It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own: A New History of the American West

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Overview

A centerpiece of the New History of the American West, this book embodies the theme that, as succeeding groups have occupied the American West and shaped the land, they have done so without regard for present inhabitants. Like the cowboy herding the dogies, they have cared little about the cost their activities imposed on others; what has mattered is the immediate benefit they have derived from their transformation of the land.

Drawing on a recent flowering of scholarship on the western environment, western gender relations, minority history, and urban and labor history, as well as on more traditional western sources, It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own is about the creation of the region rather than the vanishing of the frontier.

Richard White tells how the various parts of the West—its distinct environments, its metropolitan areas and vast hinterlands, the various ethnic and racial groups and classes—are held together by a series of historical relationships that are developed over time. Widespread aridity and a common geographical location between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean would have provided but weak regional ties if other stronger relationships had not been created.

A common dependence on the deferral government and common roots in a largely extractive and service-based economy were formative influences on western states and territories. A dual labor system based on race and the existence of minority groups with distinctive legal status have helped further define the region. Patterns of political participation and political organization have proved enduring. Together, these relationships among people, and between people and place, have made the West a historical creation and a distinctive region.

From Europeans contact and subsequent Anglo-American conquest, through the civil-rights movement, the energy crisis, and the current reconstructing of the national and world economies, the West has remained a distinctive section in a much larger nation. In the American imagination the West still embodies possibilities inherent in the vastness and beauty of the place itself. But, Richard White explains, the possibilities many imagined for themselves have yielded to the possibilities seized by others. Many who thought themselves cowboys have in the end turned out to be dogies.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An excellent new synthesis of Western history...[White] is a lively, graceful writer...and he tells a story very different from the traditional picture of the progress of Anglo-American civilization, but no less compelling." —New York Times Book Review

"[White] has produced an exhaustively researched and near encyclopedic excursion into our Western past, and he pulls together an enormous amount of information about the social and political forces that shaped—and continue to shape—the most compelling region of our nation."—Los Angeles Times

“The book is nearly all-embracing in scope: in well-written and densely packed chapters organized topically, White takes us from the times of early Spanish explorers in the 1500s to the years of the Ronald Reagan presidency.” —Pacific Northwest Quarterly

“Long on incisive interpretation, shorter on narrative, but vivid in details, this book will reach and enrich the understanding of a wide readership.”—Choice

“It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own is steadfastly a history of the West as a region, and Euro-American expansion is treated as one of the several forces making that region’s history. White’s book is highly original, certainly the most innovative and challenging overview of western history written in the last couple of generations. His writing is vivid, straightforward, and occasionally quite entertaining, and he lavishes the reader with particulars, providing fine examples and case studies to argue his points. An exceptionally perceptive, boldly argued, and persuasive grand tour of the western past.”—Elliot West, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

“This book represents a striking contrast to the conventional view of western history and the usual western history text. It will be a major contribution to the field and will enjoy a wide readership. White has a clear grasp of the available literature and seizes upon it to drive home main points about the nature of the western experience. He does so forcefully and pointedly. It is a book born of affection and of understanding for this remarkable part of America.”—Peter Iverson, Arizona State University

Library Journal
``It's your misfortune and none of my own,'' the line from a song, sets the tone for this sweeping account of the West from the early European incursions to the present. White, a leader in the ``new history of the West'' movement, builds upon Patricia N. Limerick's The Legacy of Conquest ( LJ 9/1/87) to provide a far-reaching explanation of the creation of a region rather than just the vanishing of the frontier. Drawing upon ethnic, environmental, urban, labor, and women's history as well as traditional sources, White gives fresh perspective to the West. His book is well written and contains useful graphics, though a major disappointment is the lack of footnotes. Nonetheless, this is a significant contribution to the understanding not only of how the West was won but also of how much of it was lost. This will appeal to history buffs and scholars and is highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries.--Daniel Liestman, Seattle Pacific Univ.
Booknews
Drawing on a recent flowering of scholarship on the western environment, western gender relationships, minority history, and urban and local history, as well as on more traditional western sources, White's revisionist account embodies the theme that, as succeeding groups have occupied the American West and shaped the land, they have done so for the immediate benefit to be derived from the land, with little concern about the cost their activities imposed on others. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806125671
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 644
  • Sales rank: 830,190
  • Product dimensions: 6.92 (w) x 10.01 (h) x 1.39 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard White, Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford University, is author of It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own: A New History of the American West and Remembering Ahanagran: Storytelling in a Family's Past.

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Read an Excerpt

"It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own"

A New History of the American West


By Richard White

UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS

Copyright © 1991 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-2567-1



CHAPTER 1

The Seeds of the West


THE first Europeans to penetrate the West arrived neither as conquerors nor as explorers. Like so many others whom history has treated as discoverers, they were merely lost. Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and three companions entered the West on as unlikely a journey as any that followed. These men had left Cuba as part of the disastrous Florida expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez in the hopes of pillaging and enslaving the Indians of the Gulf Coast. Instead they were shipwrecked and themselves temporarily enslaved on the Texas coast. In 1536, eight years after their shipwreck, they began a journey back to Mexico that took them across Texas, up the Rio Grande, and into southern New Mexico. From there they crossed into Arizona and traveled south to the Spanish outpost of Culiacán. As these Spaniards moved from village to village, Indians greeted them as supernatural emissaries and healers. This odd and unlikely little party of would-be conquistadores had gradually changed into agents of the Almighty who were as convinced as the Indians that they had the power to cure the sick.

Such experiences can change people, and Cabeza de Vaca and his companions were, at least for the duration of the journey, no longer typical sixteenth-century Spaniards. The little party met more typical Christians when they reached the borders of Mexico proper. Turning south, they found "a fertile and beautiful land, now abandoned and burned and the people thin and weak, scattering or hiding in fright." Christians had been there "razing the towns and carrying off half the men and all the women and boys." In the valley of the Río Sinaloa, Cabeza de Vaca and his companions encountered the prowling slavers. These slavers were, it appears, happy enough to see their wandering countrymen, but they were overjoyed at encountering Cabeza de Vaca's Indian escort, whom they could envision profitably transformed into human chattels. Cabeza de Vaca barely saved his Indian companions from enslavement.

If Cabeza de Vaca, in his guise as a peaceful healer, had unintentionally misled Indians about the nature of Spaniards, he equally, if unwittingly, misled the Spaniards about the condition of the Indians whose country he had skirted. He had heard stories, he told officials, of large and rich Indian towns to the north of his route in what would become Nuevo México.

It was one of Cabeza de Vaca's companions, the black former slave Estevánico, who led the Franciscan friar Marcos de Niza back toward the future New Mexico to find these towns. A black man leading a white man among the Indians: this is a fitting beginning for the diverse, complex West. Estevánico's and Fray Marcos's task was to prepare the way peacefully for a larger expedition under Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. Estevánico only increased the confusion about the nature of New Mexico. Traveling ahead of Fray Marcos, he proceeded from village to village demanding turquoise and women. Among the Zuñis he overplayed his hand. Suspecting he was a spy for approaching strangers and resenting his demands, they killed him. Fray Marcos, who only glimpsed from afar the pueblo where Estevánico died, returned with a tale of the seven cities of Cibola, the smallest of which was supposedly larger than Mexico City. The tallest houses there, Fray Marcos reported, were ten stories high, and the most magnificent of them had their doors and facades inlaid with turquoise. What he had actually seen was the small Zuñi pueblo of Háwikuh. It was one of approximately 130 independent villages, each populated by from 400 to 2,000 people. With their supplies of corn, textiles, and pottery and their construction of stone and adobe, these villages might have been wealthy compared to others of northern Mexico. They were hardly, however, duplicates of the Aztec or Inca cities. There was no gold and silver in their towns, and, except for turquoise, no precious stones. The total Pueblo population numbered in the tens of thousands, not in the millions. With his wonderfully inaccurate report, Fray Marcos inaugurated a long and persistent tradition of western travelers whose West was more strongly imagined than accurately perceived.

Coronado came north in 1540. He arrived as a conqueror, but he thought of himself as a beneficent conqueror who sought to avoid the cruelties of the earlier Spanish conquest of Mexico. He told the Indians, who had heard neither of kings nor of the Pope, that the king of Spain claimed the area on the basis of the Pope's donation of most of the hemisphere to Spain. He sought a peaceful conquest, but he made forced levies of supplies and evicted some Indians from their homes. When he met with resistance, he responded with what he considered restraint. Tired of the levies, some men from a Tiguex pueblo killed Spanish horses. In retaliation Coronado in March 1541 attacked and burned the pueblo. Then, as an example to other Indians, the Spanish burned those men who had survived the siege.

Coronado exercised his cruelty to exploit a Cibola that had never existed, and mercifully for the Pueblos his improbable dreams sent him off during the summer of 1541 to search for an equally imaginary kingdom of Quivira on the Great Plains. He found only Apaches and other nomads on the plains and then, later, the Wichitas, whose villages of grass lodges sat in the midst of small fields of maize, beans, and squash in the Arkansas River valley. Disappointed, Coronado turned back and wintered among the Pueblos before he yielded to his men's entreaties to abandon the whole enterprise.

Over the intervening half-century Spaniards would return only sporadically to the Pueblos along the Rio Grande. The Spanish remained dangerous and violent men. They counted on terror to overcome Indians who resisted their demands for supplies. Sometimes officially sanctioned, sometimes only unauthorized military adventurers, these occasional Spaniards warned the Pueblos of storms brewing on the horizon.

The storm broke in 1598 when Don Juan de Oñate, the son of a wealthy silver miner, set out to fulfill his contract for the colonization of New Mexico. He announced to the Pueblos that they were now vassals of a king who would protect them if they submitted and punish them severely if they resisted. The Franciscan friars offered them Christianity with its equally stark choice between heaven and hell In Spanish America the church and the state colonized together. The protection of the king and the salvation of their souls meant less to the Pueblos than the loss of their corn, their blankets, and occasionally their homes. The Spanish, who arrived too late to plant their own fields, took the supplies they needed from the Pueblos. Some supplies they took as tribute; others they paid for. But they bought even when Indians did not wish to sell. This was a harsh land, and stored corn, firewood for a winter, and blankets of turkey feathers were not to be disposed of lightly.

On one of these Spanish forays to requisition supplies from the reluctant inhabitants of Acoma, a melee broke out and thirteen Spaniards died. In retaliation the Spanish in January of 1599 took, sacked, and burned Acoma, the Sky City. Most of its population died in its ruins; the Spanish put the 70 to 80 men and 500 women and children who survived on trial for complicity in the death of those Spanish who had died in the earlier melee. They sentenced all the males over 25 to have one foot cut off, and all the survivors over 12—men and women—to serve as slaves for 20 years. The Spanish took all children under 12 under their direct supervision, which meant that they, too, became servants. The Spanish were not being unusually cruel; this was the common cruelty of Christendom. There would not be another major pueblo revolt for 80 years.

The Spanish parceled out many smaller pueblos to encomenderos, or proprietors—men who had distinguished themselves in the conquest. The holder of an encomienda had no rights to Pueblo lands; instead he received tribute and the right to Pueblo labor. In return, he promised protection, which he often did not deliver, and spiritual care to his charges. The encomendero was supposed to compensate the Pueblos for their labor, but abuses were the norm, not the exception. Pueblo lives and Spanish lives were interlocking, and the first component of what would be, in our terms, the West had begun to coalesce in New Mexico.


Spanish in New Mexico

In the shedding of blood, the buying of food, and, eventually, the begetting and raising of children, the once separate lives of Spaniards and Pueblos had overlapped. The Spaniards arrived in New Mexico as conquerors, as agents of a global Spanish empire, but they survived in New Mexico only partially because of their superior weapons, wealth, and mobility. They survived also because there were always some Indians who wanted them to remain. At the heart of Spanish settlement were the ties that bound the Spaniards and the Pueblos.

In the larger Pueblos, the most obvious of these ties was the mission. Spanish missionaries, both the Franciscans and the Jesuits, did not desire to destroy Indian communities; rather, they wanted to reorient them into church-centered agricultural villages with a native leadership that bowed to missionary instructions. In the missions later established in California, Texas, and Arizona, the missionaries, aided by soldiers from the garrisons located near the missions—the presidios—often forcibly relocated Indians into mission villages. This was unnecessary among the Pueblos, who already lived in tightly knit agricultural villages. At each pueblo the Spanish had only to add the church, a priest, and a few soldiers.

The arrival of a priest and soldiers began the contemplated reorganization of Indian communities along Spanish and Catholic lines. This organization was not simply religious; it was also economic and political, since the Spanish tended to see certain economic and political beliefs as an intrinsic part of Christianity. Ideally, each mission should have a choir; an alcalde, or chief judge; and a governor, who would not only cooperate with Spanish officials but also enforce church attendance and Christian observances. The missionary would also appoint a head herdsman and an official to oversee general work and would obtain training for blacksmiths, leather workers, carpenters, and other craftspeople. The men learned to weave with wool as well as cotton. Women also undertook skilled work for the mission. Women built and plastered houses; the surviving mission churches are the product of their labor. Women served as servants for the priests and, less regularly, through both persuasion and force, as their sexual partners.

The Pueblos were ambivalent about the changes the Spanish brought to their towns. The Spaniards were a dangerous people, but they were also a people who offered certain opportunities. The horses and sheep that grazed around the towns and the technical skills practiced by the new craftsmen were all tangible benefits of the new order. So too were new crops: peaches, wheat, oats, plums, and apricots. Similarly, the missionary was a ritual specialist. Given Spanish military success, their spiritual power had to be taken seriously.

Such Spanish power was a potentially valuable addition to an individual pueblo. The Pueblos were not, after all, a single people, but instead independent towns eager for allies against rivals. They had often fought bitterly against each other before the Spanish arrived. And even if local rivalries faded, the Spanish offered the Pueblos protection against all the less settled peoples—Navajos, Apaches, and Utes—who lived in the surrounding lands and whom the Spanish initially lumped together as "Apaches."

Such protection was increasingly necessary because raiding by "Apaches" increased dramatically following the Spanish conquest. The Spanish themselves were largely responsible for this. Spanish levies on Pueblo supplies disrupted the older trade relations of the region. As long as the Spaniards commandeered their surplus goods, the Pueblos had few commodities left to exchange with surrounding Indians. Shut off from their old exchange, the Indians who neighbored the Pueblos simultaneously discovered new and valuable goods brought by the Spanish. Mission livestock and metal tools created new incentives for raiding while making the raiders more formidable. Once mounted and armed with metal weapons, the Apache, Navajo, and Ute raiders became far more dangerous opponents than they had ever been before the Spanish arrived.

Conversions are the best evidence for the strength of the appeal of the Spanish to the Pueblos under these conditions. By 1607, after nearly a decade of Spanish settlement, there had been only 400 converts. Then, despite resistance to the Spanish at Taos and Zuñi, at Picurís and Pecos conversions reached 7,000 the next year, with many more clamoring for baptism. By 1626 total conversions numbered over 20,000. Given later Pueblo resistance to the Catholic church, there is a certain irony to these conversions: without them, the Spanish probably would have abandoned New Mexico. Oñate had failed to find the mineral wealth he sought, and the colony teetered on the edge of ruin. New Mexico survived only because in 1609 the crown declared it a royal colony to be maintained at government expense. The announced Spanish rationale was to defend the baptized Indians and to protect the friars who ministered to them from surrounding Indian enemies.

Despite growing conversions, the missionaries never succeeded in achieving their goals as fully as they did, for example, among the Pimas in neighboring Sonora. Precisely because the Pueblos were already a tightly organized village society, the church and the priest remained more an appendage to an existing social organization than the center of a new one. The Franciscans and their soldier escorts did not transform the villages. Pueblo people practiced Catholic rituals, but they did not abandon their own religious rituals. Instead, the Pueblos made Catholicism into a village religion which supplemented and partially merged with existing rites.

In the pueblo of Santa Ana, for example, the ceremonial calendar came to include the celebration of Christmas and observances at Holy Week. On All Souls' Day inhabitants of the pueblo made gifts of food to their ancestral dead. And annually, the pueblo celebrated the saint's day of their patron saint, Santiago (Saint James). Individual residents of the pueblo learned prayers in Spanish and displayed Christian pictures and images in their houses. But even as members of the pueblo adopted these Catholic elements, they modified them. Saint James became much more central to the religious life of the pueblo than was Christ. His saint's day became a fiesta celebrated by dances of indigenous ceremonial organizations. Saint James joined the pueblo's religious pantheon just as Christian feasts joined pueblo feasts on the annual religious calendar. Dios, the Christian God, also joined the pantheon, but he was a minor deity whom the Indians later referred to as "the Mexican God." Sin, heaven, purgatory and hell, confessions—all these basic tenets of Catholicism remained foreign to the Pueblos.

As the persistence of native beliefs dawned on the priests, they became more determined to prohibit Pueblo ceremonies and to destroy masks and other sacred objects. Pueblos who had been attracted to the Spanish by a desire to tap their spiritual power now found that Catholicism imposed a larger burden than they had anticipated. In addition to observing their own native ritual obligations, converts had to attend mass and other Catholic services. Lapses often brought the lash. Pueblo peoples not only had to perform their usual work in their fields and at the loom, but they also had to work for the missionaries, building churches and cultivating fields.

In addition, the encomenderos placed sizable burdens on the Indians. Governors drafted Indian laborers for public projects such as the construction of buildings in Santa Fe. Private encomenderos illegally forced Indians into their own households as servants and laborers. Spanish demands consumed the very wealth that Spanish livestock and technology helped increase, and the Spaniards often proved disappointingly ineffective against raiders. Under the Spanish system, the Pueblos worked harder and produced more wealth, but the Pueblos declined in numbers and grew poorer.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from "It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own" by Richard White. Copyright © 1991 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Figures,
Maps,
Tables,
Acknowledgments,
Part One. The Origins of the West,
1. The Seeds of the West,
2. Empires and Indians,
Part Two. The Federal Government and the Nineteenth-Century West,
3. The Conquest of the West,
4. The Federal Government and the Indians,
5. Exploring the Land,
6. Distributing the Land,
7. Territorial Government,
Part Three. Transformation and Development,
8. The Transformation of Western Society: Migration,
9. Transforming the Land,
10. The West and the World Economy,
11. The Economic Structure of the West,
12. New Communities and the Western Social Order,
13. Social Conflict,
14. Western Politics,
Part Four. The Bureaucratic Revolution in the West,
15. At the Centers of Power,
16. On the Peripheries of Power,
Part Five. Transforming the West,
17. The Depression,
18. War II and Its Aftermath: Reshaping the West,
Part Six. The Modern West,
19. Rise of the Metropolitan West,
20. The West and the Nation,
21. The Imagined West,
Epilogue,
Index,

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