The Healing of Natalie Curtis
by Jane Kirkpatrick
The Healing of Natalie Curtis is historical fiction based on a period in the life of Natalie Curtis, a classically trained singer and pianist during a time when women in music had few lifetime choices—remain single achieving success as a performer or marry and teach. After suffering psychological trauma which also affected her physically, her brother George, who had been cowboying in the Southwest, invited her to accompany him because living there had done wonders for his health.
Natalie embarked on a developing, many year journey to record the music and dances of many American Indian tribes. She was afraid their voices would be forever lost as the U.S. government had imposed a Code of Offenses forbidding native singing, dancing, and other customs in its desire to assimilate the “savages” into a white culture. If they broke the Code, their food rations were cut and penitentiary was a possibility. Horrified by the treatment of the Indians, she set about to respectfully learn their stories and compile them along with their music in a book. To do this meant she had to gain legal access which she obtained by letters petitioning President Theodore Roosevelt and finally getting personal appointments with him.
Political change was slow and Natalie had roadblocks along the way. Her family wanted her at home, and she needed benefactors to fund her project. She made many friends, both Anglo and Indian along the way. She and her brother spent many nights camping, and she had to learn to ride horses western style. Her wardrobe changed from that of a proper lady in the early 1900’s to outrageous split skirts for riding and plain dresses adorned with native jewelry.
Initially I was puzzled by Natalie’s illness and her abrupt abandonment of the music world for five years, but the causes were revealed as the story progressed. This book is as much about Natalie’s struggle to change attitudes toward the Indians and consequently treatment of them as about the music itself. She threw herself into this project with the same enthusiasm and drive that she had exerted in developing her music career. The book is very factually based except for conversations which had to be imagined but were based on the context of her known travels and meetings. By the time I finished reading The Healing of Natalie Curtis, I had ordered a copy of the book Natalie put together from her research, The Indians’ Book, which was a major resource for author Jane Kirkpatrick. My desire was to see the finished product of almost 600 pages. Wanting to make it clear that the book truly belonged to the Indians, she called herself the editor rather than the author.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Historical Fiction
Notes: 1. In keeping with the times, Natalie Curtis, Jane Kirkpatrick, and I have used the designation “Indians” for the indigenous people living in the U.S. The various tribes all had names for themselves in their own languages which often translated as “The People.”
2. The end of the book contains: Suggested Additional Reading, Book Group Questions, and Author’s Notes that address cultural issues and the factual basis for the book.
Publication: September 7, 2021—Revell (Baker Publishing)
This dismissiveness had happened before, mostly with professional men who saw any independent unmarried woman as lacking brains and capable of nothing more than sitting at Daddy’s table and taking nourishment from others.
“What I don’t understand,” Natalie said, “is how the Hopi are punished for practicing their religious customs, and those same songs and dances are advertised to bring people to see them. Burton approves because the railroad wants the business?”
This was what she was called to do, to save these songs and more, to give these good people hope that their way of life would not be lost to distant winds.
THE INDIANS’ BOOK: