Tuesday, March 7, 2017
On Two Big Houses (with digression on Mexican Border Wall)
According to legend recounted by tour-guides at his Scottsdale mansion, William Wrigley Jr. was a poor student of unruly disposition. Expelled from private school for throwing a pie against the ivied wall of that academy, Wrigley’s father, a martinet, sentenced him to hard labor in the family’s soap factory. As the tale goes, William Wrigley spent ten years stirring for ten hours a day a vast and malodorous pot brimming with molten animal fat rendered into tallow. He married his wife, Ada, when he was 29 and absconded from the soap factory, traveling to Chicago with spouse and 32 dollars in his pocket. In the Windy City, Wrigley hawked soap on the streets, sweetening the deal for his customers by throwing in a free tin of baking soda with each sale. Surprisingly, the baking soda was more popular than his soap and Wrigley distributed a lot of the stuff. After a while, the young entrepreneur abandoned the sale of his "scouring soap" in favor of retailing baking soda. Experimenting with other "free gifts" at the point of purchase, Wrigley began offering customers sticks of chewing gum as a premium. A vast fortune flowed from these humble beginnings.
During the 1880's, chewing gum was marketed primarily to women as an aid to digestion. The unflavored gum was sold in large wafers. Wrigley’s innovation was to flavor his gum. He invented spearmint, peppermint, and the perennially popular "juicy fruit" flavors sweetening the gum that almost immediately became his sole product. Wrigley built his empire on flavored chewing gum. Apparently, the sale of gum is vastly lucrative – when the Wrigley gum company was sold in 2008 to Mars, Inc., the company that makes candy bars and M & M’s (" the candy that melts in your mouth not in your hands") the buyer paid 23 billion dollars.
The Depression didn’t affect chewing gum sales. If anything, people could treat their hunger pangs by exercising their jaws on a stick of gum. In 1929, William Wrigley built his fourth house in Scottsdale, Arizona as a 50th anniversary present to his wife, Ada. (Wrigley’s home town was Chicago and he had mansions in Pasadena and on Catalina Island – in fact, Wrigley owned the whole island and built the famous Casino there, a sort of fabulous seaside Xanadu.) The mansion overlooks the Biltmore resort, a luxury hotel with golf course, propped up against Scottsdale’s Camelback Mountain. Wrigley developed the resort with other investors but bought them out when the construction on the property was finished. Frank Lloyd Wright spent four months working as a consultant on the Biltmore resort, although he did not design the project. Wrigley and Wright, both from Chicago and prickly personalities, clashed. Wrigley’s mansion is built in an odd fusion of Moorish and southwestern styles – it is a conventional looking palazzo cresting a knoll about a quarter mile from the more modernist Biltmore. Wright denounced the mansion, saying "old man Wrigley has put his wad on display up on that hill." The Biltmore looked to the future; the Wrigley Mansion looked to the past. Wrigley hired an Italian artisan to paint the elaborate coffered ceilings in his mansion and burro trains marched across the desert from the Phoenix rail-head for several days carrying heavy loads of Spanish tile manufactured by Wrigley’s employees in a ceramics factory on Catalina Island.
Due to vagaries of Scottsdale zoning, the big house Wrigley built for Ada must remain a residence or may be denoted a private club. Since no one lives in the house today, the mansion is regarded as a private club, although one that anyone can join on paying the fee for admission. (So are the mighty fallen!) On a cool Spring morning, the house is very pleasant. The entrance rotunda is surmounted by a spoked wheel of timbers, the pie-slices between the joists painted in the sort of colors that you can imagine extracted from iron-ore bearing clays and various kinds of flowers and cochineal beetles. The walls are stuccoed white and a graceful cantilevered stairway spirals around the circular lobby leading to the residential rooms upstairs. The sunniest part of the house, a place with tall windows, has been converted into a restaurant – the kitchen is hidden somewhere in an administrative part of the structure. A large, and relatively unpretentious hall, extends to the side away from the rotunda. The hall also has an elaborate ceiling, coffers painted with colors similar to those in the entrance – the decorative motifs are elaborate stars wrapped in gilded frames and fleur-de-lys patters where pilasters join the ceiling. Some lousy, dim-looking and faded paintings hang in frames probably more valuable than the pictures themselves – there is a faux Claude or, possibly, Turner, its luminous central void considerably darkened around an array of harbor-facing classical temples and peculiar-looking imitations of Gainsborough portraits. Even more bizarre is a much-eroded picture of Charles I at the hunt in direct imitation of Anthony Van Dyke’s portrait – somehow, the stylish cavalier in the painting doesn’t fit the frame and so he has been unceremoniously hacked off at the knees.
This ceremonial room is large and comfortable. It’s most impressive feature is a big, sepulchral-looking Steinway, also fitted-up as a player piano. Only one other hybrid piano exists in the world – it is a combination of world class concert-ready grand piano with a primitive computer (called a "tablet’) that allows the device to unscroll player piano-rolls through its mechanism and, thereby, play itself. Wrigley commissioned several piano rolls of George Gershwin performing his "Rhapsody in Blue" and it is a spooky treat to see the piano’s keys mysteriously rising and falling as a ghost Gershwin labors over his great composition – we are seeing, of course, the exact configuration of notes as they were played by the composer, his own precise interpretation of the music, and this encounter with the spectral, long-dead composers sends a chill down your spine.
Climbing the cantilevered stair to the second floor, the tourist (now club-member) finds the small and airless chambers of a typical mansion made in the early part of the 20th century – the detail work is superb and each room contains its own custom-built fireplace crafted from exotic Arizona stones, but, in general, the aspect of the mansion devoted to the actual craft of living is underwhelming. Each room has its own bathroom and they are lavishly tiled, but dark and lightless and mattress-benches have been placed over the huge sarcophagus-sized tubs, apparently, to keep the people entering on tour from sprawling out in those cavernous cisterns to take unlicensed baths. In the manner of a grand house of the its time, both master and mistress have their own bedroom suites. The Wrigleys were affectionate, however, and William died in bed with his wife in her suite only a year or so after the house was complete. Over the entrance to the house, there is a slab of alabaster depicting a hand holding a rose. The rose droops down almost released from the stony fingers. Wrigley said that as long as the hand gripped the rose by its marmoreal petals his love for Ada would endure. The petrified hand and rose still caps the door into the house, the lintel at the mansion’s threshold.
In the third generation, Wrigley family members despaired of the house – it’s upkeep was expensive and the neighborhood now congested, the desert between the manor on the hill and downtown Phoenix nine miles away built into another kind of wasteland: all snarling traffic and strip malls and barren-looking suburbs. In 1973, the mansion, called "The Star of Phoenix", was sold to a cabal of wealthy businessmen who converted the home into their club-house. Memberships in the elite society were very expensive and there was no clear agenda for the use of the home. So, after another decade or so, the property was on the market again.
Enter Geordie Hormel. He acquired the home in peculiar circumstances and lived there for more than 20 years. Geordie died in 2006 but his trust still manages the property. (Tour guides will tell you that Geordie’s young widow and his two daughters often come for brunch on Sunday morning.) My Austin readers will know something about Geordie – indeed, he is legendary in the small town where I live and where the food corporation founded by his grandfather has its world headquarters. But, to my other readers, I owe the courtesy of a brief digression on this man.
In the late 19th century, a German immigrant and butcher named George Hormel founded a meat packing plant in Austin. George Hormel was a dour, unimaginative, and hardworking man and, by small town standards, he was extraordinarily prosperous. George Hormel’s son, Jay Catherwood Hormel was a brilliant businessman and technical innovator. He built the enterprise into a Fortune 500 Company before his early death in the nineteen-fifties. (George and Jay Hormel, father and son, died within a year of one another). The third generation of Hormel family members showed no interest in the family business with one exception, Geordie. Wonderfully handsome and gregarious, Geordie Hormel mingled with the people in Austin, drank beer and whisky with them and poached the local glamor girls and seemed, at least, initially, interested in assuming the mantle as heir-apparent and leader of the company. He served an apprenticeship in the plant and seems to have worked in marketing for a few years. By the late-fifties, the Hormel family had largely abandoned Austin for warmer climes – the family’s center of gravity was in Pasadena with branches in San Francisco (two of George’s sons were homosexual.) Geordie divided his time between Hollywood and Austin. Renowned as the "Pork Prince", he consorted with a wild and fast crowd of young actors and actresses in Los Angeles. In fact, once, he was convicted of possession of marijuana with his friend, Robert Mitchum. Geordie had a French mother, a war bride that Jay brought back from the Western Front, and, presumably, he spoke that language. Somehow, he managed to woo the French movie star, Leslie Caron. They were married and Geordie, still imagining that he had some role with the family company, moved his bride to Austin. He built her a large, if gloomy mansion, in a forest near town that is always snowy – even in May, one can find odd drifts of decaying snow in the deep and tangled thickets in that woods. The marriage lasted less than a year.
Geordie withdrew from the company. There is a saying about small town life that is indubitably, and brutally, true: In a small town, there is no one more beloved than a small-town boy who has left the village of his birth and made it big; conversely, a small-town hates no one more than a small-town boy who has stayed at home and prospered. Geordie showed signs of falling into the trap of the latter. He lost interest in packing pork, started restaurants and jazz clubs in Austin, and, after these ventures failed, he returned to Los Angeles where he worked in the movie and TV industry composing music. According to legend, Geordie refused financial assistance from the company or his family and was deadset on making his own way. (In other versions of the legend, the family refused to support Geordie because of his bohemian aspirations in the music industry). He married again, a beauty queen – Sammy Davis, Jr. appeared at the wedding as Best Man. This marriage also failed – Geordie was as beautiful as a movie star himself with startling black hair and Mephistophelean black eyebrows and he seems to have been congenitally unfaithful to the women in his life. For about a decade, Geordie supported himself writing jingles for advertisements and theme music for TV shows – he scored most of the early Hanna-Barbara cartoons and wrote the themes for Gunsmoke and Lassie as well as The Untouchables and The Fugitive. Then, marshaling all his resources, Geordie, a talented jazz pianist, purchased a recording studio. This studio, Village Recording, was the love of his life and the business upon which he lavished his technical acumen and not inconsequential business skills.
Geordie had inherited his father Jay’s interest in scientific innovation and he made his West Hollywood Studio a focal point for new technology in recording. Geordie renovated the building, formerly a Masonic Lodge, and utilized its Moroccan Ballroom for recording large ensembles and for music awards ceremonies. With Herbie Hancock, he purchased Fairlight and made another fortune producing keyboards. Equipped with the motto "the customer is always right," Geordie’s studio hosted historical recordings by just about every jazz and pop musician of any substance in the United States – the list of artists who made records at Village Recording runs the gamut from Ray Charles and Johnny Cash to Frank Zappa. (Charley Manson also cut a demo-tape there.)
Geordie’s interest in the nexus between technology and music recording brought him to the Wrigley Mansion. He knew that the mansion club owned one of two Steinway player pianos in existence and Geordie wanted to acquire that instrument together with its priceless piano rolls. He came to Scottsdale in 1983 and inspected the piano. It was exactly as advertised, a monument to recording technology as it existed in the late twenties and a peerless musical instrument. But there was a problem, the piano was immensely heavy and it could not be transported from the mansion without risk of damage – accordingly, the Wrigley family had stipulated by deed that the mansion was not to be sold without the piano and that, in fact, the instrument should remain in perpetuity on the property. Faced with these restrictions, Geordie had no choice but to buy the mansion itself – he paid about 2.6 millions dollars for the property including the precious piano. (A little later, hoping to furnish the house in proper style, Geordie spent another two million dollars on the Old Masters adorning the walls – almost all of the painting turned out to be fake, resulting in litigation for another ten years that ultimately Hormel lost.)
Ultimately, Geordie retired from the Village Recording business and moved to Scottsdale. He married for a third time, a fashion model fifty years his junior. Geordie was probably too old too stray and became a devoted husband, the marriage producing two daughters. When I came to Austin in 1979, the town was rife with rumors of Geordie sightings – he was said to have been seen in a bar on the East Side or drinking champagne in the Tiki Pub, a grass-thatched strip tease parlor that Geordie had founded as a jazz club twenty years earlier. People said that they saw him in Todd Park sitting at a picnic table or that he was in secret attendance when the ancient Dickensian slaughterhouse was imploded by an demolition contractor, its great red-brick towers toppling to the ground. People saw him driving in circles around the new plant, inspecting it with a jaundiced eye. No one could describe exactly how Geordie looked, but he was said to be fantastically handsome still and as charismatic as a matinee idol. Some said that he maintained a mistress in town and visited her once a year. Another person saw him attending a football came, watching the Austin Packers win against rival Albert Lea. During the great and tragic strike, union members said that Geordie was going to fly to Austin and that he would land in his private jet on the runway of the airport primarily built for use by Hormel corporate planes. The strikers said that he would call the opposing sides together and that by the sheer force of his majestic and epic personality, he would settle the conflict. People actually believed this and waited anxiously in the taverns where they plotted guerilla war against the company – denuding Spam cans, for instance, of their key-openers – everyone expecting Geordie to suddenly appear, whisked out of the sky on his jet, come to make peace in his poor, divided home-town.
But, of course, Geordie never returned to Austin. The sightings were all cases of mistaken identity. Geordie contended himself with sniping at the company from Scottsdale. "Spam," he declared, "is a good product – you can open the tin, throw out the meat which is horrible, and use the container to bake beans. I’ve done this many times on camping trips and it works great." By this point, Geordie had become a Buddhist and vegetarian.
At the Wrigley mansion, there are several galleries of large black and white photographs showing Geordie Hormel. You can see him as a young man, improbably handsome and elegantly dressed. In one picture, he stands next to his father Jay Hormel, his grandfather also nearby – the family is posed outside of the Hormel Mansion in downtown Austin and Jay wears suspenders. He has his thumbs tucked into his trousers and stands with his legs apart, very much a captain of industry, and young Geordie is beside him, gazing at his father with something like superstitious awe. There are other pictures of Geordie with various beautiful women, photographs of him reclining on a keyboard in the dark womb of this recording studio, and a large image of the man, cigarette in his mouth, pacing along the mean streets in New York City, a iconic picture that looks like a frame from an early movie by Godard or Truffaut.
As an old man, Geordie had shoulder-length white hair and wore round granny glasses. He was built like a butcher, a heavy-set muscular man. He threw open the doors to the Wrigley Mansion and invited the public to come inside to his restaurant and jazz club. The name of the club was Geordies and it had a famous jazz brunch. Sometimes, upscale diners enjoying their brunch would look into the big ceremonial room next to the restaurant and see an old man, dressed in sweat pants and barefoot, playing the famous Steinway piano. Invariably, someone would report this apparition to management – "some kind of tramp or hobo has broken into the house and is messing with the piano." And, then, management would have to assure the complainants that the old tramp was Geordie Hormel himself, entertaining them by improvising on the famous piano.
Although it probably makes him spin in his grave, the café in the mansion, still called Geordies serves a brilliant Spam cubano. The sandwich arrives on toasted wheat bread. A slab of fried Spam is inserted into the sandwich atop a delicately spiced heap of pulled pork. The sandwich is served on a wooden block with a bright blue and yellow Spam can filled with home-made potato chips. Several slivers of pickle are included. It costs about $14.95, overpriced but, then, you are paying, in part, for the ambience and the sandwich is very, very good.
In the middle of the 17th century, Eusebio Chinus was born in the Holy Roman Empire at Trentino (now Italy). Chinus became a Jesuit priest and was trained in Bavaria. His most earnest desire was to be assigned missionary work in China like his hero Francis Xavier. (Chinus may have felt a particular affinity for the Chinese missions because of his surname – it means something like "the Chink.") Workers were needed among the Indians in the Sonoran desert, however, and so Father Chinus, now named Eusebius Xavier Kino was assigned to remote part of Mexico called the alto Pimeria – the upper territory of the Pima Indians. The alto Pimeria encompasses what is presently northern Sonora, Baja California, and Arizona.
Kino was immensely successful in the duties charged to him and, ultimately, founded 22 missions. One of them, the great church and school at San Xavier del Bac, still ministers to the Indians. (The place is fantastically beautiful, called by Anselm Adams, "the white dove in the desert.") Kino was a renaissance man interested in astronomy, literature, botany, and zoology. He was a great explorer and wanderer in the deserts and, during one of his forays into the wilderness, discovered the ruins of the big house now called Casa Grande. The structure is a cyclopean block of adobe brick, almost 50 feet high, roofless now but with side-walls pocked with holes for viga beams to support not merely one roof at its summit, but also three lower floors as well. For several acres around the towering ruin, smaller walls and enclosures rise like smashed knuckles from the sun-blasted caliche or desert pavement. A oval pit with crumbling masonry walls was all that remained of the amphitheater of a ball park. The place as abandoned, broken walls and the high impenetrable rampart of the big house surrounded by flat, immobile desert, flickering at its edges with mirages, a place so barren that not even mice or jack-rabbits lived there. Kino wrote some notes in his journal and continued on his way. This was the year 1691.
These ruins are now central to Casa Grande National Monument, an archaeological reserve near the commercial strip connecting Coolidge to Florence, Arizona. The big house is protected by an impressive awning supported by great steel girders and four immense metal pylons – this structure, in some ways as interesting as the ruin, was built by the CCC in the thirties to protect the adobe tower from the torrential monsoon rains that arrive in each July and August in the northern Sonoran desert. Rain-sculpted walls housing dozens of small cell-like enclosure seem to kneel before the great tower. The remains of the pueblo walls and apartments extrude from the yellow hard-pan salmon-colored, like fins emerging from a still body of water. The location of the site is unprepossessing – there is a Walmart only a quarter mile away, some auto-parts stores, and fast food places. The terrain is completely without charm, flat basin stretching toward mountain ranges so remote that they are half-hidden below the horizon and peer over the edges of the earth as stylized blue-green pyramids. In this part of Arizona, prisons dominate the landscape. There is an immense and sinister-looking detention center at Florence – indeed, the entirety of that melancholy city seems to be concrete compounds surrounded by barbed wire fences with watchtowers lined-up to overlook the grim featureless prisons.
The cool, linear forms of the big awning holding the ruins in its embrace contrasts vividly with the eroded tower. The tower is riven by cracks at its top and cratered where the roof has collapsed. The sun and wind and rain have abraded the walls into the form of a square butte, more a naturally occurring feature in this landscape than a man-made structure. The impregnable, inhuman look of the big house is amplified by the fact that it has no windows, merely a few ports, round like a place where a burrowing bird might nest. There are doors on each side of the building, forlorn-looking shadowy openings shaped like an engorged letter "T". The inside of the structure, viewed through bars keeping you outside, is a grotto-like well made from melting walls of mud brick. At its base, the walls of the big house are six feet thick, faced with adobe brick and, then, plastered with caliche. The structure is estimated to have a weight of 60,000 tons and was made by workers hauling clay from quarries in the area where the Walmart and its parking lots are now located. The workers carried the clay in baskets, 60 pounds at a time. The upper three stories were supported by juniper logs, each about four to eight feet long with wicker floors woven together and, then, plastered with lime cement. There is no wood anywhere near by. The logs were hewn with stone axes in mountains sixty miles away and carried by teams of men to the building site. In all respects, the enterprise was immense.
No one really knows what the building was for. The casa grande was erected around 1300 AD when the adjacent village had about 2500 residents. Other villages were scattered across the plain, probably all within site of one another, and the Indians grew squash, beans, corn, and chili in fields irrigated by a system of ditches diverting water away from the San Pedro river. Casa Grande is built at the farthest reach of the irrigation ditches, about 17 miles from the river. The ditch system, an astounding feat of engineering, complete with weirs to control water flow and carefully designed gradients to convey the water through the cultivated fields is comprised of more than 200 miles of adobe-lined trench – some of the trenches were nine feet deep. Around 1400, Casa Grande was abandoned. People left the village and great house over the course of a generation. In the end, the entire complex of villages and agricultural fields was also lost to the desert.
Of course, it is a false enigma to claim that the people who lived at Casa Grande mysteriously vanished. However, other Indians in the vicinity were puzzled by the ruins. They said that the tower and the fallen ramparts around it were made by the "huhugum" or Hohokam as they are sometimes called – "huhugum" means "vanished ones." In fact, the villagers seem to have simply moved to other village in the alto Pimeria and the Indians to which Father Kino ministered were, in fact, the descendants of those people who had built Casa Grande. What are these people named? Kino called them the Pima – but "pima" is an Indian word that means "I don’t know." Apparently, someone asked a native informant as to the name of the local Indians and was told "pima" – that is, "I don’t know." From this misunderstanding, the entire territory was named: alto Pimeria. Later, the Apaches scornfully called the desert Indians "papago" – this means something like "beaner" or "chatter boxes." Today, the Indians living in this area call themselves the Tohono O’odham – that is, "desert dwellers." The proper (approved) name for the people who built Casa Grande is "ancestral Tohono O’odham" or "ancestral desert dwellers."
So why was the monumental "big house" now called Casa Grande abandoned? All sorts of explanations have been proposed – perhaps, nomadic raiders frightened the people away, or there was climate change or the Tohono O’odham population exceeded the carrying capacity for the fragile ecosystem. I will suggest another hypothesis based on my visit to the Wrigley Mansion, another big house now abandoned except to tourists, on the slopes of the Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale.
The Wrigley Mansion existed as dynastic "big house" for about three generations. Thereafter, it was used as a club and, then, owned by another wealthy man unrelated to original family that built the place. In effect, the Scottsdale Wrigley Mansion survived as a residence for about four generations – about 80 years. Archaeologists believe that Casa Grande was occupied for about 100 years. Therefore, the time-scales are roughly congruent – from erection to desertion, dynastic big houses survive in their original capacity for three to four generations.
When considering the remote past, interpreters often seek exotic or imaginative explanations for events – there is a tendency, for instance, to exaggerate the role of religion and superstition and view artifacts of the past primarily as evidence of ritual practices. Viewed in this light, one might interpret the many fleur-de-lys decorations in the Wrigley mansion as proof of a flourishing vegetative cult, a religion involving flowers sprouting from the earth as some sort of guarantor of future fruitfulness. (In fact, we know that Wrigley’s wife claimed French aristocratic blood and that the fleur-de-lys was a tribute to Ada’s genealogical pretensions.) Often explanations of this sort defy the principle of Occam’s razor, the notion that the simplest interpretation is generally the best.
A simple fact, shown by the destiny of the Wrigley Mansion, is that dynasties weaken and their vigor lessens with time. From the virile indefatigable founder to the dilettante grandson or great-grandson, there is a span of three to four generations. The Hormel family began butchering pigs but by Geordie’s generation was involved primarily in esthetic activities – fostering the arts of music and recording that music. After just three generations, no members of the Hormel household were involved in the family industry. Similarly, after three generations, the industrial energy and ambition of the Wrigley family had been depleted – simply stated there was no one left to run the family enterprise and the business had to be sold. We don’t need to be a student of Buddenbrooks to understand that enterprising entrepreneurs don’t necessarily produce more than a couple generations of successors willing to carry on the family business. Decadence, it seems, is a natural condition of life.
The big house at Casa Grande is built at a point 17 miles distant from the life-giving San Pedro River. The cultivated land around that big house bore witness to the expertise of ancestral Tohono Oo’dham in managing water resources. Presumably, the big house was occupied by some chieftain whose prestige arose from his (or her) management of the canals necessary to support the villages in the area. Anyone who lives in a rural area understands that managing and conserving an elaborate system of drainage and irrigation ditches is a full-time activity. Significant human resources must be devoted to inspecting the ditch system, repairing weirs, and cleaning out places where the canals have eroded and become blocked with debris. Just as great labor was required to construct the irrigation system in the first place, additional resources must be applied to maintenance of the ditches on a daily, or, at least, seasonal basis. Monsoon rains might result in flooding and breach of dikes. During dry seasons, dust will infiltrate canals or plants undermine the integrity of impoundment basins. Much bucket-labor accomplished with wicker baskets had to be applied to the irrigation system to maintain gradients necessary to the flow of water into the more remote parts of the irrigation network. The vital canals, accordingly, had to be serviced by a labor force and, I presume, these workers were under the direction of the family inhabiting the Casa Grande. The big house is built with certain orifices helpful, it is argued, to predicting the seasons, establishing dates for planting crops, and analyzing lunar motion for the purpose of prophesying eclipses of the moon – ports in the house at its upper levels are claimed to have calender significance: when the sun or moon aligns with a certain opening, calculations can be made as to the season and time of year. These features at the Big House at Casa Grande suggest that the structure housed people whose role was related to managing water resources by understanding seasonal changes, predicting rainy seasons, and determining when crops should be planted.
Although the denizens of the Casa Grande, in my view, were primarily concerned with utilitarian water management activities, there is no doubt that these chieftains claimed supernatural affiliation with the phenomena that they monitored. Probably, their prestige was bound up in the ability to predict seasonal events relating to water resources and their administrative power to command the labor force necessary to maintaining the irrigation canals. To understand a field of endeavor is to exercise control over it. My speculation is that the family in the Great House was instrumental in creating the life-giving canals, managing them, and, further, claimed some ability to intervene in weather events to implement the conveyance of water to the villages.
But after three generations, or four at the most, the lineage is exhausted. The genetic material wears thin. A new generation is uninterested in the hard business of slaughtering pigs or making chewing gum or managing an intricate water system. Perhaps, a drought intervenes, further eroding the prestige of the Great House family. A breach in the canal occurs and the man or woman in the Big House doesn’t care – no one commands a work force to repair the dysfunctional ditch: manana...we will get to that tomorrow. The gradient isn’t properly maintained and sediment changes the elevations of the ditch bottoms so that water no longer flows to the more remote villages. Furthermore, no one knows exactly how to maintain gradients to keep the canals viable and flowing. The prestige of the water managing family collapses. Orders are given but not implemented. No new irrigation ditches are built. When the roof above the tower’s fourth floor collapses, there are no vigas in the warehouse with which to make repairs. The nearest mountains with junipers big enough to support the roof are sixty miles away. No one is willing to go that distance to lug the big logs back to the village. In another generation, the place is silent, deserted, sand sifting down into the canals and the old mud-brick walls melting into the caliche.
Digression on the Border Wall: The United States is now in the throes of what the French call an Egocrite – that is, a regime in which the leading politician claims an exact identity between himself and the State. It is well-known that President Trump has promised to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Some of this wall, of course, would pass through Arizona.
One problem with this quixotic venture is that some fifty miles of this border, west of Phoenix, lies within the Tohono O’odham Nation. Furthermore, this Reservation straddles the border. At least, 2000 members of the tribe live across the border in Sonora, Mexico. Accordingly, as far as the sovereign Tohono O’odham Nation is concerned, the citizens of that polity reside both in Mexico and the United States and are accustomed to traveling freely between the two countries. When Arizona was acquired by the Gadsden purchase, the status of these Indians was problematic – should they be regarded as citizens of Mexico or the United States or should there be dual citizenship? Ultimately, in that era of nation-building, the politicians elected to consider the Indians as citizens of the United States or Mexico depending upon where they were primarily domiciled on the reservation – this solution was never really accepted by the tribe whose members regard themselves as having something like dual citizenship.
On an Indian reservation, everyone is related. To construct a wall along the border will divide family members from one another. Furthermore, the Tohono O’odham are fond of pilgrimages – Mexican Indians frequently make pilgrimages to the "White Dove of the Desert" at San Xavier del Bac south of Tucson. Similarly, the Indians in the United States are obligated to yearly pilgrimages to Magdalena, Mexico to visit the bones of Father Eusebio Kino. A wall dividing the two nations would interfere with these religious observances. The tribal authorities on the Tohono O’odham reservation have served notice on the Trump administration that they don’t intend to tolerate the construction of a wall across their sovereign nation. So in 2018, when we will undoubtedly be embroiled in wars in the Middle East, Korea, and the China Sea, with fighting taking place as well in Eastern Europe, the Trump administration will likely find itself conducting the last of the Indian wars in south central Arizona.