Piecing Together the History of a Navajo Family

Three Navajo women, one in a wheelchair, talking in front of a museum exhibit.
Photograph taken during a visit to Wupatki National Monument. Left to right, Polly Peshlakai-Atkinson, Katherine Peshlakai, and Inez Paddock.

NPS Photo

Wupatki National Monument is well known for its 900-year-old pueblos, but less frequently recognized are the historic structures built by the Navajo (Diné) people. There are 67 documented historic Navajo sites located within the monument. Of the approximately 200 Navajos who once lived in the area, only a few are alive and able to share their stories. This interpretive document is intended to introduce you to the stories that are tied to selected structures, artifacts, and landscapes encompassed by Wupatki National Monument.

a Navajo hogan shelter on a rocky landscape in snow beneath a cloudy sky
This forked-stick hogan was once occupied by Peshlakai Etsidi in the mid-1930s.

NPS Photo

a Navajo woman and man stand together in a desert wash
Baa and Peshlakai Etsidi near Wupatki Pueblo. Photo circa 1935.


Most Wupatki Navajos descended from a single individual: Peshlakai Etsidi (1805s–1939), who is also referred to as Grandfather. Etsidi traveled from the Gray Mountain area to the Wupatki Basin with his family in the 1820s, and at the age of 11 or 12 made the Long Walk to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico. In 1870 he returned to the Wupatki Basin and soon married Da'dii Baa. Etsidi and Baa had five children. Their eldest son Clyde Peshlakai became the "unofficial head of the family" and married Katherine Eltsosie in the mid-1960s. Katherine and Clyde had many children, including Polly Peshlakai-Atkinson.

a family tree depicting three generations of the Peshlakai family
Peshlakai Etsidi and Da'dii Baa were the parents of Clyde Peshlakai. Clyde married Katherine Eltsosie in the 1960s. One of their daughters was Polly Peshlakai-Atkinson.
a Navajo woman standing beside a small building of stone and stacked wood in the desert
Inez Paddock explains the uses of a sweat lodge located within the monument.

NPS Photo


In 2010, archeologists completed detailed documentation of five select Navajo sites located within the monument boundaries. This was an important first step in beginning to understand the Navajo occupation within the monument. During the project we were fortunate to have Inez Paddock, a National Park Service employee, share her experiences as a young girl living and visiting her cousin Katherine in the monument.

a family tree depicting the connection between the Peshlakai and Paddock families
a Navajo woman in the desert with four young children, one in a traditional cradle board
Katherine Peshlakai and her children at Wupatki, circa 1958. Left to right: Eleanor, Charlie, Jimmy, and Polly (cradleboard).


During the next few years, Inez Paddock volunteered her time and worked with NPS Archeologist Kelly Stehman to refine the existing Navajo ethno-history in an attempt to identify those who once lived within the monument. In 2013, Inez Paddock introduced Kelly Stehman to her cousin, a former long-time resident of the monument, Katherine Peshlakai and her daughter Polly Peshlakai-Atkinson. Together, these four women have been working to document the experiences Katherine, Polly, and Inez had while living in the area now encompassed by Wupatki National Monument.

The following excepts were recorded during a place-based interview at Wupatki National Monument on December 13, 2014. Click on the links below to listen to recordings from that interview.

outside a stone Navajo hogan under partly cloudy skies
This is the hogan that Polly and her brother Richard were born in. Photo circa 1950s.


Polly: Yeah, I was born down where, uh, my—my half-sister lives right now—hogan that fell in last year. That's where I was born with Richard; Richard was born at the same place, too... And then down this way is where we used to live, down in the valley.

two stone buildings at the bottom of a tall mesa
Wupatki National Monument Administration Building in 1953.


Polly: My birth certificate was made from here, from the ranger station.

before and after images of a wooden structure in the desert, intact and collapsed
Katherine used to live in this hogan, and Polly remembers it before it collapsed. The photo on the left was taken in 1985, and the photo on the right was taken in 2011.


Polly: I walked back over there one time to the Hogan—with one of my friends, we took a picture of us standing in front of it when it was still standing. And then, uh, we went back over there one time. Two years later I think it was, it was all, it fell in.

a woman watches over a flock of sheep grazing and drinking from a river in the desert
Little Colorado River, 1943.


Polly: People used to live alongside the river to get water from the river, but then it started flooding, so my dad's mom1 was living here, and uh, he got her and helped her with her wagon and stuff and got on top of that hill right up, on, on to your, the west side right over here—

1 Polly is referring to Baa, Clyde Peshlakai's mother.

a desert expanse filled with small, scrubby plants and a few hills
Historic photo of the Painted Desert near Wupatki.


Polly: After we moved from Wupatki we used to live right here, right in that area. That's where our first home was to get reintroduced to the reservation. We lived on, at Wupatki, for so long that the people—it was harder for us to move back here (reservation) because they didn't want us here anymore. Just by, um, one of my great uncle, I think, Emmitt Lee? He's the one that kind of put his foot down to a lot of the people and said let them live here, you know. So we just kind of squeezed to stay at the border of the reservation. That's as far as they allow, other people would allow us to move.

before and after images of a round, stone building, intact and with the roof collapsed
This is the "timeshare" hogan that Katherine and Inez used to live in. The photo on the left was taken in 1935, and the photo on the right was taken in 2010.


Polly: [Navajo]
Katherine: [Navajo]
Polly: I guess certain people lived in there off and on, and they once lived in there, too, she said.
Katherine: Big Ben [Navajo]
Inez: Big Ben from Leupp is the one that built it.
Inez: See it's kind of like temporarily where everybody moves in then leaves again, she said.
Polly: Off and on, shared hogan.
Inez: Yeah, and then she said they used to live there, too.
Polly: It's one of those—what do you call shares, share, share—uh, you know...
Inez: Timeshare?
Polly: Timeshare!
All: [laughing]
an elderly Navajo woman looking at historic photos inside a vehicle
Katherine Peshlakai looking at historic photos while visiting Wupatki National Monument.


Inez: How's your mom?
Polly: She's doing good.
Inez: [Navajo]
Polly: [Navajo]
All: [laughing]
Polly: [Navajo] [laughing]
Katherine: [Navajo] [laughing]
Inez: She says she enjoyed it. She used to just think about this area, but now today she traveled...
Polly: She says, "I traveled my old stomping ground."
All: [laughing]


This presentation introduced you to one of the many families that lived within the Wupatki Basin, before the area became Wupatki National Monument. Oral history is a valuable and important research method that provides firsthand knowledge about the interaction between people and their environment. The information gained from this project will be used to guide park resource management actions and planning efforts in terms of maintaining and improving the preservation, protection, interpretation, and visitor enjoyment of historic Navajo structures, artifacts, and stories. In the future, we hope to include more stories from this family, and from the many other individuals who lived within Wupatki National Monument.

afternoon sunshine glares brightly over a natural stone arch in the desert
Hole-in-Rock, Wupatki National Monument


Last updated: February 4, 2016

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