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Song Catcher: Life Story
The Densmore-Hofmann Letters
Part 2: Indian Character

FOLLOWING ARE EXCERPTS from Frances Densmore's fourteen-year correspondence with aspiring ethnomusicologist Charles Hofmann. The letters are from Hofmann's personal collection. They offer a rare, candid glimpse at some of Densmore's opinions. She had no opportunity to sanitize them for the historical record.

Excerpts are in two groups:
Working with Indians and Indian Character (this document).
December 6, 1942:
I like the younger generation, just as I like the old Indians, and I am delighted that they are getting recognition in the Army as well as elsewhere, but I do know, from experience, that they and their fathers and grandparents have had a lot of first-class education at Government expense and that many teachers in Government schools have been conscientious, interested workers in a very hard field.

The mission schools have also done very fine educational work, and I do not think this educational work is appreciated in the present size-up of the Indians. Their upstanding character, etc. is too much credited to the "Indian blood" which ranges from large to very, very small. I would not want to be quoted nor get into an argument, but I know how hard I have had to hunt for reservations with a satisfactory percentage of full-blood adults - the Papago was about the best in that respect.

I have always felt they ought to be merged in the population of the U.S., as Americans. For example - I have had a French Huguenot ancestor and probably inherit some of her traits, but I do not claim to be French on that account. I am mostly English - strongly - with some Scotch - a little Irish, but consider myself an American. That is not the present policy, which is to segregate the race, which I do not think is safe. There are pretty strong qualities in "Indian blood" that might get loose if excited. It is better not to get into any argument, and I have always kept strictly to music, but I have opinions.

June 16, 1943:
One objection I have to the latter is that too much is being made of what is often a small degree of Indian heritage. These young men have been educated by our Government, expensively, and they have a good mentality from their ancestors. They have not had to worry all through their younger years as the taxpayer has, so they have grown up with the advantages of our system of Government, plus the balance of Indian nature.

Many children of the white race would be much healthier and more philosophical if the parents had had no anxiety about their education or welfare, and if all expenses had been paid from the hour they were born. Imagine - Indian children who have had all medical and dental care, all their clothes, all their education, and (probably) a good amount of land and, in the old days, full equipment for farming!

It has been a carefree life and their wants were few, until their "standard of living" was raised. They have had the benefit of a paternalism beyond the wildest dreams of the white man. They could select the school they wanted to attend, and if they fancied going to a school in California, or some other distant place, all expenses were paid in transit and they were escorted by government officials. If Arizona would be a benefit to their health, they were sent to the Phoenix School and their health closely watched by physicians. They did not want (in many, many cases) to become citizens because they would then have to pay taxes and assume responsibilities. There is too much tendency now to "play them up" as a super-race, and appeal to the sympathy of the white race - with all sorts of complaints against the poor taxpayers who have "brought them up," though I think that such complaints are largely fomented by politics. This is a "pet peeve" of mine - having lived "amongst" them so much.

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