By Ray Carlson

Last week’s article described how the Way Out West Show in 1921 raised money to pay off part of the Frontier Days’ debt.  Gradually, though, it became clear that the Smoki snake dance part of the Show would serve another purpose.

The committee that planned the Smoki dance emphasized accuracy.  Marie Tumber and Kate Cory, who each had lived on the Hopi reservation, were involved as advisers.  Mrs. Tumber was praised for teaching the dancers the correct steps and chants the Hopi used.  An article in the Journal Miner the day after the show suggested she had “the honor of having for possibility the first time, reproduced an aboriginal rite with all white performers.”

The article described the dance in detail, including the designs on the dancers’ bodies.  The following year, during preparation for the second performance, an article in the Journal-Miner reminded everyone that the intent of the ceremony and symbolism was to appeal to the spirits that control the rain.  The article noted how the long-term drought in the Phoenix and Prescott area was finally broken after the first Smoki dance.

In 1922, for the second Way Out West show, a Smoki village was constructed as a stage for the dancing.  Chris Totten, the architect who managed the WOW show, worked with Kate Cory on the design, ensuring that it was a good representation of a Hopi village.

In addition to seeking to educate through accuracy, the Smoki leaders encouraged local residents to visit the Hopi Reservation and observe the authentic ceremony.  Two months after the first show, the Journal-Miner had an article describing the Hopi Antelope-Snake ceremonies, including the dates, location, and ways to get there.  They added that the government required visitors to get permission from the Indian Agent.

A caravan to the reservation was arranged to encourage more people to observe the authentic ceremony, and the Smoki leaders invited Governor Tom Campbell and his wife to join them.  Prescott native Campbell agreed to go, and, at the reservation, he was recognized by the Hopi as the Grand High Priest for the state.

Observing the Hopi ceremony and encouraging others, including the Governor, to attend did not fit with the priorities of the Indian Office in Washington.  A conservative politician from South Dakota, Charles Burke, had been appointed Indian Commissioner in April 1921.  About the same time, Albert Fall, the former Senator from New Mexico, had been appointed Secretary of the Interior.  Both were known as opponents of religious freedom for Indians.

One of Burke’s earliest acts was to declare certain Chippewa dances as immoral and to prohibit their performance.  This act prompted an editorial in May 1921 in the Prescott Journal Miner that criticized the idea of forcing on Indians the religious beliefs of those in authority.

Later that year, Burke stated that Indians caught participating in traditional ceremonies could be jailed.   A subsequent letter written by Burke explained that his opposition to Indian dances was not just religious. He stated that any ceremony that lasted more than two days took too much time away from necessary work on crops and around the villages and that some dances were harmful or dangerous to the dancers.   He specifically mentioned handling poisonous snakes as an example.

In response to Burke’s campaign against the Hopi, letters of support came from across the country to people in Prescott.  One letter contained an article published by the newspaper in Elkhart, Indiana, that was summarized in the Prescott Evening Courier.  The article identified the Smoki as businessmen of Prescott and stated that the Smoki tribe danced each spring as a protest against Burke’s efforts to stop Hopi dances.  They added that the Smoki dancers demonstrated that such dances did not interfere with normal work nor were they of an offensive nature.

The Smoki never suggested that they danced to protest Burke’s policies.  Instead, by seeking authenticity and encouraging visits to see the Hopi ceremonials, the Smoki demonstrated respect for the Hopi which conflicted with Burke’s paternalistic stance.

Second of two articles about early days of the Smoki People based on material published in the Prescott Evening Courier and the Journal-Miner during 1921 and 1922.

“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.