Big Jim: A thrice-blessed land

2014-05-27T00:00:00Z 2014-09-12T09:22:34Z Big Jim: A thrice-blessed landJim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Eugene Manlove Rhodes was a writer of Westerns — a rather special one. From 1880 till 1905 he lived in southern New Mexico, working as a wrangler, cowboy, miner, and whatever else he turned his hand to. Then he married and spent the next decades farming in upstate New York and missing deeply the hot, dry lands and the people of his youth. His response was to put that world, those people, and their work on paper so that we can meet them today.

He was also a crusader of sorts — for the West, for common folk, against what he perceived as a narrow, northeastern sort of literary caste system. He had his faults as a writer, but they were greatly outweighed by the facts that he wrote from the inside about a fascinating time and place in our history, and that he loved the English language in many of its variations.

In one of the digressions that appeared occasionally in his stories, he wrote that southwesterners were fortunate in that we have two sets of history. There are the stories that move from East to West, often called “American History,” and those coming from South to North, which were seldom mentioned at all in his day. He was proud of both.

I’d like to take Rhodes a bit farther and suggest that we in this Pimería Alta have yet another set of stories — those that reflect the world of our sister state of Sonora. We really are parts of the same place, and so many of our people, traditions and stories can’t really be enjoyed or understood without taking into account both sides of the line — or should I say “fence?” That’s why I write so much about Sonora, a place we’ll be visiting again in a week or so.

Just to muddy things up a little more, what we call the Southwest only started being that a century and a half ago. Before that it was Northwest Mexico, preceded by Northwest New Spain, and earlier still it was the northwesternmost recipient of cultural impulses coming from the Valley of Mexico. Until the Gadsden Purchase, we weren’t to the southwest of anything that amounted to a hill of beans. And to this day, it is our “northwestishness” — the food, stories and customs that have been influenced by the Native and European traditions to the south of us — that makes us such an exotic and exciting place to visit or live in.

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About this blog

Jim Griffith is the former director of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona, and co-founder of Tucson Meet Yourself. He’s also the author of seven books on the folklore and folklife of our region, most recently “A Border Runs Through It.” His books can be purchased at tucson.com/wildcatgear.

If you have questions or suggestions for Jim Griffith or this blog, e-mail bigjimgriffith@gmail.com

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