It seems to me that all human beings need and try to connect with something larger than themselves. The custom of singeing the hair of the deceased over a fire to release the spirit as depicted in the movie, “Into the West”, is shown in the upper left hand quadrant of the mural.
The culture of many Native American tribes had warfare as a central theme, the Pueblo tribes, however had well-established arts and agriculture even before the Spanish arrived. Today those traditions are alive and well. The Taos Pueblo is pictured. The juxtaposition of Anglo and Spanish culture, Christian and Indian traditions, truly makes Santa Fe, “the city different”. My family and I have spent many weeks in Santa Fe and have always enjoyed the spirituality of the town and the many cultural offerings.
Cabeza de Vaca (head of the cow) was shipwrecked in the 1500’s off the coast of Florida, his wanderings as a half-naked, starving, slave of various Indian tribes, makes a fascinating narrative. The vividly described Indian tribal life that he saw during his ventures and his battle to survive is described in detail in his book written upon his eventual return to Spain after 12 years in the New World. The starving unkempt man seen crawling towards the head of a cow is in fact taken from his book. Another interesting aspect of his story is how his relatives got their name. During Spain’s war with the Moor’s, one of his ancestors identified a strategic path for the Spanish king to get around the Moorish Army. This led to a great victory for the Spanish king and as such he awarded the surname Cabeza de Vaca as the path had been outlined for him by the placement of cow skulls.
The mountain man I chose is Thomas (Broken Hand) Fitzpatrick. I chose him because of the mountain immediately across the valley from us bears his name of Broken Hand. Thomas Fitzpatrick was a trapper and mountain man who became head of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Along with Jedediah Smith he led a band of mountain men who discovered South Pass, Wyoming. He was also responsible for guiding the first two immigrant wagon trains to Oregon. He also was key in negotiating the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 which at the time was the largest council of Native Americans of the Plains ever assembled. He was one of the most well-known of all mountain men and it is very fitting that he has a mountain named for him in the adjacent Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The miner’s scene panning for gold with the cherries next to him is meant to be symbolic of the discovery of gold on Cherry Creek in the late 1850’s. This led to the establishment of the city of Denver.
The scene of the covered wagon with the pioneer mother and son represents the courage of the many unsung pioneers who made the very harsh trek across the continental United States in search of their dreams. We read inspirational stories of mountain men, warriors, and plainsmen, but tremendous fortitude was needed by otherwise ordinary individuals to endure very harsh climate as well as the many dangers of disease and attack by brigands and Indians. The mother and son are depicted for all of us men and boys who dearly love our mothers.
A train is on this side of the murals as well. It shows the Indians and buffalo being essentially pushed out of the way by the railroad and all that it represents. Within 10 years of completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the Plains Indians were all on reservations and the buffalo nearly extinct.
Below the railroad we see a cattle drive taking place and a wagon carrying a casket going in the opposite direction. These scenes were inspired by the novel, “Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry. Many of the anecdotes that are written in his book are actually modified versions of true events that did occur in the west at that time. For example, the very first cattle drive out of the western part of Texas was carried out by gentlemen by the names of Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. Oliver Loving was an older man who Charles Goodnight greatly admired. Loving died on the drive almost 1000 miles from where they had begun in Texas. It was out of respect for Loving that Goodnight acknowledged his request to be carried back to Texas for burial. It is this 1000-mile trek that is essentially mirrored in the “Lonesome Dove” story where Captain Woodrow Call, hauls the body of his old ranger friend, Augustus McCray, back to Lonesome Dove for burial, a journey of over 2000 miles from where they had created their ranch on the Milk River in Montana.
In the upper right hand corner of the mural we see General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Ironically, we have placed a representation of the Peace Medal that was carried to the Indians by the Lewis and Clark Expedition from 1803 to 1806. It was Jefferson’s vision that the Indians and the white man could coexist without warfare and that is why he sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition with the admonition to be friendly to the Indians and show no hostility. In support of that goal, he sent them with peace medals to be given to the Indians. It is a simple historical fact that the next 70 years were marked by constant conflict with the Indians being dispossessed of their lands and confined to reservations. Much of this conflict probably was inevitable given that the cultures of the Indians and white man were so different and their concept of land ownership was so different. It is of course ironic that if an Indian killed or stole a cow he would be charged with a crime or killed, whereas the white man was able to take the buffalo to near-extinction and was just “hunting”.
In the right-hand quadrant of the mural is depicted an Indian playing a flute and more significantly what is meant to be a black kettle emblematic of Chief Black Kettle of the Cheyenne Indian tribe. It was his group of Indians that was attacked in 1864 by Col. John Chivington. This is the well-known Sand Creek Massacre. Chivington at the time was hailed by local people in Denver as being a hero. Details however of the massacre came out shortly thereafter and the event became known for what it truly was; a massacre. At that time Black Kettle’s Indians were at peace and in fact flying an American flag over his teepee. One of the United States military officers who did witness the massacre and described it in court, was subsequently murdered by an outraged citizen of Denver. The Sand Creek Massacre site and memorial is just two hours east of our site. The Sand Creek Massacre stands as one of the real blights of the American West.