Virginia Burnham

Virginia Burnham

Full Transcript in Text Format

Listen to Virginia Burnham

My mother had a lot of sheep and cattle and so wherever there was a lot of feed, that's where we went.  We didn't really have....  Well, she did have a hogan, which was kind of central, around in the middle of the grazing area, so we lived there in the wintertime.  The rest of the time, it was like wherever there was water and more feed, that's where we went with the sheep and the cattle, and it was basically just my mother and us children.  My stepfather didn't stay around very much....

And out there on the reservation, we didn't have any close neighbors­mainly my aunts and uncles and my grandmother lived at least two to five miles from each other.  It was just basically our family... We used to hide every time we'd see a vehicle or someone coming.  That's because we never had visitors, and we were all shy, I guess.  We didn't want to....  It was just strangers­we didn't see strangers.  And after a while, the person comes in, and then you start peekin' around the side to see who it is.  Sometimes if it's a relative, then my mother would call us in and introduce us.  We just were very quiet.  I guess that's why a lot of the Navajo people are very quiet, because they just kind of....  You know, we were in remote areas....

Most of the time that I remember, it was just like camping out.  We'd go take our provisions and the few necessities­our bedding, some dishes and stuff.  We'd take that along, and wherever we settled, it was usually­we'd pick a place, my mother picks an area maybe under a tree, and that's where we'll stay for a few days­I don't know, maybe a month or so­and then move on to another area.  We didn't have permanent homes in those areas, except for the winter home.
 

Cole:  Did your mother weave, too?
 

Yeah, she did.  The kids learned at a young age to help her prepare wool.  We learned how to shear when we were young, learned how to clean, card wool, and spin.  And then she did the weaving.  I was always too busy with the sheep or something else, taking care of my little sisters and brother, to really learn.  I think my mother just­to her it was peaceful when she was weaving, because whenever she went to weaving, she'd always tell us not to bother her or talk to her.  It was just that kind of a peace with the rug.  We just stayed away from her, and every once in a while she'd say, "Now I'm going to teach you how to weave, how to do this."  And we'd just watch her.  She didn't really say, "Now, do it like this."  We would watch her do her warping, or start weaving.  I was too young to be really interested in weaving, so I never really asked any questions.  I just basically knew.  Once I tried to weave on my own, and it just happened that day I was trying to do that, my mother showed up and she showed me how to do my warp the right way.  But I never did really learn.  And she did most of her weaving just for trading with other people.  She would do her weaving, save it up, and take it to the Gallup Ceremonial or to the Window Rock Fair.  At the time, the Flagstaff Powwow was really big.  That's where she would save all her weavings to trade with the other people­the Zunis and Santa Domingos.  She loved jewelry, so she would trade for things that she liked.
 
 

***



My grandmother lived about five miles from where we were at.  My grandmother was one of those very lively....  She walked everywhere.  And if it was long distance, she rode a horse.  Right up to the day she died­she was ninety-five when she died­she was still walking long distance, and still doing the things that she did from her younger days.  So she would always walk to different areas to visit her grandchildren.
 
 

***



My mother had over 1,000 head of sheep, and more than 300 goats.  But goats is what we didn't like, because they ran.  They would take off.  My mother had the sheep trained pretty good, I guess.  From the time she was little, she started raising some of those lambs, and she would talk to them, and she could recognize almost every sheep that she had by different markings.  She knew exactly which lamb belonged to what sheep.  And I couldn't­sheep were sheep to me, they're all the same.  If we lost one, she would always know.  She'd say, "Now, that one that was like this is gone."  But what we did was we had a corral and every morning, the first thing we'd do is, if we had small lambs, we'd catch all the lambs that were the smallest, and put 'em in a pen, and then the rest we let out.  And then somebody­usually myself or my cousin and another one of my sisters­would have to go after the sheep.  We'd just take them, because there's a lot of coyotes out there, we had to watch them constantly.  And then there was other people that had sheep, like my grandmother and my aunts and uncles.  We all watered our sheep in the same area.  There was a watering hole there.  So in order to keep them from getting mixed up, we have to keep our sheep back until my grandmother has her sheep headed back her direction.  And then we'd take ours in.  And then we have to stay there with them and make sure that all our sheep, when they're leaving, that they're all together, so someone else can bring their sheep in to water.  And then for the cattle, we had to make sure that they had plenty of water.  And if there were small calves, we always marked them, to make sure that, you know.  And let my mother know which cow had a calf.  Each one of those was the same­she knew each one, the markings on them, and she knew which calf belonged to which one, and so we had to tell her when there was a new calf that came.  So just a big responsibility.  My mother was raised that way, so she, at a young age, even when I was six or seven, a lot of that became my responsibility because I was the oldest.
 
 

***



My mother made us get up early, before the sun was up, every morning, to start our chores.  And then we went to bed with the sun.  When the sun went down, we had to be ready for bed.  We always had early evening dinners, and then lots of times we would sit around and tell stories, or tell of the day's events.  Then the funnest time I think we had was when my grandmother used to come over.  Another one of my grandmother's brothers­we call him Shichei­he used to come over and tell us stories of the Navajo legends.  You know, the coyotes, and about the lizards­just lots of stories.  That was like watching TV, I guess.  (chuckles)  We used to want to hear those stories over and over.  We really enjoyed the stories in the evenings.

Cole:  Was he a good storyteller then?  I guess what I'm wondering, were some people a lot better at telling the stories?
 

Oh, my grandmother was a good storyteller, and so was my grandfather.  Adakai Begay [phonetic spelling] was his name.  He was an old medicine man, and he told really good stories.  I never recorded any of those.  My stepfather, later, when he started staying around a little bit, I would hear stories.  He would sit down and try to tell us stories, but he didn't have....  You know, he would leave some of it out, and we always reminded him, "No, it's like this!  That's not the way it is!"  But my grandfather's gone now, and he was the best storyteller, and so was my grandmother.  I wish I'd have known to record some of their stories.
 


***



[My mother] went to Dinnebito Trading Post, which is where my husband used to work.  And then there was another one, Oraibi Trading Post.  I guess that was owned by the Hubbells.  There was a different trader there before Lij Blair.  He was really good friends, became really close to the Navajo people, just like Lij and Bruce did.  My mother used to say that these traders....  When she was trading before, I knew very much about the trading business, when I was younger.  She'd always talk about saying, "I want to go see my friend, the trader."  So she'd go down and she may not have any money, but they would let her charge, I guess, for whatever she needed, because in those days she would bring home I don't know how much money's worth of groceries, but it was a lot of groceries­all the staple items.  She would bring a lot of stuff back.  I guess what she did was, she charged on an account.  And then when shearing season came, she would take her wool back to that trader, and then they would weigh it up and deduct her account and pay her whatever was the price of that wool.  And then she would charge again from there until the next time when it was time for selling lambs.  And then she would pay her bill and get whatever was coming to her in cash.  And then they start all over again, just charge until maybe she might sell some cattle.  That's what I learned later on, after.
 
 

***



When we first got started here at Cedar Point, it was just Bruce and I.  We had the little trading post, so he and I did all the work.  Kids started coming at that time.  We started having children, so I would bring a crib into the trading post, behind the counter, and work at the same time, and watch the kids too.  We worked together more like we were business partners.  Whenever he had any kind of decision to make, we would sit down and talk about it, and we made decisions that way.  Even now, it's still like that.  We're more of business partners.  He would tell me what he intends on doing, or his new ideas, and ask me for my input, and we just work together like that.
 
 

***


I have seen a lot of changes.  We used to drive through the reservation without seeing very many lights.  Just recently we were driving through, it was just like driving through town, through the city.  Even hogans that are out there on the reservation have outside lights, those streetlights.  I was commenting to my husband about how many lights­it was just like going through a city.  We used to come through here and every once in a while you'd see just a real dim light out there where somebody lives.  And most of the time you'd think that there's nothing out there when you don't see any lights.  There was satellite dishes everywhere, and TV antennas.  People, the reservation, a lot of those people have more than one vehicle in their yard.  .... 

When I was growing up, we didn't even have a vehicle.  There was only one man out there north of where my mother lived that used to have a truck, and he would come down and anybody that wanted to go to the trading post would be standing on the side of the road.  They'd wave him down and he would give 'em a ride down there.  And then the same coming back.  If someone was coming up, he'd pick 'em all back up and drop them off again.  Sometimes my mother would make special arrangements, because she went to the trading post maybe once a month or once every two months.  She would make arrangements with someone to take her so she can get a month's worth of groceries or whatever she needed to get.  But there's so many vehicles out there anymore.  Used to see horse-drawn wagons at the trading post, when you'd go to the trading post.  Even when I started working at Dinnebito there were still people with wagons and on horseback that used to come to the trading post, but you don't see any of that anymore.