The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1982, Volume 28, Number 2
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor
SPECIAL ISSUE: San Diego High School, 1882-1982

Book Reviews

Richard H. Peterson, Book Reviews Editor

Crosscurrents Along the Colorado: The Impacts of Government Policy on the Quechan Indians. By Robert L. Bee. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1981. Bibliography. Index. Maps. 184 pages. $7.50.

Reviewed by John W. Steiger, Social Sciences Department, San Diego Mesa College.

Anti-government Anglos should not let the excellence of Professor Bee’s criticisms of the “Feds” lead them to believe that they and Quechans have similar problems. As the author reminds us, “Quechans were not Anglos, nor were they brimming with the protestant ethic . . . ” If Quechans were thwarted religiously, politically, economically and socially, as Bee admirably documents, then it is, and was, because the Interior Department merely reenforced what the majority of Americans demanded of their government.

Crosscurrents also amply illustrates the resiliency of cultural pluralism in the face of these majoritarian pressures. In this respect, the experiences of Quechan people with alien invaders, first the Spanish and then the more aggressive Anglos, mirror what happened to many other American Indian tribes. Two chapters, “Pre-Colonial Setting” and “From Garrison to Reservation,” establish an ethnohistorical introduction to the effects of foreign invasions on the Quechans (some may prefer to call them Yumas). The first chapter is not designed to be exhaustive ethnologically but to introduce Quechan culture and to set the stage for the impacts resulting from federal government policy as implemented after 1850. Those familiar with the late nineteenth century will not be surprised by the contents of chapter two. The expected patterns are observable in forced boarding school requirements, hair and dress styles, tribal factionalism and the eventual “Agreement” (in 1893) forcing a fixed reservation on Quechans.

Since 75 % of the book deals with events since 1900, the principal focus of Bee’s analysis can be noted in the following chapter titles. They succinctly illustrate the main external pressures affecting the reservation for the next seventy years. Quechan responses to “Amalgamation, Allotment and Paternalism,” “New Deal and Termination Threats” and “Politics and Problems of Self-Help” make for very interesting reading. For example, those who celebrate the marvel of the All-American Canal may be interested in its negative effect on Quechans. Water subsidy for Anglo agriculturalists increased soil alkalinity on reservation lands. It took the Interior Department almost forty years to acknowledge this adverse impact.

A final chapter, “The Quechan Community as a Product of Internal Colonialism,” provides an interpretive commentary on the period from 1961 to 1974. In using the analytical framework of “internal colonialism” to evaluate Quechan history, Bee reflects the approach used by Joseph Jorgensen in his study of the Ute and Shoshone tribes (The Sun Dance Religion: Power for the Powerless, 1972).

All chapters contain short summaries that aid the reader in reevaluating contents and interpretations. Although illustrations and photographs are missing from this book, it does contain two maps that assist readers geographically and reveal land loss. Notes, bibliography and index are adequate. Since the footnotes are placed at the end of the book, some may find this detracts from their usefulness. Many citations show both a sociological emphasis and a field study approach to the subject. The author noted that he had spent “thirteen years of intermittent research with the Quechan tribe.” Because it focuses on the twentieth century, Crosscurrents makes an especially valuable contribution to Native American history.