Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - November - 2011 Issue

Mexico and the American Southwest from Plaza Books

List 32 from Plaza Books.

Plaza Books recently issued their List 32. Plaza specializes in books from or about Mexico, though that specialty spreads to adjoining areas. In this catalogue in particular, the region spreads north. Of course, the American Southwest was in the pre-Mexican War days part of Mexico, though some of these books reach into the era after that territory was seized. And then, of course, there is Texas, which declared itself a republic after Santa Anna acquiesced to its independence under the barrel of a gun, but Mexico changed its mind and continued to claim the land until after the Mexican War. So, while Plaza may be seen primarily as a seller of Mexican books, the ties to the American Southwest run too deep to separate the two. Here, now, are a few of the items being offered.

Item 5 is a look at how the American Southwest was influenced by institutions that developed in Mexico: Spanish Institutions of the Southwest, by Frank W. Blackmar. This 1891 book traces the institutions of Mexico back to their Spanish origins, and discusses the influences in areas ranging from Louisiana to California, at one time all under Spanish dominion. Priced at $150.

For a visual rather than textual look at the Southwest just before the transition from Mexican to American rule, item 10 is an 1842 map from London publisher Chapman and Hall entitled Central America II. Including Texas, California, and the Northern States of Mexico (Central America I had included southern Mexico). As of 1842, Texas had already declared, and effectively secured its independence, but statehood was still three years away. It is shown as a republic, and it is substantially larger than the Texas of today, the Rio Grande continuing to form its western border to its headwaters, making much of today's New Mexico a part of Texas. However, since 1842 was still pre-Mexican War, the remainder of today's American Southwest was still in Mexico. This map shows no New Mexico (nor Arizona), so Texas borders on “Nueva California.” North of California, where today's border with Oregon is located, lies “Columbia.” Populations are given for several cities, such as Albuquerque (6,000), Santa Fe (4,000) and El Paso (5,000), while to the west of El Paso, the city of “Toyson” is shown (today's Tucson, Arizona). $850.

Item 23 is another account that skirts the southwestern border. Rudo Ensayo. This book was written by Fr. Juan Nentuig (or Nentvig), a Jesuit priest originally from central Europe who sailed to New Spain in 1750. On arrival, he was sent to northern Mexico, to Sonora, which encompassed not only the current Mexican state of Sonora but today's Arizona as well. Nentuig's book is the major source of information about this area, its natives, missions, crops, mines and other resources at this time. In his later years, the Padre became nearly blind, but still managed to complete the manuscript for this book, which would not be published until a century later (a limited edition of 160 copies printed in 1863). Father Nentuig would be forced to leave his post at the time of the Jesuit expulsion, but died in Mexico in 1768 before reaching the ship that was to exile him from the land. $2,000.

Item 14 is an account of the culture of one of the Indian tribes of the American Southwest: Zuni Folk Tales. This is a first trade edition (1931) of an account that had appeared 30 years earlier as a Bureau of Ethnology publication. It retains the original forward by Southwest explorer John Wesley Powell, but adds a new introduction by noted southwestern writer Mary Austin. Author Frank Cushing, who lived with the Zuni for five years, was the first American anthropologist to systematically record various aspects of their culture, including legends, daily activities, and social characteristics. $275.

Item 35 is a manuscript pastoral by an obscure 19th century Mexican writer, Manuel Antonio Zayas: El Triunfo de Jesus contra la Lengua del Diablo, written in 1853. The pastoral is a play written to teach or proselytize, often including shepherds (“pastores”) in the story, hence the name. In this story, containing 95 leaves, Jesus battles, and defeats, the Devil. It includes seven hand-painted costumed figures, mostly the Devil in disguise. $2,450.

Plaza Books may be reached at 707-546-3544 or plazabks@sonic.net. Their website is www.plazabooks.com.

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