Tuesday, May 12, 2009

May 12, 2009
One of the myths that keeps getting repeated is that Europeans introduced Native Americans to alcohol. In the Southwest at least, the Apaches, among other tribes, were probably making their own alcoholic concoction called tiswin (the Apaches call it Tulapai) long before Columbus set sail. Tiswin is a mescal based cocktail and the Apaches were having Happy Hour long before the White Eyes arrived on the scene. Granted anglos brought along a much stronger batch of everything, but the idea that we seduced an innocent indiginous population is, at the very least, a sloshed-faced lie.

Recently, I attended a book festival at the University of Arizona and sat in on a discussion featuring Robert Utley, Michael Blake (Dances With Wolves) and Distinguished Professor Paul Andrew Hutton. Utley is working on a Geronimo book and in the question and answer portion of the program a history professor from the U of A asked a question, prefaced with the amazing revelation that he voted to flunk a graduate student who wrote a paper asserting that Geronimo was an alcoholic. After pointing out that three other profs voted against him, the prof tacked on the question, which was camoflaged with PC jargon, but the essence was this: "Did the Apaches drink?"

To which Robert Utley replied: "They were all drunks."


Virtually all of the oxygen in the room went bye bye. An electric current shot around the room and you could feel the full scale blanching in every body around me (it was almost all academian anglos in the lecture hall). Utley went on to describe tiswin drunks and how Apaches were often drunk for weeks.

There were no follow up questions. I have a hunch that no one has said those words in a history classroom since the Tet Offensive.

So, could Geronimo have benefited from a twelve-step-program? Let's take a look at a tiny portion of the historical record.

Geronimo broke out of reservations four separate times and tiswin figured prominently in most of the breaks. When Geronimo met General Crook at Canyon de los Embudos (Canyon of the Funnels) in 1886, John Bourke had this to report:

"'Alchise' and 'Ka-e-ten-na' came and awakened General Crook before it was daylight of March 28th [1886] and informed him that 'Nachita,' one of the Chiricahua chiefs, was so drunk he couldn't stand up and was lying prone on the ground; other Chiricahuas were also drunk, but none so drunk as 'Nachita.' Whiskey had been sold them by a rascal named Tribollet who lived on the San Bernadino ranch on the Mexican side of the line, about four hundred yards from the boundary. These Indians asked permission to take a squad of their soldiers and guard Tribollet and his men to keep them from selling any more of the soul-destroying stuff to the Chiricahuas. A beautiful commentary upon the civilization of the white man! When we reached Cajon Bonito, the woods and grass were on fire; four or five Chiricahua mules, already saddled, were wandering about without riders. Pretty soon we came upon 'Geronimo,' Kuthli,' and three other Chiricahua warriors riding on two mules, all drunk as lords."

What I want to know is how does the University of Arizona History Professor read this and rationalize it away. "Well, it is written by white people." Does that suffice to explain it away?

Based on this dishonest exchange at a major university, I think it's time to do an honest portrayal of that scene:

I found this board in my reject pile at lunch today and I intended this study to appear in my own Geronimo biography which I worked on extensively in 1994. I still may do the painting. Not to be mean (it is tragic, after all), but to perhaps balance the record. To not face the facts of history is more than pathetic, it's dangerous.

Gee, I wonder what my old vaquero buddies have to say about this?

"Every history is incomplete; every historian relies on what is unreliable—documents written by people who were not under oath and cannot be cross-examined."
—Old Vaquero Saying

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