Controlling Food: a Campaign of Colonialism

My remaining installments of this blog will serve a specific purpose: to create a working draft script for my planned podcast series. I have a long-term undertaking in mind, a New Mexico history podcast with a companion website. I envision the audio portion as a four-minute history lesson in radio broadcast format. I hope that it becomes a radio series like the UNM Biology Department’s “Biocast” that airs three mornings a week on KANW-FM. The web presence would be able to satisfy historical conventions with footnotes and citations that would be awkward over the air, but also to tell a richer story with images, video, digitized documents, links, and audio combined. This is where I will share history the way historians do, with depth, authority, and where I can engage the audience in discussion. I hope to educate in a way that is entertaining to a broad audience but still academically sound.

With this in mind, please comment on this first series “Food at Bosque Redondo”, as I hope to create a quality product that I can record and produce near the end of the Spring 2015 semester. Scripts will be about 700 words, which will provide about five minutes of audio. I expect to edit that down by twenty percent during production before adding theme music, an introduction, and credits resulting in five-minute segments. Finally, with a broad audience in mind, I will use a conversational tone in the scripts. For instance, you may see contractions. It just sounds more natural. I will write more formally when I get to the web component of this project.

Episode 1, “Why Bosque Redondo?”

BR final

John C. Cremony rode across the Arizona desert and into New Mexico with a company of California Volunteers to help defend against a Confederate invasion. He saw mayhem in New Mexico. Northern militiamen from Colorado had already run the Texan rebels out of the Territory, but those Texans had first done some damage. They ransacked towns and villages, commandeered food and supplies, and left the place in disarray. Cremony said that unrestrained Apaches were ruling the land with terror, destroying anything the Confederates left behind. New Mexicans were “literally starving and utterly demoralized,” he said. The fields had gone fallow. The army would have to support the New Mexicans until they were able to support themselves again.[1]

When the Colorado Volunteers ran Texans out of New Mexico in 1862, the Civil War in the West took a turn. Disobedient Indians became the Union’s new enemy there. After all, part of the tension that sparked the war was over how the West would develop as the country expanded. New Mexico Territory had become a site for a settler colonial project. The U.S. government wanted to populate the land with loyal Americans, but first they had to control the Native population.

Navajos and Apaches had been raiding Spanish, Mexican, and now American settlements for centuries, but Brigadier General Edward Canby, the Commander of the Department of New Mexico, had a plan for taming them. Canby wanted to remove the Navajos and Apaches from their homelands and relocate them to reservations for closer supervision. And, his plan had support from important Americans in New Mexico Territory. Kit Carson had recommended Indian removal. So did the Indian Agent for Southern New Mexico, Michael Steck. However, Eastern Civil War fronts demanded Canby’s presence before he could create a reservation for Navajos in western New Mexico, and another for Apaches in the south as he had planned.

Carleton2Enter James Henry Carleton. He was a Brigadier General too. He had been romping around the West for about a decade as a military man before taking over of the Department of New Mexico. Carleton was very familiar with this landscape. He wanted the Indians out of the way of progress and he was willing to use food as a weapon. Carleton’s and Canby’s plans for the Indians differed though. Carleton had his sights set on a patch of land in eastern New Mexico, north of the mountains and south of the plains. It was grassland along the Pecos River. There were trees there, just a medium size stand, about a half-mile wide and eight miles long. This was Bosque Redondo, a circle of trees. Carleton asked the federal government for a forty square mile plot there. It would be the new home of the Navajos and Mescalero Apaches and a small Army fort to oversee them, Fort Sumner.

Carleton made the case for his choice of Bosque Redondo to Washington D.C. officials. He said there was plenty of arable land for all the Indians to farm. He said they would be far away from settlers. He said that at Bosque Redondo he would teach them to read and write, to be peaceful, and to be Christians. He also said “you can feed them cheaper than you can fight them,” an attitude that was becoming more common in that time and place.[2] He framed his strategy as an economic solution, but food was the armament he would leverage to get his way from both the government and the Natives.

Carleton chose not to address Native cultures in these letters, though. Navajos and Mescaleros had connected to their homelands over centuries, adapting to their respective climates, arid deserts and high mountains. Their established environments had shaped their lifeways and their foodways – hunting, gathering, herding and raiding.

Carleton wanted to keep the Indians from raiding settlements and he wanted them out of the way. The Mescalero Apaches wanted to return to the mountains and the Navajos wanted to go back to their longtime home on the Colorado Plateau. Within six years each group had at least some measure of success.

In the following episodes, we will hear the story of food at Bosque Redondo from Mescalero Apache and Navajo perspectives, and then through an environmental lens.

[1] John Carey Cremony, Life among the Apaches (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983), 197.

[2] Lawrence C Kelly, Navajo Roundup: Selected Correspondence of Kit Carson’s Expedition against the Navajo, 1863-1865 (Boulder, Colo.: Pruett Pub. Co., 1970), 7, 57.


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Kaveh Mowahed

I am a graduate student, a docent, a radio host, and a laborer. I wear many hats and I am informed by all of them. My goal is to contribute to my community's wellbeing through education.

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