Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwestern Borderlands, 1680-1880

Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwestern Borderlands, 1680-1880

Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwestern Borderlands, 1680-1880

Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwestern Borderlands, 1680-1880

Synopsis

Borderlands violence, so explosive in our own time, has deep roots in history. Lance R. Blyth's study of Chiricahua Apaches and the presidio of Janos in the U.S.-Mexican borderlands reveals how no single entity had a monopoly on coercion, and how violence became the primary means by which relations were established, maintained, or altered both within and between communities.
For more than two centuries, violence was at the center of the relationships by which Janos and Chiricahua formed their communities. Violence created families by turning boys into men through campaigns and raids, which ultimately led to marriage and also determined the provisioning and security of these families; acts of revenge and retaliation similarly governed their attempts to secure themselves even as trade and exchange continued sporadically. This revisionist work reveals how during the Spanish, Mexican, and American eras, elements of both conflict and accommodation constituted these two communities, which previous historians have often treated as separate and antagonistic. By showing not only the negative aspects of violence but also its potentially positive outcomes, Chiricahua and Janos helps us to understand violence not only in the southwestern borderlands but in borderland regions generally around the world.

Excerpt

For over two hundred years the descendants of Spanish settlers and Apache Indians did violence to each other in the region known as the Southwestern Borderlands; historical, cultural, and geographical shorthand for the area on either side of the current U.S.-Mexican border. From the 1680s to the 1880s members of both communities regularly committed acts of violence, even as they often negotiated or traded. It may be illustrative to many to map this twocentury scale of time onto the history of the United States. Consider a New England in 1875 that had just concluded King Phillip’s War with the Wampanoag begun two hundred years prior. Think of a South in which the Creek towns of Alabama remained at war with American settlements in Tennessee until 1975. Or consider the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, where I write these words today, still being the scene of Cheyenne raids and Anglo revenge until at least the late 2060s, with flare-ups into the next decade. It is mind-boggling to think of a conflict running for that length of time.

As I confronted this reality I turned to David Nirenberg’s Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages, which provides the central insight of this work. Nirenberg looked at conflicts and violent episodes in the relations among Christians, Jews, Muslims, and lepers in northeastern Spain and southern France in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. He studied “cataclysmic” violence that featured attacks on Jews, lepers, and Muslims, motivated by rebellion against the monarchy and social conflict, and “systemic” violence, which arose from “everyday transgressions of religious boundaries” via conversion, interfaith sexuality . . .

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