Local History: Donald Judd and Casa Perez

In 1982, Donald Judd purchased Casa Perez, one of three ranches on the 40,000 acres of land that he collectively called Ayala de Chinati. Located forty-five miles from Marfa in southern Presidio County, Casa Perez ranch contains an adobe ranch house from the early twentieth century, which was formerly the main house of
 a goat ranch. The Perez family, after whom he named the house, had worked the ranch in the late 1940s.

As Judd wrote in his 1989 essay, “Ayala de Chinati”:

“The house [Casa Perez] needed more shade, but putting a larger porch around it would only increase its conventional aspects. Also, unlike the other house, it faced west into the afternoon sun, and it had no relation to the bluff and the hills around it. Finally I thought that the best thing to do would be to leave the house alone and build new and separate structures for shade, bathing, and storage perpendicular to the bluff and to the nearest and highest hill across the arroyo.”

For the exterior of the house, Judd built two large pergola structures to the west to provide additional shade and a bathroom and pantry structure to the east. He added platforms around an existing water tank and designed a gridded garden to the north of the house. Inside the house, one finds dishes and furniture that Judd collected in Mexico as well as furniture he designed himself. There are also multiple works of art by Judd that he installed at Casa Perez including a multicolored work made specifically for the bedroom.

As a land owner, Judd developed his own ideas concerning land stewardship, writing in 1987, “One of the most difficult is the one of leaving the land alone: leave 
it alone or return it to its natural state. The natural world seems not to exist for almost everyone.” One way in which Judd engaged with the natural world was to spend time at the ranches, which he did increasingly in the 1980s and 1990s, noting in a 1989 interview, “I’m slowly moving to the ranch.”

Reading was another way in which Judd engaged with the ecological component of the ranches through books on the flora, fauna and geology of the Trans-Pecos, such as Igneous Geology of Trans-Pecos Texas: Field Trip Guide and Research Articles (Austin: Bureau of Economic Geology, 1986) and Trees & shrubs of Trans-Pecos Texas (Big Bend National Park, 1986). Moreover, Judd’s library attests to a deep interest in both the Indian peoples of the southwestern United States and more specifically those who lived in the Trans-Pecos region.

Reflecting on Judd’s interest in the land and regional history, Judd Foundation opens Casa Perez to the community each September for a Ranch Day Open House. In 2015, Jeffrey Shepherd, a professor of American Indian History at the University of Texas at El Paso, spoke to
the cultures and communities of the United States-Mexico and United States-Canada borderlands. The transcript of an interview with Professor Shepherd on the peoples of the Junta de Los Rios region that includes Marfa, Presidio, and Fort Davis follows in full.

Casa Perez Ranch Day will be held on Sunday, September 10, 2017. Please visit the Programs section of our website for more details.

Interview: Professor Jeffrey Shepherd & Caitlin Murray, Director of Marfa Programs and Archivist
Ranch Day Open House at Casa Perez, Presidio County
September 20, 2015

Judd Foundation: You opened your talk by reminding the audience that we were all standing on native land. I know that many different groups of indigenous people have lived in the region around Pinto Canyon for many centuries. Can you provide an introduction to the main groups of people who populated this region?

Professor Jeffrey Shepherd: Broadly speaking, there are several groups associated with the Junta de Los Rios region and the territory north encompassing Marfa, Fort. Davis, etc. Junta de Los Rios was a collection of village sites on both sides of the river, with evidence of native occupancy extending back thousands of years. More generally, anthropologists have evidence of native presence in far west Texas possibly going back 10,000 years.

When speaking of “La Juntans,” scholars generally divide them into Abriaches and Otomoacos aka Julimes, Cabris, Mezquites, Puliques, Tapacolmes, Tecolotes. There were also peoples termed “Conchos Indians” further to the south.

There were also Jumanos that lived in La Junta villages, though not necessarily on a permanent basis. Jumanos traded with La Juntans. Jumanos lived across an impressively large territory, including the Llano Estacado, east and north of the Rio Grande, and had ties with Puebloan peoples and cultural groups on the Southern Plains.

Lastly, there were bands of Apaches in the area around Casa Perez. Spanish, Mexican, and American documentation confirms that bands of Mescalero and Lipan found refuge in the Davis, Guadalupe, Bofecillos, and Chinati Mountains in the 1700s and 1800s. Lipans were well known throughout the Big Bend region.

Judd Foundation: Can you tell us a little bit about La Junta de Los Rios and discuss its importance as a site of economic and cultural trade? What made this region a unique place to live? Are there particular features of the land that made the region more desirable?

Professor Jeffrey Shepherd: As noted above, La Junta is the point where the Rio Conchos and Rio
Grande converge. Because of this, the region was fairly good agricultural land. This was long before the U.S. government built dams on the Rio Grande, so the flood plain in La Junta would have been larger. Somewhat similar development occurred in Mexico on the Rio Conchos. Neither are “free-flowing rivers.” I have a PhD student investigating the environmental history of the Rio Conchos, so she is the expert on this. By some estimates, there was corn production in as far back as 3,000-3,500 yrs ago. To some extent, La Juntans mirrored Rio Grande communities to the north in terms of their sedentary and agricultural lifestyle. Additionally, La Junta was a crossroads between cultures on the Southern Plains, northern Pueblos, Rio Grande communities to the south, and southern groups in northern Chihuahuan desert. This means that La Juntans were part of a larger network of pre-Conquest cultures such as the Jornada Mogollon and Casas Grandes. Through trade ties with the peoples of Casas Grandes, La Juntans had connections with the peoples of Meso-America. These regional trade networks also connected them with groups as far west as the Pacific Ocean (trade with Mansos and Sumas around El Paso tied them to Mogollon Peoples, and then to the west, groups throughout southern Arizona, the Colorado River, and then southern California. Some archeological digs in West Texas have uncovered shells from the Pacific Ocean, as well as turquoise from northern New Mexico.)

Any discussion of La Junta and groups such as the Jumano should include reference to the work of Nancy Hickerson, Jefferson Morganthaler, and Enrique Madrid. I have learned a lot from their research.

Judd Foundation: You made an effort to critique the term despoblado, which the Spanish used to describe this area. Will you define despoblado for us and tell us why it is important to critique this word?

Professor Jeffrey Shepherd: In short, the term implies that the region is desolate, open, uninhabited. A more elaborate discussion of the cultural, spiritual, historical, philosophical meaning is tied the era and context in which the Spanish used it. During the 1500s through 1700s, Spaniards lived within a cultural and “mental” world characterized by the broad traits of Western Civilization, but inflected with semi-pre-Enlightenment beliefs. Not only was the region “uninhabited,” but it lacked civilization. It carried a particularly “dangerous” set of “obstacles” to Spaniards. It lacked religion, agriculture, permanent inhabitants, etc. Using our more modern lexicon, we’d call it “wilderness” or a wasteland. Indians lacked property rights and roamed the land aimlessly. Following this logic, the people living in the region were part of nature, literally, in a “state of nature,” as Hobbes might have conceived of it. Europeans repeatedly referred to Indians as “children of the wilderness.” Look at some of the maps made of the “New World”: they are filled with monsters and hideous creatures. As such, both the inhabitants and the region were theirs for the taking…if they dared to enter. After Enlightenment beliefs in science and rationality tricked out into Spanish society, beliefs about land and nature changed incrementally, and desploblado may have meant new things, but the basic notion remained the same.

That is a long-winded explanation for why we sometimes try to avoid terms that are culturally loaded and historically complicated. Calling it a desploblado means that we ignore or deny Native occupation of the area, which we know to be incorrect. It also makes it easier to divest native people of their rights to land and culture (and history) if we say they were nomads wandering across a wilderness and wasteland.

Judd Foundation: What archeological evidence remains from this region and what are the types of cultural production that are particular to this area?

Professor Jeffrey Shepherd: My knowledge of this is fairly limited, and based on secondary scholarship.
I’m not an archeologist or anthropologist. With that said, I came across a small cache of archeological reports focusing on West Texas and the Big Bend, conducted by Texas Tech and Sul Ross, as well as some reports written by amateur archeologists during the 1930s and 1940s. There were few large and permanent settlements outside of the riparian and mountain areas of West Texas. If one drew a line between Ojinaga/ Presidio northward to the Guadalupe Mountains, there are few remaining archeological sites. There are a few northward into New Mexico (the Three Rivers site), as well as sites along the Pecos River, but most of the people living across the Trans-Pecos/Llano Estacado region, were semi-mobile groups following the bison or living in seasonally migratory cycles. In short, they did not “stay put” for very long.

Morganthaler’s book on La Junta de Los Rios (not They River has Never Divided Us), goes into some detail on the archeological remains in Ojinaga of some buildings and structures associated with the La Junta peoples. I am not aware of any “spectacular” housing sites in the area like those seen in Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Pueblo Bonita, etc.

Judd Foundation: In both our interview with Marfa Public Radio and your talk, you mentioned the Establicimientos de Paz in the 1780s and 1790s as a significant development in the relationship between the colonial and the indigenous peoples. This is not a widely known aspect of our history; can you further describe its significance?

Professor Jeffrey Shepherd: Anyone interested in these should consult the work of Mathew Babcock, professor of history at the University of North Texas-Dallas. His forthcoming book elaborates on his dissertation at SMU. One should also consult William B. Griffen and Lance Blythe. In short, the peace establishments were part of Spanish policy on its northern frontier. Spanish policy towards the “Indios Barbaros”—Comanche, Apache, Kiowa—vacillated between outright wars of extermination (especially towards Apaches) and tentative peace. Spain had little real control over its northern borderlands and it also experienced internal conflicts between church, state, settlers, etc. It really was chaotic. However, after a series

of reforms in the 1760s and 1770s (creating a line of presidios along its northern border, for instance), and a large peace treaty in the 1780s with the Comanche, Spain directed much effort towards “peace or extermination” of the Apache during the 1780s. Part of the “peace” included the creation of more than a dozen “reservations” adjacent to presidios. These establicimientos de paz were somewhat experimental and attempted to bring Apache bands into the orbit of the Spanish state, Christianize them, teach them farming (some already knew how to farm), and eventually bring them into Spanish society. In addition to other areas, they were located near Presidio del Norte in Ojinaga, Paso del Norte (present day Juarez), and Janos, in western Chihuahua. The establishments lasted more or less into the Mexican Era, but the Mexican national treasury was nearly bankrupt and the political landscape was reeling from the impact of Independence. Thus, it was hard to maintain the establishments without farming tools, housing, and the ability to protect the families from hostile Comanches and Spanish civilians. The establishments were magnets for disease, much like the missions. Apaches came and went as they pleased. They sometimes came in temporarily after war or conflict, regained their health, and returned to the cycles of war and conflict that characterized the frontier. By some accounts, 30% of Apaches spent some time in the establishments. Although few scholars acknowledge them, they had a lasting impact on borderlands history.

Judd Foundation: How has the border between the United States and Mexico impacted various indigenous groups in our area since the Mexican-American War?

Professor Jeffrey Shepherd: This is a complicated question. I think there is a range of situations. The most glaring situation is seen with the Tohono O’odham peoples in southern Arizona and northern Sonora. The Spanish referred to them as Pima and Papago. The international boundary clearly divided their homelands, and there are hundreds if not a thousand Tohono O’odham (T.O.) south of the line. Their reservation is 2 million acres, and its southern boundary runs along 80 miles of the international line. The impact on them depends on the era. Before the creation of the Border Patrol, as well as the passage of a monumental immigration law in 1924, the T.O. had considerable flexibility crossing the boundary within the parameters of their reservation. They did not need to go to Customs Houses in Nogales. I don’t think that there even was a fence separating the two countries at that location. After 1924, Border Patrol presence increased slowly. Some T.O. were labeled Mexican immigrants (most spoke Spanish and had Spanish sir names), and since they lacked birth certificates or Social Security Cards, it was hard to confirm their identity. Even after the federal government passed legislation for Social Security in the 1930s, many T.O. “lacked documents” well into the late 20th century. In sum, Tohono O’odham today have tremendous difficulties crossing the border: they must cross at official check points several hours away, and they cannot cross via their reservation. They must hold government issued I.D. cards. The list goes on. These obstacles keep them from religious and sacred sites, sources of plants for medicinal purposes, and of course they cannot see family members.

Other groups, such as the Kumeeyay in California, the Cocopah and Quechan in the Colorado River Delta region, the Yaqui in Arizona, the Tigua in El Paso, the Kickapoo in Eagle Pass, and the Lipan all along the border, face similar challenges. It is a violation of their human rights.

Judd Foundation: Donald Judd maintained a large library in his home, known as the Block, in Marfa. In his library we see that he had over 150 volumes related to American Indian history and culture, as well as books pertaining more specifically to the Indian people of the southwest United States. Can you recommend a book that you view as essential reading for those interested in American Indian history?

Professor Jeffrey Shepherd: A few books that are most relevant to the border: Brian DeLay, War of a Thousand Deserts; 
Pekka Hemalainen, Comanche Empire; 
Edwin Sweeney, Mangas Coloradas; Lance Blythe, Chiracahua and Janos; 
Jefferson Morganthaler, The River Has Never Divided Us

Judd Foundation: You also, mentioned Wisdom Sits in a Place by Keith H. Basso and the intimate relationship between place and knowledge. Can you elaborate on the importance of this understanding and further expand on its relationship to religious freedom?

Professor Jeffrey Shepherd: Basso’s book is exceptional. The idea is that knowledge is tied to particular places. Language and cultural concepts are indicative of relationships to the land and landscape. Additionally, burial sites and sacred grounds are part of Native religious traditions. Moving people away from these sites damages their knowledge off themselves and their culture, and it divorces them from the foundations of their religion. Additionally, damage to sacred sites
or sites replete with cultural knowledge, is also a violation. See the examples of Mt. Graham in Arizona and the large telescope there, and the huge conflict in the San Francisco Peaks region near Flagstaff, where the city and skiing interests were/are pumping reclaimed sewage water onto the mountain in the form of fake snow. More than a dozen Indian nations protested this on the basis of religious freedom.

Part of the challenge is that many Christians don’t comprehend the connection between religion and land for many Indigenous groups. Indigenous religions tend to be land-placed based, and to quote the late Lakota Sioux scholar Dr. Vine Deloria Jr., religions like Christianity are “portable.” With this in mind, we also consider the mandate to divide and multiply, and essentially subjugate the land and resources to human needs, because humans are “above” nature. Native cosmologies are different: they see mutual interdependency between humans and animals. Indeed, humans and animals can be siblings. Killing an animal is done with respect and admiration. Lastly, many native cosmologies embrace a notion of “balance” with the surrounding world. Christianity and capitalism, not so much.

Judd Foundation: You described how in some indigenous cultures it is not uncommon for people to think of their present as consisting of the seven generations that preceded them and the seven that are to follow. How is this relevant to the way that we understand American Indian history or history in general?

Professor Jeffrey Shepherd: My understanding, and could be wrong, is that its main origin (or one of its origins) comes from the Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the Haudenosaunee. The gist of the idea is that when we think of “ourselves” we must also think of our ancestors seven generations backwards, so that we have access to their knowledge and sense of our identities. Similarly, we must project into the “future” at least seven generations to assess the impact of our actions in the present. In short, identities are comprised of 14 generations, 7 back, and 7 forward. I apologize for doing damage to a highly complicated philosophical concept, but the thrust is that we have to look to the past and the future to understand who we are, what we are doing, and the impact of our actions.


Images from top to bottom: Donald Judd, drawing for garden at Casa Perez, 3 May 1988, pencil on paper, 12 1/2 x 7 15/16; Casa Perez; Casa Perez, Judd Foundation, Marfa, Texas, Elizabeth Felicella; Casa Perez, Judd Foundation, Marfa, Texas, Lauretta Vinciarelli.