Garryowen

Charles Schreyvogel’s “A Sharp Encounter”

There are many stories braided into the history of the American West. There were the settlers, the outlaws, the railroads, the Chinese, the Mexicans—and there were the Indians in their battle against the U.S. Army. I have just finished reading Robert M. Utley’s Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian 1866-1891 (New York: Macmillan, 1973). According to Utley, there were “more than 1,000 combat actions, involving 2,000 military casualties and almost 6,000 Indian casualties.”

And yet, most of us know about the Indian wars from a handful of Hollywood Westerns, such as Raoul Walsh’s They Died with Their Boots On (about Custer) and John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy: Fort Apache, Rio Grande, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (about the Apache wars). In most of these films, we heard the military bands playing “Garryowen,” which was adopted by Custer for his Seventh Cavalry.

From Ford’s films, one would naturally assume that most of the cavalrymen were either Irish or unreconstructed Johnny Rebs. In fact, far more of them were black. Several entire regiments consisted of 100% black enlisted men—and, of course, 100% white officers. (In all fairness, John Ford covered the subject in his little-known Western Sergeant Rutledge.)

Frederic Remington Photo of Black 10th Cavalry Troopers

The Black Troopers, popularly known as Buffalo Soldiers, had a distinguished history, which, today, is largely forgotten. They were every bit as brave as the White troopers, and they were more likely to re-enlist.

If you want to see depictions of the U.S. Army in the West, I recommend to look at the photos and paintings of Frederick Remington and the paintings of Charles Schreyvogel.

John Wayne Never Fought Them

Old Photo of Jemez Pueblo Architecture

The Indians we know most about are the ones that appeared in the old Westerns: The Navajo, Apaches, Comanches, and Sioux. There are some twenty Indian tribes in New Mexico and Arizona that, insofar as I know, never appeared in any. John Wayne never fought them, nor did Randolph Scott or Jimmy Stewart or Audie Murphy. I am referring to the Pueblo Indians, most of which are located around Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We know that the Navajo, Apaches, Comanches, and Sioux have been warlike. But did you know that the only successful Indian revolt against Western colonization was fought by an alliance of Pueblos in 1680. It was not until twelve years later that the Spanish reconquered the territory, but even then with difficulty. Many of the most warlike Pueblos simply united with the Hopis and Navajos.

I have just finished reading The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion That Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest by David Roberts (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004). The key word in the title is “secret.” To this day, the Pueblos do not choose to discuss the conflict—even one that occurred over four centuries ago. Consequently, most people do not know about it.

Pueblo Revolt Scene Painted on a Hide

Why the secrecy? I think it is a cultural trait. Years ago, Martine and I spent the night on the Zuñi Reservation at a time when most of the town and surrounding areas were off limits to non-Zuñis because some tourist had misbehaved at a ceremonial in the distant past. One cannot just waltz into a Puebloan reservation and have the run of the place. You will be referred to the tribal authorities, who most likely will ignore your request as a matter of course. It’s not that they are unfriendly: For them survival involves buttoning their lips, even if it involves a 450-year-old secret that just happens to be none of your beeswax.

Indian Country

Figure from the Zuñi Shalako Ceremonial

I will always think of the American Southwest as Indian Country. The high points of my visits to Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado were encounters with the various Indian tribes that inhabit that region. I was always conscious of stepping outside my culture into something radically different and in many ways spiritually superior. Yet I stand very much on the outside looking in.

Among the peoples I have visited are the following:

  • Navajo, the most populous tribe in the Southwest, whose reservation encompasses parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Their capital, Window Rock, AZ, is just over the border from New Mexico. Martine and I enjoy listening to their radio station, KTNN, AM 660. Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton’s The Navaho is an authoritative work about the culture.
  • Hopi, surrounded on all sides by the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, consists of three mesas, which include one of the oldest continuously inhabited villages in North America at Old Oraibi. Don C. Talayesva’s Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian is a great resource. Some day, I would like to spend more time on the Hopi reservation.
  • Zuñi, who call themselves the Ashiwi, are the largest of the New Mexico pueblos. Unfortunately, the only time I visited with them, they were down on tourists because someone had profaned one of their ceremonials. Frank Hamilton Cushing wrote several useful studies of the tribe over a hundred years ago which are still in print.
  • Acoma is the other pueblo with claims to be the oldest continuously settled village in North America. Their mesa-top “Sky City” is one of the most incredible places to visit within Indian Country.
  • Taos, north of Santa Fe, is a stunning multi-story pueblo that reminds me of the ancient Anasazi ceremonial centers at Chaco Canyon and other nearby locations.

When I go to New Mexico in a couple of months, the high points, once again, will be these native peoples. Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Bat Masterson—all have some interest to me, but not early so much. Stay tuned to this website for further developments.