CHAPTER X. THE HOPI (OR MOQUI) (Continued).


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The Snake Dance—Story of Its Origin—Description of by Peter Moran—Preparation for—Account of by Charles F. Lummis— Special Agent Scott's Report on.

The story of the Moquis would be incomplete without not only a reference to, but a full description of the Snake Dance, which is an attractive feature of this Indian tribe, many Arizonans making visits to Walpi every other year to witness it. This dance is held at Walpi in August of every other year, and is an invocation or plea for water and good crops. The details of the dance vary from year to year because everything connected with it is transmitted orally from tradition, and much depends upon the imagination and originality of the priests in charge. The old men of this tribe, as, in fact, of every other tribe of Indians, are the keepers of the mysteries and the directors of all ceremonies, so that while certain essentials are never departed from, such as fasting by the dancers, the race from the spring, the preparation of antidotes or decoction for snake bites, the dance itself is conducted according to the whims of the veteran leaders. The snake estufa at Walpi is hewn out of the solid sandstone of the mesa and covered with logs, brush, and dirt. There is a ladder in it, but there are no benches around it.


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Like every other religious ceremony among the Indians of the southwest desert, it is performed for the purpose of influencing the gods to send the rains that the yield of corn and beans and melons in the little hand-tilled fields at the foot of the mesa may be sufficient for the sustenance of the people. Here, according to J. W. Schultz, in the Pacific Monthly for August, 1908, is the story of it which the priests of the Moquis relate, in hushed voices, to certain favored ones:

“Away back in the long ago—when the Moquis lived in cliff dwellings, a youth would sit day after day on the edge of the height, gazing down at the rushing river so far below. He was different from all the other young men of the tribe, he did not care for sports—he did not court the young girls; always, day after day, he sat gazing at the river, silent, solemn, a faraway look in his eyes. His parents became anxious about him, fearing that he was mentally unsound, and the youths and maidens jeered at him, joked about him, saying: ‘He is an old man; old man without mind or strength.’

“After sitting on the edge of the cliff day after day for several summers and winters, he went to his home one evening and said to his mother: ‘I must leave you for a while; I have been gazing at the river this long, long time and it is calling me; I must go down it and learn where it ends—if end it does; I must see that far land through which it flows.’

“His mother began to cry, and brokenly—between her sob —begged him to think no more of such a journey. ‘No one has ever been away


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down in that beyond country,’ she said; ‘no one knows what it is like—what dreadful monsters may inhabit it. Do not go my son. You are my all; if I should lose you I would die.’

“Then his father came in and the mother ran over to him and told him of this wild plan of their son and begged him to forbid it. The son sat silent, making no further plea; the father sat with bowed head, considering what he had heard; finally he said:

“‘It is for men to do things; to travel and learn what this great land is like. I think, mother, that he must go; something—something beyond our knowledge, is calling him. He may meet great dangers—he may never return—yet must he go.’

“In vain the mother cried and pleaded, the father had decided and the youth was to have his way. Therefore, she determined to do all in her power to make this venture into the unknown, easy for him. Calling to her assistance other women, with great labor they collected enough drift logs for a raft and bound them strongly together with rawhide thongs and worm-grass ropes. Then she provided food; ground corn, dried squash and other things; sacks of her store of food she placed on the raft.

“The time came for the youth to depart and his father had a last talk with him. ‘You may meet a strange people away down in that unknown country,’ he said, ‘and if you do, a few presents to them will perhaps help you to be kindly treated. Here, my son, are four little packages of my choicest medicine, and here is a


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little bag of sacred meal. Keep the meal for offerings in case of danger; give the presents to those whom you may meet in your wanderings.’

“The youth descended the great cliff, all the people following to see him start on the fear-some journey. He sat down on the raft and kindly hands pushed it out into the current.His mother, sobbing bitterly, would have followed him had she not been held; his father turned away and covered his head with his robe so that no one could witness the tears streaming from his eyes. And thus, swiftly borne by the current, the youth on his raft was swept around the bend of the stream and had really begun his journey.

“On he went, and on, with a long stick fending the raft from projecting boulders and shallow places. Several days he travelled, camping by night on the shore, seeing no one—nothing but the different kinds of game and other animals—the deer, the bighorn, the coyotes, the cougars and badgers, which were then very plentiful in the land.

“One morning as he was drifting along close to the shore, he heard someone weirdly singing. Shoving the raft hard against the sand, he stepped ashore to see who and what kind of person the singer might be. Even as he sprang off to the ground an old, old woman appeared, calling and beckoning to him. Bent with age she was, and white-haired and furrow-faced. ‘Whence come you?’ she asked.

“‘The river has called me,’ he replied, ‘I seek to know all about it—how far it goes—to what end—and of the country bordering it.’


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“‘Youth,’ said she, ‘it matters not where the river goes. Come with me and I will show you something far better than that you have planned. I will show you the people of the Under World. I am the Spider Woman. I will change myself into a little spider and hide myself in the fold of your ear and you must be very careful not to scratch me off or bruise me or you will get into trouble. I will keep whispering to you—directing you—and you must do exactly as I say.’

“The Youth agreed to that, and removing his sacks of food and little bundles of gift offerings from the raft, the old woman spider in his ear directed his course. Travelling for some distance, he came to a large hole in the ground. ‘Descend this!’ he was told, and he entered it with hesitation, it was so dark and fearsome a place. Down, down it slanted and he felt his way along it, thinking many times to turn and flee back to the sunlight, but ever, as if knowing his thoughts, the spider encouraged him: ‘Go on’—she kept telling him, ‘Go on, all will be well.’

“At last, after what seemed to him a long night's travel, he saw light again and, arriving at the mouth of the tunnel, stepped out into the Under World. Here was a beautiful country and a large pueblo. Directed by the spider he mounted a ladder of one of the houses and stepped off on its roof. Here a terrible sight met his eyes; two huge grizzly bears that guarded the entrance arose and with bristling hair growled fiercely at him.


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“‘Quick!’ whispered the spider, ‘Open your sack of sacred meal and sprinkle some of it upon them!’

“He did so with trembling hands, and at once the grizzlies lay down, rested their heads on their paws and closed their eyes. ‘Now all is well,’ said the spider; ‘fear not; descend the ladder.’

“In the house, lighted by a small fire, he found a number of men assembled—fine looking men, evidently chiefs of the tribe, and to him who sat in the principal place the youth advanced and handed one of the presents his father had provided.

“‘You are welcome,’ said. this man, who proved to be the chief. Some women were there, and one of them, a beautiful young maiden, was ordered to set food before him. The two talked together of various things, and he told her whence he had come.

“The men were singing strange songs and saying various prayers. After a time the chief questioned him, and he told of his journey and his quest, but no word said he of the spider; she whispered him to be quiet about her.

“There he remained for four days, well cared for,—and then the chief said to him: ‘I see that you are worth a trial, you are well-behaved, attentive to our prayers and songs; I wish you to see everything—learn everything in this Under World of ours. Go you now to the other villages and visit there for a time—it is not far—and then return here.’


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“At the entrance, on top of the house in this next pueblo, to which the spider guided him, two mountain lions on guard arose and barred his way, spitting and switching their tails. These he also sprinkled with the sacred meal and they became quiet. He passed them and descended into the room. Here also he found the head men of the village assembled, engaged in offering prayers, in dancing, and singing sacred songs. And having advanced and offered the chief a present, he was made welcome. Four days he stayed there, listening to them, and then went on in turn to two other pueblos, where he listened to still different songs and prayers. At last he returned to the first pueblo and house he had visited and was more kindly welcomed than ever. The beautiful maiden waited upon him, the chief talked long and earnestly to him.

“‘I see,’ he said, ‘that you are a steady, wise young man. Therefore I am going to be good to you. These prayers and songs you have heard are all for rain, the rain that makes our corn and other things grow big and ripen. Do you think you can remember them? go back and teach them to your people.’

“The youth repeated and sang them all without one mistake, and performed the dances perfectly.

“‘That is well,’ said the chief; ‘You may now return to your home. I see that this maiden loves you, so I give her to you. All this you have learned here you must be careful to teach your wise ones, so that it may be handed down from father to son for evermore, and be the


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means of bringing the rain when it is sorely needed. We, the Snake People, have learned much by long and careful study. All this is a free gift to you from us. You may depart.’

“Hand in hand the young couple left the place, and, guided by the spider, came to another hole in the earth, running straight up into the blue sky and sunlight of the Upper World.

“Here the spider, descending from the youth's ear, wove a basket of strong web and drew them up in it to the faraway surface of the earth, where she bade them goodbye and disappeared in the distance.

“The youth saw the pueblo of his people; thither he led his young wife and there was great rejoicing over his return. His tales of all he had seen and learned were listened to with wonder; the songs and prayers and dances he taught were learned quickly.

“All was peace and happiness in the pueblo. Rains fell copiously. The crops were large. In honor and gratefulness for what he had done the people named the youth Eldest Brother.

“After a time the young wife conceived and gave birth—not to a child—but to a number of rattlesnakes. This was something so unheard of—so loathsome—that a council was held and it was decided that the woman must be driven from the village.

“‘If that be done to her,’ said Eldest Brother, ‘then I go too.’ They departed, the woman carrying her snake offspring in her bosom, and set up a little home of their own some distance from the pueblo. The snakes grew and crawled away out on the desert to live the life which was


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natural to them. In time their mother gave birth again, but to a fine man child instead of snakes.

“There came a season of drought and the crops withered and died. Although the people sang the songs, offered the prayers and performed the dances Eldest Brother had taught them, the sky remained cloudless; there was not even any dew at night, to say nothing of rain. More seed was planted in the fields but it did not sprout. Day after day the sun poured its heat on the dry and dusty land.

“Then in their trouble the people sent messengers to Eldest Brother: ‘What is wrong?’ they asked. ‘Why have these prayers and songs and dances you taught us failed to bring the rain? Have we omitted any part of them?’

“‘You have done a grievous wrong,’ he replied, ‘those people of the Under World are Snake people, and you have driven their kin from your pueblo. Never will you get rain unless you atone for it.’

“‘Oh, we will atone!’ cried the elders, ‘we will atone; tell us what to do.’

“‘You will go out on the desert,’ he replied, ‘and gather in those younger brothers and taking them to a kiva (sacred house) wash them carefully, purifying their bodies. Then you will carry them with you in the sacred dance. Thus will their kindred of the Under World be appeased and your prayers to the gods will be answered.’

“This they did, first recalling Eldest Brother and his family to the pueblo to remain there.


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Forth on the desert they went, and whenever they found a rattlesnake, quickly seized it, put it in a sack and carried it to the Kiva. Near and far they searched for them, and when no more were to be found, the snakes were carefully washed and the dance was held. Then Eldest Brother's counsel was proven to be true. The rains did fall and plentifully, and the needed crops were heavy. Ever since that time in the long ago, once every year these people have held the sacred dance.

“It truly is a singular custom, this dance of the isolated Moqui people, but more singular is the fact that they never are bitten by the deadly reptiles. They go out on the desert and carefully seizing them, lift them and put them into their sacks. Equally fearless are they in washing them in preparation for the ceremony, and in rushing out with them in their hands and mouths to join in the dance. What is the apparent power which they seem to possess over the poisonous things? Is it because, in the course of centuries, the knowledge has been bred into the snakes that the red men never harm them, and that, therefore, they have no fear of being handled?

“Could white men approach them and lift them into a bag, wash them, dance with them, with like immunity from being struck?”

Mr. Peter Moran, the eminent artist of Philadelphia, was a frequent visitor to those Indians, and, in company with Captain John O. Bourke, saw the dance at Walpi in August, 1883. His notes on that dance which are contained in the Eleventh Census of the United States, 1893,


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differ materially from the account given by Special Agent Scott of the dance of 1891. The accounts of the dance of 1883 by Mr. Moran and Captain Bourke agree. The following are these different accounts of the dance and of the ceremonies preceding them:

THE ESTUFAS AND SO-CALLED SACRED FIRES OF THE MOQUI SNAKE DANCE OF 1883. By Peter Moran.

“By reference to my notes made during my trip to witness the snake dance of the Moquis in 1883, I find that Captain Bourke and myself left Keams Canyon about noon on August 11, 1883, and that we reached the foot of the mesa on which the pueblo of Walpi stands, late that afternoon. The distance is about twelve miles. On every hand there was evidence of the agricultural industry of the Moqui Indians. On arriving at the top of the mesa at the Tewa end we found no quarters, but we obtained a room in which to stay during our visit in the middle town, called Sichumnavi. After supper we concluded to visit Walpi and go down into the estufas. The one visited that night was square in shape, about 25 or 30 feet long by 15 or 20 feet wide and 9 or 10 feet high, cut out of the sandstone, and with mud roof. There was present during our visit a large number of Indians, men and boys, all naked except the breechclout; all had spats of white paint over their bodies. The walls of the estufa were covered with articles of various kinds, which were to be worn


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or used in the dance on the morrow. On one side of the room on the floor was what might be called an altar, made of various colored clays, sands, or ashes, say three feet square. The center was a flat ground of light gray earth or ashes, and in the center of this was a crude representation of a mountain lion with blood flowing from the nose. This square was bounded by three fine lines or bands of color, black, yellow, and red; this again was bounded by a broad band of dark gray, on which were representations of four snakes, white, red, green, and yellow; around this on three sides of the square was a railing of sticks painted black, the lower ends resting in a base of mud balls, their upper ends ornamented with feathers and corn; around all was a broad band of earth or ashes of light gray. There was no fire of any kind in the estufa at this time, nor did we see any evidence that there had been. The men and boys were eating ravenously of food brought them by the squaws, which had been cooked outside in their houses. The squaws were not permitted to enter the estufa. At this time there was no evidence that there were any snakes in this estufa, as they were kept in large earthen jars. The dance took place on August 12th, between 4 and 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Early on the morning of the 12th we revisited the estufa that we were in the evening before and found a number of men and boys getting ready for the dance. The snakes had been liberated and were crawling along the floor against the wall near the altar, and were kept together by several old men, who seemed to me to be

SNAKE DANCE AT MISHONGNOVI.


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under the influence of a narcotic; whether this was so or not we had no means of knowing. These old men sat on the floor with bahoos of feathers in their hands. When a snake attempted to move away from the wall the old men, with a snake-like motion, moved up to it and drove it back. These old men acted like snakes. At one corner of the altar in the estufa there were two earthen jars, one containing water, the other meal; in the middle of the outer gray band was a portion of an abalone shell, and in the center of the red band was a number of stone objects. We left this estufa after half an hour's visit and visited another one, and found therein only one person, an old man at work; here we found another altar about the same size as the one before described, but different in design and color; the center was a gray ground, the upper portion of which had a series of circles running together and colored yellow, green, red, and white; these represent clouds from which are coming four snakes, representing lightning, yellow, green, red, and white. This center is surrounded by four bands of color, the same as snakes and clouds, as three sides of this square are. As in the altar before described, there were small sticks stuck into balls of mud and surmounted by corn, feathers, and the down of eagles or turkeys dyed a bright red. This was surrounded by a broad band of gray color; in the center and upper portion of this band were four stone implements, hammers and axes. Behind the altar was some freshly cut corn, and near it were some pipes and stone implements in a pile. One of the pipes was of


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stone and resembled a large cigar holder. Running around three sides was a number of stone implements. In front of the altar was also a pile of green corn. We went again in the afternoon, from 1 to 2, to the estufa where the snakes were kept, which is called, Captain Bourke informs me, ‘Estufa of the Eagle Gens.’ We found that the altar had been destroyed, and in its place on the spot was a bowl containing a medicine or decoction, which Bourke uncovered and tasted. We found a large number of men and boys painting and dressing themselves for the dance. There were two old men reclining on the floor keeping the snakes in order. All the business of preparation was carried on in silence, no noise or confusion of any kind; not a word was spoken. The room was now crowded with old and young, making ready for the dance by painting their bodies, faces, and arranging the ornaments they were to wear. At this time the old men, the guardians of the snakes, began to put the snakes into bags of cotton and buckskin, and as they were filled they were carried to the ‘Estufa of the Rabbit Gens.’ We were here notified that we had better go out and get seats, as the dance would soon begin. We took a station on the second story of a house beyond the sacred rock. Against a wall running at right angles to the one on which we were seated was a lodge of cottonwood covered with a buffalo hide, called the snake bosky. Captain Bourke's account of the dance is complete and exact, and is identical with my account as to facts.


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“There were no fires, sacred or otherwise, or even smoke in any of the estufas during our visit, nor any evidence that there had recently been any fire. We had exceptional facilities for seeing the dance, and there were few if any visitors besides Captain Bourke, our two men, Mr. Keam and Mr. Steven, and myself. I am also of the opinion that none of our party, resident or otherwise, had ever seen the snake dance before, and that probably we were the first white men who ever visited the estufas during the Moqui (Walpi) snake dance. The Moquis were not greatly pleased, but the presence of Captain Bourke with the two soldiers and the ambulance with ‘U. S.’ on it were potent. Captain Bourke, if he was not in fact, always appeared to be exactly the best friend of each and every Indian whom he had met; at least he seemed to convince the Indian that it was so, and so we were made welcome. Without Captain Bourke we never would have been permitted to enter the sacred estufa. Under his lead we went down the ladders and stayed. Of course we could not speak to the Indians, as not one Indian of the entire Moqui pueblos could speak English, and the only attempt made was by one man at Tewa, who could say ‘one dollar.’

“On the morning of the dance, the snakes, more than a hundred in number, were kept close to the sides or walls of the estufa by the old men with the bahoos. I tried to buy a bahoo of one of these attendants, but he declined to sell it, saying that if he did his stomach would burst open. I am convinced that the snakes were not


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doctored, neither was their poison exhausted by letting them strike a board or other object.

“During the dance, between 4 and 5 p.m., a rattlesnake struck one of the dancers on the right ear and held on. The antelope man became frightened and ran away. The dancer, becoming angry, grabbed the snake, which was a large one, tore it from his ear and threw it on the ground, but the bitten ear did not swell. The snake, thus released, coiled and struck at a Navajo, who was standing near the edge of the mesa, which so frightened the man that he drew back and ran off, and the snake bounded back of the sacred rock and got among some Indian women, who were mortally afraid and ran away in fright; then he escaped. If the snake had been doctored, and was not venomous, they would not have been afraid of it.

“I also observed in the dance that as each snake dancer passed around the sacred rock he threw the snake from his mouth by a quick jerk of his head to the right into the space in front of the bosky, where the antelope men took charge of it. Then he took a fresh snake from the bosky and danced around again, and so on.” (It will be noted that in the account by Mr. Scott in 1891, the snake dancers kept the snakes they first received and danced with them until the end. In 1891 there was no change of snakes by the dancers at each round.)

In “Some Strange Corners of Our Country,” 1892, Charles F. Lummis gives the following account of the snake dance of 1891, at which he was present:


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“The Pueblos often protect in their houses an esteemed and harmless serpent, about five or six feet long, as a mouse trap, and these quiet mousers keep down the little pests much more effectively than a cat, for they can follow sheeid-deh to the ultimate corner of his hole. But while all snakes are to be treated well, the Pueblo holds the rattlesnake actually sacred. It is, except the pichucúate (a real asp), the only venomous reptile in the southwest, and the only one dignified by a place among the ‘Trues.’ The ch′-ah-rah-ráh-deh (the Tee-wahn name is imitative) resembles the rattling. The Moquis call the rattlesnake chú-ah. It is not really worshipped by the Pueblos, but they believe it one of the sacred animals which are useful to the Trues, and ascribe to it wonderful powers. Up to a generation ago it played in the marvellous and difficult superstitions of this people a much more important part than it does now, and every Pueblo town used to maintain a huge rattlesnake, which was kept in a sacred room, and with great solemnity fed once a year. My own Pueblo of Isleta used to support a sacred rattler in the volcanic caves of the Cerro del Aira (hill of the wind), but it escaped five years ago, and the patient search of the officials failed to recover it. Very truthful old men here have told me that it was nearly as large around as my body, and I can believe it with just a little allowance, for I have seen one here as large as the thickest part of my leg.

“There are many gruesome stories of human sacrifices to these snakes, the commonest being that a baby was chosen by lot from the pueblo


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once a year to be fed to ch′-ah-rah-ráh-deh; but this is, of course, a foolish fable. There are no traces that the Pueblos ever practiced human sacrifice in any shape, even in prehistoric times, and the very grandfather of all the rattlesnakes could no more swallow the smallest baby than he could fly.

“For sixteen days beforehand the professional ‘snake men’ have been in solemn preparation for the great event, sitting in their sacred rooms (estufas), which are carved in the solid rock. For many days before the dance (as before nearly all such ceremonies with the Pueblos) no food must pass their lips, and they can drink only a bitter tea, called màh-que-be, made from a secret herb, which gives them security against snake poison. They also rub their bodies with prepared herbs. Six days before the date of the dance the snake men go down the mesa into the plain and hunt eastward for rattlesnakes. Upon finding one the hunter tickles the angry reptile with the ‘snake whip’ (bahoo), a sacred bunch of eagle feathers, until it tries to run. Then he snatches it up and puts it into a bag. On the next day the hunt is to the north; the third day to the west; the fourth day to the south, which is, you must know, the only possible order in which a Pueblo dares to box the compass. To start first south or north would be a dreadful impiety in his eyes. The captured snakes are then kept in the kibva (sacred room called estufa in the other pueblos), where they crawl about in dangerous freedom among the solemn deliberators. The night before the dance the snakes are all cleansed with


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great solemnity at an altar which the snake captain has made of colored sands drawn in a strange design.

“The place where the dance is held is a small open court, with the three story houses crowding it on the west and the brink of the cliff bounding it on the east. Several sacred rooms hollowed from the rock, with tall ladders leading into them, are along this court. At the south end of the court stands the sacred dance rock, a natural pillar about fourteen feet high, left by water wearing upon the rock floor of the mesa's top. Midway from this to the north end of the court has been constructed the keé-si, or sacred booth of cottonwood branches, its opening closed by a curtain. Just in front of this a shallow cavity has been dug and then covered with a strong and ancient plank, with a hole in one side. This covered cavity represents Shipa-pú, the great Black Lake of Tears, a name so sacred that few Indians will speak it aloud, whence, according to the common belief of all southwestern Indians, the human race first came.

“On the day of the dance the captain of the snake men places all the snakes in a large buckskin bag and deposits this in the booth (snake kibva). All the other active participants are still in their room, going through their mysterious preparations. Just before sunset is the invariable time for the dance.

“Long before the hour the housetops and the edges of the court are lined with an expectant throng of spectators: the earnest Moquis, a goodly representation of the Navajos, whose


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reservation lies just east, and a few white men. At about 5:30 in the afternoon the twenty men of the antelope order emerge from their own special room in single file, march thrice around the court, and go through certain sacred ceremonies in front of the booth. Here their captain sprinkles them with a consecrated fluid from the tip of an eagle feather. For a few moments they dance and shake their guajes (ceremonial rattles made of gourds) in front of the booth, and then they are ranged beside it, with their backs against the walls of the houses; among them are the youngsters that day admitted to the order, in which they will thence forward receive life-long training, dimpled tots of from 4 to 7 years old, who look extremely cunning in their strange regimentals.

“Now all is ready, and in a moment a buzz in the crowd announces the coming of the seventeen priests. of the snake order through the roofed alley just south of the dance rock. These seventeen enter the court in single file at a rapid gait, and make the circuit of the court four times, stamping hard with right foot upon the sacred plank that covers Shi-pa-pú as they pass in front of the booth. This is to let the Cachina (spirits or divinities) know that the dancers are now presenting their prayers.

“When the captain of the snake order reaches the booth on the fourth circuit the procession halts. The captain kneels in front of the booth, thrusts his right arm behind the curtain, unties the sack, and in a moment draws out a big, squirming rattlesnake. This he holds in his mouth with his teeth about six inches back of


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the ugly triangular head, and then he rises erect. The captain of the antelope order steps forward and puts his left arm around the snake captain's neck, while with the snake whip in his right hand he ‘smooths’ the writhing reptile. The two start forward in the peculiar hippety-hop, hop, hippety-hop of all the Pueblo dances; the next snake priest draws forth a snake from the booth, and is joined by the next antelope man as partner, and soon, until each of the snake men is dancing with a deadly snake in his mouth and an antelope man accompanying him.

“The dancers hop in pairs thus from the booth to the dance rock, thence north, and circle toward the booth again. When they reach a certain point, which completes about three-quarters of the circle, each snake man gives his head a sharp snap to the left and thereby throws his snake to the rock floor of the court, inside the ring of dancers, and dances on to the booth again to extract a fresh snake and make another round.

“There are three more antelope men than snake men, and these three have no partners in the dance, but are intrusted with the duty of gathering up the snakes thus set free and putting them back into the booth. The snakes sometimes run to the crowd, a ticklish affair for those jammed upon the very brink of the precipice. In case they run, the three official gatherers snatch them up without ado; but if they coil and show fight these antelope men tickle them with the snake whips until they uncoil and try to glide away, and then seize them with the rapidity of lightning. Frequently these gatherers


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have five or six snakes in their hands at once. The reptiles are as deadly as ever; not one has had its fangs extracted. * * *

“At last all rush together at the foot of the dance rock and throw all their snakes into a horrid heap of threatening heads and buzzing tails. I have seen that hillock of rattlesnakes a foot high and four feet across. For a moment the dancers leap about the writhing pile, while the sacred corn meal is sprinkled. Then they thrust each an arm into that squirming mass, grasp a number of snakes, and go running at top speed to the four points of the compass. Reaching the bottom of the great mesa, (Hualpi, where the chief snake dance is held, is 660 feet above the plain), they release the unharmed serpents.

“These astounding rites last from half an hour to an hour, and end only when the hot sun has fallen behind the bald western desert. Then the dancers go to their sacred purification with the secret herb, and the awed on-lookers scatter to their quaint homes, rejoicing at the successful conclusion of the most important of all the public ceremonials of Moqui. It is believed by the Húpi (Moquis) that the rattlesnake was one of their first ancestors, the son of the Moqui Adam and Eve, and they have a very long and complicated folk story about it. The snake dance is, therefore, among other superstitious aims, designed to please their divinities.”

Special Agent Scott's report on the snake dance of August 21st, 1891, which is also contained


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in the Eleventh Census of the United States, 1893, follows:

“The ‘snake deity’ is the ‘water god’ of the Moquis. With them the snake lives in the earth and under the water, and glides over either with equal ease. He is mysterious to them, and from his likeness to the lightning in the heavens they associate him with that phenomenon, and, not being able to separate or define the objective from the subjective, the two are to them identical. To the Moquis' mind lightning is the snake's tail striking the clouds, and thunder the report of the blow; rain is the effect, so the conclusion is natural that they should believe in him as being the most potent intermediator of all animal life that they could have between themselves and their principal deity.

“Irrigation or rain is what the Moqui country most needs. There is water, but it is so scarce and so difficult to obtain that the Moquis are obliged to go long distances for it, and so it becomes almost a luxury.

“The snake dance of the Moqui Indians is to propitiate the water god or snake deity, whose name is Ba-ho-la-con-gua, and to invoke his aid in securing more water, that their fields may be made productive. It is a novel exhibition of religious zeal and remarkable for its quick changes. Its chorus chants are weird incantations, thrilling and exciting both spectators and celebrants.

“The religious ceremonies prior to the public exhibitions of the dance occupy eight days; they are held in the snake keva, or estufa, and are


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of a secret nature, although a few white men have been permitted to witness them. The dance is the closing scene of these long secret invocations, and its performance occupies but a short time, not more than thirty-five to forty minutes.

“The day preceding the snake dance the antelope order holds a dance, in which the snake order participates (the snakes are left out). The antelope order, which ranks next to that of the snake order, assists in the snake dance. The day before these singular final ceremonies the men of the antelope order prepare many little prayer sticks called ba-hoos (the ba-hoo is a small stick, to which, at one end, is attached one or more small light feathers, and symbolizes a prayer), which they give to the men of the snake order, who, on the morning of their dance, go out from the pueblo and distribute them at all the springs. When these prayer sticks have been placed at the different springs or holes the men race back to the keva at Walpi, on the mesa where the snake dance is to be held. The principal race is from Weepo (onion springs), at the north of Walpi, some four miles, down through the desert to the south end of the mesa, then up the difficult trails into the pueblo. It is a most exciting scene, and in this running great endurance is exhibited, for the men have fasted for four days previous, partaking of nothing but a decoction prepared by the chief or priestess of the order as an antidote for the rattlesnake bite in case any may be bitten during the ceremonies. This antidote is known only to the chief priest and the priestess


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and the secret is only imparted to their successors when they are obliged by age and infirmity to relinquish the functions of their office. The snake dance, which is the conclusion of the eight days' ceremony before mentioned, takes place at Walpi every two years, in the middle of August, late in the afternoon. The day is appointed by the chief priest. This year (1891), the dance occurred on August 21, about 5 o'clock p. m., and lasted only thirty-five minutes. The men of the snake order, of course, were in the estufa in training for the four days before the dance.

“For the ceremonies of the snake dance the pueblo is thoroughly cleaned, and quantities of melons, peaches, and other eatables are placed about in ollas and dishes. Piki, or corn bread of many colors, is plentiful, and the evidences of a feast are on every hand. These people, although poor, remain hospitable; not having mixed much with white people, they have not as yet become selfish and unduly mercenary, and all visitors are welcome to eat. The number of visitors increases yearly, however, and pretty soon the hospitality of the Moquis will be put to full test.

“On the afternoon of the dance, and long before the appearance of the actors, the Indians gathered on the housetops of the pueblo of Walpi, which overlook the court, and sacred rock, all gaily dressed in bright colored blankets, ribbons and feathers. Some young Indians climbed to the top of the sacred rock, with the aid of a lariat, from which a better view could


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be had. Two or three cowboys, with strong Saxon faces, and other visitors from the settlements and large cities in the east were there, conspicuous by their modest attire and small numbers. The Indians gather from all the other pueblos of the Moqui group and a few from Acoma, Laguna and Zuni. Altogether there must have been five hundred people present, including, of course, the Navajos and whites, and General A. McD. McCook, commanding the district of Arizona, and staff; also Dr. Washington Matthews, the eminent ethnologist, and Special Agent John Donaldson.

“There was a murmur of expectancy, when all looked toward the southern part of the inclosure and saw emerging through the narrow street the men of the antelope order dressed in short white cotton kilts, or skirts, with flowing sashes of the same material, all embroidered with curious designs in red, yellow, and green, the hair, worn loose, flowing down the back, with tufts of feathers, selected from the eagle's breast, tied at the top of their heads, from which tufts, falling down over their raven hair, were two tail feathers of the eagle; earrings, bracelets, and strings of beads, worn according to fancy, and heavily fringed moccasins and anklets completed the costume, while their faces were grotesquely painted in white, yellow, green, and black, resembling much their wooden gods in the disposition of the colors. The general arrangement was picturesque.

“There were seventeen men of the antelope order who assisted those of the snake order in their dance. The snake order numbered thirty-


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seven, a majority of whom were young men, a few were quite old, and three were boys recently initiated, the youngest not more than five years of age. The antelope order was headed by an important looking personage dressed differently from the rest. He was the principal priest of his order, and in addition to the white cotton ceremonial kilt and girdle, feathers, fringed moccasins, and beads, he wore a coil of blue yarn over the right shoulder down to the left hip, a garland of cottonwood branches in leaf around his head and a similar one about the loins, and anklets and armlets of the same. He carried a bowl of sacred water in his left hand; in his right hand he held three eagle feathers, which he used in sprinkling the water over the space about the sacred rock where the dancers were to hold their unusual ceremony; he paid particular attention to the bosky where the snakes had been placed. A man of the antelope order brought the snakes from the snake estufa in a gunny sack and placed them in the bosky (bosque) about fifteen minutes before the dance began; they were sprinkled with sacred meal by the priest before leaving the estufa. The snakes had been in the estufa for three or four days. The Indians catch the snakes by going into the desert, beginning about a week before the dance, in parties of two, who carry a bag of leather or cloth; one of the men carries a bag of sacred meal and one of them a bahoo. The rattlesnake and other snakes crawl into the chilldill-ghizze bush, known as the ‘hiding bush,’ by the Navajos.


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“One man sprinkled meal on the snake, the other attracted its attention by tickling it with the bahoo, while the first grabbed it by the neck and dropped it into the bag. The men sometimes catch the snakes while moving, but they believe that they must first sprinkle the snakes with meal. The catching party on its return to the pueblo puts the snakes in the estufa to wait for the day of the dance.

“Some twenty or thirty feet from the sacred rock, north, and a little in front of the houses, the snake bosky is built. It is a low, stone inclosure, covered with long cottonwood boughs, standing upright, shaped like a Sibley tent, say eight feet, and fastened together where the branches begin, leaving the branches free, with a cotton cloth about it. The antelope men came in single file, passing along the edge of the mesa, turning to the left and back in front of the snake bosky, then around the sacred rock, continuing to follow the ellipse they had described until they had passed the bosky several times, moving in a quickstep. They halted in front of the bosky and faced toward it; their priest advanced, made an invocation, and threw sacred meal in over the bag containing the snakes. He had the meal on a large black plaque of straw. It was a ‘gate open’ plaque. The men then sang a low chant that was like the moaning of the wind before a storm; all the time an accompaniment of rattles, with which the men were provided, was kept up, producing a pattering sound like that of falling rain. This peculiar, muffled sound was obtained by using the rattles, which


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are made of cottonwood, round and flat, instead of the gourd, which is pear-shaped.

“At the conclusion of the chant the snake order made its appearance from the estufa, like their brothers of the antelope order, in single file, preceded by a stalwart leader, who carried a bow and a quiver filled with arrows. His hair and that of his followers fell loosely down the back, the front being banged just above the eyes. This leader also carried a buzz, or stick, attached to a string, which he would twirl through the air, making a noise like distant thunder. On the tops of their heads the men wore tufts of brown feathers. Their kilts were buckskin, dyed a brownish color, streaked with designs in black and white, and resembling a snake. Their moccasins were brown, and the general tone of their entire decorations was brown, which made all the more distinct the zigzag lines of white on their arms and bodies, which represented lightning. The forehead and lower legs were painted a pinkish color, their chins white, their upper lips and faces from the bottom of the nose to the ears black, and each wore a bandolier, or leather strap, over the right shoulder and down over the left hip. Attached at intervals to the lower part of this armament were numerous brown clay balls, tied to a band just above the calf of the leg; each one wore a rattle made of a turtle shell and sheep toes. As they came upon the scene, beyond the sacred rock, the antelope order faced about. The snake order made the circuit of the open space between the houses and the east side of the mesa three times before halting,


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then faced toward the snake bosky, in front of which is a deep hole, said to lead down to the ‘under world’; it is covered with a very thick plank, upon which each one of the performers stamped with great force as they filed over it. A belief exists among them that whoever breaks this cover by so stamping upon it during a ceremony will succeed to a grand fortune of some kind.

“After the three circuits had been made they took position in line facing the snake bosky, on the two flanks of which stood their brothers of the antelope order, who joined them in a weird song, the time being kept by the snake men taking a half step backward with the right foot, bringing the heel down with a quick movement, which caused the turtle shells and sheep toes to give, in their combined rattle, a noise not unlike the warning of the rattlesnake. The movement is measured and effective. As soon as the song was through the snake men again made the circuit of the small space between the houses and the east edge of the mesa, going around the sacred rock from left to right, near which stood a number of maidens arrayed in ceremonial dresses, who carried bowls of sacred water, with which they sprinkled the dancers as they passed, using the eagle feathers in the manner of the priests of the antelopes.

“Now the thrilling part of the performance or ceremony began. As the men returned by the same circuitous line and reached the space in front of the snake bosky, the bag having been opened and the snakes bountifully sprinkled


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with sacred meal by the priest, each dancer, as he came up, was handed a snake by the priest; the dancer then, after placing in his mouth a quantity of blue clay, which he carried in his left hand for the purpose, as a bed for the snake, placed the snake (some ambitious dancer would take two small snakes) between his teeth, the head always toward the right shoulder and about four inches from the corner of his mouth.

“There were a hundred snakes in all, many of them rattlesnakes, but there were bull snakes, racers, and others, in size from six inches to four feet long, and they squirmed actively, doing their best to get away. As soon as the snakes were in the dancer's mouth he would be joined by an attendant from the antelope order, who placed himself upon the right of his brother, the right arm of the latter and the left arm of the former about each other's backs. The antelope attendants carried in their right hands large bahoos (prayer sticks), with which, the feathers waving backward and forward, they kept the snakes busy and, watching their movements, prevented them from striking. In the above manner, by twos, they continued the strange march, going round and round the sacred rock, from left to right, receiving baptisms of sacred water and meal from the maidens as they passed them. This they did six or seven times. The snake dancers threw their heads back and kept them as high as they could.

“Now and then a snake got loose and fell upon the ground and began to glide away or coil to strike, but the attendant was ever watchful and


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never failed to so attract the snake's attention with the bahoos as to enable the dancer to pick it up and replace it in his mouth. The dancer was always careful to seize the snake just back of the head.

“Each dancer kept the first snake handed to him. If it was a small one, the next time around he would obtain another small one, and thus have two in his mouth, and one man I saw with three long slender snakes. Another man had but one small snake, which was entirely in the mouth except the head, neck, and just enough of the body to resemble a twisted cigar. Sometimes a dancer carried one or two snakes in his hands while he danced.

“The incessant shaking of the rattles in the hands of the men was done apparently to attract the attention of the snakes and confuse them.

“Near the conclusion of the ceremony one of the priests made a large circle on the ground in the plaza, or square, and when completed the dancers, as they passed it, deposited the snakes within its borders, where they were permitted to remain for a short time. It can be easily imagined that the mass of writhing snakes thus suddenly released and piled together, made rather a hideous and forbidding spectacle, but not more so than when they were making vain endeavors to release themselves from the dancers' jaws; still all this is not more repulsive than the performance given by so-called snake charmers, women particularly, who travel with shows and exhibit in museums in civilized life.


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“At a signal, a rush was made, and the actors in this strange drama, men of the snake order, grabbed the snakes with quick and dextrous movements, some with two and three in each hand, holding them aloft, and in the ‘twinkling of an eye’ they disappeared from the mesa, going north, south, east, and west; once in the desert their strange companions were freed.

“From the time of departure with the snakes to the desert and return of the men the space seemed incredibly short. Some of the spectators attempted to follow them, but were obliged to desist owing to the precipitous descent and danger attending it. I followed out to the south end of the mesa, only to find that the snake men had already reached the desert; some of them were on their return. As they came up over the top and were entering the pueblo I took several kodak shots at them as they passed me. When they had all gotten back they quickly removed their dancing costumes and donned the modern trousers, waistcoats and hats. From fierce-looking savages they were transformed into meek and gentle-looking Moquis, and among them I recognized my old friend ‘Adam,’ who had been interpreter at the school in Keams Canyon, whose kindly disposition is well known. A laughable scene followed the dance. As is their custom, all the snake order, who had fasted for four days, partaking of nothing but a liquid prepared for them by the snake priest, to whom and the snake priestess only the decoction is known, assembled at a point just beyond the snake keva, where each drank of a liquid


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which produced violent vomiting. This final act closed the ceremonies.

“They handled the snakes with great care so as not to hurt them and religiously returned them to their natural haunts when the dance was over, refusing many offers of money for some of the specimens; offers which would have tempted some so-called civilized people.

“During the entire time, from the moment when the snakes were taken out of the bosky until they were thrown into the mass or pile on the ground within the ring of meal made by the priest, all was intense action. The participants and the attendants never for one moment let the interest relax, but drove everything on with force. The celerity of the proceedings evidently kept the snakes muddled. The snakes were not, to my knowledge, doctored for the occasion.

“During the dance two of the snake order were struck by rattlesnakes, one in the nose, the other in the upper portion of the arm. They drew back for a moment, but continued the dance, and no ill effects were afterward noticed from the bites. The man struck in the nose had some difficulty in getting the snake off, and only did so with his attendant's assistance.

“The snake order is spreading among the Moquis. Their chief religious ceremonies have been confined to Walpi for untold time. Now branches of the order have been established at Oraibi, Shimopavi, and, I believe, in Shipaulavi. The ceremonies occur every two years. Next year it will take place at Oraibi, two years from now again at Walpi and Shimopavi. The


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day for its celebration is selected by the chief priest, and the date of its occurrence is approximately established by watching the sun's declination toward the south. They note the shadows that fall in the crevice of a rock, and in the same way reckon the day for their Christmas dance, the occasion for a dance to their sun god, which is about December 22d.

“The Moquis have been told that the government intends to stop the snake dance, and they say that it will be a great wrong, since it is a part of their religion, and they feel that their rights will thus be taken from them by denying them the privilege of worshipping after the manner of their fathers, which is not denied the white people of the country. This snake dance is a religious ceremony and most solemnly conducted.

“The liquid which the members of the snake order drink during the four final days of the ceremony is an antidote to the poisonous effect of the rattlesnake bite, and I have been assured that it never fails. I saw a Moqui who had been bitten while in the fields who did not get the aid of the snake priest for an hour later, but who recovered, although his arm was greatly swollen before he received the antidote. He was unable to do much for several days.”

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