“When was the last time you sang? When was the last time you danced? When was the last time you told your story?” These were the questions a Native American asked Natalie Curtis as she began to engage with the tribes of the West (in this novel). How would you answer these questions? If you take a minute to answer, then you may learn something from this story of Natalie Curtis, who after a few years could answer those questions quickly with positive answers.
In 1900, her brother George took her away from her New York home, where she had secluded herself for five years, to the West. The unknown land and the Native Americans she met there helped her find her purpose in life. After a very public meltdown, before performing her debut with the New York Philharmonic Symphony as an emerging concert pianist, her future had become unknown. At the turn of the century, young women were told to meet the right man and become a good wife. Natalie wanted instead to be independent and support herself.
She had been in a very foggy dark place for too long and the trip to the West allowed her to hear the songs of the Native Americans. They stirred her heart and soul. She found a new purpose for all the schooling and practice she had done in her youth–she became an ethnomusicologist. With the support of benefactors, she published her compilation of song and story in “The Indians’ Book” where she listed herself as editor, giving credit for all the stories and songs to the Native Americans who had shared with her.
Jane Kirkpatrick has written stories of many other women who had the courage to walk their own path and succeed. Natalie’s story particularly struck a chord for me as I am digging deeper and deeper into the details of my great-grandfather’s story at the turn of the 20th century. I now am inspired to let myself just dive into the project and trust that I can complete this complicated task like she did.
I hope you know of Jane Kirkpatrick and the stories she is sharing of people not found in the history books we read as children. If you want to know others that I have particularly enjoyed, let me know and I’m happy to talk about them.