June 12, 2008
Converso cowboys who tamed the U.S. frontier
(Page 2 - Previous Page)These cowboys did not have red hair or a blonde beard. And they did not call themselves Rowdy or Dad, or Ike, Wyatt, Zeke, Deke or Chance. They were named Juan or Isaac or Ismael, although they may have kept that to themselves. Since many were fugitives and had secrets, their affect was not at all like that of the expansive and grandiose dons who had driven them from their own land; they generally didn't have much to say, and they made the sign of the cross in public and observed the Sabbath beyond the eye of mission priests or spies, and thus was the great American icon born -- a mysterious stranger who wouldn't be fenced in, reinventing himself on the plains of the Southwest. Years later their descendants would discover a menorah stashed behind the crumbling stucco of a bunkhouse, a tattered scroll with strange glyphs rolled up inside an old saddle blanket -- remnants from a forbidden world about which they knew nothing -- and they would wonder about their family histories and some would make inquiries and join temples and others would wall everything back up. And all the while there was something that urged them on, the knowledge perhaps, somewhere in their bones, that they had come from a tribe of ancient shepherds whose communion with oxen and mules and horses is recorded in the psalms and more esoteric texts of another age, and when it was necessary, the tribe had wandered again after the original exile, traveling on the backs of horses, finding its way to another desert and making the wide open space its home.
Deanne Stillman will discuss her book at the ALOUD series June 24 at 7 p.m. at the L.A. Central Library. For more information, visit www.lapl.org
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