Biographies & Memoirs



AFTER THAT SUCCESSFUL FIRST SUMMER OF THE INDIAN DETOURS, both Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe railroad began investing even more heavily in southwestern tourism. They also dramatically increased the use of Indian imagery to brand their companies—which they had been doing piecemeal for many years, ever since railroad advertising manager William Haskell Simpson started a nationally distributed Santa Fe Railway calendar in 1907, featuring original paintings and drawings of Native scenes. An increasing number of top artists in Santa Fe and Taos—many of them transplanted realists from New York’s Ashcan School who wanted to paint something other than ash cans and gritty urban scenes—supported themselves in their cowboy Bohemia by doing illustrations for magazines, the railroad, and Fred Harvey.

In the fall of 1926, the Santa Fe started a faster daily train service that cut the ride between Chicago and Los Angeles by more than five hours, to just under sixty-three hours total—“only two business days.” Previous high-end trains always used names employing words such as “special” or “limited,” but this new train was simply called “the Chief,” and all its advertising featured a stylized drawing of a powerful, looming Indian leader.

For the inaugural run of the Chief, the cast of the new MGM Western War Paint rode between Chicago and Los Angeles in costume. While the Union Pacific and the Southern Pacific started competing fast train service the same day, their ceremonies and photo ops featured only executives and starlets christening engines with champagne bottles. (During Prohibition, champagne bottles could be broken, as long as nobody drank.) The Santa Fe ceremony featured young Chief Yowlachie, one of the stars of War Paint, in full headdress.

Even as they agreed to let the railroad use them as promotional tools, the professional Indians were debating the dilemmas of marketing “noble savagery.” The performers who participated in the debut of the Chief were the same ones trying to organize Indians in Hollywood to lobby for fairer treatment and better parts. They didn’t want to be stereotyped—but if this was going to happen anyway, they wanted to at least make certain that all Indian roles were played by actual Indians. Thirty tribes with members in the movies—bolstered by the dozens of Indians brought in from Wyoming to make War Paint—came together to form a loose Native actors’ union, the “War Paint Club.” Chief Yowlachie was a leader of the group and performed at its first public fund-raiser: a “pow-wow” held on the set of the film.

This love/hate relationship with the marketing of Indian imagery and rituals extended to the artists who painted the pictures, and even to the tourists. While outsiders had been visiting Indian pueblos for decades, the runaway success of the Indian Detours—and the omnipresent advertising for the auto tours—brought many more people to see the snake dances and buy curios, and it became a lightning rod for national attention to the issue of exploitation. This was exacerbated by all the artists and writers drawn to Santa Fe and Taos, who had their own mixed feelings about being ethnological tourists.

Author D. H. Lawrence was a perfect example. Spirited to New Mexico in the mid-1920s by Mabel Dodge, the wealthy artist collector who moved her high-society salon from Greenwich Village to Taos, Lawrence went to see the snake dances like everyone else. He promptly wrote a magazine essay about how horribly exploitative it was: “The Southwest is the great playground of the white American … [and] the Indian, with his long hair and his bits of pottery and blankets and clumsy home-made trinkets, he’s a wonderful live toy to play with. More fun than keeping rabbits, and just as harmless.” Then, a week later, Lawrence wrote another, better-known essay about the beauty and profundity of the very same dance. It was the quintessential experience of the self-loathing tourist—fascinated and repelled by the pueblo dances and the way they were marketed, outraged by tourism without really acknowledging that he, too, was a tourist.

As more creative people came to visit Santa Fe and Taos, or to live there, these mixed feelings received more artistic and well-written expression—especially after the 1927 publication of novelist Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, which was set in Santa Fe, invoked many of her experiences there, and made many Americans want to visit. (Georgia O’Keeffe arrived not long after and quickly became part of the artistic and communal life of the area: She socialized with the Harveys in Santa Fe, and her picture appears in family photo albums from that time.) But there were an equal number of well-known detractors who felt the Indian Detours were exploiting, and possibly even destroying, the “last vestiges” of the “real America” they were selling.

Ashcan School painter John Sloan did a wickedly satirical etching after his detour, depicting eight earnest Indians trying to dance surrounded by a dozen big Harvey buses and hundreds of distracted, well-dressed tourists, some lined up at a nearby Harvey buffet.

The great cartoonist W. E. Hill made one of his beloved full-page illustrated journals for the Chicago Tribune titled “The Great Southwest.” Under his drawing of a fetching Courier guide, he wrote:

Indian detour couriers are smart girls. A Girl guide taking a party of inquisitive tourists on a sightseeing trip must have her geology, zoology and languages right at her tongue’s end. She must know enough about geological formation to be able to point and say, “Look! That’s a mountain.” And she must have a smattering of Mexican and Spanish so that when visiting an Indian pueblo, she will be able to say, “Why, Manuelito, aren’t you ashamed to charge two dollars for that!”

Under a drawing of well-dressed society ladies exploring cliff dwellings near Santa Fe, he wrote:

Mrs. Mosher and Mrs. Haverstraw are discussing a certain problem that sooner or later a tourist taking the Indian detour trip just has to face. “What,” asks Mrs. Mosher, coming up from the deserted kiva, “are you going to do about the courier girl when you leave? She’s a college graduate, you know, and I should hate to offend her by offering her money. Besides, this courier tells me she’s cousin to an Earl!”

And under a drawing of a very uncomfortable little Indian girl, he wrote, “Indian child being coaxed, to no avail, by a lady tourist who wants a snapshot.”

But, love them or hate them, the Indian Detours quickly became a popular cultural touchstone, the closest thing America had to Disneyland in the 1920s. Even though they were still a relatively small part of Ford’s empire—and, while successful, still not all that profitable—they brought a disproportionate amount of attention to the entire Fred Harvey experience. A flurry of well-known America writers chimed in on their Harvey House exploits. F. Scott Fitzgerald complained in his 1927 journal, “It takes so long to get to California, and there were so many nickel handles, gadgets to avoid, buttons to evoke, and such a lot of newness, and too much of Fred Harvey so when one of us thought we had appendicitus [sic] we got out at El Paso.”

Humorist Will Rogers, on the other hand, said he couldn’t get enough of Harvey food. In his syndicated “daily telegram,” he wrote:

Wild buffalo fed the early traveler in the West and for doing so they put his picture on a nickel.

Well, Fred Harvey took up where the buffalo left off.

For what he has done for the traveler one of his waitress’s pictures (with an arm load of delicious ham and eggs) should be placed on both sides of every dime. He has kept the West in food—and wives.

During this same year, the young food writer M. F. K. Fisher was having a transformative experience in a Fred Harvey dining car during her first-ever train ride. She was nineteen at the time, traveling on the Chief with her beloved Uncle Evans, and she would later claim her meals on the trip triggered the first stirrings of her career as America’s premier culinary scribe. Uncle Evans, who rode the Santa Fe often, was a lifelong Fred Harvey fan. “The only test of a good breakfast place is its baked apple,” he told his niece. “The Harvey girls never fail me.” She went on to describe the experience:

Uncle Evans knew where to ask the dining-car steward to put things like live trout, venison, fresh corn, melons. They were served to him at our twinkling, snowy little table in the restaurant car, at noon and at night, and I paddled along happily in the small sensual spree my uncle always made of his routine travelings. I probably heard and felt and tasted more than either of us could be aware of.

One time when he looked at me over his menu and asked me whether I would like something like a fresh mushroom omelet or one with wild asparagus, and I mumbled in my shy ignorance that I really did not care, he put down the big information sheet and for one of the few times in my life with him, he spoke a little sharply. He said, “You should never say that again, dear girl. It is stupid, which you are not. It implies that the attentions of your host are basically wasted on you. So make up your mind, before you open your mouth. Let him believe, even if it is a lie, that you would infinitely prefer the exotic wild asparagus to the banal mushrooms, or vice versa. Let him feel that it matters to you … and even that he does!

“All this,” my uncle added gently, “may someday teach you about the art of seduction, as well as the more important art of knowing yourself.” Then he turned to the waiter and ordered two wild asparagus omelets. I wanted for a minute, I still remember, to leave the dining car and weep a little in the sooty ladies’ room, but instead I stayed there and suddenly felt more secure and much wiser—always a heady experience but especially so at nineteen. And I don’t believe that since then I have ever said, “I don’t care,” when I am offered a choice of any kind of food and drink. As Uncle Evans pointed out to me, I either care or I’m a dolt, and dolts should not consort with caring people.

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