SOUTHWESTERN CULTURAL IMAGERY


Arizona cliches more than New Mexico's grab the Southwestern physical-image spotlight: the Grand Canyon with its always-intimidating scale and grandeur, the Sonoran Desert with its hackneyed saguaro cacti, Monument Valley with its surreal mittens, Sedona with its verdure and red rocks. But probably no other factor so clearly stamps the Southwest as does its well known--and uniquely interwoven--cultural images. In this arena, New Mexico has provided the greater visibility. That state does more to exhibit the peculiar and absorbing cultural imagery that has earned the Southwest its greatest worldwide attention.
In a short but trenchant study of novelist Zane Grey, Ann Ronald, a scholar specializing in Western American literature, tells us: "Ultimately we read [Zane Grey's] books not because he tells us about life, but because he does not." The popularity of Grey--a disenchanted Ohio dentist, smitten by what he perceived to be the vitality of the American Southwest in contrast with the blasé and jaded East--has for more than seventy-five years symbolized a great and enduring escapist romance certain easterners have felt about the Southwest, a romance which they lovingly and elaborately have tatted for themselves for more than a hundred years now.
Before 1884 just about everyone, writers and readers alike, in the nation and throughout the world understood this region to be a vast physical and cultural desert, repulsive and dangerous and totally without attraction other than a few very minor discoveries of its storied mineral wealth. Early understanding of the region tended to be a negative one. The account by Joseph Rowsee Peyton, who in 1773 endured weeks of miserable captivity and deprivation by the Spanish, notified Anglos as to how welcome they were in the Southwest. The Spanish captured and detained in 1807 U.S. Army officer Zebulon Pike, who, it's true, may have contrived his experience with the Spanish for investigative purposes. In San Diego, California, Mexicans liberated from Spain but utilizing the Spanish tradition toward unwelcome Americanos incarcerated the American trapper and explorer James Ohio Pattie in 1828.
These early Anglo-American visitors perceived the Hispanic culture of the Southwest to be bizarre, uninhibited, and, behind the ceremony and graciousness, basically crude. Despite whatever respect and admiration these early observers might have had for the region's peoples, they portrayed Hispanic cultural traditions as wantonly colorful, carnivalesque, and amusingly strange. For novelist Mayne Reid, who Visited the area and who, for awhile, was married to a wealthy Mexican aristocrat, the Hispanics were every bit as brutal as the bloodthirsty Indians. For all the visiting Anglos the Southwest's "cultural" features seemed more like a sleazy sideshow than the main attraction.
Few of the Anglo visitors before 1884 wrote anything positive about the inhabitants of the American Southwest. Travelers returning to civilization described the Indians as being filthy, lying, stupid, bloodthirsty, and treacherous. A few visitors such as Josiah Gregg (1844), George F. Ruxton (1849), William Davis (1857), Frank Edwards (1847), James Ohio Pattie (1826), Michael Box (1869), and J. Ross Browne (1869) found the Hispanics of the region colorful and garrulous--but hardly to be admired for their high level of refinement. Other reporters like Samuel Cozzens (1874), Hiram Hodge (1877), and Richard Hinton (1878) had little good to say about the weather or the flora and the fauna, but did report favorably on the trapping and mining opportunities in the Southwest; only the moneymaking possibilities received positive treatment. But these unflattering evaluations were soon to be revised by other visitors, and the region's moneymaking opportunities would, to these later visitors and immigrants, be seen as a curse.
In one year's time the older negative images changed dramatically. 1884 proved to be a watershed year for Southwest imagery. The newly available fast and easy transportation to the region made possible by the completion of both the Southern Pacific and Atlantic & Pacific railroads played a role in this rapid conceptual metamorphosis, as did the 1884 publication of Helen Hunt Jackson's classic novel Ramona. But the long-range impact of Charles Lummis's 1884-85 "tramp across the continent, observations contributed much more to a new antimaterialistic perspective. Thanks to Lummis, within sixteen years a reputed Southwest regional zeitgeist of adventure and enchantment became broadly public, and a "Southwest genre" had been spawned which has continued to the present day. Southwest books of all kinds--history, anthropology, fiction, natural science, poetry, adventure, and discovery--soon flourished and were full of praise for the region and its people. In retrospect, Lummis's role in this particular conceptual development appears dramatically dominant. Between 1884 and 1900, Charles (he preferred the baronial "Don Carlos") Lummis did more by far than anyone else at any time in identifying and publishing this romantic Southwest genre. Lummis's role represented a major cornerstone in the development of America's cultural self-awareness.
As early as 1880, numerous old-line New England Anglo-Saxon Protestant elitists displayed a despondency born out of frustration due to what appeared to them to be the failure of American idealism. These same people, historian Richard Hofstadter has noted, comprised the "Mugwumps" ("Independents," they called themselves), who were unhappy with the selection of James G. Blaine, the "Grandee of Graft," as the 1884 Republican presidential nominee.2 They considered Blaine to be darkly tarnished by the era's economic and political corruption. The Mugwumps bolted the Republican party at the June 1884 presidential nominating convention in Chicago and gave their support to Grover Cleveland and the Democratic ticket. Led by George W Curtis, publisher of Harpeti Weekly, and Edwin L. Godkin of The Nation, the Mugwumps directed their political energies toward revisions of the "abominable" tariff, the hard-money policy, and the U.S. civil service "spoils system," as well as other reforms. In particular, they deplored the corrupt politics of the Gilded Age's "Robber Barons," whom they felt manipulated the entire American political, economic, and social system all the way from the local precinct to the nation's presidency.
Hofstadter described the Mugwump as a person or a descendant of a family of "moderate means," who up until 1870 "could command much deference and exert much influence." "Down to 1850, and even later," Mugwump Henry Adams wistfully remembered, "New England society [and, therefore, by implication, the essence of American society] was still directed by the professions." In the post-Civil War period, all of this leadership changed hands. The advance of the westward frontier, the growth of big cities and great industrial plants, the expansion of the railroads, and the emergence of corporate America eclipsed the old society and the old order. As the older order deteriorated, the traditional New England "statesmen" and other leaders, both men and women of old families, college-educated with deep ancestral roots in their professions, businesses, and communities and with a tradition of patrician noblesse oblige, increasingly found themselves excluded from the decisionmaking of American society. During this time the nouveau riche--the Jay Goulds, the John D. Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, Harrimans, Camegies, and Morgans--viewed as vulgar and corrupt and obnoxiously materialistic by the old-line families, replaced the Mugwump preeminence in American politics and society.
After the appearance of this late-nineteenth-century Gilded Age, with its ruthlessly aggressive parvenus, the Mugwumps, especially those from New England, found themselves helpless, impotent, and bitter. They lamented the loss of the reform spirit and their loss of stewardship opportunities, but, most of all, they deplored the disappearance of the deference that previously had been accorded to them in their roles as political, social, and intellectual Brahmins, an elite group that had enjoyed cultural dominance in American life. In dozens of Eastern cities and towns, Hofstadter points out, the old gentry found itself "overshadowed and edged aside in the making of basic political and economic decisions." By 1880 the Mugwumps "were less important, and they knew it."
The Mugwumps flourished most conspicuously around Boston, and, Hofstadter noted, one sensed "among them the prominence of the cultural ideas and traditions of New England, and behind those, of old England.... They tended to look to New England's history for literary, cultural and political models and for examples of moral idealism." The novelists among them--William Dean Howells, Henry Blake Fuller, and Robert Herrick--portrayed the industrial barons as nouveau-riche boors who were "devoid of refinement or any sense of noblesse." Basically conservative and believers in Social Darwinism as well as laissez-faire economics, the Mugwumps increasingly found their beliefs and their status at cross-purposes. What were they to do?
For a long time these proper Bostonians had known about the opportunities found in reactionary regional romanticism for an escape from the materialistic national atmosphere created by unbridled capitalistic plutocracy. Despite their traditional purported distaste for unchecked consanguine aristocratic society and their avowed abhorrence of slavery, the old-line northerners (and southerners, too) had discovered and delighted in the misty, feudalistic Sir Walter Scott-Lost Cause mythology of the antebellum South, which they ingested as an antidote to the dyspepsia of nineteenth-century runaway American cultural and moral deterioration.
Actually, it was Northern romantics, themselves, who originated and perpetuated these fantasies. In Cavalier and Yankee, William R. Taylor examined the pre-Civil War national and regional circumstances which encouraged, and even provoked, Southern regional mythmaking and eventually enabled the South to find a comfortable identity with an image that was contrary to the American mainstream of cultural development and yet provided an honorable, if mythical, baronial way of life. They savored this feudal society with its visions of magnolias and colonnades, cotton fields and courtly plantation balls, gentle womanhood and a chivalric code, and they devoured the baronial genre spawned by northerner John Pendleton Kennedy in his novel Swallow Barn, published in 1832. "It was obvious from the beginning," said Taylor in Cavalier and Yankee, "that Swallow Barn was a city man's somewhat patronizing argument for the parochialism of the country." Swallow Barn and its Lost Cause literary descendants gave the northern city people, long before the Civil War and the great industrial onslaught, a fanciful escape from the growing frenetic whirlwind of buying and selling and the bitter perplexities of business. This antebellum mystique of earthiness and gracious baronial society characterized the popular conception of the South past the Civil War and well into the twentieth century. Gone with the Wind may have been its apotheosis. However, as early as 1880 the Boston Mugwumps needed and were searching for some other unspoiled American region where they could act out, if only vicariously, their genteel, feudalistic dreams.
Even more than they had done for much of the nineteenth century, the post-1884 Mugwumps wrote off the East as a loss and sought a reaffirmation of Rousseau's and Thoreau's contention that humankind strongly needed a closeness to "wildness" and "nature" and "open space" in order to achieve social stability, cultural "balance," and personal tranquility. It was out of this escapist tradition, within this late nineteenth century context, and toward this Arcadian idyll that the Mugwumps derived their motives and objectives for reestablishing the American identity as a wild, bucolic, exotic, vital, enchanting, and innocent pastorale. In this regard, they searched for the "ideal" landscape. Traditional conceptions of romantic, pastoral Utopias usually possessed more verdure than what the Southwest had to offer. But Southwest "wasteland" Edens did not lack precedent. In the legends of Western Civilization, other Mediterranean and arid climes had also offered their mythical Arcadias. The agrarian oases of the Rio Grande Valley and other verdant spots of the Southwest fit comfortably into the historically idealized Anglo-Saxon concept of paradise. Thus the northeastern United States Mugwumps looked southwestward for an unspoiled American region where they could stage their genteel back-to-nature fantasies. Here, too, they could satisfy their desire for a reactionary agrarian alternative to growing American urban-industrial capitalism. And, they thought, it was a place absent of plutocrats in which they could regain their deserved deference.
True, the white men who pioneered the nation's frontier developed a much different impression of "primitive" cultures. Up until the 1880s the pioneers saw the American Indian as a vicious and bloodthirsty savage. Nonetheless, among the Boston Mugwump literati an earlier and continued sympathy for classical primitivism inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Hiawatha (1855) just as it supported the earlier Indian heroics found in James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales. Young Mugwumps of this period had read Capt. Mayne Reid's broadly popular adventure stories set in the far Southwest. Reid's The Scalp Hunters (1851) and The White Chief (1860), it is true, portrayed bloodthirsty Indian savagery, and depicted cowardice, treachery, and viciousness among Southwest Hispanics. Nevertheless, despite Reid's negative descriptions, the Mugwumps thought more like Cooper, Thoreau, and Longfellow. Moreover, by 1884, virtually no solid vestige of frontier Indian barbarism remained, and most visitors felt no need to become combative or alarmed or even wary. Instead, they found themselves "charmed" by all the "primitive" peoples they encountered in the Southwest.
There was, of course, a Mugwump mind long before 1884. However, prosperous and well-educated early English colonists in North America, particularly in the Boston area, hated Spain. This antagonism was based on racial, religious, and economic factors, some real, some imagined. The Spanish New World's size and power and its entrenched circumstances caused New England colonists to have anxieties about territorial conflicts as well as anxieties about political and economic hegemony in the New World. In fact, Puritans like Cotton Mather and Samuel Sewell wanted to gain physical control of Mexico. In addition, the British colonists in America had heard about, perhaps had even read, Bartolemé de las Casas's bloodchilling stories of "La Leyenda Negra," first published in 1552, and they had heard about the terrors of the Spanish Inquisition.
These colonists also hated Catholicism, which they perceived as being the progenitor of and no different from their worst nemesis, the Church of England. They felt that indirectly but still powerfully the Catholic church had forced their exodus from England; to them New England was founded as a refuge from the very principles for which Spain stood. Moreover, as fundamental Calvinists, the English colonists in North America saw themselves as being ethnically, socially, intellectually, and cosmically purer, and, therefore, more elevated than anyone else. John Winthrop wasn't being fancifully hyperbolic when in 1630 he stated his conviction: "We shall be as a city upon a hill." Most of all, the New England colonists resented the fact that the Spanish had seized and occupied the richer, warmer lands south of the British colonies.
These antagonisms were strongly felt, but before 1800 there was a general American ignorance of Spain and Latin America. However, literary historian Stanley Williams has said that in the minds of these Anglo colonists there was a powerful "unconscious" sense of the proximity of Hispanic America, and they felt that continuing frontier expansion, both British and Spanish, inevitably had to lead to some kind of broad and serious conflict. These concerns, although subtle and inarticulate, were very compelling and eventually led to the planned examinations of Spanish culture by such nineteenth-century American Hispanophiles--and Mugwump progenitors--as Washington Irving, George Ticknor, and William Hickling Prescott.
Although Americans continued to feel a basic and underlying superiority toward, contempt for, and suspicion of Spain, both the nation and the empire, "Castles in Spain" as a metaphor remained a staple and pleasant American symbol that connoted feudal finery and gallantry and gauzy dreams of some pure and courageous chivalric decency and domestic contentment. Historian Williams states that this "mood was to linger on, more or less related to the dream of the noble savage, through Prescott's graphic History of the Conquest of Mexico, and through the sentimental novels of William Gilmore Simms and Robert Montgomery Bird." More important, this mood would make a heavy impact on the way in which New England Mugwumps perceived the American Southwest after this region had been taken from Mexico.
What, specifically, were the Mugwump-created Southwest images? Certainly not the topography and the climate. These Southwest traits defy and preclude any kind of romantic hyperbole. In what form, then, did the popular Southwest fantasies appear? Specifically, the visions were cultural and societal ones. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, many European and American intellectuals, liberals and conservatives alike, tended to see "primitivism" as a virtue. This notion held that societies simpler than those found in Western Civilization are more fulfilling, more virtuous, and happier than "sophisticated" ones. "Such a state of existence," P Richard Metcalf has written, "was held to be a desirable alternative to the discontents and debilitations of contemporary... society." Henry David Thoreau's essays gave descriptions and arguments for this point of view, and many Mugwump minds found arguments such as Thoreau's to be seductive alternatives to "too much civilization." Thus the Mugwumps turned toward the last region left within the continental United States in which to find a rescue from their discontent.
In their attempt to escape to the Southwest, the Mugwumps blended their appetite for primitivism with their hankering for Sir Walter Scott's baronial model, and between 1884 and 1943 developed three very popular cultural images. Paul Horgan called them the "Heroic Triad":
1. The Mission/Hacienda Hispanic image, made up of Old World aristocrats living the indolent, simple, and gracious life in an ambiance of casas and courtyards, mission bells and quaint adobe houses, halcyon days and starry nights; in places old-mission or small town or hacienda-populated with kindly friars, dashing caballeros, venerable dons and charming, beautiful seiioritas and happy, childlike frolicking villagers; with a heroic history of conquistadores and fanciful Castilian refinement and gentility and hospitality ("mi casa es su casa"), but whose way of life was being pulled up by the roots by greedy gringos. And the vigas and whitewashed stucco walls of its churches and houses and other buildings suggested something timeless and classically Mediterranean.
2. The Noble Savage image, consisting of dignified and mystical Southwestern Indians who for years had been misunderstood, condemned, and scourged for being "bloodthirsty savages" by insensitive Anglos who spoke with "forked tongue"; the Southwest imagemakers depicted the Noble Savages as forgiving people, who were patient, gracious, trusting, trustworthy, moderate, disciplined (it was, of course, the evil white man who was responsible for the Indians' tragic use of, even susceptibility to, fire-water), circumspect, contemplative and wise, as well as highly moral, transcendent with cosmic connections, primitive but civil; a people betrayed and abused by greedy and arrogant Anglo moneymakers, but who remain stoic, loyal, and loving.
3. The Cowboy/Ranch image, characterized by a large, Anglo baronial cattle spread with "cowboys," centaur figures who were legendary descendants of feudal knights by way of pioneer frontiersmen, who seldom work (at least not visibly); hard, lean, tall, free-spirited, laconic, living lightly, each his "own man" and living by an inflexible chivalric code; a loner, nomadic, always "moving on," the cowboy represented honor, justice, rugged individualism, nonmaterialism, anti-urban industrialism and served as a symbol of absolute innocence, goodness, and courage. Fundamental to both Antebellum and Southwest imagery is the manorial model. In some ways the Cowboy/Ranch image was a cultural mutation derived from the Mission/Hacienda model, both of them being feudalistic images, and, therefore, very acceptably contrary to the urban- industrial America that Mugwumps found so obnoxious. (Today millionaires who buy ranches and play at being both patrón and cowboy make a mockery of the genuine hardscrabble life that still characterizes the real ranching people of the region.)
The most influential and most obvious originator of the glorious and quaint Mission/Hacienda image was Helen Hunt Jackson, an authentic Massachusetts Mugwump. As the well-bred daughter of a New England professor of rhetoric and languages, Jackson displayed obvious romantic influences of Thoreau, Cooper, and Longfellow. Early in her life she developed a strong interest in history, and she possessed a literary talent characterized by a fiery imagination. Between January and April 1880 she created a whirlwind of petitions, articles, tracts, letters, and data reports. Out of this frenzy of energy and indignation she wrote A Century of Dishonor, a polemical exposé that dramatized the United States's fork-tongued Indian policy. In 1884, she published a touching, melodramatic novel, Ramona, which became, in many ways, the manifesto for two images of the Southwest: the gallant but fated Hispanic aristocrat, and the wise and dignified but abused Indian. Helen Hunt Jackson intended Ramona to be a political book, to be her own expression of disgust toward the corrupt morass of Gilded Age values. If one stands back and views them both, Jackson's Century of Dishonor serves as a foundation of and prelude to Ramona. In both books she dramatizes the way in which Americans brutalized the red man. While Jackson set the locale of the novel in coastal Southern California, she identified sharply two of the three images which became associated with the region's hinterlands. But it is hard to understand how Jackson could hate the Anglo imperialists so much and at the same time admire the descendants--both institutions and people--of the arrogant and cruel conquistadores.
Ramona enjoyed immediate popularity, but Jackson did not live to see its full impact on the American scene. She died less than a year following its publication. However, her cause, now eagerly supported by a growing Mugwump constituency, continued to be promoted by a man who did more than anyone else to shape further the Mugwump image of the Southwest--Charles Fletcher Lummis. His work would dramatize, give greater detail to, and spread farther all three of the Southwest images, but especially the Noble Savage and the Aristocratic Hispanic ones.
Lummis's background and personal traits stamped him as the quintessential Mugwump. Born in 1859 in Lynn, Massachusetts, to a father who was a minister and a professor of Latin and Greek, Lummis attended Harvard University. In 1884, upon accepting a job offer to be city editor for the Los Angeles Times, Lummis walked from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Los Angeles. During the "tramp," as he called it, he became deeply possessed by the local cultural characteristics of the Hispanic and Indian people he saw in southern Colorado, northern New Mexico, and northern Arizona.
After his arrival in Los Angeles, Lummis traveled extensively in Arizona and New Mexico and became fascinated by all of the Southwest's cultural characteristics. He reported on Indian wars and archaeological expeditions, became increasingly interested in United States policies toward Native Americans, and wrote about the Spanish occupation of the New World. He spent much time out-of-doors exploring Indian ruins, discovering scenic trails, and visiting natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon. He worked endless hours crusading for the preservation of both cultural antiquities and the natural environment.
Within a few more years, a "Southwest genre" had been established. While well-received Southwest books of all kinds flourished, Southwest cultural imagery within the context of Southwest physiographic imagery found its highest form in the literary novel. Even before Ramona appeared in the bookstores in 1884, such skilled Southwest adventure writers as Mayne Reid (The Scalp-Hunters [1851] and The White Chief [1860]), Gustave Aimard (The Trail Hunter [1863]), and Harry Castlemon (Frank at Don Carlos' Rancho [1871]) had acquired an ardent if youthful following. By the turn of the century, Southwest novelists like Charles King (The Colonel's Daughter [1882] and Sunset Pass [1890]), Henry Brinkerhoff (Nah-nee-tu [1886]), Elizabeth Champney (Great Grandmother's Girls [1888]), Adolph Bandelier (The Delight Makers [1890]), and Constance G. DuBois (A Soul in Bronze [1898]) enjoyed a wide American audience.3
Early in the 1900s, novelists Mary Austin, Eugene Manlove Rhodes, Zane Grey, Henry Knibbs, Harold Bell Wright, Elizabeth Baker Bohan, Edmund Mitchell, Rose Ellerbe, and dozens more focused on the Southwest and the region's cultural imagery. Of 170 novels written about the Southwest between 1884 and 1943, except for those relatively few which were set in Coastal California, all had locales within the core (31° 30' N.-37° N.,105° W.-115° 30' W.) of the physiographic and climatic Southwest. Boxed in by Mormon Country and the Rocky Mountains on the north, the Llano Estacado on the east, Mexico on the south, and the Mojave Desert on the west, the novels have settings which strictly conform to the cultural, physiographic, and climatic traits which the reading public craved. For the most part, these Southwest fiction writers ignored any presence in the region of corporate mining, industry, banking, or any aspect of capitalistic-urban-industrial America. A novelist has the prerogative to locate a story anywhere that she or he chooses. Given this freedom, the writer sets a fictional Southwest in those places which the novels' authors and readers find the most fancifully appealing. Thus a marketplace setting determines those parts of the region that fiction lovers like to read about as being "the most Southwestern." It should be no surprise that the spectacular Southwestern physiography and Southwestern novels' settings are similar: the state of nature does, at times, equal the state of mind.
While other regions of the Western Hemisphere had known the Hispanic, the Cowboy, and the Noble Savage, it was the Southwest's splendid setting with its determinant environmental context together with the region's peculiar demographic mix that dictated cultural traits and activities and which, somehow, created a unique cultural transmutation. Land, sky, and people combined alchemically to create an almost hallucinogenic "Land of Enchantment" for the self-professed New England intellectual/aesthetic/spiritual patricians. Never mind that apart from some obvious superficial accuracies it was 90 percent fantasy; the easterners had found in the Southwest a new vitality for America-and a new romance for themselves. In Southwestern "hospitality" (that is to say, generosity and courtesy and warmth--"mi casa es su casa"--and make-believe baronial traditions), these culturemakers found an antidote to their own and Max Weber's distastefully cold and calculating, New England "Protestant ethic and spirit of capitalism."
The Mugwump Southwest dreamspinners shared certain characteristics. Most were highly literate and well educated with comparatively genteel and "culturally sensitive" parents. Their childhood home life, in many cases, appears to have been centered on the prevailing nineteenth-century bourgeois cultural and religious ethos, an atmosphere which psychologists and historians alike have recognized as often being intense, superficially polite, calculatedly genteel, and intellectually superficial. Restless, energetic, displaced from their native homes, Southwestern imagemakers had a compelling desire to seek issues, crusades, and causes. Displaying a variety of unstable qualities-marital unrest, hypochondria, religious extremism, behavioral eccentricities-several of these people apparently suffered a neurotic or at least a highly anxious temperament.
Few of the Mugwump Southwest romantics besides Lummis had any great factual knowledge of the period of exploration and discovery by the Spanish in the New World. Little more did they understand the Spanish occupation. Even Lummis's historical interpretations are not to be taken very seriously. His praise of the Hispanic legacy in the Southwest, Our Spanish Pioneers, was nothing other than regional promotionalism. The Mugwump books and articles were popularized fantasies of the region. In the spirit of nineteenth-century romanticism, they were able to assert themselves creatively and, to a degree, perhaps, unload the frustrations that had accrued from a more rigid and a more competitive background.
Although they may have pretended otherwise, the Southwest-enraptured Mugwumps were not truly part of the Boston "Brahmin" cultural elite. As historian Richard Hofstadter says, the Mugwump literary taste eschewed, as he put it, the "sensuous reality" of "such first class" native minds as Herman Melville or Edgar Allan Poe for the more romantic yet "second-rate" writers such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and James Russell Lowell. While the Mugwumps would never admit it--or, worse, understand it--their literary idols definitely occupied a niche that was a couple of cuts below the more "certified" intellectual Brahmins of the time such as Henry Adams, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., or Henry James. Mentally bourgeois--in all the pejorative senses of that expression--and second-raters in their native milieu, the Southwest-loving Mugwumps became self-styled and self-appointed cultural potentates in a raw land which they found newly emerged from the frontier, a land that provided the romantic raw materials and products for the fantasy-culture brought about by their needs, conditioning, and frustration and by the commercialistic opportunities and psychological attitudes of the time.
After 1884, "Southwestern literature," including "serious scholarly" monographs, satisfied the same entertainment appetite that Disneyland and television's "Dallas" do today. Over the last one hundred years, the Mugwumps and their descendant imagemakers have ignored the technological and demographic realities which dominated the economic and political nature of the region: highly industrialized mines and smelters, labor-management warfare, powerful energy-generating turbines, political radicalism, corporate-irrigated agriculture and big-business stock-raising. These romantic people refused to acknowledge the existence of or at least the significance and sophistication of such definitely urban Southwest areas as El Paso, Tucson, Phoenix, and Albuquerque. The truth is, although the tunnel-visioned Mugwump mind refused to acknowledge it, in many ways late nineteenth century technology and urban industrialism gripped the Southwest more than it gripped New England. Railroads, smelters, hydroelectric systems-these were the region's realities. And look what came of it. Where were the first nuclear bombs built? Where was the first one tested?
To fight their frustrations and satisfy their self-centered, feudal, effete, and puerile fantasies, the Mugwumps brought to the Southwest at least three types of "cultural colonialism": a WASP, crude, romantic, and simplistic remodeling of the imagery of the Southwest's indigenous population--Indians, Hispanics, the Marlboro Man--into the heroic Triad fantasy; the baggage of East Coast respectability and gentility: dictionaries, fashionable dress including button-down Oxford cloth shirts and tweed jackets, china, pianos, "cocktails," crystal, silver dinnerware, "academics," continental manners, genteel refinement (the school-marm and other "Gentle Tamers"), "felicitous" arrogance, and the arbitrary judgment by a Mugwump "establishment", of what was and what wasn't "authentic Southwestern imagery," depending on their own capricious, self-serving, self-created, and manipulated fashionable nature of the Southwest's "true zeitgeist." Mugwump "riverrunners" have about as authentic a "wilderness experience" going down the Colorado River as they would have taking a boat ride in Disneyland's "Pirates of the Caribbean," except at Disneyland you don't have to eat gourmet food and you don't have to pack out your shit in a plastic bag.
Today's Mugwumps have a hard time deciding whether the Southwest is a botanical garden, a zoo, an amusement park, or a scenic backdrop for a TV automobile commercial. These self-certain culture arbiters would no more want to read something that would contradict their fantasies than a fanatical creationist would want to read biographies about Charles Darwin or a smug Republican would want to read Das Kapital. And no native-born Arizonan would find compelling or charming a radical Jewess from New York or an "environmentally sensitive" Mormon cowboy, such as the caricatures found in Ed Abbey's tourist classic The Monkey Wrench Gang.
The years 1942-43, many students of Southwest culture agree, mark the end of the Southwest's "Golden Age," the region's fin de siécle, so to speak, of the formative and most vital period of the "Heroic Triad" genre. World War II both generally and specifically brought an end to the innocence and isolation that had characterized the milieu which produced the classic Southwest romantic cultural imagery. Faraway Bataan and Corregidor and right-at-home military airfields, Los Alamos, and the Trinity Site had, with very little resistance, pulled the region into, indeed, the vanguard of the American mainstream. When artist Cady Wells returned to Santa Fe after the war, he put his adobe house up for sale "to get away from atomic energy."
This is not to say that the Southwest's traditional and "classic" romantic imagery is dead. Far from that. But there are no new variations on the old themes ("adult" westerns). Very few "western" or "cowboy" motion pictures and TV shows are being produced these days; those that do appear frequently flop with the critics and at the box office or in the television ratings. But there are still powerful vestigial influences that remain well entrenched in popular culture such as the recent films Dances with Wolves and The Milagro Beanfield War.
In the fanciful "feudal" and agrarian/pastoral--and ultrareactionary--alternative to the urban industrial mainstream lie the forces behind the mythology which yet today dominates the literary and artistic imagery associated with the Southwest. Louis L'Amour novels, Marlboro Man cigarette advertising, the Cowboy Artists of America, "Santa Fe" architecture and furniture, cowboy boots and Stetson hats still generate millions of dollars in sales each year. The Southwest images' infantile and escapist "innocence" can be found in serious scholarly circles as well as in popular entertainment. This innocence permeates the Spanish Borderlands school of historiography with its ethical relativism. "Innocence" colors strongly the preferential and not altogether subtle patronizing "self-determination" attitudes and policies shown toward Southwestern Indians by ethnologists and sociologists.
Where is the "innocence" in Peter MacDonald's rule of the "Navajo Nation" or in the desire of the Hopi who want to build a motel on the top of Second or Third Mesa or in the plans of the Hualapai Indian tribe that wants to create a new lake in the Grand Canyon to commercialize their reservation? If they had possessed the technology and the opportunity, the "sensitive" and "moderate" Hopi, too, no doubt, would have built dams and freeways. While the romantics would have us believe otherwise, we do not know that the Amerinds and the Hispanics "loved" the land. But they did no doubt show a healthy "respect" toward the land in the same practical way a worker in Anglo society respects his boss or employer: ready to take advantage of the situation when an opportunity arises.
For modern-day Southwestern writers, the romance has only become a little more profane, and, to be oxymoronic, a little more "realistic." But the values and indignation remain the same. Ed Abbey acknowledges his debt to Zane Grey. Like Grey, to Abbey nature is benign if not innocent--a protected child's perspective of it. But these immigrant writers never had to battle nature in order to survive. For the natives, nature is something to conquer, or at least something to try to make your peace with, to tolerate, and, maybe, to endure. And if you can't do that, as is the protagonist's case in the contemporary Southwestern classic Filaree, you get out, you leave. In this 1979 novel by native Arizonan Marguerite Noble, overpowering hardships force the book's main character, Melissa Baker, and her brutish husband, Ben, to abandon their hardscrabble life in central Arizona's rugged Tonto Basin, he to Texas, she to California. The story is, of course, an anomaly of the Southwest genre. Its realism, both in terms of human conflict with nature and humans' conflict with one another, ignores and belies the cliche. Critically acclaimed, the book is not, understandably, making Marguerite Noble rich.
The region's natural innocence in conflict with Anglo exploitation characterizes the serious treatment literature professors display toward such romantic "Southwest" writers as Oliver LaFarge, Frank Waters, and Tony Hillerman. (What Southwestern literature really needs is a good dose of Ambrose Bierce or Theodore Dreiser.) Judges external to the region (Random House, Houghton Mifflin, Devon-Adair, Little Brown, Scribners, The New York Times) determine, in what amounts to gross and condescending "cultural colonialism," that literature about the Southwest which is "acceptable" and "good" and that which deserves a reject notice. The eastern-based Pulitzer Prize committee, for instance, decided for the Southwest--and for the world--that Oliver LaFarge's insensitive, patronizing and saccharine Laughing Boy (1929) was good Southwestern stuff.
Certain parallels with the literary tradition of the American Deep South characterize Southwestern literature. Between 1865 and 1920, Southern writers, many native-born, grieved over the Lost Cause. Then William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, and Eudora Welty came along and developed a more credible and arresting genre. Between 1884 and 1970, foolish romanticism characterized Southwestern writers, or, rather, authors writing about the Southwest--almost none were native, Harvey Fergusson and Jonreed Lauritzen being among the few glaring exceptions. But as was true in the South, the Southwest should not be cursed forever with this stuff. In recent years, in addition to Marguerite Noble, several native Southwesterners have come forth to offer more credible and compelling work: Rudolfo Anaya (Bless Me, Utima), Leslie Silko (Ceremony), and Eva Antonia Wilber-Cruce (A Beautiful, Cruel Country).
It is interesting that almost all of the immigrant "Southwestern writers," fiction and nonfiction alike, have tried to put the region within a context of "respectability." Charles Lummis persisted in quoting classical literature in his descriptions of New Mexico. In effect, then, Lummis was doing the same thing as did the "respectable" and "refined" New Englanders who brought their china and linen and pianos and dictionaries to the region. He was being defensive. Apparently, in his mind, the region had to be propped up; culturally, the place could not stand up by itself. If human nature is universal, we don't need to read Shakespeare or the Bible; we can learn about the human condition from William Faulkner and Leslie Silko. If humankind is not universal, if we are all different, that is all the more reason for understanding our regions and putting the rest of the world's cultures in a less significant perspective. If "truth" is universal, then the Southwest, like William Faulkner's South, needs no exterior buttresses to hold it up. Like Yoknapatapha County, the region should be able to stand on its own; it merely needs to be examined more closely.
Some of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Southwest imagery has been diluted, even forgotten. In particular, the traditional Southwest Hispanic cliches, both the aristocratic hidalgos and jolly villagers (John Nichols's Milagro Beanfield War notwithstanding), have disappeared. Josephina Niggli's Mexican Village, written in 1943, though set in the southern part of the state of Coahuila, Mexico, could be called the consummation of this genre. That year featured both the pinnacle and collapse of the Latin American fad in the United States. Few people today know of Ruth Laughlin Barker's Caballeros (1931) and Charles Lummis's Flowers of Our Lost Romance (1929). Instead, we hear more of "Chicanos" and "Low Riders," "La Raza" and "Aztlán," Reyes Tejerina and Cesar Chavez, and Xicanindio. If dignity and honesty and realism are virtues, then the new images represent a definite change for the better.
The cowboy, the worldwide twentieth-century centaur-figure, despite being driven from the motion picture and television screens in the last fifteen years, remains a Southwest imagery staple. Today, one-third of the United States' national cigarette-promotion revenue comes from "Marlboro Man" advertising. John Wayne, the "Duke" (who, fittingly enough, died of lung cancer; "the big C," he called it), lives on in the world's consciousness as representing the epitome of what is missing in our urban industrial jungle. On whitewashed walls of humble Albanian cottages hang two portraits: Vladimir Lenin and Tom Mix. While not unique to New Mexico and Arizona, the common romantic setting for the modern baronial model and its knights in Levi 501s and Pendleton armor more often then not has been a Southwestern one. Classical Southwest imagery is too fundamentally attractive and satisfying to ever die. Sadly, we cannot say this about the "real" Southwest.


2. The word "Mugwump" first appeared in 1872 in the Indianapolis Sentinal. The term's origin is hazy; some claim it was an Algonquin Indian word meaning "Big Chief." So in March 1884, the New York Sun used the term to ridicule the snooty, self-appointed Brahmin intellectuals of the Republican Party's liberal wing. Certain tongue-in-cheek historians say the Mugwump is a mythical bird who straddles the political and ideological fence with his 'mug" on one side and his "wump" on the other.

3. By definition here, a "Southwestern book" possesses a setting within the physiographic domain put forth in this essay and includes rugged, dramatic, vast, and sunny landscape; noble/brutal Indians; aristocratic, childlike Hispanics and Charles Lummis's "centaur figure," the classic romantic Cowboy.

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