book review, Taos

The Write Stuff: History Lessons

Here is The Write Stuff column I wrote for the Aug. 18 issue of Tempo, the arts and entertainment section of The Taos News. I am sharing it here.

The two nonfiction books reviewed this week focus on history and the people who lived it in the Southwest and Mexico.

The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, The Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War In American History

There’s no doubt the Southwest has a brutal past. And through his extensive research, author Paul Andrew Hutton gets to the grit of one piece of its history: the Apache Wars.

The wars begin in 1861 when the leader of the Araviapa band kidnaps the young son of settlers living in what was called Apacheria. Later known as Mickey Free, he becomes a significant figure during the wars and Hutton’s book.

Hutton writes, “The Apaches, much like the Vikings, lived by raiding. They made a clear distinction between raiding, an economic necessity, and warfare, which was almost always an act of revenge.”

Their revenge is beyond cruel. I will spare you the gory details. But then there’s corruption on the part of the U.S. military and government, plus their typically inhumane treatment of the Apaches and other tribes.

At the wars’ end 30 years later, the frontier was no longer a free-for-all for settlers and the Apaches were banished to Florida or reservations.

Here is a description of the encounter between Geronimo and Gen. Nelson Miles, when the chief makes a pitch so he and his people could return to the White Mountains instead of being moved to Florida.

“Geronimo must now surrender with only the promise that his life would be spared. He and his people would be sent to Florida to join their relatives.

‘This the fourth time I have surrendered,’ he said to Miles.

‘And I think it is the last time,’ the general replied.”

Later, the fierce Apache warrior meets an undignified end.

And who is the Apache Kid? He and his death were the stuff of legends.

Fans of Southwest history will relish this book. Hutton knows his stuff. He is a distinguished professor of history at the University of New Mexico and the former executive director of the Western History Association.

I imagine for Hutton the people and their stories became ingrained as he put this book together. But that is unlikely the case for readers who might not be similarly absorbed in this historic period. Yes, many such as Cochise, Geronimo and Kit Carson may be household names but most are not. A glossary of the players and perhaps a timeline would have been helpful.

Hutton does employ a bit of storytelling including dialogue to make his book more than a historical account. I get it. But as a former journalist, I cringed a bit when I read this line about the Apaches: “Some young men joined because they were bored or wished to escape for a time from their nagging wives.”

The book’s 514 pages include an index, photos, bibliography, extensive notes of sourced materials, plus a satisfying epilogue. Published by Crown, the hardcover book retails for $30.

Hutton will read and sign his book Saturday, Aug. 27, 2-3:30 p.m. at Op Cit Taos at the John Dunne Shops.

The Women of La Raza: An Epic History of Chicana/Mexican-American Peoples

This book is obviously a labor of love for its author Enriqueta L. Vasquez, who explores and promotes the contributions of women in Mexican and Mexican-American history. They include queens, scholars, activists, revolutionaries and even a saint.

La Raza coverAmong my favorites were in the chapter, “Women of the Independence.” Several were women of privilege such as Leona Vicario. No jail could hold her. In one escape Vicario returned home to gather her jewels and money to help finance the revolution.

Then there was Gertrudis Boca Negra, who prior to her execution, tore off her blindfold and said in part, “The day of freedom will arrive. You who love me and have come to grieve for me, carry on the fight.”

Vasquez spent years on her research and its ultimate end product — a historical book augmented with footnotes and glossaries. Her book is so jam-packed with stories of strong women, however, at times the information is overwhelming. I recommend reading in chapter-sized bites.

While Vasquez is straightforward in her factual presentations, she is not hesitant to give opinions grounded in her own background as a person of Mexican-Tarascan parentage, especially regarding Mexico’s warfare with the U.S.

Certainly likeminded students of history will find this book informative.

Vasquez, a Taos County resident, was on the editorial staff of the Chicano newspaper El Grito del Norte in Española. The Women of La Raza is available in paperback for $15.