By Brenda Cusick


Can you imagine a well-born woman living in Manhattan during the Victorian era moving to the sparsely populated Hopi Mesas in Northern Arizona? Prescott pioneer Kate Thomson Cory did exactly that in 1905. Cory was a university-trained painter and photographer who taught young ladies during New York’s “Gilded Age” at prestigious Cooper Union College. At a meeting of the Pen and Brush club she met a fellow artist, Louis Akin. He convinced her to travel west and join an artist colony he was putting together at the Hopi Mesas.


Cory’s notes show she kept her return ticket, clutching it on her first night while sleeping in a trader’s shack north of Winslow, but never used it. The trader had agreed to take her to the Hopi Mesas but was not there to meet her when the train arrived. Eventually, she reached the Federal town of Polacca, at the base of the first Mesa. At first she slept on the floor of a schoolhouse. It was unusual for single women to travel at this time so there was, at first, no accommodations for her. The Hopi offered her a place to stay. She quickly grew to love her new home and embraced her sparse life with the Hopi.


Cory lived in Oraibi and Walpi, the ancestral homes of the Hopi, from 1905 to 1912, high above the desert on Black Mesa. She then moved to Prescott, where she built a unique home that she designed and constructed with help from her Hopi friends. Looking like a pueblo house (albeit much smaller) made of local stones, it still stands in Prescott today. The interior features rare Hopi tiles, perhaps made by a Hopi or by Kate T. Cory herself.


Cory took hundreds of photographs while living with the Hopi which may now be an accidental documentation of their everyday life at the time. Because she lived with the Hopi for so many years, she saw annual dances and year-round religious ceremonies several times, unlike other non-Hopi.  She captured most of them on film documenting several dances that otherwise might have been lost. Cory claimed that at one point the notion was raised for her to possibly join with the Hopi in an even closer manner, but the matter was not taken further because, according to her, “I was afraid that I might cramp their style.” Her photographs seem only to be reference materials because, allegedly, she did not use them commercially. Yet, they were published by other people years after her death. Understandably, due to concerns from Hopi authorities over the rights to their cultural property, access to many of these early photographs are restricted by museums and are no longer published.


Much of Cory’s well-known work in Prescott can be found in the Prescott museum she helped design, now known as the Museum of Indigenous People.  Two of her large paintings focus on young women in full costume: “Buffalo Dancer” and “The Butterfly Girl” and can be seen along with many artifacts of Native Americans on display at the museum. The Sharlot Hall Museum also has numerous other paintings, including a sensitive portrait that may be of Sharlot Hall herself.


Kate T. Cory changed her life from a restricted, typical Victorian woman’s role to an independent woman of the West. Cory embraced her new Arizona home, living as she would not have been able to had she remained a society woman of Manhattan. She painted what she wanted, not restricted to the traditional women’s subjects of home, children and flowers, as shown by her many paintings found in museums across the West as well as in the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.


To learn more, come see Brenda Cusick’s historical performance of Kate T. Cory on Saturday, 4/6/2024 at 2pm at the Sharlot Hall Museum in the Education Center Auditorium. Seating is limited. Reserve your seat by calling 928-277-2015, or reserve your seat online at the Sharlot Hall Museum Event Calendar page: Tickets are $15.00 for non-members and FREE to SHM members. 


Anchor“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International ( This and other Days Past articles are also available at The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at for information or assistance with photo requests.