A literary fictioning of John Gregory Bourke's imperial nostalgia

Toni K McNair, University of Texas at El Paso


Nineteenth-century Army Captain and American ethnographer John Gregory Bourke (b. 1846 – d. 1896) meticulously described and documented a vast amount of information on military life, geography, ecology, and people on both sides of the Mexican-American border, offering observations and opinions of American, Mexican, Mexican-American, Apache, Pueblo, Zuni and Plains Indian cultures. Because of his ethnographic studies of Mexican-Americans along the Rio Grande, cultural studies scholars, José E. Limón and José David Saldivar have identified John Gregory Bourke as complicit in the U.S. government's imperialist project. Referring to Renato Rosaldo's anthropological theory of imperialist nostalgia, These authors declare Bourke's work is entirely underpinned with social theories of Franz Boas' anthropological project or with English evolutionary anthropology, which according to them, was typical nineteenth-century evolutionary practice that subsumed humanity to grand narratives and analogies of natural history or different degrees of progressive evolution (and on the surface appears to refer to social Darwinism). Limon says Bourke made war and anthropology because it made for good military intelligence, and Saldivar says Bourke was Mexican and Indian hunting. Both authors carefully select certain sentences from Bourke biographer John C. Porter and Bourke's published journals to make their argument. Using a postmodern stance that intentionally blurs the lines of history, anthropology and literature, the authors put Bourke on an archetypical path of the knightly quest in the form of a literary romance. I argue the authors selectively use facts that fit their arguments by leaving out details or misplacing words that would in fact change their narratives. They take postmodernism to an extreme and generate a fictional literature of John Gregory Bourke which has little bearing to actual events, the lives and culture he described, and to the realities of context or anthropological and historical methodologies.^

Subject Area

Anthropology, Cultural|History, United States|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Recommended Citation

McNair, Toni K, "A literary fictioning of John Gregory Bourke's imperial nostalgia" (2010). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1477807.