After my last blog, I got several comments from people who were curious to learn more about my librarian, Cheryl Yeatts. I have mentioned Cheryl in several of my posts, and people are beginning to realize that I have an amazing resource at my disposal. Cheryl represents the best of what it means to be a custodian of information for the public. The moment we walk into our public libraries and speak to our librarians, we are talking to someone who is deeply committed to connecting people to information. Cheryl tells me that there is a saying among librarians: “Librarians are the original search engines.” It is both a catchy and an accurate description of the job. For any kind of research you might be interested in, be it a little known historical figure, unusual weather patterns, or a rare car part, librarians know how to get you that information. In this information age we often find ourselves flooded with so much data that it can be overwhelming. But Cheryl, has been exploring library databases for so long that she can navigate them with a high degree of sophistication. And, the more specific one can be in giving her search parameters, the more likely she is to turn up gold.
I have a great story about exactly this phenomenon. Recently, as I was doing my research for my second book, Ahote’s Path, I ran across the name Frank Cushing, an anthropologist who had written extensively about the tribes in the Southwest during the late 1800’s. I was particularly interested to learn that there was an ethnography he’d written about the Hopi. I went to Cheryl to see if she could find it for me, or at least some of his writings on the Hopi from that period. Cheryl immediately went to work and found several promising leads through the ILL (inter-library-loan) database. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the ILL, this marvelous database is what makes it possible for me to live in a place as remote as Sedona and still have access to books in every library throughout the U.S.
After Cheryl finished her search, she showed me the list of possibilities she’d come up with. Some were already in libraries in our network and I checked out several of them. One of them, however, could only be obtained through the ILL. I ordered that book and when it arrived, I saw a very thin, unimpressive looking blue book. It was battered with age, and had come from deep within the stacks of a library in Ohio. But upon opening the book, I found that I had hit pay dirt. It was volume 24, no. 3 of a periodical called American Anthropology, dated July – September 1922. This particular publication was titled Contributions to Hopi History. It contained the observations of three anthropologists, Frank Hamilton Cushing, Jesse Walter Fewkes and Elsie Clews Parsons. The articles by Cushing and Fewkes focused on a very critical point in Hopi history, when the Hopi culture came into direct conflict with American values and demands. This conflict resulted in the Hopi’s main town of Oraibi splitting into two factions. The faction that saw the white man in relatively positive terms remained in Oraibi, and those who wanted to limit the white man’s influence on their lives spilt off from Oraibi and founded the village of Hoteville (this is the village Cha’risa and her father were living in during the opening scene of Cha’risa’s Gift.) I had read about the events at Oraibi before, but never from a primary resource, from people who’d actually been there. In this small pamphlet I heard the voices of these two anthropologists who had been among the last to see and document this village before the Hopi way of life was fundamentally changed by U.S. policies.
Cushing’s account describing his attempts to trade with the Hopi in 1883 was the first article presented. He had come to Oraibi hoping to bring home Hopi articles of interest for the National Museum of History in Washington D.C. In his account, he describes a town that is still practicing a lifestyle and art forms that have already disappeared from the other Pueblo cultures in the Southwest. At the time of his visit, Oraibi is a strong, prosperous town, living a lifestyle that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. But Cushing’s visit unleashes disagreement in the village. There are those who do not feel any trades should be made with him, and there are others who don’t see the harm in it. Cushing does eventually leave the village, lucky to still be alive, and with a few artifacts for the museum, but with very little understanding of what his visit and other American attempts to interfere with this culture unleashed within this community. His assessment as he rides away is that the people in Oraibi are “foolish” and “bull dozed by their wizards.”
The Cushing article gave me a lot of data that I had not found anywhere else. His words gave me a very clear image of life in Oraibi just as it was beginning to be pressured by both outside and inside forces of change. Cushing’s words also clued me into what kind of man he was. I have to say I didn’t come away with the best impression. He came off as arrogant, as more concerned with preserving artifacts than preserving a living culture.
Just to illustrate a point for you, I’m going to show you what I would have known about Cushing had I only used Wikipedia for my information gathering:
Frank Hamilton Cushing was an American anthropologist and ethnologist. He made pioneering studies of the Zuni Indians of New Mexico by entering into their culture; his work helped establish participant observation as a common anthropological research strategy.
Because of Cushing’s outstanding work at Zuni, in 1882 Powell assigned the anthropologist to an expedition to the Hopi village of Oraibi. His mission was to council with Oraibi’s chiefs and get permission to trade goods for a collection of artifacts and crafts for the Smithsonian expedition. The Oraibi Governor approved the visit and trade, but the ultra-conservative Oraibi Traditionalists held special council and refused to trade. The expedition was forced to leave without trading.
Jesse Fewkes’ observations (the second article in the journal) were made less than a decade later. During this period of time, the situation between the Hopi and the U.S. government deteriorated significantly. There were two primary reasons for these worsening relations. One was the opening of the Indian School in Keam’s Canyon and the U.S. attempt to force Hopi children to attend. At the time of this account by Fewkes, several of the children that the soldiers carried off to the school had run away and returned to their villages. The second reason animosity was building between the two cultures was that the U.S. government was trying to redistribute Hopi farmlands, assigning a specific parcel to each family. The Hopi had been managing their farmlands for hundreds of years under a very different system, one where clans owned plots of land rather than individuals owning plots. It was a very sophisticated system that had worked well for the Hopi. It even contained provisions for the indigent and unfortunate among the Hopi. In addition, the Hopi, having descended from the Sinagua Indians, had a vast and ancient knowledge of how to farm in the desert. The Hopi clearly understood the many ways this government plan would be disastrous to their way of life. The Hopi angrily resisted an attempt made by six cavalrymen, the school teacher from Keam’s canyon, the Indian agent and their interpreter to come and arrest six of their chiefs for failing to go along with the government edicts.
Fewkes was living among Hopi at the time, in the town of Walpi, so he had a front row seat for what happened next. The six Calvary men were met by a large show of force at Oraibi, which included a Hopi man dressed as a God of War who proceeded to sprinkle the soldiers with liquid from a bowl he carried. When the Calvary men were told that the next God to appear would signal the commencement of hostilities they wisely decided to leave the mesa. The soldiers then contacted Fort Wingate saying that they needed reinforcements because the Hopi were extremely hostile.
The Hopi could never have anticipated what was soon coming their way. Two regiments of Calvary with heavy artillery, including four canons, headed toward the mesas. The army was joined by more than a hundred Navajo warriors who, having heard of the conflict between the US government and the Hopi, had joined forces with the Calvary. Fewkes describes the procession, saying it wound out of the hills and into the valley below the mesas like a giant snake. The Hopi immediately understood that they had miscalculated. The people of the village were all huddling outside of town along the point of the mesa when the army finally came upon them. The Calvary held them there, placing the six chiefs under arrest, and causing the entire population to watch a cannon fire, so that the Hopi could fully understand what it would mean to go to war with the government of the United States. It was during this time that one of the chiefs managed to jump over the edge of the mesa and escape. Soldiers and Navajo warriors gave pursuit, but he was never apprehended. According to Fewkes, what was discovered by the Navajo during that search were hidden caves below the cliffs containing most of Oraibi’s accumulated wealth.
A very sacred object also went missing during this time, never to be found again; a stone that was an ancient deed to the Hopi lands. The Hopi had brought it out when the soldiers first arrived to prove to the soldiers that they had an ancient and legal claim upon this land. Fewkes himself states that he saw them show this stone to the soldiers, but it was never seen again after that day.
I realize I’ve gone on quite a bit about this periodical, but I’m sure you can imagine my excitement in finding such a document. Cheryl uncovered something for me that was nothing less than buried treasure.
While librarians are all trained to be experts in finding information for library patrons, Cheryl sees her job as going one step further. She believes it is important to empower people to learn how to manipulate the databases for themselves. During my interview with her, she got very excited when she learned I wasn’t aware of World Cat, which is a catalog that grants access to the contents of all the libraries of the world. She immediately set out to show me how to access this catalog from the library’s homepage. I’m a pretty active user of my library. I’m even a volunteer at the library, so I assumed I knew a lot about what was available. Imagine my surprise to discover such a powerful tool so easily accessible, right there under my nose. It took only a minute or two for Cheryl to show me how it worked and for me to find a book that looked promising. It was called On the gleaming way; Navajos, Eastern Pueblos, Zunis, Hopis, Apaches, and their land; and their meanings to the world, written by John Collier. Sounds perfect for me, right? I am currently number one on the hold list.
Before the interview ended, I asked Cheryl if there was anything she wished more people understood about libraries and librarians. Her response was very impassioned. She said she wants people to be good consumers of knowledge. The times we’re in concern her and she wishes that more people knew about the databases and how to use them. Children and adults all need to know how to access information and determine the accuracy of that information. This is something any librarian would be happy to do for you. They can help you find nearly anything if you ask them, and if you can’t find it, and they can’t find it, they will know someone who can.
Before I end this post, I want to share something with you that Cheryl shared with all the volunteers at our library. It is a link to Fodor’s Guide to the nineteen best libraries in America. It includes fascinating little known facts about each one. I’ve been to a maybe a third of these libraries. Now I’m kind of wondering if this needs to be a bucket list item, looking for hidden treasures in the stacks of all 19 before I die.
Ilana, what a fascinating post! Thx for sharing your process. There is an art to historical research that is often forgotten in this age of Wikipedia! I encourage you to update that Wikipedia article with this further resource – I understand it is easy to do. Thanks again.
Thanks, Rebecca. I’m glad you liked the post 🙂
It’s taken a lifetime to get to all of the libraries in my story, and admittedly seldom was the library the object of my visit. But I do know when I visit a new town, that’s the first place I head. Thanks for the shout-out!