Artwork Information

  • Title:

    Hurd House Frieze (The Deer Dance)

  • Artist:

    Ufer, Walter

  • Artist Bio:

    American, 1876–1936

  • Date:


  • Medium:

    Oil on canvas

  • Dimensions:

    14 3/4 x 92 inches

  • Credit Line:

    Wichita Art Museum, Gift of the Estate of Mr. L.R. Hurd

  • Object Number:


  • Display:

    Not Currently on Display

About the Artwork

Walter Ufer

American, 1876–1936

Hurd House Frieze (The Deer Dance), 1924

Oil on canvas

Wichita Art Museum, Gift of the Estate of Mr. L.R. Hurd


(Walter Ufer DESCRIPTION OF FRIEZE continued from 1945.1.2)


This wall represents the Deer Dance which is played by the Indians each season and marks the opening of the hunt. This dance occurs in the fall of the year, and a certain day is set aside by the Indian Governor. It is an Indian Legend and is part of their religion or belief. The story of this dance is that ages ago all the people in this vast Indian Country were starving; the crops had been bad, and an early and very heavy winter set in until finally the people were snowed in and this began to prove starvation for them. The huntsmen could not go in the mountains to find meat on account of the heavy snow and ice. The deer retreated into the mountains for shelter; the older people began to fall off and die. God one night spoke to one of the maidens of a tribe, and in her fear she went to another maiden and spoke to her what had occurred. They were to set out on a certain day and in a certain direction and try their efforts against snow and weather to reach the deer in the mountains, and lead them into the pueblo gently so that some of their huntsmen could shoot them with their arrows to bring food to all the people.

Before this occurred the young bucks had organized themselves into a clan and it was their mission each day to act funny or as clowns before the older people in order to distract their minds from starvation, to keep life in their bodies a while longer. Bandelier, the Spanish archaeologist, who opened this part of the United states, archaeologically describes these people as the Koshare or delight makers and has written a book called “The Delight Makers” which treats of a love story in the early cliff dweller ages. When these two Indian maids had found deer in the fasts of the hills and with the aid of their fetish decoyed these animals slowly but surely into the pueblo, the Koshare immediately pounced upon these animals furiously, with their bows and arrows and which marked the end of these terrible times of starvation.

This legend is played every year by the Indians, the clan of the Koshare still exists among the pueblo Indians and is one of the strongest clans politically. In the Deer Dance, the Koshare paint their naked bodies in black and white, masquerading their faces so that none of the pueblos can define or tell their features and in camouflaging their bodies, they use either black domino spots on a white field or black and white horizontal stripes around their bodies. As a headdress they use corn shucks, and they also use these around their ankles and over their moccasined feet. In this dance these people represent their ancestors and are supposed to be unseen. They carry as weapons, small mimic bows and as arrows they have straws. Certain Indians are chosen to dress and camouflage themselves as deer, with the deer head and horns over their heads, showing the skin of the animals with the hair falling over their naked bodies. They paint themselves a dark red. As forepaws they use two sticks which are carved or whittled like the front feet of a deer. Two maids are dressed in white or as near white as they can dress themselves, and dance with the fetish to the rhythm of the drum and the handclap. They go far out of the pueblo to decoy these strange looking things, but fine dancers, in the midst of the people in rhythmic motion, which in itself is today a very fine pagan dance. The ancestors suddenly pounce upon these mimic deer and with their toy bows and arrows, amid song and dance, begin to yell and shoot at them. Every once in a while, a deer will drop, and a Koshare will quickly carry this wounded or dead imitation deer back to his Kiva. Gradually the dance dissolves this way, the musicians or chorus which I show and the rest of the people will go to these Kivas and have a glorious repast of venison which has been brought to the pueblo possibly a day or so before by some of the bravest hunters.