One sunny November Saturday, I decided to take a road trip to the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona. I have been working on processing the Riggs family papers as well as investigating ranches in the borderlands for an upcoming exhibit, so I was curious to see the area where the Riggs’s have ranched since the 1870s. My first stop was in Willcox, AZ at the Rex Allen Museum where several of the Riggs men are recognized in the museum’s Cowboy Hall of Fame. It was interesting to see how this little corner of Arizona influenced the Hollywood movie industry with its wild and vibrant history of cowboys, cattle, Apache raids, and Mexican wars.
As I headed south from Willcox on Highway 186, my next stop, which was totally unplanned, was at a fenced-in pine grove that enclosed and sheltered a small family cemetery. I was surprised at how easily I located it without directions–the Riggs family cemetery.
I just saw it from the highway and sensed this was it. As I wandered through the graves I recognized the names from the Riggs family history book, Our El Dorado, written by John Casey Riggs and his daughter, Jeannette Riggs Roll.
I know their story pretty well now, having been processing this collection the past few months. These people were Arizona pioneers, struggling to make a home in an often unforgiving land. As I drove away from the pine grove, I knew I was traveling through Riggs country, a land of cattle, horses, and the ever important windmills. If I kept going south I would soon be in the town of Douglas at the U.S.-Mexico border, but I decided to leave that adventure for another day.
On Monday, November 28, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a student research symposium, “Reporting in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands,” hosted by UA Special Collections. Dozens of students, faculty, and local community members filed into our large conference room to listen to twelve presentations by students ranging from undergraduate juniors to Ph.D. candidates. All of the students were enrolled in an interdisciplinary class which counts towards Journalism and/or Latin American Studies credit this semester. It was taught by Dr. Celeste González de Bustamante with the assistance of Mike McKisson, a journalism professor.
The run-down of the students and their presentations
As the symposium’s title indicates, the presentations focused on each student’s reporting of a current issue of personal interest along the U.S.-Mexico border. The students were required to take at least one trip to the border per week during the semester, and most chose to base their research in Ambos Nogales. A few students did comparative research of the U.S.-Mexico border and the U.S.-Canadian border that provided a unique perspective to the current immigration discourse. All of the presenters spent time researching at UA Special Collections and many also worked directly with our Borderlands Curator, Verónica Reyes-Escudero, throughout the semester. In fact, most of the photographs used in the presentations that were not taken by the students themselves came from our collections.
While it is all too easy to become caught up in the fiery rhetoric surrounding immigration and our southern border, this symposium should be lauded for taking a step back and painting a more complete picture of life on the border. Students searched for stories that are often underreported in the national and even local news—stories of lifelong street vendors in Ambos Nogales, housing rights in Sonora, and bison reintroduction in the Blackfeet Nation.
A community in Nogales, Sonora
The Nogales border
I’m grateful that the U of A has students who are willing and able to do such tough, on-the-ground reporting. I’m also thankful that I can work at a place like Special Collections that encourages and enriches these stories.
Not your picture-perfect saguaro
Today, I got to work on a last minute project at Special Collections. My supervisor, Veronica Reyes-Escudero, is out of the office today, so she asked me to scan some photos that someone requested to promote Special Collections on a Tucson tourism website. The object was to find some visually rich photos that invoke visions of Tucson so that visitors would be excited enough to come see and use the archives. I was excited to get another chance to peruse the photos in our Arizona Southwest Border Region Photo Collection, but I wasn’t exactly sure what to look for. I asked some coworkers to name some things that are iconic in Tucson, and they all said to look for saguaros or cacti.
As I looked through the filing cabinets full of photos that document life here in the Southwest region, I couldn’t help but think about my other project here at work, searching for photos and researching information for an exhibit that focuses on the juxtaposition of myth and reality in the border region in Arizona. While working on the exhibit project, I have learned that the dominant narrative about the border overlooks much of the complexity of real daily life. What is the dominant narrative of Tucson? So far, much of what people think of when they imagine Tucson is harsh desert, cowboys and cactus, but we know there is much more to it. Adding unique images to tourism websites could help complicate the stereotypes about this town and bring tourism for new reasons like our bustling food scene, for example.
Rodeo in Tucson, ca. 1950s.
I was also excited to do this small searching project because it helped me understand one of the many practical uses for archives today. Websites are in constant need of interesting visuals to make them more inviting and attractive to visitors, and archives can provide it. Instead of using bland stock photography, website designers can make use of archives, and add beautiful historical images, which are often of low cost to reproduce, to add meaningful content to their websites.
Two weeks ago I was recruited by Veronica Reyes-Escudero, Borderlands Curator at the University of Arizona’s Main Library Special Collections, to help locate and research archival materials for an upcoming 2017 exhibit. My assigned research topic is the ranches of southern Arizona along the border from around 1900 to the 1940s. I have been processing the John Casey Riggs collection since I began working as a graduate assistant at Special Collections back in September, so this project fits perfectly with the Riggs Cattle Company materials.
The history of cattle ranching in Southern Arizona goes far back to the Spaniards coming into the area with herds of livestock, most famously Father Kino, who, in the late 1600s to early 1700s, established missions along the Santa Cruz River and began teaching farming practices and livestock production to the native peoples living in the area. It is not difficult to find information on the major Anglo ranches from about 1870 forward. Special Collections has extensive records from Empire Ranch, Hilton Ranch, Green Cattle Company, San Simon Cattle Company, and others; however, the smaller Mexican ranches are not as well documented and, sadly, are disappearing from history. Now and then you will find reference to the smaller ranches as they were incorporated into the larger ones or usurped by the U.S. government, oftentimes in nefarious ways. One such example is the Manuel Amado family who owned the Los Reales ranch and dairy farm near San Xavier Mission and were run-off by the U.S. government when the surrounding area was established as a reservation for the Pagagos around 1874. These are the stories we want to document for the upcoming exhibit.
As I delve for more information, I am amazed at what turns up in the collections we have here. The latest surprise was a small box containing two rusty spurs and a brace of flintlock pistols from the Green Cattle Company Collection (MS 496) that I have assessed date back to the 1700s—perhaps even from the Spanish mission period. Like I stated before in an earlier blog, you never know what you might find in the archives!
Last week I was asked to assist with preparations for the upcoming exhibit on the Borderlands by our Borderlands Curator, Veronica Reyes-Escudero. Though this is not my primary responsibility–I’m still processing the Joe Howard Collection and will eventually contribute to a digital project with Erika Castaño–I am honored to play my small part.
Beltrán, a priest, and a cat
My job is to search through a box of articles, manuscripts, and photographs of Carmen Celia Beltrán and identify any pertinent information that could be used in the exhibit. Beltrán was born in Durango, Mexico, in 1905 and moved to Texas with her parents and six siblings as a child. She was a poet, playwright, author, and produced her own radio show. Her work focused specifically on Hispanic theater, and she was deeply involved with the local Catholic community throughout her life. The Tucson, Arizona, community was the beneficiary of this creative woman’s passion for bilingual education and the arts after she moved here in her early 30s. Due to her great influence, she earned awards from the Mexican American Unity Council, the city of Tucson, and in 2006 the University of Arizona dedicated a place in the Women’s Plaza of Honor to her. She passed away in 2002.
Beltrán at the inauguration ceremony of the Carmen Celia Beltrán Hispanic Theatre Archives–May 30, 1992 (see program below)
I’m still in the preliminary stages of searching for relevant biographical information and published material, but I’m looking forward to learning more about Beltrán and the lasting impact she had on Tucson and the Mexican American community.
I encourage everyone to check out the Arizona Historical Society in order to learn more about Carmen Celia Beltrán. Here is the link to their finding aid: http://www.arizonahistoricalsociety.org/wp-content/upLoads/library_Beltran-CarmenC.pdf
For more information on her life visit this webpage: http://www.womensheritagetrail.org/women/CarmenBeltran.php
And, of course, be sure to come to the Borderlands exhibit here at the U of A Special Collections Library this spring!!
These past few weeks, I have been quite busy at the archive working with Veronica Reyes-Escudero, our Borderlands Curator, to prepare an exhibit that will be up on display at the beginning of next semester. The exhibit is inspired by the work of two authors on visual representations of the border from 1900-1950, and will go further to explore the myths and realities of the border region during that time. We have a tight deadline, so I was excited that I was invited to help.
A Mexican and an American solider posing on the border, Douglas, 1915
When I started, however, I had no idea how much effort is required to put on an exhibit. My first step was to get some context about the topic. I read a chapter from each of the books that are serving as inspiration for the exhibit. Celluloid Pueblo by Dr. Jennifer Jenkins examines the cultural impact of the Western Ways documentary films produced in Tucson. Postcards from the Sonora Border by Daniel Arreola analyzes the significance of postcard photography of Sonoran border towns. After reading, I started looking through our collections using our online catalog to find material that would complement the information in the books. Working with the curator, I am looking for voices and stories that are usually overlooked when talking about the border during this time period. Materials have to be selected so that they flow well and create a narrative that visitors understand and follow. Once we select the material that will be displayed, we must make labels in order to provide context and give it a sense of place in the exhibit. Meanwhile, materials have to be labeled so that they can go right back where they were found in the archive once the exhibit is over.
Recently, I have been working mostly on doing background research and pulling materials from the archive, so I get to learn more about the history of the border region every day. For a variety of reasons, the dominant historical narrative about the border region tends to be simplistic and fails to acknowledge the complexities of real life during that time. I am happy that I am getting a wider perspective of history and can’t wait to see people come and visit the exhibit!
Tombstone Epitaph, Nov. 1921
It was a dark and stormy evening in the small border town of Nogales, Sonora, Mexico; the year was 1921. As the Tombstone Epitaph reported, a letter signed by the “Black Hand” was delivered to a local saloon-keeper, who, rather than follow the instructions of the extortion letter, decided to arm himself and let nature take its course. This is just one of many mystery stories from the Wild West that you can find in archival collections.
There is much to explore in Special Collections, as my graduate assistant colleagues and I have found out lately. If you want to investigate reports of mystery, murder, and the macabre, you have come to the best place! However, not all of the mysteries are on paper. Some of the objects that are donated to the archives are often more than a little mysterious and sometimes downright creepy!
Boot Hill, Tombstone, AZ
Trick-or-treaters, circa 1920s
The creaking of the shelves and the shimmer of light off the plastic covering the portraits hanging in a far corner can sometimes get your heart racing as you move through silent rows of shelves stacked with boxes with secrets concealed within. Of course, the average citizen doesn’t get to just wander around the basement of the archives. If you truly want to know more about the secrets within Special Collections, come visit us, if you dare.