BY HILDA WETHERILL
Can you guess where we are and what we are doing? We are running a Navajo Indian trading store in Arizona. Our particular location is Black Mountain, if the name means anything to you. It did n’t to me a month ago. In terms of geography this Black Mountain place is some forty miles from a post office, and the post office is sixty-five miles from a railroad. A hundred miles from a railroad! And it is even farther than it sounds, for we don’t measure distance in miles so much as in depth of mud and the length of time it takes to get anywhere.
I listen any day and many times a day to monologues like this: —
‘My dear grandmother, come into this corner with me. We will speak slowly and not get mad. The children at my house who call you mother are hungry. They cry and call for candy and bread. One has a stomach. He said his mother would send medicine and apples and candy to him by me. Your children need shoes. In six months I shall sell my wool. Allow me, my mother, my sister, my pretty younger sister, to owe you twenty dollars until I shear my sheep. This will make all your children who live at my house warm.
‘Other Navajos may lie to you and never pay their bills, but I am not like those crows and coyotes and gamblers. I never lie; I do not know anything about cards; I never go where cards are.
‘See. My coat is worn out and no good. Let me have a new coat. Let me owe you four dollars for a new coat. Is this four dollars? It is very thin and ugly for four dollars. But I am poor, so I will take it. I tell all Navajos how nice you are, how you feed anyone who asks it, and give apples and candy to all the children who come to your store. The Indians all say you are good. Put some sweets in a bag and I will take it to your children and tell them their mother sent it.
‘Is this good flour? It looks black; it may be wormy. Give me a knife and I will cut open the sack and look at it. ‘How much do I owe you now?
Twenty dollars plus four dollars plus three dollars and a half? Twenty-seven and a half? I will trade two dollars and a half more and then I will remember thirty dollars. I could never remember twenty-seven dollars and a half.
‘Have you a sack? What shall I carry all this stuff home in? Give me a sack, mother; a poor ugly gunny sack will do. None? Then I must use my robe, and I shall be cold riding.
‘Give me some strong twine to tie this robe so I won’t lose my sack of flour. More than that; make it strong enough for a hair string. See, my hair string is dirty. I need a new one. Now I am ready to go. No, wait. I forgot tobacco. Mother mine, give me tobacco.
‘ It’s a long way to my house, and my horse is tired. While he rests I have time to eat. Give me a can of pears and a box of crackers, because I live a long way off and come all this distance in the cold to trade with you when my horse is poor, to trade with you because I know you are good and we are friends. That’s right, that’s good. This is for friendship. My mother does n’t want money for this, because she feeds her friend. Have you any coffee made? No? Then bring me a cup of water and pass me a spoon and a can opener. May I have the spoon? Your little boy that lives at our house lost the best spoon we had. I’ll take this one. Thanks, my mother—good, good. Now I go. ’
This is the wily savage way of wheedling us out of everything movable on the place!
There are no white people here but Ken and me, but I understand there are two Englishmen at a store fifteen miles away. Here there is nothing to suggest white people. At this time of the year the trails are bottomless mud, or rocks; later they will be equally bottomless sand. The Navajos ride out of sight over the horizon; the smell of the sage is in our nostrils, and we see the sunsets of the mesa country and the bluffs purple in the twilight.
On the way in here we stopped at a Navajo camp to ask the road. A woman who had lost her husband since Ken knew her years ago came out of a brush shelter. When she saw Ken, tears poured down her face and they gripped hands — there’s no shake to a Navajo handshake. The woman covered her face with her robe and they stood there without a word, until I began to think of unhitching the ponies and camping. Then Ken turned away, spoke to the widow’s son about the road we were to take, and we drove off. The woman had not said a word and Ken had not spoken to her.
You understand how I’ll probably greet you if you wait too long to come to see me.
VOL. 1JJ1 — NO. 3
Copyright 1928, by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
Our nearest neighbor, a quarter of a mile away, has a little boy who fell and ruptured himself. The medicine man had been singing for him for three days when the family sent for me. I went and found the hogan full of smoke and Indians.
The child was lying against his mother, who held him in a sitting position. He was stark naked; his hair was tousled and full of dirt and the herb leaves they had used; his little body was too dirty for words, and on the side where the swelling of the rupture was the dirt or ‘medicine’ was caked deeper than on the rest of the body; he had a sheep pelt under him and a blanket to put over him when he lay still enough, but he was delirious and clawed his hair, waved his arms, and threw the blanket in every direction.
Robert, an English-speaking Indian, was with me. We sat down on the ground with the rest to wait for the singing to stop.
The doctor, or medicine man, was the same big fellow for whose little boy I had shortened the sleeves of the coat. He sat on one side, facing the child. His medicine sticks were spread on a piece of calico; in a turtle shell was a little water with powdered herb in it. He took a medicine stick, dipped the end in the water, moistened his lips and the child’s, and took up the song.
Two helpers shook rattles made of skin of some kind, with feathers tied to the wooden handles. In each rattle were two spotted beans. They had come to me the day before for the beans, and had spent half an hour choosing them. The helpers’ singing was not in unison with the doctor’s, but was a sort of whining accompaniment. They did not move their lips at all, and I could not tell one voice from the other.
The end was so abrupt and unexpected, and the final note so peculiar, that the silence just hurt for a minute. I felt as if something might really happen, and it was evident that the Indians waited; but there was nothing.
A moment of dead silence, everyone motionless, and then the doctor dipped the tips of a bunch of eagle feathers in the ashes of the fire, which occupied the centre of the hogan, and tapped twice on the boy’s feet, on his knees, on the sore spot, on his shoulders, and on his head. Then he stood over the boy, who was now lying down, and fanned the full length of his body back and forth, back and forth, as he sang. I was glad of the fanning, because it blew the ashes out of the child’s face.
I had with me some flannel for hot packs, and, while the singers rested, the mother heated water and I put them on. The singing began again as I worked, so I thought I was safe in keeping it up. The Indians seemed impressed when I washed off the dirt and painted the swollen spot with iodine.
In spite of seeing me put on the hot packs and feed the child broth I had taken down, they did not want to do either themselves. They cautioned me not to let the boy bite me. He did shut down on my little finger once and I had to pry his jaws open with the spoon.
I went over to that hogan twice a day for three days. All the time the child was growing weaker and weaker. The family moved out of the hogan and camped in a brush shelter with friends and relatives who came to comfort them; the father and three or four other men, with the things for the grave, waited in the hogan. The medicine man, saying there was no use to sing any more, left. On the fourth morning I met the child’s grandfather before I reached the hogan. He was going to the family camp to tell them the boy was dead.
I went on and found the father and two men with the boy. The body was so covered I could not tell whether it had been dressed, but I know the string of fine turquoise which the boy was wearing when I last saw him alive was buried with him.
The three men buried the body and burned the hogan. No one else, not even a member of the family besides the father, was near, so we have no way of knowing if there were funeral rites.
Day before yesterday, in the afternoon, the three men who had buried the body came into the store looking exceedingly sober. They told Ken that someone had been near the grave. They had seen tracks, man tracks, crossing the regular trail and going around the little hill toward the foot of the bluff where the grave is.
Only the men who bury a body know the exact location of the grave. The family knows the general site selected, and this information — no one knows just how — gradually becomes general among the Indians; but neither a member of the family nor anyone else ever goes near a grave.
In this instance no one had dared go to see for himself if the grave had been disturbed, but the family stood ready to kill anyone who had so much as looked for the exact spot. They asked Ken to follow the tracks, and seemed satisfied when he said he would.
Yesterday morning Ken examined the tracks and found they were made by a man who was following a burro track. The animal had crossed the road, wandered past the bluff where the grave is, and returned to the road. When Ken got back to the store, the father, mother, and other members of the family were here waiting; the mother almost in tears, and insisting on holding my hand across the counter.
Upon asking Ken what he had found, the men were relieved to learn that the grave had not been touched, but were angry and uneasy because someone had been near it. A man who was listening to the talk said that the father of a neighbor had come from Flagstaff on a visit and had lost a burro. He it was who had made the tracks; and, as he knew nothing whatever about the death or the grave, he could not be suspected.
On the instant the situation changed. The tension relaxed; everyone drew a comfortable breath, and they had a cigarette all around. How even the men who bury the body can tell under which particular rock it lies is more than I can understand. They often bury at the foot of a bluff, where there are heaps of loose rocks, and they exercise every precaution to make rocks and ground look undisturbed.
Here’s another story which throws light on the seriousness of robbing a grave. A man who was a trader on the Reservation thirty years ago told us that a Navajo who seldom came to the store came in one day. He recognized a bracelet in stock as one that had been buried with a member of his family. He asked who sold it to the store and what else he sold with it, and was shown another bracelet and two blankets. Two days later, when the freight teams came in, a dozen Indians in war paint rode to meet one of the drivers. They sang a sort of chant as they circled around him, and then all shot together. The body of the grave robber fell to the ground. He had not made one move to save himself.
When asked to bury the body, the Indians refused to touch it, and insisted that no one else do so. However, they asked no questions when the trader buried it at night.
The most wonderful thing has happened. A few hours ago a Navajo who was cutting wood came to the door and called to us to come and see the storm. Here at the store the sun was shining and a gusty wind was blowing. Not more than a mile and a half away was a small cyclone. We could see the great gray streaks of it, and the whirling black column lifting the dirt and sand from the bluffs as it passed over. The dirt was drawn up the side of the bluff, across the top, and into the air. It looked like a waterfall falling up. As the storm crossed a valley it was almost red, and then it spread out into a great, black, smoky-looking top that tumbled and rolled within itself.
As we watched, the whole column disappeared over a mesa. A few large, splashing drops of rain fell here, with the sun shining at the same time.
We know there were a few hogans in the path, and perhaps there were flocks of sheep. No doubt we’ll hear soon of the destruction. Had we been in the path, this poor shell of a building would no longer be on the map.
It was really a wonderful sight. I’ve seen sand storms and rough breakers and blizzards, but this cyclone is by far the most exciting.
It’s turning quite dark. I must go and see if another cyclone is coming.
Monday, and two days after the storm which, or perhaps I should say who, has been the main topic of conversation for two days. Be it known that a god travels in such a storm —a god who can see where he is going and does everything intentionally.
What we should call a special prayer meeting lasting five nights is to be held for two little boys who were caught in the path of the cyclone with their sheep. The first, a lad of thirteen, on seeing and hearing the big wind, tried desperately to drive his sheep to shelter. He crowded them until they jumped over a low bluff, and then, having barely time to save himself, the boy threw his arms around a small tree. At that instant the wind struck him, took his feet from under him, and whirled his body round and round the tree. His sheep dog was carried into the air and dropped unhurt among the huddled sheep at the foot of the bluff.
The boy’s grandfather is a medicine man and will be one of those officiating at the five-day ceremony.
The other boy, a younger lad, lived about five miles from the first. When the wind came, he dug with his hands around an old stump until he could get a grip on some of the strong roots. His family, who were several yards away, saw his feet waving in the air an instant before the cloud of dirt blotted out everything. After the storm passed, the boy was still alive, but not much more than alive.
One Navajo brought us a wagonload of wheat that he had buried. Only the family knew where the wheat was, but the god in the storm knew, and he found the grain and uncovered it. Now, since the god has touched it, it can’t be eaten by people or fed to stock. The fellow who brought it to us warned us not to eat it and made us promise not to sell it in the store or feed it to the horses. He said we could feed it to the chickens.
According to his own story, Clizidochizi, a medicine man, saved the store. He saw the wind coming and hurried out to change its course. He told us about it with the gestures of throwing kisses with both hands and making pushing motions with outstretched arms. The fact that the storm was coming directly toward the store, and turned and went by a mile and a half away, proves this story.
Those nearer the storm than we were report that stones and trees were flying, dirt by the acre was in the air, and sheep and lambs went sailing skyward to fall dead, or nearly so, at the edge of the wind. On the mountain side big spruce and pines were uprooted and thrown to the ground. Many Navajos saw the god in the black tumbling cloud, lightning shooting from his hands and two streaks of it from the crown of his head.
I asked Robert who the god was, and he told me the story, prefacing it with the remark, ‘I cannot tell all. The words are hard for me when I don’t know how you call it. ’
It seems that a sort of supreme god, Natoni, lives in the sky, ‘the same place Jesus does.’ Other gods are directed by him, and one of these comes to the earth once in a man’s lifetime to take back sheep, goats, ponies, denay (people), for Natoni to use as patterns in his future creations.
It was this god who came in the storm. You can easily understand that it is he who makes the grass grow tall, brings lambs to the flocks and babies to the hogans. Since he has been here this spring, a good year is anticipated. Lots of grass means fat sheep and big crops of corn.
Queer, is n’t it, that such a beneficent being should be so destructive!
It has been thirty years since the last visit of this god. An old medicine man who saw the other wind will sing the principal part in the five nights’ prayers for the two boys. The idea of the prayers is to ask Natoni not to take the boys for patterns or for company in the sky.
An idea of self-protection is evidenced by the fact that for four days no Navajo will cross the path of the cyclone without first putting some little black and white and red beads on the broken ground where the wind has been.
It has rained and snowed every day since the cyclone. Each day we think no one will come to the store; they will surely all stay home by the fire. But no. They seem to gather here to talk over the storm. Each goes through the whole scene as he saw it.
I’ve seen another thing that will stay with me as long as memory lasts and will remind me of the strength and fortitude of woman. I should still be making custards for a white woman who was confined less than a week ago; but Mrs. Charlie has almost finished a blanket since her baby came, and it’s not a week old.
As a background for the story, note the indifference of the Navajo men. Every day for the past weeks, as well as any other time, Mrs. Charlie has carried a keg of water by a brow strap, and a pailful in her hand, from our well to her hogan. The trail is sandy and hilly. Up to the morning of her confinement she worked on a blanket.
Charlie was not in the least concerned, though the death of his sister in childbirth last winter had plunged the family in grief too genuine to doubt. A death among these people means both sacrifice and grief. Each gives much-needed robes, saddles, jewelry, or something of the sort to be buried with the body. Charlie gave a new bridle and a silver belt. Such experiences do not make the men more considerate when the next new member of the family is expected.
Once, when Mrs. Charlie had washed a lot of wool and carried water, Charlie kept a horse up so he could ride quickly to call the Navajos should her pains turn out to be the final signs. Next morning, however, Mrs. Charlie was better and washed wool while Charlie went to a rabbit chase. He was gone all day and all night. There was horse racing after the rabbit chase. A crowd of thirty or more of the sportsmen came here to the store on tired, sweaty ponies that had not had a drink or a bite to eat since noon the day before. There was a great demand for canned tomatoes and soda crackers. These were eaten in three minutes, and then there was a cloud of dust as the tired ponies were whipped into a run over the hill and out of sight. You can understand that Ken had to listen to another lecture from me on Navajo morals.
A few mornings after that, Robert, who is Mrs. Charlie’s brother, told us the Navajos were gathering at Charlie’s house for the borning. Soon Charlie came dashing up on a dripping pony.
As pale as a brown man could be, he came into my room instead of going to the store. I was sitting at the sewing machine. As I reached for a bottle of antiseptic with one hand and clean towels with the other, I wondered if I should be able to ride a horse without putting on riding clothes. How long would it take me to walk in the soft sand ?
What do you think Charlie wanted? He asked for tobacco. The medicine man wanted to smoke. After he got that, he said his wife had been sick a long time. Then he suggested that I go up to the hogan. I started, but he bolted by me on the trail before I was fairly on my way. Every Navajo at the store followed. I was so displeased I almost turned back, but the thought of Mrs. Charlie and my own inborn mania for the unknown kept me going on that sandy trail, hatless in the burning sun.
As I approached the hogan, I counted sixteen ponies standing around, and saw a group of men in the summer hogan. A little flock of sheep and goats was being held against the rocky bluff, and Charlie wns just swinging a rope to catch one. I could hear the chant of the medicine man inside the main hogan, so I drew aside the blanket that hung over the doorway and went in.
It is that first glimpse that will stay in my memory forever. In all ray imaginings of the crude Indian way of treating sickness, I had not thought of such a thing as I saw. The hogan was cleared of everything. The ashes in the centre of the floor were cold. Six women and three men, all the place would hold, were there. Mrs. Charlie, fully dressed, knelt facing the east. With both hands she clung to a wool rope that was passed over a roof rafter and tied in a knot for her to grip. Behind her, with both arms clasped tight around her body, was a man; the sweat poured from his face as he pressed it against her shoulder. Two women held their hands over Mrs. Charlie’s on the rope; their faces were wet and drawn. A medicine man stood at her side singing and tapping Mrs. Charlie on the head, shoulders, and stomach with a bunch of eagle feathers.
Her hair was tumbled all over her head and face from his beatings; her eves were an agony of pain; the lines of her face were deep; and the sweat had dripped on to her red velvet shirt until the front was thoroughly wet.
The man kneeling behind the patient spoke, and one of the other men came and took his place, putting his arms around her before the first withdrew his. With one hand he clasped the other wrist and put all his strength into the grip around her body; Mrs. Charlie leaned her head on her hands and groaned. When the pains came the man had help from the others. They all talked at once, and the medicine man sang high and fast, and beat her with the eagle feathers wherever he could get in a tap. Mrs. Charlie clung to the rope, never once letting go, never lying down.
As the pains stopped, the man who knelt behind the patient rose and retired to the wall to sit down. The medicine man smoked a cigarette. The women wiped the sweat from Mrs. Charlie’s face and held water to her lips.
At last, in the midst of some of this agony, the baby came. A woman who knelt in front of Mrs. Charlie on a sheepskin brought out the child. She laid it down on the sheepskin with its head touching the sand of the floor. The bright direct rays of the sun from the smoke hole in the roof struck it squarely.
The men rose and joined the crowd outside. Charlie came in and looked at his wife, but did not go to her. One of the women went out and came in with a pail of water; another held out the child as you might a jack rabbit, and the first took a cup in one hand, the pail in the other, and threw water over the baby as it was turned round and round and over. The water was cold; I felt of the pail to be sure.
I held one of my clean towels ready, but someone reached out with a dirty flour sack and would have wrapped the child in that if I had n’t thrust the towel in where it would do the most good. They gave the child to me then. It was as cold as a wet beefsteak.
While I sat holding the newest member of the family, the next older child, a little boy about two and a half, was brought in. His one garment, a little black velvet shirt, was stripped off over his head; he cried and called to his mother, but for once she did not answer him. They took the little boy out in front of the hogan and emptied a whole pail of cold water over him. The crowd outside laughed and roared and told him he was a man now, and no longer a baby.
Mrs. Charlie by this time was looking almost as usual. She drank some corn-meal gruel and talked a little with the women. They all seemed relaxed and were inclined to be gay and sociable. I was included in the fun and was urged to treat the whole crowd to candy.
Being unable to get the baby’s feet warm, I passed it over to its grandmother, Charlie’s mother. She shook out a little lambskin, and, wrapping the baby in a dry towel, folded the skin across it and turned up the foot. This she tied firmly, and then made a roll of another sheepskin and laid the baby against it. Someone had a twisted wire ready and this was put over the baby, and a piece of muslin which I had taken up, thinking of bandages, was thrown over the wire and the baby. The wire kept the muslin away from the baby’s face. It went straight to sleep.
I got up to go. They all asked me to make lots of clothes for the baby. Outside, a fire was burning and a young kid was boiling in a big pail. A woman was making bread, frying the dough in a Dutch oven full of hot grease. Everyone was happy in the anticipation of a square meal.
I came back through the hot sun and the deep sand. How any Indian woman escapes blood poisoning I don’t see.
An old friend has been here for a short visit.
A social dance, as distinguished from a ceremonial dance, was held about four miles out in the desert — four miles of sand and brush. A Navajo came to the store to load a wagon with canned goods, crackers, and tobacco to take out to sell to the crowd.
Ken told us to get in the wagon and go with him if we were so eager to see the sights. We did. It tickled the Indians to see us come out in Stetsons and Indian robes.
That ride! The driver flapping the reins and yelling at every step, and the little ponies fairly digging in their toes! They had to run on the down grades because the driver never put on the brake. Once we walked and helped push the wagon out of a deep, sandy wash.
A mile from the gathering we could hear singing; then we smelled piñon smoke and soon could see the fires. As we climbed a rise, we saw against the full moon, horizon high, the singers standing in a tight group, heads bent together; horses, dark masses and single animals, wagons, smoking camp fires, massed humanity.
Our wagon stopped at the edge of the crowd. It was a grand-stand seat.
In the centre of the group of singers was a drummer. The song was in unison and the rhythm perfect, though the drum beat each note rather than the time. The singers swayed a little as they sang. The crowd was very quiet; no one spoke loudly; now and again a man came softly to the wagon, bought a can of tomatoes and a box of crackers, and melted into the crowed; meat was cooking over the scattered fires. As we comprehended the elements of the scene, we realized that what we had thought to be a heap of saddles and bridles, blankets, and so forth, was sleeping Indians. Each was wrapped in a robe, and some fifteen or forty of them were lying like pups in a basket, men and women.
We learned that this was the last night but one of the dance. It had started a week before, about one hundred and fifty miles away. The singers and a few followers were permanent, — composed the troupe, as it were, — but the others were local and new every night.
There were some five or six hundred in the audience—for it was an audience, so far.
About midnight the everlasting singing became tiresome, and we wanted to go home. The moon was very bright, but we did not dare walk because of wild cattle. We asked for horses, but they did not want to send anyone to bring the ponies back, and we had to stay. One of ‘our’ Indians got robes and spread them under the wagon on the ground, and we crawled under, wrapped in our own robes. We left orders that we were to be wakened when the dancing began.
Laugh! You can imagine how silly two lone white women felt. Under a wagon and in a mess of savages! When anyone came to the side of the wagon to buy something we could hear the driver say, ‘The white women are under the wagon.’ The newcomer would stoop down, look under, and say, ‘ A-la-hon-ie. ’
Suddenly, just as we had dropped to sleep, — fancy sleeping! — the wagon began to roll backward, horses were kicking and snorting, and the dust was thick under the wagon. We both left that place on all fours, Polly out one side and I the other, into threshing horses and yelling Indians. The uproar stopped. Since the singing seemed to be just the same, we crawled back under the wagon, but in the mix-up a bottle of soda pop had been broken on my side of the bed. I got into it and the broken glass. Of course we could n’t sleep again, and soon they told us the dance was about to begin.
The singers changed their stand to the edge of the dancing space, opposite a big fire. The old fellow with the drum came forward and did a solo. Another fellow stood up and talked at length about a stolen bridle and saddle. Everyone listened respectfully, but no one answered. The singers gathered about the drummer and sang another tune, and the dance began.
Did I say dance? That would seem to imply fun. But of all the tired, uninterested people, those men were the worst I ever saw. We stood up to see better, and thanked fate we had n’t been able to go home when we had wanted to.
Each of the girls, in her very ‘durnedest’ clothes, walked solemnly up to the ring of onlookers, seized a man by the coat or robe, and pulled him, protesting, to the clearing, if he did not get away by might and main. Once in the open, the man ceased to struggle and stood quiet. The girl, still holding to the back of his robe, started around him backward on her tiptoes, lightly. The man turned slowly round and round, and all the time looked bored to death. There was not a laugh, not a smile, not even a willingness in the whole performance. It was unspeakably funny to Polly and me.
The greatest joke of the evening was that one of the girls mistook me for a man and got hold of my robe and wellnigh dragged me out before she realized who I was. My resistance, of course, was part of the game, and the girls never look up to see who their victim is. One or two men standing near laughed a little, but the girl did not change expression; she merely reached for another partner.
The man has to pay the girl ten cents, more or less, for each dance.
They danced until about three, and then the singers began again. Polly curled up on the wagon scat, and I found a place among some boxes in the back. We had a short nap before daylight, but were glad when the Indians began to hitch up. They sing until sunup, and we drove off and left them singing.
Christmas means warm fires, snow, red berries, music, and gifts wrapped in tissue paper. Day before yesterday we had the warm fires, but even they were not according to Christmas specifications, and the other accessories were novel enough to make history.
We planned to watch the benighted Navajos cook dinner; we had even declared we would eat with them; we would spend the day watching their games. For our treat we prepared a hundred small bags of candy, cookies, and a red apple.
Christmas Eve the heathen began to arrive over these hills. There were wagonloads of women and children and scores of men and young folks on ponies. Everybody was dressed in his best: beads, bracelets, and silver belts glistened against bright-colored velvet shirts and glossy sateen skirts with miles and miles of flounces. I made several of the skirts and I know how many miles long a flounce is.
By dark there were some two hundred Indians here, and their food supply seemed to be extremely short. Apparently they expected ‘Kismas’ to begin at once. Ken had killed a beef, expecting to supply meat for the Christmas dinner, but now he took down a hind quarter and cut steaks and more steaks until there were enough to go around. The adults came and took what they needed for their families for supper and Christmas morning breakfast. What they did not eat at once they were afraid to put down because someone would steal it, so all the evening they strolled around with great red raw beefsteaks in their hands.
We had provided several loads of wood so that they could help themselves, and the Christmas fires, big and little, were all over the place. They were so all over the place that we were uneasy. One family settled down and built their fire within two feet of the walls of this frame shack of a store building. Ken had to go out and insist that they move elsewhere. They were indignant, and thought it quite fussy in me to go out and shovel dirt over the bed of live coals they left.
Big fires were made on the level space where the dancing was to be, and the fires and the full moon made the night so light we could see the whole landscape round. The dancing was just for the Indians’ amusement and ours, and was in no sense ceremonial. Now and then some of them danced a figure from a ceremonial dance, but without the costumes and other accessories. The music was made by a clay water jar with water in it and a rawhide stretched over the top. One fellow played this, or beat it, and others shook rattles made of paper bags with beans in them.
The best dance of the lot was one danced by some of the older men. They had to dance and sing because the younger men knew neither the proper songs nor the dance, and the eight men who made up the figure sang, laughed, and kept up the most violent sort of exercise until they dropped, panting, to the ground. They all assured us that when they were young men they could keep it up all night, but now they were old and full of meat besides, and they could n’t do what they used to do.
With that dance and others, wrestling, and racing about the fires, there was plenty of activity. There was nothing cold or solemn about the gathering; everyone was laughing and happy. They are a most fun-loving people and laugh at the same sort of things we think funny.
We were up early Christmas morning. While the men and boys went out to the flat mesa to race their horses, we womenfolk thought about dinner for the crowd. By eleven o’clock two squaws began making bread, and the efficient way they went about it was a lesson to me. A twenty-fivepound sack of flour, a frying pan or Dutch oven, a can of baking powder, and a bucket of well water formed the total of their equipment. They rolled back the top of the sack, put in a pinch of baking powder, and mixed in enough water with their hands to make a dough stiff enough to handle easily. This was pulled and patted into a cake that covered the bottom of the cooking pan and fried in an inch or two of fat. The finished cakes were stacked in piles. It was an interesting performance; but after I had watched for a time I realized that they could not bake enough bread for the crowd that way, so I started to make biscuits in the oven.
Some squaws built up stones about the cooking fires to set tubs on, and soon we had three tubs of the meat simmering, each with a squaw to tend and stir it with a long splinter of wood from the wood pile. The wash boiler did duty as a coffeepot. There was a forked cedar stick in it to hold the bag of coffee under.
Other squaws I set to peeling onions and potatoes, and very handy they were at it, too. These we added to the meat tubs. When it was all well cooked, I mixed a pail of flour and water for thickening and added that with salt, pepper, and chili.
One of the children was sent out to the mesa edge to call the men, and in a few minutes they charged in, the ponies running pell-mell between the camp fires and jumping over the clutter of camp stuff, the Indians yelling like pirates and quirting on both sides.
The dripping ponies were left at one side, and the Indians came to the fires. I dipped the stew into pans, all we had in the store, and then we passed tin cups of coffee and spoons for the stew. The family group sat together, and everybody ate and ate and ate. Some of the heathen, I know, had not had a square meal for a month.
When that was done, the children lined up to get the bags of candy. I passed them out and soon became suspicious about the length of the line. Investigation revealed mothers and older sisters standing around the corner of the store, putting bags of candy into their blankets and sending the children back to stand in line and get another.
We agreed we had never seen such a Christmas and should not see another in a lifetime.
This goes out to-morrow, but I ’ll just add another word. Under ordinary conditions, it is not so difficult to watch the haystack and the store, but watched they must be. One has only to turn his back to give some wily savage the urge to reach across the counter and help himself to what is on the shelves. The counter is breast high on the Indian side, and they have to get up on it to reach across. If one is caught in such a position, he gets down unconcernedly, saying, ‘Yadela — my granddaughter, I was looking for a bit of string to tie this sack.’
Another day is done and I have just been out to see a beautiful sunset such as no one would credit on canvas. I believe the Indians appreciate the glory of it. At least they agree with me when I say it is lovely, and when I close the store and go out to look at the sky they wait patiently for me to go back. ‘San Chee [my name] likes red sky,’ they explain to each other.