Jul 272015

Dr. George Carpenter Barker  (1912-1958) was an anthropologist, author, editor and translator.

What makes Barker a worthy inclusion in our series of mini-biographies of artists and authors associated with Lake Chapala is his editing and translation of a copy of a manuscript found in Chapala in 1948 after a performance of a nativity play on Christmas morning in the village churchyard. The manuscript was apparently committed to paper, from older oral sources, by Aristeo Flores of El Salto, Jalisco, around 1914.

Barker’s 167-page translation was published as The shepherds’ play of the prodigal son: A folk drama of Old Mexico (University of California Publications: Folklore Studies, No. 2, Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. California Press, 1953).

This work was described in a review by Frank Goodwyn in Western Folklore (1954, p 220):

This is an unusually full and well-written version of the nativity play traditionally given on Christmas morning in Spanish-speaking countries…. Barker has made a close translation of the play and presented it in parallel text, thus making it intelligible to the English-speaking reader without losing the flavor of the original tongue. Barker concludes that “this version is more Mexican than Spanish”. “There is also a description of the play’s presentation on Christmas morning, 1948, at Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, from the manuscript which Barker subsequently obtained and reproduced.”

It is unclear whether Barker personally visited Chapala in December 1948, or was sent the manuscript by an informant. (As always, we would love to learn more about his connections to Chapala – via our comments function or e-mail.)

Barker’s parents were California artist and art teacher George Barker (1882-1965) and his wife Olive Carpenter. the younger Barker gained a degree in history from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and an MS degree in journalism from Columbia University, before completing his masters and doctorate degrees in anthropology from the University of Chicago.

carpenter-george-cHe received his PhD in 1947 and then worked as a research associate in the Department of Anthropology, at the University of Arizona from 1947 to 1948. From 1950, until his death, he was a research associate in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at UCLA.

At UCLA, his research focused on Mexican-American youths in the Los Angeles area, though he never lost his interests in folklore and the religious ceremonies of various Southwest Indian tribes, including the Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico.

Barker was the author of a number of articles in scholarly journals, and of the short studies entitled Pachuco: An American-Spanish Argot and its Social Functions in Tucson, Arizona (Univ. of Arizona Social Science Bulletin (1950) and Social Functions of Language in a Mexican American Community (Univ. of Arizona Press, 1972).

He was a member of various professional societies in several fields, including the American Anthropological Association and the Asociación Española de Etnología y Folklore (Madrid).

The Papers of George C. Barker now reside in the Special Collections at the University of Arizona Libraries.

Feb 162010

“A giant walked around and the ground cracked” (a Tarahumar legend explaining how the canyons were formed).

Mexico’s Copper Canyon is narrower, deeper and longer than the US Grand Canyon. The train ride from Los Mochis and El Fuerte to Divisadero, Creel and Chihuahua traverses the Western Sierra Madre with its imposing peaks and pine forests. This area is home to Mexico’s Tarahumar Indians, an indigenous group whose distinctive lifestyle has, thankfully, resisted many of the supposed allures of modern living.

This partial bibliography offers a varied selection of reading, both fiction and non-fiction, directly related to the Copper Canyon region and the Tarahumar people.

Alvarado, C.M. (1996) La Tarahumara: una tierra herida. Gobierno del Estado de Chihuahua. Somewhat repetitive academic analysis of the violence of the drug-producing zones in the state of Chihuahua, based in part on interviews with convicted felons.

Bennett, W. and Zingg, R. (1935) The Tarahumara. Univ. of Chicago Press. Reprinted by Rio Grande Press, 1976. Classic anthropological work.

Dunne, P.M. (1948) Early Jesuit Missions in Tarahumara. Univ. Calif. Press.

Fisher, R.D. (1988) National Parks of Northwest Mexico II. Sunracer Publications, Tucson, Arizona. Fisher is the author of numerous well illustrated works about the Canyon region.

Fontana, B.L. (1979) Where night is the day of the moon. Northland Press, Flagstaff, Arizona. Very colorful and interesting.

Gajdusek, D.C. (1953) “The Sierra Tarahumara” in Geographical Review, New York. 43: 15-38

Johnson, P.W. (1965) A Field Guide to the Gems and Minerals of Mexico. Gembooks, Mentone, California.

Kennedy, J.G. (1978) Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre; Beer, Ecology and Social Organization, AHM Publishing Corp, Arlington Heights, Illinois. Republished, as The Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre: Survivors on the Canyon’s Edge in 1996. – interesting account by an anthropologist who lived in one of the more remote Tarahumar areas for several months, accompanied by his wife and infant daughter. Kennedy also co-authored with Raul A. Lopez Semana Santa in the Sierra Tarahumara. A comparitive study in three communities. Museum of Cultural History, UCLA.

Kerr, J.L (1968) Destination Topolobampo: The Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad, Golden West Books, San Marino, California. Difficult to find account of the railroad itself.

Lartigue, F. (1970) Indios y bosques. Políticas forestales y comunales en la Sierra Tarahumara. Edicions de la Casa Chata # 19, Mexico.

Lumholtz, C. (1902) Unknown Mexico. 2 volumes. Scribner’s Sons, New York. Republished in both English and Spanish. Fascinating ethnographic account from the last century.

Merrill, W.L. (1988) Raramuri Souls – Knowledge and Social Progress in North Mexico. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

Nauman, T. (1997) “Tala ilegal para la siembra de mariguana y opio en Chihuahua” p. 50 in El Financiero, May 12, 1997. Describes the Arareko project.

Norman, James (1976) “The Tarahumaras: Mexico’s Long Distance Runners” in National Geographic, May 1976. pp 702-718

Pennington, C. (1963) The Tarahumar of Mexico, their environment and material culture. Univ. of Utah Press. Reprinted by Editorial Agata, Guadalajara, 1996. Another classic account of Tarahumar life and culture. The reprint has additional color photographs, taken by Luis Verplancken, S.J., who has run the mission in Creel for many years.

Plancarte, F. (1954) El problema indígena tarahumara. INI. Mexico. Spanish language description published by National Indigenous Institute.

Robertson, T.A. (1964) A Southwestern Utopia. An American Colony in Mexico. Ward Ritchie, Los Angeles. This describes the early history of Los Mochis and surrounding area.

Roca, P.M. (1979) Spanish Jesuit Churches in Mexico’s Tarahumara. Univ. of Arizona.

Salopek, Paul (1996) “Sierra Madre – Backbone of the Frontier” in National Geographic, August 1996.

Schmidt, R.H. (1973) A Geographical Survey of Chihuahua, monograph #37 Texas Western Press.

Shepherd, G. (1938) The Silver Magnet. E.P.Dutton, New York. The story of Batopilas mining town.

Shoumatoff, A. (1995) “The Hero of the Sierra Madre” pp 90 – 99 of Utne Reader (July-August, 1995), reprinted from Outside (March 1995). An account of the determined efforts by Edwin Bustillos to prevent further environmental destruction in the Copper Canyon region.

Spicer, E. (1969) “Northwest Mexico: Introduction” in Handbook of Middle American Indians vol.8, Ethnology part II. Univ. of Texas Press.

Vatant, Francoise. La explotación forestal y la producción doméstica tarahumara. Un estudio de caso: Cusárare, 1975-1976. INAH, Mexico.

Villaseñor, Victor (1992) Rain of gold. Delta. A Mexican-American novel based on family tale of dreams, mines and wealth and Revolution.

Feb 042010

Cover of The Tarahumar of MexicoThe Tarahumar of Mexico, Their Environment and Material Culture contains a wealth of valuable information about one of Mexico’s most distinctive indigenous groups.

Published by Editorial Agata, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, 1996. Soft Cover. Book Condition: New but appears lightly used with minor shelfwear rubbing. Only a few copies remain; this publisher is no longer in business.

This book has 33 b/w photographs, 12 full-color photographs (found only in this edition), and 4 fold out maps in the back pocket (Two maps show the historical boundaries of the Tarahumar country; one map shows mean annual precipitation, and the fourth map shows physiographic regions; all maps are 1:500,000 scale).

Dimensions (in inches): 8.6 x 5.75 x 0.6.  Price: US $20.00 [plus shipping; contact us for options]


The Tarahumar (more commonly, but less correctly, the Tarahumara) live in the Copper Canyon region of Northern Mexico. In many ways, their way of life has remained unchanged for centuries. This area has spectacular scenery, and numerous massive canyons. The main canyon – the Urique Canyon – is longer,  deeper and narrower than the US Grand Canyon, so ‘spectacular’ is definitely the right word! The famous Copper Canyon railway, linking Los Mochis and El Fuerte to Divisadero and Creel. passes right through this area.

One subgroup of Tarahumar Indians moves with the seasons from caves near the canyon rim in summer to camps near the canyon floor (at lower altitude where the weather is warmer) during the winter.

The Tarahumar are the subject of several anthropological classics, and this is definitely one of them. This study integrated available archeological data and historical material with extensive field work among the Tarahumar in 1955. The book includes a discussion of agriculture; gardening; tree culture; food preparation; hunting; gathering and fishing; animal husbandry; beverages; ceremonies; games; drug plants; leather, fibers, textiles and personal adornment; and household articles and habitations.

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