Most of our journey to Arizona took us through the northern part of the state, which is the area that Route 66 cuts through, and no trip to Arizona along Route 66 would be complete without staying at the iconic Wigwam Village.
Back in 1938, Chester E. Lewis was driving through Cave City, Kentucky when he first spied a cluster of tipis, it was the Wigwam Village, designed and built by Frank Redford. Lewis returned to his hometown of Holbrook, Arizona and decided to build a Wigwam Village of his own. Lewis purchased the plans from Redford, who had patented the design for his unique motel, and in May of 1950 Wigwam Village #6 began welcoming Route 66 travelers.
The reason for the “#6” is that it was the sixth of seven Wigwam Villages that were built across the United States. Holbrook’s Wigwam Village also featured a gas station, but when Interstate 40 bypassed Route 66 and the semi-circle of concrete tipis, Lewis sold the business. It remained a gas station, but the tipis were empty. Lewis passed away in 1986, but his work would not be forgotten. In 1988 his widow and grown grandchild re-purchased the property, and reopened it as a motel. The same year the Cave City Wigwam Village was given historic status when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 2002 Holbrook’s Wigwam Village #6 also joined the list.
This is the second of three remaining Wigwam Villages that I’ve stayed at, the first of which was the last one built, in Rialto, California. You can read about that stay here. The Rialto location gained the same status as its siblings in 2012. So now I just have to make it to the one in Cave City, Kentucky!
As a fan of both classic roadside of the mid-20th century, and true western history, it would be disingenuous of me to not talk about the cultural issue around the Wigwam Villages, because in many ways the Wigwam Villages epitomize cultural appropriation. First, the word “wigwam” and “tipi” are not interchangeable. Wigwams are domed dwellings. Second, tipis were never used by any of the native tribes in any of the areas where there are remaining Wigwam Villages, and some in those areas are not fond of them, such as David “Thundering Eagle” Fallis, Principal Chief of the Southern Cherokee Nation of Kentucky. Fallis once said “Though the Southern Cherokee Nation of Kentucky would be extremely pleased for anything that brings attention to the history and ongoing plight of Native Americans everywhere, we do not welcome such things as ‘Wigwam Village.’ It is an absolute absurdity to portray Native Americans of this area as ‘wigwam’ dwellers.” Meanwhile, Helen Danser, chair of the Kentucky Native American Commission and member of the Native American Intertribal Alliance in Kentucky said “I’m not opposed to [the Wigwam Village] being there if it’s done in an appropriate manner because it would be a wonderful teaching tool.” And I agree. The follies of the past must become teaching tools for the present and the future. So I beg of you, if you do stay at one of the remaining Wigwams and want to Instagram or write about your experience, take a moment to acknowledge the issues around it. It is important to keep both the history of the first people of America alive, along with unique roadside Americana.