In the Spotlight

News & Features
Song Catcher: Life Story

1 Densmore, I Heard an Indian Drum, an undated five-page autobiographical manuscript, Frances Densmore Papers, National Anthropological Archives. Subsequent references to this collection will be abbreviated NAA.

2 Frances Densmore to family, September or October 1884, Frances Densmore Papers, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, OH.

3 There is scant evidence about how Densmore felt at essentially giving up a conventional career in music for the study of Indians. In a letter to her protege Charles Hofmann, she hinted that a "breakdown" in her health in 1901 forced her to give up her own music and focus on Indians. FD to CH, 21 April, 1945, Charles Hofmann collection.

4 On the Colombian Exposition, "I heard an Indian Drum;" Densmore's lectures were advertised by at least one speaker's bureau and were accompanied by a printed program featuring Densmore's portrait in a plumed hat. She always lectured under the title, "The Music of the American Indians." In 1903, an Episcopal missionary in northern Minnesota gave Densmore an Ojibwe ceremonial drum and a set of four birchbark rattles. She used them in lectures to sing the Omaha and other Indian songs she culled from books. On her lectures and musical instruments see "Chronology of the Study of Indian Music," a typed transcript of her diary from 1893 to 1944, NAA.

5 Autobiographical essays on Densmore's early work can be found in Frances Densmore and American Indian Music, A Memorial Volume, (New York: Heye Foundation, 1968) edited by Charles Hofmann.

6 "Three Indian Types," Indian School Journal, October 1906, NAA.

7 Chronology of the Study of Indian Music and Frances Densmore and American Indian Music, 24-29. Densmore wrote later that she always paid Indians for their performances, though usually just 25 cents. The equivalent in 1996 dollars of the $8 she paid in 1905 is about $130, nearly as much as she paid for 17 days of lodging.

8 .Densmore wrote a number of pieces about the expedition, including First Field Trip Among the Chippewa, NAA; and Prelude to Study of Indian Music in Minnesota, Minnesota Archeologist, April 1945, 27-13.

9 Densmore W.H. Holmes, 30 March 1903; W.H. Holmes to Densmore, 2 April 1903, Bureau of American Ethnology correspondence, NAA.

10 In a telegram, Holmes promised $150 to support Densmore's work. In a letter that followed on 10 September 1907, he authorized up to $350 "for the purpose of studying Indian music with especial reference to collecting Indian songs on photographic cylinders (BAE correspondence, NAA). Holmes may initially have assumed that his amateur colleague in Red Wing would act primarily as a field recordist. The ambitious Densmore was soon to prove herself intent on becoming a full-fledged ethnologist.

11 Text of Lecture on Indian Music given by Frances Densmore for High School, Minot, ND, 23 April 1935, Frances Densmore papers, Library of Congress Archive of Folk Music, Box 19. See also "Method of Work and of Analysis," in Densmore's Teton Sioux Music and Culture, (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1918) 5-21.

12 Lecture on the Sioux Sun Dance for the Anthropological Society of Washington, April 1913, Densmore papers, NAA.

13 Teton Sioux Music and Culture, 94.

14 FD to Carl Engel, 3 March 1925, Densmore unsorted papers, Archive of Folk Song, LOC.

15 FD to Hofmann, 15 April 1945.

16 Lecture on the Music of the American Indian, Art Institute of Chicago, 21 February 1899, NAA.

17 BAE memo, Fewkes to Secretary, 26 March 1925, BAE correspondence, NAA. In the 1950s, the BAE changed Densmore's title to "Honorary Research Associate," a move that greatly disturbed her. See Stirling to Frances Densmore, 4 January 1957 and Fields to Densmore, 6 February 1957, LOC box #9; Mary Biederman wrote to the Smithsonian about Densmore's 50th anniversary, see papers relating to Densmore in the Goodhue County Historical Society, Red Wing, MN.

18 Draft to the Executor of My Estate, 29 November 1956, probate court records, Goodhue County, MN.

1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10
Song Catcher