Dancing in the Streets–the Powwow

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Dancing in the Streets–the Powwow

I’ve written two books for the History Press that delve into Flagstaff’s past (Flagstaff’s Walkup Family Murders and Haunted Flagstaff) and I’ve been careful to emphasize in both that I’m writing the Anglicized version of the town’s beginnings. Like most of the Southwest–indeed, all of the United States–this area is rich in Native American culture. I’m not the person to write on the various tribes that inhabited this land in the centuries before the train steamed through. I did try to weave in stories of how the cultures intersected, especially during the early 1900s. As I read past issues of the Coconino Sun and found personal historical accounts at the public library, I was struck by how important Native culture was to 1900s Flagstaff.

Perhaps the most memorable annual event that animated the town’s streets was the Southwestern All-Indian Pow Wow. Staged over the Fourth of July weekend, the Powwow was a reliable summer extravaganza for 50-odd years before ending in 1980. (Note: I’ve seen “Powwow” written several different ways, the other popular version being “Pow Wow.”) Some sources say that Powwow evolved as a means of preserving Native American culture, especially dance. And while dancing was a huge part of the festivities, it was only a part. There was also rodeo, wild cow-milking, beauty contests, horse racing, and more that filled the weekend. Old-timers have said that even the arrival of the various tribes–the Apaches on horseback, the Navajos in wagons–was an event unto itself.

Just reading the various pamphlets and articles describing all that was offered fired my imagination–I wish I could’ve been there, even once. N.A.U.’s Cline Library’s Special Collections has boxes of correspondence and photographs on the Powwow, mostly from the 1940s and 50s. The librarians there and downtown are always happy to share what they’ve compiled on Flagstaff’s storied past, so go on over and ask.