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"Look! Real Indians!"

"LOOK! Indians! There! See them? Real, live Indians!"

The very word sets the blood a-tingle. Generations of John Smiths, Miles Standishes, George Washingtons, Daniel Boones, Kit Carsons, and other famed American fighters stir in their graves. In a flash, their exploits live again in the mind's eye. It is bred in the bones of the American to thrill at the cry of "Indians!" Some mother among his ancestors hides her children, some father thrusts a gun between the logs of a cabin wall. It is life or death.

"Bang! And another redskin bit the dust." The romantic, ever victorious fights of the dime-novel heroes flicker before the mind. In an instant there is flashed a whole history of Indian fights, the wresting of a continent from a race of red men. Many a modern American has never seen a real Indian before. In a vague sort of way, he believes the Indian is a species almost extinct. His great hope is to see a few of them outside the movies before the last of the redskins "bites the dust."

Actually, it is not true that the Indians as a race are departing from this earth. The facts are that since they ceased fighting the white men and have lived peacefully as neighbors, the American Indians have been increasing in numbers. In 1877, when the Sioux, Nez Perces, and other tribes were still on the warpath, it was estimated that there were 250,809 Indians in the United States, not counting some 20,000 Alaska natives and about 6,000 Sioux who fled under Sitting Bull to Canada, following the Custer Massacre. In 1940 the census gave the Indian population as 333,969. Today there are almost 400,000 Indians in the United States, including 33,000 Alaskan natives.


The average Dude is not interested in Indians who have become civilized, who wear store clothes, ride in automobiles, and look like any other brand of humans. The Dude wants to see "real Indians," the kind that wear feathers, don war paint, make their clothes and moccasins of skins. Give him one such Indian and the Dude is much more excited than he would be if he had seen a whole nation of Indians at the humdrum pastime of making their living in peaceful pursuits. In fact, he is hardly sympathetic with the efforts of the Indian Bureau to make the Indians self-supporting and independent in the white man's way. It does not particularly interest him that there are remnants of 341 Indian tribes in the United States; there were more than 10,000 Indian soldiers and sailors in World War I and nearly 25,000 in World War II, including 200 WACS and WAVES; over 30,000 Indian children are in schools; the total value of Indian property probably approaches two billion dollars; the area of Indian reservations is close to 70,000,000 acres.

Even so, about the easiest place for city folks to see the Indian in his natural state is in a national park. The Indians have been closely associated with the parks since their discovery. The Indian knew the natural wonders that are the basis for the parks long before the white men discovered them. The earth's curiosities that have attracted the white man were objects of worship or fear to the red man. They formed the nucleus of legends told by his wise men. Many of them are the red man's explanation of how the earth was created. If the Indian did not live within the shadow of a monument, or what is now a national park, he lived near enough so that his priests could perform ceremonies on proper occasions, giving due credit to the gods who were supposed to live in the waterfall, on a great cliff, or within the earth beneath a volcano or a geyser basin.

So it seems particularly appropriate that the national parks, intrusted with preserving a small part of the American continent in its natural state, should be near practically the only Indian tribes which are still living as they did before Columbus discovered America. This all came about quite naturally. The lands that are now in the national parks for the most part were not suitable for settlement by the white pioneer. Either they were too remote from cities or railoads, or they were too rugged for development, or they were set aside in reservations at an early date by the government. Since the white man did not need these hunting grounds, the Indian who lived in national park territory was allowed to go his way without much disturbance, except when he waged war on the whites.

The visitor is certain always of seeing Indians at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. The Canyon cuts diagonally through the heart of the Indian country of the Southwest. Immediately adjacent to the park, east and southeast, is the vast Navajo reservation, really several reservations joined together. It includes the Hopi Indian lands. In this area live 35,000 Navajoes and 2,500 Hopis. West of the Grand Canyon is the Truxton Canyon agency of the Hualapai Indians. In the park itself is the Havasupai reservation, home to about 180 natives, all that remain of this primitive nation. Between the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and the Utah parks lies the extensive Kaibab reservation, set aside for the Piutes. However, few Indians live on this reservation.

Within the park itself, Navajoes, Hopis, and Havasupais are seen almost always at the South Rim, near Bright Angel Camp, and at other points. Perhaps the greatest object of interest is the Hopi House on the South Rim, an exact replica of one of the ancient Hopi houses on a mesa in the reservation. Here are seen real Hopis in their native costumes, the women making the pottery for which they are skilled, the men engaging in their interesting and picturesque dances each afternoon.


These Hopis are members of one of the oldest races in the Southwest. They were a settled nation of Indians who attained a considerable degree of culture and skill at the arts. They built their homes of adobe, in the form of picturesque pueblos, situated high on the mesas where they could defend themselves from their warlike nomadic neighbors. The Hopis, unlike the majority of the Indians, derive their living from their little farms. They keep domestic animals, raise corn, and carry on their interesting arts and crafts quite independent of the outside world.

By taking the side trip from Grand Canyon Park over the Navahopi Road, visitors can find the Hopis at work in their villages exactly as they lived before the Spaniards discovered and attempted to conquer this region three centuries ago. Here the Dude can see the Hopi maiden grinding blue corn, to be used in her wedding ceremonial. The Hopis raise many kinds of corn, blue, red, yellow, and other colors. Each color has a significance. They are careful in their dress, neat in their appearance. Their houses are clean, in spite of the fact that they keep their dogs and pigs in the courtyards, which often form the roof of the families living in the apartments one story below, the Hopi villages being constructed in terraces on the cliffs. The Hopis dress in colorful costumes and wear bright-colored bands around their heads. This is their chief distinguishing feature.

Navajoes are seen in considerable number in Grand Canyon Park. Many of them find employment with the government or the public utilities in the park. They are good workers and a fine nation of Indians. Until recently they were not dependent upon the government for food and shelter, being successful shepherds. Their sheep furnish them with meat for food and wool for clothing. At their villages, but usually in isolated places, where the Navajoes live in crude hogans made of brush and sticks and mud, many of the men work as silversmiths, making bracelets, rings, pins, and other ornaments, often decorated with turquoise settings. These are highly prized, not only by the natives but by the Dudes and Sagebrushers who visit the reservation. The Navajoes are great gamblers, a habit which often costs them their beloved jewelry, since the losers must often pawn their trinkets at the traders' stores to pay their debts.

The Havasupai village is far down in the Havasu Canyon, a beautiful valley with trees and waterfalls, several thousand feet below the rim of the Grand Canyon. Here are the homes of the last of the Havasupai nation, a tribe of Indians that lived by cultivating corn, making baskets, and hunting. The Havasupais still live exactly as they did before the white man came, except that some of the men work for the government on the roads, while to their usual crops they have added melons, figs, and peaches. Once Uncle Sam built every family of Havasupais a wooden cottage, but the natives use these buildings for the storage of food and farm implements, preferring to live in their crude huts resembling Navajo hogans.

The only way to reach Havasu Canyon is via the perilous Indian trail, best described by an old Indian one day, when he said:


"I ride 'em horse home. Go down, go down some more, go down, go down some more, go down, down some more. Horse slip, I jump. Horse go down, go down some more. Catch 'em plenty dead down bottom."

The famous Snake Dance of the Hopis, held each August, usually at a different Hopi village on the reservation near Grand Canyon Park, is one of the most colorful and picturesque events of the Southwest. Visitors privileged to see this amazing ceremony never forget it. The dancers actually carry live rattlesnakes in their teeth during the ceremony. The dance is held for the purpose of bringing rain to the land. The snakes are supposed to carry the Hopi prayers for rain to the gods, who are thought to live underground. Curiously enough it usually does rain a short time after the dance, so the Hopis do have grounds for continuing their belief in the potency of the Snake Dance.

In the mountains west of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and above the occupied pueblos are several scenic valleys in which lie numerous ruins of ancient Indian civilizations, among them the ruins of Puye, Otowi, Tsankawi, and those in Frijoles Canyon, all of which, except Puye are in Bandelier National Monument. It has been suggested that these valleys with their interesting ruins and unique scenery, be made into a National Park of the Cliff Cities. Many of the ruins lie in, against, or on top of cliffs of tufa and other soft rock into which the early peoples could dig with their crude implements. Taos is a most fascinating pueblo. In fact, there are two great pueblos at this place, one on each side of fine mountain streams. High mountains rise back of the Indian villages and the whole scene is one of such charm and beauty that it has attracted artists and writers from all over the nation. The Taos region has three settled sections: the Indian villages, San Fernando de Taos, the American town near which Kit Carson is buried, and Ranchos de Taos, a very old Mexican town farther south. In the Mexican town is an ancient mission church.

Mesa Verde National Park was created to preserve the most remarkable ruins of prehistoric inhabitants of the Southwest that remain anywhere. There are two types of ruins, one embracing great buildings under overhanging cliffs, and the other old pueblos on top of the mesa. The former occupants of these cliff dwellings are thought to have been the ancestors of the Pueblo, Hopi, Zuni, and other pueblo-dwelling Indians of New Mexico and Arizona. The park is joined on the south by the Southern Ute reservation, and southeast a short distance is the Jicarilla Apache reserve.


At Mesa Verde Park the ranger naturalists tell around the campfires at night the story of the ancient dwellers on the Mesa Verde as it has been pieced together from pottery, baskets, and other artifacts. The Indians seen around the Park today are Navajoes. They maintain the roads and trails, and in the Park set up each summer a real Southwestern Indian Village. There are always Navajo women weaving blankets, others doing camp work, and usually Indian babies to lend color to the scene.

Occasionally the spectacular Indian Fire Play embodying the legends of the Navajo nation is produced, with Indians as actors. The great cliff dwelling known as Spruce Tree House, near headquarters, is the stage for the play and flares furnish the lights, as there is no electricity available. The actors, the stage, the lighting, and the action of the play itself make this production one of the finest things that has ever been undertaken in a national park.

Trained guides take the park and monument visitors through the principal ruins and explain to them the life and customs and industries of the builders of these great structures who thrived for centuries, then disappeared from the face of the earth.

Two of the most important national monuments lie within the great Navajo Reservation. These are Canyon de Chelly and Navajo Monuments. In the latter especially we have the interesting spectacle of Navajo Indians of today living in Canyons which contain caves and under cliffs ruins of ancient structures and artifacts left by races long disappeared. Casa Grande Monument in Southern Arizona and Aztec Ruins and Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico are Park Service areas where Indian structures are preserved. There are many others.

Just as the parks and monuments of the Southwest offer the best opportunity to see the desert Indian at home, so Glacier National Park is the place to see the Plains Indians in real life. Here the visitor sees the picturesque and colorful tepees of the Blackfoot Indians, one of the finest tribes of Plains Indians. They were mighty hunters and valiant warriors, tall, proud, dignified, the very personification of the redskin of story-book fame. The Plains Indians ranged over the vast gentle eastern slope of the Rockies, living almost exclusively by hunting. Many were the wars they fought with the white pioneers, resisting to the last the white man's efforts to conquer and civilize them.

The Plains Indians lived an entirely different life from that of the Southwest natives. Of the arts and crafts of civilization they knew nothing. They neither wove baskets nor made pottery. On the other hand they were fine physical specimens, tall, slender, athletic, and handsome. Their food they garnered by killing animals. The skins and hides served to make clothes and to provide shelter. They were nomads, each nation by common consent or superior prowess controlling vast hunting grounds. The men hunted the animals, the women dried their flesh so that it kept all winter long. The men had captured and tamed the wild horses, descendants of those loosed on the plains by the early Spaniards. The warriors were skilful riders.

Of all the Plains Indians the Blackfeet, so called because their moccasins were often black from walking on the burned prairie grass, were the most distinctive. Bound together by a strong racial pride, this nation was deeply concerned in resisting not only the invasion of the white man but the introduction of his ways into Indian life. Warlike, predatory, and inconsiderate of their neighbors, the Blackfeet were possessed of a strong sense of destiny. They were noble and handsome in appearance. Their features were more finely carved than those of the neighboring Indian tribes. Their complexions were lighter than those of other Indians, the men being almost tan, the women often so fair they were very nearly white. The noble bearing of their old men was extraordinary, the object of much admiration and wonder on the occasion of the visits of the Blackfoot chieftains to Washington to see the Great White Father.


Glacier National Park was the ancient hunting ground of the Blackfeet. Within the park is a great cliff over which the Blackfeet were accustomed to drive herds of bison in their annual hunts. The buffaloes were killed by crashing to the rocks below. This cliff was a prized asset of the Indians, who otherwise were forced to ride among the buffaloes in stampedes and kill them with bow and arrow, or by the hazardous expedient of thrusting knives into the great beasts while riding at full speed. The Blackfeet are no longer allowed to hunt in the park, since it is a game refuge, but they still pitch their picturesque tepees near the hotels and lodges and camp there during the summer. Their summer villages are of tremendous interest to visitors who love to gather about the Indians, both at the villages and in the hotel lobbies.

The Blackfeet, while usually quite solemn and dignified, have in fact a good sense of humor. Frequently, they elect distinguished visitors to honorary membership in their tribe, bestowing the honor with fitting ceremonies and giving the new members appropriate Indian names. Sometimes, however, the naming of the honorary tribes man is the occasion for a practical joke. Once they decided. to take into the tribe a guide who had been friendly to the Indians but who was known as a great liar because of the extravagant stories he told the Dudes whom he escorted over Glacier Park trails. When his Indian name was translated it was found to mean literally "Sits-Up-Straight-in-the-Saddle-and-Lies."


The Blackfeet have always been proud of their mountains. They claim that they had names for all the principal features of the park area that formerly belonged to them. The translations of many of their names have been given to Glacier Park peaks, lakes, and waterfalls, such as Going-to-the-Sun, Almost-a-Dog, Four Bears, Rising Wolf, and Little Chief Mountains, Two Medicine and Red Eagle Lakes, Morning Eagle and Dawn Mist Falls, and so on. The Blackfeet assert that the white man has taken from the mountains, lakes and rivers many of their best and most cherished names and has put on white men's names that do not sound so well and do not belong in the park. Back in 1915, three distinguished Blackfeet, Bird Rattlers, Curly Bear, and Wolf Plume, came to Washington to protest to the Secretary of the Interior against the use of white men's names in Glacier Park. They were promised that henceforth only Indian names or their translations would be used in Glacier National Park, and that policy is still in effect.

Other Indians in early days occupied the western part of Glacier Park beyond the continental divide. These were the Flatheads and the Kootenais, but they were inferior to the Blackfeet. Today they reside at considerable distances from the park. The old Flathead reservation south west of Glacier Park has been opened to settlement and the Indians are seen only if the Sagebrusher explores the byways off the main highways.


Oh, Ranger!
©1928, 1929, 1934, 1972, Horace M. Albright and Frank J. Taylor
albright-taylor/chap6.htm — 06-Sep-2004