By Barbara Patton

Old cemeteries are full of history — and some puzzles.  For example, historian and poet Sharlot Hall, founder of the museum that bears her name, is buried within the sloping confines of the Arizona Pioneer Cemetery on Iron Springs Road in Prescott.  The Hall family enclosure lies at the top of the hill.  There can be found the graves of Sharlot and her parents — and someone named Kate Cory.  Visitors often wonder — who was Kate Cory?  Why is she here beside Sharlot?

Kate Cory, it turns out, was another remarkable woman — artist, champion of the Hopi people, and a personal friend of Sharlot Hall.

Kate was born in 1861 in Waukegan, Illinois.  She was raised with a sense of justice and respect for all peoples.  Her father, owner and editor of the Waukegan Gazette, was an avid abolitionist and supporter of the Underground Railroad.  His friend Abraham Lincoln visited their home several times. 

In the late 1870s the family moved to New York.  With her mother’s encouragement, Kate studied art and completed four years at the distinguished Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.  She developed skill and success as a realistic landscape artist.  At the Pen and Brush Club she met Grace Seton, who helped her become illustrator of the Camp Fire Club’s Recreation magazine, which featured articles about the great outdoors. 

At Pen and Brush in 1905 she met Louis Akin, who had been in Arizona painting Hopi portraits and village scenes for the Santa Fe Railroad.  Akin’s descriptions of the vivid colors and majestic panoramas of the Southwest and Hopi culture piqued Kate’s interest.  She was receptive to the prospect of visiting the West and was interested in Akin’s dream of establishing an artist colony in the Hopi lands.  (The art colony was but one of Akin’s failed dreams — years later, Kate would remark:  “I was the art colony.”)  In any event, in 1905 Kate was on her way to Arizona Territory. 

She didn't plan to stay — she had bought a round-trip ticket.   She never used the ticket home.   A less brave, less resolute person might have headed home pretty quickly.   She got off the train east of Flagstaff at Canyon Diablo.  The tiny woman looked at the wide, desolate space stretching to the east and momentarily longed for her stuffy New York apartment.  Then she turned west, and seeing the mountains in the distance her spirits were lifted.  “That wonderful group of mountains I now saw, like sapphires, bloomed with opal, pulsing on the horizon.  They lifted the desolation into the sublime. I’d stay awhile anyway.”

From Canyon Diablo she arranged a two-day wagon trip to the White Village, a government settlement near Oraibi.  There she negotiated to rent a room.  “Mu-se-nim-ka, the old woman who owned the house, was . . . kneeling at the grinding box and grinding corn on the stone metate.  Her eyes were almost closed with that frightful and infectious disease trachoma.”  The old woman wiped her eyes and continued her work while they discussed the rental — which at this point Kate wasn’t so sure she wanted.  Still, after agreeing to a thorough fumigation, the terms were set, and Kate moved into a little house in the village.

Kate was frustrated with her location at White Village, which was a distance from the main Hopi village of Oraibi.  Wanting to immerse herself in Hopi culture, she moved to a new home on the pueblo at First Mesa.  This closeness with her neighbors could be unsettling; once, Kate returned from a visit to the Government village to find her landlady and family in her room going through her possessions and cooking in her fireplace.

Kate soon adapted to the simplicity and bare existence of pueblo living, as well as some unusual customs.  Often in the middle of the night, she could hear soft footsteps up to the roof above her, followed by the “clarion call from directly overhead penetrating the stillness.”  These calls could be a summons for the men to gather in the clan kiva or perhaps to work in a distant field.  Dogs and burros would generally add their voices to the call.

Next week:  Kate Cory’s life and career in Arizona.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.