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“The Beautiful and the Dangerous”

by Barbara Tedlock

This is an excerpt from anthropologist Barbara Tedlock’s book The Beautiful and the Dangerous. Joe, a Zuni man, is talking about Frank Cushing, the first anthropologist to visit Zuni.

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Tapping the image of the scalp pole, Joe said, “Did you know that way back in the 1880s, when that Whiteman called Kuushi (Frank Cushing) got initiated as a Bow Priest, he went out across Oak Wash to a Navajo hogan and took a scalp?”

Visit to Kiva for Katsina Dance, Zuni Pueblo, ca. 1897“Visit to Kiva for Katsina Dance, Zuni Pueblo, ca. 1897,” Ben Wittick (Photographer)

“What? No. We've heard lots of stories about Kuushi, how he spoke good Zuni, was adopted into the tribe and given a name. But we've never heard about him scalping a Navajo. Are you sure about that, Joe?” asked Dennis (Tedlock, the author's husband), incredulously.

“Do you know any other details about how Kuushi got that Navajo scalp?” I inquired.

“No, I've never heard anything about that, but I do know he had to have the scalp for his initiation.”

“A while back, Old Man told me how on initiation day Kuushi got himself all painted up just like the others, with black stripes on his white body, and while the others said their prayers from their hearts, he read his from a piece of paper. Even though he was a Whiteman and all, and could hardly remember anything without his paper, he learned a lot and was second in command among the Bow Priests, until the first one died, and then he was first. When he served as Bow Priest he led lots of raids against Apache and Navajo sheep rustlers. But then he went and made the Scalp Dance known back east, and all the secret things that go with the War Gods.

“Some people even say he stole War Gods and sold them to museums. I've heard that one of them is in Germany! That's kind of scary to think about, you know—some guys say that Germany's where World War III will get started. So our War Gods, without us even knowing, knowing in time how to stop it, might have a role in that one.

“Because Kuushi publicized the Bow Priesthood, and those War God carvings, people came out to the village and stole them from the shrines. They're all over the place and it's pretty dangerous now, because those white people who keep War Gods don't know the right prayers and all. They don't understand how to treat them, you know, how to talk with them, what to feed them and all. It's sure to cause serious trouble in the future.”