I was honoured to know Bill, and spend a week with him in the late summer of 2012 in the UK. Bill wrote the most economical stories, full of wry humour, and passion, full of poetry and lacking any spare meat. He was an immense supporter of writers, an unerringly generous man. This was balanced by his modesty about his own writing. Bill was arguably the best read man I ever met. He wrote beautiful and honed verse. He also told me once he wanted to be known as writer’s writer, and I think he achieved that aim. In 2010 Bill met me at The Slaughterhouse, where we talked about his experience riding AMA class C and Southern literature.
You’ve ridden AMA class C. Do you find any correlation between speed and writing?
I think not so much speed as the plain fact that you’re doing something that can get you killed. On one mile dirt tracks for example you have to have to hit as least 140 miles an hour on the straightway to be competitive. There’s no room for mistakes at that speed. I’ve had close friends who made the smallest error in judgment and died. I was lucky. I got off with my knees intact and only six or so broken bones and innumerable concussions. What that pressure breeds in the competitors — the only way to handle it really — is laughter. I have yet to meet a successful racer who didn’t have a graveyard sense of humor. When I broke my right heel three times at three different races in a row my nickname became Thunder Hoof. It’s that same sort of doomsday laughter that I try to carry into my writing.
In ‘Hamlet’ the hero is haunted by his father’s ghost and embarks on a course of revenge for his death. Do you think when a father dies he ceases to exist?
Since I have had four major influences in my life, none of whom were my parents, I couldn’t answer to whether or not fathers live on after death. I do know that my grandfather, who raised me the first seven years of my life, does. I hope I’ll live in the memories of my daughter and granddaughter. One thing that hampers my opinion on that question is the hole I have in my memory from age eight to age twelve or thirteen. No memory of that time at all. Except for my dog, Chief and my cousin Lynne. As far as I know I was on my own raising myself during that period. I guess it was bad times but I’ve never asked anyone what went on back then because a long time ago I decided that I didn’t want to know. It’s not that big a deal. I don’t miss the information. I lived a life full of a lot of bad things and good things and I’m pretty happy I turned out the way I did.
If the question was is my dad is in heaven or not, I’d counter with Isn’t that where all war heroes go?
Aldous Huxley named his book ‘The Doors Of Perception’ after a line from William Blake’s poem ‘The Marriage Of Heaven and Hell’, where he writes ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite’. To what extent have altered states of reality influenced you and changed your life?
Blake’s poem sought God in extraordinary visions of ordinary things. Huxley’s book sought God in mescaline and the shadow and substance of the root systems of a plant. Both authors generated Hunter S. Thompson’s, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, which did not seek God at all but revealed the true engine behind both of the other books: We’re all gonna die!
That particular thunderbolt hits us all pretty early on and comes right out of the blue. Bwanggggg! (Louis CK’s monologue about telling his five-year-old that the sun is someday going to go nova is a great example of that revelation.) It wasn’t any different for me. I forget just when and where it happened that I realized that everybody and everything I knew, myself included, was going to, well, Fucking Die! That piece of news hit me pretty hard. Especially the Me Too part. That launched me into my own recapitulation of the immortal journeys of Blake, Huxley and Hunter Thompson.
Blake entered my life in the form of the Foursquare Gospel Church Of The Lord God Triumphant in El Cajon California. It helped that both my parents discovered religion at the same time I was desperately seeking protection from the Reaper. When they took me to church and I saw all those people praising Jesus, rolling on the floor, talking in tongues and yelling about Life Everlasting, I knew I’d found the answer. For a whole two years of perfect attendance medals I held that opinion. Then my Sunday school teacher got killed on a church mission to Africa and all the pastor could say was it was God’s will that his favorites join him sooner than most of the rest of us. What that translates to in kid speak is, “God likes death.” Because of my perfect attendance record, I was obviously one of his favorites so I was outta there.
Huxley’s vision came in the form of a buddy carrying a copy of “Doors” and a pillbox full of synthetic cactus buds (and later most every other kind of inner, outer, upper, downer, spinner, crosstop or blue heaven available). I got my lenses polished peering minutely at the same vegetative universes as the Great Man had. Wasn’t enough though. Lurking at the bottom of every grassy civilization I stared at was the dirt from which it sprang and the decay to which it would return — in other words, The Man With The Scythe still ruled. Let me tell ya, I was one morose teenager.
Hunter S. Thompson came kicking his way into my existence and philosophy with a bottle of Wild Turkey in one hand and a fistfull of methamphetamine sulphate in the other. And that drunken, loaded, projectile vomiting, wreckage of a man showed me the way, the light and the means to finally lay the skull faced piece of shit chasing me to a full and total rest. I just stayed loaded. The booze put the threat at bay and the speed gave me a fairly optimistic outlook no matter what the situation. Blackouts covered the rest. It worked great for twenty-five years. Then I quit.
Don’t ask me why I quit. I just did. No great revelations. No sky-parting visions. No worries about dying alone. Nothing. Just a Doctor I liked telling me. “AJ, you gotta quit.” And me saying, “Okay, Doc.” And doing it. It’s been twenty years now and I think the Reaper’s lost some ground on me. At least he’s running a little slower and I just might have gained a step or two on him. Makes things a bit quieter in my head. I got no moral for you here. No great answers to eternal questions. Nothing you can take to your spiritual bank. I guess it happens that way, sometimes. At least that’s the way it happened for me.
So, concluding the longest answer to a yes or no question ever written, I’ll say altered states have affected or changed my life very little but have changed the different aspects of that same life a whole lot. I got lucky with the people who love me and whom I love. For the most part they’re — for some reason I cannot fathom –still here and still love me. As far as all the chemically enlightened verities I discovered? The beat, beat, beat of whiskey powered philosophy? Sidetracks man, just sidetracks. I guess I echo the sentiments of that other great philosopher, Fox Mulder, who said, The Truth Is Out There . . . it’s just not There.
I’ll keep looking.
William Faulkner said that the South had the best writers because it lost the Civil War. Do you think this is true and to what extent does the polarisation between South and North still affect cultural perceptions in the US?
First off, as much as I admire William Faulkner — and that is a whole lot — the pure fact of the matter is the Confederacy did not lose The War Of Northern Aggression. We’uns just got too broke to pursue the course of victory to its fullest extent. The North prosecuted the Great Disagreement in the same way it would later combat the former Soviet Union — Them Damn Rooskies, as we who speak the true mother tongue call that particular foe — it relieved them ole comm’nest boys of their wallets. No glorious bugles a’blowin victory there either. It’uz just another Yankee slickity trick.
The difference between South and North might be expressed best in two lines of John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, Barbara Frietchie. The poem concerns General Thomas Jonathan (Stonewall) Jackson’s passage through the conquered Union town of Frederik, Maryland and his conduct concerning an old woman who is waving the flag of the United States — that had just been blasted off it’s pole by the gunfire of a passing rank of Confederate troops — from her upstairs window. Jackson arrives as his troops prepare to fire again. This time to blast the old woman and her flag to smithereens. She leans out her window and says:
“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag,” she said.”
Jackson considers her words and addresses his troops:
“Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!” he said.”
Whittier, an abolitionist New England poet, thought he was writing a tribute to the courage of the old woman and her love of country in the face of an enemy and indeed she was. But, the truer statement here, as written in the second couplet, is a larger testament to the courage, conscience and gallantry of Stonewall Jackson.
Grant or Sherman would have fired immediately.
The first colonies in the New World were established in the southern portion of this country because the weather there was more favourable to the agrarian society the founders had envisioned. Roanoke, Jamestown and other fledgling colonies pre-dated the northern settlements by twenty years and were firmly in action by the time the second Plymouth Colony was established in 1620 in the North (the earlier Plymouth settlement had been abandoned after only a year for various reasons.) Time of settlement though is not that important in the differences between the North and South; nor were the highly different climates. The difference was stamped on North and South from the jump by the makeup of their populations.
The Northern colonies were comprised of English religious zealots and some English Army soldiers, a few English aristocrats and of course a lot of “indentured servants” (oh so different from slaves down south, now weren’t they?). As far as the Puritans were concerned the New Land was to be an earthly paradise for the followers of their severe faith. Mostly this lead to branding, imprisonment in stocks and making unsuppressed feminists wear a large scarlet letter A affixed to their clothing, indicating to others of the town that they should: Beware! Here is a woman who thinks for herself. Run away, run away! That particular punishment was a lot better than the other option: Burning them as witches. Other members of the Northern communities, in order to escape the rather Gothic governmental approach to anything resembling, well, fun, became sea captains and set out on long, long ocean voyages to hunt whales and practice the real money maker of occupations: running slaves down to the south.
The ice and snow of the northern winters did not lend themselves to a storytelling or myth making culture either. Unless your cup of tea consisted of biblical tales (highly edited by the Puritans to not include anything close to resembling sex or saloons or dysfunctional families of gods drinking themselves silly on top of a high mountain). It was just the nature of those northern bluenoses to pitch (as my granma used to say) a hissy fit and jump in the middle of it at the slightest hint that folks somewhere might be even thinking about enjoying themselves. Lately, this trend seems to have re-surfaced.
Down South, population demographics were an uncontrolled riot. I think the expression we use today is a Hot Mess. English aristocrats, English commoners, Irish, Scotch-Irish, the ubiquitous indentured servants, some Hispanics off Galleons floating around the Caribbean, a few Voyageurs from out west floating around in their canoes, Creole Pirates and slowly growing under it all, the jet black gumbo of slavery was bringing the lore and myth of Africa (and the Caribbean) to the place. All of these groups had stories and they were not afraid to tell them loudly and openly (Maybe not so loudly for the slaves right then, but they were whispered in the holds of the Blackbird ships and around the fires of the quarters and the plantations and would soon be known to every white baby who had a black mammy telling him or her bedtime tales . . . so much so, that the people of the southern states today would swear that the stories have always been there.) And that, best beloved, was how the tradition of storytelling came to the New World — the Southern part that is. (All of this is deliberately ignoring the other obvious contributor to the southern writing tradition — the music that arrived with the settlers. That’s a whole ‘nother story.)
If you are trying to find a definition of just what Southern Writing is by researching it, you’re going to come up with a lot of tired ass descriptions of Form. “Strong sense of place. Odd or unusual characters. Poverty and pride. An underlying sense of guilt about the defining fatal flaw, slavery.” All of which, of course, are critical to the lexicon but do not capture the heart of the literature. Most all attempts to categorize the form crash on the reefs of “I might not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it.” I think there is another engine driving the art: wisdom.
One of my favorite writers, Robert Anson Heinlein, defined wisdom this way: Primary man sees the world and rages against it. Secondary man sees the world, sees the way it works and rages against it. Tertiary man sees the world, sees the way it works, understands why it works that way and does something about it. (I’m quoting from memory here and that is not the exact wording but I think I captured the gist of it.) Southern writers are of the tertiary persuasion,. Northerners are not. In an admittedly flawed attempt to explain what comprises Southern writers, and by default, the South in general I will cite an example from the Civil Rights movement of the early Sixties.
One day in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus because — as northern writers would have you believe — she had had a long day and was too tired to give up her seat. If you are a Northern Writer you bought that reason completely and immediately started to raise money for Freedom Riders and busses and all the other accoutrements of A Noble Cause. Southern Writers knew better. They knew Rosa Parks was not physically exhausted. We knew another kind of tired was involved. A few years later Rosa Parks said: “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
That’s a stiff-necked rebel soul talking. A rebel who knows who they are and where they’re from and how they got there. A rebel soul who, with their feet firmly stuck in the red clay of their native land and with a thousand voices from their treasured past filling their ears, says: That’s enough. Look deep into the heart of the next novel you read and if you find a Hero Journey — what Campbell called the Wonderful Song Of The Soul’s High Adventure — you’ve just read a Southern Writer.
So, darlings — as Jimmy Callaway says — thereby hangs the reason why Southern writers seem for the most part to be better at it than Northern writers. We were brought up with stories talking in our ears from birth. The poor Northern boys are forced to learn it from school or reading other writers works. I mean it’s hard to do, but it’s not impossible, to learn the art of storytelling without my Grampa sitting on the hearth of the stone fireplace teaching you to read, at age four, from comic books. You probably don’t need my Uncle Bird Duck scaring the pants of you telling you tales of the fearsome critters and goblins and wood sprites who live in the woods you’re walking through. Or Tillie Butts, your mammy, softly sending you to sleep on the wings of stories about villages and heroes and firelight holding back the dark jungle and hearing creation stories from people whose ancestors were there when it all began. Yeah, I appreciate how hard it is to get your art started without all that in your head. But keep trying. Some of you are getting . . . pretty darn okay.
*In fact Roy Blount Jr. has started a little fund to which all us Southeren Boys are going to contribute and send North. You know, a little sumptin’ to keep yaw’ll encouraged. Maybe buy yourselves an RC Cola and a Moon Pie, you know?
Do you think Oedipus was wise to crack the Sphinx’s riddle?
Was it wise? All wisdom is hindsight. When you’re in the middle of a jackpot you can’t take the long view. It’s only later that the carrion crows get to hootnanney about the “wisdom” of what you did. Probably the ultimate version of that question, at least in our iteration of civilization, would be: Was it wise for Jehovah to create Eve? The answer to that question is the same. It depends on your point of view. Let’s hear from the cast.
The Sphinx: Damn right it was a bad decision. It made me commit suicide.
Jocasta: Bet your ass it was stupid. Made me hang myself.
Antigone: You kiddin’ me? I got to spend the rest of my life taking care of a blind old man. In a fucking cave yet!
Laius: Beats me, but then, I’m dead.
Oedipus: Oh the tragedy, the tragedy. At least I atoned for my sins. I decided that suffering was superior to suicide and went for that tired old eye gouging trick. Even if none of it was my fault, I think the punishment fit my slight lapse in judgement. Learn from this O My Children.
Antigone: Fuck you, you asshole! If you’d of asked me if suicide was more appropriate, I’d of handed you the rope and tied the knot myself.
(Little did Antigone know that Sophocles had even worse plans for her. Buried alive in a stone coffin was the first. She slipped that business by employing the tried and true solution to which all the Oedipal ladies eventually resort — yep, she strung herself up. Can I have a rim shot please.)
If you look at the progression of the Oedipus saga the theme is not particularly concerned with wisdom. The story is a compilation of cause and result cautionary tales. If this hadn’t happened then that would not have occurred. It’s one of the myths that seem to me to be more of a fable. Of course elements of true myth appear in the tale, like the Green Man aspect of Laius. The King was corrupt so the land was dying. The Sphinx was there to keep the curse going until the King was slain. I suspect the way back original story was concerned with Laius and didn’t really care whether he was killed or killed himself. The land must be healed with the blood of the king. In the end, that demand was pretty well satisfied.
Joseph Campbell had another, kinder view. In Hero With A Thousand Faces he says: “The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.”
Personally, Joe, I’m not buying the whole romance angle. Especially in light of the faithful, loving wives who bit the dust during the course of the story. All because of the hot temper of a spoiled rich kid.
I’d better stop now. I think Antigone has gone to get her shotgun.
Robert Penn Warren is a Southern author who won the Pulitzer Prize for both poetry and fiction with his novel ‘All The King’s Men’, whose central character Willie Stark is based on the radical populist governor of Louisiana, Huey Long. Why do you think Robert Penn Warren is not more widely read these days and who for you are the leading Southern authors?
Probably the reason that RPN is not widely read today is that Huey Long was a charismatic, flamboyant, contradictory character who captured the popular imagination. The rest of RPN’s works, mostly scholarly volumes on race and bigotry which (although they feature such other charismatic men as Malcolm X) are not written in the unbridled style of All The Kings Men. The novel was made into an Academy Award movie and gained an even larger readership because of that. Warren’s later work, however, did not excite the imagination of the reading public further — perhaps because most of them were volumes of poetry and as any poet knows, the audience for poetry is composed of the poet, his mother and a few foolish people such as myself who actually think poetry doesn’t suck. (Well, okay. Maybe a few more than that, but still not enough to raise a nationwide groundswell of attention.)
Another possible factor was the movie, A Lion Is In The Streets, which was in competition with the cinematic version of All The King’s Men. Between the two pictures they pretty well mined out the Lovable Southern Scoundrel In Office as a theme and audiences, both readers and cinematic took out after other tropes, such as the career launch of another fledgling politician (and union leader), Ronald Regan, when he made the deathless epic, Bedtime For Bonzo, in which the flamboyant scoundrel was a monkey. Some say the central characters in the other two movies were also monkeys — but that’s another answer. I have my hopes that someday Bill Clinton will get the LSSIO treatment, but that probably won’t happen until we get our national sense of humour back– sometime about the year 2055. (Yes, that is when the Mayan calendar predicts it)
To introduce my list, I’m grabbing a page from a very good southern writer, Tom Wolfe, who said a while back that the only meaningful US fiction being written today is genre fiction. Which pissed off The New Yorker, Harvard Review, Atlantic Magazine, The New York Times and every other Academic publication on the face of the planet . . . mainly because Tom was right on the money. I’m not good at the pick ’em game since I admire all good writers in whatever form they practice their art. But I have a few faves listed. There’s lots more. I mean like LOTS! more.
Tom Wolfe (gotta keep my Virginia homies tight close).
Tom Franklin ( if he had never ever written anything but Poachers he’d still be at the top of the list)
Cormac McCarthy (love to hate him)
Roy Blount Jr. (funniest man alive)
Ace Atkins(dark south)
Daniel Woodrell (pitch black south)
James Lee Burke (Love him hate him, ain’t NObody more Southern)
Horton Foote (Tender Mercies, ’nuff said)
Harper Lee ( Yes, MOCKINGBIRD. And you don’t like it, well just f . . . never mind)
Jimmy Callaway (Yes, I know he ain’t Southern. But I put him on all my lists anyhow)
Richard Dansky (Horror south – Firefly Rain)
Ian Ayris(south London)
Molly Ivers (late great Texas funny lady)
Carolyn Haines (Sarah Booth Delany, Daddy’s Girl Detective)
Charles Washington Carr (best storyteller who ever lived and my grandfather)
About four hundred more names need to be added, but I’ll stop there. The list is long. Life is short. Read fast.
What makes you angry?
A short list of things I do not allow myself to become angry about. There are more but who cares what I’m not angry about?
People saving “The Ecology” (to which ecological system are you referring?)
Banks and bankers.
And, for all I know,
Space Nazis on the Moon
These are just a few of the fleas that have been biting the national dog for a long time and will be shaken off naturally when they become too pesky. I’m pretty cool with all the stupid stuff you can’t control. Anger usually just riles you up for days while the other person goes on their happy way undisturbed. Blow ’em a kiss and drive ’em crazy, you know.
Hate is an interesting thing. Though it usually inflicts more damage on the hater than the object of the hate and I don’t recommend it to anyone — there are some things out there that deserve that much attention.
When I see a five-year-old girl with JUICY across the butt of her sweats, I should be required to punch her mother in the face.
When I see four-year-olds in six-inch spike heels and full makeup, false eyelashes included, doing the “sexy dance” routine across a stage I ought to be ordered to horsewhip the crowd; mommies, daddies, grammas, grampas and pedaphiles included. (Yes I do include Howl Ginsberg in that whipping. More on pedaphiles coming up)
The Fuck It, It’s Worth The Price section:
Pedaphiles, child raping priests, pimps who trade in kiddy porn and short eye sex, media whores who tell teenagers “size zero is the new six” and damn them to the madness of anorexia and bulimia, parents who deliberately fuck their kids up in the head because they know that all children are better than we are ( thanks for the quote Louis CK) you cowards who turn little kids into bombs to further your fucked up manias — in fact, all of you genetic defects who harm kids, be warned. You are enemies of the human race because you are messing with it’s children — who are the only hope we have of survival. And we’re coming for you with death (and more than a little bit of torture) in our eyes. Soon.
That’s some of the things on “me little list.” There’s more. Be careful.
You’ve written a lot of poetry. What qualities do you admire in a poet?
Clarity is important. The continental divide in poetry between Classical and Modern occurred about 1944. The period from after the divide to today also marked the rapid rise of college classes mainly concerned with “What the hell is this poem about?” as subject matter. Sometimes the subject matter was simply “What the hell?” It was the first time in history that a poem’s meaning had moved beyond the understanding of the “common man” and had to be taught by full-time instructors with college degrees. The era also spawned one of the most puzzling college degrees of all time, Master Of Fine Arts. Again, “What The hell?”
Purpose ranks high also. If a poem is stuffed clear full of dazzling images, torrential rapids of metaphor, complex contrapuntal rhythms and whole buckets full of clever wordplay but goes nowhere and illuminates nothing of value then it crashes and burns with no effect. The tree fell but nobody was home in the forest.
Transportation of the mind counts. Take me a place I’ve never been even if the poem is concerned with mundane matters. Lift me up through your words. However, please don’t tell you about “your day.” Unless your day was fraught with cosmic insight and infinite purpose it was boring. Though, if you’re Kim Addinesio, then just glugging wine, washing the dishes and cussing about your day would do it for me too.
Brevity is good. Today the short stuff is king. Write short and you will get to be poet laureate of the US. Billy Collins found that out early and cashed in. Poet Laureates make twenty five grand per speaking engagement. Their book sales gross maybe six or eight thousand.
Have a Beginning, a middle and an end. Please. They don’t have to be in that order but they should be in the poem.
Mostly I admire poets who take me deep into their dream, who make me come out of their work not knowing whether I’ve been under the spell of their words for seconds, minutes or hours. I like poets who can put a word or a phrase or a line or a stanza in my head forever. It’s simple really. I want to be fucking AMAZED!
Many authors in the US have questioned American identity. What to you constitutes being an American?
I’m the worst guy in the world to define what an American is. All I have to go by is me. I am a citizen of the United States Of America. Born here. So by, classical and legal definition, I’m one. The trouble starts when I try to define me. And I have to do the defining because I’ve tried all my life to not allow anyone but myself to make that definition. Yeah, I’m political. But I change those politics every fifteen minutes depending on what “those sonsabitches” are saying right now. Yeah, I was a soldier and like all soldiers understand what the fourth verse of the Star Spangled banner is talking about when it says “ thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand between their loved home and the war’s desolation!” But I also know how wrong military action can get. Yeah, I believe that rule of law in open court is the strongest quality of this nation. And you bet your boots I want to string up immediately those who would cause deadly harm to innocents with or without benefit of a judge and jury. I quit seeing color of your skin as a definition of you a long time ago because it’s a waste of time. I want the Bracero program back in California so decent people who want to work their way into US citizenship can do so. I understand why those sea containers full of dead Asian women and men and children they find on the San Francisco docks far too frequently exist and the frozen bodies up in the mountains to the east of San Diego just Norte of the border in the California snow. They exist because folks out in the world believe in something that a lot of us no longer believe in: The Promise of the American Dream. They believe it enough to risk everything for it. I believe some of us have forgotten what it means to be American — and the some of us I mean might surprise you. Guess I’d have to simply say Americans are generally confused and sometimes fucked up and some times really fucked up and sometimes fucked up beyond all recognition, but we’re workin’ on it. We’re tryin’. That’s the only definition that’s ever really worked for me: We’re tryin’ — hard.
If you were to write a Southern novel, what would you write it about?
A friend gave me a book by Pete Hamill called Forever. It’s about an Irishman who is given a boon/curse. The boon is he gets to live forever. The curse is the stipulation that if he leaves the island of Manhattan he’ll die. The story begins following the protagonist in pre-revolutionary New York and finishes in the present day. In between lies one of the most compelling first person histories of a place ever told. (It also has one of the most shitty, deadline-coming-down-let’s-get-this-damn-thing-finished ending ever. Read it anyhow.) It’s an immense work adorned with intricate detail and absolute historical accuracy.
That ain’t what I’d write.
There’s a movie called Sin Nombre that tells the story of three people — a boy, a girl and a bad guy — as they ride the tops of boxcars along with a hundred or so others trying to make it to the States from San Salvador. Romeo and Juliet stuff right down to a similar ending, except one of them makes it to the golden land of a Stateside Wal-Mart parking lot just outside of El Paso, Texas.
More like it.
The territorial capitol of Arizona back in the days following the Civil War was in Prescott, a tiny town buried in the mountains in the central part of the state. The territorial government selected this hard to get to site because they didn’t want anything to do with the larger cities of Phoenix or Tucson to the south. The reason they avoided the southern part of the territory was that it was practically overrun by a couple of Confederate armies who had no intention of being reconstructed along with the rest of the South. Indeed, the generals of these armies had a plan to re-launch the Civil War and attack from the west. A plan that might have worked. For various reasons that rebel plan never came to fruition and the armies dispersed. Most of the soldiers and their officers returned to their homes in the South and were lost to history. A few went south to Mexico and over the years, blended in with the native population of that nation. To this day you’ll find Mexicanos with red hair or blonde hair and family names like O’Reilly or Carr in certain parts of the country.
If I had the time to research the Confederate escape to Mexico and how they all turned out after they got there, I might have the start of the Southern Novel I’d think about writing. Maybe follow a descendant of one of the families on a journey from deep in Mexico on a mission to enter the US illegally seeking his perception of the American Dream. You could take him through Mexico over the border into Arizona and a new kind of slavery. Hm, maybe the kid could have his great granddaddy’s sabre. Maybe through family legends he would have a vague idea of his family’s history. Maybe he could trace the story of Grandpa’s sword. Maybe he could rise to political prominence. Maybe he could be the first Hispanic president. That would make a great story. Maybe in his journey you could find a new way to view the South and its history. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe . . .
Damn it, Richard. You got me thinking. You’re pretty good at that.
Thank you AJ for a revealing and sincere interview.
A few of Bill “AJ” Hayes’ best: