Monday, December 11, 2017

Top 12+ Books Read in 2017

This has been a year of extra-intensive reading, the bulk of it for my book in-progress on Far West Texas. Specifically, I've had some catching up to do on the oil industry and New Mexico history (impossible to grok Far West Texas without those subjects). I say this every year but truly, this may have been my richest year of reading yet. I feel so lucky to have encountered these works; each and every one of these authors has my sincere admiration and immense gratitude.

1. The Professor's House 
by Willa Cather
A deeply weird and profoundly American novel. I had been meaning to read The Professor's House for years, and I finally did-- and by uncannily felicitous happenstance, just after visiting Acoma, Chaco Canyon, and Mesa Verde. (P.S. Whoever calls this book flawed I call a puddinghead.)

2. The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek
by Barry Cunliffe
A brilliant book that evokes the ghost of a lost book and the world it came out of so unfathomably long ago. This is one I look forward to savoring again.

3. Tie:

Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850
by Andrew J. Torget

The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Slavery in America 
by Andrés Resendiz

I have been reading intensively about Texas, and that includes its fraught ethnic relations, for the past several years, yet with these two books about slavery-- both recent and major scholarly contributions-- by golly, the whole thang just gelled. For U.S. readers I recommend reading first Torget; then, without delay, Resendiz.
> Also recommended: Podcast interview with Andrew J. Torget by Liz Covart
> Also recommended: Podcast interview with Andres Resendiz by Liz Covart

4. Tie:

The Daring Flight of My Pen: Cultural Politics and Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá's Historia de la Nueva Mexico, 1610
by Genaro M. Padilla
It astonishes me that so few Americans or Mexicans have ever heard of the epic poem Historia de la Nueva Mexico-- and that would include Yours Truly, until I found The Daring Flight of My Pen. Padilla's book about Pérez de Villagrá's book rearranged all the furniture in the way I think about the U.S., about the Southwest, and about Mexico-- and waxed the floor and put in new curtains, too.

The Last Conquistador: Juan de Oñate and the Settling of the Far Southwest
by Marc Simmons

I recommend reading these two books together, first Simmons; then, without fail, Padilla.

5. The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience:
The West of Frederic Remington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen Wister 
by G. Edward White
This is an oldie, originally published in 1968 out of a PhD dissertation from Yale University's American Studies. It may be little known, but it shouldn't be. I'll be referencing it in my own work.

6. The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Light
by Paul Bogard
Beautifully written, fully researched, verily eye-opening.

7. Shrinking the Technosphere
by Dmitri Orlov
This book has an important and urgent message, but it also comes with a gamelan orchestra of super-freaky esoteric undertones. In other words, to appreciate the clanging in there, you have to be ready to appreciate it. Not for the pleasantly numbed of Smombiedom.

8. Resist Much, Obey Little: Remembering Edward Abbey
Edited by James R. Hepworth and Gregory McNamee
Its impossible to go far into reading about the American West without encountering Edward Abbey and his works, and in particular his iconic Desert Solitaire. Resist Much, Obey Little, an eclectic collection of essays and interviews, is an adventure in the funhouse of Abbey's mind.

9. Big Batch re: The Oil Patch
Having crunched through a library's worth of reading on the oil industry, herewith a selection of some of the more worthy tomes:

The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power
by Daniel Yergin
This one won the Pulitzer Prize when it came out more than two decades ago, and most deservedly. It rewired my thinking about World War II, among many other episodes in the last century.

Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma
by Joseph A. Tainter and Tadeusz W. Patzek
Some years back I had the privilege of being helicoptered out to a working oil platform. It was an unsettling and briskly sobering experience, and I suspect that it primed me to especially appreciate this book.
> Also recommended: Texas Observer interview with Tad Patzek

The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century
by James Howard Kunstler
So majestically and sometimes hilariously dismal! (I remain a faithful reader of Kunstler's unspeakably-titled blog.)

The Blood of the Earth: As Essay on Magic and Peak Oil
John Michael Greer
Reading Greer is akin to spooning up Swiss chocolate pudding: page after page of smoothly yumsie schoggi. Yes, even if it's got crunchy stuff about oil and-- keep your crash helmets on!-- magic.

When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation
by Alice Friedemann 
This is another one I will be referencing at length when I write about I-10 and I-20, the heavily-trafficked interstate highways that cross the Trans-Pecos.

10. Tie:

Amado Muro and Me: A Tale of Honesty and Deception
by Robert Seltzer

El Paso Days
by Elroy Bode
More about Bode in this post.

11. Bitter Waters: The Struggles of the Pecos River
by Patrick Dearen
> Read my review about this book for Literal magazine.

12. Books: A Memoir
by Larry McMurtry

13. Abandoned Earth: Poems
Linwood D. Rumney

P.S. My amigas Kathleen Acala and Leslie Pietrzyk offer lists of their top reads for 2017 here and here.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Waaaay Out to the Big Bend of Far West Texas, and a Note on El Paso's Elroy Bode

[ Dr. Cecilia Autrique at the Center for Big Bend Studies Conference,
Sul Ross State University, Alpine, Texas, November 2017
Her paper is
"American Protestants, Civil Society Organizations, and
Temperance on the US-Mexico Border, 1920-1930" ]
Earlier this month I traveled the loooooooong way out from Mexico City via Houston and then via El Paso to Alpine, TX-- (that latter stretch through the Far West Texas desert, spectacular though it be, not for the caffeine-deprived)-- to participate in the annual Center for Big Bend Studies (CBBS) conference at Sul Ross State University.

I've been working on this book about Far West Texas, which includes the Big Bend, for an age & an eon, so last year, when I was invited to present at the 2016 CBBS conference, I was honored but flummoxed. My book hadn't-- and still hasn't-- been published and, anyway, it's not a scholarly work but, as I have begun describing it, a lyrical and personal portrait of place. No, no, what they wanted was for me to talk about my book published in 2014, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. I was flummoxed again, for that book about the book by the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution has zip to do with the Big Bend!

Well, it turned out that anything and everything about the Mexican Revolution is game for the CBBS conference, which is multidisciplinary and covers subjects relevant not only to the Big Bend but the surrounding regions, which include the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico, and northern Mexico's states of Chihuahua and Coahuila.

So last year at CBBS I presented Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution, and I came away mightily impressed-- so much so that I decided to present again this year and I recruited my amiga, Mexican historian Cecilia Autrique, to present her outstanding paper, "American Protestants, Civil Society Organizations, and Temperance on the US-Mexico Border, 1920-1930." (This paper stems from her PhD thesis at the UNAM in Mexico City, which I hope will be published as a book in both Spanish and English, for it provides vital historical context for any discussion of the current US-Mexico border and narcotrafficking issues.)

This year I presented my paper on "John Bigelow, Jr: Officer in the Tenth Cavalry, Military Intellectual, and Nexus Between West and East"-- much of which material will appear in my book in-progress, World Waiting for a Dream: A Turn in Far West Texas.

Look for the paper on my website shortly; in the meantime, for those interested, my blog posts about Bigelow are here and here, and the post about his brother, author, world-traveler, life-long friend to Kaiser Wilhelm II, and pioneer magazine publisher Poultney Bigelow, is here. And the selected bibliography on John Bigelow, Jr. and the Bigelow family, and related subjects, which I handed out at the conference, is here.

Bigelow's relevance to the Big Bend is direct: he was stationed there more than once, scouted all around the region, and indeed, he is an officer already well known to any and all who would study the Indian Wars and the Buffalo Soldiers. I trust I have been able to add new dimensions and insights to his importance for this region, and the West as a whole.


One of the downsides of a bustling conference (indeed, a downside to just about everything nifty in the human experience) is that it is impossible to be in two places at the same time! It can also be a challenge to fit fascinating and vital conversations, such as they pop up, into the precise times allotted for coffee breaks and lunch. Alas, there were talks I am tremendously sorry to have missed or to have had to slink into half way through.

Just a few-- a very few-- of the highlights for me:

Felix Almaraz channeling a Franciscan missionary (and in costume!)

Lonn Taylor's talk about J.J. Kilpatrick of Candelaria, Texas (right on the Rio Grande) during the Mexican Revolution
This is a movie! (Or has it been made already? If not, por dios, ¿porqué no?)
> Check out Lonn Taylor's always fascinating "Rambling Boy" column for the Big Bend Sentinel, and my podcast interview with him, "Under Sleeping Lion: Lonn Taylor in Fort Davis"

Once again, Al González of Chiricuahua Books busted my shoe budget for the year. I took home a biography of Jack Hays and two very rare books by cowboys about Marfa, Texas.

Ayyy, and gigazoodles of postcards!

Steve Black
Who gave a super crunchy keynote
about Eagle Nest Canyon
A keynote speech by lead archaeologist Steve Black about Eagle Nest Canyon at Langtry, Texas
> One of the most jaw-dropping canyons in Texas. Check out my mini-video of the entrance of Eagle Nest Canyon from a visit a couple of years ago here.

(Perchance you wonder, did we see the Marfa Lights? Not this time. But I have indeed seen them and on four different occasions.)


As you might imagine, flying from Mexico City to El Paso via Houston, and back, apart from being a sardine-y experience, was the perfect opportunity to get some reading done.

I have belatedly discovered Elroy Bode!* Doubly belatedly, for Bode passed away only months ago. (See his obituary in the El Paso Times.)

*Pronounced Bo-dee.
I devoured Bode's El Paso Days and got started on In a Special Light. As the blurbs on his books attest, Bode is much-admired and even beloved by many Texan writers and readers of a literary bent, but he remains obscure, not only outside the region but, as my visit to El Paso's Barnes & Noble attests, even in his home town. (Nope, the Barnes & Noble did not have in-store even one copy of Elroy Bode's -- "who? Brady?"-- several books. But for, like, totally sure, they did have, for the man in front of me in the customer service line, Exploding Kittens.)

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye says:
"Elroy Bode is one of the most essential writers the state of Texas has ever been lucky enough to call its own. In a voice that is at once deeply descriptive and eloquently minimalist, he illuminates our corners, dim memories, streets, fields, prairies, hills, hours, and the hardest of days. His no-frills frankness and steady attentiveness have always had a radiant, carifying power."

As I read I tagged so many of Bode's lines but perhaps the best, most representative of all is this one, from "Earth-Life" in the collection of his poetic essays, In a Special Light:

"I need the El Paso countryside. I need to hear the call of redwing blackbirds from salt cedars along an Upper Valley canal. I need to stand in a pecan grove and feel the breeze that moves through it-- a breeze that reminds me of other breezes in other trees in other, almost forgotten times. I need to see stretched of plowed land where, in the distance, humans are reduced in scale and become of no greater importance to the eye than a rooster in a yard, a tractor in a field."

After the CBBS conference I spent an afternoon in the El Paso Public Library's Border Heritage archive where I looked up Elroy Bode and Amado Duro. More about those two caballeros literarios anon.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Further Noodling About Email

Cal Newport, one of my favorite productivity gurus, recently posted a note on his blog about master woodworker Christopher Schwarz entitled, "The Woodworker Who Quit Email"-- which I daresay would have been more accurately entitled, "The Woodworker Who Quit Making Himself Available to the Public via Email." On his website, Christopher Schwarz explains that for 17 years he "answered every damn question sent to me... it was all too much."

Well! Because email sits in the middle of my writerly day like some weirdly charming and farting hippopotamus-- despite my advances in coping with the beast-- Cal's post got my noodle noodling. I typed up a longish comment which, alas, seems to have gotten swallowed up by some cyberspacian anaconda so, herewith, my best effort to replicate it:

1. But where are his filters? It seems to me that it would be a simple fix to slap up answers to FAQs on the contact page, and, by way of helpful links, send advice-seekers and any other non-revenue-yielding correspondents surfing away into yonder cyberspace.* As for the emails I occasionally receive from persons unknown to me that strike me as off-kilter, rude, and/or overly presumptuous, I simply-- this is not rocket science!-- ignore them. (If I owe you an email, gentle reader, more likely I will answer soon and with sincere apologies for any delay.)
2. On the other hand, if emails from the public to said master woodworker do not bring him business he wants-- and moreover, given that, as he says, he has no interest in teaching or speaking gigs-- then it makes perfect sense for him to shut down that portal. Although I myself have no plans to move away from email, I can relate: I deactivated my FB and refuse to use Whatsapp; neither do I watch TV or Netflix, much to the wonder, consternation, and/or annoyance of some people. Oh well!  
3. One major advantage to communicating by email, which I had not thought about recently, is that my telephone is no longer constantly ringing. Back in the 90s when I had two books out, it seemed to ring all day, and it drove me bananarrrramawama. Now I so rarely use a telephone that I do not include it on my business card. Unlike the telephone, email lets me sort through and answer messages briefly or at length as necessary; directly; and at my convenience. Hence, given my personal and professional obligations and priorities-- which may of course be different for other people-- I have found it most efficient to funnel as much communication as possible into email.
4. And before the telephone, there were "visiting days," ye gods, when people would come in and sit on your sofa.**
(People! Such a joy, such a headache, and by Jove, there are more of them every year!)
5. And even before the telegraph, some people had secretaries. Some people still do, so I hear.

# # # # # # # #

**The other day I was reading about a society matron of late 19th century New York City who enticed her visitors, and the unpleasant ones in particular, to keep their visits short by passing them "an angel babe" to hold, presumably one that needed its diaper changed.

This is a person who
undoubtedly had to deal
with an unholy amount of
correspondence. Just sayin'.
For the past decade I've seen the generational divide, young people avidly embracing new technology from email to Instagram to whatever, while oldsters, mumble-joking about needing tech help from their grandkids, tend to resist. Certainly that has been the case in the literary world. If I had a dime for every writer over the age of 50 who could have been raking in the royalties on their rights-reverted backlist but instead dismissed the Kindle with "I prefer a real book!" why, I could buy a raccoon coat off eBay, which, actually, I have a notion to do. (Sigh... channeling Edward Gorey...)

Back at the dawn of this Digital Age, when I was in early middle-age, I embraced email, I relished managing my own websites, blogging, podcasting, reading and publishing Kindles, and whirling around this newfangled circus we now call "social media"-- plus, I also learned how to make videos and GIFs. In short, I never hesitated to explore and adopt new technologies that might serve me as a writer. Now however, it seems to me that the digital divide has evolved into something different. Now I and many others of all ages, based not on prejudice but on experience, more clearly perceive the dangers in these little screens, above all, their time-eating, and attention-grabbing-and-fracturing voraciousness that has turned so many people-- including many who are well into their 60s-- into smombies. These days, rejecting selected digital technologies is not so much about being old-fashioned as it may, on many an occasion, be solid, self-protective common sense-- as Christopher Schwarz's decision to remove his email address from his webpage seems to be for him.

All that said, literate people have always had to deal with correspondence, some more than others, and we writers more than most. And for me, as a mode of correspondence, email still, on an overwhelming number of daily occasions, beats the alternatives. (Although I am ever charmed to send and receive postcards by ye snail mail.)

P.S. In my world, everyone is civilized (else they are not in it). Therefore I can sincerely say that I warmly welcome hearing from readers, friends, family, colleagues, and... roulement de tambour...

... anyone, and especially anyone in Texas, who wants to invite me to participate in a poetry reading series or other such event in late 2018 or 2019. My collection, Meteor, will be out from Gival Press in the fall.

P.P.S. Previous noodling on email:

Email Ninjerie in the Theater of Space-Time or, This Writer's 10 Point Protocol for Inbox 10 (ish)

Willard Spiegelman's "Senior Moments," Guilt Management, an the Magic Wand of an Email

Email Ninjerie Update: Old-School Tool to Break the Ludic Loop

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Three Fabulous Things About Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

Today, November 20, is the anniversary of Mexico's 1910 Revolution, a national holiday in Mexico, so this post is especially apt.

This past week I had the delightful privilege of presenting my work about the leader of that revolution in Ciudad Juárez's Museo de la Revolución en la Frontera (Museum of the Revolution on the Border).

From El Paso, Texas, snap your fingers and you're in Ciudad Juárez. Yes, alas, Ciudad Juárez is notorious for its troubles but, with another snap of the fingers, I can mention three fabulous things about this historic Mexican border city:

1. El Museo de la Revolución en la Frontera
The elegant and restored customs house is now a museum dedicated to the Mexican Revolution on the border. The Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910, convulsed all of Mexico, but it began in the north at the border. Well worth a visit!

This video gives an overview of this impressive museum (in Spanish):

2. La Nueva Central 
¡Café con leche! ¡Huevos con machaca! I could eat breakfast here every day for the rest of my life and I am not kidding! Check out the raves about this historic café, like a journey back to 1958, on TripAdvisor.

View of the cathedral from the front of La Nueva Central coffeeshop
Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
Here's a screenshot from my video of historians Roy "Ben" Brown, John Eusebio Klingemann, having just finished breakfast, heading out to the conference... I was going to make a GIF from this video of us all laughing for some reason I cannot recall, but demonios, my GifGrabber app went wiggy.

Roy "Ben" Brown and John Eusebio Klingemann

3. The conference, "La Revolucion vista desde los extranjeros" (The Revolution as Seen by Foreigners) in the above-mentioned museum

It's over, y'all missed it, but there should be another conference next year, and isn't the photo fun? It shows businessmen on a rooftop in El Paso watching the Battle of Ciudad Juárez-- the two cities are that close, separated only by the Rio Grande (or the Río Bravo, as the Mexicans call it).

Visit this book's webpage at
Thanks to Dr. Roy "Ben" Brown, Dr José Francisco Lara, Jorge Carrera Robles of INAH, and Liliana Fuentes, Director of this beautiful museum, and Ana Hilda Vera, who makes everything happen, I was greatly honored to be invited to present Odisea metafísica hacia la Revolución mexicana, the Spanish translation by Agustín Cadena of my book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual.

Commenting on my book about Madero's book was noted historian of the Mexican Revolution and the Escobarista Rebellion, Dr. Georgette José Valenzuela, of the UNAM (Mexico's National University in Mexico City).

My book has been out since 2014, so there are several talks and other information up on my website, notably:
> Transcript of my presentation at the 2016 Center for Big Bend Studies: "The Secret Book by Francisco I. Madero, Leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution" (For scholars this is the go-to PDF.)
Why Translate? The Case of the President of Mexico's Secret Book
My talk for a panel on politics and translation at the American Literary Translators Association conference
> My review of Whitey Strieber and Jeffrey K. Kripal's Super Natural, which is also an essay about my own encounter with a mystical text, that is, Madero's Manual espírita
Films and videos
> Gigazoodles more at "Resources for researchers"
> Y en español, chorros más

Dr John Eusebio Klingemann, who chairs the Department of History at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, presented his research into the archives of the US consuls in Chihuahua 1913-1914. This was the tumultuous period after the fall of Madero's government, the revolution against the usuper government of Victoriano Huerta-- and as with the 1910 revolution, fighting in the north of Mexico, and especially around the border, was leading and vital.

Commenting on Klingemann's work was UTEP's Samuel Brunk, expert on the Mexican Revolution, author of a noted biography of Emiliano Zapata, and a specialist on borderlands environmental history.

Pictured left, below, is Dr. Georgette José Valenzuela as she delivers her paper, "La Revolucion mexicana comenzó en 1910, pero ¿cuándo dice la historiografía al respecto que terminó? (The Mexican Revolution Began in 1910, but What Does the Historiography Tell Us About When It Ended?) It was a fascinating and superb work covering the many controversies and standing questions.

Georgette José Valenzuela and Heribert von Feilitzsch
at the Museo de la Revolución en la Frontera, Ciudad Juárez
November 9, 2017 
Mexican Revolution and diplomatic history scholar Heribert von Feilitzsch gave his talk the previous day about Felix A. Sommerfeld. For anyone interested in the Mexican Revolution, von Feilitzsch's books about the German spies in the Mexican Revolution and also operating in the US during WWI are essential reading-- and, in particular, von Feilitzsch's work on Felix Sommerfeld and Arnold Krumm-Heller was essential for my own on Madero.

(And for anyone wondering, hmmm, what's going to happen now that the Tweeter-in-Chief has seriously pissed off the Mexicans for the next two decades, a snap of the finger's worth of reflection upon von Feilitzsch's In Plain Sight: Felix Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico should provide more than a few... shall we say.... unsettling possibilities.)

For my money, the Mexican Revolution, so crowded with personalities and events, is one of the richest and most complex events on Planet Earth, a veritable palace of opportunity for any historian or novelist. And it looks like I will be writing about it for awhile... as those of you follow this blog know, although I happened to have written this book about Madero and his secret book, I am not an academic historian but a literary essayist, novelist, and poet. My work in-progress, modeled on my previous work on Baja California, is a book-length literary essay about Far West Texas, which of course includes a significant stretch of the US-Mexico border... My next blog post will be about the work I presented the following day at the Center for Big Bend Studies, from my book on Far West Texas, not about the Mexican Revolution but a most unusual officer who served with the Tenth Cavalry in the Indian Wars. More next Monday.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Dispatch from the Sister Republic 
Papelito Habla
(This is a link to the page about my longform essay on the Mexican
literary landscape and the power of the book. The page
offers several links to posts on this blog about Mexican literary history.)

Guiseppi Garibaldi's A Toast to Rebellion

Monday, November 13, 2017

"Dear Mother, Am feeling fine, as hard as a rock and as brown as an Indian": More Postcards from the US-Mexico Border Circa 1916

It's a hazard in rare book nerderie: the ephemera bug bit me! I'm just back from the Center for Big Bend Studies Conference at Sul Ross State University in Alpine (Far West Texas), where I presented on "John Bigelow, Jr.," about which a longer post is forthcoming, but in the meantime, fresh from that book fair with its bodacious selection of ephemera, herewith, thanks to Galvan Creek Postcards, a few additions to my burgeoning collection of Texas postcards from the era of WWI and the Mexican Revolution:

OCT 10

 hellow Jack
how are you I am fine & dandy.
Well I rec your letter
OK but I am still in the war
Well regards to all Your friend LB [?]

Jack Hendrix
Medicine Mound
AUG 30


Will write a latter lato
[? ? ?]

El Paso Texas
August 29, 1916
Dear Burt:
Rec you letter
and was glad to hear
from you they have everything
in the stores down here that
they have have in Mass but they have a
lot of Mexican things here that they
dont have in Mass we had Gov inspection
this morning but i passed alright the
[?] R F D got excellent love to all

Mrs Elmer Loving
Palmer Road





Sept 19 '16
Dear Mother:
Am feeling fine
and as hard as a
rock and brown
as an Indian. Just
3 months ago tonight
we were called out
Remember? How
is every thing and
every one? L.A.B.

Mrs F.G. Ball
11489 N. Main

> See also my previous post, Postcards from the US-Mexico Border of Yore.

P.S. My favorite rare book dealer blog is Greg Gibson's Bookman's Log. Watch out, these rare book and emphemera guys are dangerous. If he ever scares up a Manhattan clipper ship card...

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Further Notes on John Bigelow, Jr. (1854-1936): ON THE BLOODY TRAIL OF GERONIMO, the Rare 1958 Westernlore Press Edition

John Bigelow, Jr.
UPDATE: Bibliography has been posted here.

Last Monday's post was a batch of notes on John Bigelow, Jr. (1854-1936), an undeservedly obscure personality in late 19th century and early 20th century American history. This Friday at the Center for Big Bend Studies conference I'll be giving a talk about the diverse periods of his life and achievements. The title: John Bigelow, Jr.: Officer with the Tenth Cavalry, Military Intellectual, and Nexus Between West and East. 

I'm not aiming to write Bigelow's biography, although he certainly merits one,* and I hope my work may encourage and aid some other scholar in that endeavor. Apart from this talk and, fingers crossed, resulting paper for the Journal of Big Bend Studies, my project is a literary travel memoir, World Waiting for Dream: A Turn in Far West Texas, in which Bigelow appears, briefly, or at some length, in various chapters, as he was stationed in or traveled through Fort Stockton, Fort Davis, Peña Blanca (now Peña Colorado, a public park south of Marathon), the Guadalupe Mountains, and other sites in the Trans-Pecos, that is to say, Far West Texas at different times in the late 19th century. Hence, it behooves me to do this research-- and wagonloads more about the Apaches and Comancheset al-- and if you find this subject half as fascinating as I do, gentle reader, you're in for a fiesta with more than a few firecrackers.

*An excellent partial biography by Marcos Kinevan is Frontier Cavalryman: Lieutenant John Bigelow with the Buffalo Soldiers in Texas (Texas Western Press, 1998).

My copy of the 1958 edition of John Bigelow Jr's
(The cover shows an illustration by
Frederic Remington)
Apropos of researching John Bigelow, Jr., new in my working library is a handsome hardcover, the 1958 Westernlore Press limited edition of Bigelow's collected articles for Outing, his brother Poultney Bigelow's magazine: On the Bloody Trail of Geronimo: A Soldier's Journal-Account of the Apache Campaign of 1886, introduced and annotated by Arthur Woodward. 

Bigelow's articles in Outing, and as reproduced in this tome, are accompanied by illustrations by a number of artists including Poultney Bigelow's Yale University classmate, the then-unknown Frederic Remington.

As Woodward writes in his foreward, "It was a fortunate combination. Bigelow the young lieutenant who was breaking into print for the first time, and Remington, who was likewise doing his first important commission as an illustrator."

In fact, this was not Bigelow's first publication-- although it was his first for a general readership. Two years earlier, in 1884, Bigelow had published his study of two major battles in the Franco-Prussian War, Mars-La-Tour and Gravelotte. And, over the years, he would go on to produce an important oeuvre on military strategy.

Bigelow's Outing essays comprised his diaries as an officer in the Tenth Cavalry, published as a series of 14 articles under the title "After Geronimo," beginning in March 1886 and concluding in April 1887. As in Texas, Bigelow remained with the 10th, an African American regiment first established in 1866, but in this action they had been sent further west, to Arizona, to mop up the last of Apache resistance. The Comanche had been defeated in Palo Duro Canyon in 1874, and with Geronimo's surrender in September 1886, the wars in the southwest ended. (On the northern Plains, the Ghost Dance War, Pine Ridge Campaign, and Massacre at Wounded Knee would be over by 1891.)

Despite the title, Bigelow's diary says little about the Apaches and less about Geronimo, but it provides a rare and colorful felt sense of what is was like to serve in the West in the last days of the Indian Wars. It is also a window onto Bigelow as a military intellectual, one supremely well-versed on the literature of war and, in particular, battles of the U.S. Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War-- and one who, even while chasing Apaches on horseback, was thinking about the logistics and professionalism required for the industrialized wars of the future.


Linguistic evidence suggests that the Apache arrived in the southwest of what is now the United States after having migrated from the northwest centuries ago. The story of the wars against them, first by the Spanish, then the Mexicans, sometimes the Comanches, and then beginning in the 1830s, the Americans, is an ugly one with many chapters. By 1885 the Apache had been decimated, and survivors eked out a meagre life on reservations (another ugly story in itself, with many chapters). On May 17, 1885, a small contingent of Chiricahua Apache led by Geronimo and Nachez bolted the reservation with over 100 other warriors, women and children, heading towards Mexico. Writes Woodward in his introduction of Bigelow and his men:

"[T]heir work guarding the mountain passes leading out of Mexico into Arizona was a most important one. No one knew exactly where Geronimo and his band would strike."

A graduate of West Point's class of '77, Bigelow had no personal animus towards the Apache. He was a patriot from the very core of the Eastern Establishment, a career officer in want of the field experience that could bring him a promotion. Previously, he had served in Texas with the Tenth Cavalry from late 1877 through the end of 1879, participating in the Victorio Campaign, then returning to West Point as an assistant professor of French. He married in Baltimore in 1884, then returned to Texas again, this time with his bride and baby, first stationed at Fort Davis, Texas, then to Fort Grant, Arizona for the Geronimo campaign.

There is much more to say about his varied and outstanding career, but to return to the Geronimo Campaign, Bigelow made no bones about his motives for returning West. As he writes in his diary for May 19, 1885 (Outing, April 1886):
"I had rejoined my regiment with the expectation of gaining in efficiency from experience in the field, and I realized the fact that the opportunities for doing so in our army were becoming fewer and harder to seize every year. I also realized that laurels were scarce along Indian trails, and that they grew in difficult places. It was principally for the practice of looking and reaching for them, with the hope that the skillfulness this acquired might some day serve me under more favorable conditions, that I aspired to getting on the trail of these Chiricahuas."

But in the same entry, Bigelow also says:

"The American public does not know the meaning of the phrase, Indian atrocity-- not its true meaning... There is no public organ to give them utterance. Their revolting indecency often excludes them from every respectable paper..." 


In the past, for this sort of research I would have made do with online materials or purchased an ex-library or otherwise beat-up "reading copy" from whatever used bookseller. But I have become a rare book nerd! And this fine, mylar-covered and autographed (by the editor, Arthur Woodward), was not so expensive after all (say, half the cost of a pair of not-quite-Ferragamos, or less than the cost of 4 pounds of brisket BBQ). It is a finer edition than I expected, and with a crisp, two-color title page. Check this out:

The two color title page, 1958 edition, in pristine condition

The editor of the volume, Arthur Woodward, was Chief Curator of History and Anthropology
of the Los Angeles County Museum, and the author of several books on Western history.

The end papers, front and back, show the same map:

This first illustration, a portrait of Geronimo, is not by Frederic Remington but by J.R. Chapin, dated 1885.
Portrait of Geronimo by J.R. Chapin

And here are several of the Remington sketches:

"Tenth Cavalry Types" by Frederic Remington

"Arrival of the Doctor" by Frederic Remington

"The Dog of Nogales" by Frederic Remington

"A Six-Mule Government Team and Wagon" by Frederic Remington

"Reading the Orders" by Frederic Remington

"The Race" by Frederic Remington

"One of the Pack Mules Turned a Somersault"
by Frederic Remington

"Surprised by a Party of Mexicans" by Frederic Remington


Bigelow was an unusually well-educated officer. His father was a renowned New York newspaper editor and eminence of the Republican Party whose friends included such literary lights as Charles Dickens, Joaquin Miller, Mark Twain, and Oscar Wilde. (Bigelow, Sr was also the editor of Josiah Gregg's iconic best-seller Commerce of the Prairies, and when serving as US ambassador to France during the Civil War, had rescued Benjamin Franklin's autobiography. More about Bigelow, Sr. anon.) John Jr.'s diary is wonderfully rich with vivid detail, e.g.:

"May 19, 1885... The men and officers have not remained in the fiery furnace in which the command unsaddled. The men are mostly strewn along the railroad track, asleep in the shade of the freight cars; others are in the pump-house, through which water is brought up from an artesian well into the railroad tank; others are lounging on the platform of the station. They officers are in the warehouse. They are an ennuyé-looking set at this hour of 4 P.M.; one of them is sleeping on the hand-truck... About 5 P.M. took place the great excitement of the day-- a passenger train came in from the West, and stopped about five minutes. A brisk sale ensured of newspapers and California fruit, in which a crushing railroad monopoly possessed itself of many a last cent. One officer paid 4 bits (50 cents) for four oranges." (Outing, April 1886)
"September 6, 1885... Like most primitive American towns [Harshaw] consists of one street, lined with box-like frame houses, largel eating and drinking places; in front of these we saw an assortment of Harshaw's men of leisure, whose facial expressions conveyed a seeming determination not to be the first to say good-day."  (Outing, June 1886)


While Bigelow does describes the saguaro cacti, gila monsters, and other exotica, including Mexican tortillas, pinole, and panocha, he and his men traverse a rapidly industrializing Arizona of railroads and hardscrabble mining towns. When possible, to spare the horses, he would march them along the railroad.

In Clifton:
"October 3, 1885... While coming into the town, I had noticed a peculiar intermittent light... which I thought might come from an electric light; now I saw that it came from a smelting work across the river. It was produced by the fresh slag; the pigs-- that is, I believe, what they call them-- breaking open as they rolled down the side of the dump, exposing the incandescent mass inside. having seen to the feeding and grooming of my horses, I started out with Lietnenant Reade in search of a dinner. We wandered down the street to near the end of the town, and entered the largest and brightest-lighted of the many resorts that we passed-- a typical mining-town amusement hall. From a sort of large box I looked over a breast-high, counter-like partition into the main room upon a crowd of men and women of various ages and nationalities. At the middle of the side opposite the entrance was the bar. At the farthest end, from which came the sounds of lively music on the violin and other instruments, I could see figures bobbing and whirling through square and round dances. About the middle of the room was a mixture of Mexicans and Americans, sprinkled with Germans, English, Irish and other nationalities... Some of these people were playing at the billiard-tables, others were seated on the side of the room opposite the bar, or standing about the floor engaged in more or less excited conversation. The women, coming up in their promenades between the dances for a change of scene and air-- sometimes for refreshment at the bar-- were fewer here than at the farther end of the room. As seated at one of the restaurant tables, I took in the animated scene, I questioned to myself the propriety of my being where I was, especially of my being seen here in uniform. Before I had answered this questioning to my entire satisfaction, a couple of well-dressed gentlemen came into our little room, and as they sat down at the table next to ours, one of them was designated to me as the Governor of the Territory. I had no further concern as to the propriety of my situation. Having eaten a good supper, I repaired, rather tired, to my saddle and blankets for the night." (Outing, August 1886)

"January 21, 1886. My authority for a leave having come yesterday, I... boarded a train and settled down with my Spanish grammar and my papers and periodicals to their enjoyment from a spring-cushioned seat. At Benson, the junction with the Southern Pacific Railroad, I lunched at a Chinaman's, at the small cost of twenty-five cents, and I think I know what I ate. It brought me back to civilization to find myself, as I did at one o'clock, seated in a sleeping car opposite a young man in a close-fitting checked suit, carrying an extreme height of collar and sporting a varnished cane."(Outing, November 1886)


Not a scene Lt. Bigelow saw: Geronimo and his warriors in Mexico,
prior to their surrender in Skeleton Canyon, Arizona

Bigelow did not see much action nor even get close to Geronimo; the Apache warrior-shaman seems an almost ghost-like presence in the diary.

"Sept 8, 1885... Geronimo is thought to be making for the San Mateo Mountains, the Indian strongold in New Mexico. I expect soon to hear of a movement of troops from the border towards the interior" (Outing, July 1886)

"October 7, 1885... About an hour after dark I made out a fire among some trees ahead of me. Having proceeded to within a few hundred yards of it, I halted, dismounted the troop, and advanced with my ranking non-commissioned officer to determine what it was. The corporal put his ear to the ground and reported, "They are cowboys, sir; I hear the voices." So I mounted and pushed on. When about one hundred yards farther, we crossed a railroad and a hard level stretch beyond it, and came upon a stream about twenty feet across, which I took to be the Gila. I worked my way along it toward the fires on the opposite bank, hallooing for some one to come and show me where to cross. I was soon answered by a man standing close to the water's edge, who told me to do so where I stood, and asked me who I was. Upon telling him, I asked him, with lively curiosity, "Who are you?"
"I am Lieutenant Reade." 
It turned out to be my friend and classmate, Lieutenant Reade, of my regiment, and my corporal's alleged cowboys were his men." (Outing, August, 1886)

"October 4, 1885... I went to the telegraph office for news. Learned that... General Crook concludes that the Indians have returned to Sonora." (Outing, August, 1886)  
"February 3, 1886... I apprehend that Geronimo is not yet ready to make an unconditional surrender." (Outing, December 1886) 
"March 4, 1886... Camp-life seems drearier and emptier than ever. I try to reconcile myself to it as a wholesome  discipline in preparation for the intervals of inaction in real way, but it is hard to imagine this inanity in real war." (Outing, January 1887) 
"March 18, 1886. It is now three days since General Crook was to have met Geronimo, but we have not yet heard of his doing so."  (Outing, January 1887) 
"March 21, 1886... This time last year I was packing to move from Texas to Arizona and I have been pretty constantly in camp or on the march ever since. When I consider what little professional advantage that this roughing it is affording me, I am satified with the prospect of a return, without honor or distinction, to my garrison home." (Outing, January 1887)
But the violence, and for Bigelow, the chase, heats up in May. Bigelow and his men are in the field, hearing stories of killings and kidnappings, seeing signs of Indians, visiting abandoned and pillaged ranches-- but still, no Geronimo. The last article in the series, published in April 1887, in the main diary entries from June 1886, have Bigelow and his men roughing it out in the field.

"June, 1886... we found the body of a man shot through the heart. From papers lying near him and from his appearance, I judged him to be a German. He was evidently camping here, cultivating a small vegetable garden.. I noticed on the top of his head a raw, white circle about the size of a dollar, which showed him to have been scalped." (Outing, April 1887)

They cross the border into Mexico, passing near American-owned mines:

"San Lazaro, Mexico, June 14, 1886... I am told that the day after I passed through here going east, a party of Indians, numbering thirty-seven, crossed the road some twenty-five miles below, testifyng to their hot pursuit by eating raw meat." (Outing, April 1887) 

Without ceremony, the diary trails off with the last installment in Outing April 1887, when presumably, readers would have known of Geronimo's surrender in September 1886 in Arizona's Skeleton Canyon.

In the diary published in Outing Bigelow says little of the Chiricahua Apache. Most of his descriptions of Indians of are of his own scouts, Tontos and Mojave. However brief and light his focus, Bigelow has an eye for novelistic detail:

"December 14, 1885...After issuing them their arms, ammunition, accoutrements and camp equipage, I proceeded to take down the wants of my Indians in the way of clothing. which struck me as rather capricious. Some wanted a hat, and some did not; the same was the case with boots... In order to get at the sizes they needed, I had toi let them try on my own boots and hat and gauntlets.... One Indian amused us very much in his first attempt to utilize a boot-jack." (Outing, September 1886) 
"January 30, 1886... Tonto Jim... did not stay long, as I offered him nothing to smoke. These Indians are greater smokers if cigarettes than the Mexicans. Not smoking myself now, I have discontinued keeping tobacco, and I apprehend that my Indian friends will fall off from me. They used to come in and make long visits on my tobacco-box, and would often ask me for tobacco and cigarette papers, of which I kept an extra supply for them. They never say "thank you," or anything that seems like it. I do not think there is any such phrase in their language." (Outing, December, 1886)


I cannot help but wonder what Bigelow would have made of the rest of Geronimo's life, and whether he reflected upon his own influence on Geronimo's fame. (Perhaps I shall find out, if I can consult his diaries, which are in the Library at West Point.) After a stint as a POW in Florida, then Alabama, Geronimo lived out his life in Fort Sill, Indian Territory. Writes William A. Clements in Imagining Geronimo:

"Geronimo became a celebrity. He attended world's fairs in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1898; Buffalo, New York, in 1901; and Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1904. He participated in Theodore Roosevelt's inauguration in 1905 and was courted by Wild West show entrepreneur Gordon Lillie (Pawnie Bill). He was a tourist attraction and provided good copy for journalists who speclated that he had gone mad, that his much heralded conversion to Christianity was only a sham, and that he was plotting an escape. Newspapers sought his opinions on topics such as the Filipino resistance to the American presence following the Spanish-American War and the education of Apache children. Geronimo died in 1909 from pneumonia that he contracted after lying out all night after one of his protracted drinking bouts." (p. 10) 

Much more anon.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

# # #

NOTE: Normally I post on Mondays, but since I'll be at the Center for Big Bend Studies conference, the next post will appear mid-week. Speaking of tardiness, because of multiple household moves this year, I am behind schedule with the podcasts, mainly interviews, apropos of my book. Stay tuned! Podcasts 21 (Seminole Scouts), 22 (Sanderson), 23 (Archaeologist Andy Cloud) and the final 24 (The Blue Lady, Maria de Agreda) are all in-progress and will be posted, starting early in the new year. In the meantime, I invite you to listen in any time to the other 20 that have been posted to date.