DeCora and Indian Art
American Folk Music
An Arizona Encounter
With Theodore Roosevelt
Curtis's book also gained popularity
because of her literary style. Rather than the dry, factual recitation
of most scientific works, Curtis used a storytelling approach. Strong
images and anecdotes dominate her writing. In "Theodore Roosevelt
in Hopi-Land," an article for Outlook magazine, Curtis described
her 1913 trip to northern Arizona. She told about her comic search
for a way to clean up and make herself presentable for the former
President on the day he was to arrive at Hopi:
"I was travel-strained from head
to foot, and on the front of my khaki riding-skirt flared with placid
disregard of all conventions a large round circle of black axle-grease,
where the camp wagon had branded me for my affront of trying to
climb in over the wheel. My companions called the round stain an
'Indian sun symbol,' and it was not comforting to hear them jeer
that nothing but a bath of gasoline could ever make me clean again."
"And you expect to talk with Colonel
Roosevelt when he arrives this afternoon!" one of her friends
teased. "He wouldn't touch you with tongs, even though you
are old friends!"
Unfortunately, Natalie had no other clothes
with her. "I decided to achieve the bath of gasoline!"
At the nearby government Indian school,
the employees were too busy to help with gasoline for the grease
stain: "Sorry, we can't bother about anything now. We're cleaning
up for Roosevelt."
"But so am I," Natalie pleaded.
No response. They just kept on scrubbing.
At the schoolteacher's house she found
the same cleanup in progress. The teacher did allow her a cup to
put some gasoline in: "You can have any cup you want if you
won't bother me to get it for you now; I am getting ready for Roosevelt."
A universal preoccupation, it seemed.
Cup in hand, she sought out an automobile
and got permission to drain some gasoline. But Natalie, a child
of the nineteenth century, knew nothing about automobiles. "I
gazed at the automobile in despair," she wrote. "I was
as ignorant of its inner workings as an Indian." Presently,
though, a good-looking but weather-stained young cowboy in blue
overalls came by, leading some horses.
|Group photo taken August
1913 at the foot of Hano, First Mesa, Hopi, Arizona. This group
had traveled together and had come to Hopi for the Snake and
Flute ceremonials. They met up with the party of Theodore Roosevelt,
who had been traveling in Arizona on horseback. From left to
right: unidentified man, possibly Ted Whittaker; Alice Klauber;
Kurt Schindler; Harry, Snake Priest at Walpi; Natalie Curtis;
C. Winfred Douglas.
"I wonder if you could get me some
gasoline from this car?" Natalie asked. "You see,"
she said, getting into the spirit of the day, "we are all trying
to clean up in honor of Colonel Roosevelt -- he is expected today
The cowboy smiled, crawled under the
car and "milked" it for her. Thanking him, she sped off
with her cup to find a place to scrub the stubborn grease stain.
"As I climbed the crest of one of
the sandhills," she wrote, "I stopped short, open-mouthed
in wonder. A stalwart figure on a cow pony was riding up the hill,
alone and unattended; without any flourish of trumpets, Colonel
Theodore Roosevelt had arrived! His sunburned face was partly shaded
by a big Stetson hat, a red handkerchief fluttered at his throat,
and he too looked as though gasoline might improve his khakis."
"This is capital!" said Roosevelt,
as he shook hands with Curtis.
"But don't spill my gasoline,"
she said. "Everyone in Hopi-land is trying to clean up for
Roosevelt laughed. "You must meet
my boy," he said, and called out, "Archie!"
"We have met today before,"
Archie said, when he sidled up. Archie Roosevelt, it turned out,
was the helpful cowboy in blue overalls.9
Curtis wrote at least 75 magazine and
newspaper articles, including stories for The Outlook, The Craftsman,
The Southern Workman, Harper's Monthly, and the New York Evening
Post. Her articles cover a remarkable range of interests, including
art, both native and classical, folklore, folk music, classical
music, education, architecture, history, and biography.
Curtis's writings, like her work, were
marked by a profound respect for the culture and sensibilities of
her subjects. She considered herself merely the editor and recorder
of the material in The Indians' Book (note the apostrophe). "The
Indians are the authors of this volume," she wrote in the foreword.10
Curtis tried to show respect for the sacredness and ceremonial nature
of songs, where that was a concern: "No one was ever urged
to desecrate anything held sacred ...."11
Natalie Curtis's success with The Indians'
Book placed her in the public eye and brought her recognition as
an authority on Indian culture. She continued traveling, collecting,
writing, and lecturing. In her lectures she gave authentic demonstrations
of single line Indian music accompanied by drum and rattle.