Cushing, Frank Hamilton
Frank Hamilton Cushing (1857-1900)
By Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing
Born July 22, 1857 at North East, Erie County, Pennsylvania to Dr. Thomas and Sarah Harding Chittenden Cushing, Frank Hamilton Cushing weighed only one and a half pounds at birth. Later in life, due to his fragile health, his father allowed young Cushing to roam the countryside at his leisure to slowly build his strength and stamina. The state of Cushing's health plagued him his entire life.
According to his own account, he began collecting relics, fossils and minerals at the age of eight in and around his family home. In 1870 when he was 13, his father moved the family to Medina, New York. Here he continued his fascination with and search for artifacts from America's first inhabitants. In 1874 he submitted a paper to the Smithsonian Institution on the antiquities of Orleans County, New York. Impressed by the work of this seventeen year old, they published it.
The following year while purportedly attending Cornell University, Cushing spent most of his time assisting Dr. Charles Rau in preparing the Indian collections of the Smithsonian Museum for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, rather than attending classes.
It was clear to Cushing and his professors that a four-year program at Cornell was not suitable to his temperament. After the exposition he was hired by the Smithsonian as a curator in the Bureau of American Ethnology, a position he held for two years. He lived and worked at the Smithsonian in two rooms near the top of the south tower. Thus, at the age of 20 he began his long association with the Washington bureaucracy and the relatively new study of ethnology.
1879 was a watershed year for Cushing. Major John Wesley Powell, head of the newly established Bureau, planned an expedition to the Southwest to gather ethnographic information on the Zunis and Hopis. Powell sent Colonel James Stevenson, a botanist, ethnologist, and explorer, along with his wife, Matilda Coxe Stevenson, the photographer John Hillers, and Cushing as ethnologist, to survey the area. Shortly before Cushing left for the planned few months of field work, he became engaged to Emily Tennison Magill of Washington, DC.
The party de-trained at the end of the line in Las Vegas, New Mexico and proceeded to make its way on horse and mule to Zuni. Stevenson's group crossed the Pecos River at San Miguel, stopped in Santa Fe, and then headed to Ft. Wingate, east of Gallup. Here Stevenson acquired a military escort for the final 30 mile leg of the journey.
As luck would have it, Cushing was the first of the party to enter Zuni lands, where he encountered a Zuni sheep herder. With an "intuitive grasp of meanings conveyed symbolically" Cushing was able to put at ease the Zuni man and assured himself that he could "communicate" with his subjects. Thus, began his residence in Zuni lasting not the months first planned but four and a half years, from September 1879 to April 1884.
The Stevenson party set up tents in the corral of the mission and school situated north of the pueblo. Col. Stevenson went to work in the house of the governor and Cushing to measuring, sketching, and taking notes on Zuni ceremonies. From the Zuni standpoint, the notebook and sketch pad were intrusive, if not downright dangerous. 110 years later Zuni artist Phil Hughte would satirize and lampoon Cushing’s work at Zuni in A Zuni Artist Looks at Frank Hamilton Cushing.
"Insatiable curiosity, keen insight, independence of spirit, and some lack of responsibility marked Cushing at the age of twenty-two as it would in later years." These characterizations frame nearly all Cushing's actions as an adherent to the participant-observer method of ethnographic field investigations. Feeling threatened by some Zunis, he decided to add some legitimacy to his studies by moving in with Zuni Governor Pa-lo-wah-ti-wa. It was at this point that his transformation to Zuni life began in earnest. The governor dressed him in Zuni clothes, and destroyed his own. As the field season progressed the Stevenson party moved on to Hopi, leaving Cushing alone in Zuni and with very few supplies. He resorted to trading in turquoise and shell to obtain what he needed.
His curiosity and unflappable pushiness caused great consternation among the Zunis and put his own life in some peril. In 1880, his second year with the Zunis, he was both tried and acquitted of witchcraft and adopted by the tribe. His adoption still rankles some Zunis to this day. Although his tribal name, "Tenatsali," meant Medicine Flower, possibly referring to his administering medicines to sick Zunis, his popular name was "Cushy." His admittance to the secret order of the A-pi-thian-shi-wa-ni, or Priests of the Bow, meant that he could attend all other gatherings without harassment. In terms of clan connections, Cushing considered himself connected to the Parrot clan through Governor Patricio Pino, to the Eagle clan through his adopted father, Lai-iu-ah-tsai-lun-kia, and to the Sun clan through the Bow Priests. Whether he was ever admitted as a full Bow Priest has been disputed.
With his new status Cushing played an increasingly predominant role in the community. In councils he was known to have expressed feelings of superiority and acted a bit officious and domineering. By 1881 he was named First War Chief. Apparently, to attain such an honor he was required to obtain a scalp. In his letters to Washington Cushing expressed dismay at this prerequisite. As it turned out he never took a scalp, but was sent one from the collection of the physician Dr. Harry Crecy Yarrow.
In 1882 he escorted six Zunis to the East: Nai-iu-tchi, senior priest of the Order of the Bow, Ki-a-si, junior priest, Governor Pa-lo-wah-ti-wa, Lai-iu-ai-tsai-lu or Pedro Pino, Lai-iu-ah-tsai-lun-k'ia, another priest, and Na-na-he, an adopted Hopi. His purpose was multi-faceted.
Tribal members were pushing him to marry a Zuni, something he had no intention of doing. Instead, he married his fiancée, Emily, in June 1883. He also was working diligently to expand and protect Zuni lands from both Anglo and Navajo encroachment. "Cushing was probably the first anthropologist to grasp the Zunis' sense of the land." Cushing became something of a secretary of state and of defense, as well as a public information officer for the Zunis. With the Indian Wars nearly at an end, the Eastern intellectual establishment became interested in mapping and studying the unknown West. Cushing in his rather bizarre and outlandish costume with Zunis in tow, played to these interests and created quite a sensation, especially with the 1882 publication of his "My Adventures in Zuni."
He returned to Zuni with his new wife and her sister, Margaret Magill, the future wife of archaeologist Frederick W. Hodge. Emily disliked living in and among the Zuni, so Cushing began construction on a large adobe house on the southern side of the Zuni River.
His last several months in Zuni were full of turmoil. During his efforts to protect Zuni lands, he ran afoul of the military at Ft. Wingate. The post wished to lay claim to part of the Zuni Mountains, a sacred Zuni landmark, Pescado Springs and Nutria. U.S. Senator John A. Logan supported his Army son-in-law Tucker in those efforts. This claim was disputed by Cushing, thus gaining the ire of Logan, who had Cushing removed from Zuni. He had already gotten on the wrong side of the Stevensons, especially Matilda, who was undermining his credibility with the Zunis. She told the Zunis that Cushing was not affiliated with the government. After his removal from Zuni, Matilda Coxe Stevenson became the replacement ethnologist.
Another element in his return to Washington in April 1884 was his health. Never a robust person, he suffered from many debilitating stomach problems and respiratory ailments. Even his brother, Dr. Enos Cushing, came to Zuni to give him medical treatment. Despite these setbacks, Cushing was not ready to leave. He tried to get appointed as postmaster at Zuni and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army at Ft. Wingate. Neither effort materialized.
Back in Washington, as his health fluctuated between good periods and bad, he continued efforts to return to Zuni. While visiting the wealthy Bostonian, Mary Hemenway, he was able to convince her to fund an expedition to the Salt River Valley near Phoenix, Arizona. In the summer of 1887 he returned to the field with his wife and sister-in-law Margaret. The Hemenway expedition, headed by Cushing, included Herman ten Kate, its physical anthropologist, Adolph Bandelier as its historian, Charles A. Garlick, as field manager, Professor Almon H. Thompson (Major Powell's brother-in-law), the geographer and business manager, and Frederick W. Hodge (his future brother-in-law) was assigned as Cushing's secretary. The purpose of the expedition was to trace the migration track of the Zunis, using their myths and location of ruins. During this fieldwork the important site known as Los Muertos near Tempe, Arizona was discovered. However, before his work could be completed he fell ill and returned to Washington. Mrs. Hemenway then hired archaeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes to continue the work. Never again did Cushing see Zuni.
After he recovered some of his health, he continued work on other archaeological explorations in the Florida Keys, his museum duties, lectures, and writings. He wrote "preliminary" reports on copper-working, the evolution of the arrow, Pueblo pottery, and creation myths. He was criticized for his scientific methodology, which sometimes blurred the line between what Native Americans said and what he wanted them to say.
On April 4, 1900 while dining at home he choked on a fishbone, suffered convulsions, and died a few days later in Washington, DC, just three months shy of his 43rd birthday. His sojourn in Zuni "contributed significantly to the shaping and informing both of Southwest studies and of modern anthropology as a discipline." He originated the modern use of the term "culture" to describe a group of people, along with the concept of cultural patterns. His methodology of participant-observer was new to the field and subject to a blurring of lines between observer and the observed.
Whether he was a "wannabe" or an adherent to full immersion cannot fully be determined or separated from his qualities of "sympathy and adaptability to the ways of others." In the last few decades Cushing has garnered some mention “as one of the founding fathers of modern anthropology." What the lasting legacy of Cushing's presence is for the Zuni people ranges from gratitude for the protection of Zuni lands, anger at his intrusion and betrayal of trust, to humor in his attempts to assimilate. What Cushing felt, however, is clear when he said "I have a feeling of love and admiration for the Zuñis."
Brandes, Raymond Stewart. "Frank Hamilton Cushing: Pioneer Americanist," PhD diss., University of Arizona, 1965.
Cushing, James S. The Genealogy of the Cushing Family, An Account of the Ancestors and Descendants of Matthew Cushing, Who Came to America in 1638. Montreal: The Perrault Printing Co., 1905.
Green, Jesse, ed. Cushing at Zuni, The Correspondence and Journals of Frank Hamilton Cushing, 1879-1884. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990.
________. Zuñi: Selected Writings of Frank Hamilton Cushing. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1979.
Hughte, Phil. A Zuni Artist Looks At Frank Hamilton Cushing. Zuni, NM: Pueblo of Zuni Arts & Crafts and A:shiwi A:wan Musem and Heritage Center, 1994.
Ladd, Edmund J. "Cushing Among the Zuñi-A Zuñi Perspective." In Gilcrease Journal (1994) 2:2, 20-35.
McFeely, Eliza. Zuni and the Americn Imagination. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001.
Swan, Daniel C. "In the Shadow of Cushing." In Gilcrease Journal (1994) 2:2, 10-19.
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