26. Enslaving the Land

Now that this story has walked a ways into life in the grassland, as opposed to life in a Euroamerican context…

The Cascadian Club, Wenatchee

Converted to Apartments for Seniors and a Thai Restaurant

…and now that grass has been invited into being a part of our history, let’s look at slavery again, but this time from life in the grassland, rather than from the life that came across the plains or through the Straits of Magellan to meet it.

The Grassland Hills Above Paxçu Ford

Now a monoculture… and what is that? A flak tower? From the point of view of the grassland, this is slavery. It’s also a complete loss of productivity. There really is no grassland left, just glacial dust. And a flak tower.

It’s in the context of that grassland between the mountains, and the manner in which they were or were not seen, that the cultural foundations of the Pacific Northwest were laid down, so let’s hope we’ve done our work and are ready.

Cliffs in the Wallula Gap

The Cayuse were culturally similar to the Nez Perce and Wallawalla.The land of the Cayuse is full of spirits. A fully “modern” person might call them tricks of the mind, but what if you knew how to read that mind?

Cayuse is a word derived from the French cailloux, meaning “People of the Stones or Rocks.” Their self-designation was Waiilatpus, “Superior People.”

As we saw before, in 1847 Charles Marie Pandosy was new in town. The Waillatpuian culture he entered was at an important intersection. Conflict between Indigenous, American and British law was confusing for everyone. The central sticking point was that slavery was becoming institutionalized, turned from a form of display into war and death. When the Cayuse attempted to exercise their law against a guest on their land, Dr. Marcus Whitman, they soon found themselves at war with both Americans and Canadians (although not all of either), who refused to accept limits to their power. Here are some of the Americans who used the hostilities to secure land by declaring Waillatpuian ownership null and void because they had murdered Whitman, according to their own laws. Difficult.

Veterans of the Cayuse War, 1870

This is 22 years later. The age of these men shows we are not dealing with a regular army here.

Originally, small-scale indigenous slavery was endemic across North Americ. As Brett Rushworth documents in his study Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slavery in New France

Peace through War

Sort of. Read more here:

Slave-taking was more important than slave-holding. It was a form of warfare: a means of forcing alliances by defining common enemies and holding a stock of potential gifts to ease future deal-making. Additionally, slaves replaced lost men from the village, who had died in the slave-taking raid. Female slaves were valued most highly for the children they would bear, which would similarly increase the power of the village. Such low-key practices prevented devastating violence and bound people together in a ritualized form of kinship. This ancient tradition was amplified by trade with Spanish slaving expeditions. As Andrés Résendez documents in The Other Slavery:

I covered this ground in an earlier post. This time, though, let’s read Resendez two ways:

In the seventeenth century, Spanish cavalrymen had attacked the nomadic groups in New Mexico practically at will.

Andrés Réséndez

Yes, people were enslaved. However, look at the land:

New Mexico Today

The purpose was to gain slaves to work the silver mines of Mexico. Slavery, however was illegal, yet, as Résendez put it:

One after another, the Spanish governors had ordered slaving raids on the Apaches, Navajos, and other hunter-gatherers, peoples who still possessed very few horses. But while the Spaniards initially held the upper hand, the diffusion of horses evened out the playing field.

Andrés Réséndez

Horses allowed you to move at speed over the land. Your movement became your ownership, but, really, it was only your movement.

It’s the Same Today. You own the road, but that’s about it.

Now, though, there was no monopoly on this kind of ownership. Soon enough, indigenous traffickers held the upper hand, making raids beyond the reach of European colonial adventurers:

The Comanches took many of their [Apache] captives to New Mexico, where they exchanged them for horses and knives. In the absence of money or silver, women and children constituted a versatile medium of exchange accept by Spaniards, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Pueblos, and many other Indian groups of the region.

Andrés Réséndez

The die was cast. The Comanches became imperial adventurers of their own! After that, dominance shifted rapidly, depending on mastery of horse culture. By the time the Americans arrived on the scene, people on the edge of the Spanish world, the Paiutes of the Great Basin and the Shoshone of the Snake River Plain, were the prey of Utes and Apaches (who didn’t like being the prey of the Comanches.)

The Utes and Paiutes may once have had similar ways of life, but by the middle of the eighteenth century, the large equestrian bands of the Colorado Plateau and the small bands of the Great Basin had diverged dramatically. Varied environmental constraints, long-term cultural adaptations, and the dispersal of horses out of New Mexico created two entirely different societies living within striking distance of each other. And that difference brought opportunity.

Andrés Réséndez

This was not traditional life. It was an adaptation to modernism. They weren’t the only ones enslaving the land to travel (but not deep ownership) in this way. Soon, American fur traders joined in, long the slavers of the land by removing it from the water keepers and turning it to unlivable desert.


The bonds of alliance between the land’s human people and its animal ones were long severed in this way. Now, however, the travel that made this process profitable and even manageable was amplified. As New England explorer Thomas J. Farnham was quoted in William Jones’ memoir Forty Years Among the Indians. A true yet thrilling narrative of the author’s experiences among the natives:

“New Mexicans capture [the Shoshone] for slaves; the neighboring Indians do the same; and even the bold and usually high-minded old beaver hunter sometimes descends from his legitimate labor among the mountain streams, to this mean traffic.”

Thomas J. Farnham

Here’s Jones reporting on just how bad it got:

[In 1851,] the people of New Mexico … were making annual trips, commencing with a few goods, trading on their way with either Navajoes or Utes (generally with the Navajoes) for horses, which they sold very cheap, always retaining their best ones. These used-up horses were brought through and traded to the poorer Indians for children. The horses were often used for food. This trading was continued into Lower California, where the children bought on the down trip would be traded to the Mexican-Californians for other horses, goods or cash. Many times a small outfit on the start would return with large herds of California stock.

William Jones

The combination of European settlement, horses, rifles and a ready market for slaves proved catastrophic, as Jones details:

All children bought on the return trip would be taken back to New Mexico and then sold, boys fetching on an average $100, girls from $150 to $200. The girls were in demand to bring up for house servants, having the reputation of making better servants than any others. This slave trade gave rise to the cruel wars between the native tribes of this country, from Salt Lake down to the tribes in southern Utah.

William Jones

So, that’s how it goes: movement limited to the speed of bodies, that gave not control of territory but the need to link up across its intimacies, was changed to speed, incursion and distance. It gave control of the land (but not ownership or intimacy.) Because trade was in people but no longer built relationships, increasing the scope of intimacy, intimacy could be used against you, by simply destroying the land that made it so.

Vineyard Country at Benton City, WA. (Chamna is behind the hill on the right)

This localtion is no longer a grassland for gathering the spirits that are bulbs All that is here is something in the past (land) and something in the present (ownership) and people caught between the two, unable to really move anywhere at all, except on a road that goes to more plots like this.

The shift in slavery had become so large that people were no longer bonded to each other or to the land but to the dominance of ownership, while the land was no longer bonded to people but to physicality and work alone. Some things linger, though, in poverty. Below the Horse Heaven Hills, where the Yakama kept their huge herds of horses (and their source of wealth in the early modern age), horses are still kept on the ruins of orchards. Look:

Kiona, WA

There is no land left, and nothing to eat. The horse, the last of the people here, honoured less even than the ones that settlers dumped on the Horse Heaven Hills when they bought Model Ts but didn’t have the heart to shoot the family horse, is starving. The Highway Department has seeded the road edge in fall rye, to keep the ditch from drifting in, but the land is as fenced-off from movement as the horse is.

Talk about breaking a horse, sheesh.

That’s bondage.

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