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The Origin Myth of Acoma Pueblo by Edward Proctor Hunt

A masterpiece of Pueblo Indian mythology, now in a restored edition

Edward Proctor Hunt, a Pueblo Indian man, was born in 1861 in the mesa-top village of Acoma, New Mexico, and initiated into several secret societies, only to later break with his people’s social and reli­gious codes. In 1928, he recited his version of the origin myth of the Acoma Indians to Smithsonian Institution scholars. Hailed by many as the most accessible of all epic narratives recounting a classic Pueblo Indian story of creation, migration, and ulti­mate residence, the myth offers a unique window into Pueblo Indian cosmology and ancient history, revealing how a premodern society answered key existential questions and formed its customs. In this new edition, Peter Nabokov renders this important document into a clear sequence, adds excerpted material from the original storytelling sessions, and explores the creation and roles of such myths in Pueblo Indian cultures.
The remarkable life of Edward Hunt is the subject of Peter Nabokov’s companion volume, How the World Moves, which follows Hunt and his sons on their passage from tradition to modernity as they strike out as native entrepreneurs and travelling interpreters of American Indian lore.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143106050
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/22/2015
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 1,208,467
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Peter Nabokov is a professor of World Arts and Cultures and American Indian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. An acclaimed scholar of Native American history, he is the author of Where the Lightning Strikes and edited the volume Native American Testimony.

Read an Excerpt


This version of the creation and migration story of Acoma Pueblo in western New Mexico was told in Washington, DC, to scholars at the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of American Ethnology in the fall of 1928. Its narrator was a sixty-seven-year-old Indian man originally from Acoma Pueblo. His native name was Gaire, meaning “Day Break,” but the name he acquired at Albuquerque Indian School was Edward Proctor Hunt. Translating for him was a son, Henry Wayne “Wolf Robe” Hunt, while a younger son, Wilbert Edward “Blue Sky Eagle” Hunt, assisted with translating the songs that were integral to the myth. In addition, there were Mr. Hunt’s wife, Marie “Morning Star” Valle Hunt, and Philip “Silvertongue” Sanchez, originally from Santa Ana Pueblo. Transcribing the myth were archaeologist and recently appointed “chief” of the Bureau of American Ethnology Dr. Matthew W. Stirling and a young visiting British anthropologist, Dr. C. Daryll Forde.

After fourteen years of additional editing by some of the American Southwest’s most respected researchers—Leslie A. White, Elsie Clews Parsons, and Franz Boas—the narrative was published in 1942 by the U.S. Government Printing Office as Bulletin 135 of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Origin Myth of Acoma and Other Records. In its preface, the narrator and assistants were not named; Stirling was the author of record.

Over the years, this relatively obscure publication became one of the most cited sources on Pueblo Indian worldview and narrative tradition. Students of mythology, Pueblo culture, and the region quoted from it, wove it into their theories, and incorporated it into anthologies, interpretations of Pueblo history and society, and university courses on myth and oral tradition. A newly edited version that reinserted material that had been excised, offered a biographical profile of its narrator and his assistants, and rendered the text more accessible, seemed overdue.

 • • • 

First and foremost, I am grateful to the late Wilbert Hunt for background on his father, for memories of his family’s travels and their time in Washington, and for his blessing to prepare this edition of his father’s version. Second, I am indebted to the late James Glenn, archivist at the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives, who showed me the Frances Densmore and Wolf Robe Hunt files that confirmed Edward Hunt as the narrator and began my research into his family. Mary Powell and Marta Weigle of Ancient City Press had published my work on Acoma’s architecture, derived from the 1934 Historic American Buildings Survey Project, and encouraged this republication. For time and resources to research the myth’s background, edit its text, and investigate the family’s background, I thank Princeton University for a fall 2006 Stewart Fellowship, Pasadena’s Huntington Library for a 2007–08 residency Mellon Fellowship, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation for a 2008–09 fellowship, UCLA’s Faculty Grants Program, and New Mexico’s State Records Center and Archives grant program.

I am also indebted to the American Philosophical Society, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Anthropological Archives, Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan Special Collections Library, Pasadena’s Southwest Museum, and the University of New Mexico’s Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections for access to materials directly related to the history behind this publication and the careers of the Hunt family.

Individuals who have been essential to my work on this publication are Susan Bergholz, Alfred Bush, Don Cosentino, Linda Feldman, Karen Finney, Jim Glenn, Louis Hieb, Eddie Hunt, Steve Karr, Paul Kroskrity, Robert Leopold, Jay Miller, Alfonso Ortiz, Mo Palmer, Bill Peace, Patrick Polk, Roy Ritchie, Gregory Schachner, Bill Truettner, Ken Wade, and Kim Walters.



Stories about the origins of any community’s universe—its gods, spirits, heroes, and landscapes; its beginnings, wanderings, sufferings, and fulfillments—are the most important accounts any society can tell itself about itself. They are its divine charter, declaration of independence, constitution, and bill of rights all wrapped into one guiding narrative. Like a cosmic compass, they set its course. They provide models for its institutions and remind its people who they are, why they exist, and how they fit into their grand scheme of things. As foundational narratives, these stories are sometimes dramatized, usually for members only and at regular moments on the community’s ceremonial calendar. They are also recalled as scripts or formulas for conducting proper rituals. And they can be revisited whenever their teachings seem most relevant.

Constituting what some call “original instructions,” such myths inform their constituencies how to behave and move forward in order to remain their unique social selves. They are declarations of all that the culture considers primary, true, and essential. Contrary to the popular use of the term as human invention or falsehood, “myths” of this magnitude are usually considered as sacredly revealed, repositories of ultimate truths, and arbiters of existential questions.

Most of the world’s major narratives of cultural genesis have cohered over time out of a cluster of separate and often older narratives. And commonly, those separate stories, focusing on the establishment of this or that constituent group or cultural practice, wind up being told in multiple ways. Sometimes this is because, through the invocation of these myths, individuals, societal divisions, or priestly elites are making some case or claim and hence they might add, subtract, or alter elements in them.

For these reasons it is usually futile to search for a single originating or seminal version of any culture’s creation story. They have grown out of portions told by different people at different times for different reasons. Whenever outsiders study any culture’s origin myth, they generally try to compare the fullest array of what are called a myth’s variant expressions, whether in lengthy or fragmentary forms, in order to identify their most abiding and widespread elements and to understand the various influences that may have weighed on them over time.

Throughout human history, it has been out of such bundles of separate stories that gifted narrators or big-thinking synthesizers, special-interest groups, or nationalizing committees have tried to compose single, dominating accounts of creation, the emergence of human society, and the relationships between gods and humans.

The culture keepers and storytellers behind such master myths have hailed from various backgrounds. Some were men and women of a rare philosophical or historical bent, or they possessed exceptional memories or storytelling gifts. Some suffered a physical impairment that kept them home, so their full-time job became as community historian, memory bank, or renowned bard. Others may have occupied a privileged religious status or played a noteworthy intellectual or political role in their community. And then there are those individuals whose cultural exposure was so broad that they enjoyed access to an unusually wide range of separate accounts. Such seems to have been the case with Edward Hunt, the narrator of this version of the Acoma creation story.

Different motivations have driven storytellers to compile such authoritative accounts. Given the powerful impact of creation myths on how people believe and act, and the likelihood of multiple versions and the contradictions among them, it is inevitable that some have maintained that theirs should be the true or dominating one. Sometimes select groups or scribal specialists authorized a single orthodox or “revised standard” account and attempted to sideline or even outlaw all others. But for an outsider, all versions tell us something about the complicated and unruly strands, stories, and histories that reveal the community’s development and its evolving sense of itself.

In the remote past, the activity of transmitting central stories and their teachings from one generation to another happened orally, in line with the mouth-to-ear origins of human storytelling. These transmissions introduced all manner of additions and changes. Following the oral transmissions and subsequent elaborations and additions of more stories sometimes came their consolidations into single versions. Often their contents were altered even more by their exposure to creation stories from other cultures, whether the changes were adopted by choice or imposed by conquest.

Then or thereafter, these oral narratives were further condensed as they were fixed into some form of writing or print. And following their conversions from oral to written media, origin stories frequently underwent a fourth transformation. They wove their way into distant societies through the error-prone work of translation from one language to another.

Whether these transformative processes were imposed upon the traditions of small-scale, preindustrial, face-to-face cultures or contributed to the sacred texts of complex societies that produced the so-called world religions, the evolution from oral to written forms usually took a while—often hundreds, sometimes a thousand years or more. In the case of this Pueblo Indian myth, however, its summarizing, narrating, translating, and transcription was completed in about eight weeks. Yet the stories that it contained had been accumulating in the mind of its narrator since he was a child at Acoma Pueblo in western New Mexico.


The society that emerged out of this creation-and-migration narrative is found in today’s Valencia County in western New Mexico, about sixty miles west of present-day Albuquerque. As established in the myth’s closing scenes, the village called Ha’ako, commonly referred to today as “Old Acoma” but advertised in tourist campaigns as “Sky City,” sits on the flat summit of a 375-foot-high sandstone mesa. Its earthen-colored buildings and oversize San Estevan church appear to grow out of the rock itself. The seventeen-acre mesa top is surrounded by clusters of immense sandstone monoliths. This rocky ensemble sits in the midst of a flat plain whose backdrop of low cliffs is interrupted by broad valleys. To the east rises Katzimo, or Enchanted Mesa, whose summit was once occupied by Acoma’s ancestors. This panorama makes for one of the most dramatic town sites in the western hemisphere.

Encompassing a 245,672-acre reservation, with its old mesa-top village and two satellite communities, Acoma Pueblo is one of nineteen autonomous Pueblo Indian tribes in New Mexico and Arizona. Because these towns centered around open plazas and their buildings were multistory, condominium-like structures built of mud and stone, the earliest Spanish visitors in the sixteenth century found them familiar and called them pueblos.

At nearly seven thousand feet above sea level, with an annual rainfall of between only eleven inches and sixteen inches a year, the high arid desert that drops eastward from the Colorado Plateau is a tough place to make a living. The people of Acoma combined dry and irrigation farming techniques, developed individual and collective hunting strategies, and gathered a host of wild foods. Even then, drought, famine, enemy attacks, and European-derived diseases made for a precarious existence.

Today’s pueblos are direct descendants of cultures whose ancient ruins can be visited in the cliffs of Mesa Verde and the creek bottom of Chaco Canyon. Scholars often divide these pueblos into the Western villages—embracing the Hopi, Zuni, Laguna, and Acoma territories—and the Eastern or Rio Grande Pueblos, which extend from Taos Pueblo near the Colorado state line, down to Isleta Pueblo, just south of Albuquerque.

In contrast to “plaza-centered” pueblo villages, which cluster around a communal space, Acoma is a “street-type” pueblo. Facing its three alleylike byways are eight “houseblocks,” with its cross-axial plaza more a widened corridor between two streets. Although much remodeled today, with one-story, single-family houses increasingly crowding the mesa rim, the old-time two- or three-story blocks stepped back with each tier. In the practice of passive solar heating, their southern exposure allowed the sandstone-and-adobe walls to absorb the sun’s warmth by day and radiate it inside during the night. Combined with small, relatively smokeless fires, their cocoonlike sleeping rooms kept families comfortable over the winter. In warmer months, their people dried meat and native fruits in the sun and visited and socialized beneath an open sky, often in the shade of dividing walls on their roof terraces.

Acoma is positioned in the center of a Pueblo Indian world that extends from the Rio Grande River in New Mexico to the Painted Desert in Arizona. Its social and religious institutions reflect the influences of both its eastern and western neighbors. It is one of the seven Indian pueblos that speak dialects of the Keresan language. Like its western neighbors, the Zuni and Hopi, the community features a clan-based society and contains multiple rectangular kivas, or sacred meeting rooms. But Acoma’s medicine-men societies enjoy the kind of prominence usually found among the eastern, or Rio Grande, pueblos. While the pueblo’s farmers practiced the “dry farming” methods of the West—coaxing irregular plots of maize out of apparently waterless, sandy basins—at their satellite “farming villages” they also maintained irrigation ditches, as were more commonly found along the Jemez and Rio Grande river valleys to the east.

Today the people of Acoma have largely relocated off the mesa, occupying housing projects and dispersed homes in and around the colony villages of Acomita and McCartys. Some have resettled in towns like Grants and Albuquerque. Over the winter, a few families are assigned to reside on the summit to maintain a symbolic presence and fulfill ritual duties. But most Acoma families still retain house and room rights on the mesa, where they return for the yearly round of ceremonies and feast days. Some festivities are open to the public, but others are off-limits to outsiders.

A living architectural shrine, Old Acoma remains the spiritual pivot of the tribe’s universe.

 • • • 

While Acoma Pueblo may be, as its tour guides claim, the oldest continuously occupied settlement in North America, archaeologists allow more cautiously that the “Acoma cultural province” has received residents for a very long time. First were stone-and-bone tool-using Paleo-Indians who lived in the region more than ten thousand years ago. Around 5500 BC, the extended residence of Archaic period hunter-gatherers began; they later settled on mesa tops and valleys and adopted gardening as a secondary food source. By AD 400, they were evolving into the culture now referred to as Ancestral Pueblo. Their farming practices, belief system, and fertility and harvest rituals developed in the “great house” ruins of the Four Corners region. But a convergence of factors—drought high among them—cast their inhabitants on various roads toward the south and southeast. As early as AD 950, some of these early migrants appeared along the San Jose and Puerco river valleys, with Acoma mesa itself settled by the 1400s.

The village’s written history began in 1540, when a scribe on Hernando de Alvarado’s expedition into the Southwest wrote home about this “strange place built upon solid rock.” He described its defensible location, and at least seven ladder-and-stone-step trails to the summit where piles of rocks were readied to rain down on invaders like him. Near the edge of the mesa, freshwater cisterns held ample snowmelt and rainwater. Stored within the houseblocks lay enough dried corn, meat, and fruit to sustain its people for up to four years.

Over the following decades, the Spanish traded for Acoma food and sought to convert the Indians to Christianity. Relations soured in 1598 after Mexican-born Don Juan de Oñate, authorized to obtain the pueblo’s submission to the Spanish crown, developed doubts about its loyalty. His suspicions were confirmed when his nephew Juan de Zaldívar and most of his platoon were killed by Acoma arrows, clubs, and rocks. In retaliation, Oñate dispatched Juan’s brother, Vicente, with seventy armor-clad soldiers and their cannons.

In late January 1599, the Spanish committed one of the bloodiest revenges in southwestern history. The three-day punishment of Acoma ended with more than six hundred dead Indians and a village in rubble. Documents describe the Spanish sentencing survivors over twenty-five years of age to amputation of a foot, with other males and females between twelve and twenty-five condemned to twenty years of servitude. By then its population was down to around fifteen hundred members. Despite these brutalities, thirty years later a priest named Fray Juan Ramírez somehow rallied townsfolk (tribal tradition says forcibly conscripted them) to reconstruct the church’s ten-foot-thick adobe walls, harvest its ponderosa pine rafters from the San Mateo Mountains, and complete the forty-foot-high roof for New Mexico’s largest church, San Estevan del Rey, whose much rebuilt and restored edifice still towers over the mesa.

Over the next half century, life at a weakened Acoma remained relatively isolated and peaceful. Within other Indian pueblos that lay closer to Spanish scrutiny, a wave of religious suppression against “heathen” practices intensified. Sacred kivas were invaded, ceremonies disrupted, spirit masks and ritual regalia burned, and native priests and medicine men publicly whipped. Among them was a religious leader from San Juan Pueblo named Po’pay. With rebels from other villages, he secretly organized what became the All-Pueblo Revolt. One day in early August 1680, most of the loosely connected Pueblo Indian world, spreading across four hundred miles, rose up against Catholic missions and Spanish ranchos. In this most successful of American Indian uprisings, Acoma hurled its priest, Lucas Maldonado, to death on the rocks below. All told, nineteen Catholic missionaries and nearly four hundred Spanish colonists were killed; the survivors fled into old Mexico.

Although the region was reconquered by the Spanish twelve years later, the authority of Catholicism was never the same. The Pueblo kivas and Christian churches came to conduct parallel, sometimes entwined, celebrations, but native ways of belief, ritual, and theocratic organization now held sway. By 1820, as Mexico took over the American Southwest, and thirty years later, when the United States assumed control, Acoma’s population kept dropping. Yet its people maintained their time-honored rhythms of growing corn, squash, and tobacco; hunting for rabbits and antelope; harvesting wild foods; and fulfilling the ceremonial cycle that regulated their lives.

The next threat to Acoma’s isolation was the Santa Fe Railway, which cut across Acoma and Laguna pueblo lands in the early 1880s. Pueblo women began selling pottery along the tracks, and Indian dances and arts were advertised by railroad publicists. Generations of tourists became exposed to what one writer has called “the romantic inflation” of Pueblo life.

In the early 1920s, Acoma joined with fellow Pueblos in successfully opposing federal legislation that attempted to legalize the thousands of non-Indian squatters. Over the next forty years, its population steadily increased. Since the 1970s, the pueblo has attracted thousands to the tribe’s casino-and-hotel complex at Acomita off Interstate 40.

But Acoma remains ambivalent about embracing a modernizing world. At the foot of the mesa, visitors see exhibits and orientation films at a two-million-dollar museum before a tram takes them up to the old village for a tour with native guides. Outsiders are welcome to attend the September 2 annual Acoma Fiesta, but for key rituals and dances in their old religious calendar, the old village is closed off. Always hovering over the community is the challenge of how to remain a semisovereign, religiously private, Keresan-speaking traditional Pueblo people within a wired, multiethnic, open-access world.


To appreciate this version of Acoma’s origin myth, one must review its narrator’s unconventional career. Born four months before the onset of the Civil War and dying three years after the end of World War II, his successive names were Day Break, Edward Proctor Hunt, and Chief Big Snake. While the 1942 publication of the myth attributed the work only to “a group of Pueblo Indians from Acoma and Santa Ana visiting Washington [in the fall of 1928],” a glance at a 1957 Smithsonian report on Pueblo Indian music suggests the storyteller’s identity. Its frontispiece featured a photograph of the Edward Hunt family troupe in their “show Indian” outfits of Plains Indian war bonnets and heavily beaded shirts, vests, and leggings.

The stories that Edward Hunt braided into this narrative were so packed with detail because he was so steeped in his tribe’s lore. He was the stepson of a Fire Society medicine man but regarded the man as his father for the rest of his life. Four days after birth he received the first of his four initiatory experiences. His body was held up, or “given,” to the rising sun, and he was named Gaire, meaning “First Light of Dawn,” or Day Break.

Next, like most Pueblo boys, around the age of five or six he was inducted into the Katsina Society. That training taught him the mythic origins of the rain-bringing supernaturals called Katsinas. They were spirits of the ancestors who lived in the clouds and mediated between human and cosmic worlds. They brought rain, health, and all good things, and were impersonated by initiated members only. Behind their masks and regalia, the boy learned, were his own relatives and neighbors. The injunction to keep this secret was driven home by whippings with yucca staves. Katsina rituals also taught Day Break songs and prayers and life lessons that were reinforced by seasonal ceremonies and stories told over long winter nights.

His third ritual experience was less predictable. When Day Break was around ten, a bucking horse knocked him unconscious; he seemed dead to the world. The family prepared him for burial in the campo santo, the old low-walled cemetery that lies in front of San Estevan. When rays of sunlight woke him up, the lad’s near-death experience signaled his candidacy for a medicine men’s society, with its tough training and ritual duties.

Day Break’s life might have unfolded in this traditional vein but for the arrival in late 1880 of a Presbyterian missionary who persuaded a number of parents, his included, to release their children to a new Indian boarding school in Albuquerque. There the boy’s hair was cut, his body clad in a Civil War–style uniform, and he began a regimen of dormitory life, marching drills, and language and math classes. He helped to construct the school’s new building, maintained its vegetable garden, sang in the choir, prayed before meals, attended Sunday services, and was forbidden to speak his language. One day the school received a box of donated clothes. In the pocket of a coat received by Day Break was a Bible with a note that allowed the finder to take its owner’s name: Edward Proctor Hunt.

But three years later, Catholic authorities, jealous of Presbyterian claims to their flock, pressured his parents to withdraw him. Edward rode a flatcar home on the new Santa Fe railway. With other boarding school returnees, he was taken into a kiva and horsewhipped for speaking English, having short hair, wearing leather shoes, and following white ways.

Then Edward found himself bound for a second institution, St. Catherine’s Indian Industrial School in Santa Fe, which had just been founded by Catholic missionary (later to become America’s second saint) and Philadelphia heiress Katharine Drexel. Here Edward used skills learned at Albuquerque to help build its original classrooms and dorms as well. But his stay lasted less than a year. His stepfather’s death in August 1887 returned the young man home to Acoma and a final initiation. As eldest son and pursuant to the old man’s dying wish, Edward was indoctrinated into the Koshares, Acoma’s brotherhood of sacred clowns. It was during this lengthy training that he learned a major portion of the origin myth he retells in these pages.

When Edward fell in love with Marie Valle, a daughter of one of Acoma’s most prominent families, her father took objection. This may have been because both she and Edward belonged to Acoma’s Sun clan, which made them almost siblings. Or perhaps it was because she was pregnant, although normally that was not a problem where large families absorbed most newborns. Or possibly it was because their families were so socially distant; his stepfather was a poor medicine man often dependent on the charity of clients. Nor was Edward’s standing helped by his growing reluctance, as a closeted convert to Christianity, to participate in the more esoteric aspects of the pueblo’s ritual life.

After a shotgun ceremony at nearby San Rafael, Marie’s father dropped off the newlyweds near the eastern edge of the Malpais, a forbidding 114,000-acre volcanic wilderness that sprawls between the Acoma and Zuni Pueblo territories. They set up camp in a crudely roofed rock shelter, and for three years here they raised the first three sons of their eventual twelve children.

But banishment from one tribe was followed by his rescue by another. In 1885, Marie Hunt’s older sister, Juana, married into a mercantile family of five German Jewish brothers. Hailing from Prussia, the Bibos had immigrated one by one to western New Mexico. This union gained Solomon Bibo, Juana’s husband, access to her influential Acoma family and the village’s leading Antelope clan. It also brought Edward Hunt an unusual brother-in-law. Fluent in Acoma, Zuni, Navajo, Spanish, German, Yiddish, and English, “Don Solomon” Bibo became an effective trader and networker with the outside world.

Exploiting his connections with the Valle family, Solomon’s fortunes rose. Before long, through shady maneuverings, he even became the tribe’s largest landowner. For three terms he even served as its governor, hence his popular characterization as the first “Jewish Indian chief.” Although Solomon’s involvement in Acoma political life was not without controversy, his loyalty to his new family brought young Edward under his wing. At the Bibo trading post in the nearby Hispanic village of Cubero, Edward swept floors; inventoried goods; learned to restock at supply warehouses in Albuquerque; became conversant in English, Spanish, Navajo, and a bit of German; and was inspired to become a shopkeeper and entrepreneur on his own.

When Solomon and Juana left New Mexico for San Francisco around 1898, Edward Hunt stepped into the commercial vacuum. At his Acomita general store, he provided information for a stream of writers, anthropologists, and photographers. Edward S. Curtis, Charles F. Lummis, Elsie Clews Parsons, Leslie A. White, and others owed much of their information and images to him. Wrote famous photographer Edward S. Curtis in 1923, when acknowledging Hunt’s help, “Excepting Zuni and Hopi, he is the only Pueblo informant with whom it was not necessary to work in seclusion and under a pledge of secrecy.”

Hunt’s role as an outspoken culture broker and successful businessman, his reputation as a “progressive” Indian, and his unwillingness to let his boys join Acoma’s kiva groups clashed with the tribe’s conservative elders. Tensions peaked in 1918; the Hunts agreed to move away. As if unwilling to make a clean break with native life, however, they were formally adopted into Santa Ana Pueblo, a Keresan-speaking pueblo closer to the Rio Grande River. But Edward’s independent spirit and Christian leanings caused friction there as well. In 1924, the Hunt family packed up and moved into an Albuquerque suburb.

By now his enterprising son Henry “Wolf Robe” Hunt had contacted the Oklahoma-based Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Circus. The last of the great Wild West Shows to tour Europe, the Millers were subcontracted by the Sarrasani Circus, based in Dresden, Germany, to supply Indians for their 1926–28 “Festival of All Nations” tour. Dressing up as a Plains tribesman and redubbed “Chief Big Snake” by the Millers, Edward along with his sons Wilbert and Henry, performed war dances and chased stagecoaches around arenas in Germany, Belgium, France, and Italy.

This time abroad may have freed Edward to gather his memories and compile Acoma’s creation story as his independent mind saw fit. Perhaps telling this narrative was also a way for the Hunts to recenter themselves once they returned home. Whatever their motivations, six months or so after returning to America the family showed up in Washington, DC. In late August 1928, Edward began narrating the myth, first to visiting British anthropologist C. Daryll Forde, then with the brand-new “chief” of the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of American Ethnology, Matthew W. Stirling.

For this task he was uniquely qualified. As a medicine man’s son, an initiate into the Katsina Society, a candidate for becoming a healer himself, a member of the hunter’s society (for killing a bear), and an initiated sacred clown, Edward’s exposure to Acoma’s esoteric lore was broader than most.

In Washington, Edward shared what he knew of his people’s world, the tribe’s ancestral locations, the creation of its characteristic animals and plants, and other features of western New Mexico’s cultural ecology. His exposure to Catholic and Protestant texts added echoes from Christian cosmology—people made “in the image” of God, creation by “the word,” temptation by an evil serpent, committing “a sin,” and a universal flood. Not trained to identify or analyze all that they were hearing, Forde and Stirling found themselves also recording a medley of Acoma genres—sacred creation stories; magical songs, prayers, and side plots; and stories of primordial migrations, legendary wanderings, and the tribe’s ultimate arrival at its current location as a distinctive ethnic group.

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