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Chapter 1 Hearts and Minds
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Beyond History:
Cultural Dynamics and the Human Past

The geopolitical boundaries of the United States were dramatically expanded by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The southernmost border of the United States would now run along the Rio Grande instead of the Arkansas River; from the Rio Grande the boundary line would continue westward to the northern shore of the Gulf of Califor-


nia, then on to a point on the Pacific Ocean just south of San Diego. The nation was embraced by the two great oceans of the world, and Manifest Destiny was realized.

The United States annexed what are now the states of California, Nevada, and Utah, almost all of Arizona and New Mexico (the rest was acquired by the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico in 1853), about half of Colorado, and portions of Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Even today the area annexed constitutes about 25 percent of the continental United States. The treaty also confirmed American title to Texas. And only a month after the formal declaration of war with Mexico in 1846, the United States came to an agreement with Britain on the division of the Oregon Territory. American resolve, and the likelihood of American success in its military adventure far to the south, probably had much to do with prompting a cooperative attitude on the part of the British.[22]

These are the facts of an American history replete with the dates of wars and treaties and the actions of prominent men; American history as it has been commonly taught in high school and undergraduate courses, the history of history books. But the annexation also signaled changes in the cultural landscape of the United States that were no less important than the magnitude of territorial expansion. Sweeping changes had taken place among and between the three distinct cultures that met in the Southwest and on the southwestern Plains prior to the beginning of the Mexican War in 1846: the Native Americans, the Anglo-Americans who came from the Eastern United States, and the Spanish (later Mexicans) who came from the south. Without them the war would not have fulfilled the territorial ambitions of political and business leaders in the United States. The Southwest could not have been won and held.[23]

In a widely quoted passage from his On War (first published in 1833), Karl von Clausewitz wrote, "War is not merely a political act, but also a political instrument, a continuation of political relations, a carrying out of the same by other means."[24] He was a spokesman for the rationalization of warfare, seeing it as a tactical means to larger, strategic ends. Clausewitz was very influential among the political and military, leaders of nations in the nineteenth century (and has been so since that time). These leaders in the United States were sophisticated enough to capitalize upon the cultural juggernaut set in motion when the Bent & St. Vrain Company constructed their fort. Their military objectives, and the strategic ends, could not have been achieved had the cultural phenomena not first occurred.

Despite the Americans' superior technology and armed force, a determined resistance by the Mexicans would have presented formidable and


probably insurmountable logistical challenges. The distance of New Mexico from the gateway cities of Independence and St. Louis would have precluded a massive, sustained assault. The relatively primitive overland transportation technology, available then, as well as the dangers from the harsh environment and warlike tribes over almost 1,000 miles of the Santa Fe Trail, meant that soldiers and supplies could only move slowly and with great difficulty. Given this, ongoing guerilla activity, would probably have won back the province for Mexico.

It was not American military power, per se, which prompted the Mexican government to rapidly withdraw from New Mexico. It was, instead, the inroads made by the culture of modernity that had rendered the Mexican position there untenable. Compare the response of the New Mexican populace with the strong resistance met by the United States military as it penetrated more deeply into Mexico later in the war. There, foreigners were deeply distrusted. Periodic riots were fomented against foreigners throughout the first half of the nineteenth century in this more southern area, and the belief was widespread among the peons there that foreigners were devils, "heritics with tails who plotted to enslave honest Mexicans or lead them off to Hell."[25] Such regions were relinquished under the treaty of 1848.

Histories that have dealt with the annexation of the Southwest have recognized the desire that existed among the New Mexicans for continuing and expanding trade, but they tend to see this in terms of abstract economic interests. What this approach does not sufficiently respect is the way life was experienced by the New Mexicans in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Trade, almost entirely connected with Bent's Old Fort, was seen as constituent of a new way of life. Its importance to New Mexicans had to do with the creation of new identities in a new world.

New identities were constructed by means of social relationships based in marriage, membership in secret societies, and friendship and kinship, as we shall see, but increasingly all of these relationships derived from those initially established by participation in the Santa Fe Trail trade. Further, playing a role in this trade involved one in a truly global grid of economic transactions. While this subjected one to market forces over which one held little control and that might be manipulated, such drawbacks were not apparent. In any case they were more than counterbalanced by the expansion of parochial horizons.

In the handbill issued by the governor of New Mexico, the Mexican Donaciano Vigil, who replaced George Bent after his assassination, we can see the impact of the new ideology (fig. 3). The handbill, issued by a Mexican and presented in Spanish, refers to aspects of modernity espoused


Figure 3.
Proclamation of January 25, 1847, by Donaciano Vigil. (Courtesy New
Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, Historic File 193, TANM 98;
translation by Melinda Berge.)


by the new government. This can be seen in the use of the terms "principle," "reciprocal concord and confidence," "aegis of law and reason," and "security and protection of the law." These, the handbill implied, offered more advantages to the general populace than did the old, corrupt form of government dominated by a hereditary class structure. The Hispanic archivist at the New Mexico Archives who copied the handbill for me commented that such sentiments had been gaining ground among the citizens of New Mexico prior to the invasion, and so the appeal was probably effective.

Evidence of the crucial role played by the Bent & St. Vrain Company in advancing such sentiment can be seen in the lack of resistance met by American forces in precisely the areas where the company had been most active. The determined resistance farther to the south was on the far reaches of, or beyond, the company's area of operation. It was in this southern area that virtually all United States casualties were sustained. It was from there as well that the short-lived uprising against the newly installed American government in New Mexico that claimed the lives of Charles Bent and his close associates was instigated.[26]

Most histories have given scant attention to the role played by the other, very distinct, precapitalist cultures in the annexation of the Southwest. The Native Americans, particularly the Plains tribes, acted as a kind of "wild card" in what became a political game for the control of the Southwest. They, were motivated by considerations of value and wealth not readily appreciated from a modern viewpoint. Nonetheless, Bent's Old Fort, which through modern eyes was an economic institution, was instrumental in making allies of the Plains tribes at a crucial point in time. Again, this was done through trade—but more precisely though rituals associated with trade.

Overall, it was as if Anglo-American culture had established outposts in the "hearts and minds" of the members of what might have otherwise been competing cultures. More than one hundred years after the events described here, the American invasion of Vietnam would be compared by some historians to the Mexican War. The similarities are evident. Each was an attempt to extend American control into territories occupied by cultures with very different views of the world, and each severely strained logistical lines because the territories to be occupied were so distant. Unlike the ambitions of the United States in Southeast Asia, though, the American effort in the Southwest was successful.

Furthermore, the transformation was a part of global process, one that continues today. Culture is what is known in physics as a dynamical sys-


tem, a system that in changing precipitates still more change. It exhibits in this way something like a "life" of its own. It is also a complex adaptive system, one that carries with it schemata, compressed information with which it can "predict" the environment. Murray Gell-Mann notes that "in biological evolution, experience of the past is compressed in the genetic message encoded in DNA." Gell-Mann suggests that institutions, customs, traditions, and myths are comparable schematas operating within human societies[27] This is the stuff of culture, which provides the "worlds" in which humans (with the possible exception of those in schizophrenic states) must dwell.

The joint project of world construction in the Southwest was made necessary. by the dissolution of key social relationships within the cultures that met on the southwestern Plains in the nineteenth century. Father Juan Augustin de Morfi wrote to church officials of the breakdown of a colonial social system isolated and under attack not only figuratively, by competing belief and value systems but also literally, by the indios barbaros. The pobladores of the small Spanish settlements, in de Morfi's view, lived without the social order of even the wild nomadic Indians and were much less civilized than the settled agricultural Pueblo Indians.

Native American groups in the southwestern Plains like the Cheyenne and Arapaho had been displaced from the Great Lakes area by the pressure of other groups migrating from farther east, who themselves had been displaced by the Europeans. Their populations had been greatly decimated by war and disease, and the structures of their society, accordingly, had suffered great dislocations.[28]

Anglo-Americans, whatever their motivation for venturing west—be it to escape an untenable social situation or to advance an entrepreneurial scheme—typically suffered from their dissociation with the social institutions they had left behind. There is abundant documentation of the conflict, violence, and alcohol abuse rampant on the "frontier."

Few forms of constructive social interaction were available with which to knit these diverse, fragmented groups together, especially when they first met. There were no formal institutions in which all might participate, like churches, schools, or governments; they had no sports or forms of theater in common. The most important form of interaction available was trade, which formed the basis for fictive kinship relations. In the eyes of the Native Americans, the practice of ritual exchange established a common, mythological ancestry. Exchange with Mexican trading partners operated in a similar way to establish social as well as business relationships. The Anglos became "known" and "human" to both their Native


American and Mexican trading partners, as did Native Americans and Mexicans to Anglos. This accomplished, Anglos often took Native American or Mexican wives, as did all most involved with the Bent & St. Vrain Company, further solidifying relationships between groups. These three groups formed for a time what Richard White termed a "middle ground," a realm of "shared meanings and practices."[29]

Part of this formation included the acceptance of certain basic, modern assumptions about the world. The most important of these is that the world is better apprehended and manipulated by the individual, as opposed to the group. It is, then, the task of each individual to construct an identity seen as personal, as opposed to social. This results in a "high-grid, low-group, ego-centered" society, as described by cultural anthropologist Mary, Douglas, one marked by a relatively low sense of collective solidarity and an emphasis on position within a hierarchical social "grid."[30] Mobility, depends upon competence and luck. The degree to which an individual possesses these characteristics determines his or her success in amassing quantities of significant items, valuable in exchange. If the cultural transformation of the Southwest was and is not complete, it has been at least thorough enough that no serious attempt has been made to alter the political boundaries established in 1848.

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Chapter 1 Hearts and Minds
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