Arthur Kopecky author of New Buffalo: Journals from a Taos Commune
New Buffalo Commune  Taos New Mexico
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Reviews New Buffalo

  • New Mexico Hisorical Review Vol. 83, Number 3
    Reviewer: Timothy Hodgdon, Durham, North Carolina.
     

    Leaving New Buffalo Commune By Arthur Kopecky
    University of New Mexico Press. 2006.xxiii + 213 pp. 29 halftones, maps. $1995 paper, ISBN 978-0-8263-405402.Albuquerque, NM

    This is the second volume of the author’s edited journals, written during his time at New Buffalo Commune in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico. Hippies intending to follow the peyote road had founded the commune in 1967, but by Arthur Kopecky’s arrival in mid-197l, constant turnover in membership had created an ungainly mix of back-to-the-land enthusiasts and longhaired drifters. This volume, covering 1976—1979, documents the author’s earnest efforts to create a highly purposeful and skilled membership who shared his belief that the spread of countercultural communes would radically transform a consumerist, militaristic, and ecologically unsustainable American social order.

    Kopecky pinned his hopes for New Buffalo on the development of a communal dairy that would supply local demand for whole food from alternative sources. We see him and his friends building a herd, constructing facilities that would pass muster with local authorities, and mastering the skills required to make irrigated land productive—all without the necessary start-up capital readily at hand. Persistence, and unadulterated countercultural fraternalism, might have overcome the long odds. But Kopecky’s efforts to emulate other communes that had instituted a modicum of formal self-governance and regulation of membership sparked resentment among several ex-members. Over the course of a year or so, these disgruntled free spirits mounted a campaign of harassment culminating in an occupation of the commune, ejection of Kopecky, and a return to laissez-faire.

    These journals will provide much food for thought for students of the twentieth-century American West. Those pondering Richard Slotkin’s arguments about the role of redemptive violence will find in Kopecky a firm believer in hippie pacifism who was, according to his account, ousted from New Buffalo by a cowboy-style power play. Those pursuing Richard White’s arguments about the central role of state power in the development of the modern West will find here what might seem the unlikely story of New Mexico extension agents encouraging long-haired novices. Historians of the counterculture, keenly aware of the bitter conflicts that erupted between communards and Hispanos, may wish to examine these journals for countervailing evidence about a hip colonist who gained sufficient standing among locals to serve as the mayordomo of the irrigation system. Or they might examine New Buffalo as a western case corroborating Barry Laffan’s arguments about the rationalization of regional radical social structures in the 1970s. Students of quotidian gender relations in the twentieth century will find a wealth of evidence about New Buffalo’s complex, context-contingent sexual division of labor—but, interestingly enough, no mention of radical feminism.

    Rich in detail as this book is, users must nevertheless proceed with a bit more than the usual caution. Kopecky tells readers that these journals were slightly edited, but does not explain the process sufficiently for professional historians. Hopefully, the autograph originals will eventually pass to an archive, facilitating side-by-side inspection. But even if such an inspection proves impossible, this volume deserves the appreciation of all those-who would, as historian David Farber might say, move the 1960s in the American West from memory to history.
    Timothy Hodgdon, Durham, North Carolina.
For more information on Kopecky or New Buffalo, please contact Amanda Sutton, UNM Press publicity at 505-277-0655, 505-277-9270 (fax), or asutton@unm.edu.
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