- Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwestern Borderlands, 1680–1880 by Lance R. Blyth
Lance Blyth studies the neighboring communities of the Spanish presidio of Janos and part of the Apache nation that resided in its hinterland. The communities were socially, economically, and even genetically entwined through a two-century cycle of violence, negotiation and accommodation. The historical eras this study encompasses are the Spanish Borderlands, the Mexican frontier, and the American Southwest. Written in a gripping narrative style that weaves simultaneous events in both communities, the author posits that life in the borderlands rested on a dynamic of violence kept in check by the necessity to interact and reach accommodation with people who may have killed or abducted members of one’s own community.
Janos included soldiers, their families, and other vecinos of various social standing; the Chiricahuas were one of the main Apache groups whose home range was the headwaters of the Gila River. The twin communities resulted from events in the last quarter of the seventeenth century: the arrival of Hispanic settlers from New Mexico fleeing the Pueblo Revolt and the appearance of the Apache nation in the Southwest. These arrivals set off a process the author calls the “Apacheization” of local native cultures. Apaches quickly became dominant in large swaths of territory and adapted to their surroundings. By the middle of the eighteenth century, a balance based on reciprocal violence was characterized by relatively long periods of calm punctured by Chiricahua raids and subsequent Spanish punitive expeditions, before another truce was established. The frontier policy of the late Bourbon period increased militarization and the level of violence, but also brought a new trade policy that offered more possibilities for exchanges. This in turn created social dynamics within Apache groups that formed new bands and the opportunity to coalesce around larger raiding groups.
In the absence of missionaries in this part of the borderlands, the civic institutions and practices of the Spanish colonial state and the material support it provided were what attracted Apaches into the Spanish cultural orbit. The twin narratives of presidio officers and Chiricahua leaders during the last decades of the colonial regime and early Mexican Independence eras are well-woven and demonstrate the disarray in frontier policy during this turbulent period. The disruption of the old order decreased the importance of middlemen in obtaining supplies, creating profound effects on class, ethnic, and gender relations.
The arrival of the Americans with their different notions of territoriality, sovereignty, and relations between nation-states further destabilized the situation. A new reality intruded in the relationship between the communities: the invisible line demarcating the territories of the United States and Mexico. Because of the Gadsen Purchase, Janos commanders could no longer follow Chiricahuas to their traditional refuge now on the American side of the border; Chiricahua leaders with predisposed hostility towards Mexicans were baffled by the Americans’ refusal to allow cross-border raiding, and especially their stubborn reluctance to bargain for prisoners, an old practice crucial for maintaining a balance between communities. The book ends with the fascinating story of Geronimo and how, [End Page 94] despite his cunning and bravery, he was ultimately unable to successfully navigate the consolidation of the nation-states. This book is an important addition to borderlands studies, and the author does a superb job of using sources for all three periods under discussion and giving a balanced account of two co-dependent communities whose primary link was through ritualized violence.