Our chef concierge, Steve Wimmer, sent me a copy of a letter describing a trip he took to the Hopi reservation with his friend, Brad Wigor, earlier this month. Brad is a film producer and director and one of his current projects is a movie on Mary Jane Colter. The letter is to Mrs. Frances Barry, who is the last living Harvey courier at age 93. Steve relates that her parents headed the famous Santa Fe Indian School in the 1920s and that her mother trained the Harvey couriers. She would encourage Indian children like the famous Hopi artist Fred Kabotie do their art in their own fashion, before the arrival of the painting instructor Dorothy Dunn. Harvey Company designer Mary Jane Colter later commissioned Kabotie to paint the murals in her Desert View Watchtower at the Grand Canyon.
Dear Mrs. Barry,
So you too love Hopi. I always feel so very elated to be in Hopi. I found an amazing and brilliant tour guide whose name is Gary Tso (Left-Handed Hunter Tour Company). His father was a Navajo and his mother a Hopi. He revealed countless stories from his culture and took us to places that very few behanna [whites] have ever seen.
He first took us to Awatovi Ruins, which were sketched by Mary Colter when she was preparing to do the Watchtower at the Grand Canyon. Historically a very sad place, Hopi went up against Hopi in 1701, basically over the reintroduction of the Catholic Church to Awatovi after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The head of the village decided that the only way to get rid of the Christians was to kill them off, along with their Hopi followers. He even realized he would have to sacrifice his own life to make this happen. [The Pueblo was then destroyed.] The men were killed, and the women were sent to other Hopi villages. As you know, the Hopi is a matriarchal society, so to this day the Hopi are aware if they are descendents of that village.
In the early ‘30s, Fred Kabotie was commissioned by the Peabody Essex Museum to reproduce the prehistoric murals from the wall of the church. When he finished, the murals were reburied in the ground. From that day until about two years ago, this set of ruins was not open to the public. The top of the hills and dells are covered with potsherds glittering in the sun. Polychromed, black-and-gray pottery, and Brad even found a couple of examples of pots made of white clay, made by pushing fingertips into the clay. One is almost afraid of moving an inch for fear of stepping on someone’s once-beloved treasure. Periodically one spots the tiniest blue glow of a turquoise heishi [shell] bead.
After a lunch of Hopi chile and the most delicious blue-corn fry bread I have ever had, we went off in the afternoon to the Taawaki Petroglyph site. This area, which is a sandstone amphitheater covered in petroglyphs, historically was a center for trade, with groups coming from as far away as Chile every year to trade with the Hopis. Their frequent visits resulted in glyphs from the base of the rocks to as high as 12 or 15 feet. Brad tells me there is a picture of Mary Colter being pulled up to the higher rock by [Harvey Company buyer Herman] Schweizer and her helping hand, Curly.
After this, Mr. Tso drove us through the most conservative villages, where one would not normally have access as a behanna. I used to live on a “Camino Oraibi,” and was delighted to see the actual Oraibi. For many years I thought it was the Hopi term for the Grand Canyon. Well I was wrong about that. It actually refers to a lucky stone that one kisses before going on a hunt.
After a mad dash in the rain back to Keams Canyon, Brad and I dashed off to Chinle to have dinner and a root beer at the A&W stand. I am afraid I am a bad influence on him. We had absolutely delicious hamburgers and of course that wonderful refreshing root beer.
We did stop briefly in the morning at Hubbell Trading Post. This has always been one of my favorite stops. When I was young and more fun, I was known to go Christmas shopping at Hubbell for the day—driving in a snowstorm. But always a treasure to be found there.
Do you remember Arbuckles’ coffee? Well it is still roasted in Tucson, and each bag still comes with a peppermint stick. This coffee, much beloved by the Navajos, was my morning brew for those two days. I must agree the Navajos have good taste in coffee.
I found the most spectacular treasure yesterday, and I have made you a copy. It is a 1926 Indian Detours brochure with all the trips, a list of the directors on the board, and the couriers on the staff.
Meanwhile, I have one question. There are two pictures of the San Gabriel Ranch, which is listed as a stop on the way to Taos. Do you know where that might be?
That’s the tale of this week’s adventure. Stay tuned for more to come. And again, thank you so much for agreeing to see Brad. He so enjoyed his visit with you and learned so much.
My fondest regards,
Chef Concierge, La Fonda