The Hopi Indians as Tourist Attractions at the Beginning of the 20th Century

Out of reservation

In 1905, the Fred Harvey Company completed the El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon to accommodate tourists brought by the Santa Fe Railroad. Near the hotel, Harvey Company built the Hopi House, a three-story structure designed for look like a group of Hopi dwellings where patrons could buy trinkets and watch Indians demonstrate their craft skills and dance.

The famous Hopi potter Nampeyo and her family were among the first to live and work at Hopi House. Promotional material from a photograph reads: “These oddly dressed Indians on the roof of the house are from Tewa, the home of Nampeyo, the most famous pottery maker in all of Hopiland” and concludes that “These are the most primitive Indians in America, with centuries-old ceremonies ”

Using the Hopi as a tourist attraction at the Grand Canyon did not work as well as the non-Indian organizers had envisioned. According to Nampeyo’s biographer, Barbara Kramer, in her book Nampeyo and his pottery:

“They expected the residents of mesa to voluntarily leave their homes upon request and stay at Hopi House until replacements can be found.”

The Hopi were expected to make baskets and pottery for sale, work packing and cleaning the store, and dance for tourists at night.

In 1910, the Chicago Tribune sponsored a second US Land and Irrigation Exhibition in Chicago. The Santa Fe Railroad and the Fred Harvey Company, favoring southwest travel, constructed a building for the Hopi. The Fred Harvey Company requested that the Hopi Reserve Superintendent provide them with a family from each of the three Hopi mesas. Women were to make baskets and pottery, and men were to weave blankets, kilts and scarves. The company demanded that only two children be allowed to accompany each family and that girls be dressed in whorls, that men wear moccasins, velvet shirts and bandanas around their foreheads, and that women wear traditional Indian costumes. .

In 1928, the Pacific Southwest Exhibition in Long Beach, California featured a pueblo-like Indian village that included Navajo and Hopi who were required to wear Plains Indian war caps. A sign at the entrance to the “authentic village” told visitors that the Indians were wards of the government. The Navajo and Hopi are, of course, from the Southwest, and their traditional cultures do not include the Indian-style war caps of the Plains. Tourists, however, expected Indians to look like the Plains Indians shown in the movies.

Booking ceremonies

As a nation that felt compelled to demand that American Indians convert to Christianity, the US federal government banned all Indian religions by the 19th century and this ban on Indian ceremonies continued until the 1930s. Tourists were fascinated by the pagan ceremonies of the American Indians, especially the Hopi serpent dance. While the Religious Crimes Code had made ceremonies such as the serpent dance illegal, it was not enforced against the serpent dance because the Santa Fe Railroad promoted it and tourists demanded it. see.

The Hopi Snake Dance is a 16-day ceremony that takes place in August to help bring summer rains and a bountiful harvest. It is led every two years by the Serpent and Antelope clans. Snakes, including poisonous rattlesnakes, are gathered in the fields. They are then transported to the square and finally released in all four directions with messages to the spirit world. In their book The Encyclopedia of Native American Religions, Arlene Hirschfelder and Paulette Molin write:

“The functions of the ceremony are broad, related to hunting, warfare, healing from snakebites, lightning (snakes look like lightning), as well as a plea for rain and crops. . “

To encourage tourism in the Southwest, the Santa Fe Railroad promoted the Hopi Snake Dance as a tourist attraction and in 1900 published a pamphlet on the dance written by Smithsonian anthropologist Walter Hough. In the brochure, Hough reassured tourists that although the Hopi continued to perform their snake dance, they were not dangerous. According to Hough, Indians were living examples of man’s childhood.

In 1917, a press service cameraman defied the Hopi rule against making films of the Hopi snake dance. He is chased into the desert and his camera is confiscated. After reporting the incident to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Superintendent Leo Crane was ordered that no photographs be allowed. The ban on photography continues today.

Hopi Arts and Crafts

The Hopi are well known for their pottery, basketry, and katsina carvings (also spelled kachinas). Tourists often bought Hopi artifacts which were then placed in curio cabinets in homes, offices, and natural history museums. Neither Indians nor non-Indians classified these items as art, and most non-Indian collectors simply considered them examples of Indian craftsmanship. The increase in tourism at the start of the 20th century impacted the Hopi arts and crafts.

The Hopi, in response to market demand, began to make traditional items not for tribal use, but for sale to tourists. As with any entrepreneurial business, the Hopi artisans paid attention to what sold and what didn’t and so they started making more items that sold well. Additionally, non-Indian traders who sold Hopi crafts in their stores often made suggestions regarding designs, styles, and colors. Thus, the stereotypes of non-Indian tourists about what was Indian and what was not began to shape the Indian art market.

The tourism oriented Indian art market has given rise to what Christian Feest calls ethnic art. In his book Native Arts of North America, Christian Feest writes:

“Ethnic art has been (and is) produced by members of tribal societies primarily for the use of members of other groups, in the case of North America primarily for white Americans. It is generally not seen as art by its creators, who still live in a social context that does not recognize art as something separate.

Christian Feest also writes:

“The maker of ethnic art often does not know why his products are being bought and what possible use the buyer can make of them. For him, they are first and foremost a source of income; in the long run, they can become an important symbol of the ethnic identity of the creators.

Hopi potters quickly discovered that tourists did not want large utility jars such as ollas, but preferred smaller items that were more easily packed in their luggage and displayed in cupboards. As Hopi pottery became popular and began to be seen as an art form, tourists wanted potters to sign their works.

Likewise, Hopi sculptors began to modify their katsina dolls to stand in a display case (traditionally these sculptures were hung). As sculptures began to be viewed as an art form, there was also pressure for sculptors to sign their works. Traditionally, Hopi artists did not sign their works.

Below, some Hopi pots made for the tourist trade. Notice the small size and the signatures. These come from a private collection.


Below is a modern, action-oriented Katsina with signature. This is a private collection.


Indians 101

Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, this series features American Indian subjects. Learn more about the Pueblos in this series:

Indian 101: Pueblo Indian Pottery

Indian 101: Pueblo Astronomy

Indians 101: Hopi political organization

Indian 101: Pueblo Clowns

Indians 101: Pueblo Weaving

Indian 101: Southwestern Pottery at the Maryhill Museum (Photo Diary)

Indian 101: acoma farming

Indians 101: the Hopi reserve in the 19th century

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