The people

LI’s friend, H., writes from Teheran to congratulate us. Apparently, this blog is being blocked on some Iranian servers. As H. rightly says, what does it say about a state that is afraid of LI? There’s a little pinch in that remark – H. knows how vain we are – but it is also true that LI does not exactly aim to get people out in the streets throwing bombs, or even pies. We aim for more, shall we say, multi-dimensional refusals, little glitches in the smooth operation of society here and there, question marks proliferating, comic strip fashion, above the head, punk rips in the veil of Maya.

Texas is much on our minds, recently, because our novel, which is meant to suck in the juices that make this state work, is starting to hum along. Any reader of this thing who is interested in being a guinea pig reader for this thing should drop us an email. In our quest for the genuine Texas, we’ve been reading T.R. Fehrenbach’s marvelous Comanches: Destruction of a People.

Fehrenbach is a columnist for the San Antonio paper. From what I have gathered about him on the Net, he seems to be a sort of Texas version of a Walker Percy character – educated up North, at Princeton, enormously versed in the unfashionable great books, and a ranger outside the walls of academe. His Comanche history bears the impress of both the virtues of education plus disdain for the merely pedagogical and the vices. Chief of those vices is lack of footnotes The reader must make due with the sources listed in the back, and guess from what source sprang, for instance, this paragraph:

‘They did not harm the children further. But the two adult women were stripped naked and subjected to more torture. Hoever, this torment was not so much sadistic as part of a rite of total humiliation, which was important to the Amerindians. The two women were not seriously injured, for the warriors had no intention of killing them. They were to be slaves. Captive women who were frightened with torture and threats of torture made less trouble and quiclkly learned to perform on command. In the final act, both women were raped through the night in full view of the bound children.’

This is about one of the most famous hostage stories in Texas history, the taking of Elizabeth Kellog and Rachel Plummer from the raid on Parker’s fort.

Fehrenbach pulls no punches on the racial or sexual violence that was woven into the frontier story, and censored out of it when it became a myth for children. He is a little less satisfying about the rapes of Indian women committed by the Rangers – although this was not a sanctioned, or ritualized part of Indian warfare, it is a good bet that it occurred pretty frequently. But he does make this comment, which casts an ironic spanner into any attempt to make the American culture somehow superior to the Comanche one on the moral level.

Rachel Plummer was eventually ransomed from the Comanches:

"The position of a returned female captive, however, was always anomalous on the nineteenth century American frontier. The frontier’s puritanical views and rigid racial and sexual shibboleths made it impossible for such unfortunate women to be accepted gracefully back into their communities. They were objects of sincere pity, but they were also considered dirty and disgraced, for they had been the playthings of creatures the Americans regarded as animals. They were embarrassments to their families. Some husbands would not receive them or live with them again. Ironically, most returned women suffered more real shame and huiliation among their own people than among the Comanches. If they came back with half-breed children, their position, and that of the unhappy children, was even more unfortunate… Rachel Plummer died within less than a year after her ransom and return to civilization.”

LI has been fascinated by the Nermernuh, the People, for some time. One of the great passages in American literature is Cormac McCarthy’s account of a Comanche attack in Blood Meridian. We first read that sitting on a porch in Pecos, New Mexico, facing the fading eastern sky and the Pecos River – which ran by the land we were renting – and in that setting, it was awfully scary. And it should be. As Fehrenbach points out, the Comanches, for about a hundred years, pretty much ruled the area east of Santa Fe and west of San Antonio. the Kiowa, who were accepted among them and accompanied them on raids into Mexico, went as far as the Yucatan. The towns and rancherias of northern Mexico were simply devastated by Comanche raids, and the first white Anglo settlers were repeatedly struck by them – and if they hadn’t been supplied by a superior technological force in their rear, viz, Eastern liberal makers of Colts and such, the white Anglo settlers would have been wiped out. Establishing the parasitic relationship between Texas and the Northeast that has endured ever since – Texans despising the North even as they have been unable to create an economy viable enough to stand on its own (as witness the march of money down South to support Texas in the late eighties) or a culture of any innovation beyond the making of colorful new knots in the ropes used to lasso steers.


Brian Miller said…
Lovely last paragraph, Roger! (My Inner Yankee speaking :))

I'm probably too "prejudiced" against the mythical Texas culture, but your book does sound interesting!
roger said…
Brian, interesting. I felt guilty, tell you the truth, about the last sentence. There is something about blogging that leads you insensibly up to forms of verbal violence that, in more sober writing moods, you would modify. Now, there is something pure about that -- one should include that violence -- but, on the other hand, it pushes you into representing things you don't quite believe. Having spent close to eleven years, on and off, in Texas, I am sometimes choked by the culture; on the other hand, I defend it like a rabid dog when I'm in, say, Connecticut. I don't really dismiss the settlers that came into Texas, any more than I dismiss the Comanche. I do get a little tired of the Texas myth of individualism, and its contrast with the reality -- which is not morally damning. Of course, if the money is in the East, and in Wall Street, the rational thing is to invest it, and there is nothing morally dubious about accepting those funds and making the oil flow and the driving the cattle to the stockyards of Kansas City and Chicago, etc., etc.

Yet, given the bozo and the bozo regime we are living under, with the ersatz John Wayne motif, the history of draft dodging and then pretending to be doing it for the highest patriotic motives, and the real expropriation of the national wealth to feed a small investor class -- well, I get blindly angry.

Fascinating book, though. Definitely recommend it.