The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Ritual Ground: Bent's Old Fort, World Formation, and the Annexation of the Southwest.
By Douglas C. Comer. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California
Press, 1996. Illustrations, references, index. Pp. viii+328. ISBN 0-52020-
774-2. $16.95, paper.)
The author of this strange book opens it with: "This project began with exca-
vations I conducted in 1976 at the two trash dumps in front of Bent's Old Fort."
This is a fitting beginning, because the book is organized like a trash dump.
Indeed, it is often difficult, after wading through literally thousands of meaning-
less repetitions of the word "ritual," to determine what the book is about. Saying
something over and over doesn't make it so.
Moreover, the author "flunks" as an archeologist as well as a historian. He
does not even mention that the cistern and community toilet, which may con-
tain rare and revealing objects, are in the southwest corner of the old fort (as
reconstructed). This is what happens frequently in the "new" hegemonic west-
ern history where the training in history is very poor-sometimes, although not
in this case--based on newspaper clipping service history.
The book is, however, intellectual. It calls upon the work of the neo-Marxist
Louis Althuser, Mircea Eliade, Karl von Clausewitz, David Pletcher, Rober
Lewin, Simon Schama, Polybius, Yi Tu Fuan, Clifford Geertz, Emile Durkheim,
Francois Lyotard, Sigmund Freud, Victor Turner, Basil Bemstein, Murry Gell
Mann, and, of course, Michel Foucault on control. Indeed "hegemony" is an
important concept here.
Basically the book's concept is very simple: Bent's Old Fort was an individual-
ist (never mind the Bent-St.Vrain partnership) capitalist fur trade intrusion into
Indian and Mexican territory that became the ritual trading hub of a multicul-
tural web of Cheyenne, Kiowa, Mexicans, Louisiana Frenchmen, and
Missourians, all bent on detaching New Mexico from old Mexico, that as an
imperial ritual site became useless after the end of the Mexican War when
William Bent torched it. He may have done this out of spite or because the fort
was tainted with cholera. Without research in the cistern, and elsewhere, we may
never know. One thing is clear. This is a pretentious, badly organized "book"
that historians interested in Bent's Old Fort should handle with care.
Austin WILLIAM H. GOETZMANN
Cattle on a Thousand Hills: A History of the Cattle Industry in Arkansas. By C. J.
Brown. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1996. Pp. x+237.
Acknowledgments, acronyms, appendices, references, index. ISBN 155728-
439-3. $40.00, cloth.)
Connell J. Brown, professor emeritus of animal science at the University of
Arkansas, has written a work that provides a brief, undocumented historical
overview of cattle-raising in his state and recognizes the contributions of the
industry's prominent individuals and organizations. While gathering informa-
tion for a course on breed history and preparing articles on the Arkansas
Cattlemen's Association (ACA), he saw the need for a substantial study.

128

July

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117155/. Accessed September 1, 2014.