Evaline Auerbach, resident of Oracle since 1976, downsizing in preparation for a move, says that she is trying to get everything to “where it belongs” as much as possible. In that regard, she has sold her collection of Hualapai Dolls to the Tribe, based in Peach Springs, AZ.
The cloth dolls all have similar faces, with stitched-in eyes and mouth and with bodies made in the original “Suzy Belle” style. The “Suzy Belle” dolls were hand made in the early 1970s at the Hualapai Tribal Factory in Peach Springs, Arizona. The dolls, which are collectible items today, initially sold for about $18.
Seamstress Annie Chase created the original pattern in the 1860s when she made these dolls as gifts. Ms. Chase’s pattern was passed down to her granddaughter, Ruth Underwood, who improved the pattern, developed a fabrication process, and opened a factory with her husband to manufacture “Suzy Belle Dolls.” The factory employed about 20 Hualapai tribal members who produced an average of 59 dolls each day. Funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs helped support operations.
Following a dispute with the Underwoods, the Hualapai Indian Tribe began manufacturing the “Hualapai Indian Doll” which was similar to the “Suzy Belle” doll but wore more traditional styles of clothing and had more Native features that included dark hair and the incorporation of feathers and headbands. The Underwoods relocated to Colorado where they continued to make their original dolls as well as adding African American and Caucasian themed variations. Manufacturing ceased later in the 1970s.
Subsequently at least two Hualapai women are known to have handmade replicas, mostly female with long skirts. The factory dolls were male and female and wore mostly “calico” dress, the girls with shorter skirts. One of the subsequent makers, created three of the dolls that Auerbach is selling to the tribe.
Auerbach bought those three dolls from the Museum in Kingman but, after the first one she bought, she got the others mostly on eBay. The sellers there had them listed as “Native American Cloth dolls” until she told one or two where they really came from.
Auerbach bought her first doll at the gift shop in the Inn at Peach Springs where she was staying during an Elderhostel program that also visited the Colorado River down the road from there and went to the Grand Canyon West area where the tribe has not constructed the glass extension over the Canyon. Later, when she went back to walk out over the Grand Canyon, she took along some of the dolls, which were a big hit with the people who worked there. Even some of the young people recognized them.
The Tribe agreed to buy all her 36 dolls for the lump sum of $1,500. They were picked up by Addi Crozier, Assistant Secretary of the Hualapai tribe. The tribe will place some of the dolls in the Tribal Administration Building in front of the Hualapai Tribal Council Chambers and some will go to the Cultural Department in Peach Springs and the Grand Canyon West Cultural Center.