Mary May Bailey

Mary May Bailey

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Listen to Mary May Bailey

Underhill: We thank you for your willingness to speak with us today.

Bailey: Thank you for the opportunity.

Underhill: We'd like to start with where and when you were born.

Bailey: March 15, 1921, in Magdalena, New Mexico. I guess when I first started to talk I thought it was real smart of me to say, "Betty was born in Albuquerque and I was born in March." (laughter) I had an older sister Betty, who was two years older than I; and a younger brother, Roger, who was fifteen months younger than I. So when he appeared on the scene quite unexpectedly, my father said he would take care of me, and Mother could have the other two to take care of, besides the ranch and all the other stuff that went on.

We lived out of Magdalena in the Datil Mountains, which is just about as cold as you can get anywhere in the world, except the Arctic. And it wasn't fit for mother cows, so they just raised steers and put them right on the market. And at that time, Magdalena, during World War I, was the biggest shipping point in the United States for beef for the Army.

While my father was in the Army, his father and his younger brother bought a whole lot of livestock at a humongous price, which were all steers, and after the war stopped, there was no sales, so they went busted and took out bankruptcy. It took them a long time to get it paid off.

So that is when we moved to Piñon. Now, do you know where Piñon is? (Underhill: Yes.) Okay. In 1924, you can imagine what it must have been like. The roads were very poor. Our only contact…. was with Lorenzo Hubbell and he was at Oraibi. So we went there and we played and we had a good time. We washed all the pottery and put it out and put it in a hospital--that took care of it. We rode stick horses. And then one day my sister decided she wanted to go on a picnic. So she went to my mother and she said, "Could we go way out in the country and have a picnic?" And Mother thought to herself, "Honey, we couldn't get any further out in the country than we are!" (laughter) But she made us a lunch and put it all in a little red wagon, and we went under the first piñon tree we came to and had a picnic.




My father was Jot Barnett Stiles. My mother was Marjorie Bowles. She came from Guthrie, Oklahoma, to Winslow in 1914 to teach kindergarten. And her parents just thought she was going to the end of the world. So they sent her oldest brother with her to make sure that this was a proper place for a young lady to be. She had six older brothers--she was the only girl. So you can imagine their concern. And her father was a lawyer in Guthrie, Oklahoma. His name was Alfred H. Bowles. So she didn't like it at first, but boy, she sure got used to it in a hurry, and she never wanted to go home again.

Daddy came to Winslow in 1903. Barnie Stiles had come in first with the Hashknifes [a huge cattle company]. They had driven the Hashknifes as far as Albuquerque, and the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad was finished, and they loaded them on cars and brought them to Winslow. So that's the way the Stiles family came to Winslow. I guess they had a bad drought here, and they took them to Montana. It was owned by a big syndicate in New York City. So they went to Montana and they all froze to death. So there was remnants left that they hadn't been able to gather. Now, that range was from the New Mexico border to Flagstaff, to the Mogollon Rim and to the reservation line, which is a lot further out than it is now. So they had many, many riders, so there's lots of people who want to know, "Did you know any of the Hashknifes?"

But there is a story about one of 'em, his name was Rimmy Jim [phonetic spelling]. I don't know if you know where Rimmy Jim's is. It's right there by the Meteor Crater. He had a trading post there when [Highway] 66 went by. And he built an outhouse for all the people that stopped to have a little rest. The one he built for the women was a two- seater. So when they first started working with microphones, he bought one and put it underneath there. And he would wait until some rather large woman went out, and then when she finally got seated, he'd say, "Pardon me, madame, would you mind moving to the other hole, I'm painting under here." And she would come flying out! (laughter) And that was his entertainment. Now, his name was Rimmy Jim and he was a rider for the Hashknifes. And I asked my father, "Was he from the rim country? Is that why they called him Rimmy Jim?" And he said, "No, honey, he had a Rimmy ["rim-fire," or center-cinched] rig...And when you had that many Jims and Johns and all of the common names, you had to differentiate." And how I learned that, I went to school with a girl here who was a Smith. And my father always referred to him as Bill A. Smith. And I thought, "That's a strange way to address a man when you've known him all your life. So I asked him one day, "Why do you call him Bill A.?" "Well," he said, "when he went to the Hashknifes to hire out, there was a whole lot of Bill Smiths, so he was the first one, and he was Bill A., and the next one was Bill B." (laughter) It's just a lot of fun.

Underhill: How did your parents meet? Here in Winslow?

Bailey: Well, yes. Mother came to teach school, and Daddy used to ride in from out--they had a ranch north of town here--and he was very shy. There's a picture of them in their later years. But I have a lot of pictures of him when he was young. That's it! And in the bedroom there are big pictures, and they're very handsome people. And he used to tell us kids, "I used to peek around the corner and wait 'till she came by, and I'd say, 'Hello, Miss Bowles.'"

Well, when school first started here, there was a huge funeral, and that's when Uncle Barney had died. And that was in 1914. So most of the teachers went to the funeral, and one of Mother's roommates came home and said, "Say! was there ever a knock-out, good-looking man who was one of the mourners!" So Mother inquired what his name was, and she said, "Jot Stiles." So eventually they met. And they had quite a nice courtship.

World War I was just beginning to come into being, and they knew they would have to go. So Daddy told her that he was not going to enlist in the Army, he was going to buy some bulls and go to the Argentine. Well, as things went along, he changed his mind and sold the bulls and enlisted in the Army, and he was sent to Naco as a border patrol. All the men that rode horses were on the border patrol. So he did so well there they sent him to officers training school in San Diego. And that's when things were beginning to end, and they needed him at home, so he finally got out ahead of the others, and tried to save what he could in Magdalena, but there was no way they could meet their bills. So they spent the rest of a long time paying it off. That's when Daddy went to be an Indian trader.

Underhill: What do you think made him choose that path? Did he know Lorenzo Hubbell?

Bailey: I think they had met, but he had been working with the bank in Holbrook and the one in Winslow by going into the rim [country]and he told me in later years, if he had had any sense, he never would have done it, because he was on horseback and all he had was a rifle, and that was dangerous country. It was full of people who had run from the law, all over the country, and hid down on the Tonto Rim. So he said, looking back on it, he didn't know why he had ever chosen such a path, but he did. And then eventually he tied up with Lorenzo Hubbell and went to Piñon.

Underhill: How old were you when you first arrived at Piñon?

Bailey: When I first arrived at Piñon, I was about three years old. And then we had a car, which was an old Dodge, and that's my first memory, is being asleep in the front seat between Mother and Daddy, and hearing that car gear down and gear down, like they used to, and then come to a stop, and seeing my dad take off his shoes and socks and his pants, and then we could see him go down to the wash and wade and see if he could find a rock bottom or something we could cross on. And if not, then he came back and he said, "All go to sleep, we're here for the night." And we'd have to wait 'til the wash went down, to cross. And that was either the Polacca Wash, or one of those coming in that area, because we were always around the Hopis. But it was some exciting times.

And of course we didn't get any mail, much; and no fresh groceries. But occasionally they would send them out from Flagstaff or Winslow or Holbrook on the mail route. So we did get some connection. Lorenzo Hubbell brought Daddy a wet battery radio--one of the first ones--but they could never get it to work. So that was out. No telephone.

My father had an abscessed wisdom tooth, and he was suffering the agonies of the damned with that thing. He heard of a doctor, he thought, that was at Keams Canyon. So the doctor turned out to be a stockman for the United States government, and all he had was one pair of forceps. So he pulled and yanked and pulled and yanked--now, with that infected--and got it out. And then he bathed it in.... What was it? Oh, shoot! It was some kind of an acid, but it wasn't an antiseptic. And oh, he had the sorest mouth and throat for a long time. Mother fed him egg whites beaten with sugar in it, to keep him goin'. But at least he didn't have a toothache!

Now, my uncle Barney, who this started out with, had a toothache when he was rounding up cattle, getting ready to bring 'em in here to ship from Winslow. And it was hurting him very badly, and he knew there was no dentist here and none anywhere around. So he heated a wire, red hot, and found the hole and stuck it in there and cauterized it. Well, when you hurt bad enough to do that, you hurt! But I've often thought how strong a people these had to be.

…. We were eighty miles from any railhead, from anyplace, mainly. And there wasn't much communication among people. They just didn't travel around. We did go to Ganado, finally, and meet the elder Hubbells. And that was the first electric refrigerator I ever saw. And my, how marvelous to make ice! (chuckles) But I just remember the trip barely, and I've gone back since, and it comes back to my mind, what it was like to meet those ______ people. We stayed overnight, and then we had to go back to Pinon. Then when Betty got to be six years old, they needed to have her in school. So Daddy and Jess Smith, I think--yeah, that was Jess Smith--that bought a partnership. No, they bought.... I don't know how, but they had a partnership at the Tuba City Trading Post before Babbitts took them over. And that's where Betty went to school and I went to school and my brother went to school.




Now, I had diphtheria. They'd just gotten there and gotten settled, and it was wintertime, or late winter, and I was the only case in Coconino County. I can remember the men coming from Flagstaff, and they looked like giants, and they had a rod like that, that they were gonna stick me in the side with, and they did, one on each side, for the toxin, anti-toxin. And then I was unconscious for a long, long time. Mother had a friend who was one of the nurses at the Indian hospital there, and she would come down and stay with me a lot. And I don't know, I guess it was not meant for me to go. So around Eastertime, I began to come to. And the first time I can remember really being aware, is that I could pull the matter off of my eyes and open them, without my mother bathing them. (phone rings, tape paused)

Underhill: We're back.

Bailey: Where was I?

Underhill: You were talking about diphtheria, and it was the first time you could wipe the matter away from your eyes.

Bailey: Okay. And Betty and Roger had cranked up the Victrola, and they were playing the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel. And that's always been one of my favorites. Oh, my! to wake up and hear that and know that the kids were there, and I could play again! There's pictures of me. Mother finally got my hair combed, and she curled it, and she took a picture of me front and back--cut off my hair--no more of that jazz.

So then I went on to school, and because I was a year late going to school, Roger and I went all through school together. When we moved to Winslow to go start our real schooling, I came home from school the first day and I just blabbed on everything Roger did. And he got me aside and straightened me out real well. He said, "I'm going to school tomorrow, and I'm going to tell Mother everything you do." So, boy, that cinched it! We never told anything that went on, unless it had to be told. So I learned to keep my mouth shut at a very young age--which is a good thing.

Underhill: What was the Tuba City Trading Post like when you arrived?

Bailey: Well, it was huge. They had to keep the cards and vanilla in the safe--which was a strange thing for me to think about. We had two traders that worked with Daddy all the time: Bill O'Brien, and Sandy Hassell [phonetic spellings]. And that's where Sandy got his start. He's written some books, and I have lots of pictures of him. And we played in the wareroom and jumped in the wool sacks, and we had a great time. And that's where Roger found the dinosaur print. And there's lots of pictures of him with his feet, to give an idea of how big those prints were. And then Daddy always told us that over in that same area there were hoofprints of miniature horses. So somewhere over there in that area, they must still be there. And I can remember when we came to Flagstaff, you could see dinosaur eggs everywhere. Some were very large, and some were quite small. And you couldn't find one now if your life depended on it. And I've often thought, "Why would somebody take those?!" I don't know what they could do with them--maybe cut 'em in two to see if there was an embryo in. But it's always amazed me.

Let's see.... We had a one-room school, grades one through eight. The Curley [phonetic spelling] kids went to school with us, and the Richardsons, and then that was Bill and Harriet. And then the other Richardsons lived at Cameron, so whenever we went to Flagstaff, we'd always stop by and saw them, and they had three children, and they all died very young. I don't know what happened there. Over at Cow Springs there was another little girl I used to play with occasionally. And then there was some on up the way. About this time they were getting ready for putting the bridge across Lee's Ferry. Now, we went up there, and I don't know what for. I rather imagine it had something to do with sheep. But I can remember going down the dugway and I have pictures of Betty and Roger and I sitting on the bank, waiting for Daddy to help the man get off the sandbar. And we went and stayed in Kanab, and it rained and rained and rained, and we couldn't get back for a week, so we had to stay in Kanab that time.

Then on our way back.... Let's see, what was that girl's name, that lived at Lee's Ferry? Anyway, she was a real nice girl, and I enjoyed her. So when they opened up the bridge, Mother and Daddy and I guess everybody else that could make it, went to the dedication of Rainbow Bridge. Now, I have pictures of when they started, and all the way across. But while we were there, they just kept playing, "When It's Moonlight on the River Colorado," and Mother and Daddy danced and danced all night long. Then the next morning we went to the dedication and some guy in an airplane just like that one went underneath that bridge and out. Oh, I just can't imagine anybody having that kind of nerve. But that's when we went across there, and I guess they built another one, now, because that wouldn't handle the trucks.




The store was a big hexagon, and all the way around was-- they had a big opening where the big double doors opened and came in, and that was always called the bullpen, and there was a big stove in the middle, to get warm in the middle, in the wintertime. And they all managed to, there was always a coffee pot going. And on the counters there was always a cigar box with a spoon tied with a string, and made permanent with that box. The box was filled with tobacco, and there was always papers.

And there was always an odor about a Navajo trading post that if I was to go in one today, I would recognize it immediately. There was a mixture of wool, ground coffee, and all of these other wonderful smells--oh my!--and hides. Some smells not so good, and some smells good. It made it just wonderful. And cheese! They always had a big block of cheese that they could cut cheese off. And then all mainly canned goods. Lots of pawn. Lots of big, heavy safes. I don't ever remember being robbed at Tuba, but we were robbed one time at Castle Butte, and I'll tell you that story later.

Anyway, when it got to be close to the thirties, my father knew it was time to get out. So he sold his interest back to the Babbitts and we moved to Winslow. He didn't know exactly what he was going to do, but he thought he wanted to go into the cattle business again. So he found a ranch out of Holbrook that was thirty-five miles north of Holbrook, that was the Turkey Track Ranch, and he bought it and stocked it. And we moved to Turkey Track. Well, by this time, my sister is in the eighth grade, and Mother knows that she cannot.... For a while, we moved to town and Daddy stayed at the ranch, and then when Betty got to be an eighth- grader, the Depression was pretty bad then, so they boarded her in town, and Mother taught Roger and I at home. So we had a marvelous time. We could do our studies in the morning and go play all day.

Once in a while Mother would ride with Daddy, but he said it got too expensive, he couldn't afford all that Absorbine Jr. (laughter) And I can remember one morning Mother saying, "Well, am I going with you today?" And he said, "No, not today. This would be two bottles of Absorbine Jr." (laughs) So it was rough riding.

But Roger learned to ride really well. I guess Daddy started from the first, and then I was part of the learning process. He would yell at me, "Mary May, run by me and beller like a bull!" And he'd rope me. (laughter) So I had a lot of rope burns early on. But it was fun, we just had a great time. He was one of my best friends. And he was killed in World War II, Achen, Germany. He was in the second wave that came into Normandy, and they fought all the way across to the German border. He was a staff sergeant. Anyway, that nearly killed my folks, when they lost him, but we went on.




One cold winter morning, the Collier's magazine had just come, and I was down at Mother and Daddy's and I'd been looking through it, and it was all about going to the moon, and how they were gonna get there. So I took it to Daddy and I said, "Daddy, look at this article. Do you think they'll ever get to the moon?" And he said, "Honey, I can't even begin to think about that. I've got to get to Holbrook this morning, and I can't figure out how I'm gonna do it!" (laughter) I thought that was a pretty good answer.

Underhill: How did you see trading change over time? You saw it from the time you were very young.

Bailey: Yes. It was a totally different thing--especially when they first started the CCCs [Civilian Conservation Corps], and they put those men to work killing.... What are they called? Prairie dogs! Prairie dog crews. So they would hire all of these young Indian men, and they would go out and use poison grain and hit every prairie dog town they could, to get rid of 'em. They thought they would bring an increase in the amount of grass. Well, that wasn't causing the overgrazing. The overgrazing was too much livestock. But that was one answer to the United States government.

And at that time.... John Collier was his name, and he wanted to reduce all of the herds of the Navajos. So he forced them to sell--not taking into consideration that these were how inheritances.... Livestock was always an inheritance from the mother. She owned all the livestock. And if there were four or five children, they would just not have anything left if they had to kill all of these, which they did. And traders bought 'em and sent 'em to Kansas City by train. So his name just became a swear word among the Navajos. I don't know if you've ever heard that or not, but it was, it was just a swear word--they just hated him.

Underhill: How did that affect your business?

Bailey: Well, there was no price of anything at that time. You know, everything was Depression. But Daddy always managed to make money with his rugs and with the trading post--it always made a profit. Like I say, he was a shrewd trader and he knew how to do it.

When they first started the draft--and that was before we were in the war--they sent all kinds of flyers out to all the trading posts to open up a place where these men could come and register to sign up for the draft. So Daddy thought that was a real good idea, so he put a.... We had a big ceremonial hogan that he had bought after one of the ceremonies close to Castle Butte. He bought the whole thing and had the men come up and set it up by Castle Butte, because it made a wonderful place to have an extra bedroom or just extra room, which we didn't have much of. So he put up a flag pole and flew a flag, and put a big Navajo rug out there on the side of the hogan, and that's where these men signed up. Well, that morning that they were to sign, this young Navajo man came. One of the first ones, and he had a bedroll on the back, and a rifle mounted in a scabbard on the side of his saddle, and he hung around all day long after he signed up. He was still there when we were eating supper. And Mom said, "You know, I think you ought to go out and ask that man what he's waiting for, Jot." So Jot puttered out, he asked him what he was waitin' for. He said, "I'm waiting to go to war. I'm all ready. Just as soon as they tell me where I can go, I'll go." And he said, "Well, it doesn't work that way. You've got to wait 'til you're drafted."

But they were good people. My, a lot of them were very good- -real good friends.

When Daddy died, they came to Mother immediately, two different medicine men came. And they said, "We want you to know that we're having the same ceremonies for Jot as we would have for our own." So Mother said, "Well, now, let me help you with it." And she took the key to the store and went down and gave them flour and sugar and coffee and whatever else they needed. So it was the day that Kennedy was shot. I had just come home from school, and my daughter came home to have lunch with us, and his name was Honagotnee [phonetic spelling]. He came with his daughter, and he said, "Now we need to finish the ceremony with your mother." So we sat out on the front porch and he went through his chants with his corn pollen, and his daughter interpreted for us. And that's the only ceremony that I know of that was ever held for a white man. And I thought it showed a great deal of respect, and Mother was very well pleased. But the fact that it happened the same time that Kennedy got shot was a little unusual.




Underhill: How did things change after World War II?

Bailey: Well, I think the Navajos knew that they couldn't make a living with just staying on the reservation, so a lot of the men went to work for the Santa Fe. And they were good workers. When they had the ice docks in Winslow, they iced all the cars at night. And a lot of those Navajos came in and worked as ice workers. And of course the upstairs of Mother's house, the windows were always open in the summertime, and Daddy could listen to all the Navajos talking as they loaded all this ice. (laughter) And he could understand what they were saying, and sometimes he'd just wake up. Everybody'd just be asleep and he'd just wake up laughin' his head off. (laughter) Oh, they're a great group.

And I like the Hopis, too. And I fire all the time now. I have a kiln, but it's down right now. Two elements are burned out. But I fire, and that box over there is greenware to be fired. Now they're using ceramics--you know, poured ceramics--to make these beautiful things. I'll show them to you before you go. They do beautiful plates. They make big bowls. Oh, there's some out there in Polacca that just do wonderful work. Now, the ones at Oraibi, I don't know what that's called now, but Oraibi are bringing theirs in. They're not quite as good as the ones around Polacca, but they bring in lots of it.

And there's two men that work out there in geriatrics that have degrees from Flagstaff, and they get hard up for money every once in a while and they build a bowl about this big the old way, and paint it, and then they fire it the old way so it will be variegated. Then they bring it to me and I fire it for ten bucks, and they take it to the Heard Museum and sell it for $3,000. (laughter) But they are beautiful things, and I just can't get out of it. I just love to watch and see what they're making.