Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 18, No. 4, Fall 1998, pp. 327-40
Within just the last few years there has been an explosion in the interest in, and the publication of, gay and lesbian studies. One of the most vibrant fields in the discipline of history today is the history of sexuality. But with all the effort expended in this area of scholarship, there has not been much of an attempt to integrate gay, lesbian, and sexual history into regional history and regionalism. This essay is an attempt to introduce regional history to sexual history. It takes as its subject "non-heterosexuals" and tries to make sense of their history within the context of the Great Plains region. Because myths (such as "rain follows the plow," the Great American Desert, the Garden of the World, and the Golden Kingdom of Quivira) have been so important in determining Great Plains history and therefore its regional identity, this study uses a few of the most compelling Great Plains myths as one way to understand the history of the region's sexual minorities. Such an approach permits a better understanding of why non-heterosexuals have traditionally been left out of Great Plains histories; it also affords us a way to integrate them into it. The desire here is not so much to offer any hard and fast conclusions about the non-heterosexual history of the Great Plains. Rather, the goal here, besides integrating regionalism with the history of sexuality, is to encourage debate, reflection, and further investigation on the part of students of the Great Plains and the American West.
THE GARDEN DEFILED
In 1541 the conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado became the first European to journey into the heart of the Great Plains. Stories of emeralds, gold, and great cities, as well as the deeply held European myth that somewhere on the American continents there existed a lost garden where living was easy, all lured Coronado into the region. The journey started as a voyage chasing myth; it ended in dashed hopes for the conquistador when he and his men halted their expedition among the Caddo an-speaking Wichita of present-day central Kansas.