Quincy Tahoma Rides the Railroad

Post by Vera Marie

I have been reading a fascinating book about the life and business of Fred Harvey, who helped the Santa Fe railroad draw tourists to the western United States in the early twentieth century, and played a role in creating a market for American Indian art.  I plan to write a little more about that later, but first I thought I would ponder the effect of train travel on Tahoma’s life.

During our research for Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist, the first indication that we got of how important train travel was in the early years of Tahoma’s life, came in those valuable school records that the archivist at the National Archives office in Denver sent to us.

Railroad Station at Flagstaff today

Railroad Station at Flagstaff today

There on the printed form for students, along with details like mother and father, birthdate, previous school attended, etc., we saw a line to fill in the “Nearest railroad station”.  Now that’s a detail you will not find on school forms nowadays! Not only that, but Tahoma, who lived in northern Arizona near Tuba City, had to travel slightly more than 77 miles from his home to his “nearest” railroad station in Flagstaff, Arizona–a journey of an hour and a half by car. However, his family did not have a car–they traveled by wagon. So getting TO the railroad station took almost as long as getting from there to Albuquerque on the train.

Lamy Station today

Lamy Station today

The next interesting thing we learned was that there was no railroad station in Santa Fe. Instead, the train stopped at the tiny community of Lamy, New Mexico. So when Tahoma was switched to the Santa Fe Indian School, he traveled 15 miles by bus from Lamy to get in to Santa Fe.

Yet, for the Navajos and pueblo Indians living in the remote stretches of northern Arizona and New Mexico, rail travel certainly was faster, more convenient, and easier (if more expensive) than traveling by horse and buggy.

We know that the Navajo artist traveled to Flagstaff from Santa Fe for a July 4 PowWow in the 1940’s, and he probably made that trip more than once.  He also could have used the train to get to Gallup for the All-Indian Ceremonial. We also know that he took the train home to see his adoptive family, the Saganitso’s at least one time, and they drove into Flagstaff from Tuba City in their horse-drawn wagon to pick him up.

Santa Fe locomotive

Santa Fe railroad locomotive

The trains were drawn by steam engines and had tablecloth-service in the dining cars, provided by Fred Harvey.  Harvey’s empire also included restaurants along the way like the one at the beautiful La Posada hotel in Winslow, opened in 1929,(Corrected date)  and recently restored. Tahoma, who was perennially broke, may never have had the opportunity to eat at one of the Fred Harvey establishments, but it is interesting to consider him riding the train from Santa Fe and Albuquerque, through Gallup.

La Posada Hotel in Winslow

La Posada Hotel in Winslow, photo by Vera Marie

I can picture him gazing out at the stark beauty of the painted desert near Winslow as the train chugged to Flagstaff.

Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Or gazing up at the Navajo’s sacred mountains of the West–the San Francisco peaks.

San Francisco peaks, Flagstaff

San Francisco peaks, Flagstaff

Train travel is not what it used to be. Have you traveled in the west on trains? What is the most memorable image in your mind from that trip?

Photos of the Flagstaff railroad station and La Posada Hotel are by Vera Marie, the others are from Flickr, used by Creative Commons License. Please click on those photos to learn more about the photographers and see more of their work.

This entry was posted in Santa Fe Life in Tahoma's Time, Tahoma's Personal Life and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Quincy Tahoma Rides the Railroad

  1. Roxanne says:

    I’ve only traveled by train once (a surprise for my 30th b-day). I really enjoyed it. At one point, the conductor had to pull off on some side tracks to let another train go by, and there were like 50 bald eagles hanging out in the trees along the Colorado River.It was VERY cool.

  2. Living Large says:

    Although my father was a very dedicated railroad man, I haven’t been on a train since I was 18 months old when we traveled from Kansas City to California. I love trains and the history, especially that of the Santa Fe for which my dad worked.

  3. Donna Hull says:

    As a child, I rode the train from Atlanta to Washington D.C. It was a treat for all the safety patrol members. Not quite the same scenery as a western ride would give, although I doubt I was paying any attention. Riding the Rocky Mountain Express is high on my list.

  4. shery says:

    Trains have always had a special pull for me. Taking the train ride from my home into NYC (a one-hour ride) is not as special as taking the train while visiting Alaska…but I still always like the ride, nonetheless.

  5. Casey says:

    I still think the idea of train travel is so romantic – maybe not here in the East, where a trip from NY to PA is a little humdrum, but I’d love to see the sights out west from a train window.

  6. Jane Boursaw says:

    It’s so interesting to think of a time in our country’s history when train was the main form of travel to get from one part of the country to another. I’ve never traveled by train, but it’s a dream of hubby’s and mine to take a train trip some day.

  7. Alexandra says:

    Interesting post! I’m not a big fan of train travel, but my dad sure was. He loved trains, used to take them to go great distances as a child in Russia, to get to the summer home. When he came to the USA in 1924, the first thing he did was cross the country on a train. Don’t think he visited the Southwest though, but he did spend time in CA.

    Speaking of scenic routes, there used to be a train that covered all of Cape Cod. You can still see remnants of the route in Truro, for instance, where the track followed the bay and must have offered spectacular views. Now we have no train. Only traffic jams in summer from all the cars.

  8. Kristen says:

    As a teen I traveled from Denver to Salt Lake City via train with a friend. It was such a relaxing way to go–you had time to take in the scenery, which was dramatic as we chugged through the Rockies. I’d forgotten all about that until I read your post just now. Thanks for bringing back some great memories.

  9. Pingback: Fred Harvey and American Indian Art Part II | Quincy Tahoma Blog

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