Authors: Frank Waters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist

Identity: American Indian (Cheyenne)

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Fever Pitch, 1930 (also known as The Lizard Woman)

The Wild Earth’s Nobility, 1935

Below Grass Roots, 1937

The Dust Within the Rock, 1940

People of the Valley, 1941

River Lady, 1942 (with Houston Branch)

The Man Who Killed the Deer, 1942

The Yogi of Cockroach Court, 1947

Diamond Head, 1948 (with Branch)

The Woman at Otowi Crossing, 1966

Pike’s Peak: A Family Saga, 1971 (completely rewritten, one-volume novel based on The Wild Earth’s Nobility, Below Grass Roots, and The Dust Within the Rock)

Flight from Fiesta, 1986


Midas of the Rockies: The Story of Stratton and Cripple Creek, 1937

The Colorado, 1946

Masked Gods: Navaho and Pueblo Ceremonialism, 1950

The Earp Brothers of Tombstone: The Story of Mrs. Virgil Earp, 1960

Book of the Hopi, 1963

Leon Gaspard, 1964, revised 1981

Pumpkin Seed Point: Being Within the Hopi, 1969

To Possess the Land: A Biography of Arthur Rockford Manby, 1973

Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth World of Consciousness, 1975

Mountain Dialogues, 1981

Brave Are My People: Indian Heroes Not Forgotten, 1993

Of Time and Change: A Memoir, 1998

Pure Waters: Frank Waters and the Quest for the Cosmic, 2002 (Barbara Waters, editor)


A Frank Waters Reader: A Southwestern Life in Writing, 2000 (Thomas J. Lyon, editor)


First nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1985, Frank Waters holds a place in American literature as a significant western writer. His mother was from a prominent mining family, and his father was part Cheyenne. Waters early became conscious of this duality in his parentage, especially after experiencing a mystical moment at his family’s gold mine on Pikes Peak. This transcendental glimpse of the underlying unity of the earth became a pivotal experience in his life and work, reinforcing his need to reconcile dualities and leading him to a lifelong study of Eastern philosophy; traditional Native American beliefs, myths, and rituals; and Jungian psychoanalysis. He studied engineering for three years at Colorado College before dropping out in 1924 to work, first in the oil fields of Wyoming and later as an engineer in California. Throughout his career, he expressed both the mystical and the rational sides of his experience in novels of poetic, intuitive insight and in essays, biographies, and anthropological studies of Native American cultures.{$I[AN]9810000776}{$I[A]Waters, Frank}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Waters, Frank}{$I[geo]AMERICAN INDIAN;Waters, Frank}{$I[tim]1902;Waters, Frank}

Two of Waters’s initial attempts to give fictional form to his ideas, The Yogi of Cockroach Court (begun in 1927 but not published until 1947) and Fever Pitch, reflect his early problem of blending idea and form while exploring such themes as the yogic doctrines of Buddhism, the mystical experiences of wholeness and enlightenment, and the dynamic relationship of people to their environment. Driven by his own desire for reconciliation, Waters wrote an epic autobiographical trilogy that realistically tells the pioneer story of gold mining in the Rocky Mountains from 1870 to 1920: The Wild Earth’s Nobility, Below Grass Roots, and The Dust Within the Rock. The first volume is based on his grandfather Dozier (renamed Rogier), who experiences moments of expanded consciousness and becomes obsessed to the point of madness by his effort to extract both gold and the hidden principle of existence from his Pikes Peak mine. The second book reflects Waters’s emotionally divisive childhood, as Rogier’s grandson, March Cable, is caught between his white mother and part-Native American father, who fight for emotional dominance over their son. In the third book, March comes to terms with his own duality, achieving a symbolic synthesis of the Anglo (granite) and Native American (adobe) elements within his psyche. Waters later published a more focused, one-volume redaction of the trilogy under the title Pike’s Peak.

After moving to Taos, New Mexico, in 1940 to study Pueblo culture, Waters wrote People of the Valley, the ethnic history of New Mexico as objectified in the pastoral life of Maria, a Hispano-Indian. The novel is a convincing inside view of the central character, who attains the wisdom of a seer and total harmony with her environment. Maria’s life as a wild, natural, free product of the land dramatizes the evolution of human consciousness. This work was followed by The Man Who Killed the Deer, Waters’s own favorite and an outstanding novel about the Native American. Artfully blending idea and form, Waters authentically portrays the Native American vision as he narrates the dilemmas of Martiniano, the protagonist. Changed by his “white” schooling and estranged from both cultures, Martiniano becomes physically and spiritually wounded when he violates the laws of each culture by killing a deer out of season and neglecting the prerequisite killing ceremony. Gradually he returns to the regenerative tribal rituals, finding healing and wholeness through the transforming power of the Cosmic Mother.

In trying to resolve the dualities of his background, Waters never quite settled his personal life. He was married four times: to Lois Moseley (1944-1946), to Jane Somervell (1947-1955), to Rose Marie Woodell (1961-1965), and to Barbara A. Hayes (married 1979). He had no children.

The Woman at Otowi Crossing, based on the real-life story of Edith Warner, is one of Waters’s most admired novels. The protagonist, Helen Chalmers, opens a tearoom on the Rio Grande during World War II, adjacent to the Atomic City of Los Alamos and across the river from San Ildefonso Pueblo. An ordinary white woman, Chalmers unexpectedly has a transcendental experience of the timeless, which drives her toward self-fulfillment. Her “knowing” is deepened by her participation in the Pueblo Kiva rituals, where she experiences the essential unifying force of creation. A friend of both the Native Americans and the atomic scientists, she becomes a bridge between two value systems at that point where the ancient and modern worlds touch. Although the novel is more explicitly didactic than Waters’s earlier Native American novels, he convincingly portrays metaphysical themes in a compelling, realistic narrative, enmeshed in the ordinary and commonplace. In Flight from Fiesta Waters imaginatively dramatizes the purging of the old, atavistic hate between Native American and white through the enigmatic relationship between Elsie, a ten-year-old girl in rebellion against her materialistic parents, and Inocencio, an old Pueblo whose pottery she destroys in a tantrum. Set in Santa Fe during an annual fiesta in the 1950’s, the novel portrays the adventures of the two characters who, mysteriously drawn to each other, flee from the fiesta, traveling through far-flung western towns, mountains, deserts, and Pueblo dwellings. Their reconciliation clearly has allegorical implications, but Waters makes the abstractions palatable by rendering them through sharp, vivid images and evocative landscapes that authenticate the narrative.

In his novels and in such nonfiction works as Masked Gods, Book of the Hopi, Mexico Mystique, and Mountain Dialogues, Waters’s primary concern is the relationship of people to the land, the white and Native American races’ conflicting relationship to the earth, and the evolution of human consciousness. Believing that humankind is one at the deepest level of consciousness, Waters speculates that, in the dialectical process of history, various cultures are, in their unique ways, traveling toward the realization of a great conscious unity. Waters’s most important achievement is his artful, lifelike portrayal of these themes in his novels, of ideas that are thoroughly grounded in the actual circumstances of their southwestern regional settings. Waters died June 3, 1995, having been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

BibliographyAdams, Charles L., ed. Studies in Frank Waters. Las Vegas: Frank Waters Society, 1978-1990. Contains a number of excellent critical essays.Blackburn, Alexander. A Sunrise Brighter Still: The Visionary Novels of Frank Waters. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1991. Chapters on each of Waters’s novels, with an introduction that surveys the writer’s purposes and his career and a conclusion arguing that Waters is a major American writer. Includes detailed notes and extensive bibliography.Deloria, Vine, Jr., ed. Frank Waters: Man and Mystic. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1993. Memoirs of Waters and commentaries on his novels, emphasizing his prophetic style and sense of the sacred. Also provides criticism and interpretation of Waters’s work, looking specifically at Waters’s place in the history of mysticism in literature and Western literature.Lyon, Thomas J. Frank Waters. New York: Twayne, 1973. Analyzes Waters’s themes and artistic style. After sketching Waters’s life, Lyon examines his nonfiction, showing him to be a writer of ideas with a sacred theory of the earth and Hopi mythic values. Lyon also discusses his minor works, the children’s biography of Robert Gilruth, his book reviews, and his essays on writing. Contains a chronology, notes and references, a selected annotated bibliography, and an index.Waters, Barbara. Celebrating the Coyote: A Memoir. Denver: Divina, 1999. A memoir by Waters’s last wife. She discusses her life with him and her grief at losing him.
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