Unfolding the Map
Our quest continues. William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) is on a quest for answers, understanding, and to be in touch with his country. I am on a quest to map his trip, and in a life sense, to be happy and fulfilled. You, Littourati, each have your own quest you are following. To see where we are on our current quest, click on the map thumbnail at right.
"Straight as a chief's countenance, the road lay ahead, curves so long and gradual as to be imperceptible except on the map. For nearly a hundred miles due west of Eldorado, not a single town. It was the Texas some people see as barren waste when they cross it, the part they later describe at the motel bar as 'nothing.' They say, 'There's nothing out there.'"
Blue Highways: Part 4, Chapter 8
What's in a name? If you live in a town called Eldorado, or El Dorado, then a lot. It reflects the Spanish roots of a country, the United States, that outside its Southwest area largely focuses it's historical past on English colonization. The term El Dorado is used as a place name for many towns in the United States and stands for the hopes and dreams of the other settlers of this country, the Spanish and mestizo explorers and conquerors that combed the Southwest looking for their own version of the American dream.
El Dorado was the legend that fueled the exploration of the Spanish across South and North America. It was said that somewhere in the interior of both continents, cities could be found that harbored fantastic riches. In these cities were gold, and minerals and gemstones, that exceeded the wildest dreams. In South America, while the Spanish tended to pursue El Dorado, in North America they sought the Seven Cities of Cibola, first reported by shipwrecked explorers such as Cabeza de Vaca and the Moorish Estevanico (Esteban). In the Southwest, the Seven Cities were thought to be the Zuni pueblos, where mica windows in the adobe buildings reflected the setting sun's light such that the cities seemed to gleam radiantly from afar.
In some reflections I have been reading, the authors have challenged me to reflect on my life's "quest." To me, a quest is a desire to find something and claim it as one's own. We quest for many things. To the Spaniards tramping around the Southwest in hostile environment and territory, the quest was to find fabulous riches. Finding those riches would not only make the Spaniards happy (they thought), able to live the life of their dreams, and receive the fame and importance due them but also justify Spain's investment in the New World. Later, American explorers of the Louisiana territories and the Southwest, and their business and political backers, reworked this idea of the quest into American "Manifest Destiny," which justified American settlement under the idea that it was God's will that the United States should spread from "sea to shining sea." While it undoubtedly laid the seeds for the economic powerhouse that the United States has become, a country that has literally been an El Dorado for many of its citizens, it also allowed for those same political and economic leaders to justify the subjugation and persecution of the country's Native peoples.
Nowadays, we often speak of questing in a personal sense - a quest for more enlightenment or personal growth, or to be more in touch with our religious beliefs. We quest for happiness, for an end to loneliness, for love. In the process of our quest, we may come close or even find what we seek, or we may forever circle it, not quite reaching the goal we have set. We might, as a result of our quest, become fuller human beings. We might also become so consumed by the goal that we lose sight of ourselves, and intentionally or unintentionally cause hurt.
To me, there seems to be two sides to the idea of the quest - a light and a dark side. These sides are encapsulated in names like Eldorado, Texas. On the good side, these towns symbolize the very qualities that made the United States the country it is. People on a quest for land, homes and livelihood found isolated valleys and fertile plains and created lives that might have seemed for many of them the slice of heaven they hoped and longed for. They built something out of nothing, and in the land and their hard work found the gold they sought. On the not so good side, the influx of settlers pushed out those who had lived on and hunted those lands for many centuries and pushed them to the margins - a reality that many Native Americans are still trying to escape. To them, El Dorado means not a golden place, but an ideal that brought greedy and rapacious foreigners to their homes. I find it interesting that many Native American tribes, when the Spanish came to their villages and pueblos, got rid of them by telling them that fantastic and wealthy cities existed many miles away to the north. Many Spanish expeditions were led on wild goose chases - even as they explored as far north as Kansas, they were really interested in finding these wealthy cities and not really exploring the country.
There is another example of the not-so-good side of such quests. In 2008, Eldorado, Texas became a center of controversy and unwanted attention because of a recently-arrived group of people who seek their own version of El Dorado. A large Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints compound called Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch was built near the town. Their polygamist practices and allegations of sexual abuse led Texas authorities to raid the compound, busing away a number of children. Many of the women were found to be or to have been underage brides and to have had children before becoming legal adults. Some members of the compound were convicted of various sexual crimes, but today most of the children are back with their parents at the compound, whose leaders have said they will renounce underage marriage practices.
Many towns and cities in the United States, recalling both the bad and good sides of such quests, are named in the spirit of that which is just over the horizon. How many? Here's a roll call of towns and cities called, in one form or another, El Dorado.
El Dorado, Arkansas
El Dorado, California
El Dorado Hills, California
Eldorado Springs, Colorado
El Dorado, Kansas
El Dorado Springs, Missouri
Eldorado at Santa Fe, New Mexico
I don't make any claims that this is an exhaustive list. I found these towns in two ways - typing "El Dorado" or "Eldorado" into Google Maps for every state. I also looked at a list of settlements of the United States. Some of these towns are larger, many of them are unincorporated communities. This list does not list the myriads of businesses around the country that are given the name El Dorado. However, 18 towns or cities in various states, most of which are in the Southwest or West but not all of them, with a variant of the name El Dorado is pretty impressive.
As for myself, I am realizing that my personal quest is to be productive, to better myself, to assist my community in any way I can, to love and be loved, to find happiness in my friends and loved ones, and to live a happy life. Given my past history, which has involved some hard realities, my quest has been quite challenging. In that way, I am no different from the settlers that created Eldorado, Texas or any of the other El Dorado's in the United States. I am really no different than anybody else. I am no different from LHM, who is on his own quest for personal healing through travel in Ghost Dancing around his country and interaction with the people he meets on the way. Whether I find my city of gold beyond the horizon is a combination of my own desire and fortitude, and the whim of fortune.
For your Texas music interlude, a video of Joe Ely singing Tom Russell's song Gallo Del Cielo. It's the story of a man on a quest, with his golden rooster that will get him there. As some quests go, he takes it too far, and loses everything. It's a wonderful song by a West Texas master singer-songwriter.
If you want to know more about Eldorado
Next up: Western Crockett County