In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Life of Chief Tuba

Chief Tuba
The relationship between Chief Tuba (Tuuvi or Toova) and the early Mormon pioneers especially Jacob Hamblin has always been one of interest to me.  Chief Tuba was born in Oraibi Arizona (3rd Mesa) as a member of the short corn clan (or pumpkin clan).  Hopi tradition does not give his real name but according to a story given to a Mormon missionary his Hopi name was "Woo Pah".  Tuba became involved in an unremembered dissension at Oraibi, and left the village to "be at peace".  From then on, "Woo Pah" was known among the Hopi as Tuuvi, meaning the "outcast or the rejected one".

Tuba settled at Moencopi, about fifty miles west of Oraibi.  The Hopi say that at first, Tuba settled at Moencopi alone with his wife, living there all year long whereas before it had been a seasonal settlement.  However, soon people of Tuba's Short Corn Clan followed him, and eventually members of other clans until a community was created.  Tuba told one Mormon that after he had settled at Moencopi, there came a time when the Hopi's who lived with him "became lazy and wicked", refusing to "plant and tend the herds."  Tuba was greatly distressed about this, and as he sat brooding, he saw an old man approach with a long white beard.  The man claimed to have a message from God that the people must plant and take care of their herds or they would die in a three year famine that was to come. Tuba then turned his head and the man disappeared.  Tuba did as instructed and stored his own corn in a bin which was enought to last through the predicted famine.  Purportedly, Tuba explained that a long time ago there were three men that had been left on the earth, and when the Hopi were in trouble, one would come to advise them.  He believed that this stranger was one of them. 

Jacob Hamblin
The first Mormon missionaries to visit the Hopi came in 1858 under the leadership of Jacob Hamblin.  In November 1870, Tuba left his home with his wife, Pulaskaninki and Hamblin to spend time in southern Utah in order to learn the agricultural ways of the Mormons.  This was against a Hopi taboo forbidding Hopis from crossing the Colorado River until three prophets who anciently had led the Hopi to their current homeland returned.  Tuba spent nearly a year in the company of the Mormons.  He was  able to meet the Mormon leader, Brigham Young at St. George.  It was while in St. George that Tuba and his wife took out their endowments in the temple and was also given a suit as a gift from President Young.  Tuba was particularly impressed by a factory where yarn was being mechanically spun.  In Hopi culture, it is the men who spin the yarn for blankets, and its spun by hand.  According to Jacob Hamblin, after seeing this factory Tuba "could never think of spinning yarn again with his fingers, to make blankets." His wife was most impressed by the Mormon grist mills, a major improvement over grinding corn by stone.

Although Tuba seems to have had various disagreements with village leaders in Oraibi, he apparently retained access to one of the Hopi's sacred stones.  On one occasion, several Mormons were visiting Tuba in Oraibi and he took his visitors inside the village kiva.  There, he produced what appeared to be a marble slab about 15"x18" covered in "hieroglyphic" markings including clouds and stars.  The later Ethnological Report No. 4 produced by the US government seems to uphold the existence of such a stone based on the testimony of John W. Young and Andrew S. Gibbons.  This describes the stone as made of "red-clouded marble, entirely different from anything found in the region."

Tuba City Corn 1941
In 1879, a wool factory was built in Tuba City in order to "benefit the Indians and the [LDS] Church.  No doubt this edifice reminded Tuba of the factory which had so engaged his imagination in southern Utah nine years before. The settlement of his Mormon friends at Tuba City and the completion of the factory may have been the high point in Tuba's life, for it seems his last decade was marked with sadness.  The woolen factory was in operation for only a short time and within a few years it had fallen into disrepair.  It is reported that Tuba "took particular pride in watching over the remains of the factory, but after his death the ruination of the building was made complete."  It also seems that at some point in his last years, Tuba's wife left him for a younger man, and afterwards Tuba spent  about three years living in the home of Mormon missionary C.L.Christensen.  Tuba died in 1887, and at least some of Tuba's children were still living in Moencopi into the mid-twentieth century.  In 1941, a sandstone marker with a bronze plaque was dedicated in Tuba City by the LDS Church in honor of Tuba.


  1. just wondering where you found this picture? and wondering how you know that this is Tuuvi?

  2. I had to go to Tuba City to get it. Its on the outside of the Tuuvi Travel Center.