My son recently asked me if I read the profile in the New Yorker about the O.K. Corral re-enactors, and I told him I did. When he followed up by asking me what I thought of it, I told him.
The Sign Is All That Remains
The author of The New Yorker piece, Valeria Luiselli, correctly positions most of her history claims. For example, she says, "I had heard of Billy the Kid, who, it was claimed, had washed dishes at Shakespeare's only hotel. . .after escaping from jail in 1875." Never mind that Shakespeare was not called Shakespeare until 1879 and the owners of the property where Shakespeare is located, were most likely trying lay claim to the Kid being a dish washer when, in fact, the actual Billy was in Bonita, Arizona, where the Kid did, in fact wash dishes. But, she correctly bracketed it with "it was claimed," so she gets a by on that one, from me.
That one of the re-enactor yahoos is now in prison for child molestation is shocking, but not a surprise. My longtime re-enactor friend Doc Ingalls, called Tombstone an "Old West Ghetto," where ne'er-do-wells collect unemployment, act in gunfights, get paid $25, get drunk and go home to beat their significant others. Doc lived in Tombstone for a time and was part of that "ghetto" scene, acting in those same re-enactments. He died last year.
I can relate to "the period rush," she sites from Tony Horwitz, in his book, "Confederates In the Attic." We love the conflicts of history and we want to experience it, at least in play acting. So sue me.
Of course, I know Ben Traywick, in his nineties now, who she interviewed. He's a Southerner from the old school and he has views that someone from the South would have on race relations 75 or 80 years ago. And, of course, he has to tell her that "Nobody got it right until I came along." The egos in this field are, well, I am in the field, so there you go.
Ben Traywick as Wyatt Earp,
second from right, October 26, 1981
Then she goes after those of us who want to get it right by claiming we don't know the wider history of "genocidal campaigns against Native Americans." Sweet Jesus, this is so tiring. And it's also only about half right. Yes, there were plenty of people in the Old West who wanted the Apaches eradicated completely, but the U.S. government actually tried to negotiate and protect Geronimo and his people. When he and the other prisoners were on the train for Florida in 1886, a lynch mob of cowboys in Deming was set to overwhelm the guards when the train stopped there, and only when the U.S. soldiers got off the train with bayonets fixed, did the mob back down.
We gave the Apaches two very large reservations, which they still have, and some of them wouldn't stay on the res and continued raiding and killing innocent people so we sent troops after them and stopped them and gave them another chance. Geronimo broke out four different times! And he and his warriors killed hundreds of people on both sides of the border (he hated Mexicans and if you look up the term racist his picture should be there). So, don't go preaching that "genocidal" angle. It's so distorted and prejudicial. It's akin to calling your political opponents "Nazis." It's rarely accurate and it's meant to paint the target with a broad brush of hatred. Someone said our current dilemma is we have contempt for the other side. I think that's true and using the word genocide is part of that contempt.
And, her wrap-up is about half true. ". . .what I saw was not quite hatred. It was something more hollow, circular, repetitive. Something more like a re-enactment of hate."
Well, excuse me, but the Westerns narrative is about conflict in a raw, uncivilized land and there was certainly plenty of hate at the O.K. Corral fight. But it was white guys against white guys! Yankees vs. Rebels and Republicans vs. Democrats. Come to think of it, the symbols are still there, but they have been eroded by our new Civil War.
As I told my son, other than that, I enjoyed the article.
"The arc of history bends towards delusion."
—Old Vaquero Saying
Just discovered your blog! Thank you, sir! Great article!ReplyDelete