On Saturday September 18, 2010, I had a special opportunity to screen BEYOND THE MESAS and give a presentation to my family at the village of Upper Moencopi’s Community Center. The screening and presentation were part of the Sakiestewa/Honanie Annual Family Reunion. About 60 people attended the event.
I have screened BEYOND THE MESAS at several universities in the United States, and I have shown it at other locations on the Hopi Reservation, but this was the first time the documentary was screened at Upper Moencopi. The film was well received and it led into a discussion on the benefits and negative consequences of Hopi attendance at off-reservation Indian boarding schools.
After the screening I passed out student case files that I collected at the National Archives in Laguna Niguel, California (now located in Perris, California). The files belong to members of the Sakiestewa and Honanie families who attended Sherman Institute or the Phoenix Indian School from 1906 to the 1940s. Most of the files included school applications, report cards, and handwritten and typed letters.
As a Hopi professor at the University of Illinois I am thankful for the opportunities that I have to bring my research back to the Hopi community. This has always been a driving force behind my work.
In less than a week, family members of Hopi runner Louis Tewanima will host the 37th Annual Louis Tewanima Footrace at the village of Shungopavi on Second Mesa. Tewanima is one of the most celebrated runners in Hopi history and he is best known for winning a silver medal at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. As I think about the upcoming footrace, I am reminded of another Hopi footrace on Second Mesa that involved Tewanima.
In a previous post, I wrote about a Hopi runner named Philip Zeyouma who competed for Sherman Institute at the same time Tewanima ran for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. In April 1912, Zeyouma won the Los Angeles Times Modified Marathon of 12 miles, which earned him an opportunity to compete for the U.S. team in Stockholm. On the other side of the country, Tewanima, who by this time had won several running events, was also scheduled to run in the Olympics.
When news that the two Hopi runners would race against each other in Sweden, excitement spread among the students at both schools. Students at Sherman Institute gloried in the thought that one of their Hopi runners would defeat the famous Louis Tewanima, and the pupils at Carlisle had great confidence that Tewanima would outrun the Hopi runner from Sherman. But the showdown between Zeyouma and Tewanima at the Olympic Games in Sweden never took place.
Shortly before Zeyouma was supposed to leave for Sweden, his father expressed disapproval of his son’s participation in the Olympics. Not wanting to disappoint his father, Zeyouma honored his request and went back to the Hopi Reservation for the summer. However, in my article “Hopi Footraces and American Marathons, 1912-1930,” I note that the
rivalry between the two Hopi runners did not cease when Tewanima migrated back to the Hopi mesas as an Olympian. In September 1912, shortly before they returned to their schools, Tewanima and Zeyouma challenged each other to a race on the Hopi Reservation. On the day of the race, Hopis from the surrounding villages gathered around the starting line and anxiously watched as the two runners made their mark for the twelve-mile course. Zeyouma proudly wore his “Sherman colors,” while Tewanima “appeared in his Carlisle track suit.”
By wearing their running uniforms, the Hopi athletes saw the event as a race between the two schools and identified themselves according to their school affiliation. However, such a display of school loyalty did not go unchallenged by the other Hopi runners in the crowd. Seconds before the race began, some of the older Hopi men remarked that the “boys did not look like [Hopi] runners” at all, and teased Zeyouma and Tewanima for wearing their running outfits. A New York Times reporter noted that when Tewanima heard the men’s insults, Tewanima replied, “If you don’t like our looks get in, and show what you can do.”
The men promptly accepted his challenge and entered the race with no shoes or track suits, and wore “merely discarded” clothes. Six miles into the race, the older men proved too much for the young runners and Zeyouma and Tewanima quit and left the “race to the barefooted runners in the lead.” Coach Joe Shoulder recalled that the winner was about fifty years old, and he looked like he was “dying of consumption” (tuberculosis).
The outcome of the race provides a telling commentary on running in Hopi culture, as well as the relationship between older and younger runners. While the younger runners migrated to off reservation Indian boarding schools, the vast majority of the Hopi people, including older men who were known for the ability to run long distances, remained at home. Consequently, some of the best long-distance runners in U.S. history received little or no attention by those outside of the Hopi community. Although newspaper reporters seemed surprised that men in their fifties had the ability to defeat the younger athletes, the people knew that other Hopis could easily outrun the Hopi Olympian and the track star from Sherman Institute. [“Hopi Footraces and American Marathons, 1912-1930,” American Quarterly, March 2010, vol. 62, no. 1, p. 87, 88]
On Sunday September 5, 2010, runners of various ages will come together to run a footrace on Second Mesa. They will once again make their mark on the start line and run a course similar to the one taken by Tewanima, Zeyouma, and the older runners of the village. In honor of Tewanima, who still inspires thousands of individuals to run, the annual Louis Tewanima Footrace gives testimony to Tewanima’s legacy as an Olympic runner and the continuation of footraces among the people.
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Most people who visit the Sherman Indian Museum in Riverside, California, see this first place trophy without knowing who won it. Marathon officials did not engrave the athlete’s name on the trophy, but they did include the date and the event, which was the Vallejo Pre-Olympic National Marathon held in California on December 22, 1929.
At one point in the school’s history, the student’s at Sherman Institute knew who won this award. But as time passed, the trophy, one of the largest in the Museum’s collection, became disassociated from its owner.
The trophy belongs to Hopi runner Harry Chaca from the village of Polacca on First Mesa. He was among the great Hopi runners of the twentieth century. Chaca attended Sherman in the 1920s and early 1930s and he earned several marathon honors while a student at the school.
In Japan, for example, a runner named Yoshikio Sudsuki heard that Chaca was the best runner in America and so he traveled to the U.S. for the sole purpose of competing against the Hopi from Polacca. But at the 1929 Vallejo Pre-Olympic National Marathon, Chaca’s speed and endurance proved too much for the forty-nine year old runner from Tokyo. In my article I write that the
Hopi runner ran at a “killing pace to win” the full marathon in two hours, forty-one minutes, and twenty-five seconds, a “full second better than the performance of Alpien Stenroos” in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. One of the fifty thousand spectators of the marathon recalled that Chaca’s “victory” was “all the more noteworthy for his sensational finish. After trailing for twenty-three miles it was at that mark that he applied a final burst of speed that sent him ahead” of Hopi runner Franklin Suhu. In addition to winning the race, Chaca set a new American marathon record, which immediately confirmed his place as the top long-distance runner in the nation. [p. 91]
Shortly after Chaca’s marathon victory, school officials took his trophy and displayed it in a large cabinet located in Sherman’s administration building (now the Sherman Indian Museum). According to school administrators, all individually won trophies belonged to the school.
At times Hopi students attempted to obtain their trophy cups after their terms at Sherman had expired. During the 1940s, for example, Hopi runner Philip Zeyouma asked the school’s superintendent if he could reclaim his trophies (pictured on the front cover of American Quarterly), but school officials refused to honor his request.
More than eighty years after Chaca won the Vallejo Pre-Olympic National Marathon, his trophy remains at the Sherman Indian Museum. Although government officials consider the award to be property of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the trophy will always belong to Harry Chaca and his family.
For the past three years I have been working on a book on Hopi long distance runners and the American sport republic. Part of this project includes an article that I wrote titled “Hopi Footraces and American Marathons, 1912-1930.” This article recently appeared in the March 2010 Issue of American Quarterly (Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 77-101). The American Quarterly is the flagship journal of the American Studies Association.
The photograph featured on the cover of the journal (pictured above) is of two trophy cups that Hopi runner Philip Zeyouma won at Sherman Institute. I took this photo at the Sherman Indian Museum in Riverside, California. Not long after the school established its cross-country team, Zeyouma won the Los Angeles Times Modified Marathon in April 1912. His victory also gave him an opportunity to compete in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.
When Hopis such as Zeyouma, Harry Chaca, Guy Maktima and Franklin Suhu competed on the Sherman cross-country team, and Louis Tewanima ran for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, their cultural identities challenged white American perceptions of modernity and placed them in a context that had national and international dimensions. These dimensions linked Hopi runners to other athletes from different parts of the world, including Ireland and Japan, and they caused non-Natives to reevaluate their understandings of sports, nationhood, and the cultures of American Indian people.
This article is also a story about Hopi agency, and the complex and various ways Hopi runners navigated between tribal dynamics, school loyalties, and a country that closely associated sports with U.S. nationalism. It calls attention to certain cultural philosophies of running that connected Hopi runners to their village communities, and the internal and external forces that strained these ties when Hopis competed in national and international running events.
The back cover of the journal (pictured below) features a photograph that I took on the edge of Third Mesa near the village of Orayvi. At one point in the article I describe how one can stand in this location and see for miles in all directions:
To the south, the land extends beyond the Hopi mesas and the silhouette of Nuvatukiyaovi, or the San Francisco Peaks, is visible in the distance. In the valleys below, corn, melon, and bean fields stand out as green patches against a backdrop of earth and sandstone. From on top of the mesa one can enjoy the sweet smell of burning cedar, hear and feel the wind blowing over the mesa edge, and behold a breathtaking landscape surrounded by a canopy of deep blue sky. Looking east toward the village of Shungopavi on Second Mesa, running trails stretch from Orayvi like veins that connect and bring life to each of the Hopi villages. The trails near Orayvi give testimony to the tradition of running in Hopi culture and the continuance of running among today’s Hopi people. [p. 79]
I am indebted to several individuals who helped me revise this essay, including my colleagues at the University of Illinois, various Hopi and non-Hopi scholars, the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, Lorene Sisquoc of the Sherman Indian Museum, and American Quarterly editors Curtis Marez, Jeb Middlebrook and Stacey Lynn.
If you would like a PDF copy of this article, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or submit a comment to this post.
In 2001, the Sherman Indian Museum had this bronze coin designed to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of Sherman Institute (now called Sherman Indian High School). Before I conducted research on the Hopi Reservation, Lorene Sisquoc, director of the Sherman Indian Museum, gave me several of these coins to give to the Hopi alumni that I interviewed.
One of these former students was Bessie Humetewa from the village of Bacavi. She attended the school from 1920 to 1928. Bessie also appears in Beyond the Mesas where she recalls that she stayed at Sherman “all eight years without coming home.”
At the time of the interview Bessie was blind, and so when I gave her the coin she examined it with her hands. Before I could tell her what was depicted on the coin, she said to me, “this is Sherman.”
She was able to discern the raised design of the school’s main building, the palm tree, and the superintendent’s office. The bronze coin reconnected Bessie to her alma mater. It took her back seventy-six years to when she last attended the Indian school in Riverside, California.
As part of the school plan the outing system is practiced each year. Students have no difficulty securing positions, the girls in the best families in Southern California and the boys on ranches or other industrial lines. The extensive production of oranges, berries, and other fruits, cantaloupes, and grain furnish employment for the boys at all seasons. The practice of sending out students for experience and to earn a little money during vacation is an advantage to the students, but it is not compulsory. The wishes of the individual and of parents, if necessary, are always consulted. – Sherman Institute Booklet (1908), Sherman Indian Museum, Riverside, California
One of the gaps in the historiography of Indian boarding schools is a book length study on the Outing System. Government officials established Outing programs at off-reservation Indian boarding schools to create an Indian working class. At Sherman Institute, the boys labored on farms and ranches, while the girls worked in homes in the greater Riverside community.
Although school officials wanted the girls to be exposed to the so-called civilizing influences of white Americans, the system ultimately “trained” girls to become domestic servants. The girls often spent their days cleaning, making food, and taking care of children who belonged to white families.
In BEYOND THE MESAS, Eilene Randolph and Leslie Robledo from the village of Bacavi on Third Mesa note that Hopi girls at Sherman did not have trouble securing work in the school’s Outing program. Hopis had a reputation of being “hard workers,” and the people in the community routinely “hired up” the girls to work in their homes.
Local farmers were also eager to employ Hopi boys to work in their fields and orchards. The boys had come from an agricultural based society and used their knowledge of planting and harvesting in Southern California.
When I started researching on the Hopi boarding school experience at Sherman Institute, I thought for sure that I would come across many references of Polingaysi Qoyawayma (Elizabeth Q. White) at the Sherman Indian Museum. She is, after all, one of the school’s most famous alums. I looked in the Sherman Bulletin, the school’s student-written newspaper. I examined various letterpress books and other school records, but I never came across her name.
While conducting research at the National Archives in Laguna Niguel, California, I uncovered a file with a name similar to Polingaysi Qoyawayma written on the tab. I thought I found the documents that I had been searching for. But when I examined the records closely I discovered that the file belonged to someone else.
In an attempt to find clues that would lead me to archival information on Qoyawayma, I reread Don Talayesva’s autobiography Sun Chief. Talayesva and Qoyawayma attended Sherman at the same time. They both came from Orayvi and likely traveled with each other to the school in November 1906. But nowhere in Talayesva’s book does he mention her name.
Fortunately, one does need to depend on Talayesva or an archive to learn about Qoyawayma’s experience at the Indian school in Riverside. Although the archival record may appear to be silent, at least in reference to her time at Sherman, her story remains with her family, others who knew her, and in her book No Turning Back.
The documents that I searched for may never surface. They may not even exist. But Qoyawayma has already shared with us about her school days at Sherman Institute. She has already provided us with the archive, the documents, and the narrative of her life.
The producers of Beyond the Mesas were very fortunate that Marsah Balenquah from Bacavi on Third Mesa agreed to be interviewed for the film. In the documentary she explains that she attended Sherman for thirteen or fourteen years. At one point in the film she describes her impression of the school’s buildings. Built by Indian students in a Spanish Mission architectural style, the buildings did not resemble the sandstone homes she and other Hopis were familiar with on the reservation.
This photograph was taken when Marsah attended the Indian school in Riverside from 1920 to 1934. In the photo girls are standing in a line waiting for roll call and inspection. Everyday life at Sherman was very regimented. An American flag drapes from the portico of the school’s main building. Photo courtesy of the Sherman Indian Museum.
I was once asked how many photos and other images we included in Beyond the Mesas. I do not know the exact number, but it had to have been over a hundred. Some of these photos came from people who we interviewed for the film, others we uncovered at various archives. One of these photos was of a group of Hopi girls at Sherman Institute during the 1920s. I came across this picture in the Veva Wight Collection at the Sherman Indian Museum in Riverside, California. Wight was a Protestant missionary who led Bible studies and other Christian activities at the school. She worked as a “Religious Worker” at Sherman for more than thirty years. Although government officials allowed Christianity at Sherman to encourage the assimilation of Indian students, some Hopi girls had a genuine committment or interest in the Christian faith.