The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Southwestern Hzstorical Quarterly

Brian Dippie's latest book takes us deep into Catlin's world, revealing for the
first time the full picture of the artist's and his competitors' futile searches for
official U.S. endorsement and patronage. Some of Catlin's failures rest on his
shoulders, some on sectional and political party biases, and some on the cun-
ning maneuverings of his wily artistic competition, Seth Eastman, John Mix
Stanley, and Henry Schoolcraft (all of whom ultimately fared little better than
Catlin). Dippie once again shows a depth of insight and scholarship that adds
demonstrably to the canon of American art history. The book is methodically
researched, facily written, and memorably enjoyed. As Catlin held open for his
audiences a vast new world beyond reach and even imagination, Dippie has re-
opened many of the same vistas for readers today.
Buffalo Bill Historical Center PETER H. HASSRICK
River of Traps: A Village Life. By William deBuys and Alex Harris. (Albuquer-
que: University of New Mexico Press, 1990. Pp. 238. Black-and-white
photographs, acknowledgments. $19.95.)
This is a story of learning. The author, William deBuys, his artist wife Anne,
and a photographer named Alex Harris are the students. The teacher and cen-
tral character is Jacobo Romero, an aged but wise Hispanic. DeBuys and his
compatriots come west in the early i97os and settle north of Santa Fe and
southeast of Taos in the tiny town of El Valle, along the banks of Rio de las
Trampas, hence the title of the book.
The three acquire a plot of land, intent on living "simply, cheaply, and delib-
erately." The book is about this experiment, focusing on the assistance and
friendship of their neighbor, Jacobo Romero. The old man leads them on a
path to "uncommon learning," meaning an unfamiliar culture. History, com-
munity, legends, and biujos (witches) are all filtered through Jacobo's memory
and story telling. Jacobo also instructs the newcomers regarding the use of
their pastoral land. This New Mexico high country is handsome, but also mea-
ger in resources. Survival requires knowledge of a special character. Jacobo in-
troduces the Anglo interlopers to farming techniques and the skill necessary to
irrigate their fields. By example, old Jacobo teaches the satisfactions of a life
lived with little cash, conveniences of technology, and a minimum of Anglo in-
fluence. There is little artificiality here. Jacobo's stories center on the wonder of
life and the surety of death, and their meanings are not lost on his neophytes.
This is an evocative book. It is not about history, but rather culture. The
reader gains few facts, but considerable understanding of the way of life of the
norte~ios of New Mexico. DeBuys discovers the uniqueness of this culture, warn-
ing his readers that the state's native Hispanos defy easy categorization. "To
focus on their Indian heritage, or alternatively, to close discussion by saying
that culturally they are Spanish and Mexican, misses an important point. Some-
thing happened in the soil of New Mexico" during its three hundred year fron-
tier period, theorizes deBuys. "It became una patna, a fatherland, in its own
right" (p. 65).


Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed November 26, 2015.