Up: Contents Previous: APPENDIX II. The Religious Life of the Navaho Next: APPENDIX IV. Reliable Dealers in Navaho Blankets

[page 196]

NAVAHO LAND is not a land of cultivated areas, of smiling fields in fertile valleys, where the homes of happy and prosperous people, surrounded by merry and boisterous children, look out at you through the leafage of fruit-laden trees. No! no! Picturesque, certainly, it is in places; wild, rugged, and fantastic in others; but, as a rule, it is not alluring to those who look for pretty, cultivated, refined landscapes. A taste of Navaho land scenery may be had in riding on the main line of the Santa Fé Railway going to California on the border-line between New Mexico and Arizona. There are giant cliffs of different colored sandstones, some of the rocks having fallen in vast boulder-like masses. Between these cliffs extend great stretches of valley lands in which sagebrush and wild grasses grow in abundance.

In riding out to St. Michaels, Ganado, and Chin Lee from Gallup station, one gains a reasonable conception of this tumbled and upheaved land. First the road is fairly level, then there is a sudden and steep uphill. On the summit of this the road begins a long, slow, and very easy descent. Indeed, it is so easy that it seems almost level, and appears a fairly smooth valley. Then there is another brief and steep uphill beyond which another slightly sloping valley extends to yet another uphill, and so on, for thirty miles or more. Then we reach a higher ‘‘„divide,„’’ or crest, covered with pinions—nut pines—small pines (the large ones have been cut out for lumber) and junipers, and great sandstone walls, vast, gigantic, towering, appear before us. In many regions these would be deemed titanic features, and would make a landscape famous, but here they are so common that one takes a good look and passes on. The stranger may try climbing to the top of a cliff to get a good outlook, but he soon grows tired of this if he travels further and deeper into the reservation.

The whole country is elevated, the lowest portions being about 4,000 feet above sea level, and the hilly parts from 6,000 to 7,000 feet, while the mountains tower to 9,000 and 10,000 feet. In their legends the Navahos regard certain high mountains as the boundary marks of their country. Each of these mountains is sacred, and has an important name. To the west is the San Francisco Range (seen from Flagstaff, on the line of the Santa Fé). This is Dokoslid, but when its sacred character is referred to it is Dichilidzil, the haliotis mountain, because yellow is the

Fig. 249. An Old ChimayÓ or Mexican Blanket. Called by the Navahos nak hai bicliidi. [Page 169]

Fig. 250. Rare Old ChimayÓ Blanket in Black, Blue, and White. (Fred Harvey Collection.) [page 169]

[page 197]

sacred color of the West. Sisnajin—the woman's standing black belt, or Pelado Peak, is the sacred mountain of the East, and its ceremonial name is Yolgaidzil—the white bead mountain. Mount Taylor—or as the Mexicans call it, Mount San Mateo—is the sacred mountain of the South. Ordinarily it is Tsadzil, the giant tongue (so called because one of its vast lava flows seems like a vast out-thrust tongue), but ceremonially it is Yodotlizhidzil, the blue turquoise mountain. Debentsa, the mountain of the sheep—or the San Juan mountain of the whites—is the sacred mountain of the North, and it is then Bashzhinidzil, or the cannel-coal mountain, black being the color of the North.

According to their origin-legends, these sacred mountains were brought from the lower worlds and placed in their present positions by the First Man. In their sacred sand-paintings these mountains figure largely and can always be told by their location and the colors by which they are represented.

Now and again great sweeps of country are presented which are practically bare, barren, desolate desert, with almost unclad hills rising from the plains and destroying the otherwise distressing monotony. Yet there are many mountains actually in the reservation, as, for instance, the Luckachuchai Mountains, so named from the Navaho word which signifies ‘‘„the white reed patches.„’’ These are at the northwestern end. In the central part is the Tunicha Range (large water), and the southeastern end, the Chuska, or Chusca Range (white spruce). There are also a few isolated mountains, or groups, as the Carrizos (mountains surrounded by mountains), and the Black Mountains in the West. Not far from the junction of the San Juan River with the Colorado, is Navaho Mountain, which, on a clear day, can be seen fromEl Tovar hotel porch at the Grand Canyon.

On these hilly slopes the pinion grows naturally in abundance, and its nut is one of the crops of the Navaho which he is slowly beginning to use to his financial advantage. The day before this present writing I stood and saw a wagon-load of pinion nuts unloaded at a Navaho trading-store on the reservation. There was over a ton of the nuts and the Indian received about seven cents per pound for them. A week or two earlier I had seen three carloads of these nuts shipped on the railway. The pinion nut of these regions is of the same family as the pinola of Italy, but is much richer and sweeter. Experts tell us it abounds in proteids, and is one of the most nourishing of muscle foods. It certainly is the most delicious and tasty of all nuts. Unfortunately, the crop in the Navaho country is uncertain, there being a good yield but once every five to seven years. Of course it receives no cultivation or care whatever, and the traders never seem to have considered the advisability of trying cultivation,

[page 198]

even though it went no further than dry farming. There is too little water in the Navaho country to allow for irrigation, even were it desirable with the pinion, a matter upon which I know nothing.

Yet if this could be made a reliable crop with a little extra labor, what a profitable yield these nature-planted trees would afford. Another thing, as yet the Navaho traders have learned no way of easy shelling these nuts, and to most people this is so slow and tedious a task that they will forego the pleasure of eating the nut rather than be bothered with it. Unshelled, the nuts are worth, probably, from nine to twelve cents per pound. Shelled, they would be worthy fully twenty-five cents to thirty cents per pound. The shells are exceedingly light, not weighing more, I should assume, than one-fifth to one-fourth of the nut itself.

This is the only natural crop, as far as I know, upon which any of the Navahos rely. They raise some corn, but use all they grow, hence commercially, corn-raising scarcely counts with them.

The high elevation, the want of water, and the general climatic conditions are not favorable to agriculture or pomoculture, for while it is hot in summer the nights are generally cool, and the time for maturing crops short. Hence, the Navahos have had to turn to other sources of wealth, and their land affording fairly good pasturage, it seemed as if a kind fate had turned their attention to sheep-grazing, wool-raising, and blanket-weaving; for, by making a specialty of these industries, they have sprung in a few years into a prosperity that makes them, from their standpoint, a rich and independent nation.

While much of Navaho land seems to be desert, there are, however, great stretches of a splendid growth of white pine on the Chuska Range, and there are forests of the red cedar (Juniperus virginianus), and western juniper (J. occidentalis) on the lower levels. Patches of scrub-oak are to be found anywhere on the mountains, and in the canyons cottonwoods, box-elders, aspen, alder, walnut, and peach thrive abundantly.

Through some of the mountainous plateaus, deep-gorged, tortuously winding canyons have been cut by corrosion or erosion, and through these the mountain rains, and the water of the melted snows are drained out into the valleys. The result is the Navaho reservation is not less noted for its canyons than its deserts and mountains.

One of the most world-famed of these is the Canyon de Chelly, a foolish (apparently Frenchified) spelling of the Navaho name for canyon, tségi This is known because of the wonderful cliff-dwellings that have been discovered here, some of which rank as the most perfect specimens of aboriginal stone-work in the boundaries of the United States. Close by are the Canyon del Muerto, so-called from the many mummified human bodies found in the cliff-ruins, and Monument Canyon, the entrance to

Fig. 251. Handsome ChimayÓ Blanket. (Made expressly for Rev. G. Haelterman, Santa Cruz, N. M.)

[page 199]

which is made dignified and impressive by a giant mass of rock that stands detached from the main wall as a lone sentinel guarding the gateway.

In 1912 I made a visit to these canyons while completing my book—The Prehistoric Cliff Dwellings of the American Southwest—and to the pages of that book I refer the reader for further impressions of these three wonderfully historic and scenic places. There are many other cliff-dwellings found within the boundaries of the reservation, and scores of ruins of houses, both singly and in groups, and even pueblos. All along the Little Colorado River many of these are to be found, and the Chaco Canyon country is almost as famous as Canyon de Chelly for its cliff and house ruins, which were first described over thirty years ago in Scribner's Magazine. Of some of these ruins Dr. Edgar L. Hewett, of the American Institute of Archaeology at Santa Fé, N. M., thus writes:

Another group of ancient towns, less picturesque in situation but of equal interest, is that of the Chaco Canyon in Northwestern New Mexico. These great houses, standing in the open, some five stories high, were built of sandstone blocks, in some cases so arranged in courses of varying thickness as to produce decorative effects. They had no natural security of situation on high mesas or in deep canyons, but stood in the open valley and on the sandy plain, entirely unprotected save by their own massive walls. Best known of all in this group is Pueblo Bonito, a huge structure five stories high, semi-circular in form, its walls still standing to a height of over forty feet. Not far away are the ruins of Chettro Kettle, Hungo Pavie, Wijiji, and Peñasco Blanco. This famous group of ruins stands in the midst of a desolate plain, the Navaho Desert, now almost devoid of water and incapable of supporting any population except of wandering Navahos.

Close to the San Francisco and San Mateo Mountains are vast areas of lava—flows that altogether surpass in extent and wildness the classic lava-flows of the South of France, and of which the legends are told referred to in a former chapter.

When one gives time to the study of the Navaho language he finds himself well repaid by the poetic descriptions that are used, for instance, in the names of places. One is called ‘‘„Where the Cranes Stand,„’’ another ‘‘„The Hawk's Nest.„’’ Here are others, ‘‘„Where Water Flows in the Darkness under the Rock,„’’ ‘‘„Where Water Flows out of a Canyon,„’’ ‘‘„The Buttes that Stand like Twin Stars,„’’ ‘‘„The Baby Rock,„’’ ‘‘„The Small Canyon Meadow,„’’ ‘‘„Where They Fall into the Pit of Water.„’’ This latter name is given to a pool in the Black Mountain region much frequented by game. Owing to the rocks of the pool sloping inward towards the center and not affording sufficient foothold, the thirsty animals are entrapped somewhat after the fashion of the early game-pit-traps of the natives. Here are a few more names: ‘‘„The Sumach Spring in the Black Mountains,„’’ ‘‘„Rough Rock Spring,„’’ ‘‘„Antelope Spring,„’’ ‘‘„The Water Flows through the Rock,„’’ ‘‘„Tangled Waters,„’’ ‘‘„Fringed Waters,„’’ ‘‘„Slim

[page 200]

Water,„’’ ‘‘„Crystal Water Flows Out,„’’ ‘‘„Braided Willows,„’’ ‘‘„Winged Rock,„’’ ‘‘„Red Round Rock,„’’ ‘‘„The Conical Sand Dune,„’’ ‘‘„Beaver's Eye Spring.„’’

In the reading of but one Navaho legend will be found the following rich list of poetic names: ‘‘„One-eyed Water,„’’ ‘‘„Rock Sticking Up,„’’ ‘‘„Beautiful Under the Cottonwoods,„’’ ‘‘„White Standing Rock,„’’ ‘‘„Erect Cat-tail Rushes,„’’ ‘‘„Clay Hill,„’’ ‘‘„Scattered Springs,„’’ ‘‘„Narrow Water,„’’ ‘‘„Beautiful in the Mountains,„’’ ‘‘„Circle of Red Stones,„’’ ‘‘„Wind Circles Around a Rock,„’’ ‘‘„Narrow Sand Hills,„’’ ‘‘„Valley Surrounded on All Sides by Hills,„’’ ‘‘„Rock That Bends Back,„’’ ‘‘„Big Oaks,„’’ ‘‘„Last Mountain,„’’ ‘‘„Mountain Comes Down Steep,„’’ ‘‘„Four Doorways Under a Mountain,„’’ ‘‘„Where Yellow Streak Runs Down,„’’ ‘‘„Where They Came Together,„’’ ‘‘„House of Rock Crystal,„’’ ‘‘„Broad Cherry Trees,„’’ ‘‘„Leaf Mountain,„’’ ‘‘„White Water Running Across,„’’ ‘‘„Brown Earth Water,„’’ ‘‘„Much Grease Wood,„’’ ‘‘„Where Two White Rocks Lie,„’’ ‘‘„Radiating White Streaks,„’’ ‘‘„Lone Juniper Standing Between Cliffs,„’’ ‘‘„Woods on One Side,„’’ ‘‘„Standing Rock Above,„’’ ‘‘„Sheep Promontory,„’’ ‘‘„Sheep Lying Down,„’’ ‘‘„Rock Cracked in Two,„’’ ‘‘„Hill Surrounded with Young Spruce Trees,„’’ ‘‘„White Ground,„’’ ‘‘„Dipping Rocks,„’’ ‘‘„Cold Water,„’’ ‘‘„Black Mountains,„’’ and ‘‘„Hard Earth.„’’

With such a splendid catalogue of place-names, who shall say the Navahos have no eye for beauty and no poetic facility in describing it.

As already shown, inclination and interest have led the Navahos to take the fullest possible opportunity of availing themselves of the grazing features of their reserve. Not hundreds or thousands, but hundreds of thousands of sheep are found in bands wherever grazing and water are assured. One will pass half a hundred bands of several hundred each in a day's journey. These are always in the charge of the women, or girls and boys of adult years.

As a sheep-herder the Navaho woman has no superior in the world. She shows patience, skill, and real tenderness in her dealings with her flock. Indeed, on two or three occasions I have known of Navaho women suckling at their own breasts new-born lambs whose mothers had died. It is no uncommon thing to see them ahead of their flocks, the sheep following contentedly, just as is described by David the Psalmist.

The herds are generally taken out in the morning, guided all day, kept moving to better pasture, and to water, and then returned to the corral at night. Owing to the increasing number of the flocks and the constant treading down of the grass, the pasture is growing scarcer each year, and this is going to add ere long to the problem the Indian Department will have to solve regarding the Navahos.

As yet the Navahos have not seen the wisdom of preparing for the

Fig. 252. Old ChimayÓ, Black, White, and Blue. (Fred Harvey Collection.) The usual type of old ChimayÓ is plain blue and white stripes, though diversified in the arrangement of the stripes. The type here illustrated is rare, and the design is really derived from the Saltillo blanket of Old Mexico The Chimayos are part Indian and part Mexican, and their style of weaving and designs can be traced to both. [Page 171]

Fig. 253. Rare Old ChimayÓ of Simple Design. (Author's Collection.)

[page 201]

winter. They cut no hay, hence when the pasture is gone, the herds must do the best they can on the sage-brush and what withered grass they can find; or, when it becomes worse still, the herders cut pinion and cedar branches for them to gather therefrom what scant nutriment they can find.

Often, if one approaches these bands of sheep unseen, he will hear the loud and musical, though peculiar and characteristic, voices of the herders raised in song. They are great singers, and singing plays a remarkably important part in their ceremonial and religious life.

Experts tell us that many improvements are to be desired in the Navaho sheep-herds, yet they are beginning to see that better stock means better prices. Hence, some of the wiser Navahos are killing off their old rams and selecting new stock with judicious care. They are also separating their herds of sheep and goats. Hitherto this has not been done, to the immense detriment of the herds. A real Navaho goat, two years old, will give a pelt weighing about two to two and a half pounds. It is worth about forty cents per pound. This makes the pelt worth from seventy-five cents to one dollar. The meat is good, and, properly cooked, is both tender and tasty, though slightly ‘‘„stronger„’’ than ordinary mutton. The animal itself, too, is hardier than the sheep, can stand drought better, and is less liable to disease. The goat-skin is largely used for book-binding purposes, much of the so-called morocco and French morocco being nothing but our Navaho friends' goat-pelt under an aristocratic name. On the other hand, sheep pelts are worth but from eight to ten cents per pound, and a two-year-old sheep will give a pelt weighing three to four pounds. Yet, sheep for the white market are more profitable, as on the hoof they bring nearly twice as much as goats of the same weight.

The traders and the government officials are now trying to show the Navahos that it is to their best interest to keep sheep and goats apart, to kill or sell off as soon as they can all cheap cross-breeds, to kill their poor stock rams and buy those of pure breeds, and breed them only with sheep of assured wool-giving qualities, when wool is desired, and with good mutton producers, when they are to be sold on the hoof to the white packers.

Up: Contents Previous: APPENDIX II. The Religious Life of the Navaho Next: APPENDIX IV. Reliable Dealers in Navaho Blankets

© Arizona Board of Regents