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Chapter 1 Hearts and Minds
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Culture and Identity:
The Formation of New Worlds

Succeeding chapters in this book will describe and explain how the project of "world formation" in the southwestern Plains and the Southwest proceeded and will deal also with the historical consequences of that project. Ritual operates to sustain or alter the human "world" that culture provides. Ritual behavior that altered the cultures of the Southwest included the protocols inherent in the architecture of the fort and the use of the landscape surrounding the fort. This humanly altered landscape constituted "calcified ritual." We can identify more obvious ritual associated with the fort, too: the rituals of exchange associated with the trade itself, drinking and feasting, gaming, the marriages and other long-term relationships established between individuals belonging to the various cultures that met at the fort, the ceremonies so much a part of the secret societies to which the Anglos and Hispanics belonged, and ritual aspects of warfare.


Ritual occurs at the nexus of subjectivity, and objectivity, where the individual is especially receptive to socially assigned meanings. Often, ritual is not recognized for what it is, and thus is "fugitive." Nonetheless, it is through ritual that "realms of meaning" are created. In chapter 2, I look at these realms as they appear and are formed in both "traditional" and "modern" societies.[31] The many similarities between the traditional and the modern worlds that we will discover in this book argue strongly for a fundamental sameness despite superficial differences.

In ritual behavior people influence one another by expressions of all kinds, including alterations they make to the physical world. Most of this is nonverbal. Nonverbal information is often remarkably effective in the long run because it affects how we feel as much or more than how we think. We hear our national anthem and we are frequently moved both emotionally and physically; we may feel a bit giddy, tears may even spring to our eyes. Similar sorts of reactions may occur when our team wins, at weddings, walking through the Sistine Chapel, visiting our senator in his or her office in Washington, at evangelical religious services, watching the sun set over the mountains, at concerts, accepting an award, touching a loved one, smelling pine needles on Christmas morning or incense in a temple.

All these experiences are fraught with meaning. But the meaning is almost always inchoate. If we plumb deeply enough into the meaning, however, what we will find is that it has to do with relationships with other humans, membership in a group. The archetype for any human relationship and for any human group is the family, in whatever form it might occur.

Humans are notoriously neotenic. To an extent much beyond other animals, they retain childlike characteristics throughout their lives. They play and learn as long as they live. They desire attention from their social superiors; they will compete with and battle each other for it. They seek out "charismatic" leaders, people who appear bigger, stronger, more competent, and more knowledgeable than they about arcane matters. Conversely, they are attracted to childlike qualifies in other humans, in animals, in imaginary figures. They feel affection and delight in the presence of such characteristics, and are often moved to nurture whom or whatever displays them. In doing this, they are acting out the role of the idealized parent.[32]

Reenactment of such idealized roles (the cast drawn from actors enmeshed as well in historic contingencies) is the basis for ritual. All cultures practice ancestor worship of one kind or another. "Traditional" societies


openly regard the ancestors as gods. Virtually every Thai household, for example, has a shrine in which images of the Buddha are positioned next to photographs of parents and grandparents, other kin, and the king. There are complex and sophisticated societies today in which the leader of the society is revered as a deity. In Japan, for example, the king is taken by a large percentage of the population to be in a lineage that began with the Sun Goddess Amaterasu Omikami, the prime mover of the universe. In a real sense, all parents create the universe for their children, and this kind of belief can be seen as a poetic statement of that fact. Many people in modern Western nations that no longer have kings take remarkable interest in surrogate royalty, following the antics of Princess Di and Prince Charles closely, or those of the "kings" and "queens" of the entertainment, sports, and business worlds, the "stars" in the popular heavens. People copy the appearance and behavior of such trendsetters, very much as a small child unselfconsciously and proudly models herself or himself after caregivers. Or they consciously and willfully act out their rejection of such role models through their appearance and behavior. A great number of people spend considerable time in genealogical research, hoping to discover some godlike individual in the family tree. Though leadership is not hereditary in modern societies, most citizens then act out in numerous ways a paternalistic relationship between societal figureheads and themselves. In the United States, virtually every action and utterance by the President or First Lady accessible to the public will be eagerly scrutinized and will evoke an intense emotional response from some quarter of society.

A certain definition of ritual is used throughout this book, one that recognizes the pertinent connections between neoteny, collective human activity, and the alterations to the material world produced by such activity. Chapter 3 introduces ritual as the reenactment of the actions of the ancestors and gods that transformed primordial chaos into the order of the world. Mythology is most concerned with these sorts of actions by the ancestors and gods, too, and while myths are verbal expressions, they are almost always offered in a ritual context.

Ritual, on one level, is an expression of nostalgia, the nostalgia of the lost worlds of the womb, the breast, and childhood. This nostalgia for "paradise" is common among all human groups—and is felt no less by those modern man considers to be primitive.[33] Our desire for "oceanic oneness" is a neotenic one, and therefore ubiquitous among humans. The neotenic nature of this desire structures ritual behavior in predictable ways, ways that conform to universal childhood experiences and perceptions.


Societies considered by modern observers to be traditional often have already been altered by contact with more modern cultures. As a case in point a ritual that is one of the most celebrated symbols of "Indian-ness" in both anthropological literature and popular culture, the Sun Dance, can be shown to have been shaped in no small part by early European influence; I explore this in chapter 3. It occupies a liminal position in many ways, including that it attends to a concern for individual "redemption" as well as the traditional preoccupation with the restoration of universal harmony. It does this by implying a timeless model of paradisiacal harmony that incorporates these modern concerns.

In part because of this, the Sun Dance seems strangely familiar to modern observers. It expresses the competitive, warlike, and individualistic culture of the Plains tribes. This culture has been appropriated by modem American culture, in which it operates, in turn, as a paradisiacal model by which to legitimate unbridled concern for self and self-advancement. The effect of this model is likewise made through ritual, although this is done covertly in the personalized experience of novels, motion pictures, television epics, other artistic representations, and historical accounts. In considering the uses to which the Plains Indian culture has been put, it becomes obvious that ritual operates in both traditional and modern societies, albeit in disguised forms in the latter case.

I want to emphasize in this book that ritual, operating from its neotenic base, is the primary. means by which culture in all of its aspects is constructed, including those aspects of culture we have relegated to the realm we commonly term ideology, like symbol and myth, as well as to social and economic realms. The way ritual reconfigures and reconveys symbol can be observed in the case of the central symbol in the Sun Dance, the Sun Dance pole (or medicine pole).

The Sun Dance pole is the axis mundi, the connection between heaven and earth, between what is mundane and transitory, and what is sublime and eternal. From the pole hangs a Sun Dancer (or Sun Dancers), a scene which evokes memories, among some, of Christ on the cross. I favor an historic connection (as do others), the reworking of an ancient ceremony in the eighteenth century, by the Plains tribes who were attempting to infuse it with a renewed potency in the face of societal trauma brought about by European disease and European encroachment on many fronts, cultural as well as territorial. I think it likely that the Sun Dance was reworked to more closely resemble the crucifixion scene. But I also think there is more to the connection: Both symbols follow a logic peculiar to ritual. Sir James Frazer's classic anthropological work, The Golden Bough, deals


in part with the rituals of sacrifice and renewal that so often occur at sacred trees. Christ and the "tree of the cross" can be seen as an instance of this. So is the Sun Dance, which employs a medicine pole that originated as a tree selected, blessed, and cut by shamen. Simon Schama, in his book Landscape and Memory, provides a listing of sacred trees from cultures around the world (and often these were bedecked by human bodies as sacrifices or were the dwelling places of sacred animals, spirits, or demigods). He includes

the Persian Haoma, whose sap conferred eternal life; the Chinese hundred-thousand-cubit Tree of Life, the Kien-mou, growing on the slopes of the terrestrial paradise of Kuen-Luen; the Buddhist Tree of Wisdom, from whose four boughs the great rivers of life flow; the Muslim Lote tree, which marks the boundary between human understanding and the realm of divine mystery; the great Nordic ash tree Yggdrasil, which fastens the earth between underworld and heaven with its roots and trunk; Canaanite trees sacred to Astarte/Ashterah; the Greek oaks sacred to Zeus, the laurel to Apollo, the myrtle to Aphrodite, the olive to Athena, the fig beneath which Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf, and, of course, Frazer's fatal grove of Nemi, sacred to Diana, where the guardian priest padded nervously about the trees, awaiting the slaver from the darknss who would succeed him in an endless cycle of death and renewal.[34]

These I take, as I do all symbols, as having been contrived according to the dialectics of a peculiar culture, but referring finally to a relationship shrouded by the haze that accompanies emerging consciousness in infancy, the relationship between child and caregivers. It is a relationship charged with awe, adoration, fear, love, feelings of dependence, nostalgia, longing, shame, and a host of other, even more inchoate emotions, or emotions peculiar to certain cultures for which we have only awkward terms in English. It is also the relationship that creates the (individual) world for every human, and must be replicated in order that the (collective) world continue. It is the only really ubiquitous human experience (all humans were born and were once infants, all who reach adulthood were given some care by someone), and so provides the common ground upon which a society constructs meaning.

The axis mundi is a necessary prop in the ongoing collective renegotiation of the terms of human existence, a material manifestation of the renegotiation that occurs everywhere in much the same way because it refers to the most basic parameters of human existence. Considering this, it seems little wonder that it is given form, in similar ways in many places, as "living" spires, links, or columns between the ancestors and gods that


by this connection make earthly beings human and real. The connection is sometimes imagined as phallic, sometimes umbilical, often both. At the axis, individuals and societies are "reborn," and so the birth passage is often represented as well.

The human body in its imagined spatial relationship to the ancestors and deities becomes a model for generative symbols. Richard Sennett, in Flesh and Stone, noes that "vast as the Pantheon is, the building seems uncannily to be an extension of the human body."[35] The oculus (literally, eye) at the top of the dome forms a column of light at precisely the correct astronomical moment on the central square in the floor of the Parthenon, the umbilicus of the building and of the Roman world. Indeed, replicating the umbilicus in conquered territories became an essential ritual in the cobbling together of the Roman empire. Sennett says, "To found a town, one sought on the ground a spot that reflected directly below the point where the four parts of the sky met, as if the map of the sky were mirrored on the earth." His further comments reveal the significance of this:

The umbilicus had immense religious value. Below this point, the Romans thought the city was connected to the gods interred in the earth; above it, to the gods of light in the sky—the deities who controlled human affairs. Near it, the planner dug a hole in the earth, a hole called the mundus which was "a . . . chamber, or two such chambers, one above the other . . . consecrated to infernal gods" below the earth's crust. It was literally a hellhole. In making a city, the settlers laid fruit and other offerings from their homes in the mundus, a ritual to propitiate these "infernal gods." Then they covered the mundus, set up a stone square, and lit a fire. Now they had "given birth" to a city: Writing three hundred years before Hadrian, the Roman Polybius declared that the Roman military camp must consist of "a square, with streets and other constructions regularly planned like a town"; conquest was meant to induce that birth[36]

The symbols here, as everywhere, are constructed by ritual behavior; ritual, everywhere, ascribes to the ancestors and gods human acts of creation and recreation, accomplished through the media of the human body and human intercourse, both sexual and social.

In chapter 4 I begin to examine in greater detail events associated with the establishment and operation of Bent's Old Fort, as recorded by historic documents, historians, and ethnohistorians. Bent & St. Vrain Company was of truly impressive dimensions, a fur-trading enterprise second only in the United States to the giant American Fur Company (with which it maintained close ties). Of the fort, itself, David Lavender, author of the definitive history of Bent's Old Fort, says that "from the Mississippi to


the Pacific there was no other building that approached it."[37] Those associated with the fort, particularly the Bent brothers, Ceran St. Vrain, Kit Carson, William Fitzhugh, and Uncle Dick Wootton, were legends in their own time. Eastern newspapers and pulp novelists reported, and embellished, their exploits to an audience that looked upon them as explorers and heroes. They were regarded much as later publics admired Charles Lindbergh or the astronauts of the early American space program.

Bent's Old Fort operated within a previously existing trading network, one with its roots in a prehistoric trade between villagers and nomads of at least 600 years ago, or well before European intrusion. Much of the success of the company was due to the intercultural skills of the principals, by means of which they found a position within that network and linked it to the global capitalistic trading network.

In chapter 4 I look also at the initial entry, of Europeans into similar trading systems in the East, almost three hundred years prior to the establishment of Bent's Old Fort. The entry, produced profound effects in the Native American cultures before permanent European settlements were established. Cultural dislocations that followed even the first exchange of goods, incidental to European fishing along the Northeast Coast, generated intense competition for positions as middlemen within that trade.

The culturally transformative and constitutive effect of trade is the subject of chapter 5. Daniel Miller, in Material Culture and Mass Consumption, took note of "a major tradition in anthropological theory, where it is exchange, often viewed in terms of the polarity of gift and commodity, which is seen as constitutive of society itself."[38] Anthropologists who have attended closely to this polarity include those as varied as Claude Lévi-Strauss and Marshall Sahlins.[39] Most follow Marcel Mauss in constructing a dichotomy between the gift—generally seen as an episode in an "endless" series of exchanges—and the commodity, the sale of which carries with it no (obvious, at least) further implications.

Certainly there is much to this. On the southwestern Plains, it is obvious that for the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and related Plains tribes exchange established the "fictive kinship relations" of classic anthropological theory and set in motion ongoing cycles of mutual obligations. Anglo-Americans, in contrast, engaged in trade as a part of an entrepreneurial scheme, which was tied into a worldwide market system. The ultimate motive here was not so much the forging of immediate social ties as it was profit. Wealth is as essential to the formation of a viable, socially based identity within a market economy as fictive kinship relations are to the formation of iden-


tity in a traditional, or gift, society. There is no doubt that the trading practices of the Anglo-Americans and the Native Americans differed sharply.

But the tendency to construct dichotomies often obscures crucial similarities. Mary Douglas points out that gifting continues in market socieries and continues to set up obligations.[40] Moreover, even exchanges in market societies are conducive to ritual behavior, because in all societies, even capitalistic ones, trade acts to validate or alter identities. The effectiveness of these rituals can be seen in regard to the groups who met at Bent's Old Fort. The Bent brothers and the other principals of the company, for example, formed genuine and lasting relationships with those in the groups with which they traded.

The symbolic meanings attached even to those items that might appear overtly functional are also taken up in chapter 5. Our modem assumptions about the primacy of function obscure our perception of this symbolic importance. Objects come to symbolize relationships based in fictive kinship, or imaginary relationships. These meanings are ritually assigned. Symbols may be arbitrary, but they refer to ubiquitous human relationships.

Archaeological evidence, supported by firsthand accounts taken from individuals who were at the fort, indicates, for example, that firearms traded to Native Americans there were of minimal functional value. Certainly they were no improvement over the indigenous bow and arrow for use in either warfare or buffalo hunting. Nonetheless, they were much desired trade items. They were valued, like peace medals and beads, more for the ways they were employed to constitute new identities in a world increasingly dominated by modem, Anglo interests than for their more obvious function. They were tokens of relationships with the "Great Father," a term commonly used by Native Americans to refer to the President of the United States, and other fictive kin among the Anglos.

We live in the world our parents and, by extension, our ancestors and gods, created. Ritual maintains that world and in some cases transforms it. In doing so, it shapes the material world. Chapter 6 discusses how the shape of the material world then directs behavior into ritualistic patterns, and so reinforces our cultural assumptions regarding the world of our ancestors.

Yi-Fu Tuan describes how ritual was and is, in a sense, calcified by increasingly sophisticated technologies, including writing and architecture:

A ritual dance, while it lasts, converts a meadow into a sacred space, but as soon as the dance ends the space reverts to a meadow. As distinguished from


story-telling and ritual, writing and architecture are typical achievements of high civilization. They make it possible for human beings to greatly multiply, elaborate, and refine separate worlds out of inchoate experience, and to make these worlds a permanent part of the human environment. Pericles' funeral oration faded into thin air, but the written version remains effective to this day in lending glamour to Athens. Ancient Greek activities and ceremonies, which partitioned space, have long since disappeared, but the segmented spaces themselves remain in the landscape as ruined temples and agoras. Behavior is evanescent, but its architectural shell may endure. In the modem world, almost every human activity and state of being has its special architectural frame. Clearly defined and marked places exist for eating, defecating, and sleeping, for playing volleyball and badminton, for rich and poor, for drivers and pedestrians. These places have a high degree of integrity. They are reserved for special functions, and departure from the accepted practice is strongly discouraged. Incommensurable no more mix in physical space than they do in the structures of logical thought.[41]

The fort and the surrounding landscape operated, in a way analogous to the "medicine lodge" of the Plains Indian Sun Dance, to ritually convey both the new social order and the legitimation of that order embedded in the seeming "naturalness" of the massive and imposing structure.

Ritual took the form of panopticism, a system of surveillance that results in each individual monitoring and controlling his or her own behavior according to the pattern set by a central authority. The fort was an effective model of a panoptic structure, a reflection of the set of behaviors associated with panopticism, behaviors that were imposed by the architecture of the fort on all who lived and visited there. This system of surveillance eventually advanced the economic and political interests of the United States in two ways (as well as operating more generally to propagate modernity). It produced intelligence by which to direct economic, political, and eventually military incursions. At the same time, it tied the operation of the fort to the larger political agenda of the United States as directed by the federal government. It is of more than passing interest here that once Bent's Old Fort secured its position within the overall panoptic system that tied Washington, D.C., to its interests on the frontier, the interests of the individuals associated with the Bent & St. Vrain Company became subordinate to the federal agenda.

In chapter 7 I look carefully at how the panoptic connections between political and economic interests in the East and the trading partners of the Bent & St. Vrain Company were finally accomplished. In all cases, this was done through ritual means. Ritual exchange between the Bents


and Native Americans established fictive kinship relations that were frequently strengthened by means of marriage or adoption, that is, by establishing real kinship relations.

What perhaps comes as more of a surprise are the fictive and actual kinship relations between the principals and others associated with the Bent & St. Vrain Company and the Europeans on both ends of the Santa Fe Trail. These ties were established to economic and political leaders in the East, particularly St. Louis, and to those politically and economically influential in New Mexico, especially in Santa Fe and Taos. Fictive kinship relations were expanded even further by the participation of company principals in nineteenth-century secret societies, specifically the Masons. Explicitly ritual interaction here cemented relations between those with common economic interests, a phenomenon that can be traced to its origin in eighteenth-century, Britain. Modern ends were thereby realized through traditional means.

With the establishment of American political hegemony in the Southwest, ritualistic cultural interchange broke down between Anglos and Native Americans (although not between Anglos and Hispanics, because many of the latter by now were assuming roles in the rapidly burgeoning capitalistic economy). What transpired next is the subject of chapter 8. Political hegemony opened the way for economic interests that did not depend upon trade with Native American groups. Without the ritual exchange by which to reaffirm a common humanity, Native Americans were increasingly regarded as the "other," the "red devil," a less-than-human impediment to progress. A further rationale for ascribing this alien status was supplied by the Civil War, when Native Americans were considered by many to be "red rebels." The cessation of ritualized relations with Native Americans culminated in a campaign of extermination, typified by the horrendous massacre at Sand Creek, where men, women and children were killed and mutilated in ritualistic ways that denied their human status.

The symbolism of this atrocity was to have a profoundly destructive effect upon Native American-Anglo-American relations. The Cheyenne and Arapaho became implacable foes of the Anglos, and they were ultimately removed from the vicinity of Bent's Old Fort to reservations in Oklahoma. Other Plains tribes met a similar fate. Native American cultures today continue to suffer the effects of this debasement. Native American groups displaying the most severe social ills today are those that suffered most from such humiliation, notably the Cheyenne, as well


as the Sioux, who experienced a massacre similar to Sand Creek at Wounded Knee.

New Mexicans, however, had formed an embryonic middle class, with the social resources required to continue to participate in the capitalist economy that had fully emerged. Though New Mexico became a part of the United States, the Hispanics were not removed from their land, as were the Native Americans. Hispanics as a group continue to function more effectively in the modern environment, which demands the discipline of capitalism and individualism.

Today, the reconstructed Bent's Old Fort and its landscape, as well as replicas of items traded there, are employed in ritualistic ways. The discussion of this in the epilogue is intended in part to offer additional evidence for the persistence of ritual as an effective social mechanism in a patently modern environment. In the mythology of individualism, recognition of the "cult of the individual," as it was labeled by Tocqueville—recognition even of ritual itself and its power in the modern world—may be perceived as threatening. Ritual is essentially collective, and it usually operates at realms below the threshold of individual consciousness, that is, at a preconscious level. Neither of these qualifies fits easily within the ideology of individualism. But regardless of the presence or the absence of recognition, the power of ritual remains.

This ritual operates in a number of ways, serving a variety of purposes. Perhaps the most evident is that the fort serves as a nationalistic symbol, but the situation is more complex than that. Certain groups associated with the reconstructed fort, particularly the voluntary history association, resist what they see as bureaucratized, regimented history. These groups organize opportunities to "relive" the past through a rigorous reenactment of it. This approach is termed here "evangelical" and is symptomatic among groups that feel excluded from more privileged social strata within a high-grid, low-group, ego-centered social organization. A more direct access to primordial, and thereby a more essential, reality is claimed by such groups—their approach is more "real" and the experience gained thereby more valid and important.

Some consideration is also given to Victor Turner's ideas about the transformational (as well as validating) uses of ritual, as these operate at the National Historic Site. Minority groups at the fort, as well as those identifying with such groups, are attempting to utilize the reconstruction as a "medicine lodge," a locus for rituals of inclusion.

The rebuilt fort was demanded, in a sense, by dramatic necessity. The very, existence of the National Park Service's reconstruction of the fort is


an unusual departure from that agency's policies, which generally allow only restoration or stabilization of existing structures. Without the reconstruction, however, ritual activity at the site would be much less effective. Each generation, after all, has the task of bridging the Nietzschean abyss between "I" and "others," between "we" and "they." When this is not done, the monsters emerge from the abyss once more.


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