Land Vs. Civilization: Is it War?
By Jackie Fletcher
In Western myth, the land plays many different roles. Expanses of open land leave room for gun fighting, hunting, traveling—and also for losing and finding oneself. Land and civilization, however, are often portrayed as opposites that cannot co-exist: People who live in this landscape are often as uncivilized as the land itself. Even as characters in books and movies tend to portray such stereotypes, reality looks different: Real Westerners can survive in a world where both open space and civilization co-exist peacefully.
Though very old, the idea that open space and civilization cannot co-exist has become most influential around the time that westerns were introduced. In her book West of Everything, Jane Tompkins explores the elements of the western genre, including the importance of landscape and how it separates the weak from the strong. Tompkins points out that landscape in westerns is a tool that can be used to show the differences between civilization and wilderness: “We know that the people who get off the stage wearing suits and carrying valises, sporting parasols or mustaches, are doomed, not because of anything anyone says about them but because of the mountains in the background and the desert underfoot” (Tompkins 74). Here, Tompkins is saying something that most western fanatics already know: the landscape shapes those who live in it. Similarly, John Wayne was never popular because of his ability to balance a checkbook or dance the flamenco. His persona is uncivilized and rugged; he has become like the land. However flattering or unflattering it may be, that is his only image.
Nevertheless, it can be easy to get caught up in this romantic idea of the wilderness and the different people who one imagines might live in such a place. Generalizing that only an uncivilized, gun-slinging man can survive or enjoy spending time in open space leaves little room for exploration. Historically, though, real people who lived in the West were often agents of civilization, rather than the opposite, “for example, the hunters and trappers known as Mountain Men opened the wilderness to the very civilization they supposedly sought to escape,” Jeffrey Wallmann states (37). Tompkins similarly explains that as a western hero travels through open space, the space can create a kind of civilization for him/her, offering visual comfort, peacefulness, as well as sustenance: “If nature’s wildness and hardness test his strength and will and intelligence, they also give him solace and refreshment” (81). This space becomes the hero’s civilization, complete with everything the hero needs.
Though Western myth has transformed the way some people think about Western landscape, some influential literary works show that the wild and the civilized can coexist. Perhaps because of the way westerns portray land and civilization, many people believe that there are no ties between open space and civilization, but there are. Examples of this joining can be found in novels like Owen Wister’s The Virginian (1902), and Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady (1923). In The Virginian, the main character is a rough and rugged “cow puncher,” but he falls for Molly Wood, a refined woman who represents civilization. She, in turn, falls for him, bringing the two opposites together. Also, the narrator of the story is a man from the East who travels westward and is transformed by the openness of land—though it would be a stretch to call him “wild” or “uncivilized” by the end of the novel: “No lotus land ever cast its spell upon a man’s heart more than Wyoming had enchanted mine” (Wister 61). In A Lost Lady, Marian Forrester is a beautiful and charming woman, but she is deceitful as well. Her husband, Captain Daniel Forrester, is an older and rugged man who made his living by building railroad tracks during the pioneer times. Though seemingly a prototypical “wild” Western hero, now that those days are over, he delights in the beauties of his meadow and his wife: “In his eyes, and in the eyes of the admiring middle-aged men who visited there, whatever Mrs. Forrester chose to do was ‘lady-like’ because she did it” (Cather 6). Here again, readers see the two opposites attract and even merge in the same person.
The protection of open land in America is especially interesting because of the different views Native Americans and Euro-Americans have of the Western landscape—and also of each other. Traditionally, Native Americans have had close ties with the land. Yet as Europeans came into the country and proceeded to force Native Americans off it, the land became something to be won, not appreciated. Wallmann comments, “The harsh attitude toward Indians has modified over time, though traditionally most historians and fiction writers have seen little fault in how the West was won” (40). Even as the Euro-American conquest of the land and its native peoples was as savage as it could be, popular culture represented Native Americans as even wilder. During the post-Revolution Era, journals and other accounts about the Native Americans even admired and honored the way the Native Americans fought. This curious merging of “wild” and “civilized” also aided in the dissolution of the “Noble Savage” ideal (Wallmann 39).
In real life, wilderness spaces and human habitation go hand in hand in the West where the protection of open space has been going on for years. According to The Bureau of Land Management’s website there are at least 17 National Conservation Areas in existence, with all of them in the Western part of the United States. The website clarifies that NCA’s are designated by Congress as areas that are under protection but which can be changed or enhanced should the need arise. The site categorizes “Wilderness Areas” as separate pieces of land that mainly go undisturbed by people and are designated for personal enjoyment and education. There are many more areas designated as “Wilderness Areas” according to the site.
Human beings can have a desire to want to explore the land, which is why it’s a good thing that organizations such as the BLM exist. Many Americans participate in outdoor recreation activities from hiking, rafting, biking and fishing to camping, hunting and repelling that bring wilderness and civilization together. Protecting open land is crucial for these activities to continue, which is where agencies like the BLM, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Environmental Protection Agency come into play. The RMEF alone has impacted over one million acres in Utah and raised over 17 million dollars through fundraising in order to help with land conservation and improvement (Christensen). Organizations such as these also help protect wildlife in their natural habitats.
Farming also is a very constructive way of bringing together open space and civilization. In her novel Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver proves this point. She takes her family to live on a farm in Virginia, where they agree to purchase and consume only locally produced food. At first her family is a little hesitant to follow through, but as they get used to the cycle of harvesting, they begin to see the rewards of eating locally grown food, even if they obtain it at the local farmer’s market: “Buying your goods from local businesses rather than national chains generates about three times as much money for your local economy” (Kingsolver 149). While her family learns to live on a farm, it is not as though they are giving up the luxuries of society. They do not become “hard” like the land. Instead, the family learns more about how important it is to bring the land to civilization: “Without rationing, skipping a meal, buying a corn-fed Midwesternburger or breaking our vows of exclusivity with local produce, we lived inside our own territory for one good year of food life” (Kingsolver 343). Not only does Kingsolver learn that it is possible to be self-sufficient, she also urges others to become aware of the origins of produce.
Civilization cannot survive without the wilderness—or at least without natural spaces. Society requires open space for agriculture in order to produce the food necessary for survival. However, with the process of shipping produce and only growing it in designated areas, local farming has gone down dramatically: “Over the last decade our country has lost an average of 300 farms a week” (Kingsolver 113). Preserving open space for agriculture seems to be more of a luxury now than a necessity. And yet, there are things that one should remember: “Agriculture is the oldest, most continuous livelihood in which humans have engaged . . . which makes farming substantially older than what we’d call ‘civilization’ in any place” (Kingsolver 178).
Any way one looks at the supposed conflict, it becomes increasingly clear that civilization and wilderness can—and must—co-exist peacefully. This peacefulness can depend greatly on how civilization cares for the wilderness, and how the wilderness, in turn, can help civilization. The melding of these two opposites results in human benefits such as outdoor recreation, gardening as a hobby, and the ability to purchase fresh, local produce. Failing to comply with the needs of the wilderness only makes civilization more difficult, and with the right purpose in mind, civilization can help protect open spaces that otherwise would not be taken care of. It is the balance, not the battle, that keeps civilization and wilderness both together and apart.
Cather, Willa. A Lost Lady. New York: Vintage Books, 1923. Print
Christensen, Bill. Personal Interview. 15 July 2009. Print
Kingsolver, Barbara. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. New York: HarperCollins Publication, 2007. Print
Tompkins, Jane. West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns. New York: Oxford UP, 1992. Print
Wallmann, Jeffrey. The Western. Texas Tech UP, 1999. Print
Wister, Owen. The Virginian. Signet Classics, 1902. Print
Discovering the Truth: The History of Pipe Spring
By Kevin Cassady
Located on the Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation in Arizona, sixty miles southeast of Saint George, Utah, Pipe Spring has been a source of life in the arid desert of the Arizona Strip for millennia. From ancestral Puebloans to the Southern Paiutes and, more recently, pioneers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), each culture has used the spring as a water source for their respective lifestyles. The area around the spring contrasts sharply with the desert environment in which it is found: the spring is green and flourishing while the surrounding area is covered in sagebrush and tumbleweeds. A stone fort now sits on the spring, a testament to the indomitable will of the early Mormons, a will to make the land, and the history of the land, their own. Intrigued by this small oasis in the middle of a desert, I wanted to know more about the spring and the people who used it for centuries. However, I soon realized that the history and rich cultural traditions of the Kaibab Paiutes have been forgotten by all but a few, replaced by the history of the Mormon pioneers who took their land and destroyed their way of life.
When I took the tour offered every half hour by the park service, I yet hoped to learn about the Kaibab Paiutes, but the tour only briefly covered the history of the Native Americans who called the spring their home. We started at the main entrance to the fort—two huge wooden doors with large iron hinges, with a smaller door set in the center, facing northwest. The park ranger giving the tour that day opened the smaller door and motioned everyone into the inner courtyard of the fort. As we stood on the dirt floor of the courtyard, the guide explained the early history of Pipe Spring, telling us about the ancestral Puebloans whose pueblo dwelling was discovered only one thousand yards from the spring. The guide described the ancestral Puebloans as primarily hunter-gatherers, who, as their technology developed, were able to improve farming methods and rely more and more on agriculture to sustain their growing populace. Some time between 1000 and 1250 A.D. the ancestral Puebloans disappeared from the Arizona Strip. The Kaibab Paiute band of southern Paiutes replaced the ancestral Puebloans, making the Arizona Strip their home.
The guide then shifted the focus of the tour to the Mormon pioneers and their interactions with the Kaibab Paiutes. He recounted that the Kaibab Paiutes had some occasional contact with explorers, missionaries, and settlers, but one of the first instances of extended contact occurred when James Whitmore came to the area. The Mormon hierarchy in Salt Lake City gave Whitmore, a devout Mormon, 160 acres of land around Pipe Spring which he cultivated and used as a ranch for his livestock. Whitmore was thus among the first pioneers to bring herds of sheep and cattle to the strip. But native inhabitants and Mormon settlers did not necessarily live peacefully together: In 1866, raiding Navajos stole several head of cattle from Whitmore, and he and his herdsman were killed trying to reclaim the animals. As a consequence, in 1868, members of the Mormon militia built a small stone cabin, the East Cabin, near the spring to guard against Indian raids.
As the tour moved from room to room in the fort, the guide told the history of the fort itself. Shortly after Whitmore was killed, the Mormon leader Brigham Young decided to turn Pipe Spring into a ranch to store the livestock the church collected as tithes (ten percent of church members’ net worth) from its members at Pipe Spring. The church purchased the land from Mrs. Whitmore and charged Anson Winsor with managing the ranch. The tithing ranch was also to be a producer of beef and dairy goods which were used to feed hundreds of laborers working on the Saint George temple. Winsor built “Winsor Castle,” the current fort, to protect him and his family from raiding Indians. The guide took us through the interior of Winsor Castle explaining the purpose of each room and pointing out the gun ports built into the walls so the occupants could fight back against marauding Indians. The gun ports were never used because the fort was never attacked.
I left the national monument wondering what had happened to the Kaibab Paiutes when the Mormons built Winsor Castle on one of their main water sources. Pipe Spring National Monument is on the current Kaibab Paiute Reservation, yet the guide only talked about the Paiutes of the past and not the Paiutes of today. The people who live less than three hundred yards away, the people whose ancestors used Pipe Spring for centuries were ignored. To learn more about the Kaibab Paiutes and their history I contacted a member of the tribe who agreed to meet with me, on condition of anonymity, and tell me the Kaibab Paiute story of Pipe Spring, a story told to him by his grandparents.
The tribal member’s story covered the time before contact with Europeans up to the present. He began by telling me the past of the Kaibab Paiutes. They were a peaceful, semi-nomadic people who moved from water hole to water hole with the changing seasons. Pipe Spring was one of their main water holes, and they collected grass seed from the plains grass that covered much of the Arizona Strip near the spring. The Kaibab Paiutes’ first recorded interaction with Europeans occurred in the late eighteenth century when they gave food and directions to a Spanish expedition led by padres Dominguez and Escalante. Their interactions with Euro-Americans were limited until a route through what is now Flagstaff, Arizona and across the Colorado River was established in 1857. This route opened up trade with both Euro-Americans and Navajo Indians in New Mexico and in the southern parts of Arizona.
James Whitmore’s arrival, however, marked the beginning of the tribe’s current living conditions. Whitmore brought his herds to the spring and, without permission, claimed it as his own. The Kaibab Paiutes considered Pipe Spring sacred, to them water was life; therefore, the spring had spiritual and sustaining significance to the tribe. While Whitmore allowed the tribe access to the water, overgrazing by his livestock decimated the Kaibab Paiutes’ food staple, the desert plain’s grass seed.
With their main food source gone, hungry Paiutes turned to their Mormon neighbors for help. The Mormons offered food and clothing to those who were willing to be baptized and become members of the church. In times of dire need, some Kaibab Paiutes would even sell their children to Mormons who were always willing to buy a new convert. Sadly, the tribal member told me, most of the children sold into involuntary servitude, often working as maids and ranch hands, did not survive into adulthood.
The relationship between the tribe and the Mormons was further strained by revenge killings; killings in which Mormons would retaliate for any alleged offense committed against them. The Mormon militia would mete out frontier justice with the barrel of a gun, often killing the nearest Paiutes they could find, regardless of whether they were the ones responsible for the supposed transgression or not. The tribal member recounted one incident that was particularly disturbing. A young Mormon shepherd led his flock out to pasture and did not come back that night. The Mormons, believing the nearby Kaibab Paiute band was responsible for the boy’s disappearance, rode into a tribal village and massacred ten people. The shepherd returned home the next day, having fallen asleep while his flock was grazing.
The tribal member also added another chapter to the killing of Whitmore and his herdsman. Three to four days after James Whitmore and his herdsman were killed by Navajos, a group of men from the Mormon militia in St. George rode to Pipe Spring. There, they killed four Kaibab Paiutes in retaliation, making no effort to distinguish between the two very different tribes of Native Americans. According to the tribal member, to the Mormons one Indian was just the same as another.
Unfortunately, relations between the tribe and their primarily white neighbors in nearby Moccasin, Arizona (a tiny town of about one hundred residents), remain strained. The main conflict revolves around still about water and property. The Kaibab Paiute tribe has water rights to one third of a spring (not Pipe Spring) which flows out of the nearby mountains. Occasionally someone, presumably a Moccasin resident, plugs the pipe from the spring that flows to the Kaibab Paiute reservation. The tribal member I spoke with believes that racism is responsible for much of the conflict. He believes that the residents of Moccasin, many of them descendants of the first Euro-Americans to settle the area, still harbor grudges against the Kaibab Paiutes. The tribal member said that some families in Moccasin will not even talk to members of the tribe.
The tribal member lamented the fact that in the not so recent past Mormons prohibited the Paiutes from speaking their language, Southern Numic, and practicing many of their traditional dances and ceremonies such as the Deer Dance, the Bear Dance, and the Sheep Dance. This banning of Kaibab Paiute culture by the early Mormon settlers has had a long lasting effect on the tribe. Today, very few tribal members speak Southern Numic and many of the ceremonies have been forgotten.
I spoke with another tribal member, a speaker of Southern Numic, who also stated the difficulties faced by the elders when trying to pass on the tribal traditions to the younger generation. For many young Kaibab Paiutes, the pressure to assimilate into mainstream Euro-American culture is very strong and the desire to learn Southern Numic is not a high priority in their lives. However, programs to teach the younger tribal members the language of their ancestors have been proposed—hopefully with good results. Tribal heritage and culture is still celebrated every year during the Heritage Days Celebration at the Kaibab Paiute reservation, which was held this year on August 15-16.
I discovered a great deal about both the Kaibab Paiutes and the early Mormon settlers near Pipe Spring, but the lengths to which I had to go to learn about the Kaibab Paiutes is shameful. There are no books about them at the local chain bookstore, whereas there is an entire section devoted to Mormon pioneers in southern Utah. The Washington County Library, though, has thirty-five listings about Paiutes on their online catalog (based on an online catalog search using the word “Paiute” in the general keyword category)—some more helpful than others. One of the most useful sources I found is Martha C. Knack’s Boundaries Between: The Southern Paiutes, 1775-1995 (2001), which corroborates the tribal members’ stories about the Kaibab Paiutes selling their children and the aggressiveness of the Mormon settlers. Their story is not a popular one as it exposes a side of some of the early Mormon settlers that many in the LDS church would like to forget, but it is a story that must be told. The Kaibab Paiutes deserve respect and admiration for their rich cultural traditions and their uncanny ability to survive in inhospitable environments.
Hopkins, Sarah Winnemucca. Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims. Ed. Horace Mann. Reno: U of Nevada P, 1994. Print
Knack, Martha C. Boundaries Between: The Southern Paiutes, 1775-1995. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2001. Print
Martineau, LaVan. The Southern Paiutes: Legends, Lore, Language, and Lineage. Las Vegas: KC Publications, 1992. Print
Stoffle, Richard W. Kaibab Paiute History: The Early Years. Fredonia, AZ: Kaibab Paiute Tribe, 1978. Print