Santa Fe Living Treasures ‚Äď Elder Stories

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Bertha Dutton

Bertha
Dutton

DAUGHTER OF THE DESERT

Honored November 1987

Bertha Dutton

It was an automobile accident that sent Bertha Dutton on her way toward becoming one of the West's most noted anthropologists.

As she stepped off a streetcar in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1930, a drunk driver hit her. Following her recuperation, she took the insurance money, bought a Model A Ford, and in 1932 headed off to study archaeology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque with Dr. Edgar Lee Hewett.

In the course of a distinguished career, Bertha served for twenty five years (1936-61) as curator of ethnology at the University of New Mexico, and for ten years as Director of the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art (now the Wheelwright Museum). She traveled throughout the hemisphere. She published books and articles. She excavated a house ruin at Chaco Canyon with Hewett and worked extensively at sites in the Galisteo Basin. "I dug, dug, dug," is her modest summation.

Born on an Iowa farm in 1903, she spent fifteen years as a businesswoman before beginning her studies in anthropology. "Bert," as she was known, received her BA and MA degrees from the University of New Mexico; in 1952, she earned her Ph.D. from Columbia University.


In 1938, after serving as assistant director to Hewett at the Museum of New Mexico, Bertha took over the old armory building in Santa Fe, where she built the ethnology department. There she made furniture and display cases, and designed and catalogued the collection. She invited local Pueblo people to help her create this showplace.

Bertha's circle of friends extended to Indians, who shared their knowledge with her. She was proud of these friendships. "I knew Indians," she said. "I had my friends in all the pueblos. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the world. It's just been open doors, if you want to go in."

Please see Volume 1 for complete text.
Photo ©1997 by Joanne Rijmes