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Navaho Life of Yesterday and Today
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Chapter III:

TRIBAL NAME The origin and meaning of the name "Navaho" is important in solving the mystery of location and mode of living of the tribe just before the arrival of the Spanish. Largely on evidence derived from the study of this name, it is assumed that in the early seventeenth century the Navaho were an agricultural tribe living a sedentary community life in the northwestern corner of New Mexico.

It is common practice among American Indian tribes to refer to their own group simply and grandly, albeit provincially, as "the people." A neighboring tribe, however, will give them a name descriptive of some peculiarity in their habits or location. Occasionally this descriptive term comes into the vocabulary of "the people" as an alternate tribal name. Such has been the case among the Navaho. Like most of the Athapascans, they call themselves Dene, "the people" or "men." The name "Navaho," popularized by the Spanish among both Whites and Indians, was not quickly taken over by the Navaho because of the difficulty in pronouncing the letter "v" which is unknown in their language. They now use the name "Navaho" principally in talking to outsiders (Matthews, 1910).

The term "Navaho" did not appear in print until almost a century after the Spaniards had come to the Southwest. This absence of reference has been taken to indicate that the Spaniards neither met nor heard of the Navaho in the sixteenth century. Amsden (1934:122) summarized the situation in the following statement, "All accounts indicate clearly that the northernmost line of Pueblos marked the limit of Spanish exploration in the 16th century, and it seems proper to conclude that the Navaho were not encountered because they live somewhere north of this line, where all but a few of them live today." (Amsden summarizes and quotes old Spanish sources and other important data on this period.)

FIRST REFERENCES TO THE NAVAHO In 1629 Fray Geronimo Zarate-Salmeron (translated, 1900), who was in the Southwest between 1538 and 1626, wrote that the people of Jemez told him of a route which led to some far-off heathen Indians in the west whom he wished to convert. This route led by way of the Chama River near which, the Jemez told him lived the nation of the "Apaches de Nabaju." As the name "Apaches de Nabaju" suggests, even at this early time the Navaho were classed with the Apache.

In 1630 another reference also places the Navaho in the Chama River area. Fray Benavides, in his "Memorial to the King of Spain" (translated, 1900), said, "This province (of the Navaho) is the most bellicose of all the Apache nation." Other Indians had to get alum for dyeing from this territory and there was much fighting. He wished to make peace between the Navaho and Pueblos by uniting them at his Santa Clara pueblo mission where he had gathered a few Navaho. He stated that the province of "Los Apaches de Nauajo" was more than fifty leagues north of the "Apache de Xila." Unlike the Gila Apaches, who were nomadic hunters, the Navaho Apaches lived in communities and farmed extensively, a fact which their name indicates, Benavides wrote, it means "great planted fields." He also mentioned briefly their hunting, leather work, and hogans. He did not mention weaving, which the Navaho may not have had at that time. Benavides usually was careful to describe each tribe at its best in order to impress the King of Spain.

Hewett (1906) found that a pueblo ruin of a pre-Spanish period in Pajarito Park of northwestern New Mexico, in the Chama River region, was known to the Tewa as "Navahu," meaning "the large area of cultivated lands." Nearby were extensive agricultural lands. Hewett concluded that either "Apaches de Navajo" referred to an intrusive band which invaded Tewa territory and occupied this particular region; or the Navaho occupied similar extensive agricultural lands elsewhere, so that their habitat would always be known to the Tewa as Navahu, "great planted fields". The people would be called Apaches of Navahu until they came to be known simply by the name of their habitat, Navahu or Navaho.

The Navaho, according to the Ethnologic Dictionary, still speak of dineta ("Dene country"), where their fathers lived before coming to their present habitat. Traditions point to the modern Jemez and Tewa regions as the locality of dineta.

Linguists have interpreted the name "Navaho" in different ways. An old interpretation by Matthews (1897) was that "Navaho" was derived either from "navaja," Spanish for stone knife, referring to the knives of the Indians; or from "navajo," a pool or small lake. The Ethnologic Dictionary suggests the combination of "nava," meaning field, and "ajo," an old Spanish suffix which gives a depreciative significance to a word. Thus, "Navajo" would mean a large, but more or less worthless, field. Harrington (1920) also interprets "nava" as field, but thinks the ending is derived from the Tewa word "hu'u," meaning canyon.

In summary, scientists are substantially in agreement that when the Spanish arrived the Navaho were living by farming and hunting in the neighborhood of the Jemez and Tewa pueblos, in the northwestern part of New Mexico along the Chama River.

THE SPANISH AND NAVAHO The Spanish paid only a little attention to the Navaho and Apache groups at first. Their major energies were devoted to converting and exploiting the wealthier and more docile Pueblos, who, because of their concentration in communities, were more accessible than the mercurial Navaho. Bancroft (1890:222) reports that the Spanish and Navaho were friendly until 1700, when the Navaho committed some depredations for which the governor sent an expedition to punish them. It is hard to believe that the Navaho had not run afoul of Spanish authority before this.

Benavides, at Santa Clara in 1630, attempted to convert the Navaho to Christianity. Another important attempt was made in 1746 at Cebolleta, where Fray M. Menchero built a mission to accommodate 400 to 500 Navaho. A second mission was built for them at near-by Encinal. A year of sedentary life was sufficient to weary the Navaho. They departed, grumbling that they had not received the presents promised them for becoming Christians. In 1804 some asked to return, but were refused. Even as late as 1865 and later, the Cebolletano Navaho were the only Christianized members of the tribe; the others were still pagan. (Hodge, 1910, on Cebolleta and Encinal; Bandelier, 1890:305, note 2 on Spanish MS.)

After 1700 the Spanish found the Navaho to be an ever growing scourge because of their raids and alliances. The tribe always managed to be at peace with some tribes, while it fought and raided others. They feared only the Utes, who had learned war in the Plains area. Once the Plains tribes acquired the horse, they developed Indian warfare into an art. The annual efforts of the Spanish to break up alliances and outwit the Navaho are reported in the letters of the Spanish governor de Anza, 1777-87. (Thomas, 1932). These efforts were fruitlessly continued until, in 1846, the United States relieved the Spanish of the Southwest and their Navaho problem.

THE FRENCH The French, like the Spanish, were attempting to gather some of the rich prizes of the Southwest for themselves, and they had scrimmages with Navaho and Apache warriors. Bancroft (1890:222) states that in 1698 the French almost annihilated a Navaho force of 4000 men. This figure sounds decidedly exaggerated because as late as 1785 there were said to be only 700 Navaho families with five or six members in each (Thomas, 1932:350); the whole tribe had only 1000 warriors. Amsden (1934:132) thinks that even this figure is too high for a population of about 3500.

THE PUEBLO AND NAVAHO FIGHT It was a hard time for the Pueblos, who were harassed by the Whites, Navaho, Utes, and Apaches, as well as by internal dissensions. The Navaho took advantage of the Pueblo pre-occupation with the Spanish invaders to raid towns, drive off the herds, gather up the harvest, and steal women. Their attacks were constant and devastating enough to force the Jemez to abandon two of their pueblos in 1622. Later they became the deadly enemies of the Zuni, whom they forced back to inaccessible mesa villages. The Zuni tried to trap the marauding Navaho, who came on horseback at night, into pits, ten feet deep, filled with sharp stakes and artfully concealed by branches (Ten Broeck, 1860:81).

The Jemez and Navaho relationship is of particular interest historically, and it reveals Navaho tactics. Although the Navaho had driven the Jemez from their homes in 1622, they were in alliance with them a half century later against the Spaniards. A plot failed and twenty-nine were hung (Bandelier, 1890:209). Next, Jemez, Navaho, and Tigua united in another uprising.

The unsuccessful Pueblo Rebellion of 1680 against the Spanish drove many Pueblo refugees into the wilderness of Navaho territory. The Jemez Pueblo was unsubdued, until in 1696 their last important insurrection failed after the desertion of their allies from Acoma and Zuni. They abandoned their valley and disappeared for about ten years, after which time they were again seen in their former habitat (Bandelier, 1890:215). Kidder (1920:328) found, in the northern San Juan area, abandoned sites with remains of both Navaho and Jemez cultures, showing that these peoples had lived together. He states: "That the Jemez eventually returned to their none too fertile old range, in close proximity to the hated Spanish, is evidence enough that they were not in the most enviable of positions in the country of their notoriously fickle allies." Davis (1857:83) mentions a case of successful treachery by the Jemez against the Navaho in 1820, when they murdered a visiting party of peaceful Navaho.

THE NAVAHO TRIBE GROWS By the end of the seventeenth century there were many Pueblo refugees and captives in Navaho territory. It may well be that, if the Navaho are as recent in the Southwest as generally believed, most of the Pueblo mixture in the present physical type of the Navaho may date from this period of Southwestern rebellion. Bandelier (1890:262) declares that the Jemez were more than half Navaho, so the Pueblos too were affected.

Without doubt this period marked a turning point in Navaho life. The eighteenth century saw them increasing in culture, numbers, and territory. A map of "Provincia de Nabajoo" of 1776 (reproduced from Spanish manuscripts by Amsden, 1934:Plate 57A) shows the rapid westward expansion of the tribe. They were well over on the west side of the Chuska Mountains in the region of the great canyons. Their territory in 1785 constituted five main geographical divisions: Cebolleta (mentioned above) and San Matheo on the east side of the mountains; Chusca, Chelly, and Hozo (Bear Spring) on the west (Thomas, 1932:350).

Raids had brought to the Navaho substantial herds of cattle, sheep, and horses to start them on a semi-pastoral life. In 1705 (Thomas, 1932:350) they were reported to have "500 tame horses; 600 mares with their corresponding stallions and young; about 700 black ewes; 40 cows also with their bulls and calves, all looked after with the greatest care and diligence for their increase...."The raiders had also brought slaves and Pueblo women, who taught the Navaho to weave, The Navaho blanket soon became a desirable trade article among both Whites and Indians.

A Navaho anecdote told to Hill (1936), picturesquely presents the change in values and mode in life. The Navaho claim that formerly Canyons de Chelly and del Muerto--in later times their great fortresses--were occupied by people who came originally of Hopi stock. These people were farmers and rated as "poor" by the Navaho, who now counted wealth in terms of stock and not in fields. These canyon people had beautiful women--prettier than the Navaho girls--so the Navaho braves would sneak on horses into canyons to steal the women. The canyon people would then work off their rage by attacking the Mexicans. The people of the canyons, because of their devotion to farming, have kept even into modern times the reputation of being "poor folks." Mindeleff (1898: 483) states that the farmers of Canyon de Chelly were looked down upon by their sheep-raising relatives, who, nevertheless, always showed up at harvest time to gorge at the great feasts of their country cousins.

TRADE Trade was extensive and brisk during the Spanish, as well as the later American, rule. The Pecos River Indians brought buffalo skins to the Pueblos; Zuni offered salt; Tanos, turquoise; San Felipe, mineral paint for pottery; Santo Domingo beads; Acoma, cotton mantles; Utes, hides and basketry; and the Navaho brought their blankets and deer hides (Bandelier, 1890), The Navaho "captains" were already wearing silver jewelry, traded perhaps from the Mexicans. The Navaho spoke good Spanish, being "more adept in speaking Castilian than any other Gentile nation," according to a Spanish writer of 1795 (Amsden, 1934, 132). Agriculture became work for slaves; women did the weaving; the proper occupation of Navaho men--and of some women, too--was war.

NAVAHO AND PUEBLO CULTURAL RELATIONS Although the Navaho coveted the wealth which the Pueblos so industriously developed and accumulated, they felt toward the latter as they did toward the canyon farmers. They still refer to the Hopi as the "Moki" or "Dead People," while the Hopi make no secret of their feelings that the Navaho are upstart invaders. Apparently the term "Moki" comes from Hopi custom of burying the dead in shallow graves near their village. Although the Pueblos are primarily agricultural and the Navaho depend largely on their flocks, the two have much in common in the higher arts of life--weaving, religion, mythology, and so on. The flow of these higher arts has usually been from the Pueblos to the Navaho, who have reinterpreted them and given the their own peculiar stamp.

Kroeber, in discussing the interrelations of the pastoral and agricultural tribes of the Southwest, states (1928:386): "In one respect the heart of the American Southwest is unique in North America. This is its possession. of two parallel and heavily interinfluencing streams of culture, the agricultural and nonagricultural. These evdently behave toward each other somewhat like classes in a single society. Navaho and Hopi, to be sure, feel toward each other like two adjacent European nationalities of separate cultural tradition. But, also like these, they impart culture material to each other. And the economic base of society is so thoroughly different that a remarkable contrast has become established between the essential uniformity in the formal or upper levels of the two cultures and the diversity in the underlying ones. The Navaho sandpainting altars and meteorological and fertilization symbolism, for instance, must inevitably have been taken over from the agricultural Pueblos, and fitted into an old, anarchic, priestless scheme of more or less shamanistic curing ritual, with little other effect than to invest this with vividness and picturesque interest. In fact, freed from the close intent and official tradition of the Pueblos, the paintings of the Navaho took on an aesthetic quality superior to that of their masters. Navaho myth and legend are similarly filled with Pueblo material, again treated with a freedom which the better defined purposes of the Pueblo did not allow. The martilineal reckoning of the Navaho, so anomalous in combination with their unsettled life..., is also almost certainly taken over from the Pueblos; and so with their weaving--a strange art to occur among a people practically without baskets and pottery.... How far there was reaction upon the Pueblos is as yet less clear. Their culture has been avowedly on the defensive for three or four centuries, and probably so in the grain for as long, before. Yet some discernible interaction is expectable."

THE MEXICANS The Mexicans became the bitterest enemies of the Navaho. The former were the mixed-blood descendants of the Spanish and the Indians. Spanish and American accounts report with horror the slaughter by Mexicans of Navaho who came peacefully to trade, or the slaughter of innocent Mexican traders by the Navaho. No matter what the case, a war of reprisal was necessary--either to steal what had been left behind, or to avenge murder. The Mexicans were forced to abandon several cities because of the Navaho attacks; and generally it was conceded that the Navaho were better warriors than the Mexicans. Eaton (1854), an American officer, sourly maintained that the Navaho were not good warriors, but that they seemed so because the Mexicans were cowards. The Mexicans called the Navaho their slaves, and scornfully declared that they furnished them (the Mexicans) with good weavers, whom they could sell to the Spanish at a high price. The Navaho stole the Mexicans' sheep, but refrained from completely annihilating the enemy because, so they said, they wished to leave a few as shepherds to raise more flocks for the Dene.

SLAVERY The Navaho stole hundreds of slaves from the Mexicans and the native tribes. In turn they also lost some of their tribesmen to Mexican raiders. Intelligent and industrious Navaho women who knew how to weave were highly prized. A beautiful and healthy girl of eight was sold for as high as $400 worth of horses and goods. Poor people frequently sold orphans or their own children for a horse or an ox. It was once estimated that there were from 2000 to 3000 Navaho working as slaves in Spanish or American families (Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Report of 1867:325 ff.). Children born to the Navaho women who were Spanish slaves had the rights of citizens and free men.

The Navaho treated their slaves well, although there was no hesitation in killing them when ritual duties required the sacrifice. Two slaves were given the duty of preparing and burying a corpse, after which they were killed on the grave. Slaves were sometimes adopted into a family; they married Navaho, and their descendants might form a new clan. That "slave" clans existed, the Navaho admit, but no one will acknowledge that his clan was founded by captives. (Reichard, 1928:15; Ethnologic Dictionary, 1910:424).

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