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At the Old Well and A Zuni Woman
part of Visualizing the "Vanishing Race"
Ken Gonzales-Day, Scripps College
The real, savage Indian is fast disappearing or becoming metamorphosed into a mere ordinary, uninteresting imitation of the white man. It is probably safe to say that Mr. Curtis knows now more about the real Indians than any other man alive. He has eaten and lived end slept with them. He has been admitted to their councils and taken part in their ceremonies; he has submitted to having a live rattlesnake coiled around his neck, its death dealing fangs within a few inches of his face, in order to take part in the snake dance of the Hopis.In reading the text, Curtis (or his collaborators), cite earlier historic accounts that suggested the practice of human sacrifice to giant snakes. Snakes that were kept in hidden caves and fed human sacrifices of babies and even full-grown women. A startling contrast to the highly aestheticized images he produced of the Hopi, Zuni, and other Pueblo peoples, he was repeatedly drawn to narratives around human sacrifice and cannibalism as proof the “primitive” ways of Native Americans. Most of these accounts included in the text seem to be taken from earlier explorers and thus come across more than highly speculative and are deeply incongruous with the many images of women, young and old, wandering about picturesque mesas, reflecting pools, babbling brooks, or set again fantastic cubist adobe structures which rise in interlocking stacks, one upon the next. The women are pictured filling water jugs, making pottery, grinding corn, and aside from a single ceramic vessel with a snake design, contradict the “primitive” savagery suggested by the text.