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Guide to Life and Literature
of the Southwest

Indian Culture; Pueblos and Navajos

THE LITERATURE on the subject of Indians is so extensive and ubiquitous that, unless a student of Americana is pursuing it, he may find it more troublesome to avoid than to get hold of. The average old-timer has for generations regarded Indian scares and fights as the most important theme for reminiscences. County-minded historians have taken the same point of view. The Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution has buried records of Indian beliefs, ceremonies, mythology, and other folklore in hundreds of tomes; laborious, literal-minded scholars of other institutions have been as assiduous. In all this lore and tabulation of facts, the Indian folk themselves have generally been dried out.

Pueblo Indian -- Fat John of Taos, by Howard Cook

The Anglo-American's policy toward the Indian was to kill him and take his land, perhaps make a razor-strop out of his hide. The Spaniard's policy was to baptize him, take his land, enslave him, and appropriate his women. Any English-speaking frontiersman who took up with the Indians was dubbed "squaw man" -- a term of sinister connotations. Despite pride in descending from Pocahontas and in the vaunted Indian blood of such individuals as Will Rogers, crossbreeding between Anglo-Americans and Indians has been restricted, as compared, for instance, with the interdicted crosses between white men and black women. The Spaniards, on the other hand, crossed in battalions with the Indians, generating mestizo (mixed-blooded) nations, of which Mexico is the chief example.

As a result, the English-speaking occupiers of the land have in general absorbed directly only a minimum of Indian culture -- nothing at all comparable to the Uncle Remus stories and characters and the spiritual songs and the blues music from the Negroes. Grandpa still tells how his own grandpa saved or lost his scalp during a Comanche horse-stealing raid in the light of the moon; Boy Scouts hunt for Indian arrowheads; every section of the country has a bluff called Lovers' Leap, where, according to legend, a pair of forlorn Indian lovers, or perhaps only one of the pair, dived to death; the maps all show Caddo Lake, Kiowa Peak, Squaw Creek, Tehuacana Hills, Nacogdoches town, Cherokee County, Indian Gap, and many another place name derived from Indian days. All such contacts with Indian life are exterior. Three forms of Indian culture are, however, weaving into the life patterns of America.

(1) The Mexicans have naturally inherited and assimilated Indian lore about plants, animals, places, all kinds of human relationships with the land. Through the Mexican medium, with which he is becoming more sympathetic, the gringo is getting the ages-old Indian culture.

(2) The Pueblo and Navajo Indians in particular are impressing their arts, crafts, and ways of life upon special groups of Americans living near them, and these special groups are transmitting some of their acquisitions. The special groups incline to be arty and worshipful, but they express a salutary revolt against machined existence and they have done much to revive dignity in Indian life. Offsetting dilettantism, the Museum of New Mexico and associated institutions and artists and other individuals have fostered Indian pottery, weaving, silversmithing, dancing, painting, and other arts and crafts. Superior craftsmanship can now depend upon a fairly reliable market; the taste of American buyers has been somewhat elevated.

O mountains, pure and holy, give me a song, a strong and holy song to bless my flock and bring the rain!

This is from "Navajo Holy Song," as rendered by Edith Hart Mason. It expresses a spiritual content in Indian life far removed from the We and God, Incorporated form of religion ordained by the National Association of Manufacturers.

(3) The wild freedom, mobility, and fierce love of liberty of the mounted Indians of the Plains will perhaps always stir imaginations -- something like the charging Cossacks, the camping Arabs, and the migrating Tartars. There is no romance in Indian fights east of the Mississippi. The mounted Plains Indians always made a big hit in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Little boys still climb into their seats and cry out when red horsemen of the Plains ride across the screen.

See "Apaches, Comanches, and Other Plains Indians," "Mountain Men."


Indian Stories from the Pueblos, Philadelphia, 1929. Charming. OP.


The Winged Serpent, John Day, New York, 1946. An anthology of prose and poetry by American Indians. Here are singular expressions of beauty and dignity.


The Trail Book, 1918, OP; One-Smoke Stories, 1934, Houghton Mifflin, Boston. Delightful folk tales, each leading to a vista.


The Delight Makers, 1918, Dodd, Mead, New York. Historical fiction on ancient pueblo life.


The Navajo Indians, Boston, 1930. Readable; bibliography. OP.


The Rain-Makers, Boston, 1929. OP. This thorough treatment of the Indians of Arizona and New Mexico contains an excellent account of the Hopi snake ceremony for bringing rain. During any severe drought numbers of Christians in the Southwest pray without snakes. It always rains eventually -- and the prayer-makers naturally take the credit. The Hopis put on a more spectacular show. See Dr. Walter Hough's The Hopi Indians, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1915. OP.


Zuņi Folk Tales, 1901; reprinted, 1931, by Knopf, New York. My Adventures in Zuņi, Santa Fe, 1941. Zuņi Breadstuff, Museum of the American Indian, New York, 1920. Cushing had rare imagination and sympathy. His retellings of tales are far superior to verbatim recordings. Zuņi Breadstuff reveals more of Indian spirituality than any other book I can name. All OP.


Tay Tay's Tales, 1922; Tay Tay's Memories, 1924. OP.

Indian Art of the United States, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1941.


Son of Old Man Hat, New York, 1938. OP.


Dancing Gods, Knopf, New York, 1931. Erna Fergusson is always illuminating.


Indians and Pioneers, 1930, and Advancing the Frontier, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1933. Grant Foreman is prime authority on the so-called "Civilized Tribes." University of Oklahoma Press has published a number of excellent volumes in "The Civilization of the American Indian" series.

Traders to the Navajos, Boston, 1936; reprinted by University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1952. An account not only of the trading post Wetherills but of the Navajos as human beings, with emphasis on their spiritual qualities.


Indians of the Southwest, New York, 1921. Excellent outline of exterior facts. OP.


Cry of the Thunderbird, Macmillan, New York, 1951. An anthology of writings by Indians containing many interesting leads.


Ancient Life in the American Southwest, Indianapolis, 1930. OP. A master work in both archeology and Indian nature. (With Bertha P. Dretton) The Pueblo Indian World, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1945.


Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, Washington, D. C., 1907. Indispensable encyclopedia, by a very great scholar and a very fine gentleman. OP.


The Peyote Cult, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1938.


Laughing Boy, Boston, 1929. The Navajo in fiction.


Mesa, Canon, and Pueblo, New York, 1925; Pueblo Indian Folk Tales, New York, 1910. Lummis, though self-vaunting and opinionated, opens windows.


Navajo Legends, Boston, 1897; Navajo Myths, Prayers and Songs, Berkeley, California, 1907.


Myths of the Cherokees, in Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, Washington, 1902. Outstanding writing.


Rhythm for Rain, Boston, 1937. Based on ten years spent with the Hopi Indians, this study of their life is a moving story of humanity. OP.


Tales That Dead Men Tell, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1935. Eloquent, liberating to the human mind; something rare for Texas scholarship. Pearce was professor of anthropology at the University of Texas, an emancipator from prejudices and ignorance. It is a pity that all the college students who are forced by the bureaucrats of Education -- Education spelled with a capital E -- "the unctuous elaboration of the obvious" -- do not take anthropology instead. Collegians would then stand a chance of becoming educated.


The Diabolic Root: A Study of Peyotism, the New Indian Religion, among the Delawares, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1934. The use of peyote has now spread northwest into Canada. See Milly Peacock Stenberg's The Peyote Culture among Wyoming Indians, University of Wyoming Publications, Laramie, 1946, for bibliography.


Spider Woman, 1934, and Dezba Woman of the Desert, 1939. Both honest, both OP.

SIMMONS, LEO W. (editor)

Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1942. The clearest view into the mind and living ways, including sex life, of an Indian that has been published. Few autobiographers have been clearer; not one has been franker. A singular human document.

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