The Wanderer and the Spring. Preparing for a Course on the Apache Wars.

The Guardian publishes today (August 10, 2021) an article that begins by saying: “Texas, which exterminated or displaced most of the Indigenous people in the State, now wants to cash in on them.” This has to do with the fact that the Texas Historical Commission has asked the three remaining officially-recognized tribes in the State (Alabama-Coushatta, Kickapoo, Ysleta del Sur-Pueblo) to name sites that could be useful as tourist sites.  It continues: “[Governor Greg] Abbott and the Republican-controlled legislature have backed bills that prohibit the teaching of critical race theory, an academic discipline that examines the ways in which racism operates in US laws and society, and effectively bans teachers from discussing racism and the state’s history of racial violence.  Lawmakers also approved a patriotic education initiative called the 1836 project, named for the year Texas won its independence from Mexico and a rebuke to the 1619 project, the New York Times series that examined the legacy of slavery in the US.” 

That is the context in which I am preparing to teach for the first time a course on the Apache Wars–which, admittedly, happened in New Mexico and Arizona, in Chihuahua and Sonora, and not in Texas for the most part (although there were some Apache tribes in Texas that have since vanished).  It is a course for undergraduate students, HISP 363: Borderlands US-Mexico.  Since the Apache Wars lasted for many years, and they were at first wars between Apaches and Spaniards, then Apaches and Mexicans, finally Apaches and the United States and also Mexican forces, they are clearly a borderlands issue, although I do not believe such a class has been taught before, not at Texas A&M, not in the entire history of the institution.  In my class I will have students read books such as José Cortés’ Views from the Apache Frontier, Antonio García de León’s Misericordia.  El destino trágico de una collera de indios en la Nueva España, memoirs of the Apache campaigns by US army officers such as Britton Davis, Charles Gatewood, and John Gregory Bourke, and Paul Hutton’s The Apache Wars.  They will also watch films such as John Ford’s The Searchers or Walter Hill’s Geronimo.  And we will read two Mexican novels, Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive and Alvaro Enrigue’s Ahora me rindo y eso es todo.  I will encourage the students to take a weekend to drive north three hours and visit Geronimo’s grave in the Apache cemetery at Fort Sills, in Oklahoma (it is too difficult, there is too much red tape for organizing a field trip, particularly in COVID-19 times). 

I have no idea whether my course will be indicted by someone or other as a transgression of the letter or the spirit of some of the Texas regulations on teaching, but I intend not to pay attention to it or let it bother me.   The fact is, bringing up the Apaches and their de facto quasi-extermination (certainly as an independent people) in this day and age could by itself be taken as a morose act inspired by critical race theory, even if my intent is not particularly to discuss race, only the confrontation between colonizers and native inhabitants of some of the lands that ended up becoming Mexican or US lands. 

My impression, which has grown out of teaching experience, and leaving aside the fact that every class is different as it has a different group of students, is that current-day students in the State of Texas have no knowledge, no awareness, of the Indian Wars.  They don´t know what “Apache” names, even if they have heard the word (not all have).  People who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, like myself, had access and exposure to Western films, many of them depicting, in whatever manner, the Apache Wars, so we did know about the Apaches.  But Westerns have gone out of fashion, and they are indeed difficult to find even in the usual film platforms that are available today.   So I must assume pretty much a blank slate for this course.  At the end of the semester a number of students will probably tell me: “Oh! I had no idea.”  So be it. 

But say: part of my intent is to get the students to see that their current presence in life as they see it is grounded in the Apache Wars, and that their frame-of-mind is partially but significantly constituted by the privation of historical memory.  Privation is of course a form of presence–steresis, the Greek called it.  One also lives determined by whatever one is deprived of.  It is part of the reason why I will also have the students read, on a weekly basis, Martin Heidegger’s 1951-52 seminar What is Called Thinking?–because the seminar thematizes the issue of what calls for thinking even as it admits that what calls for thinking is mostly concealed from view.  In the first lecture Heidegger tells his students: “All through his life and right into his death, Socrates did nothing else than place himself into this draft [the draft of what withdraws], this current, and maintain himself in it.  This is why he is the purest thinker of the West.  This is why he wrote nothing.  For anyone who begins to write out of thoughtfulness must inevitably be like those people who run to seek refuge from any draft too strong for them.  An as yet hidden history still keeps the secret why all great Western thinkers after Socrates, with all their greatness, had to be such fugitives” (What Is Called Thinking? 17). Thinking became literature for the West as a result, part of its fugitiveness. But the Apaches had no literature–for them, thinking never became literature.  I have invited a couple of friends (Arturo Leyte, Laurence Paul Hemming) to lecture on these issues within the class.  (I have also invited John Kraniauskas, but he will lecture on Apache refusal, not Heidegger’s ideas).

Some of the students–perhaps even some parents, or administrators, or busybodies in general–might want to claim that it is absurd to visit this history that can only be understood as a privation, since privation does not exist, it is the inexistent.  So my play will be to try to convince everyone that privation does exist, that it accompanies us, and that it determines us.  And that even knowing nothing about the Apache Wars, for a Texan, is a substantial fact of life, not precisely positive as these things go. 

In the summer semester of 1932 Heidegger taught a class on Anaximander and Parmenides, early Greek thinkers.  In the early lectures he reflected on whether we may have access to things that have been clouded over by history, by distance, by historical change.  He proposed the following image:

“A wanderer in an arid region must distance himself more and more from the spring at which he first and last drew water.  Viewed soberly, his distance from this spring is thereby increasing.  He leaves the spring behind, and with the increasing distance he loses his orientation; the spring in the end lies inaccessibly far behind.  Assume the wanderer then dies of thirst.  Why did he die?  Presumably because at too great a distance from the spring he no longer had a relation to it.  Yet how is the too great distance from the spring no longer a relation to it?  At a sufficiently great distance, does this relation cease to be a relation, or is the excessively great distance from the spring always still a relation to it, a negative relation but still precisely a relation and even one that is hardly inconsequential?  . . . Does not the spring pursue him more importunately the closer he comes to dying of thirst?”  (Heidegger, The Beginning of Western Philosophy, 31)

            Of course it will be hardest to convince my students that they themselves may be dying of thirst.  Governor Greg Abbott, after all, says otherwise. 

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