Okay, look, I've done this before. My thesis is that the history of the United States needs to be understood from the claim that its received demography is impossible. First, not enough people crossed the Atlantic at the right time, and that those that did were mainly West Country men who sailed to the Newfoundland --and possibly a prior Greenland-- fishery, and who therefore entered North American population history through an opaque mechanism that is detached from the conventional chronology of settlement, and whose historical linguistic and ethnogenic consequences are not explored in that narrative.
Blah blah fancy talk: Men, mainly Welsh, Basque and Breton speakers, but also Moroccans, began entering North America through the Gulf of Saint Lawrence region in the first quarter of the Sixteenth Century, and possibly well before that. Prior to the establishment of the first Crown colonies, they and their descendants were well-distributed through the Eastern Seaboard, but nearly invisibly, since they embraced ethnogenesis as "Indians." Insofar as the typical American does not look Indian (and this point can be overstressed), it is because of the "leaky pump" that moved thousands of male labourers back and forth across the Atlantic every year. There is just not enough genetic material being moved in other ways. An implication that I will dig out here and underline is that the crazy people who claim to hear Welsh (and Basque, and "Moorish" spoken on the early American frontier need to be taken more seriously.
Second: ethnogenesis works the other way. "Indian" populations transformed into "White," once it was in their interest to do so. I take this to be uncontroversial on its face to scientific investigator,** albeit endlessly amazing to people who should know better, even if the precise numbers and chronology can be debated. Why forget? Because of that "in their interest" clause. The process through which this was "forgotten" (and I think the scare quotes are amply justified) is where this thesis takes a turn through radical history. As a first pass, the argument begins with the very old one that the idea of race and nationality conceals the reality of class struggle. "Forgetting" allows the perpetuation of a Creole elite without challenging the ideology of American egalitarianism, specifically by allowing most Americans who want to claim the status to be "European White Americans," and have some small slice of power in society over the melatonin-challenged. But Marx was all about "proletarian" this and "means of production" that. Bullshit. This is about real estate.
So here's the radical claim buried here: that the pre-Columbian social order has been perpetuated forward. Hey, North Americans: when your oldest and richest families whimsically claim to be descended from an Indian princess, it's not whimsy. It's a statement about how their back forty came to be their back forty.
So that's the claim.
The motivator for revisiting this claim? Like many unwashed Internet dwellers, I visit Brad DeLong's sight frequently, and he's currently blogging from Notre Dame University in (actually, near)*** South Bend, Indiana, and I'm totally not jealous at all.
So, anyway, Notre Dame. What do we know? That it's a Catholic university with a French name in the middle of Indiana, which some people are going to manage to find anomalous (see folk derivations of "hoosier" that manage to blatantly ignore the structure of a French borrowing), with a financially and sometimes competitively successful football team called the Fighting Irish that some people hate and many more people love, as happens with sport teams, and with the usual consequences. And that as far as my thesis goes, it's pretty much a sitting duck. I mean, come on: Our Mother? "Raise a volley cheer on high/Shake loose the thunder from the sky?" I could go political here, sketch out a story in which Knute Rockne driving the Crimson off the battlefield is a victory for Middle America against Harvard, back in a day when Harvard football was thuggish and menacin as well as patrician, rather than hapless and charming, and that this somehow mirrors and reflects change within the Republican Party during the 1920s that one can then connect with Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, Jack Dempster, Conan the Barbarian, Robert Heinlein --really, with this cultural stuff, you can go anywhere.
On the other hand, Notre Dame can just as easily seen as a mix of old-fashioned Catholic piety and cliches imported from Europe. It's the Catholicism that immigrant and Irish brought with them, and which they turned against the old Wasp on the football field. Surely it's a stretch to find Notre Dame des Lacs more at home in the Eastern Woodlands cosmology than medieval Europe. After all, how much do we actually grasp about late Eastern Woodlands cosmology? When other anthropologists insisted on normalising the vast site of Cahokia as the capital of a proto-empire, Michael Byers struck back by identifying it as the site of a "World Renewal Cult Heterarchy."
The New World does not necessarily follow Old World norms, says Byers. Think of, say, Cahokia, and all the Cahokia-lights that existed throughout the Eastern Woodlands, conceivably even on the future campus of Notre Dame, even if it doesn't look like a geographically promising candidate, in terms of "heterarchy." Heterarchy is the opposite of Old World hierarchy. Heterarchic cult centres are places where multiple elective social affinities come together to perform a central ceremony of world renewal in the spring, in the context of an overall ritual centre in which many different cult practices, including the oft-cited astronomical observations are enacted in many kinds of edifices. Totally different from, say, old Athens or Rome. Arguably.
Notice how I managed to say "elective affinities" rather than "sodalities and fraternities?" At one level, the issue with Byers is that a university teacher has tried to make Cahokia strange through thick description, and ended up by describing ceremonial games played on specially-prepared plazas outside massive ritual edifices during elaborate in-gatherings of the community?
So Cahokia was a strange and deeply different place that happened to be exactly like the one where Byers was educated and now works. At first glance, this is a staggering failure of the effort to "make it strange," an even greater failure than his original notion to call it Cahokia a mall: Cahokia was a Midwestern American mid-tier football school.
But then there is Notre Dame. It is a loosey-goosey cultural claim to say, "Oh, yes, in the thirteenth century, there was this place called Cahokia, and we think we know how it works, and even though Cahokia-like places vanished over the next century or so, it's not like the Eastern Woodlands Indians stopped building ritual centres/towns, and Notre Dame could have been the site of one, to the extent that the archaeology will support, and nowadays Notre Dame University does all sorts of stuff that I can vaguely wave at as being like 'Southern Death Cult' stuff, and there you go." Not even an argument, but I just can't resist deploying it. That's the power of this kind of 'argument.'
It would be better, I think, to ground things. Literally. Let's talk real estate.
Real estate is a funny thing. City folk talk about it a lot, because residential real estate has had this huge runup in property values in the last generation, notably in Vancouver. Can we afford to buy? Should we? Will values keep rising, or start to fall? More interestingly, is there a next big thing, where we can buy now? After all, this tends to spread. Vancouver's favourite winter and sports destinations, Whistler and Kelowna, also have very expensive real estate. So if your family was lucky enough to homestead their back forty in either place, chances are that you're doing pretty well for yourself these days.
I'm not going to venture into that territory. I'm not smart enough. I'll just wave at Sunshine Valley and Nakusp, places like Kelowna and Whistler that don't have the same very expensive real estate, and likely won't ever, for reasons having to do with choices about roads and bridges and park boundaries that have long since been made, and which all the small town boosterism in the world is not going to change now.
Here is the thing about real estate. It does not have intrinsic value. Its value is determined by what people do with it. We have organised the landscape of British Columbia such that Whistler and Kelowna will have high value real estate, and Nakusp and Sunshine Valley won't. This was the stark choice facing Alexis Coquillard, L. M. Taylor and Pierre Navarre when they got together in the summer of 1830 to platt the town of South Bend. Today, South Bend's most obvious local rival, "St. Joseph," is better known as the site of the city's Riverside Cemetery, victim of the superior political pull of Coquillard, Taylor and Navarre, which brought the county seat, and thus the court house, to their town from St. Joseph. This early history of South Bend spends pages on the fine details of the carpentry of the South Bend courthouse because it was important to the town. Everyone who owned real estate there, benefited. On a larger scale, everyone who has ever owned real estate in South Bend has benefited from the presence there of Notre Dame, Very Big Football University.
Supposedly, though, there was a day when real estate's intrinsic value was determined by the number of people that it could support --by its "subsistence value." It seems like a powerful insight. The Reverend Malthus took one look at the explosive population growth of Americans living on the virgin, never-touched-by-the-plough soil of North America, and argued for an inevitable trend that brought the population of each one of God's little acres up to its maximum subsistence value, and, therefore, maximum immiseration value, and boiled the history of all past times into a story of maximum suffering for the maximum number of human beings.
And, as I have said before, Malthus got it wrong from his founding premise. How many other ways did he get it wrong? Well, obviously, he is right to say that the economic value of a piece of land is its maximum useful return. Only then we get to this whole "subsistence" thing. In a recent paper that I read because I take the train half-an-hour each day, and because it was linked to on Brad DeLong's site, I was treated to an analysis in which pre-1800 economies are distinguished by their ability to produce "subsistence" and "surplus" goods.
I applaud the intent, which was to refute Malthus --and Gregory Clarke-- by showing that people will tend to immigrate from poor ("high subsistence") places to rich ("high surplus"), and there replicate the maximum-immiseration-for-the-maximum-number rural economy of their old homeland. I just get a headache from economic historians and their persistent effort to get away from the exigencies of Wellington-boot-history and find a price series that will rise above everyday history and give them an Olympian view of things. It's like setting Google Earth maps against the embedded-argument cartographies of a Richard Edes Harrison --or, indeed, any sufficient relief cartography that could tell me (who is too lazy to look) whether the Notre Dame campus has sufficient cartographic relief above its surroundings to be a plausible alternate-Cahokia.
Now specifically, the claim about surplus versus subsistence is a strange one. If you live in a cold climate and are out and about a great deal, a wool greatcoat and a nice pair of Wellies will substantially cut your intake of dietary fats. Where does this place a snazzy wool coat on the "subsistence-surplus" spectrum. What does it mean to our picture of histoire immobile that Roman soldiers had to make do with cloaks and sandals in the same climates where Napoleonic ones had greatcoats and boots?
Or what about those price series? Medieval hospitals fed the poor, and we use their books to reconstruct the price of wheat. That wheat is a "subsistence good" versus wool is proven by the fact that wheat prices rise with mortality rates. Less food means more dead poor people. Well, that's true. Except that we've left a huge gap in our logic. Hospitals bought wheat with which to feed poor people because wheat flour is an awesome food to feed to poor people. (Especially poor people who are just hanging around because they don't have any work to do. In all liklihood, if they had work to keep them out and about in the rain and the snow, they would want more butter and schmaltz and less wheat, but that's just a technicality, right?) What we have not proven is that wheat is a good thing for poor people to grow to feed themselves.
Here I could go all sorts of ways. I could talk about this awesome book, which has actual receipts of the grains that Scottish countryfolk brought in for grinding in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centurys. (Hint: not wheat or oats. Those, they sold.) appeal to the experience of shopping in Austrian supermarkets, and the vast array of traditional Baurenbrot on display in the bakery section. Unfortunately, that would just be wanking, because the Wikipedia article for Baurenbrot has been squatted by the Swiss milk marketing authority's product, which is a regular bread made with milk instead of water, intended to find a use for the country's surplus dairy production. (File that one under 'First World Problems.') However, Wikipedia takes away, and it gives. Specifically, it gives "Bush Bread."
Awesome. Australian Aboriginal women used to make bread out of native millet, spinifex, wattleseed, pigweed, prickly wattle, mulga, dead finish seed, bush beans, water lily, lotus root and taro root. I'm wary of claims about Aboriginal technology going back unchanging to the original settlement of the continent --at its worst, that is romanticism more than histoire immobile-- but the author of the Wikipedia article is insistent that millstones dating back to that period have been found, and I am personally reminded of the Wadi Kubaniya site (c. 16,000BC), where grindstones were used to process a variety of seeds. Claims of barley in the assemblage are now discredited, but in the long run I am more intrigued by evidence of a flood-retreat foraging regimen. Wadi Kubaniya's inhabitants did not practice agriculture, but their fields of large-seeded water plants were prepared for them by the Nile's annual flooding. By camping at the edge of the inundation, the inhabitants of this long-lived site could exploit the flood in exactly the same way that the Egyptian fellahin would do in subsequent eras: the difference being that they focused on water plants such as acacia, nutgrass, clubrush, waterlily tubers, bulrush, catstail, papyrus seeds and rhizomes.
Robust in a way that wheat and barley were not, these foods were more time-consuming to prepare and delivered fewer calories, and especially less protein per unit weight than wheat and barley, which is why they are not cultivated today, unless they have a really good publicity team, but as Scottish country miller receipts and the shelves of a modern grocery store will demonstrate, their history as traditional, natural, Volkisch foods is long, continuous, and current. This is also, incidentally, one of the reasons that Jared Diamond is so fatally wrong. Agriculture was not independently invented around Cahokia, on the grounds that people used to plant fields of goosefoot and sumpweed there before they planted corn, nor were the Vikings of Greenland practitioners of badlife by virtue of not growing barley even though they totally could. There are perfectly good social and economic reasons for growing goosefoot and eating flax seeds rather than investing in barley.
And note, very specifically, the flax part. Let me indulge myself in repetition: industrial fibre crops also produce seeds that can be eaten. By people. Or animals. Or made into soap. It's a whirling round of alternate possible uses for the same crop that have to be situated within a local economy. Country life is complicated.
Now, again, I am insisting on the specific economic utility of a piece of real estate within its social context. Wadi Kubaniya's economic regime made sense because the Nile rose, and fell, and because the Kubaniyites were not numerous enough to control that flooding and create irrigated fields where it would make sense to grown wheat and barley. It was only when their lifestyle became successful enough that there were enough Kubaniyites to unlock the Farming achievement, which, as we know, allows you to open the door at the end of the level and advance to the next one.
This may be a little reductionist for Egypt, where I am leaving out the "Wild Nile" phase of the early Holocene that seems to have been such a brutal setback, but Amber VanDerwarker's awesome 2006 book, Farming, Hunting and Fishing in the Olmec World suggests a very direct transition to agriculture in the maize-raising world. Corn (or, rather teotesinte) begins as one of a number of lacrustine species exploited by the Olmecs in situational contexts established by the long-distance obsidian trade, by a people who probably already knew perfectly well how to cultivate plants in the context of desireable goods such as tobacco and cocoa. The emergence of corn, possibly as the result of a fortunate mutation, occurred within a context in which the Olmec were both motivated to move towards cornplanting by prior social needs, and drawn towards it by the potential of the plant. Once transformed into cornplanters, the Olmecs wasted little time in creating the cultural idiom of step pyramids, ceremonial plazas, ballgames, and ritual chocolate consumption that, notwithstanding the resistance of North American anthropologists to the notion of reducing the Eastern Woodlands to a Mesoamerican ineraction sphere, seems to have spread to Cahokia.
So there we have Cahokia, in 800, practicing a flood-retreat resource extraction strategy that might be older than the Neanderthals, but already showing signs of developing the Olmec cultural idiom (which, who knows, might also have older and extreme-diffusionist roots).
By 1200, Cahokia has replicated the Olmec transition to cornplanting. It is still a flood-retreat regime, because on the one hand, defeating Mississippi floods is beyond Cahokia's resources, and, on the other, corn planting works perfectly well in a flood retreat regime. Then, as I say, silence. Silence that is synchronous with the earliest stages of a fur trade epiphenomenal to the first North American cod fishery? It's a theory.
Moving ahead to, say, 1780, and we have an agriculture established on the east coast of North America. Crevecour's Letters of An American Farmer are not usually read for the details of American farming so much as for intimations of American national greatness --whatever floats your boat-- but "371 acres of land, 47 of which are good timothy-meadow, an excellent orchard, a good house, and a fine barn" will do for a start. "Every year I kill from 1500 to 2000 weight of pork, 1200 of beef, a half-dozen of good weathers, of poultry my wife has always great stock. . . My Negroes are tolerably faithful and happy." He keeps bees, and hunts. He knows a fine gentleman of Albany who bought a twelve-year old Canadian from Iroquois raiders, bound the boy to apprentice as a tailor, and (something something transition that obscures the fact that this guy enslaved a Christian youth) the said youth died at 90, survived by a fine posterity, as slaves are wont to do.
I will end by noting that Crevecour appears to be saying that he grows wheat, flax, oats and corn on his land. The inference is drawn from specifics assigned to the descriptions of other farmers. That is, these are the crops with which he is familiar, and I am really only going on a bit to note the striking absence of potatoes and buckwheat. Potatoes are perhaps absent as not being a cash crop, but buckwheat certainly has a history of being sold as a grain. On the other hand, it was not grown because of its virtues, buckwheat pancakes aside, but because it was a good summer-sown cover crop, more usually ploughed back in as manure than harvested.
What I am saying here is that a complex agricultural economy has developed on the East Coast. What is going on around Notre Dame du Lacs? Well, agriculture, to be sure, but my inventory of early books about the region are more likely to specify wild foods. South Bend was inhabited seasonally, as a portage camp on the divide between the St. Josephs and the southwards-flowing Kanakee. Navarre's original trading post was directed at this seasonal business, and he was trading for pelts, and it strikes me that in a flood-retreat agriculture, wetland fur mammals are an alternate product to corn.
Now, this is not as clear-cut as it could be. Colonel Benjamin Church, in his memoirs of King Philip's War, describes the petty war of the New England frontier as one of raiding, looting, and breaking corn-dams. And there you go. Google does not tell me very much about corn-dams. As far as the wide world of the Internet gives me to understand, Eastern Woodlands farming consists of wise Indian women getting in touch with Nature by planting a "holy trinity" of corn, beans and squash on enormously symbolic (see Olmec-style stepped pyramids) mounds.
I can just hear the pan-pipes. So it is striking that the one solid hit I got off a Google Search for corn dams came from a Minnesota Wildlife Department website that describes how to manage the muskrat peltry that you will probably develop when muskrats will colonise the seasonal agricultural dam that you have, for your own reasons, built. The idea that Indians might have built dams to retain water on land that they intend to plant with corn in April, and that they also exploited muskrat colonies (but not beavers, with their longer lifecycles) on these lands is an attractive one.
The fur business, in short, involves an intensive management of low-lying seasonal flooded land that can also be good corn-growing land. Interesting fact: Notre Dame du Lacs is not named for the Great Lakes, notwithstanding being in their general location. It is named for two little lakes at the edge of the campus, low, placid waters, ingrown with poplars: St. Mary and St. Joseph. Across from them, on the far side of the street, is the unincorporated Indiana community of "Indian Village." I cannot tell you why. The town is too small to have a history, and my sources omit to mention anything more than that Pierre Navarre and Alexis Coquillard arranged the relocation of the local Potawatomies in to western Iowa in 1840.
That being said, Edythe J. Brown's Story of South Bend tells the story of a daughter of Little Turtle who decided to adopt the White Man's ways and move into town, and celebrated her decision by having her silver anklets and necklace turned into a silverware service.Brown's "O-Sah la mon-ee" is a candidate Indian to have survived the comprehensive deportation of all of Indiana's Indians and provided some form of continuity that might be traced through the name of this neighbourhood.
On the other hand, Brown's romantic story terminates by noting that O-Sah la mon-ee's table service has "somehow" passed into the possession of the L. M. Taylor family. Is there a connection? At this point you will probably wonder about the antecedents, spouse, and decedents of Lathrop Minor Taylor, but neither Brown nor C. C. Chapman's exhaustive, or at least exhausting, History of St. Joseph's County, Indiana will tell you. Ancestry.Com will, but the information is still frustratingly brief. It marries Taylor to Mary Johnson, and traces her through Peter Johnson, son of William Johnson and Mary Baker, and Lydia Chalfant, all were born in the Old Northwest at an awfully early but hardly exclusive date for anglophone White settlers in the region, and all are dead ends of their respective family trees.
Taking it in the other direction, it is perhaps not surprising that biographies of Little Turtle know nothing of an O-Sah la mon-ee. Little Turtle's only daughter, we are told, married the mixed-race frontier diplomat William Wells, and while their daughters, and son, and are much closer to the dates the chronology suggested for O-Sah la mon-ee, and they did, indeed, marry into distinguished early Northwestern families of the same strata as the Taylors, none of them settled in South Bend. On the other hand, Little Turtle's sisters were also very successful on the marriage market. One became the William Wells' first wife, and another married John Richardville (Pe-che-wa), Miami chief and one of the richest men in early Indiana, mainly by virtue of his connection with his mother, the "Chieftess of the Miami, who for thirty years conducted the portage business . . . between the Maumee and the Wabash," although his millions secured for him an estate of four square miles on the Wabash in the final treaty with the Miamis, perhaps a reasonable recognition of a generation of control of the whole trade of which South Bend intercepted a small part. Richardson's millions, of course, descended on his daughters, who married well . . . and, well, there I must end this line of inquiry, at four Indian princesses who married and passed thousands of acres into families whose names in no way cry out, "I am a descendant of the Miami aristocracy." Though if you are interested, you can follow the link to Little's book and check out the pictures of flapper descendants of Little Turtle via William Wells, dressed in Indian regalia.
All of this, admittedly, in the sly pursuit of a strong insinuation that Lathrop Taylor might have contracted a mixed-race marriage with an "Indian princess," and all of it falling short of anything but a proof-by-analogy. It's far from the only mystery that the foundation of the University of Notre Dame serves up. The land, a six hundred acre farm, was provided to the Suplician Fathers for the erection of a universitya, by Father Theodore Stephen Badin (sometimes rendered Bodin.) Bodin is a somewhat controversial figure in the history of the Old Northwestern Mission. The Catholic Encyclopedia gives an appropriately hagiographic account, which, when pursued through the French Catholic missionary literature gets me no further. Father Badin was sent to Kentucky in 1798 by Bishop Carroll, was sometimes virtually alone in his ministry and at other times a virtual eminence grise in a growing diocese. Some priests thought that he was withholding church property from their maintenance, and he defended himself with the old "land rich, cash poor" defence that landholders have been using, sometimes perfectly accurately, from time immemorial.
Anyway. Point: six hundred prime acres on the road to the "bridge, race and mills" of South Bend, erected by Coquillard, Navarre and Taylor to serve the town to which they had brought the courthouse. How did Badin get the land? Presumably, it was bequeathed to the Church. Chapman teases us with the additional information that for its first decade, the business of the new college was carried out from a log building, to which was attached a frame house in which an Indian interpreter, un-named, lived. Theodore Bulla Chalfant, author of one of the longer self-portraits in Chapman, notes that he conducted school on his homestead, near the campus, in a frame house, which he describes as quite a status symbol for the areas and the time, until he was appointed County Surveyor in 1838, after which he was too busy with his own work. Bulla is presumably a close relative of Taylor. I am not getting that either man was Catholic (indeed, Bulla claims Quaker ancestry), but it is very tempting to make Bulla the un-named interpreter. It is even more interesting that Chalfant calls himself "Thomas M. Bulla," rather than "Thomas Bulla Chalfant" in his self-portrait.
So there you have it: an inbred aristocracy of war chiefs, presiding over a flood-retreat agriculture that is managed to maximise fur production is facing a future in which the landscape is to be transformed into a dry/irrigated agriculture in which wheat supplements or replaces corn. Land use will change. Communities will change. The question then becomes one of managing the transition and maintain power, prestige, and wealth in a society in which it is no longer rooted in control of portages, but of water power fed by dams and races? If real estate is wealth, its context determines just how much wealth. To maintain the family's wealth and power, it will be necessary to direct the new social arrangement. (Or, in crass terms, seize control of the location of the county seat, and keep it seized.)
The solution, it turns out, is a selective forgetting that takes the old sacred imagery and spaces and grafts an appropriate set of European replacements onto them: Notre Dame du Lacs. It is not a forgetting that anyone actually forgets. No-one who is other than willfully blind will miss the roots of local power in the Indian chiefs who negotiated the surrender treaties and kept the best bits for themselves. It is a forgetting that serves the needs of obscuring that transaction, while at the same time using it as a justificatory ideology. This, I am guessing, is why the University of Notre Dame is both so clearly faux-medieval and at the same time so un-selfconsciously Cahokian. No-one has bothered to call them on it.
**For no other reason than because he's amusing today, I link to Mighty God King (Christopher Bird) exploring mixed-race Americans in DC Comics, as opposed to this all-too-earnest and wrong-headed effort. Or, heck, both, I guess. Too much with the rape, Professor Loomis. You do appreciate that people can eroticise by denunciation, right?
Instant cartography from Google Maps. At this scaling, Notre Dame is the built-up blotch in the centre, South Bend the one in the corner. There's enough here to give you the sense that Notre Dame is on the right bank of the Saint Joseph River, with South Bend on the far side, with the streak of development showing how the lay of the old northwest-by-southeast road that crosses the river at South Bend and explains the existence of a city there. I'd really prefer an ordnance survey-style map with high relief contours, but that's something that online cartography doesn't really support at Midwestern-levels of flatness. Maybe next time I'm in the pathetic remnant of UBC's old Map Library.