Hopis Eagle True West Magazine

Why did Hopis capture eagles?

Les Freeman
Upper Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand

The Hopis sacrificed eagles as part of an important tribal ceremony. In the spring, Hopi youth climbed up to the nest and captured eaglets. They took the eaglets home and treated them as they would a child, gifted with baby presents and tenderly nourished. Tethered on the rooftop, the eaglets were fed rabbits until the Niman, or Home Dance, in mid-July.

Hopi Eagle True West Magazine
A rare historical photograph of Hopi eagle hunters with their catch, taken in Arizona in 1915 by Emry Kopta.
— Courtesy National Museum of the American Indian —

At the end of the ceremony, the Katsinas (spirit messengers) left the villages and went to the San Francisco Peaks to remain there until early winter. The Hopis then gently suffocated the now-grown eagles. Their spirits carried a final prayer for rain as clouds to the Katsinas.

The Hopis then took the eagle bodies to kivas, where they plucked the feathers and arranged them according to religious tradition. Then they buried the eagles in a special cemetery.

For the Hopi tribe, the eagle embodies the spirit of their ancestors.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu.


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