Spring/Summer 1993, Volume 10.2
Reviewed by David Rich Lewis, Department of History, Utah State University
Beneath These Red Cliffs: An Ethnohistory of the Utah Paiutes by Ronald L. Holt. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1992,197 pp., $29.95 (cloth).
In 1968, Woodrow Pete summed up the past, present, and future hopes of the Koosharem Paiutes:
We lost our land a little at a time through treaties, by people fencing us out, by the government just taking it. Today we have no land, no place to camp except on land that people say is theirs and not ours. We do not own the houses we live in, the land we live on, or no water to even raise a garden with .... Most of us drink too much but maybe you would too if you were one of us. Please do not judge us too harshly for our lives are not easy .... We are strangers in our own land .... Please give us some of our land back, enough to dignify our lives. (Holt 127-28)
A common story you say, the history of Indian-white relations in the United States, in the New World for that matter. But there is something in the Utah Paiute experience that sets it apart from other groups, and something in the telling of that history that makes this an important book, not just for ethnohistorians, but for Utah and Mormon historians.
Ron Holt recounts Southern Paiute history within the theoretical framework of dependency and paternalism. Dependency is a concept of intercultural relationships conditioned by inequality. Colonial interference precipitates conflict and crisis in the smooth functioning of native subsistence and cultural patterns. As those patterns fail to preserve life, choices narrow, and dependency on colonial alternatives increases.
In this unequal relationship, paternalism emerges as a moral justification for conquest, an ideological benevolence in taking care of the "child-like" native. Holt argues that despite the rhetoric of self-sufficiency, Mormon and federal paternalism forged the chains of Paiute dependency-that "well intentioned" policies were, in the end, "selfserving, calculated attempts by both the church and federal bureaucracies to ensure the impotence of the Paiute Nation: (xvi).
Holt describes both the continuity and change in Southern Paiute culture through intercultural contacts with Ute and Spanish slavers, trappers, and early Mormon settlers. Paiutes were easy targets, passive and lacking a rigid corporate organization-traits that also made them difficult to annihilate or assimilate. Pushed from their hunting and foraging areas by Mormon settlers in the 1850s, Utah Paiutes refused relocation to distant reservations. They re-created life on the fringes of Mormon settlements, without the benefit and protection of treaty rights. The Mormon Church's dualistic view of Indians as theologically chosen, yet fallen and savage, precipitated a special paternalism. Mormons looked after Paiute interests, exploited them as cheap seasonal laborers, but did little to incorporate them or decrease their dependence. Paiutes accommodated to this paternalism, yet re remained separate and hostile to complete integration.
Holt builds a damning case for federal neglect and Mormon paternalism through the twentieth century. Between 1891 and 1929, Utah Paiutes received four scattered reservations, but the amount and quality of land and water were inadagents deferred to local church leaders who assisted Paiute families with seasonal jobs and welfare instead of the capital necessary to build an independent economy.It. equate for the any kind of self-sufficient agrarian Politically, federal promises to tribal autonomy in the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act proved Hollow, subjecting Paiute decision-making to more bureaucratic control. During the 1950's, Utah Senator Arthur Watkins chose Utah Paiutes as an easy target for termination of federal aid. Dependent on outside decision-makers, powerless to halt the process, and unprepared to make it on their own, Utah Paiutes lost what little land and unity they had. Thrown back on the paternalistic benevolence of local church officials, Paiutes struggled with poverty, abysmal living conditions, and persistent racism.
The most intriguing part of Holt's ethnohistory is his record of Paiute efforts to regain federal recognition and reservation lands. Drawn largely from his own field work participation, Holt describes the reemergence of Utah Paiute political organization. Capitalizing on the failure of local opposition, Piaute political organization. Capitalizing on the failure of local opposition, Paiutes gained support by playing off federal moral wrongs against the paternalistic instincts of Mormon officials. Locally, Mormons sanctioned Paiute restoration, but opposed gibing them economically-viable reservation lands that might insure their independence-the increasing dependency of members on the tribe rather than on the government, health and economic development issues, growing factionalism, and the double-edged sword of continued Mormon paternalism.
Beneath These Red Cliffs is a well written and researched book, balanced yet pointed. Holt skillfully weaves Paiute voices and commentary into the fabric of history. Its importance as a case study lies in its theoretical grounding and in Holt's multi-causal explanations. Environment, cultural choices, governmental neglect, local social and economic issues, and the invisible hand of the Mormon Church, for both good and bad, become visible. This is what makes it ethnohistory and valuable Utah history. What shortcomings exist in the book are a result of its brevity-press decision. Those who want more detailed information on the organization on the first Utah Paiute Tribal Corporation and restoration politics will nee to consult Holt's dissertation.