Navigation – Plan du site
Dossier : Staging American Memories
Blessures et mémoires : le présent face aux traces du passé

The Guidebook and the Medicine Pole: Staging Memory at a Nineteenth Century Battle Site in the American West

Entre guide touristique et “medecine pole”: Mise en scène de la mémoire sur un champ de bataille du 19ème siècle dans l’Ouest américain
El guía y el tótem: escenificar la memoria en el fortín del Capitán Jack
Wendy Harding et Jacky Martin

Résumés

Les visiteurs qui se rendent au Lava Beds National Monument découvrent un site dans lequel le National Park Service a scénarisé les aspects géologiques, historiques et environnementaux du site. Cet article examine la façon dont cette institution présente l’un de ces aspects, le « fortin du Capitaine Jack », qui fut le théâtre, entre 1872 et 1873, d’une confrontation entre l’armée des États-Unis et une bande d’indiens Modocs. En suivant les directives de l’auto-guide, les visiteurs prennent part à une représentation quasi théâtrale qui les invite à trouver leur « emplacement » dans le présent par un acte commémoratif qui reconstruit le passé pour résoudre les conflits de la communauté contemporaine et redéfinir la nation dans le présent. Cet article étudie le rôle déterminant du paysage pour instituer un sens de l’histoire et exprimer l’esprit d’un lieu. L’ancien champ de bataille est le lieu d’un phénomène collectif de positionnement dans l’espace (« emplacement ») très vivement contesté.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

  • 1  Lee Jullierat, Lava Beds National Monument, Charleston, South Carolina, Arcadia, 2015.
  • 2  With their emphasis on natural wonders, the National Parks foster the impression of timelessness. (...)
  • 3  United States National Park Service, « Lava Beds National Monument (U.S. National Park Service) », (...)

1Thanks to the lobbying efforts of local politicians wanting to encourage tourism, President Calvin Coolidge created the Lava Beds National Monument in 19251. Situated in northern California between more famous American sites such as California’s Yosemite National Park or Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, it has become a stopping point for tourists exploring the American West. For those expecting a place of topological rather than historical interest2, the Lava Beds hold a surprise. Although the United States National Park Service (NPS) privileges the site’s geological attractions, it cannot ignore its historical significance. Within the borders of this National Monument visitors discover « Captain Jack’s Stronghold » – a rugged stretch of ground pitted with lava caves where fewer than sixty rebellious Modoc Indian warriors managed to hold off the U.S. army in a siege that lasted over a year. In contrast to the nation’s many Civil War battle sites, this nineteenth century battleground of the Indian Wars is given relatively slight notice. Moreover, the focus on geology also has the effect of diminishing the Lava Beds’ historical importance. The National Park Service’s promotional material describes this National Monument as « a land of turmoil, both geological and historical3 », relegating both the volcanic and the social eruptions to the past. Nevertheless, our visit to Captain Jack’s Stronghold in 2013 revealed that the work of commemoration was still very much in process. Precisely because of its evidently unsettled status, the Lava Beds battleground sheds light on the ongoing process of constructing the past for the nation’s present. The official and unofficial tributes found there draw attention to the fact that national memory has as much to do with present circumstances as with past occurrences. Studying the artefacts found at the site and the discourses mediating them affords insight into the ways in which a nation’s sense of history is constantly being remade in a never-ending process of contestation and consensus engaging diverse peoples and interests. The battle site at the Lava Beds also leads us to reflect on how acts of commemoration further the larger objective of emplacement.

1. Discovering the Lava Beds National Monument

  • 4  National Park Service leaflet, « Lava Beds: A Brief History of the Modoc War », consulted 06 March (...)

2From November 1872 to June 1873 a small band of Modoc Indians who had found shelter with their families in the inhospitable lava caves managed to hold off a massive U.S. army force in a confrontation that a park leaflet describes as « one of the most costly wars in our history » and « the only Indian War fought in California, and the only one in which a general of the regular army was killed4 ». Despite this melodramatic billing, visitors to the site of these events – now known as Captain Jack’s Stronghold – are likely to find it deserted. Rather than enlisting park rangers to explain events, the park has set up a self-guided tour leading visitors through the rocky terrain where the fighting took place, presenting the site’s history through a brochure and explanatory signs. Despite the NPS’s modest investment, the evocation is arguably all the more effective in demanding visitors’ active involvement. One moves through the setting as if participating in a historical re-enactment, projecting one’s own mental images onto the surroundings. Visitors perform a ritual of commemoration, walking the trails that the nineteenth century combatants would have crossed.

3It would be wrong to imagine that this experience consigns the site’s « turmoil » to the past. In spite of the maps and directives designed to orient visitors, the experience remains open-ended, as certain gaps or inconsistencies in national memory become apparent. Rather than offering the satisfaction that the drama had ended and order had been restored, the evocation of American memory arouses puzzlement and prompts investigation.

4Visitors to the Lava Beds National Monument can respond to the site in a variety of ways. Obviously, one can go along with the diversified program of activities suggested by the site’s guidebook and combine such activities as hiking, exploring the geological or natural curiosities, and piecing together past events with the help of a few historical markers. The site’s layout encourages visitors to encounter it in this predefined way: to travel through it and hopefully to take away some knowledge of its geography and history. Another possibility consists in ignoring the scenario made available on location and trying to reconstruct for oneself the various tectonic movements, whether natural or man-made, that contributed to present-day state of the site. On our visit to the site we adopted neither of these practices. Rather than enjoying the place as entertainment or investigating its history, we tried to understand the significance of the site in and for the present.

5As European visitors we were foreign to the place and thus less attuned by our education to its specific national connotations. As outsiders we could espouse and assess all the possibilities offered by the site without being personally committed. Perhaps for this reason we were particularly intrigued by an apparently unofficial addition to the site. At the centre of the place where the Modocs held out against the U.S. army – labelled by the NPS as « Captain Jack’s Stronghold » – stood a medicine pole surrounded by recent offerings.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Caption : Medicine Pole, Captain Jack’s Stronghold, 2013. © : photograph by Wendy Harding

6The heterogeneous objects such as packets of cigarettes, soda cans, stuffed toys, or tennis shoes seemed to detract from the official tenor of the commemoration. Apparently, the past was not completely past or, to put it differently, it was experienced in different manners. The American National Monument was also a Native American shrine. The medicine pole planted at the top of Captain  Jack’s Stronghold declared that Native Americans convened there to make connections in the present. That discovery led to a new realization: the complex of time and space centering on the Lava Beds could be construed in different ways. It could foster widely different practices such as casual tourism, historical enquiry, or religious commemoration. All these activities are motivated by the desire to bond with a specific location. Places are shaped by both personal and collective aspirations. Public sites of national commemoration try to channel personal appropriation through predefined scenarios yet necessarily remain highly contested locations.

7Since we did not quite belong at the Lava Beds National Monument, we were anxious to understand what made people relate to the site. Our outsider status thus placed us in a privileged situation. After examining the signs of different people’s struggle to connect with the place, we were led to reflect on how that attachment was effected in time and space. Instead of comparing the merits of different forms of commemoration, we have decided to examine the potential of the concept of emplacement. Rather than exploring the archives in order hypothetically to reconstitute past events and critiquing the historical accuracy of the NPS’s management of the site, we want to reflect on how and with what consequences what is on offer at the Lava Beds allows present day Americans to situate themselves as occupants of the land by finding meaningful ways to carry over the past into the present. So our study is not so much about the past as about how the past passes into the present.

2. The Lay of the Land

  • 5  National Park Service, « 2006 Wilderness Stewardship Plan Environmental Assessment », p. 83-84. Pu (...)

8Located near Klamath Falls, a prosperous little city whose eponymous falls now lie submerged beneath a lake, this portion of the Californian hinterland presents a topographical crazy quilt of farmlands, marshlands, and lakes. The land that is now the Lava Beds National Monument was once part of the ancestral territory of the Modoc tribe. The influx of white settlers in the latter half of the nineteenth century led to a struggle for control of the land that culminated in the confrontation in the Lava Beds between the U.S. Army and the small Modoc band that refused to share a reservation with their traditional enemies, the Klamath Indians. After a siege that lasted almost a year, the defeated Modocs were exiled to a reservation in Oklahoma. The volcanic terrain in which the Modocs had sought refuge was not adapted to agricultural exploitation; instead, it was set aside as a national monument by Coolidge’s presidential designation in 1925. In 1933, the site devolved from the Forest Service to the National Park Service, when the Civilian Conservation Corps began work on the infrastructure. All the lands concerned were listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the Modoc Lava Beds Archaeological District in 19915. The site harbors various historical vestiges like the former CCC camp and a WWII Japanese internment camp, as well as sites of interest because of the wildlife and the geological formations. This geographical and historical complexity is compounded by the disconcerting montage of federal institutions that crisscross the region and come under diverse administrative regimes: the Lava Beds Wilderness Area, The Modoc National Forests, The Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge, the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument, and the Lava Beds National Monument.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Caption : Lava Beds National Monument Map. © : National Park Service)

  • 6  « Lava Beds National Monument. » National Park Foundation, 22 Feb. 2014, consulted 06 March 2015. (...)

9The National Parks website invites visitors to the Lava Beds to discover a « volcanic landscape » that is also the « historic battlegrounds of the Modoc War6 ». The site is thus divided between its geological and historical orientations, a dual focus appearing in the Presidential Proclamation of 1925 that asserts the intention:

  • 7  Presidential Proclamation No. 1755, November 21, 1925 (44 Stat. 2591). Quoted in « 2006 Wilderness (...)

to preserve, protect and promote the scientific inquiry of the natural and cultural resources of the unique volcanic fields and associated features, perpetuating, unimpaired, the ecosystems in which they are found for the benefit, enjoyment and understanding of present and future generations7.

  • 8  The two wilderness units were designated as such in 1972 under public law 92-493. Cf. « 2006 Wilde (...)

10Indeed, the Lava Beds Monument now comprises two designated wilderness areas, Schonchin Wilderness and Black Lava Flow Wilderness8, along with two apparently unrelated sites of cultural interest: Petroglyph Point and Captain Jack’s Stronghold, the latter being the focus of this paper. Since the park rangers in the Lava Beds National Monument cannot know whether one’s interest in the monument is historical, geological, or ecological, visitors may detect an absence of clarity in the interpretive guidance offered at the Visitor Center. Nevertheless, the NPS orchestrates visitors’ experience through the layout of roads, trails, and signs.

3. A Thread through the Maze

11On one of the access roads within the monument, signposts direct visitors toward the adjacent historical sites of the Canby Cross and Captain Jack’s Stronghold. Interpretative markers channel visitors’ attention toward the task of piecing together the events that took place at the site between 1872 and 1873, when fewer than sixty Modoc warriors confronted as many as six hundred U.S. soldiers. A white cross with rather crude black lettering is the first thing that catches the visitor’s eye. In block letters it announces: « Gen Canby USA was murdered here by the Modocs April 11 1873. »

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

Caption : Canby Cross. © : photograph by Wendy Harding

  • 9  A photograph of the monument and more information on the circumstances surrounding it can be found (...)

12If the Canby Cross (or a reproduction of the original one) has been retained, another monument – a bear (the symbol of the state of California) pierced by Indian arrows – installed at the site in 1926 was removed in the 1960s. Put in place by the Native Daughters of the Golden West, an organization whose members claim to be descendants of California pioneers, the statue was erected to « celebrate the heroism of General Edward R.S. Canby, other officers and soldiers and pioneer settlers who sacrificed their lives on the battlefield during the Modoc War9 ». The monument would have suggested that in opposing the U.S. army, the Modocs were somehow enemies of the land itself.

13An explanatory panel at the roadside identifies the Canby Cross as simply one among a number « of efforts to memorialize the death of General E.R.S. Canby ». The text goes on to explain that the cross is a replica reproducing one of the earliest memorializing gestures, the original having been « erected by a U.S. soldier in 1882, just nine years after the event ». The panel goes on to account for the inscription’s strongly negative characterization of the general’s death:

Some of the very same troops Canby had commanded here in the lava beds were still fighting other Indian Wars, and public interest and emotion about such conflicts ran high.

Although the inscription on the cross may elicit strong emotions in some modern visitors, it illuminates the point that people see events through the lens of their own culture and time. In 1873, what some Modocs considered a justifiable war tactic, the U.S. Army considered murder. No monument commemorates the places where Modocs may have felt their attempts to live peaceably were betrayed.

14The text is remarkable in its acknowledgment that historical explanations are subject to revision and dependent on point of view. In gesturing toward the possibility of interpreting the General’s death as « justifiable », the text contradicts another much less equivocal official statement, found on a State of California highway historical marker in the nearby town of Newell and announcing that Canby’s Cross can be viewed fourteen miles away. Historical Landmark No. 110 declares: « General E.R.S. Canby was murdered here in April, 1873, while holding a peace parley under flag of truce with Captain Jack and Indian chiefs. Rev. Eleazer Thomas, Peace Commissioner, was likewise treacherously slain. » The NPS text placed alongside the cross implicitly offers a gloss on the emotional language of the California State Landmark in suggesting that the memorializing impulse responds to the concerns of the present. Surprisingly, the NPS text also admits that the Modocs may have historical grievances that remain uncommemorated. In so doing it reflects a newer consciousness of the past that reacts to the claims of American Indian protest movements and concedes that certain questions remain unsettled in the present.

  • 10  Lee Juillerat, Captain Jack’s Stronghold Historic Trail, Tulelake, CA, Lava Beds Natural History A (...)

15With such issues in mind, visitors can embark on the trail that winds through the lava beds toward Captain Jack’s Stronghold, guided by the leaflet available at the trailhead. The linking of place to historical memory initially seems convincing. The leaflet’s military terminology and the signs posted along the trail help visitors to picture antagonistic armed forces deploying various combat techniques in order to neutralize one another. We are invited to inspect the « Modoc Outpost », the « Main Defense Line », the « Firing Position », the « Fortifications », and « Captain Jack’s Command Post10 ». We are asked to imagine that a drawn-out battle between rival armies took place and that despite heroic resistance on the Indian side, a superior U.S. force eventually vanquished Captain Jack and his Modocs. The staging techniques put into place at the site create the illusion of historical reality, but at the same time they reduce the past to a neat but highly simplified and ideologically inflected production.

16First the leaflet pictorializes. The illustrations give a sense of immediacy and documentary validity to the leaflet’s version of the past. Indeed they are taken from The Illustrated London News, April 1873 and Harpers Weekly, June 1873, two media that documented the events at the time.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4

Caption : Cover for Captain Jack’s Stronghold Historic Trail. © : Lava Beds Natural History Association

17The illustration chosen for the cover shows several Modoc snipers hiding among the rocks while unsuspecting soldiers ride by, implying stealth and treacherous intent on the Indian side. The leaflet’s final illustrations create a sense of balance between the opposing forces: in a vignette on the left hand side of the page is the same group of three Modoc snipers that figure on the cover; on the right is a vignette of three U.S. soldiers. The Indians are facing right and the cavalry facing left, creating the impression that we are witnessing a face-off between the two sides.

Fig. 5

Fig. 5

Caption : Illustrations from Captain Jack’s Stronghold Historic Trail. © : Lava Beds Natural History Association

18Second, the leaflet scenarizes. For example, at the spot designated as Captain Jack’s Command Post, the visitor is invited to « imagine yourself in command of about half of the 60-man force defending the Stronghold », and to « note how completely any travel along the lake-shore can be monitored from the two natural trenches through which you have walked ». Modals also implicate visitors in the scenario: « the winter must have been very hard on the families of the fighting men ».

19Third, the writer simplifies. In the space of the two opening pages, he manages to reduce a complex of events and a multiplicity of actors to a combat between two sides whose altercations converge on a clear-cut and conclusive ending. Through this technique, the far-reaching issues involving people and places across the nation and involving struggles dating far back in time are subsumed in a few grand melodramatic scenes.

20Fourth, the tour foregrounds the Lava Beds and thereby separates the site from the rest of the country. The silence concerning the part played by the government in Washington, the pacifists around the country protesting the treatment of the Modocs, the emigrants moving westward en masse, or the settlers and miners already installed in the territory disconnects these participants from the battlefield.

21Finally, the experience aims at creating emotional impact. The political, economic and spiritual aspects of events are left aside in favor of the more sensational elements liable to grab the visitor’s attention.

  • 11  « 2006 Wilderness Stewardship Plan Environmental Assessment », op. cit., p. 36. The fact that hist (...)

22The evocation of the conflict is all the more powerful in that it is not achieved by texts alone, nor by actors presenting a historical reenactment, but is instead staged at the site of the nineteenth-century struggle through a self-initiated exploration guided by a compelling though unspecified originator via what the Wilderness Stewardship Plan glibly calls a « visitor experience action11 ».

23This staging of events is convincing insofar as it tallies with some of our most ingrained preconceptions. For example, we have been taught to believe that battles are decisive and conclusive elements in the resolution of conflicts. The countless confrontations shown in westerns, TV series, and historical documentaries have suggested that, no matter how beleaguered, the U.S. army finally triumphs against hostile Indian braves. Moreover, the familiar scenario suggests that the whole induced performance is ultimately consensual since it brings the two sides together in a kind of brotherhood in arms. Finally, the comfortingly familiar order imposed by the National Park Service places the turbulent American past in the frame of present stability. This leaflet concludes with a geological description of the lava formations at Captain Jack’s Stronghold and an ecological explanation of the role of wildfire in shaping the surrounding environment.

4. A Perplexing Spectacle

24Yet, for us, in part because of our outsider status as visitors coming from Europe, this staging at the site of the conflict induced perplexity rather than the sense of reconciliation that it was aiming to promote. As we followed the path through the lava beds, inconsistencies began to accumulate undermining the spectacle’s credibility. Some of these relate to the script guiding the tour experience and some to the land on which it took place. We were surprised that the names given to some of the sites the Modocs occupied – « stronghold », « fortress », « command post » – seemed more suited to an adventure novel than to the volcanic terrain. We asked ourselves why the leaflet refers to the Modocs by the names given them by the whites rather than their Indian names. We puzzled over why the Indians resorted to such an inauspicious place to make a stand. Looking at the sign marking the site of Tule Lake, we speculated how and why the major topographical feature that shaped the combat had disappeared. We wanted to know what became of the defeated Modocs once they surrendered. Finally, we wondered who had brought the contemporary votive offerings to the colorful Indian medicine pole planted at the center of the site.

  • 12  A. B. Meacham, Wi-ne-ma and Her People, Hartford, Conn., American Publishing Company, 1876. See al (...)
  • 13  K. A. Murray, The Modocs and Their War, Norman, U. Oklahoma Press, 1959; A. Quinn, Hell with the F (...)
  • 14  The designation was used by anthropologist Verne F. Ray in his book about the Modocs, Primitive pr (...)

25To find some answers to our questions, we consulted contemporary testimonies like the account of Meacham, a peace commissioner who survived the assassination attempt and partial scalping12, as well as subsequent historical accounts like Murray’s The Modocs and Their War or Quinn’s Hell With the Fires Out13. These accounts lead us to believe that the so-called « stronghold » was rather a last recourse, and that Captain Jack, whose Modoc name was Kientpoos, was a reluctant Captain, more interested in making peace with the army than making war. General Canby’s assassination came in 1873, after prolonged rounds of unproductive negotiations that coincided with the army’s progressive strangling encirclement of the Modoc warriors who were confined in the lava beds with their families and all their earthly possessions. This beleaguered nearly destitute group holed up in the lava formations because they refused to be consigned to a reservation on the traditional lands of their enemies, the Klamaths, who continually accused the Modocs of trespass. Far from confronting the Indians as a comparable military force, the U.S. army trapped the Modocs in the lava caves and bombarded them night and day with howitzers, terrorizing the women and children. The stronghold was more of a stranglehold, the last stage in the eradication of a formerly well-adapted and cooperative tribe, the pragmatists that had rapidly altered their life-styles upon contact with the newly arrived invaders14. At stake for the U.S.A. was not the taking of a specific stronghold and the reduction of a few straggling rebels, but the final control of the whole territory that lay around it, something that the staging of one decisive final battle keeps in the background. Anglo-American settlers had already occupied the territory and they demanded that the indigenous occupants, whose ancestral totemic signs were inscribed on the neighboring Petroglyph Point, should be deported from their homeland to a reservation. In short, other divergent scenarios emerge from the memoirs and successive studies that constructed the story of events in that part of the world. The so-called Modoc War was a multi-factor, multi-actor entanglement involving various parties and territories across an extended period of time.

  • 15  « La mémoire est toujours présente. » Henri Bergson, Matière et Mémoire. Essai sur la relation du (...)
  • 16  « Ensemble virtuel, le passé ne peut être saisi par nous comme passé que si nous suivons et adopto (...)
  • 17  Michel Ralph Trouillot, Silencing the Past, Power and the Production of History, Boston, Beacon Pr (...)
  • 18  We are thinking of the memorable phrase used by Pierre Nora in « Between Memory and History: Les L (...)

26Yet, we do not intend to take position for or against one interpretation or another, to vindicate one party against another, or to oppose « bad » history to « good » history. We want to suggest, after Bergson, that « memory is always present15 ». The past is not a separate entity, accessible simply through an effort of retrieval; instead, evocations of past events always sift and shape the past as a function of the necessities of the present16. Besides, as Michel R. Trouillot has cogently stated: « History is always produced in a specific historical context. Historical actors are also narrators, and vice versa17 ». In staging the past, the present also dramatizes itself. Keeping this in mind we intend to decipher the functions of the scenarios in this particular « site of memory18 », and accessorily to investigate the role and modalities of memorialization. The Lava Beds National Monument inscribes its theatrical evocation upon an otherwise nondescript landscape and offers it to the public not as a spectacle but as an entertaining scenario that they must enact and thus performatively validate. We want to reflect on that particular combination of place and history, instruction and persuasion.

5. Commemoration

27The term « staging » is suggestively ambiguous when applied to historical commemoration: it implies the use of a script, guiding a performance, a director, attempting to impose order on a production, a setting or scene in which events take place, actors who embody the participants, and, finally, an audience whose participation completes the presentation. The staging of memory is not aimed at a detached, critical audience – it concerns the members of a society and requires their collective inscription in place. At Captain Jack’s Stronghold visitors are both the actors and the audience. They create the play as they go and as they imagine. This specific case of in situ staging of memory should be more aptly designated as commemoration. That structure straddling the present and the past comprises three dimensions: a certain selective reconstruction of the past, a form of persuasion addressed to the contemporary community, and a form of communication that uses tangible traces of the past in order to deliver a message to the nation about itself. Commemoration is still very much in process, as we found when visiting the small, haphazard local museum in the town of Tulelake, where one of the NPS rangers was stationed. We found a suggestion box inviting visitors to offer opinions as to how the whole site should oriented and what should be highlighted for future reorganization. Apparently the authorities shared our perplexity at the complexity of the site, and the need to make sense was genuine.

  • 19  W. J. T. Mitchell, Landscape and Power. Chicago, University of Chicago, 1994, p. vii.

28The pre-formatted scenario staging the memory of the Modoc War in the Lava Beds involves visitors in a relationship with the landscape. Considering landscapes as the stages on which events take place, Mitchell asserts that: « As the background within which a figure, form, or narrative emerges, landscape exerts the passive force of setting, scene and sight19 ». This is certainly the case in the Lava Beds where, thanks to the instigated participation of the visitors, the setting is made to support a certain vision of a historic confrontation. Yet, although the stage is clearly set for some ideological performance, the meaning of the show is complicated by the unanswered questions it raises. In fact, trying to clarify the tenor of the performance would automatically detract from the efficacy of its specific mode of communication. The theatrical medium does not aim at limpidity of expression; it does not try to eliminate ambiguity. Instead, on the contrary, theatralization depends on polysemy and ambivalence, either holding contradictions together in dynamic tension, as in the works of great dramatists, or obscuring the issues, as in the National Parks’ staging of the conflict between the Modocs and the U.S. army. In the Lava Beds, the logic of proximity becomes the logic of possibility. The openness of the theatrical medium permits the cohabitation of different and sometimes contradictory meanings that at the same time neutralize and reinforce each other. Yet it would be erroneous to interpret the Lava Beds scenography as a simple travesty of historical fact. If it were so, it would be much less persuasive.

  • 20  These are abundantly described and documented in the most recent assessment study, Paul A. Adamus (...)
  • 21  « 2006 Wilderness Stewardship Plan Environmental Assessment », op. cit., p. 5.
  • 22  Ibid., p. 13.
  • 23  William Cronon critiques the wilderness ideal for « its flight from history, … its siren song of e (...)

29In fact, part of the monument’s persuasiveness lies in its circumspection and even understatement in connection with the historic significance of the site. In the NPS assessment, the battle site – one among the monument’s multiple centers of interest that include volcanic features, wildlife, and speleology20 is paired with the more ancient petroglyphs as « evidence of prehistoric and historic human settlement, use, and conflict21 ». In keeping with the 1925 Presidential Proclamation establishing the Lava Beds National Monument, the whole site is supposed to be preserved as intact and pristine as the first settlers originally discovered it. The Proclamation follows the directive of the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916, which commits the NPS as an institution to conserving « the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wild life therein and to provid[ing] for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations22 ». The commemorative site is doubly removed from any potential social or political contestation: the human imprint becomes a historical artifact that is then amalgamated with the wilderness concept whose strategic duplicity has been aptly demonstrated by William Cronon23. Under that double erasure, the so-called « stronghold » comes under the protection of NPS regulations and becomes the object of official interpretation.

30The Lava Beds Monument policy dovetails with the various institutions that are within or adjacent to its perimeter. The Wilderness areas, Wildlife Refuges and National Forests that occupy more than half of the region’s surface are part of a concerted plan to offset the massive transformations resulting from the draining of the Tule Lake and the creation of an extensive underground network of canals, dams, pumping stations and sump holes that have transformed that swampy region into the productive farmland favored by Euro-American settlers. Ecology is now the watchword, and institutional preservation is meant to compensate the drastic environmental changes created by colonial settlement. The global ecological preoccupation appears to validate the historical commemoration of the army’s combat against the Modocs. Visitors should be able to visualize (and endorse) the master plan organizing the various means to make the territory conform to the national model. They should be able to espouse visually its organic justification.

  • 24  See James Welch, Killing Custer: The Battle of Little Big Horn and the Fate of the Plains Indians, (...)
  • 25  One of the main stereotypes flagrantly cited by omission being the sexist idea according to which (...)

31In order to reconcile visitors to that global perspective, the NPS has to conciliate past conflicts. It is important to let bygones be bygones. The scenography created around the battleground site corresponds to a fairly recent development in the evocation of history at American public sites. Official directives appear to have absorbed the lessons deriving from the imbroglio of conflicting interpretations that plagued the Little Big Horn site24. The commemoration at the Stronghold complies with a new consensual policy that tends to encourage reconciliation between formerly affronted communities. At the Lava Beds Monument the multiple references in the scenario to Medieval or Western subtexts tend to accredit the impression that there was a fair confrontation between the Modocs and the US. forces (the bravery and cunning of the former matching the technical advantage and superior force of the latter) and that the outcome was harsh but inevitable25. There is a certain grim justice sanctioned by the site that draws its justification from its very implacability. Such tragic events had to take place in order to create the global rightness of the landscape such as it is discovered by the visitors. In a subliminal way the staging at the Lava Beds Monument explains and justifies the removal of the former Indian occupants and contributes to preserving the survival of archeological vestiges. The very tectonic structure and geological history foster that surreptitious impression. The convulsive, tormented and desolate locale, described by the Modocs as « the land of the burnt out fires » seems destined to have been imprinted with the marks of a tragic past. The scenography in which visitors participate becomes a form of collective catharsis, maybe the prelude to a form of national reconciliation.

  • 26  W. J. T. Mitchell, op. cit., p. 1.

32Considering the Lava Beds commemoration, it becomes necessary, as Mitchell urges in the introduction to Landscape and Power, « to change landscape from a noun to a verb26 ». Landscape acts on the visitor and naturalizes the actions undertaken by the dominant culture to harness its power. Visiting the Lava Beds Monument, walking through its various memorial places, and participating in the scenario suggested by the NPS brochure justify Americans for being where they are. By endorsing (or indeed challenging) the national scenario visitors ensure the continuity of American history and, at the same time, piece together the straggling fragments of the national territory. The sense of being-in-place, whatever its justification, results from being-in-history, and being in history creates a sense of place. From our own perspective, our feeling of being out of place in the initially confusing and alien terrain of the Lava Beds National Monument paradoxically provoked the conscious work of investigating emplacement.

  • 27  Here we are indebted to Bergson’s reflection on duration in Chapter Three of Matière et Mémoire, P (...)

33Our encounter with the Lava Beds National Monument precludes any notion that the past is a storage chest of actors, events, and facts from which people can create an account in the present. Instead, we found the past to be a construction of the present, and memory, a deliberate action to cope with the present rather than a retrospective glance. Whenever we think of what we call « the present », we should, contra intuitively, imagine that rather than standing at a point in time, we are moving forward in a temporal flux in which we both recapture and produce what came before us in order to deal with present interest and circumstances27. Hence, the past is not cut off from the present, which itself is not distinct from what we are hardwired to think of as the future. Rather both past and future are embedded in the present, which is nothing other than the reappraisal of what came before in order to respond to situational necessities. The past is always carried forward into present circumstances. The temporal flux fundamentally changes it, but not to the point that we cannot recognize it as belonging to us. This is the paradox of the past – it seems both detached from us and committing. The past is not a receptacle containing inert facts and events but an unfolding of potentialities into the present.

6. Emplacement

  • 28  See George Steiner’s Martin Heidegger, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1991, p. 87.
  • 29  The black box is a piece of technology or a scientific fact whose functioning or integrity is take (...)
  • 30  Emplacement for us is not a substantive but a predicate. It is also not an act of will or a produc (...)

34Before we occupy the places in which we live, they are not empty or unspecified space into which we are « thrown » with the brutality that Heidegger appears to envisage as linked to the human condition28. Places are space-time conglomerates in which individuals are always already embedded or emplaced. When we feel at home, we do not do not question our inscription in time-space and we rely on the stability that places ostensibly provide. Reliability, like Latour’s « black box29 » enables us to forget the complex of relations that connect us to past contracts ensuring future expectations. But there are places that crack open the « black box » of reasonable expectations and reveal the complex and tortuous underpinnings of the present. Let us call them emplacements or places of awareness of our insertion in space-time30. The Lava Beds is one of these places in which we can at the same time re-examine our connections to the past and reflect on how we insert ourselves in the present, and beyond the present, into future developments that the past empowers us to envisage. Memory is productive rather than retrospective.

35Isn’t it a form of empowerment – of commitment to the future – that the devotees of the medicine pole are trying to assert and that the administrators of the National Service are attempting to channel into a patriotic frame? Can’t we envisage the Battle of the Lava Beds, not as an isolated segment in a historical timeline but as seminal element branching out into all kinds of developments that are unpredictable but somehow contained in the original conflict? Hasn’t the same unequal battle been continuously waged across time on different grounds with different contestants uncovering unsuspected options that appear to have been encapsulated in the original conflict? The Battle of the Lava Beds is not only a past event, but also a key moment in the global unfolding of territorial expansion in America. The initial events did not so much produce results as discover their potentialities through their expansion, so that the past is prospective rather than causal.

  • 31  We agree with Doreen Massey, who maintains, « We cannot make a judgment on the basis of a spatiali (...)
  • 32  Cf. Wendy Harding and Jacky Martin, « The West Beyond Borders: the Case of the Tule Lake Region » (...)

36Instead of dichotomizing time in terms of past and present thus implicitly effecting a bifurcation between an objective, detached, scholarly approach to past events and a subjective, partial and biased implication in the present, we should consider the ways in which we are committed to our time-place by being emplaced in the land. Each individual act of memory, although inevitably socially formatted, is an act of emplacement and there can be a multiplicity of such emplacements or, to put it differently, any number of pasts can be imagined in relation to the same site. Sites of memory are not so much places as inevitably disputed processes of collective emplacement31. Emplacement sites humans in space and defines sites for humans to exist in. The relation between people and space is co-creative, so that neither of its terms can exist without the other. Some acts of emplacement are ritualized, like those of the Modocs and other pilgrims to the site; others are officially orchestrated, like the NPS’s scenario; others can be more unpredictable or scattered in keeping with each visitors’ experience, or again strategically distanced like our own study. None of the memorialized or remembered pasts are actually the past. They are instead a collective creation shaped from a multiplicity of angles and perspectives in a more or less cacophonic polyphony. Paradoxically, since retrieving the past is an ongoing process, the notion that there is an objective past reality to be recaptured is an illusion or a foregone decision that authorizes acts of recapitulation. At the Lava Beds National Monument, we found that the past was in posse, open toward the future. As far as we are concerned our emplacement means that we are always in embroiled in an ongoing process, never serenely contemplating the past. No one would have thought in 1873, when the Modocs were like other Native American tribes consigned to the past, that after the insurgents were executed, jailed or deported, some of their descendants would resurface in the present as influential members of the Klamath tribes32.

Haut de page

Notes

1  Lee Jullierat, Lava Beds National Monument, Charleston, South Carolina, Arcadia, 2015.

2  With their emphasis on natural wonders, the National Parks foster the impression of timelessness. Rebecca Solnit says of Yosemite National Park, « It was a place where nothing was supposed to happen », Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West, New York, Vintage, 1995, p. 228.

3  United States National Park Service, « Lava Beds National Monument (U.S. National Park Service) », National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 01 March 2015, consulted 06 March 2015. http://www.nps.gov/labe/index.htm

4  National Park Service leaflet, « Lava Beds: A Brief History of the Modoc War », consulted 06 March 2015. http://www.nps.gov/labe/planyourvisit/upload/MODOC%20WAR.pdf

5  National Park Service, « 2006 Wilderness Stewardship Plan Environmental Assessment », p. 83-84. Published online by Wilderness.net, University of Montana. consulted 06 March 2015. https://www.wilderness.net/toolboxes/documents/planning/LAVABEDS_WSP_EA.pdf

6  « Lava Beds National Monument. » National Park Foundation, 22 Feb. 2014, consulted 06 March 2015. http://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/lava-beds-national-monument

7  Presidential Proclamation No. 1755, November 21, 1925 (44 Stat. 2591). Quoted in « 2006 Wilderness Stewardship Plan Environmental Assessment », op. cit., p. 13.

8  The two wilderness units were designated as such in 1972 under public law 92-493. Cf. « 2006 Wilderness Stewardship Plan Environmental Assessment », op. cit., p. 9.

9  A photograph of the monument and more information on the circumstances surrounding it can be found in Boyd Cothran’s article, « Exchanging Gifts with the Dead: Lava Beds National Monument and Narratives of the Modoc War », International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies, 4, 2011, p. 33-34.

10  Lee Juillerat, Captain Jack’s Stronghold Historic Trail, Tulelake, CA, Lava Beds Natural History Association, 1992. The pages of the leaflet are not numbered. Subsequent references are to this version.

11  « 2006 Wilderness Stewardship Plan Environmental Assessment », op. cit., p. 36. The fact that historical interpretations associated with any NPS monument are defined at the local level in concertation with various groups and institutions (not in this case the Klamath-Modoc tribes, however) contributes to a certain form of illegibility resulting paradoxically from consensus.

12  A. B. Meacham, Wi-ne-ma and Her People, Hartford, Conn., American Publishing Company, 1876. See also J. C. D. Riddle, The Indian History of the Modoc War, San Francisco, Marnell, 1914.

13  K. A. Murray, The Modocs and Their War, Norman, U. Oklahoma Press, 1959; A. Quinn, Hell with the Fire Out: A History of the Modoc War, Boston, Faber and Faber, 1997. We also consulted E. Thompson, Modoc War: Its Military History and Topography, Sacramento, Argus, 1971 and R. Dillon, Burnt Out Fires, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1973.

14  The designation was used by anthropologist Verne F. Ray in his book about the Modocs, Primitive pragmatists: the Modoc Indians of northern California, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1973.

15  « La mémoire est toujours présente. » Henri Bergson, Matière et Mémoire. Essai sur la relation du corps à l’esprit, Paris, Félix Alcan, 1910, p. 63.

16  « Ensemble virtuel, le passé ne peut être saisi par nous comme passé que si nous suivons et adoptons le mouvement par lequel il s’épanouit en image présente émergeant des ténèbres au grand jour. » Ibid., p. 81. « A virtual aggregate, the past cannot be grasped unless we follow and adopt the movement with which it opens out as a present image, emerging out of the shadows into the full light of day. » [Our translation.]

17  Michel Ralph Trouillot, Silencing the Past, Power and the Production of History, Boston, Beacon Press, 1995, p. 22.

18  We are thinking of the memorable phrase used by Pierre Nora in « Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire », Representations 26 (Spring, 1989), p. 7-24. However, we can not endorse his conception of such places as affording objective contemplation of the past.

19  W. J. T. Mitchell, Landscape and Power. Chicago, University of Chicago, 1994, p. vii.

20  These are abundantly described and documented in the most recent assessment study, Paul A. Adamus et al., Lava Beds National Monument Natural Resource Condition Assessment Natural Resource Report, Fort Collins, Colorado, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2013. Caving opportunities, situated mostly in the Southern part of the Monument, are by far the most documented activities. This fact perhaps justifies, along with the administrative anchoring in California, the placing of the NPS visitor center at the opposite end of the site from the Stronghold.

21  « 2006 Wilderness Stewardship Plan Environmental Assessment », op. cit., p. 5.

22  Ibid., p. 13.

23  William Cronon critiques the wilderness ideal for « its flight from history, … its siren song of escape, … its reproduction of the dangerous dualism that sets human beings outside of nature. » See William Cronon, « The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature », in William Cronon (ed.), Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, New York, W. W. Norton, 1995, p. 81.

24  See James Welch, Killing Custer: The Battle of Little Big Horn and the Fate of the Plains Indians, New York, Penguin, 1994. The site of the Battle of Little Bighorn was initially designated as a National Cemetery honoring the dead soldiers of the U.S. Cavalry and in particular their defeated leader, General Custer. In renaming it as the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in 1991, the U.S. government recognized that it was a commemorative site of importance to Native Americans, in particular to the tribes responsible for the Indian victory there.

25  One of the main stereotypes flagrantly cited by omission being the sexist idea according to which war is a man’s job and that women were not implicated in the conflict, which is in flagrant contradiction with historical facts.

26  W. J. T. Mitchell, op. cit., p. 1.

27  Here we are indebted to Bergson’s reflection on duration in Chapter Three of Matière et Mémoire, Paris, PUF, 1939, p. 147-198, and Gille Deleuze’s reconsideration and augmentation of Bergson in Différence et Répétition, Paris, PUF, 1968, p. 110-111.

28  See George Steiner’s Martin Heidegger, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1991, p. 87.

29  The black box is a piece of technology or a scientific fact whose functioning or integrity is taken for granted. Bruno Latour gives the example of a Kodak camera in which, thanks to automatism, « a large number of elements is made to function as one ». See Science in Action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard U.P., 1987, p. 131.

30  Emplacement for us is not a substantive but a predicate. It is also not an act of will or a product of happenstance – it results from an encounter between humans and their environment giving rise to emplaced humans and humanized places.

31  We agree with Doreen Massey, who maintains, « We cannot make a judgment on the basis of a spatiality abstracted from power relations – always what is at issue is spatialized social power: it is the power relations in the construction of the spatiality, rather than the spatiality alone, which must be addressed. » In « Spaces of Politics », in Doreen Massey, John Allen, and Phillip Sarre (eds.), Human Geography Today, Polity, Cambridge, England, 1999, p. 291.

32  Cf. Wendy Harding and Jacky Martin, « The West Beyond Borders: the Case of the Tule Lake Region » in Angel Chaparro Sainz and Amaia Ibarraran Bigalondo (eds.), Transcontinental Reflections on the American West: Words, Images, Sounds beyond Borders, Berkeley, Portal, 2015, p. 66.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1
Crédits Caption : Medicine Pole, Captain Jack’s Stronghold, 2013. © : photograph by Wendy Harding
URL http://framespa.revues.org/docannexe/image/4354/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 6,6M
Titre Fig. 2
Crédits Caption : Lava Beds National Monument Map. © : National Park Service)
URL http://framespa.revues.org/docannexe/image/4354/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 448k
Titre Fig. 3
Crédits Caption : Canby Cross. © : photograph by Wendy Harding
URL http://framespa.revues.org/docannexe/image/4354/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 6,2M
Titre Fig. 4
Crédits Caption : Cover for Captain Jack’s Stronghold Historic Trail. © : Lava Beds Natural History Association
URL http://framespa.revues.org/docannexe/image/4354/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,8M
Titre Fig. 5
Crédits Caption : Illustrations from Captain Jack’s Stronghold Historic Trail. © : Lava Beds Natural History Association
URL http://framespa.revues.org/docannexe/image/4354/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,0M
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Wendy Harding et Jacky Martin, « The Guidebook and the Medicine Pole: Staging Memory at a Nineteenth Century Battle Site in the American West  », Les Cahiers de Framespa [En ligne], 24 | 2017, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2017, consulté le 25 mai 2017. URL : http://framespa.revues.org/4354 ; DOI : 10.4000/framespa.4354

Haut de page

Auteurs

Wendy Harding

Wendy Harding is Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, and a member of the research team CAS (Cultures anglo-saxonnes) EA 801. She obtained the PhD from the University of Connecticut in 1985 and the HDR from the University of Paris-Sorbonne in 1999. She is currently Professor of English at the University of Toulouse, France. She has co-authored two books on American literature with Jacky Martin, A World of Difference: An Inter-Cultural Study of Toni Morrison’s Novels (1994) and Beyond Words: The Othering Excursion in Contemporary American Literature (2007). Her latest book is The Myth of Emptiness and the New American Literature of Place (2014).
harding@univ-tlse2.fr

Jacky Martin

Jacky Martin is Emeritus Professor at the University of Montpellier 3, France. He has published numerous articles on contemporary literature, as well as discourse and translation theory. In collaboration with Lance Hewson he authored Redefining Translation: The Variational Approach (1990). He also studied hybridizing processes between cultures in the American context in A World of Difference: An Intercultural Study of Toni Morrison’s Novels (1994) and Beyond Words: The Othering Excursion in Contemporary American Literature (2007), both co-authored with Wendy Harding.
jacky.r.martin@univ-montp3.fr

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Les Cahiers de Framespa sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo Les Cahiers de Framespa
  • Logo France, Amériques, Espagne – Sociétés, pouvoirs, acteurs
  • Logo Université Toulouse – Jean Jaurès
  • Logo CNRS – Institut des sciences humaines et sociales
  • Les cahiers de Revues.org