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Mavericks on the Border

Mavericks on the Border: The Early Southwest in Historical Fiction and Film

J. Douglas Canfield
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Mavericks on the Border
    Book Description:

    Twentieth-century authors and filmmakers have created a pantheon of mavericks -- some macho, others angst-ridden -- who often cross a metaphorical boundary among the literal ones of Anglo, Native American, and Hispanic cultures. Douglas Canfield examines the concept of borders, defining them as the space between states and cultures and ideologies, and focuses on these border crossings as a key feature of novels and films about the region.

    Canfield begins in the Old Southwest of Faulkner's Mississippi, addressing the problem of slavery; travels west to North Texas and the infamous Gainesville Hanging of Unionists during the Civil War; and then follows scalpers into the Southwest Borderlands. He then turns to the area of the Gadsden Purchase, known for its outlaws and Indian wars, before heading south of the border for the Yaqui persecution and the Mexican Revolution.

    Alongside such well-known works asGo Down Moses, The Wild Bunch, Broken Arrow, Gringo Viejo,andBlood Meridian, Canfield discusses novels and films that tell equally compelling stories of the region. Protagonists face various identity crises as they attempt border crossings into other cultures or mindsets -- some complete successful crossings, some go native, and some fail. He analyzes figures such as Geronimo, Doc Holliday, and Billy the Kid alongside less familiar mavericks as they struggle for identity, purpose, and justice.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5649-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The American hero in the early Southwest traditionally rides out of the Southeast to wrest fame and fortune in the midst of violent contending forces on the border between cultures: Indian, Hispanic, Anglo. I am interested in a series of figures, portrayed by twentieth-century artists in historical fiction and film, who on this border are, as Jane Tompkins puts it in the first epigraph, exposed to “some kind of ultimate test,” are faced with cultural dilemmas that compel them to make extraordinary existential choices.

    Some explanation of terms is in order. By “historical” I mean fiction and film that situate...

  5. Part I: South to West

    • 1 Ike McCaslin’s Failed Crossing: Go Down, Moses
      (pp. 11-25)

      InGo Down, Moses(1942) William Faulkner creates Ike McCaslin as a maverick on the border between two heritages, one white, the other mixed. Ike attempts to cross over from the former into the latter. In doing so he attempts not just a repudiation of his Anglo heritage but a restitrition to those black members of his family cursed by his grandfather—and by the system of slavery itself. Ike ultimately fails to cross over, and he fails to return the world to “equilibrium,” as Glissant puts it in the above epigraph. Ike cannot escape his contamination.

      Then he was...

    • 2 Tragic Glory: A Bright Tragic Thing
      (pp. 26-36)

      L.D. Clark’s novel,A Bright Tragic Thing: A Tale of Civil War Texas,is a fictionalized account of the Great Hanging in Gainesville, Texas, in 1862, when Unionists were executed under the barest pretext of law in the early Confederacy. A great-grandson of one of the hanged, Nathaniel Miles Clark, L.D. Clark feels this history deeply; moreover, his grandfather wrote memoirs about the hanging of his father, which Clark has edited and published asCivil War Recollections of James Lemuel Clark.¹ The protagonist ofA Bright Tragic Thing,Todd Blair, is a fictionalized version of Clark’s grandfather. The novel is...

    • 3 The Border of Becoming: Theodicy in Blood Meridian
      (pp. 37-48)

      Cormac McCarthy’sBlood Meridian; or, The Evening Redness in the Westis a dark parody of the Western. His central protagonist, the unnamed, uncapitalized “kid,” is a parodic, unheroic avatar of Kit Carson, a maverick who leaves his home in Kentucky to go west through St. Louis and make his fortune. The novel is a grotesqueBildungsromanin which we are denied access to the protagonist’s consciousness almost entirely. Yet the kid seems to grow somehow, especially in conflict with an adversary. From almost the beginning the kid is shadowed by his—and the novel’s—major antagonist, another maverick, the...

  6. Part II: North of the Border

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 49-50)

      In this part I focus on mavericks north of the Gadsden Purchase border and after the Civil War. Roughly the first half of these works deal with conflicts between “cowboys and Indians,” so to speak; the second half with conflicts between “outlaws and lawmen,” so to speak.

      The United States was free to concentrate now on subduing Indian threats to its western movement, often using as an excuse for military intervention Indian raids on its new Hispanic citizens—and even on Mexicans south of the border. Since the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853–1854,...

    • 4 Broken Arrow: Crossing as Gesture
      (pp. 51-58)

      Written to be a voice-over during Tom Jeffords’s night camp as he approaches his daring meeting with Cochise, great chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, the probing lines of the epigraph were omitted from thefilm Bro ken Arrow.Yet the director, Delmer Daves, captures their essence in his wide-angle shot of Jeffords the next morning riding through the vast, apparently deserted, hostile expanse of alien Apache country as he approaches Cochise’s Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains. The film retains these final lines of the screenplay’s existential moment: “I never felt so lonely—and so dog-scared in my life.”¹ Though he...

    • 5 Lateral Freedom: Buffalo Soldiers
      (pp. 59-65)

      Charles Haid’s 1997 Turner Network Television production,Buffalo Soldiers,features three mavericks: Victorio, great Apache chief, who in the early 1880s has refused to live where the United States dictates away from his native homeland, Warm Springs, New Mexico, and has gone on the warpath; John Horse, Black Seminole scout for the U.S. Army, with great experience patrolling the Southwest border—and a great love of his own freedom; and especially Washington Wyatt, freed slave from Mississippi, now first sergeant in the United States Army, Tenth Regiment, H-Troop: part of the Buffalo Soldiers, on patrol in Texas and New Mexico...

    • 6 Geronimo Framed
      (pp. 66-74)

      Walter Hill’s 1993 feature filmGeronimoframes the story of thisAmerican Legendas he calls him in the subtitle. The story is framed first by a voiceover narrative derived from the memoirs of Lt. Britton Davis. Davis serves as a controlling point of view for the audience. Geronimo’s legend is of course always already framed, even for Apaches: framed by Geronimo’s own words as told to S.M. Barrett; framed by the memoirs of other Americans on the scene, notably Lt. Charles B. Gatewood and Gen. George Crook; framed by other witnesses and intervening histories, oral and written. As opposed...

    • 7 Tombstone: Violence and the Secular
      (pp. 75-84)

      Thus Doc Holliday teases Frank McLaury, who believes he’s got him dead to rights at the OK Corral.¹ But just like Johnny Ringo at the end, Frank turns out to be “no daisy,” as the wickedly puckish Doc kills them both. Through his cavalier wit and insouciance, Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday steals the show in George Cosmatos’s 1993Tombstone.Not that Kurt Russell does not do a fine job as Wyatt Earp. Author of the recentWyatt Earp: The Life behind the Legend, CaseyTefertiller says of the film,

      The original script by Kevin Jarre gave an authentic portrait of...

    • 8 “I’d become my own mother”: Big Nose Kate in Doc Holliday’s Woman
      (pp. 85-95)

      IfTombstone’sDoc Holliday has filled the void within him through loyalty, friendship, and ajoie de vivre that he passes on to Wyatt Earp, Jane Candia Coleman, inDoc Holliday’s Woman,renders us a Kate who escapes loneliness, emptiness—and even worse, subordination—through the assertion of self and through a passionate love of life, a jouissance she shares in a tempestuous relationship with Doc. Coleman places Kate on a border between despair and hope, between entrapment and freedom. Coleman too employs the West, especially the Southwest, as a borderland in which choices of existential moment are made. Springing off...

    • 9 L’État c’est Moi: Gore Vidal’s Billy the Kid
      (pp. 96-104)

      If Val Kilmer stole the show inTombstone,he is the show in William Graham’s 1989 Turner Network Television version ofGore Vidal’s Billy the Kid,much as is Paul Newman in Arthur Penn’s 1958 version,The Left Handed Gun.Leslie Stevens moralized Vidal’s original 1955 script for the 1958 film, however, so that Billy’s intemperate revenge against one of Tunstall’s murderers at Pat Garrett’s wedding leads an angry Pat to accept the heretofore rejected badge as sheriff of Lincoln County, vowing to get rid of the Kid as a menace to society. Pat’s embrace of his wife after the...

    • 10 “Our Pearl Beyond Price”: I, Pearl Hart
      (pp. 105-114)

      Jane Candia Coleman has produced another fine novel about female self-assertion in a cruel, male-dominated world:I, Pearl Hart,based on the true story of one of the West’s bandit queens, this one who robbed a stagecoach in Arizona in 1899. Pearl asserts herself against a stifling bourgeois superego: “At sixteen, I was headstrong, sure of myself, impatient with the do’s and don’t’s of what was termed ' proper behavior’” (14), “the rules and wrappings of middle-class society” (19), exemplified in her mother’s perennial warning,“You’ll disgrace us all! No man will have you!”(17), or that of the nuns...

  7. Part III: South of the Border

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 115-116)

      While the bulk of my chosen/discovered historical novels and films set in the early Southwest north of the border take place before the turn of the century, those set in the early Southwest south of the border take place at and after the turn of the century. They all have as their backdrop the imminent or actual Mexican Revolution. And though in my opinion there has been no adequate treatment of Pancho Villa, in either fiction or film that I know of (he is almost always treated patronizingly as an overgrown child), his revolutionary endeavor and fervor provide the context...

    • 11 Lateral Crossing: Dreams of the Centaur
      (pp. 117-128)

      In the recent filmThe Mask of Zorrothere occurs a remarkable visual event. An American audience witnesses a truth that has been occluded from its consciousness: the enslavement of Indians to work the mines of Mexico. Three centuries of such enslavement is a history not well known, even denied In the spring of 1998 (just before the Zorro film was released), on Arizona State University’s American Indian listserv a scholar protested that, since slavery was officially outlawed by the Spanish crown, it could not have existed.

      In her remarkable novel,Dreams of the Centaur,Montserrat Fontes tells part of...

    • 12 The Impossible Crossing: The Wild Bunch
      (pp. 129-138)

      Aging outlaws cross the border into Mexico, fleeing a botched robbery of a railroad depot and a posse of bounty hunters led by a former member of their gang. Like McCarthy’s kid in 1878, they would seem to be superannuated warriors indeed here in circa 1913. LikeThe Magnificent SevenorButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,other 1960s Western films with a similar theme,The Wild Bunchwould seem to be more elegiac than tragic, more about the end of an era than its heyday.¹ After the discovery that their robbery, having cost them several men, nets them only...

    • 13 “Circles upon Circles”: Last Reveille
      (pp. 139-144)

      Having established a reputation more recently as an author of thrillers, David Morrell perhaps anachronistically calls his cherished 1977 novelLast Reveillean “historical thriller” (xviii). Thrilling indeed are the battle sequences, particularly the descriptions of some of the last mounted pistol charges in the history of the U.S. Cavalry. But Morrell’s novel is more than just a thriller. It is aBildungsromanabout a new recruit in Pershing’s outfit poised in Columbus, New Mexico, at the time of Pancho Villa’s infamous raid (March 9, 1916). This young soldier, aptly named Prentice, seeks to learn the wisdom of the big,...

    • 14 Monsters from Below: Los de abajo
      (pp. 145-163)

      Mariano Azuela’s classic novel about the Mexican Revolution features a band of mavericks who drift into and along with the Revolution without any clear sense of purpose. Along the way they encounter and temporarily incorporate into their midst two or three prominent ideologues who seem to provide them with the appropriate rhetoric to manifest their real purpose. Unfortunately, instead of crossing from innocence to an experience that achieves the sublime of sacrifice, redemption, freedom, the band comes from already tainted origins and crosses over, if into anything, then the monstrous. The words of revolutionary ideology eventually fail to gild the...

    • 15 The Feminizing of Freedom and Fulfillment: Como agua para chocolate
      (pp. 164-175)

      In the midst of the male violence of the Mexican Revolution triumphs the rebellious adulterous love of Tita De la Garza for Pedro Muzquiz, the man her mother, Mama Elena, gave to her sister, Rosaura, in Laura Esquivel’sComo agua para chocolate.

      This is a novel (and a film, directed by Esquivel’s husband, Alfonso Arau) about defiance of convention and freedom through self-determination. But it is also a story about the naturalness (and relatedness) of food and sex, both of which are essential for the feeding and fertilizing of the body, the soul, the earth. Tita is a maverick, a...

    • 16 Mirrors, Dreams, and Memory: Gringo viejo
      (pp. 176-197)

      Carlos Fuentes’sGringo viejois a house of mirrors in which characters not only see themselves but blend in with others. It is a house in which mirrors blend with dreams, into which others enter almost at will. It is a house constructed by memory of such existential crossings—a memory that preserves the times, the fragmented consciousnesses of others, in a negotiation of borders between and within selves and between and within countries, namely, the United States and Mexico.

      One of the most striking images at the beginning of the novel, as we witness a patrol ofvillistasexhuming...

  8. Epilogue: Crossing into Fascism in Bisbee 17
    (pp. 198-212)

    On July 12, 1917, the “largest posse in the history of the West,” writes Robert Houston in his fine novel,Bisbee17,¹ about two thousand strong, rounded up about two thousand mine workers and their sympathizers in Bisbee, Arizona, herded them into a baseball stadium, weeded out those who were not hard-core, loaded the remaining twelve hundred or so in cattle cars and boxcars without food or water, and dropped them in the sweltering desert of southwestern New Mexico. The miners were members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), nicknamed Wobblies, and they had struck the copper mines...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 213-224)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-231)
  11. Index
    (pp. 232-239)