WHEN FORD RETURNED TO KANSAS CITY, HE WAS A CHANGED man. Like many who see the Grand Canyon and the Indian pueblos for the first time, he was in the throes of an inexplicable experience that he couldn’t stop trying to explain.
His sister Minnie was thrilled. She had been fascinated by Indian culture since the first time her mother had taken her and her siblings to New Mexico. When Minnie’s husband, John Huckel, the head of Fred Harvey’s newsstand and retail operations, was off inspecting the Harvey Houses in the Southwest, he would sometimes buy objects for her from the Indians who appeared along the train platforms with exquisite pots balanced on their heads and rugs draped across their shoulders. And he often rode the branch line from Lamy into Santa Fe so he could shop downtown for curios for their collection.
Minnie now saw a look in her brother’s eyes that she recognized: the rapture of the Southwest, the Land of Enchantment. So she and her husband started drawing Ford out about his experience, hoping to plant an idea in his head: Maybe his new fascination with all things Indian was a business opportunity for Fred Harvey.
Ford wasn’t sure, but his sister was very persuasive. As one of their grandnephews pointed out, “Once Harvey women begin getting interested in something, the men are pulled along by the short hairs.” Ford was intrigued enough with the idea to dispatch his sister and brother-in-law on a field trip to do some research. Their first stop was the Harvey House he had just visited in Gallup, New Mexico. It was “the Harvey way” to always promote from within—and Ford knew that the longtime manager in Gallup was some kind of genius when it came to Indian arts and crafts.
Herman Schweizer was like a character out of Blazing Saddles—a short, stocky, prematurely balding, cigar-chomping German-Jewish immigrant whose hobby was riding by horseback to Navajo trading posts and villages to buy or trade blankets, pottery, and jewelry. Schweizer had been running the tiny Harvey House in Navajo country for thirteen years; Fred Harvey himself had promoted him to manager when he was only seventeen, after an incident that became a company legend. At the time, Schweizer was just a cashier and had started collecting antique guns, displaying a few on the wall behind his register. One night a very tough freight train crew came into the lunchroom for coffee and pie, then tried to leave without paying. Schweizer crowned one of the men with a Fred Harvey signature silver sugar bowl, and pulled a gun on the others. They shut up, paid up, and got out—never realizing the gun was an unloaded antique that was just for display.
Schweizer, who never married, spent much of his free time in Ganado, Arizona, fifty miles northwest of Gallup, where there were a handful of trading posts run by non-Indians. At the trading posts, the Navajos swapped or pawned for necessities like coffee, grain, and fruit. As compensation for the Long Walk, the government had given them sheep and goats, but increasingly they were turning to their crafts as a way to earn money. The skills once reserved for creating Navajo religious and decorative items, as well as utilitarian pots, baskets, and rugs, were now cornerstones of their near-subsistence economy.
Schweizer learned everything he could about Indian art and culture, befriending the Navajos, who referred to him as Hosteen Tsani—“bald-headed man.” He was one of the few non-Indian experts in Navajo blankets, baskets, pottery, and especially jewelry—which was quite bulky, made of heavy silver, and adorned with large stones.
And after many years running the Harvey House in Gallup, he had also become an expert in the tourist trade. There were two kinds of travelers, Schweizer explained to Minnie and John Huckel when they came to visit. There were those who appreciated authentic pieces and others who preferred something cheaper, more colorful, less substantial: Navajo Lite.
So while Schweizer always bought the best of the best for himself, he also started commissioning craftsmen to produce costume jewelry knockoffs—even going so far as to bring the Navajos thinner silver and smaller pieces of polished turquoise than they would normally use. Although he wasn’t the first white man to ask the Indians to do this, he was the first to order and market such pieces in volume, to turn it into a serious business. When this Navajo Lite style went on to become what most Americans think of as typical “traditional” southwestern jewelry, Indian art experts had to admit that while the pieces were executed by Navajo artisans, the style itself was rightfully credited to this small, bald, quirky German Jew who worked for Fred Harvey.
Schweizer brought the Huckels to the reservation, where they visited trading posts and met Navajo artists. Minnie was impressed. She felt she could learn a lot from Schweizer, and liked the idea of the company having an in-house Indian art guru. Her husband, John, appreciated Schweizer’s knowledge and commercial pluck, but he wasn’t sure he actually liked him. While Huckel had excellent taste and strong marketing skills, he was still a fairly formal, stuffy Easterner. He had trouble adjusting to the multicultural casualness, intensity, and spontaneity of the Southwest that came so naturally to Schweizer.
Still, the friction didn’t keep Minnie and John Huckel from working well with Schweizer. Over the next few months, they devised a plan for Fred Harvey to dive headfirst into the world of native art. They convinced Ford, who then convinced Santa Fe President Ripley, to let them take over the building that connected the new Albuquerque depot and the Alvarado, their new hotel, and turn it into the country’s premier museum for Indian art and crafts. Schweizer assured them he could assemble a collection as good as anything on display at New York’s American Museum of Natural History or the Field Museum in Chicago. But his display would be, like everything else about Fred Harvey, a marvel of efficiency—in a space not much larger than a big-city museum entrance hall, he could offer an in-depth ethnological experience that could be absorbed in less than thirty minutes, which is precisely how long the train stopped in Albuquerque.
The Indian museum was intended to be a nice little vanity project for the next generation of the Harvey family. Little attention was paid to what it would cost the company or whether it could ever break even. The goal was simply to strengthen the association between the Santa Fe railroad and the exotic culture of the Southwest, which some viewed as “America’s Orient.” But of course Schweizer and the Huckels also hoped they might ignite some public interest in the Indians of the Southwest and help to elevate their status—since some travelers regarded them largely as panhandlers who surrounded passengers as they disembarked, hawking trinkets.
WITHIN SIX MONTHS, Schweizer and the Huckels had bought every private collection of Indian art and crafts they could find, but now didn’t know quite what to do with the pieces in that big empty space in the Albuquerque train station. So they reached out to an improbable woman none of them had ever met—a thirty-three-year-old high school industrial arts teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota, who apparently had been recommended to the main office in Kansas City by a Fred Harvey cashier in San Francisco.
Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter was a tiny dynamo, a petite, formidable woman with full lips, long, thick hair she never let down in public, wide blue eyes that cataloged every detail, and calloused hands equally adept at fine detail drawing and bricklaying. She had a strong jaw—often used to bite people’s heads off—and an almost religious belief in her own good taste.
“An incomprehensible woman in pants” was how one admirer described her.
One day in the summer of 1902, Colter was standing on the roof of her cabin in the woods outside of St. Paul, fixing a leak, when a Western Union boy arrived from town with a long telegram for her. In it, Herman Schweizer, whom she had never even heard of, told her to get on a train to New Mexico immediately. Fred Harvey needed her help with a new Indian museum.
Mary Colter had been entranced with Indian culture ever since she was nine years old and a family friend brought her drawings done by Sioux prisoners from the Battle of Little Bighorn. Colter’s father died when she was seventeen, and she had to support her sickly mother and older sister, moving them with her to San Francisco so she could study architecture and interior design at the California School of Design. After she graduated, the family returned to St. Paul, where Colter taught school. She also began teaching herself metalwork and jewelry making, and got involved in the Arts and Crafts Movement. A post-Victorian design revolution, Arts and Crafts sought to topple the barriers between “high art,” industrial design, and handicrafts; to elevate the skills of the architect, the interior designer, and the craftsman; and to take female artists more seriously. While the movement began in Europe, its impact was greater in the United States, which had yet to fully establish its own style of “high art”—but had plenty of native “primitive” art and design.
The Santa Fe and Fred Harvey had already shown their Arts-and-Craftiness by using vernacular architecture for the new hotels and depots. But while the railroad’s architects could mimic authentic exteriors, they weren’t sure how to handle the interior living spaces—which, if authentic, would be spare, minimalist, and fairly uncomfortable by Victorian standards.
Mary Colter was brought in to solve that problem. She arrived in Albuquerque to find a series of large rooms with rough adobe walls and concrete floors, nestled between the new depot and the new Alvarado Hotel. The museum space was entered through two adobe arches, which led to four linked display areas that ended with the door to Herman Schweizer’s office—where he kept his “vault” of treasures.
Colter’s job was to take these big empty rooms and turn them into rich, provocative environments that would narrate the entirety of the Native American experience while also showing the many exciting ways that native goods could be used in white people’s houses—and in so doing to help rescue the fragile economy of the Southwest. What is amazing is how well she executed these impossible orders. The rooms she created were paradoxical: both entirely faux and deeply, richly authentic, crammed with genuine pieces of native art and crafts set amid pre-weathered, deliberately distressed beams, wooden floors, and brick fireplaces. She took the items that Indians were selling on train platforms and put them into context—a context of her own inspiration. While some of the ideas she used were already in the air at the time, they had mostly been expressed in exhibits at museums or world’s fairs. Yet these rooms in Albuquerque felt intimate enough to live in every day—and, in fact, appeared as if someone fascinating had been inhabiting them for years.
This cross-cultural tableau of fantasy rooms marked the beginning of what we now refer to as “Santa Fe style.”
Not surprisingly, it took a while to get passengers to fully appreciate the museum—or, as most people called it, the “Indian Building”—because they were so anxious to eat at the Alvarado.
“Herman stood in front of his Indian building begging travelers just to step in for a look,” one of his colleagues recalled.
But when people finally did come in, they were astonished. Many of them wanted to know if they could buy the priceless pieces right off the walls and tables. Some wanted to purchase entire rooms. Before long, this little Harvey family vanity project looked as though it could be a sensation—and a moneymaker.
To keep up with demand, Schweizer continued to buy every collection he could find, and his private “vault” had to be expanded to house all the treasures.
“He just had room after room of these great artistic finds,” recalls one family member who spent time in the vault. “The rooms had a musty, sweet smell, sort of an earthy smell, from all the dust on everything.” While he was running a business as much as a museum, Indian art experts believe his buying sprees may have saved certain items—like the Navajo rug—from extinction. “Fred Harvey saw the value of this outmoded article when others less discerning were casting it aside for the new,” wrote one authority on Navajo weaving.
Mary Colter returned to St. Paul to resume her teaching duties, remaining involved as a consultant. But within months, the world of anthropology was shocked when the eminent Dr. George Dorsey, curator at the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago, took a leave of absence to journey to Albuquerque, move into the Alvarado Hotel, and begin overseeing what was now being called the vaguely academic-sounding Fred Harvey Indian Department. Other academics soon followed. Wealthy physician-turned-anthropologist Dr. John Hudson—the husband of artist Grace Hudson—was paid to come and write about his own amazing basket collection, which was added to the displays.
Hudson wrote home to his wife raving about life at the Alvarado. His room, he said, was
as handsome and inviting as any in the land. The mattress was so extraordinarily soft that really I lay awake in the bliss of realization of perfect comfort … Four or more trains pass here daily and they never fail to take advantage of the half hour stop to run into this little gem of a hotel and seem just like wondering, delighted children and I don’t blame them, for everything is quaint and comfortable to the last degree. In front of the big fireplaces are upholstered swings for four, swung by big chains from the ceiling and are delightful to sit in.
IT WASN’T LONG before Albuquerque had what felt like its own separate Santa Fe railroad trackside city. The main terminal point in the West for both the trains and Fred Harvey, the depot complex was home to more than a hundred railroad managers, accountants, and land agents. In addition to the flocks of new Harvey Girls in the 150-seat dining room and the twenty-four-hour lunchroom, there were Fred Harvey cooks, managers, hotel maids, clerks, accountants, and secretaries, as well as a huge laundry staff, who cleaned all the clothing, uniforms, and linen for five Harvey hotels and the entire Harvey dining car system—some five thousand pieces of laundry a day.
The most intriguing employees at the Albuquerque depot, however, were “the Harvey Indians.” As the Indian Building grew in popularity, Schweizer and Huckel added another feature to their museum: actual Indians demonstrating their crafts. Schweizer reached out to the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, asking for help finding some Indians who would be willing to move away from home and live at the Alvarado. He offered to pay them double what they were getting for their creations on the reservation—as long as they agreed to be seen making things when the trains pulled in four times a day.
The whistle of an approaching Santa Fe engine was the work siren for the Harvey Indians—and as soon as the whistle of the departing train was out of earshot, their time was pretty much their own. Some took on second jobs around the hotel—cleaning and stocking shelves. Others did only what Schweizer was paying them for—to be Indians far from home, participating in what critics would deride as “staged authenticity” but many tourists came to adore.
The best-known Harvey Indian was Elle of Ganado—in Navajo, Asdzaa Lichii’ (Red Woman)—a moonfaced, middle-aged member of the Black Sheep Clan who was believed to be one of the Navajos forced onto the Long Walk. She spoke no English, and communicated primarily through her gregarious husband, Tom of Ganado—Naaltsoos Neiyéhé (Mail Carrier)—from the Many Goats Clan. Tom, who spoke four languages, was very comfortable around non-Indians from his years carrying the mail between Gallup and the Hubbell Trading Post. Elle was his eighth wife and the only one with whom he did not have children, which was part of the reason they could relocate from their village to a train platform. While Elle was an enormously talented weaver whose work was highly valued, Tom was an adequate silversmith at best. But he made up for it with charm: With his muscular physique, chiseled face, and flirtatiousness, he was popular with female customers, who loved him even when he taunted them to their oblivious faces.
NOT LONG AFTER she started working at the Indian Building, Elle of Ganado began weaving an extraordinary blanket. For days tourists watched as she sat at her loom, in the “authentic” alcove Mary Colter had created for her—twigs and branches hanging overhead, a large white drum topped with a fur pelt next to her stool, imported dirt covering the concrete floor, dusting the hem of her full-length skirt. And each day another level of the image would appear, for the rug took shape from the bottom up. First there were the stripes of a border, next white diamonds floating in a blood-red sea, and then a five-pointed star. Then text began to emerge—an upcoming date, then “Albuquerque,” followed by the words “Commercial Club … Membership Card … Honorary.” It wasn’t until she wove “THE PRESIDENT” into the top line that it became clear what she was doing.
Theodore Roosevelt was on a breakneck two-month spring tour across the country. While it had been two years since he assumed the presidency, there were still many parts of America he had never visited: He hadn’t yet set foot in the state of California, for instance, and despite all his travels through the nation’s natural wonderlands he had never seen the Grand Canyon. Roosevelt’s trip was much more than a whistle-stop tour; the most charismatic leader in a generation was meeting the people. With foreign immigration exploding, the country’s population had more than doubled during Roosevelt’s lifetime. There were now more than eighty million Americans; thousands upon thousands awaited him at every depot.
When the president’s train arrived in Albuquerque just before 3:00 p.m. on May 5, 1903, five thousand people were there to greet him. He was whisked to a platform in front of the Alvarado, where he delivered remarks about irrigation and the future of the Southwest, and then was hustled to the Albuquerque Commercial Club, where he was presented with Elle’s blanket. Late in the afternoon, his train pulled out of Albuquerque, and he settled into his Pullman for the overnight ride to the Grand Canyon.
When the president arrived at the Grand Canyon Railway the next day, a saddled white stallion awaited him. He charged up the hill through the tall, straight juniper pines, seeing nothing ahead but blue sky until he was almost upon it. When he beheld the Divine Abyss at last, he was, perhaps for the first time in his life, speechless.
“The only word I can use for it,” he said finally, his voice dropping reverently to a whisper, “is awful … awe such as I have never before known. It is beyond comparison. It is beyond description.”
High in the saddle, the president took a rousing twelve-mile ride along the South Rim with his old friend Charles Lummis and a group of local Rough Riders, all of whom had been recruited by the late Bucky O’Neill, an Arizona businessman who had been Roosevelt’s most trusted officer in the Spanish-American War, before being killed by sniper fire. The O’Neills had a cabin on the South Rim, and Roosevelt never forgot how Bucky talked about his beloved Grand Canyon.
After the ride, the president spoke from the balcony of the Bright Angel Hotel, a two-story wooden building that looked like an old farmhouse a tornado had dropped ten feet from the edge of the canyon. Slatted wooden fences had been put up behind the hotel so guests didn’t accidentally step off the back porch and fall to certain death. The audience of over eight hundred people was the largest group ever assembled at the South Rim. There were local politicians and New York newspapermen in suits, miners in dusty work clothes, Indians in full regalia, frontier wives, farmers, lumberjacks, hotel clerks, tourists, campers, and trail guides.
“I have come here to see the Grand Canyon,” Roosevelt began, “a natural wonder which, so far as I know, is absolutely unparalleled in the world. I shall not attempt to describe it because I cannot. But I want to ask you to do one thing in connection with it—in your own interest and in the interest of the country. Keep this great wonder of Nature as it now is!” There was thunderous applause.
“I was delighted,” he continued, “to hear of the wisdom of the Santa Fe railroad people in deciding not to build their hotel on the brink of the canyon.” In fact, Roosevelt, Lummis, and others remained concerned that just the opposite was true, that the railroad still hoped to place its huge Fred Harvey hotel right out over the edge. The canyon was not yet a national park—it had been staked out and claimed by private individuals and companies like any other piece of federal land, and there was no easy way to stop the railroad from building where it wanted. So Roosevelt had to resort to the growing power of his own presence and the presidency:
I hope you will not have a building of any kind—not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else—mar the wonder of its grandeur, its sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it, not a bit. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is keep it for your children and your children’s children and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American, if he can travel at all, should see.
And then, what had begun as a warning shot to the Santa Fe and Fred Harvey became one of Roosevelt’s first major environmental addresses:
We have gotten past the stage, my fellow citizens, when we are to be pardoned if we simply treat any part of our country as something to be skinned for two or three years for the use of the present generation. Whether it is the forest, the water, the scenery, whatever it is … make it of benefit not to the speculator who hopes to get profit out of it for two or three years, but handle it so it will be of use to the homemaker, to the man who comes to live here, and his children after him. Preserve them but use them, so they will not be squandered, they will not be wasted, and they will be of benefit to the Arizonans of 1953 as well as the Arizonans of 1903.
The president was supposed to make only brief remarks before accepting a gift from the governor of Arizona and handing out diplomas to the graduating class of Flagstaff High School. But he was caught up in the moment, moved not only by the canyon but by the largest turnout of Indians he had ever seen:
I want to say a word of welcome to the Indians here. In my regiment, I had a good many Indians. They were good enough to fight and to die, and they are good enough to have me treat them exactly as square as any white man.
There are a good many problems in connection with them. You have got to save them from corruption, save them from brutality. And I regret to say that at times we have to save them from the unregulated Eastern philanthropist. Because, in everything, we have to remember that although the worst quality [to have] is hardness of heart, I do not know that it does as much damage as softness of head.
All I ask is a square chance for every man—give him a fair chance. Do not let him wrong anyone, and do not let him be wronged. Help him as far as you can without hurting him in helping him, for the only way to help a man in the end is to help him help himself. Never forget that!
I believe in you. I am glad to see you. I wish you well with all my heart. And I know that your future will justify all the hopes we have.
The cheers went on for so long that the correspondent from the Los Angeles Times wondered if it was possible to have too much applause and adulation.
By late afternoon, the president was back on the train, headed to California, where he would visit Los Angeles and San Francisco for the first time and then conclude his journey with a camping trip in Yosemite with John Muir. But the impact of his thirty-six hours in New Mexico and Arizona was profound. Because of Roosevelt, the two cornerstones of Fred Harvey’s Southwest—the Indian Building in Albuquerque and the Grand Canyon—were suddenly in the consciousness of most Americans.
Before Roosevelt’s speech, people still talked about various “grand canyons” in the West. There was the Grand Canyon of Arizona, which some also called the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. And there was the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which the Santa Fe’s rival, the Union Pacific, used to market its proximity to that natural wonder.
But after Roosevelt’s visit, America had only one Grand Canyon.
His rim-side statements were immediately tweaked so they would live on—in publicity and history—as the president proclaiming the Grand Canyon “the one great sight that every American should see.” And exactly one month after his visit, northern Arizona’s Coconino Sun reported that the Santa Fe railroad had finally approved the plans for the design and location of its fabulous new hotel. It was still going to be in the pine forest east of the current Bright Angel Hotel, as had always been envisioned. But now it would be “further back from the rim.”