'Let Joy Be Unrefined!'


THE ceremony of the Snake Dance begins many days before that public conclusion the tourist sees. The date of the dance is announced by the pueblo crier from the housetops. The priests of the Antelope and Snake clans go to their respective kivas where, amid chants and exorcism, the wardrobe is looked over and all necessary tools and sacred equipment are prepared. A certain number of songs are sung each day, according to a strict ritual. It is during this time that new members are initiated, whether or not with revolting rites is for those to answer who know.

Then comes the snake-hunt, occupying four days, each day to a different point of the compass, north, west, south, and east. One would think that snakes have fixed and respected neighborhoods, so readily do the hunters procure them; and one monster bullsnake, fully seven feet long and proportionately thick, must be trained by the Second Mesa devotees, for it always occupies the centre of the stage at Machongnovi. Very likely snakes live to participate in many dances.

This facility in procuring snakes caused me to ask a young Hopi how they were located.

‘By tracking,’ he answered, pointing to the dusty sand at our feet. ‘See! There is a snake’s track. We can follow him home and dig him out, if you want.’

Well, we did n’t do it, because I had something less dangerous on hand; and I must confess that I could not discern the delicate trail of the snake he referred to. But then, too, I have followed Indian trackers as they sought to run down a man. They would call off his movements as if reading from a book. As a desert tracker, I was a good Indian Agent.

Armed with a hoe, for excavating the more retiring, with a buckskin sack of sacred meal, — for this must be sprinkled on the votaries, — a larger bag in which to carry them, and a snake-whip of feathers, the hunters go forth. They wear moccasins and a loin-cloth only. An ordinary member of the snake family, such as a bull snake, no matter his size, is simply picked up with slight ceremonial fuss. But the rattlesnake often objects. He is most likely to sound his displeasure, and to coil swiftly for defense. Perhaps he has never attended a Snake Dance. In this event, the hunter blesses him with meal and proceeds to attract his attention with caresses of the snake-whip. After several strokes of the long eagle feathers, the snake uncoils and seeks escape; but swifter than he is the unerring hand that nips him just back of the head. He is waved in the air, stroked with a quick pressure along his spine, and dropped into the sack with the others. And no more attention is paid to the sack’s contents when carrying it back to the kiva than if it contained so much corn.


The public part of the Snake ceremony consumes about twenty minutes of time. The kisi, a bower of cottonwood boughs, something like a miniature tepee, is erected midway of the plaza and to one side. The kisi screens a hole in the rock-floor, and just before the dance begins a mysterious bag is carried out and placed therein. It contains the snakes. The hole is covered or roofed by a thick piece of board.

Early in the day the crowd of sightseers has gathered on the mesa-top, and in late afternoon it begins massing at the Walpi plaza. There is the usual wrangle over prominent places, and the inevitable bickering as to who engaged them first. Soon the roofs and terraces and balconies are hidden by the people. The odd stairways and other points of vantage cause the crowd to group as if arranged by a stage director. A dozen or more crown the Snake Rock itself. They wait patiently, expectantly, as small boys await the head of the circus parade. Old Judge Hooker arrives, garbed for the occasion, and harangues them with Hopi cries, announcing to all and several that this great ceremony will positively be held on this date, once and once only this season, and imploring them to grant it the respect it deserves. The Indians present pay attention to his speech, for on this occasion at least the Judge has the Agency police within call; but the whites do not know what he has said, and so care very little about it. This waiting in a too-crowded place is a monotonous and tiring procedure. There is much stirring about, leaving a good place and then wishing one had n’t.

And suddenly comes a distant sounding of rattle-gourds, a faint but insistent noise, like dried peas blown against glass.

‘Here they come!’ calls the everpresent small boy, who perches perilously on a projecting house-pole.

Quietly, ceremoniously, the Antelope priests in single file enter the plaza. Their gourds sound steadily, and with slow measured steps they march about the stage four times. When passing the kisi, each man stamps with his right foot on the board that shelters the snakes. They sprinkle meal. And they are followed by the guardian of the Bull-roarer, a tall man who carries a huge Indian bow ornamented with feathers, and who stops in mid-stage to sound his awesome instrument. With all the force of his arm he whirls that wooden plumb-bob on a sinew string. It moans with the wind voice of the Desert. Then the Antelope men form a straight line with the kisi, their backs to the houses and their faces to the plaza.

Now sounds a hurried noise, much clatter and scuffling, as the Snake priests approach. They burst into the plaza as if determinedly answering a call to battle. They are headed by the most robust of the clan, large powerful men. With rigid faces, fixedly staring, their elbows set as runners, they stride down the plaza. The crowd massed at the far end is always in the way. The Snake priests must go to the farthest end of this shelf on their first round, after which they shorten each lap until four have been completed. The crowd must fall back. It has no license to be there at all, and there is nothing in Snake-clan etiquette signifying change because curiosity has come out of the East. Their rushing single file of men is projected straight at the narrow end of the shelf. Finding that it was impossible to fix such a throng in place, I would station two guards at that point to warn and part the spectators. Just what would happen if the whites did not yield is problematical. I recall that once the headman of the dancers took me in the side with his elbow. He did not stop to apologize. It was two hundred rapidly moving pounds meeting much less than that. I did not completely recover from the blow until the dance was over. A head-on crack like that might easily propel one over the cliff.

These Snake priests are nude to the waist, their upper bodies daubed in black, with the lightning sign traced in white. Their hair is disheveled and streaming, and crowned with red feathers. About their eyes are reddish smears, and a circle of white is thickly painted about each mouth. They wear ornamented kilts of knee-length, and moccasins; and with some show of uniformity each man packs all the trumpery the clan has adopted as part of its regalia. They have armlets and bracelets of silver, and necklaces of many strands — beads and bone and turquoise. From the rear of each belt dangle one or more handsome fox-skins. Fastened just below the right-leg knee are curious clappers made of tortoise shells. Thus, as they stride tumultuously about, there sounds above the dry rattling of the Antelope gourds all the hurried clatter of this moving harness.

Each time they pass the kisi they stamp fiercely on the board. It gives back a hollow sound. And perhaps the snakes of former spectacles know that they will soon be wanted.

Then the Snake priests quiet down a bit and align themselves in a long row, facing the Antelope men. A chant is begun. It is low in tone and quite ceremonial in spirit. Their bodies sway. A curious waving motion is made with the hands, one dancer’s wrists engaging his partner’s. The gourds whir their singing sounds. And an old Indian, a feeble, aged man, passes down the line with a bowl of water. This he sprinkles at the kisi. The age of this participant and his evident fervor always attract notice. He appears and disappears. And it is just at this point, when the action is most impressive, when all touring eyes are bulging to a degree, that the inevitable dog wanders into the sanctuary and begins to investigate. I have never known a Snake Dance that did not produce its uninvited mongrel at this time. He is never shooed or kicked away. He is always the most disreputable animal of a people noted for their impoverished canines. Lank and lean, with a cringing expression of dog humility on his face, he contrives to spoil the scene.

There is a noticeable pause. The line of Snake priests breaks into pairs and, with a curious, half-stamping dance, they pass to the kisi. The man on the right stoops, plunges his arm into the snake-hole, and brings forth a snake. The dancer is humped over now, his body bent forward, his head projecting. The one with him places an arm across his shoulders, and with a feather-whip attracts the weaving head of the reptile. The first dancer holds the snake by its middle for a moment, and then places it in his mouth, permitting the two ends to dangle freely.

Behind these two steps watchfully the ‘gatherer,’ and follows them about. With a humping, irregular motion the pair dance around the plaza, and finally the snake is dropped to the ground. The gatherer quickly retrieves it, if it is a patient, well-behaved snake; but if it is a rattler and acts unreasonably, proceeding to coil and sound its warning, the gatherer swiftly acts with the deftness of a juggler. His eyes never leave the defiant snake. He pinches a bit of meal from his pouch and sprinkles it toward the unwilling symbol of the gods. Then he waves his whip over the snake. If it strikes, he will let it alone for a brief time. There in the little plaza is a fighting rattlesnake, a vicious coiled spring, fangs darting, restless, angry. The dancers avoid it. The crowd shrills its approval of the scene.

But the gatherer is watching. Soon the snake gives a quick wriggle and is off, darting for the mesa edge, and those forming the crowd there begin anxiously to shift their feet. Another second and the Indian has pounced down on it, swishing the snake from under the very toes of the spectators. He waves it through the air in the motion of his capture, strokes it into limpness as he watches his dancers. Then it dangles from his left hand, and he proceeds to the next adventure.

Meantime, other couples have approached the kisi and have produced their snakes. The differences in reptiles now attract attention. There are long, thin, nervous snakes, and short, fat, sluggish ones. A shout of amazement goes up when a very large specimen of bull snake is seen, its tail almost trailing the earth. But varying snakes do not affect the priests. The Antelope men continue the whirring of their gourds, and with the Snake men the action becomes faster. Seven or eight couples are now stamping around, and the gatherers have a busy time of it.

And then comes the signal that the bag of the kisi is empty. All snakes have been produced in the open, and danced with, and dropped, and gathered up. Now two priests describe with meal a large circle on the ground before the Dance Rock. The dancers approach and throw all the snakes into this circle. They crowd around it as meal is sprinkled, and perhaps some exorcism is muttered. For a second they poise there, as if under a spell; and then certain appointed men thrust their hands into the squirming mass, catch up as many snakes as possible, and rush from the plaza to liberate the votaries in the far Desert.

This distribution of the snake messengers ends what one may term the intriguing features of the ceremony. Soon the panting runners return to engage in the so-called ‘purification’ rites, the taking of the emetic; and a number of the curious follow them to be in at the death. It is not of importance that one should witness this part of the programme; it is simply a matter of taste. Physicians may wish to time the potency of desert brews. The priests are then washed from head to foot by the women of the clan. Water is poured over them from large bowls. Dripping, the priests disappear into their kiva. Soon the women are hurrying there too, bearing in trays all sorts of viands. The dancers, who have fasted, would absorb a bit of nourishment. God knows they have earned it!

Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes, the celebrated ethnologist, writes that after the Snake Dance of 1883 two of the liberated snakes were caught and taken to the National Museum at Washington for examination. He states that their fangs and poison-sacs were found to be intact. He does not accept the belief that these Hopi Indians have an antidote for the poison of rattlesnakes. It is his view that the desert rattler can inflict a deadly bite only after coiling and lunging viciously on its victim. And there is little to the theory that the snakes have been drugged or dulled into lethargy, since I have many times seen the rattlesnakes coil and fight wickedly. Several persons, particularly Mr. Herbert F. Robinson, the Government. Engineer for the Navajo and Hopi country, claim to have seen Snake priests bitten in the dance. I could not make such a statement. But it is possible that the paint with which the priests are so liberally daubed has, for snakes, a repugnant odor; and having anointed their hands and arms, and especially their mouths, faces, and necks with this ointment, they secure a certain immunity. And the stroking of the snakes, when picked up, may explain the safety of the gatherer. This action no doubt produces a partial paralysis of the snake’s muscular system. But this does not answer for those who thrust bare hands and arms into the snake bag at the kisi.

If one must sec a Snake Dance, the best show is at Walpi in years of odd numbers. The ceremony is held also at Machongnovi, Chimopovi, and Hotevilla. Since 1918 there has been no dance at Oraibi, perhaps because of factional disputes, although a disciple of Christianity has claimed part of the credit. There is a solemnity observed at Hotevilla, among the reactionaries, with prophet Youkeoma, the second man in the line of Antelope priests; but the men of Walpi preserve more of Indian color and thrill of action in their performance. Perhaps they have realized the advantage of a good show, well staged and costumed and vigorously enacted. While they do not invite the tourists, they keep them coming, and business in Snake Dance week is brisk along all lines.

Not all of the Hopi people are members of the Snake clan. Those of the uninitiated are as diffident with rattlesnakes as the rest of us. This lodge has difficulty in keeping up its membership. Sometimes a Hopi is invited to join, or is ordered to report for duty in the Snake kiva, and he declines this honor. It is well for him to remain away from dances thereafter, or he may have to hold a punishment snake as a penalty.


It was through the courtesy of Mr. John Lorenzo Hubbell, that early pioneer and baronial trader of the Navajo Desert, that I chanced to view the most secret of the Snake Dance rites, the baptism or washing of the snakes in the kiva. This occurs in the morning of the day of the public ceremony. Perhaps one might call it the consecration of the messengers; for, as I have understood it, the snakes are the tribe’s envoys to the gods, bearing its petition for rain and its thanks for harvests.

Perhaps, as Moungwi, I might have achieved this success earlier, but it was my method in dealing with the Hopi, an always suspicious people, not to display an interest in their secrecies. Of necessity — or perhaps I should say in good judgment—I had to police their dances, to prevent possible clashes between the nonunderstanding Indian and the nearly always unreasonable and overcurious tourist; but I have never asked an Indian, anywhere, to give me an ‘inside’ concerning his primitive beliefs. Having to guide and often to judge that same Indian, it would have been an unfair advantage to take of my position, and would at once have classed me, the appointed mentor, as a piece of curiosity no different from the white men he so often wrangled with. Moreover, I had other means of acquiring information. The traders told me all they had garnered through the many years of trafficking with Indians, and each newcomer — tourist, artist, or itinerant official — presented me with the varying chaff of his very swift and gullible gleaning.

The always helpful Mr. Hubbell bridged this dilemma by inviting me as his guest, and I could accept without losing caste. Hubbell had been admitted to the kiva many years before; then Dr. Fewkes in 1899, as he relates; and since then the Indians have received Mr. Roosevelt, General Hugh L. Scott, and a few others. Perhaps not more than a score of white men have witnessed this ceremony.

In our little party were a visiting superintendent, an engineer of the Desert Service, and Mr. Ford Harvey, son of the immortal Fred who rescued so many hungry travelers along the Santa Fe, and to whom should be erected a monument of bronze.

From the poles of the kiva ladder flew the feather-plumes that signify the progress of secret rites. An Indian met us at the top, and we filed after him down the ladder into the cool, dim atmosphere of that underground rockwalled vault. It had a peculiar odor — perhaps an earthy, perhaps a snaky, smell.

Kivas usually are empty places. Bare and cold, unless filled with eye-stinging smoke from firebrands, I had not found them inviting on my rounds of the mesas. I had held councils in them when making the first steps against factional religious persecution. Again I had sat in them, chatting with the makers of costumes and drums, smoking their bitter and powerful tobacco, and afterward wishing sincerely I had not. Most often the kiva is the club for retired old men of the tribe, lonely, feeble fellows, where they curl up to drowse and sleep, or where they weave some ceremonial scarf. It is not good form to idle in the neighborhood of kivas when the feather-plumes are displayed.

The ladder ended on a stone platform, raised above the main kiva-floor. In the corners of this platform stood large clay jars, and greeting us, albeit silently, from the corners and about the jars were snakes. Not just a few snakes that had wandered out of their pottery containers, but congested wads of snakes, piled carelessly in the corners of the kiva, and with nothing to prevent, their leaving when the spirit moved them. However, they were quiet, somnolent, save for beady eyes and for an occasional slithery movement that caused one to watch his step.

At the upper end of the kiva was an elaborate sand-painting after the fashion of the Navajo, no doubt another adoption, of foreign origin. A sandpainting is a mosaic-like picture of Indian symbols and fetishes, worked out in colored sands. This was surrounded or fenced by peeled wands, placed close together on end. And at this ceremonial altar stood, practically nude, two of my schoolboys, bronzed lads of about sixteen, who had taken part that morning in the sunrise race.

Under the ladder and on the main floor a number of older Indians were grouped, having close to them large bowls of clay holding water or other liquids. And these priests were arrayed for ceremony. The sacred-meal pouches were in evidence. Soon a chant was intoned. The Hopi chants are primitive, but have in them an echo of Catholic litanies. I have seen a Hopi priest anoint with and toss the sacred meal just as his forbears saw the padres bless the people. The Hopi is an assiduous adapter. And while listening to the chanting I have often expected to catch the refrain: ’Ora pro nobis.' The padres were sacrificed to the desert gods in that red revolt of 1680, but their peaches dry each season on the pueblo housetops, and Hopi ceremonies carry an unconscious echo of the black-robes who taught the solemnity of ritual.

Around the walls of the kiva, at the height of one’s head, were wooden pegs set in the stone, and draped over these were masks and costumes. As my position at the end of the platform brought me close to one of these bundles, I leaned against it and the wall, half turned, to give an eye to the nearest snakes of my corner, and another eye to the proceedings of the elders. A snake wriggled out from the pile and came closer; but the Indian who had received us waved him back with a feather-whip. Someone was watching that sector, and I grew more confident.

We stood there for a little time in silence. From above came the noises of the crowd, thronging through the village streets. One could look up through the square opening of the entrance and see the blue Arizona sky. The ladder was very comforting. Several of the guests sat down on the edge of the platform, but I did not. I leaned comfortably against my pile of regalia, and kept a wide-angled view of the whole interior.

Then one of the Indians crossed the platform, gathered a few snakes, and passed them swiftly to the old men at the bowls. They uttered invocations, stretched the snakes out, and anointed them with meal, all the while chanting in a low tone. A number of the men had lined up against the wall, carrying rattles and insignia. They too began a chant. And then suddenly the old men plunged the snakes into the water of the bowls — a quick, unceremonious ducking, the choir raising its chant to a savage crescendo. It was no longer rhythmic and solemn. It was like a scream of death, a wild, unreasoning challenge that ended in a blood-curdling shriek; and at that final cry the snakes were hurled up the kiva, to fall on the sand-painting. The peeled wands were knocked over by their swirling bodies. Somnolent before, the snakes now waked up and twisted about, seeking escape, their heads raised, their tongues darting in and out. A hissing and whirring sounded. Their movements in the sand caused the design to be obliterated.

Now came another handful of snakes, swiftly passed for the baptism, and again the low chanting, but faster now, faster, and always that wild ending of the chant, and the throwing of the reptiles. More and more snakes squirmed on the wrecked sand-painting. All the wands were down now. And in among the snakes, with a calmness that chilled the blood, walked my two schoolboys, nude as Adam, hustling back to the sand those that darted for the walls. Twice snakes reached the stone bench along the kiva’s end and, climbing it, sought crevices of the upper wall. Each time a boy reached for the disappearing truant and nonchalantly dragged him back to his place in this wildest of pagan rites.

Finally all the snakes had been removed from our corners, and several inches of them made a moving carpet where had been the mosaic. There came a pause, a significant cessation of action, as if the priests had reached an unexpected, unforeseen part of the service. There was a quick consultation among the headmen. One of the boys, Edward, began looking around. He went to the nearest peg and removed some of the costumes, dropping a mask to the floor. He examined the mask. Then he went to another peg and performed this same search. And then he came straight toward me, at the end of the platform.

‘What is it, Edward?’ I asked him.

‘We had sixty-five rattlesnakes, Mr. Crane,’ he replied stolidly, ‘and now we count but sixty-four. Let me look through those dresses you are leaning against. That other one may be —’

‘Excuse me,’ I said hurriedly, as I went up the ladder.


Of course all Indians should not be forced into the same mould. Let us try to give each his chance to develop what is best in him. Moreover, let us be wary of interfering overmuch with either his work or his play. It is mere tyranny, for instance, to stop all Indian dances. Some which are obscene or dangerous must be prohibited. Others should be permitted, and many of them encouraged. Nothing that tells for the joy of life, in any community, should be lightly touched.
- ROOSEVELT, A Booklover’s Holidays

When I first read this, I thought of and began to compare the different types of Indian dances and ceremonies I had witnessed: the Butterfly, Basket, and Corn dances, the Snake and Flute dances of the Hopi; the Medicine Sings, and squaw dances, and the Ye-be-chai of the Navajo; the colorful pageants of the Pueblos, after Catholic Mass is celebrated on the name-days of their patron saints and the fiesta begins; the memorial ceremony of the Mohave, and their cremation of the dead. And those slam-bang, whirlwind dances of the Sioux.

Some of these were commemorative; some were fixed ceremonials; some were of little moment and some seemed nothing more serious than masquerades; some were filled with superstition and had just a touch of smouldering fanaticism under the veneer of paint and feathers. A few were social gatherings, a break in the monotony of existence, having in them ‘the joy of life.’ And, while all of the native dances should have thrown around them a thin line of supervision and restraint, many of them should by no means be ‘lightly touched.’

The Snake Dance may be dangerous, and it is certainly revolting at first sight. And perhaps it should be prohibited. That is a point of view. I am not thoroughly convinced of its danger to Indians, since I never heard of a Hopi dying from snake-bite. I saw so many Snake Dances that the edge has been dulled from my original thrill. If tourists were denied the pleasure of seeing it, I believe the ceremony would soon languish, and pass away entirely with the going of the elders from the mesa stage. Certainly I sought to prevent its perpetuation through the initiation of children, but without result, for I was unsupported in this, and alone I feared my inability to stifle a pagan war.

But of those things that should be dealt with gently, the tiny shows that the vacationist seldom sees and the Bureau has never heard of, I recall the Dance of the Dolls.

One afternoon, at First Mesa, I came along a trail toward the witch’s camp, meaning to start for home once the team was harnessed. I met an Indian of the district walking with my interpreter, who said: —

‘He wants you to stay and see the Dolls’ Dance.’

Now I had quite a collection of Hopi dolls, those quaint figurines carved with some skill from pieces of cottonwood, and dressed in the regalia of twig and feather and fur to represent the various kachinas of the clans. But I had never heard of a dance devoted to these little mannequins.

1 What sort of dance is that? ‘ I asked.

‘It is called the Dolls-Grind-Corn Dance,’ he replied.

‘When — to-morrow? ‘ thinking of those monotonous open-air drills, having various names but scarcely to be distinguished one from the other.

‘No. To-night, in the kiva.’

This interested me. I could see that the interpreter longed to remain overnight among his people, and to take in this show.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘is it worth climbing that mesa in the dark?’

‘I think you would like it,’ he answered; ‘it is a funny little dance, and the children go to see it.’

So I did not order up the team.

After supper, when the twilight had faded into that clouded blackness before the stars appear, I scrambled after my guide up the mesa trail. When we reached the end of that panting climb, the houses of the people were murkily lighted by their oil lamps, but most of the householders were abroad, going toward the various kivas. To the central one we went, and down the ladder.

The place was lighted by large swinging lamps, borrowed for the occasion from the trader, lamps that have wide tin shades and may be quickly turned to brilliancy or darkness by a little wheel at the side. I had expected to find it a gloomy place, whereas they had arranged something very like the lighting of a theatre. It was a trifle difficult to find a place in that crowded vault. The far end was kept clear, but the two long sides and the ladder end were packed with Hopi women and their little ones. Just as I have seen in our theatres, the children could scarcely repress their nervous interest, now sitting, now standing on tiptoe, turning and watching, as if this would hasten matters.

I seated myself on a lower rung of the ladder, believing this place would be most desirable from my point of view, because from it I had a view of the kiva’s centre and could most easily make my way to the upper air when things became too thick. A crowded kiva is rather foreign in atmosphere when filled to its capacity and with lamps going. But I soon found that I should be disturbed. From above came the noise of rattles and the clank of equipment, calls and the shuffling of feet. A line of dancers descended upon me. I moved to let them pass into the lighted centre-space. They were garbed in all the color and design of Hopi imagination, and wore grotesque masks. They lined up, and I sensed that their mission was one of merrymaking. Two clowns headed the band, and soon had the audience convulsed. They hopped about, postured, and carried on a rapid dialogue. There was a great deal of laughter.

I had my usual experience in trying to gain a knowledge of the show through an interpreter, quite the same as that lady who accompanied an attaché to hear a speech by Bismarck in the Reichstag. You will remember that the visitor kept demanding interpretation, whereas the attaché remained silent, intently listening, as the Iron Chancellor droned on, monotonously voluble.

‘ What does he say ? ‘ asked the visitor for the fifth time.

‘Madam,5 replied the attaché, ‘I am waiting for the verb!5

And that is about as far as I ever got toward exact knowledge of the clowns in any dance. I have tried it many times. The interpreter always enjoyed the show for himself first, and left me in outer darkness. Occasionally he would attempt to explain some part of the horseplay in progress, probably such simple portions as he thought my feeble intellect would rise to.

’You see,’ he would begin, pointing, ‘he is one of the uncles!'

And apparently there are always two, paternal and maternal, I suppose. The uncle is the great man of the Hopi family. The father does not amount to much — he can be divorced in a jiffy and, while the mother is the household boss, she is always dominated by the grandmother, if living, and dictated to by the uncle in matters concerning alliances with other families. Perhaps one should call him a social arbiter. He has a great deal to say about weddings, marriage portions, and the like. Whenever I have watched the clowns at these smaller dances, and have asked their rôles in the play, invariably they have been the uncles. Perhaps the Hopi in this manner square themselves at the expense of the family martinet.

I could not see that there was anything to cause suspicion of evil in this little scene. In old Navajo dances the clowns would often engage in dialogue that interpreters feared to translate. This is the charge too against the clowns of certain Pueblo and Zuni dances; and the clowns of the Hopi have been known to indulge in antics that were not elevating. I cannot bring myself to believe, however, that the clowns of the Dolls’ Dance were relating anything other than crude witticisms, for the little children laughed as loudly as the others, and it seemed sheer fooling. Had a slapstick been in evidence, I should have been sure of the nature of the proceedings; but the Indians have not developed exactly this form of humor.

Then the dancers filed out, up the ladder, and away.

‘They go to another kiva,’ said my companion.

And almost immediately came another and different set of fun-makers. They took the centre of the kiva and soon had all laughing at similar jokes and grimaces. So, I thought, the old tiresome reel over again, to be continued throughout the night. For I had seen this dancing in relays last an entire day, stopping only for hasty meals and new costumes or make-up, and to one who does not understand the differences in scenes it becomes an intense boredom. I arose, about to depart; but my interpreter pulled me down.

‘Wait! Wait!5 he urged. ‘They will put out the lights — ‘

This time the dancers did not leave the kiva. One of them came to the lamp just above me, and at a signal all the lights were dimmed. The kiva was in thick darkness. One could hear childish sighs of expectation. Perhaps the lights were off for thirty seconds, although it did not seem so long. Then they flared up, to reveal a curious little scene that had been constructed in the dark. I had not noticed that the dancers packed anything in with them.

The setting may have been in that crowded kiva all the time; but where had it been concealed?

At any rate, it was a queer little show, quite like that of our old friend Punch. There was a painted screen of several panels, and in the centre ones were two dolls, fashioned to represent Hopi maidens. Before each was the corn-grinding metate. And farther extended on the floor before them and their stone tubs was a miniature cornfield — the sand, and the furrows, and the hills of tiny plants.

Hardly had the first sigh of pleased surprise from the children died away, when, even to my astonishment, the dolls became animated, and with odd lifelike motions began to grind corn, just as the women grind daily in the houses of the villages, crushing the hard grain between the stone surfaces of the metate and the meno. These mannequins worked industriously, and with movements not at all mechanical. Then a little bird fluttered along the top of the screen, piping and whistling. Shrills of delight from the youngsters, to be followed by audible gasps, for from a side panel came twisting a long snake, to dart among the corn hills of the scenic field, and then to retreat backward through the hole from which it had appeared. These actions followed each other in quick succession. The fellow behind the screen was quite skillful in working his marionettes for the delight of the children of the tribe.

Perhaps in all this there was some deep-laid symbolism, checking rigidly with the North Star and the corn harvests of the past and future. Perhaps it was a primitive object-lesson, to encourage thrift and industry as a bulwark against famine. But if you ask me, I saw in it exactly a repetition of the district schoolhouse or the country chapel at holiday time, when Cousin Elmer obliges with a droll exhibition of whiskers and sleighbells and cotton snowflakes. Sometimes the Hopi at these festivals for children give them presents too, and a handful of piki-bread bestowed by a clown, however bizarre his facial appearance, has all the gift-wonder of our childhood Santa Claus and his treasure-pack.

Touch lightly! They — all children will be gone soon enough. A little while and you can rest from anæmic policies and sophist sermons. The Desert will be lonely without its simple shepherds and their simple customs. Those who strain to inherit it, through legislation, will pack with them no poetry and attract no culture. Great cattle and sheep camps, monopolies, grimy oil-rigs, and yawning coal-drifts will mar the Desert. A few old books, a few paintings, — their creators gone, too, — will picture what you once possessed and experimented with and auctioned off. For one Shelton, discredited perhaps by a clamor of sanctimonious mediocrity, you have entrusted these people and their empire to twenty Bumbles. Twice you have sought to partition their community life, to make swift the end, to hasten the advent of the speculator who follows estates and bids for the possessions of the dead. At length, — because at length you will succeed in selling the desert heritage, — there will be only the museum case, and dust, and a ticket.


The Snake Dance ends very close to sunset. The crowds leave the mesatop, down the trails afoot or mule-back, down the rocky roads in rough wagons, a scrambling multitude. The sun is gilding the western walls of First Mesa, throwing the east-side roads and trails in shadow, and above, the ruined crest of the headland looms black in a gorgeous halo. The farther eastern valley is bathed in a strange lemon light. The far-away northern capes gleam luminously in scarlet and gold, and then suddenly are gone. Huhkwat-we, the Terrace of the Winds, pales in lavender and grayish green. Twilight, with its mysterious desert hush, steals over Hopi-land. Something has been fulfilled in accordance with an ancient prophecy. The desert gods have been appeased.

Soon it is dark, and stars appear as vesper candles. And then, all about the foot of the great fortresslike mesa, lighting the sand dunes and gleaming warmly through the peach trees, grow camp-fires. Where is usually a heavy silence at evening, broken only by sheep bells, now one hears laughter, many voices, the sound of the chef at work; and the smell of cooking rises. Coffee and bacon, desert fare, spread their aroma, and a ravenous hunger comes to one. Here is a tiny group about a tented auto, there amid horses and harness and camp dunnage are thirty around one board. ‘Come and get it!’

I recall incidents of my introduction to these scenes. Armijo, the trader’s relative, had brought his treasured violin. I heard its tones from the trail and, when I came to Hubbell’s camp, there a group of them, musicians of the posts, were making ready to match their skill against the melody that tourists bring. Supper put away, the concert began.

‘How do you like this?’ asked the master of the bow and, as he swept the strings, that saddest of memory songs cried poignantly, a song fit for a desert night and a desert camp: ‘La Golondrina. ‘ Such harmonies of doublestopping I had seldom heard. It seemed to me — or was it desert magic ? — that Kreisler could do no more. Silence. And then applause from fifty camps.

And Ed’s guitar. Soon the lilting airs of old fandangos would sing through the stunted trees, and one could imagine that the long-dead children of the padres made fiesta.

‘Now, doctor,’ said someone.

‘What do you play, doctor?’ I asked.

‘I play the banjo,’ he replied — I thought with a shade of mockery in his voice. Now I had just heard the Spaniard’s violin sob a song that had swept a nation, and Ed’s lightsome Mexican airs were no mean music for a summer camp. Night, under the old trees and in the shadow of the mesa of the gods, brings quite the romance of serenades; and especially soothing after a long tiresome day.

But — a banjo! That thumpety, plankety, plunkety thing! I was sorry I had spoken. He would oblige with something to fit clogs and the levee, and the whole atmosphere of that evening would vanish, never to return! The doctor opened a case.

‘What would you like to hear?’

That is a terrible question from a banjoist, is n’t it?

‘Well — what do you play?’

‘Oh, anything — popular classical stuff. Now there’s the Melody in F or Mendelssohn’s Spring Song, Schubert’s Serenade, the Fifth Nocturne —’

‘Great God!’ I cried. ‘On a banjo!’

I think he pulled this little joke on all strangers, for, after allowing it thoroughly to soak in, he brought that wonder instrument closer to the fire and began strumming the strings of it until its resonant cadences hushed all the noises of the camps. Then, softly through the grove, sounded the Melody in F, in organ tones.

Of course you will perceive that I am no musician and no critic. I have not the ear of the one or the language of the other. I am simply one of those who like to hear what I like — hopeless. The Andante from the Sonata Pathétique haunted and eluded me for years and, but for a wandering pianist disguised as an investigator, I might have classed it with a dream. Sordid duties dull one to accept coarser things on a phonograph.

‘Yes,’ said the doctor, ‘I have played through the East and on Canadian circuits, but I don’t care for the stage. I took up concert work, traveling with glee clubs and orchestras, but that was n’t much better. Hurried life. I like the quiet places.’

And he was a doctor in the Indian Service!

Someone called: ‘Play it again!’ And he played it again — on a banjo!

Down under the hill were camped a bunch of troubadours that once had trooped with a second company, passing as the Original New York Cast. By the light of a lantern they played accompaniments on an old melodeon, dragged from the schoolhouse. A rousing chorus, and then a tenor voice: the Irish Love Song. Followed a roar of applause that brought drowsy Indians to the mesa edge. Strange Americanos! Strange Bohannas, who mock at drums and chanting, and who then make such queer music and many cries.

And by midnight the fires would die down, one by one, to mere glows. The pueblo lights, high up along the mesa cornice, would be blotted out. Beyond the camps, only the sound of horses munching, the bray of a desert nightingale from the upper corrals, or the canter of a mounted policeman through the sand, as he gave a last look around before rolling in his blanket. Then silence under the dark star-strewn sky, a tranquil desert silence, to be broken perhaps — who knows? — by ghostly sandals, as the padre walked to see that curious company, asleep in his onetime garden, guests of a pagan feast.