Jeffrey P. Shepherd. Guadalupe Mountains National Park: An Environmental History of the Southwest Borderlands. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2019. 280 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-62534-434-2; $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-62534-433-5.
Reviewed by Sandra K. Mathews (Nebraska Wesleyan University)
Published on H-Environment (August, 2021)
Commissioned by Daniella McCahey (Texas Tech University)
Jeffrey P. Shepherd’s Guadalupe Mountains National Park: An Environmental History of the Southwest Borderlands, which originally began as a contract with the National Park Service in 2006, provides readers with a tightly written, exceptionally researched, and solidly sourced (as inclusive as sources would allow) history of the Trans-Pecos and borderlands region with a specific focus on the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The scope of the book logically incorporates surrounding environs, their natural and human history, to tell the expansive story of the region. Shepherd’s first book, We Are an Indian Nation: A History of the Hualapai People (2010), exemplifies his passion for indigenous histories. His articles and essays further substantiate his interest in the borderlands, indigenous, and transnational histories. Furthermore, Shepherd lives and teaches in the borderlands; regularly hikes in the mountains, exploring the region’s natural beauty; and understands the aridity and beauty of the Southwest on a personal level.
Organized chronologically through its nine chapters and conclusion, the book nods to the region’s nonlinear past. Shepherd states that “the region developed in a series of fits and starts, setbacks, collapse, and divergent trajectories.” Even though the Trans-Pecos had no great “heroic narrative,” it nevertheless served as home, both permanent and transient, to a variety of plants, animals, and humans throughout its expansive geological development (p. 85). The purpose of the book is to provide a narrative overview of the “environmental history of the Guadalupe Mountains, the national park, and surrounding borderlands” (p. 2). Shepherd also provides a history of the creation of Guadalupe Mountains National Park set clearly within the context of contemporaneous historical and political events that influenced how the park came into being. He used an exceptionally wide variety of documents to support his narrative, one that spans over ten thousand years of human history (and far more geological history), including archaeology, geology, anthropology, historical narratives, policy and legal documents, newspapers, interviews, and government documents. While the book includes no bibliography, its extensive endnotes provide requisite sourcing.
After the introduction, which includes the contextual background essential for fully appreciating the organization and development of the narrative, chapter 1, “Geology and Environment,” examines the geological history of the Guadalupe Mountains and the broader borderlands. From the Guadalupe Mountains’ geological origins and paleo-environment, Shepherd connects the region’s past to present-day environmental issues. This chapter, like every subsequent chapter, begins with a well-written introductory paragraph guiding the reader through the chapter and ends with a well-conceived concluding paragraph that summarizes the main points of the entire chapter. While some might find this structure rudimentary, after a long COVID year of reading far too many books without such meticulous formatting, I found it to be an inspired, concise, and wonderful narrative.
Shepherd then leads the reader through the earliest days of human habitation with chapter 2, titled “Pre-Columbian Indigenous Worlds.” Cognizant of the significance of early human interaction with the land, Shepherd depends on archaeological records and other scientific data, as well as a wide variety of traditional and more recent historical sources, in order to piece together the interaction between humans and the environment. His appreciation and respect for indigenous voices is evident in his writing, as is his first-hand knowledge of the region. Shepherd logically connects the Paleo-Indian and Archaic habitation of the Guadalupe Mountains with surrounding regions through foraging, trading, hunting, and even raiding. His discussion includes the complications of determining which peoples inhabited or traveled through the region. He describes the complexities of research and the various groups that likely existed throughout the region as based on evidence found in caves and other ancient sites—such as the Jumano (and the complexities of determining their actual origins, perhaps Cochise, Tanoan, Caddoan, for example) and Apache or Nde’, particularly the Mescalero and Lipan. Other indigenous people inhabiting the region included the Suma, Manso, and Piro. Regardless, human habitation has existed in the region for nearly thirteen thousand years (p. 35).
Chapter 3, “Indigenous Peoples, Spain, and Mexico,” marches forward from the earliest Spanish encounters via the 1527 Panfilo de Narvaez expedition that ended with only four survivors. While their path is disputed, they likely encountered the Jumanos near the Pecos and possibly even the Davis Mountains before making their way to Mexico City. Shepherd concisely describes the subsequent expeditions of Fray Marcos de Niza (1539), Francisco Vasquez de Coronado (1540-42), Fray Agustín Rodríguez and Captain Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado (1581), and Antonio de Espejo (1582). Shepherd’s inclusion of the journal of Diego Pérez de Luxán of the Espejo expedition, which sheds light on human habitation as well as flora and fauna of the Trans-Pecos and broader borderland region, provides much additional information about the Guadalupe region. He continues with the Gaspar Castaño de Sosa expedition (1590) and ultimately Juan de Oñate’s expedition (1598), which led to the first permanent non-indigenous settlement north along the Rio Grande. Shepherd succinctly explains the purpose and problems of Spanish settlement: invasion and occupation of indigenous homelands; Christianization attempts; and raiding and counter-raiding against the Apache, Navajo, and later the Comanche and Ute. Because the Mescalero, Lipan, and Comanche populated or interacted with the Guadalupe Mountain region, most of the chapter logically focuses on these tribes and their relations with Spanish settler-colonists, traders, missionaries, the military, and travelers. He aptly explains how tensions led to shifting alliances, a need for peaceful transformation through trade or peace by purchase, stability through agreements, and the escalation of violence by Spanish military campaigns—particularly a generation or two after the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. As Mexican independence arrived in 1821, unpredictability created new tensions and instability in relations between indigenous people and the expanded Spanish and mixed indigenous/Spanish population. Many indigenous peoples moved to “peace establishments” to avoid retribution by the Mexican military (p. 57).
Chapter 4, “War, Exploration, and Conquest, 1836-1865,” highlights a turbulent time in the United States. For the Guadalupe Mountains, it included Texan independence from Mexico, annexation, the Mexican War, the border dispute between Texas and New Mexico that ended with the Compromise of 1850, and ultimately, the Gadsden Agreement. After the US acquired the Trans-Pecos region, the region saw an influx of white immigrants, surveyors, and even the US-Mexico Border Commission. This incursion affected indigenous peoples as well as Hispanos and would soon have an even greater impact on land tenure and issues of sovereignty—which meant loss of land, autonomy, and power.
Chapter 5, “Conflict and Early Community Formation, 1865-1881,” highlights the transformation of this remote US region into a crossroads for trade, travel, and, later, numerous railway lines connecting the East and West Coast of the US, as well as a railroad heading north from Mexico. No longer hard to access with roads, stagecoach lines, and railroads, this region witnessed the arrival of more outsiders, bringing their different notions of land ownership, resource extraction, cultural perspectives, and a stratified society that shifted existing power structures.
In chapter 6, “The Nature of Economic Development in the Texas-New Mexico Borderlands, 1880-1915,” Shepherd expands on his argument that access to water and “the desire for stronger economic ties to national markets defined the character of communities” in the Guadalupe Mountain region. As indigenous peoples and Hispanos lost access to traditionally held land and resources, the growing populations of Anglo “ranchers, developers, and government officials monopolized” water (p. 103). And as Shepherd correctly argues, water provided the only means for survival. Furthermore, a differentiation of populations developed: those living in desert communities versus those living on the mountain. As the US had formally removed indigenous people through reservation policies as described in the previous chapter, their final removal onto even smaller reservations is described in this chapter. Shepherd details the histories of several key Anglo-American families and communities that appeared and the difficulties they endured in the inordinately arid region. Isolation, always a thread in the dispersed western landscape, is interwoven throughout this chapter—and plays a key role in opposition to the establishment of the national park in later chapters.
Chapter 7, “The Interwar Years, 1919-1941,” introduces even more environmental and human population shifts that occurred in fits and starts thanks to the railroad’s expansion and attempts to connect El Paso with Carlsbad by roadway. New Deal projects and growing interest in the region included pipe dreams of irrigating the desert, yet the hardscrabble life in the Trans-Pecos region was a constant reminder of the environmental challenges facing anyone who attempted to call this home. Whether through attempts at oil extraction or gas exploration, ranching, or even tourism, the region experienced a minimal impact as a result of the war years boom. With limited documentary evidence from this period, Shepherd has nevertheless pieced together a fascinating tale of those who did attempt to eke out a living, such as Adolphus “Dolph” Williams and his family, and conservationists J. C. Hunter and Wallace C. Pratt. Developers of water projects, oil, gas, potash, and guano extraction industries, and tourism also play a key role in this period. Shepherd leads the reader through these developments into the Great Depression era and through World War II masterfully. By the end of the war, the prosperity that the war industry brought created a homeowner, car-driving, college-educated middle class that had jobs with vacations and leisure time. Soon, the new highway system would lead them into the western regions and right to the Guadalupe Mountains.
Chapter 8, “The Creation of Guadalupe Mountains National Park,” builds from the foundation provided in the previous seven chapters, all of which play a role in the support for and creation of the park. Shepherd skillfully brings together the historical pieces necessary for the reader: the place, the people, the political climate, and the impeccable and perhaps lucky timing for the park’s advocates in pushing for national park status. The complexity of federal policies toward the environment, protections for natural places, the MISSION-66 policies, the interest in and creation of Carlsbad Caverns, and even the Wilderness Act of 1964 played key roles in the park’s formation. He argues that of equal importance were the people behind the movement, including property owners, congressmen, secretary of Interior Stewart Udall, and even the chief justice of the US Supreme Court and President Lyndon Baines Johnson himself—who happened to be a Texan. Shepherd explains how, in a very short period, the Guadalupe Mountain Park Association and its allies succeeded in securing national park status. While this description seems simple, Shepherd provides a phenomenal analysis of the complicated nature of the establishment of Guadalupe Mountain National Park, and it was anything but simple or without significant challenge. Their determination is a true success story for the creation of a park.
In chapter 9, “A National Park for the Twenty-First Century,” Shepherd lauds the park’s creation that appeared as an island of sorts, a mountain park with the highest point in Texas with its lush bowl and beautiful McKittrick Canyon. Even so, he argues, it remained overshadowed by the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and even Big Bend nearby. Overlooked not only by tourists but also by federal funding, the park struggled to acquire adequate facilities, infrastructure, and even administration—as even their superintendent resided in Carlsbad. With changes in political climate, the park suffered during and after the Ronald Reagan years, and more so after 9/11, with a shift in federal funding toward national priorities of security and defense. Shepherd weaves together the national and international political climate masterfully with historical and culturally significant events and legislation (for example, the 1988 Statement for Management, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, building of relations between the park and the Mescalero and Lipan Apache, and recognition of the Buffalo Soldiers history in the region), which impressively led to a broader interpretation of inclusion for the park itself. Together with growing interest by the public, land acquisition, and improved facilities and infrastructure, Shepherd indicates, the Guadalupe National Park plays a role in demonstrating and celebrating the importance of “protecting natural spaces” and providing the public “access to nature, wilderness, open skies, and narratives of our shared past” (p. 196).
Shepherd’s well-crafted conclusion, “A National Park in the Southwest Borderlands,” reminds readers that the park is situated within the geological, environmental, historical, political, and ecological past, present, and future of the borderlands region. Those who lived through farming, ranching, or extractive industries, those who fought to protect the region for others to appreciate, and those who supported the creation of the park (and those opposed), all fall within the greater story that is the history of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Shepherd’s masterful telling of this story, his incredibly broad scope of investigative research, and his obvious personal knowledge of the mountain and its flora and fauna, its canyons and scrublands, truly provide the reader a visual imagery that is unsurpassed. If this book suffers any faults, and this is a minor criticism, it is a lack of images and maps for the reader to refer to as he describes such beautiful locations as the bowl, McKittrick Canyon, and other lesser-known delights to which he refers throughout the narrative.
This book is well crafted for the general reader, the Southwest enthusiast, land tenure and indigenous scholars, western historians, and those who appreciate the intricacies of early park formation. Highly readable, this book is a must for those who love the Southwest, the desert, and the mountains within it.
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Sandra K. Mathews. Review of Shepherd, Jeffrey P., Guadalupe Mountains National Park: An Environmental History of the Southwest Borderlands.
H-Environment, H-Net Reviews.
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