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Themes – Ironies


The semi-arid nature of the Southwest has preserved the artifacts of ancient cultures in great numbers. The region contains the most well-preserved and greatest number of aboriginal sites in the United States. Carefully-crafted spear points from the Clovis and Folsom peoples who lived in the Southwest for 2,000 years (8,000 – 6,000 BCE) exist near the pottery of the Mogollon culture (3,000 BCE – 200 CE) and the architectural remains of the Ancestral Pueblo peoples (1 CE – 1300 CE). At no other location and in no other region of the United States do the number of prehistoric sites, and the proliferation and quality of ancient artifacts reach the level of those in the Southwest.

Ironically, the Southwest is also the epicenter of the modern world. The Atomic Age began in Los Alamos, New Mexico during the Second World War. Scientists working on the Manhattan Project created the first atomic weapons there and tested them at nearby White Sands Proving Grounds. The Age of the Basket Makers and the Age of Uncertainty exist side-by-side, yet separately.

In the American Southwest, the United States Cavalry finally convinced the Apaches, the last of the hostile, indigenous peoples in North America to end their resistance. On September 4, 1886, Geronimo and his Bedonkohe Apache band ended thirty years of fighting and reported to General Nelson Miles at Fort Bowie along the Arizona-New Mexico border. Geronimo and his followers were uprooted from their homeland and incarcerated in Alabama and Florida. Geronimo’s removal brought an end to the Indian wars that had been part and parcel of existence in the Southwest for over 400 years. Today, the Southwest is home to more Native Americans than any other US region. Autonomous, Indian-governed reservations comprise twenty-six percent of Arizona’s land area, fourteen percent of the land in Utah, nine percent in New Mexico and two-percent of both Colorado and Nevada. At the same time, the Southwest is the location of the fastest growing Anglo-American population in the United States. This phenomenon, which began during the Second World War, continues today as five Southwestern states (Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and Colorado) are in the top ten fastest growing states in the US. No other region boasts as many states in the top ten. In the area of the longest conflict between Anglo-Americans and Native Americans, increasing numbers of Native Americans and Anglo Americans exist side-by-side, yet separately.

The Southwest can boast that it is the longest continuously inhabited area of the continent north of Mexico. The ancestors of Pueblo peoples of New Mexico and Arizona lived here 12,000 years ago. Don Juan de Oñate established European settlements along the Rio Grande in 1598, nine years before the founding of Jamestown Colony in Virginia. Yet, the Southwest also hosts the newest and fastest growing modern cities in the nation. Phoenix, Arizona, Las Vegas, Nevada and San Antonio and Dallas, Texas comprise four of the top ten fastest growing municipalities in the country. If one includes nearby Houston and Austin, Texas, six of the top ten are located in or on the fringes of the Southwest. Of these, Las Vegas most readily represents the capitalistic, fast-paced, wide-open, secular society that is characteristic of the US today. In the Southwest, the most ancient and the most modern exist side-by-side, yet they exist separately.