Monday, November 9, 2015

Podcast 20: Raymond Caballero on Mexican Revolutionary General Pascual Orozco and Far West Texas

My latest Marfa Mondays podcast, #20, "Raymond Caballero on Mexican Revolutionary General Pascual Orozco and Far West Texas" is now live and with show notes: 

>> Listen in anytime on podomatic or on iTunes here <<

Raymond Caballero is the author of Lynching Pascual Orozco: Mexican Revolutionary Hero and Paradoxthe first major biography in over 40 years of one of the most important figures of the Mexican Revolution. Caballero is also the ex-mayor of El Paso, Texas and, in his words "a recovering lawyer"-- a background that no doubt helped him unravel the conspiracy he found revealed in the one hundred year-old records of the Culberson County Courthouse, apparently intended to cover up what really happened to Pascual Orozco and his men in the High Lonesome Mountains south of Van Horn in 1915. Caballero's Lynching Pascual Orozco is an important contribution to the history of not only the Mexican Revolution, but of the state of Chihuahua and of Far West Texas. 

Quote from the interview:

"There were a lot of Mexicans very upset over the killing of Pascual Orozco... it was a huge controversy... In El Paso, in San Antonio, in Mexico City even President Carranza was asking for explanations... they wanted an investigation. So what happened was, 'whoa! We didn't kill some ordinary horse thief, we killed General Pascual Orozco, the biggest military hero of the early part of the Revolution! And what happens if the Mexicans in El Paso are able to pressure officials and they start a grand jury investigation there?' As a result of the concern that they had, the sheriff of Culberson County did something very unusual..."  
-- Raymond Caballero

Listen to the Corrido del General Pascual Orozco sung by Los Tremendos Gavilanes on YouTube:

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Curly Tail Panther and White Shaman, Two Stunning Rock Art Sites in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands

Two new mini-clip videos from the Rock Art Foundation's annual Rock Art Rendezvous at the White Shaman Preserve which is near confluence of the Pecos and the Rio Grande, a short drive west from Comstock, Texas. 



> Listen in anytime to Marfa Mondays #15 "Gifts of the Ancient Ones: Greg Williams on the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands"

Two new podcasts, one an interview with Raymond Caballero about the murder of Mexican revolutionary general Pascual Orozco in the Van Horn Mountains, and the other about the Seminole Scouts, are in-progress. There will be more until there are 24. The latest is #19 Pitmaster Israel Campos in Pecos.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"Over Burro Mesa and into Apache Canyon" in CENIZO JOURNAL

I am in deepest Mexico for the moment and so haven't yet put my paws on the new issue of the Far West Texas' always-lovely Cenizo Journal, but my on-the-spot informers tell me it is out and it does contain my essay, "Over Burro Mesa." Herewith:


By C.M. Mayo

I had ghosts on my mind—not in a spooky way, just stray thoughts about long-gone people on a bright, hot morning in the Big Bend National Park. In the foothills of the Chisos, I parked on the road-side. My aim was to hike over Burro Mesa west into Apache Canyon, to a corral where Apaches stashed stolen horses, and to explore an arrow quarry. 

The week before in this canyon, two Italian women fended off a mountain lion. Apparently it was a young lion and their screams caused it to scramble off—but that wasn't the kind of adventure I was looking for. I figured my guide, Charlie Angell, could handle any critters better than I could. 

Sun blasted down. The only clouds were wisps, as if from a paintbrush dipped in milk. Thorns snagged my jeans. The trail became so faint, I surely would have lost it on my own. Just when the hill dipped, then came another trudge up another rise through whips of ocotillo, lechugilla, biznaga, beargrass, stunted soap trees... Many had been incinerated, probably from lightning strikes. 

No sign of burros on Burro Mesa. In two hours in this merciless landscape, we had seen no animal tracks, no scat; one lizard; one butterfly; two ravens.

It began to seem we were hiking not so much to a place but into the past, for this was a soundscape deeply strange to me. I live in Mexico City, one of the biggest in the world, where the thrum of traffic surges and fades, but never ceases. On myriad saint days, firecrackers pop like popcorn; weekends, the thump-a-thump-a of parties. Helicopters roar; dogs bark. 

Less than two centuries ago, Burro Mesa and Apache Canyon, indeed, the whole of the Big Bend, were Mexican territory—Mexico City the capital. But notionally. Maps of the period tell the truer story, a blank space with a name that was a shrug of ignorance or, for those who had heard the stories of kidnappings and scalpings, a drum-beat of horror: LA APACHERIA.

Finally, not that there was anyplace to sit, we sat down. 

"Drink up," Charlie insisted, handing me another bottle of water.

And this was when, suddenly as that mountain lion must have appeared, a lone figure carrying a pole taller than he was, loomed above us. A Texan in expensive-looking drab olive gear. He'd been hiking for several days, he said brightly—yesterday, the Mesa de Anguila. Mighty surprised to see us. We were the first hikers he'd encountered in the past three days.

And the pole?

For scaring mountain lions. But it didn't weigh much; it was bamboo. After twenty years, its bottom was starting to split-he lifted it to reveal a mass of duct tape. From his flask, he drank water, but he did not sit down. In a moment, he and his fabulous pole had disappeared down the hill.

We found the dry stone corral tucked against the mountain, blanketed in shade. It was filled with rubble and brush. Beyond a waist-high forest of creosote, the arrow quarry would have been easy to miss. It was not a hole in the ground, but a cliff of flaky-looking dark rock. Broken arrowheads lay all about: bone white, pink, orange, some tinged lavender. Before I put it back, I held one in my hand. Who knew how old it was, a hundred, five hundred years? 

I tried to conjure an image of the hands that had chipped, so expertly, until this triangle, a form at once unfathomably ancient, life-giving, and deadly, emerged. It was probably a man, probably older than most in his tribe— let's say he had an arthritic knee. A claw strung onto his necklace.

# # #

Listen in to "Over Burro Mesa" (plus "The Kickapoo Ambassadors") in Marfa Mondays #14

Watch my mini-clip video of Apache Canyon:

Big Bend National Park: This Video Could Save Your Life!

Listen in to (or read the transcript of) my interview with founding editor of Cenizo Journal, Dallas Baxter: "This Precious Place." 

Listen in to (or read the transcript of) my interview with the immensely talented and daredevil photographer Paul V. Chaplo, author of Marfa Flights"On Finding Composition in the Landscape"

Listen in to the whole enchilada! Nineteen podcasts so far.

(Links go to my main blog, Madam Mayo)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Two New Mini-Clips: "Scenes from the West of the Pecos Rodeo" and "Calera, Texas: A Ghost Town's Chapel"

Some very fun podcasts are in-progress. Meanwhile, here are two recent "mini-clips"-- that's what I call my brief, edited videos that are intended to accompany a text.

Scenes from the West of the Pecos Rodeo
(To accompany Marfa Mondays #17: Lisa Fernandes, Barrel Racer at the Pecos Rodeo)

Calera, Texas: A Ghost Town's Chapel
(To accompany a piece about Far West Texas' ghost towns-- in-progress.)

The next podcast, #20, will be an interview with Raymond Caballero about his fascinating new book that uncovers a more than a century-old conspiracy: Lynching Pascual Orozco. 

>>You can listen in to all the Marfa Mondays podcasts anytime right here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Marfa Mondays #19: Pitmaster Israel Campos in Pecos

Just posted: #19, an interview with Israel Campos, the award-winning pitmaster and owner of Pody's BBQ in Pecos.  Yes, Pecos is an hour and forty minutes' drive from Marfa. Never mind, go there, grab a plate of brisket at Pody's BBQ, and you will ring the bell!

>>Listen in to this podcast anytime<<

>> Read the transcript <<

(Wondering where to eat in Marfa? I can recommend breakfast at Squeeze Marfa, lunch at The Food Shark, and --if you still have both the room and the clams-- dinner at Cochineal. If there is a good BBQ in Marfa that I have overlooked, I ask your indulgence; I am writing a literary travel memoir, not a guide book. That said, please send me your recommendations, because, like Arnold, I'll be back.)

Check out the maps of this surprisingly little-known region here. (P.S. there are two typos on the maps... if you can find more and let me know, I shall be eternally grateful.)

Your comments are always welcome. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Two New Podcast Transcripts: #2 "Charles Angell in the Big Bend" and #3 "Mary Bones on the Lost Colony"

You can listen in to all my podcasts anytime, but I know some of you read at a faster clip than you can listen, so I've been posting the transcripts bit by bit. As of last night, new on the website are two more transcripts of Marfa Mondays podcast interviews, both of which provide excellent introduction to the topic at hand, adventure in the Big Bend and the "lost colony"-- of artists who came to this spectacularly scenic region well before Donald Judd.

Marfa Mondays #2 Charles Angell in the Big Bend

"I just love to be in the river. It's like the best seat in the house for the Big Bend, I think. You can see canyon walls. You see desert. You see riparian zones. There's more wildlife there than anywhere else, and even if it's a really, really hot summer day, you can stay cool." [READ MORE]

Listen now

Marfa Mondays #3 Mary Bones on the Lost Art Colony

"Julius Woeltz is my favorite... He was really known as a fine muralist. I think he painted well over 30 murals in his lifetime. He very much was influenced by Rivera and Orozco. He and his very good friend, Xavier González, spent many summers down in Mexico and Mexico City looking at the muralists..." [READ MORE]

Listen now

There will be more Marfa Mondays podcasts until there are 24. The latest, #17, is Under Sleeping Lion: Lonn Taylor in Fort Davis

Your comments are always welcome.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Indian Head Rock Art Site in Terlingua

If you've been following this blog and/or the Marfa Mondays podcasts you know I'm a nut for rock art sites. Indian Head, which I visited back in February of 2013, is one of my favorites. It's only a short drive behind Terlingua's main gas station, but it feels as far away as Mars (and it's that quiet, too).

Here's my 2 minute "mini clip" video, starring my expert guide, Charles Angell (who, by the way, I highly recommend for any adventures on and along the Rio Grande and around the Big Bend).

The soundtrack is courtesy of the phabulous Phizmiz, Ergo, that is.

> Marfa Mondays Podcast #2, "Charlie Angell in the Big Bend"

> Marfa Mondays Podcast #15, "Gifts of the Ancient Ones: Greg Williams, Executive Director of the Rock Art Foundation, on the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands"

> More of my mini-clip rock art and other Far West Texas videos
(What's a "mini clip"? It's my term for a very short, edited video-- basically, a pirouette up from a GIF. They're intended to be watchable accompaniments to a text and/or podcast.)

Your comments are always welcome.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Avram Dumitrescu, An Artist in Alpine (The Transcript of Marfa Mondays Podcast #4 Now Available)

Transcript now available for 
ye olde podcast #4
Avram Dumitrescu, 

an Artist in Alpine
The Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project proceeds.... as those of you who follow this blog well know, the most recent of the projected 24 podcasts is #17, an interview with Texas historian Lonn Taylor in Fort Davis

Meanwhile, I've been working my way back to the beginning, posting transcripts of 171615141312111098765, and now... drumroll.... 4, Avram Dumitrescu, an Artist in Alpine. About his chicken portraits, Dumitrescu says:

"When we moved to Alpine, our landlords had about 30 chickens. Patty and Cindy, they're on the west edge of town...that's where I had my first experience being around chickens, because until then it was just stuff I'd eat. They're basically mini-dinosaurs. Every time I go in, I'm always worried if I fall, and they start pecking me to death like in some horror movie... because they see red, they run to it and attack it. They're very interesting characters, and I think what really made me laugh was Patty and Cindy had named them after characters from "The Sopranos." 

+ Read the complete transcript of this podcast or, better yet, listen in to "Avram Dumitrescu, an Artist in Alpine" (on either podomatic or iTunes, both free).

All Marfa Mondays Podcasts (and most transcripts)

+ Your comments are always welcome. The newsletter will go out soon; to opt-in, click here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

New Transcript Just Posted for Marfa Mondays #7 "We Have Seen the Lights: The Marfa Ghost Lights Phenomenon"

The Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project proceeds and, yes, I am writing the book, World Waiting for a Dream: A Turn in Far West Texas

Last week, podcast #17, an interview with historian Lonn Taylor, went live, and over the past few days I've uploaded several transcripts of older podcasts, including that of podcast #7, "We Have Seen the Lights," about the Marfa Ghost Lights. 

Herewith an excerpt:

When I first visited Marfa in the late 1990s, I made an arrow for the Marfa Lights viewing area, a pullout on the highway between Marfa and the neighboring town of Alpine. About 9 miles out of Marfa, it was just a parking area with, as I recall, a couple of sun-bleached picnic tables. There was an RV parked to one the side and standing on top of one of the picnic tables, a burly man in shorts and a T-shirt, his knees bent like a quarterback about to grab the football. There was no one else there. It was still light out, though the sky had paled and beyond the expanse of Mitchell Flat, the mountains to the south, the Chinatis, loomed a dusky purple. I don't recall that man turning to look at me, but he must have heard my car pull up behind him, for as I opened the door, he pointed toward the mountains and began to shout:
"OH MY GOD... OH MY GOD... OH …. MY… GOD!"
As I set my shoe on the dirt, I saw that it was surrounded by a scattering of something silvery: quarters. I have found many a penny on the sidewalk, and few dimes over the years, but this was several dollars worth of quarters. I gathered them up.
"OH MY GOD!" The man was bellowing. "OH MY GOD!!!"
I would have thought him barking mad except that, I too saw the lights and they were unlike anything I had ever seen.  
[...CONTINUE READING... includes interviews with residents...]

Listen to the podcast

Listen to all the Marfa Mondays podcasts

> Your comments are always welcome, and for updates you are very welcome to sign up for my free every-other-monthly-ish newsletter. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Marfa Mondays Podcast #17 Under Sleeping Lion: Lonn Taylor in Fort Davis

From the "secret historians" to the Propeller Man to the Filippino restaurant: you'll learn about a myriad unexpected people and stories of the Big Bend and Marfa, Texas in my interview with historian Lonn Taylor, the "Rambling Boy" columnist for the Big Bend Sentinel. Recorded in Fort Davis in March 2015.

Listen in anytime right here.

> Read the transcript

"Everybody kind of has a stereotype of Marfa either as the cattle town where they filmed “Giant” or a contemporary art center. I like discovering things that don’t fit into that stereotype. "                                                                --Lonn Taylor

Marfa Mondays home page with all 17 podcasts (of a projected 24)

> Your COMMENTS are always welcome, and you are also most welcome to sign up for my newsletter which goes out every other month-ish.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Another Transcript Now Available: Marfa Mondays Podcast #11 Cowboy Songs By Cowboys and an Interview with Michael Stevens

Reposting from my main blog, Madam Mayo:

Still working on the edits for Marfa Mondays Podcast #17, an interview with Texas historian Lonn Taylor; meanwhile, still churning out the transcripts. Available to date:

#16 Tremendous Forms: Paul Chaplo on Finding Composition in the Landscape

#15 Gifts of the Ancient Ones: Greg Williams on the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands

#14 Over Burro Mesa (not a transcript but an article)

#13 Looking at Mexico in New Ways: An Interview with Historian John Tutino

#12 Dallas Baxter: "This Precious Place"

and as of today... drumroll...

#11 Cowboy Songs By Cowboys
and an Interview with Michael Stevens

[Note: If you want to hear the songs, which I highly recommend, it would be a far sight better to listen to the podcast.


C. M. Mayo: We're going to hear some more music in this podcast, but I want to go back for a moment to put all this into some context by sharing with you some of my interview with Michael Stevens, which was recorded in one of the lounges at Sul Ross State University's University Center just before the show. Michael Stevens is the one you heard first in this podcast singing about the Old Double Diamond. My first question was, how did this all get started?

Michael Stevens: Well, it started out as just cowboys getting together. And when it really would happen in the old days, it was just people heard about these guys who get together and talk and BS and tell stories and, you know, that's all they had. It's an oral tradition of just like, seamen. And there is a Fisher Poets Society in Oregon/Washington, somewhere up there. I've forgotten where it is. It's around Siskiyou Pass I think. But it happens right about now. Of course, they did it before we did. The ships were out there long before the cowboys were here and they told stories and sang songs. A lot of those songs and old Scottish and Irish ballads got turned into cowboy songs when the people came over here. Instead of singing about whales in the ocean, or whatever they did, they took that melody— and I believe "Streets of Laredo" is "The Bard of Armagh" or something like that— so it was some old melody that they just changed the words to. They weren't musicians particularly. A lot of times they didn't carry instruments, so a lot of it you'll hear a cappella, a lot of what those guys had—or they took an instrument out and it fell apart. Banjos seemed to last longer than guitars and things like that.

So it's a real old tradition of telling stories and it gets moved to the next person because a lot of those people didn't write, and so what the cowboys picked up on and started and then, at some point a few people, John Lomax and his son, they started recording these songs. Well, there were people before that even that were some of the cowboys that were starting to collect the songs.

The first gathering of this type that I know of was Elko, Nevada. They'd created a folklore center. I never studied the history of that either. If you could get ahold of Joel Nelson he might fill you in a little bit more but you can Google all that. About '85, well, Joel Nelson and his wife at the time, Barney Nelson, who's a teacher here in Ryder, got some really neat books out, they went. They heard about it. Joel's always been into poetry. He reads Robert Service. He reads Pushkin. You know, name it. If he sits down and does "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost with a big mustache and a cowboy hat you think it's the best cowboy poem you ever heard and then he says "Robert Frost" and you can see people go, Oh, that's why it seemed familiar to me! Because it's kind of what cowboys do. You know, they go the other way. If they want to make a lot of money they wouldn't be a cowboy.

So they came back here the next year after Elko and started a little gathering here and I wasn't here at the time. I was in Austin building guitars, but I'd gone from a horse ranch in McKinney to Austin and been in and out of the horse business since I was a little kid.
When I came down here [Alpine], my wife wanted to live here and she was not living anywhere else, and I heard about it. And then a friend of a friend, a girl we'd known in college had married Warren Burnett, the trial lawyer from Odessa and then I met Warren and he one day said— I hadn't gone to the gathering—he said, "You should go meet Buck Ramsey. He's my friend. He's the guy in a wheelchair and if anybody gives you any trouble…" Well, Warren says, "Anybody gives you any shit you tell them," because that's the way Warren was. I don't know if you know anything about Warren. Anyways, so I met Buck Ramsey and played music. Well, it turned out I knew a couple cowboy songs, and I didn't even know they were cowboy songs because I'd been in Berkeley since 1967 and played a lot of music and country music.

C.M. Mayo: Out in California?

Michael Stevens: Yeah. When I hit there I left Fort Worth in '67 and got there in November of '67. I had a cowboy outfit with bell bottoms, embroidered shirts and long hair and they called me The Sheriff. And we played country music. Cody was there. We played the same kind of venues as Commander Cody. Then they said you won't believe who's coming from [??] asleep at the wheel, so I was out there. Then I learned a bunch of folk songs hanging around the Freight and Salvage and those things. Well, it turns out a bunch of them were cowboy songs, and I'd heard a lot of Jack Elliot and all that, well, there's a bunch of cowboy songs stuck in there.

So I got down here and somehow after meeting Buck and playing... So they said, we need some more performers. Would you come and we'll stick you in a session and sing a few songs? And I went, Hey, I like this.

C.M. Mayo: What year was that?

Michael Stevens: That would be about '93 or '94.

C.M. Mayo: You've been coming back every year since?

Michael Stevens: Well, I live here.

C.M. Mayo: So you've come to all the Cowboy Poetry Gatherings?

Michael Stevens: Well, I was on the committee for 16 years and of the 16 years I think I was vice president about three and president for seven, at least. I just retired from the 25th year. This is my first year as a performer as a civilian.


C.M. Mayo [to listeners]: A little further into the interview Michael Stevens talked about after Berkeley, how he came back to Texas. But then you're going to hear him backtrack and talk some more about his time in Berkeley at the Freight and Salvage. That was, and is, the hub of the folk music scene.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Cyberflanerie (from the Madam Mayo Blog)

Reposting from my main blog, Madam Mayo:

(Translation: No littering, dude.)
So who painted this oh-so-Texan trash receptacle with the Magritte-esque slogan for the Marfa Visitor's Center? A 4th of July cyber-sparkler to you, whoever you are, dear artiste. (At least it was plum-obvious where to deposit the bottles and snack wrappers that had been accumulating on the floor behind the front seat since El Paso.) The question for today's little foray into les mystères de l'art is, would I get arrested were I to spray pink sparkly foam paint all over it? Hard to say. The Marfa Vistor's Center is, after all, walking distance to El Cosmico, where you can rent the yurt and, round about when I was there, sign up for an herbal remedies class-- and I would not be at all surprised to catch some ukelele playing going on at one their "happenings." I mean, Marfans do seem whimsical or at least mind-your-own-business-relaxed when it comes to art-- or, this is not art qua art. 

But then-- Madam Mayo plucks a few bees out of her bouffant-- what is "art"? 

"Manos Arriba," or "Hands Up," pictured right, is an approximately 1,000- 2,000 year-old rock art site in the relatively nearby (by Far West Texas standards) Big Bend Ranch State Park. Never mind that hypothetical can of pink sparkly foam; you touch that rock art and the ranger sees you, boy howdy, you're in a poke of trouble. Carve your name and a date into the rock with your penknife? Seriously illegal. And if you did that back in, say, 1887? Well, you'd be dead by now so much as the ranger might like to, true, she couldn't do anything.

Voyez l'équation simple:

+ Really old man-made marks = Art. Approved response: From a reverent distance, take pictures.


+ Relatively recent marks, including those made as long ago as 1887 by nonindigenous people = Defacement. Approved response: Express dismay.

Bloggable Graffito, circa 2015
Ladies Room, Plaine coffee shop

Alpine, Texas
Not that I personally don't feel sincere reverence for rock art-- (and may my podcast interview with Greg Williams, executive director of the Rock Art Foundation, bolster my case). I am simply sayin'.

Voyez l'équation étonnante:

+ Writing on coffee shop bathroom wall that evidences childlike yet articulate whimsy referring to marine life = Bloggable.


+ Writing on coffee shop bathroom wall that evidences childlike and inarticulate whimsy referring to just about anything and everything else = Ick. 

Where does the hypothetical sparkly pink foam paint come in? I don't think it does. 

Once home in Mexico City I encountered this street art mural with a hand appearing to reach for a grape-purple grenade with feet:

Mexico City street art

I have absolutely no idea what it all means. The word BOMB to the left often appears in Mexico City graffiti, why I know not.

Madam Mayo pronounces this Very Fine Art.
On a more high-toned note, here is a small section I snapped of one of the murals by Víctor Cuaduro in the Government Palace of Querétaro, of the three monarchists executed on the Cerro de las Campanas in 1867, Maximilian and his generals Mejía and Miramón. If you were to apply anything from a spray can to that-- let's say you wanted to make a stencil of your hand, as in "Manos arriba"-- I'll bet you a million pesos that you would be speedily tackled by the several security guards.

P.S. Instant Art Critique Phrase Generator. I typed in 12345 and got:

With regard to the issue of content, the disjunctive perturbation of the spatial relationships brings within the realm of discourse the distinctive formal juxtapositions. 

+ + + + + + 

But seriously now...

The Lower Pecos Canyonlands have been much on my mind as I am writing a book about Far West Texas, and one of the many compare-and-contrast items from my previous book, Miraculous Air, about Mexico's Baja California peninsula, is the rock art. So far I've visited a multitude of sites in the Big Bend (most recently in the canyon that runs north-south alongside the western flank of the Solitario) plus the Lower Pecos Canyonlands sites at Meyers Spring and Eagle Nest Canyon at Langtry, which drains into the Rio Grande, that is, the US-Mexico border. And this May, just a scootch east of the Pecos, I plan to visit Curly Tail Panther. Did I mention, Lower Pecos Canyonlands rock art is spectacular?

Apropos of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands, a recent and delightful discovery is that my fellow Women Writing the West member Mary S. Black, an expert on the Lower Pecos, has published a novel, Peyote Fire: Shaman of the Canyon, about the Archaic artists-- to my knowledge, the first historical novel about these people. I'm looking forward to reading it, as well as her guidebook to the region which is in-progress.

Listen in anytime to my interview with Greg Williams, executive director of the Rock Art Foundation, which offers tours to important but very remote rock art sites, many of which are on private land. 

> My brief video of the first part of the hike into Eagle Nest Canyon.

> Check out these photos of a storm in May 2014 with massive flooding in that same canyon-- it gives an idea of how the caves were formed.

> Your COMMENTS are always welcome. My newsletter goes out on Monday with new podcasts, articles, and upcoming workshops; I welcome you to automatically opt-in (and opt-out anytime) here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

New Transcript Just Posted: "Looking at Mexico in New Ways: An Interview with John Tutino"

Slowly but surely the transcripts from my Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project are going on-line. Now available: 

#13 “Looking at Mexico in New Ways: An Interview with John Tutino."

John Tutino: "We need Mexico as an other. We can't deal with it as an us." But his whole point is that, in fact, US and Mexico are inseparable. It's a knock-your-huaraches-off interview.

Listen in to the podcast.



C.M. Mayo: Welcome to Marfa Mondays. I’m your host, C.M. Mayo and this is Podcast 13 of a projected 24 podcasts exploring Marfa and the wider Big Bend region, apropos of my book-in-progress about Far West Texas. So far in the series I’ve interviewed people in and around Marfa and also reported on my visits to some very remote and intriguing places in the Big Bend, most recently, interviews with Dallas Baxter, founder of Cenizo Journal; and with luthier and cowboy poet singing some cowboy songs, Michael Stevens; and a visit to Swan House, Simone Swan’s adobe teaching house, inspired by the legacy of Egypt’s greatest architect, Hassan Fathy. I invite you to listen to these podcasts and all the others anytime at my website,, and through the website, send in your comments. I’m always delighted to hear from listeners. 


Now in this podcast I take a big step back to get some perspective— big perspective. Bigger than Texas perspective. Those of you who know Far West Texas know how close Mexico is in every sense. Look at a map and you’ll see, from Marfa it’s only a little more than an hour’s drive to Presidio, which sits on the Rio Grande; cross over and there you are: Mexico. That’s what we’re going to hear about in this interview with John Tutino. 

John Tutino teaches the history of Mexico and the Americas in the History Department and School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He’s the author of Making a New World: Founding Capitalism in the Bajío and Spanish North America, which was published by Duke University Press in 2011. Tutino is also the editor of a collection of essays by various historians with the title Mexico and Mexicans in the Making of the United States, and that is available from University of Texas Press. This interview was recorded in his office at Georgetown University. 


C.M. Mayo: We have Making a New World and the related anthology Mexico and the Mexicans in the Making of the United States. These are closely related, and they are both nuclear bombs! 

John Tutino: Thank you!

C.M. Mayo: They’re huge paradigm-busting... across from the beginning when we had the expansion of New Spain in the 1500s to modern day immigration. My head is reeling with all this stuff that’s in these two books!

John Tutino: And I will say, you're right, they evolved together. They were a long time coming, decades in the rumination and a decade plus in the focused production. And yeah, I got to the point where I said, “The whole basic big picture of where we thought Mexico fit in the world is somewhere between wrong and mythical. And you can’t change that by chipping away at the edges and saying, look at this little piece.” 

And so I ended up writing Making a New World to just try to say, “New Spain, which is the root of Mexico, was absolutely an pivotal place to the origins of the modern world, modern capitalism, and equally absolutely pivotal to the origins of the United States.” And I was working on one when I figured out the other. 

C.M. Mayo: My sense is that in Anglo-American culture, we’ve always had this idea that, here is American history over here, and here is Mexican history over here, and yes, there was war and there was this and there was that, but you could like put a little bell jar on top of each subject, and what you're saying, and I know is true, is that, no, you have to look at them together. 

John Tutino: Yeah. I will tell you a story. I, years ago, put together a NEH [National Endowment for the Humanties] Summer Seminar for school teachers on the interrelated histories of Mexico and the United States. NEH, the grant proposal group, approved it. They wanted to fund it, but the staff at NEH refused my title, which was “Inseparable Histories: Mexico and the United States.” They said I could teach the seminar— this was in the early ‘90s— not having the primary title “Inseparable Histories,”  and I tactically said, “Well, I want to do the seminar. I’ll negotiate the title.” But that’s the extent that this goes there. 

But I will also add that particularly the argument that New Spain was fundamental to the origins of modern capitalism and that it was, particularly in its north, one of the earliest, most dynamic capitalist places on Earth, is equally challenging a lot of Mexican scholars. 

C.M. Mayo: Oh, yes.

John Tutino: They have sort of bought into a notion, they have been trained in a notion, that Mexico had its base in great Pre-hispanic societies that were destroyed by Spanish colonialism for three centuries, and then there has been a struggle to reconstitute something positive. And boy, there were destructions in early 16th century, though I argue they’re more disease driven than anything any human could impose. And yes, there have been struggles, but people have... I don’t fully understand, why not glory in the... You know, it’s a typical history, it’s a history of enormous economic dynamism and thus enormous conflict, change, human greatness, human exploitation, human difficulty, but it sort of puts New Spain and Mexico, I believe, at the absolute mainstream of modern history. 

C.M. Mayo: So, in other words is as you call “this enduring presumption” was that capitalism started with England. 

John Tutino: With England. 

C.M. Mayo: And North America, and this is what we’ve been told in school and Adam Smith, and...

John Tutino: It has been the Anglo American gift to the world. 

C.M. Mayo: Would you say gift or plague?

John Tutino: Well, either way. If you ask Anglo Americans, it’s their gift to the world. If you ask people who’ve experienced it without prosperity... And this is part of what I try to do. I think too often we argue that capitalism is easily the most positive thing the world has ever seen or it’s the most dastardly thing the world has ever seen, and I just see capitalism as a dominant historical reality with enormous creativities, positives, productive gains and, linked to it, changing rounds of difficulties, conflicts, human difficulties, exploitations, and we’ve got to quit arguing one against the other. We’ve got to figure out how to maximize one, minimize the other, but as a historian I just want to understand it. 

In terms of that I should emphasize, in terms of taking Anglocentrism away from the study of global capitalism, I have jumped on a bandwagon there. It really came out of Asianists. One part, Andre Gunder Frank who started writing on Latin America years ago, then went to China and wrote a book called ReOrient, and Kenneth Pomeranz, who wrote a book called The Great Divergence, and I will say Gunder Frank was more the cage-rattling ideologue and Pomeranz was more the careful historian. He’s currently, it took 10 years after the book, but he’s now president of the American Historical Association. But the two of them together right around the year 2000 said, in 1600 China was the dominant economy in the world, Western Europe was a minor player and they contended for three centuries, and before 1800 nothing made it certain that Europe was going to rise to dominance and Asia was going to fade. It was a historical give and take, and then some particular things happened around 1800 that shift this. They were debating this and they were all recognizing that silver was pivotal to this world economy.

C.M. Mayo: Right. So China was demanding it—

John Tutino: Was the place demanding...the silver that went to Europe ended up in China.

C.M. Mayo: So this is the silver from Peru and from Mexico. 

John Tutino: Mexico. Scholars show for most of three centuries two-thirds of it passed east to Europe, but ended up passing through the Middle East, South Asia, and ends up in China. A third of it goes directly to Manila and ends up in China.

C.M. Mayo: Through Acapulco on the Nao de China... [Manila Galleon]

John Tutino: Acapulco to Manila. And people always ask, “Why is Manila part of the Spanish empire?” It was a city of Chinese merchants under Spanish sovereignty who traded goods not just from China but from India, Indonesia, and sent them back. Have you ever been to what is now the Museo del Virreinato in Tepotzotlan on the road?

C.M. Mayo: Yes, just north of Mexico City.

John Tutino: North of Mexico City. There are two rooms there of Chinese-Christian-Asian art that were all brought back by the Jesuits because that was their colonial... It is the best way to see the wealth of China that was brought to New Spain by that silver, is to just go through those rooms in Tepotzotlan. 

C.M. Mayo: And this doesn’t fit with the image of Mexico in Anglo-American cultural history or our modern media at all. 

John Tutino: As a backward, exploited, crushed environment that Spanish colonialism just ground to nothing! And one of the ironies is... and we have a hard time thinking about it. So New Spain, I argue, was probably one of the three core regions of early modern capitalism, while Spain, its mother country, was in decline. And we’ve just got to learn to get over the presumption that Spain could be in decline as a European power but New Spain could be just flourishing. 

C.M. Mayo: What I loved about the opening of your book, Making a New World, was you start talking illustrate your points, the individual biographies of several people in the very important city of Querétaro. And as a bit of digression I want to say, I’m an American and I’ve been living in Mexico all these years, and I come back and forth frequently, and it is very rare that anybody in the U.S. has even heard of Querétaro, and yet Querétaro plays a central role in the development of the Mexican economy from almost the very beginning. 

John Tutino: I will note it’s also coming back. It may be the single most dynamic place under the current NAFTA-driven economic revival. And Querétaro really became probably my favorite place in Mexico in the process of writing this book. 

I had been introduced to Mexico as a 17-year-old kid going to San Miguel de Allende and I’d lived for a full year in Mexico City, lots of time in other central Mexico places, most of all in Mexico City, but when I started doing this and started spending between two weeks to a month every year in Querétaro, and the mix of its colonial heritage and its modern dynamism just made it. It isn’t a museum like San Miguel. My apologies to the San Miguel tourist bureau. [Laughs] It’s a real dynamic city but with a wonderful historic arc. 

The argument is that this dynamism is there and that it is charging north.

C.M. Mayo: Well, can we come back just for a minute to those individual biographies in and around Querétaro, part of the Bajío, which includes San Miguel de Allende.

John Tutino: Guanajuato. 

C.M. Mayo: León, Celaya. 

John Tutino: Yes. 

C.M. Mayo: It’s a group of cities north of Mexico City, kind of in the very heart of Mexico. 

John Tutino: It is absolutely the richest agricultural land in Mexico. Historically the richest mines in Mexico were in Guanajuato, and with the mix of those two, Querétaro was the richest trade and industrial city in Querétaro.

C.M. Mayo: Oh, and Zacatecas.

John Tutino: Zacatecas isn’t quite Bajío in Mexican parlance because it’s north, it’s dry, but the Bajío fed it because, precisely, Zacatecas is mining wealth in dry uplands. Where did Zacatecas get its food? So the Bajío is also in a sense sustaining places like Zacatecas.

C.M. Mayo: So when we look at the beginnings of Querétaro and this economic engine that’s going to feed the northward expansion of New Spain, one of the biographies that you talked about was José Sánchez Espinosa. There was another little one in there about an Italian count...

John Tutino: Yes, Colombini. And later in the book there’s huge excerpts from a poem he wrote in honor of Our Lady of Pueblito, the local Otomí virgin who historically and still in many ways centers popular devotions in Querétaro, the way Guadalupe has historically around Mexico City. 

Let me quickly go through my favorite vignette. The first one is Connín. Connín is an Otomí trader, frontiersman. He had traded across the frontier into the land of the Chichimecas. When Spaniards came he claimed to have been a lord; we don’t know if he really was but he was able to mobilize followers with a little bit of army, a little bit of settlement, and he, an Otomí trader or lord with somewhere between dozens and a few hundred Otomí friends, relatives, villagers recruited only a couple of Spanish Franciscan friars, and while literally Spaniards are still trying to conquer Mexico City, they go north and found Querétaro. And so Querétaro is actually an Otomí foundation with Catholic Franciscan sanction under Spanish rule. And for the first 30 years Querétaro is an Otomí city. Other than a priest or two there’s nobody else there. They build the irrigation. They build grist mills. They built the town. They distribute the land. And Connín and his pals take large landed estates for themselves, but they make sure their followers all have these incredibly rich irrigated gardens at the core of the city, and of course, he very quickly... he can’t remain Connín, he’s baptized and he becomes Don Fernando de Tapia. 

C.M. Mayo: And what amazed me about Don Fernando de Tapia is, you give the little biography and one reads along, da-da, da-da, da-da, he did this, he did that, his daughter...

John Tutino: And you think he’s got to be a Spanish conquerer.

C.M. Mayo: He’s got to be a Spanish conquerer and it turns out, no! He’s an Otomí trader who used to be called Connín!

John Tutino: And it is the perfect example of how indigenous people weren’t always broken. They saw opportunity.

C.M. Mayo: It’s a more complex story than what we’re told at a public level. [CONTINUE READING THIS TRANSCRIPT]

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