Tuesday, July 9, 2013
July 9, 2013: Southwest Stories: Taos
[This week, a series on some of the many AmericanStudies stories that can be found in the Southwest—in addition to those included, for example, in this prior series on Mexican American histories. Leading up to a special post on folk heroes!]
On three telling American histories connected to one small New Mexico town.
Thanks in no small measure to the scholarly work of AmericanStudies legend Lois Rudnick, for most AmericanStudiers Taos means first and foremost Mabel Dodge Luhan, and the experimental artistic and social community she helped organize, supported, and in many ways led there. That Taos Art Colony would come to include such luminaries as Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams and Mary Hunter Austin (who produced the book The Taos Pueblo while living there, as I highlighted yesterday), and Leon Gaspard; it represented in equal measure the rise and possibilities of modernist art, an alternative to the capitalistic excesses of the Roaring 20s, and a deeply local connection to the region’s peoples, settings, and histories, among other meanings.
Thanks to both Luhan’s widespread properties in the area and her interest in the international artistic community, Taos also became home for two years (1922-1924) to English novelist and critic D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda. Lawrence is generally classified as part of the English literary tradition, and with good reason; but his time in Taos illustrates how much AmericanStudies can and must also include international voices and texts. It was while living at the Taos ranch, for example, that Lawrence began The Plumed Serpent (1926), his complex novel of the Mexican Revolution and its impact on both Mexican and American characters and communities. And it was likewise while living at the ranch that Lawrence revised and published his collection of essays Studies in Classic American Literature (1923)—a book still considered one of the most trenchant analyses of American literary narratives and motifs, and one that can and must be connected to the Southwestern and frontier world in which Lawrence was immersed while completing it.
Nearly a century earlier, Taos was also home to an event that embodied the darker and more divisive sides to that Southwestern setting. In early 1847, with the Mexican American War(s) still ongoing, U.S. forces and settlers occupied the area, and the local Mexican and Pueblo (Native American) communities decided to respond. A mixed group led by Mexican Pablo Montoya and Pueblo Tomás Romero led what came to be known as the Taos Revolt (or Rebellion), killing the new Anglo governor Charles Bent and attacking communities of Anglo settlers and traders. The U.S. military responded with a series of battles, including the extended Siege of Pueblo de Taos; eventually the U.S. forces succeeded in putting down the revolt and executed the leaders. But since Taos, like the Southwest overall, remains home in the 21st century to Anglo, Mexican, and Native American communities (among others), it’s important to note that all of these histories and stories, communities and identities, are American ones in equal, complex, and crucial measure.
Next Southwest story tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Southwest stories or histories you’d highlight?