thAnnual Rounders Awards presented by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

            Then the following Monday, I was in Lubbock for an annual meeting with my cardiologist, Dr. Mohammed Otahbachi, originally of Syria and now of Covenant Hospital.  As it has become traditional for me to spend some quality time in Lubbock’s Barnes and Noble bookstore, I stumbled onto and bought a small book about writing by the Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard, a book titled “Inadvertent.”

            Finally, on November 5, I found myself in a packed high school auditorium in Hobbs at a Maddox Foundation lecture listening to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the tallest man I have ever seen, an athletic giant who is described by many sports authorities as the greatest basketball player ever to play the game.  Throughout the program, Abdul-Jabbar sounded to me like he was more interested in the subjects of writing and history than he was in his 20-year basketball career, saying at one point in his talk that his transition from roundball to writing moved him from success to significance.

            I am not sure that is what all of the coaches in the audience wanted to hear from the basketball hero. 

            The Rounders Award was created at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture in 1990 by former New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Frank DuBois.  The purpose of the award is to honor those who “live, promote, and articulate the western way of life,” according to the NMDA website.

            The award was named after “The Rounders,” a classic western novel written by the New Mexican novelist Max Evans, who turned 95-years-old this year and was unable to attend the gathering for the first time in the history of award.

            If readers are not familiar with the term “rounder,” in the ranch community it refers to a drifter cowboy who moves from job to job, tends to enjoy a cold beer, and often has a humorous demeanor.  There are two rounders in the Max Evans novel and in the 1965 movie made from it, the two unlucky cowboys played by Glen Ford and Henry Fonda.

            Max was chosen as the first recipient of the award, and since then two-dozen other writers, historians, and artists have been recognized as Rounders for their part in contributing to and securing the rich culture of the American West.  Your humble local writer of this column was named to the group in 2017 for his work at the Lea County Museum and in writing.

            This year’s recipients are RW Hampton, who lives in Cimarron and Dino Cornay, who lives just up the northeastern New Mexico highways in Folsom.

            RW Hampton grew up in a small Texas town and has drifted across the West working at a lot of cowboy jobs, including punching cattle, breaking and shoeing horses, and even leading trail rides and guiding hunters. Doing most of those jobs he has also spent a lot of time singing cowboy songs, and he has become a popular and award-winning country and western singer.

            As a writer as well as a singer, he has earned awards from The Academy of Western Artists and from the Western Music Association, which inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2011.

            Dino Cornay was raised in cow country, and since his childhood he drew what he saw and has without any formal training become a well-known artist who positions Western ranch life at the center of his subjects.  He documents human and animal life connected with ranching and cowboying.

            Cornay works primarily in graphite and in oils.  His art has been featured in several prestigious publications, including Western Horseman, American Quarter Horse Journal, New Mexico Stockman, as well as numerous articles and covers of various other publications.

            Despite the fact Max Evans was not able to attend, this year’s Rounders Award ceremony had nine previous winners attending.

            If a New Mexico rounder could live in Norway and write about Scandinavian life, writer Knausgaard would probably be inducted into the group.  He is an award-winning author whose autobiographical novel cycle, “My Struggle,” spans six volumes that have been translated into more than fifteen languages.

            Before it was published as a book, “Inadvertent” was a 2017 lecture at Yale University and delivered at the Windham-Campbell Prize ceremony which Krausgaard received.

            The subject of the lecture “Why I Write” a question Knausgaard finds difficult to answer.  Just a few paragraphs into the book, he writes the following:

            “Literature is not primarily a place for truths, it is the space where truths play out.  For the answer to the question (why I write)—that I write because I am going to die (for example)—to have the intended effect, for it to strike one as truth, a space must first be created in which it can be said.  That is what writing is:  creating a space in which something can be said.”

            He repeats that idea several times: Writing is creating a space in which something can be said.

            Then Krausgaard writes this about all art:            

            “The contradiction between the illimitable that dwells within us and our simultaneous limitation and earthboundness is the driving force behind all literature and all art.”

            I do not know if Kareem Abdul Jabar has ever read any of Krausgaard novels or his little book on writing, but I think it would make for an informative experience to hear the two men talk about the similarities in their lives that appear on the surface to be about as dissimiliar as two lives could be.

            Although both of their names are very prominent in their native countries, the tall African-American and the diminutive Norwegian have had very different careers.  Each studied in university, but Abdul-Jabar’s focus was on the basketball court and took him to a 20-year career in the National Basketball Association. He is 72 years old.

            Born in 1968, Knausgaard did not publish a book until he was almost 30 years old, his focus until then was to attend college to study literature and the arts.

            However, despite their different backgrounds and the 20 years that separate their ages, both of them think now that writing literature and history are what they were moving towards their entire lives.

            I think both of them would fit right in with New Mexico’s Rounders.

            Come to think of it, it would be three generations of writers if Kareem, Karl, and Max could get together to talk about writing. The three of them would have forty or fifty books written on which to base their ideas to help answer the question Why I Write.

Last Frontier300-Bozena on Fire

By Jim Harris

Several years ago when I first met and spoke with Lea County artist Bozena Kaczan in Hobbs, I came away after only a few minutes thinking, “Here is a woman who is really animated and energized by ideas and objects of beauty.”

            She is an artist who works in several media, from watercolors to pastels, and in the years since our first meeting, each time I have visited with her the initial impression of her ebullience and zealousness about art has been reinforced again and again.

            Bozena is fired-up about art and history, especially of her native Poland.

            Whether she was showing a new pastel she had just finished or a small necklace she made several years ago and has worn many times, Bozena is bubbling with excitement and energy and seems anxious to get to work on new art.

            She’s not only fired-up about art, she’s also wired for the ideas about what makes something beautiful and about objects we think of as expressions of beauty.

            When it comes to the art she loves, I have begun to think that Bozena’s  Polish given name should translate alliteratively as buoyant, ebullient, bouncy, and even brassy. 

            To tell you the truth, after I first met her and she told me she was born and grew up in Poland, I also thought about the many stereotypes of Polish people in Texas where I was raised.  The Polish jokes I heard had characters who were kin to the humorous protagonists among the Irish, the Italians, the Scandinavians, and the Aggies from Texas A&M University.

            In addition, I grew up thinking that all Polish people probably play the accordion and love to dance the polka, as so many of the rural people of Central Texas do at German beer halls on weekends.  Maybe those roadhouses around Fredericksburg and Austin were just as much Polish as they were German.

            Since my days in college, I have been a student of folklore, and after meeting Bozena, I recalled a few legends and myths of Poland, which had to do with supernatural creatures, dragons, giants, and monsters from the deep and from ancient times.

            In addition, and this has more to do with the history of Poland, talking with Bozena made me remember the suffering the Polish people endured before, during, and following the World War II when they were under the oppression of the Germans and then the Russian-Soviets. The armies of those two countries were like heavy hammers on many European countries.

            At times I’ve wondered if I would see any reflection of those dark times in Poland’s history in Bozena’s art.

            However, over the years of visiting with her, Bozena has never appeared to me to be a character in any Polish story, and after meeting her husband Leszek, neither of them fit any kinds of stereotypes from Polish folklore or history.  They both are an incredibly talented and happy couple.

            Leszek’s expertise is in agriculture, and he works for a West Texas/Southeastern New Mexico farmer who operates many thousands of acres of land in our area.  At the Lea County Museum recently, I had the wife of one New Mexico rancher-farmer tell me that Leszek knows more about farming cotton, corn, peanuts, and chilies than anyone she had ever met.

            Leszek told me that he cares for and harvests the fragrant field of rosemary that lies just west of my home on the north side of Hobbs. It’s a beautiful and sweet-smelling green field, especially following a rain or a gentle breeze from the west.

            Bozena and Leszek seem to be one very balanced and compatible couple, she richly talented in art, he in earth sciences.  And Bozena thinks of Leszek like I think of my wife Mary. She’s mighty lucky to have him.             

            Bozena and Leszek were born in Poland where they lived until they moved to the United State in 1988.  They have lived in Hobbs for 30 years.

            She says she loves America, a country where she has the freedom to say what she wants and to create what she wants in her art. She says Poland did not give her that freedom, even in the post-German era following World War II, a conflict that crippled the economies of most European countries, but was especially hard on Poland, a nextdoor neighbor to the Nazi’s.

            Bozena is not shy about exercising her right of freedom of speech.  She could give graduate-level lectures on Polish literature, contemporary life, politics, history, and historical architecture.

            In fact, her one-woman art show at the LCM Art Gallery in Lovington will contain several poster-size contemporary photographs of historic buildings and public sculptures, photos she took earlier this year on a visit back to her birth land. 

             That is another impressive quality she projects.  As it relates to life in general, and art in particular, Bozena’s interests are broad.  Although she especially loves watercolor, she is not wedded or limited to one kind of art. She doesn’t work only in oil, or in one genre.  She is a talented potter, jeweler, and dress designer.

            Her show at the LCM Art Gallery reflects her interests and expertise in a wide variety of subjects and styles.

            Bozena tells me that she has been excited about art since she was a young girl in Poland and one of her teachers told her she has a talent for creating utilitarian and artistic objects.  

            She received her master degree in 1975 from College of Fine Arts in Lodz, Poland, and she has won awards for her work.  For many years she worked as a costume designer in the Horzyca theater in Torun, Poland.

            When she moved to Hobbs, she began receiving honors and praise from residents and other artists.  She has been active in the Llano Estacado Art Association, serving on the board and volunteering to help facilitate programs and shows. She also is a member of the YCAA in Plains, the OAA in Odessa, and the BAA in Brownfield, Texas.

            For several years, she also worked at the Western Heritage Museum.

            She sure does not look or act like she has reached a stage in her life in which she might want to slow down.

            Indeed, she is still on fire for art and for her life in America.

            She may have been born in Poland, but to me Bozena is as American as apple pie, or as the polka that is played and danced in the Hill Country of Texas.

            Her one-woman show at the Lea County Museum’s Art Gallery will open Thursday, Nov. 7 from 4 to 7 p.m.

            She will be there to visit and to answer questions about Poland and about her art.

            Polish refreshments will be served at the opening.

            The show will remain at the Art Gallery through February.

            The Art Gallery is located on Central Street across from the Lea County Courthouse.

            For more information, call the Lea County Museum at 575-396-4805.

LASTFRONTIER-GEOGRAPHY

JIM HARRIS

What Geography Says About Our Coming Conflicts and Fate

            Because I have become intoxicated with land and water, the smell, look, and sounds of the natural world, I have developed a hunger for the subject of geography.  I love to look at geographic maps to see what they might tell me about where in the world I am.

            Five or six years ago, I bought two new books that I read quickly and casually, without much regard for making their subject matter a part of my mental library.  In a couple of columns, I wrote just a few words about the books.

            However, during the holiday season while recuperating from surgery, I decided to reread both books.

            The first book is “On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks” by Simon Garfield.

            The second book–a considerable portion of which focuses on the American Southwest–is “The Revenge of Geography:  What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate” by Robert D. Kaplan.  

            I enjoyed both of these books, but Kaplan’s work is both fascinating and just about as exciting as the long title sounds.  Thus, for this edition of The Last Frontier, I will share a few of his ideas. 

            Geography is a description of the earth, and Kaplan believes that a country’s geographic place can tell us much about that country’s politics, economics, and culture in the present and in the future.

            Kaplan is NOT a geographic determinist, one who believes that the fate of a country or a people is entirely determined by where he or she lives, but by studying history, geography, and demographics, it is not difficult, he writes, to conclude “that geography is vitally important.”

            Here is the first sentence in the final paragraph of the book’s preface:

            “As political upheavals accumulate and the world becomes seemingly more unmanageable, with incessant questions as to how the United States and its allies should respond, geography offers a way to make at least some sense of it all.”

            Kaplan believes that the areas of the world that pose the largest threats to the continued power and safety of America are Eurasia (which includes the Middle East); China; and Mexico-Central America.

            Readers of the brief essay may already be surmising that Kaplan’s 2012 book sounds like a modern narrative, like it was written for a 2018 or 2019 audience.

            How long has America been sending soldiers to Iraq and to Afghanistan?

            And now President Trump has sent troops to South Texas along the Rio Grande border with Mexico?

            In his long concluding chapter of “The Revenge of Geography,” Kaplan examines the transformations taking place in the lives of those individuals living in northern Mexico and in the Southwestern states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

            In other words, he is writing about you and me and our neighbors on both sides of the international border that divides America and Mexico.

            Kaplan believes the geography of our region has always been a huge factor in the lives of those who live here.  He also says that “we delude ourselves in believing that we are completely in control of our destinies…” but that “the more we are aware of our limits, the more power we have to affect outcomes within them.”

            In addition, he believes, “Geography, climate, population determine communications, economy, political 

organization.”

            Furthermore, he thinks that while we have been fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, “a massive state failure was developing right on America’s southern border, with far more profound implications for the near and distant future of America, its society, and American power than anything occurring half a world away. What have we achieved in the Middle East with all of our interventions since the 1980s?….Why not fix Mexico instead? How we might have prospered had we put all that money, expertise, and innovations that went into Iraq and Afghanistan into Mexico.”

            Looking for historical parallels to what is happening in the American Southwest and northern Mexico, Kaplan finds many that tell what might happen here.

            Similar situations to that found in the Southwest can be found in Ming China in 1449; in medieval Venice, Italy; in the Indian Mutiny against Britain in 1857-58; in the Battle of Syracuse in 413 B.C.; and in the decline of the Roman Empire over several centuries before and after the time of Christ.

            In “A Study of History,” (1957) historian of the rise and fall of Rome, Arnold Toynbee writes the following about countries, including the Roman Empire, who confronted conditions like those in the American Southwest:

            “The erection of a limes(a boundary or wall) sets in motion a play of social forces which is bound to end disastrously for the builders.  A policy of non-intercourse with the barbarians beyond is quite impracticable.  Whatever the imperial government may decide, the interests of traders, pioneers, adventurers, and so forth will inevitably draw them beyond the frontier.” 

            Near the end of “The Revenge of Geography,” here is Kaplan on the region of America that is our Southwestern home:

            “The quality and fluidity of this cultural and bi-national (the US and Mexico) interaction will, arguably, more than any other individual dynamic, determine how well American interacts with…(Eurasia and Africa).  American foreign policy will likely be both wise and unwise by turns in the course of the decades.  But American economic power, cultural power, moral power, and even political and military power will be substantially affected by whether we can develop into a cohesive, bilingual supra-state-of-sorts with Mexico and Canada or, instead, become trapped by a dysfunctional, vast, and increasingly unruly border region that engenders civilization tension between America’s still dominant Anglo-Protestant culture and its Hispanic counterpart….

            “Thus, if the United States and Mexico do not eventually come together to the degree that the U.S. and Canada already have—if we do not have Mexico as an intimate and dependable ally in world forums—it will adversely affect America’s other relationships, especially as Mexico’s (and Central America’s) population grows at a much higher rate than ours, and thus Mexico will assume more importance as time goes on.”

            To conclude, while writing this Last Frontier, I’ve been wondering if I were starting over as a freshman in college, would I choose geography as a major?   

            And speaking to the many conflicts in which America finds itself in the early years of the 21stcentury, here are the final seven words in Kapland’s “The Revenge of Geography”:

            “A world balanced is a world free.”

CUTLINE

Students of history can learn much from studying a geographic map of the natural and artificial boundaries in northern Mexico and the American Southwest. 

HistNote862—Colombia

Jim Harris

Seven Days in Colombia, A Beautiful Land With Beautiful People and A Rich History

      All of my life has been filled with good luck, and just a couple of weeks ago I had the extremely good fortune to spend seven days in Colombia.

      That’s the country of Colombia in South America.

      My invigorating and enjoyable days in Colombia turned out to be one of the great journeys in a life of many trips and passings, even though my wife Mary was not able to accompany me.

      The trip to Colombia was long in the making, but it took place on the spur of the moment.  My late Hobbs friend Henry DeVilliers and I had talked about visiting Colombia for a couple of decades.

      Henry’s wife Maria and several of their children were born in Colombia.  He taught school there, and after we met at New Mexico Junior College and became good buddies, we talked many times about him giving me a tour of the country that had become a major part of his life.

      We never made the trip to Bogota or the small mountain town of Fusagasuga where Maria’s family lived, but just a few months ago when my son was married in Lovington, Henry’s son Henry Junior came to the wedding.  Junior, who has a home and businesses in Colombia, and I started talking about him giving me the tour that his father and I never made.

      Then in a conversation Junior and I had last month, we both decided it was time that I finally made the trip.

      It became the tour Junior’s father and I never took because of my friend’s untimely, accidental death. In some ways it was a tribute tour to our friendship and a memorial to my grand amigo. 

      Colombia is a magnificent country because of its beautiful land, its stunning people, and its rich history.

      This is a nation named for the traveling and adventurous man who first brought to the attention of Europeans and the rest of the world the two continents that would be named the Americas, that is North America and South America, as they are called today.

      Colombia is located in the northwestern corner of South America.  Clockwise around its borders are Panama, the Caribbean Sea, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and the Pacific Ocean.

      It contains three branches of the Andes Mountains within its borders. The Andes run north and south down the western side of the continent.

      Colombia has a variety of topographies.  In addition to the mountains, it has coastal land, tropical rain forests, and a plains region called “El Llano.”

      Colombia’s borders form a diamond with four points.  Those boundaries have been shaped by geographic configurations, such as rivers and mountains, and by political and social conflicts and agreements with its surrounding neighbors.

      Most Americans are aware of Colombia because of the production and distribution of drugs found from within its borders.  In addition, Colombia has been in a civil war with guerrilla rebels.  Fortunately, with the ending of that conflict, peace has come to the country, and the hopes for prosperity and a better life for its people are much greater than they were a few years ago.

      The rebel forces, FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, have laid down their weapons, a not insignificant factor in my decision to visit Colombia.

      I traveled on United Airlines from Hobbs to Houston, then on to Bogota.  That morning I woke up in Lea County and the night I went to sleep in Colombia’s capital city of Bogota.  That night in the big city, I dreamed about what a small world we live in.

      I spent the one night in Bogota, and the next morning I visited several museums and walked the up-and-down streets of a city located high in the mountains.  Bogota has a beautiful central plaza that contains a presidential palace, their White House, and a beautiful Catholic Church.  The city has nine million residents.

      From Bogota I traveled south and west to the much smaller town of Fusagasuga which has around 100,000 residents.  Also located in the mountains, the town of Fusa has a beautiful church on its central plaza. I happened to arrive there on Good Friday, and the town had several processions that took place in celebration of Easter.

      I spent several days and three nights in Fusa visiting historic sites and meeting many individuals who are friends and relatives of Henry Junior.

      With Junior and a man who works for him, Diego Sanchez, and Diego’s fiancé, we traveled back to Bogota and rode a bus for over seven hours during the night to arrive at a small town at the edge of the Amazonia jungle.

      We stayed two days in Guaviare, located on a huge river, the Rio Guaviare.  One of those days we drove a few miles into the jungle to visit the village of a native tribe.

      On other trips out from Guaviare we visited a beautiful and smaller river, which contains several pools in which resident swim in relief from the heat and humidity and heat of the jungle.

      From Guaviare, we traveled six hours north to a resort city, which serves as a portal to the plains of Colombia.  Villavicencio is located six hours to the east and over a mountain range from Bogota. We stayed a night in the Hotel del Llano, a beautiful hotel in the middle of the city where we ate Peruvian food and traditional food from the plains.

      On the fertile and lush Colombian plains fruits and vegetables are grown in abundance—including, corn, peppers, pineapples, oranges, rice, and grapes.  The plains are also home to cowboys and ranchers who raise massive herds of Brahma cattle.  I ate a considerable amount of beef on this trip.

      From Villavicencio, I traveled back over the Andes, with peaks over 13,000 feet to spend one more night in Bogota.  Early the next morning, a Thursday, I flew from Bogota to Houston and then back to Hobbs.

      I will remember my trip to Colombia for the rest of my life.  It was a moving experience because of the land, the people, and the history of the country I learned by visiting museums and talking with its residents.

      There will be future History Notebook columns about what I saw and what I learned in Colombia.  

      The history of Colombia is tied closely to the history of America, and Colombian history speaks to Southwestern and Lea County history.

HistNote871-IndianWarriors

Jim Harris

Indian Military & Their Leaders

            The movies I watched as a kid and enjoyed the most were “cowboy and Indian” films, and hearing or reading the names of the actors who played the cowboy protagonists or the names of the characters they played makes me have visual reveries of some of the great moments of entertainment in my life.

            They were Wild Bill Elliot, Bob Livingston, Bob Steele, Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Buster Crabbe, Smiley Bernette, Gabby Hayes, Gene Autry, Tim McCoy, Hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard, Lash LaRue, Poncho (The Cisco Kid’s sidekick), Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, John Wayne, Johnny Mack Brown, Randolph Scott, Rex Allen, Rory Calhoun, Red Ryder, and Alan Ladd.

            I saw a lot of movies even before I was in high school and really got addicted to motion pictures.

            I might have had trouble remembering all of those cowboy names if it had not been for the internet and Google, but the names trigger, if you will pardon the word, a flood of scenes and stories I first saw in the Crest Theater, and several others in the South Dallas of my youth.

            So these types of movies were called “cowboy and Indian” moving pictures.

            All of the protagonists I’ve listed are cowboys. What about the Indian parts?

            Well, for one thing, none of the Indian actors played “starring” parts.  They were at best sidekicks to the stars.  The one I remember most vividly was “Tonto,” played by Jay Silverheels. Tonto was the companion of  The Lone Ranger.  He was the faithful and quiet Indian.

            Most of the Indians in the cowboy and Indian movies were not faithful to the white people moving into the Indian territory on the plains, the Southwest, or the far West.  And they certainly were not quiet.

            Usually the Indians were screaming as they raided and scalped ranchers, farmers, miners, settlers, or whoever happened to get near members of such tribes as the Cheyenne, Souix, Lakota, or Apache.

            And the raiding Indians usually died by the dozens as they circled covered wagons or stole herds of horses.

            It won’t surprise many readers of this History Notebook that the Indian raiders were actually very good fighters and that many tribes operated very effective military machines.

            In general, Indian military operations were conducted more in guerrilla fashion than like the various United States military troops, whose battle plans were usually based on European models.

            And the cowboy and Indian movies I watched never showed an Indian general or chief off to the side of a battle directing his warriors in the combat theater.

            However, there were many great military leaders in the dozens of Native American tribes.  I will mention just four of those in this brief essay:  Wolf Robe, Geronimo, Mangas Coloradas, and Sitting Bull.

            Not as well known as the other three chiefs, Wolf Robe was a Southern Cheyenne, a tribe whose plains territory extended all the way to Oklahoma, also known as Indian Territory.

            Oklahoma is where Wolf Robe died in 1910.  Oklahoma is the burial ground for many well-known Indians since many of the tribes were placed on reservations in the state. Wolf Robe was born around 1840, and he was a chief during the era of reservation establishment following the Civil War.

            After serving as the chief of a formidable Cheyenne fighting force, he was responsible for helping to relocate his people without the bloodbaths that many tribes experienced.  After decades of military successes against Arapaho, Blackfeet, and Pawnee, Wolf Robe saw that the white Americans would slaughter his people if they did not surrender to the reservations of Oklahoma.

            Geronimo and Mangas Coloradas were both Apache war chiefs who became famous historical figures for their fighting prowess.  Both of them lived and fought in the southwestern corner of New Mexico and the southeastern corner of Arizona, and both thought of northern Mexico as part of their tribal territory.

            Mangas was tortured and murdered when he came in peace with a white flag to talk to US military leaders in what is now the Gila Wilderness in southwestern Colorado.

            Geronimo is probably the Native American who has most been a character in American fiction and film.  A great leader of his people and a fierce fighter, he died in Oklahoma in 1909 following a fall from a horse and a January night spent on the ground in very cold weather.

            In 1993 director Walter Hill made an excellent movie about Geronimo.  Titled “Geronimo: An American Legend,” it starred New Mexico actor Wes Studi as Geronimo and included several fine actors, including Jason Patric, Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman, and Matt Damon.

            I think of this as a great cowboy and Indian movie. Maybe it should be called an “Indian and Cowboy” film.  Or take out the cowboy and put in “cavalry soldier.”  It is a far cry from the types of cowboy and Indian movies I watched as a kid.

            The final war chief in this short essay is also one of America’s most famous Indian leaders.

            Sitting Bull, like Geronimo, became the subject of dozens of books and films.  He was a war chief and a civil chief and a medicine man.  Some weeks before the battle of Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull had a vision of American cavalry soldiers dying in a huge battle in which Indians were victorious.

            It was Northern Cheyenne warriors who defeated George Armstrong Custer on June 25, 1876.  Those Indians had been influenced by Sitting Bull’s prophesy of dominant tribal victories that would turn the tide of white people taking Indian lands on the plains and across the continent. 

            Sitting Bull was killed by US Indian Agency policemen when they attempted to arrest him on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in South Dakota on Dec. 15, 1890.  He was 58 or 59 years old.

            The reality of Native American life in the 19thcentury wasn’t like the Indian life depicted in the movies I saw as a child and a teen.

            Today watching those movies from the  nineteen thirties, forties, and fifties, those starring Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger, I see individuals and their biographies much differently than I did decades ago.

            That is particularly true of the native characters in the “cowboy and Indian” films.

            I still enjoy watching what we now call “westerns,” but I see them with thoughts of wanting to know more about the realities of the fictions that were so entertaining and instructive.