By Linda Kor
The City of Winslow will be welcoming some old friends back to the city as members of the Famous Santa Fe Indian Band will be gathering for their first ever reunion on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16 and 17. Band members will be honored at a reception scheduled from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 at the Grand Ballroom of La Posada. A proclamation by the Winslow City Council declaring Nov. 16 and 17 Winslow Santa Fe Indian Band Day will be presented.
The following day, the band members will take part in the Winslow Christmas Parade, with a tribute band playing some of the historic marching band’s music as they follow the float for the parade route.
According to the Santa Fe Railway Historical & Modeling Society, the Famous Santa Fe Indian Band was formed in 1923 during a Santa Fe Railway employee party in Winslow. Four shop employees joined in an impromptu band session, with three of them playing instruments and one directing. Following that performance, the group was asked to organize a shop band intended to provide recreational activity for Santa Fe employees. The band slowly grew and by 1926, the band had evolved into an all-Indian band.
Many of the band members started out with little musical ability, but were taught by the band’s director. The first public appearances were at Sunday baseball games and occasional political rallies. In September 1928, the band performed its first noteworthy commercial job, playing at the Return of the Conquistadores Pageant in Santa Fe, N.M. Locally, the band performed regular summer concerts and exhibition events for the Santa Fe Railway. As the band’s reputation grew, they began performing at county fairs in Arizona and New Mexico, and at the 1930 Inter-Tribal Ceremonial in Gallup. At all of their performances they represented the Santa Fe Railway.
In the years that followed, some of the band’s more notable performances included La Fiesta de Los Angeles in 1931, a week at the 1932 Arizona State Fair in Phoenix, the San Diego Exposition in 1935 and the dedication of the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal in Los Angeles in 1939. The band continued to grow in popularity and made as many as 50 public appearances a year. In 1953, the Indian Band represented Arizona in the first Eisenhower inaugural parade at Washington, D.C.
Seven Indian tribes were represented in the band, including the Hopi, Laguna, Navajo, Isleta, San Domingo, Jemez and Zuni. Over the years there were a few exceptions to the “all Indian” rule, but very few. Females were allowed, but the majority of the members were male. Members were required to be employees of the railroad or their dependents. At one time the band’s youngest member was a 13-year-old boy. The band usually consisted of 28 to 35 musicians.
The band’s official uniform was a native Indian costume consisting of bright-colored velvet shirts, white trousers, moccasins, colored scarf headbands and Indian jewelry, including silver concho belts, turquoise and squash blossom bead necklaces.
The band was officially disbanded in 1963 after 40 years due to attrition and the lack of qualified replacements. Several of the members had spent more than 35 years with the band.
By Linda Kor