Russell Foutz

Russell Foutz

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In my days I've had about three names.  My first name was ‘Ashkii naaki yáál.  Naaki yáál  was "25¢ a piece."  ‘Ashkii is "kid."  I would go out shooting rabbits with my dad, hunting rabbits.  We'd eat the cottontails--he'd take them home...  And these jackrabbits, I'd carry 'em around by the ears, sell 'em to the Indians.  The only Indian word I could say was naaki yáál, and that's how much I wanted for a rabbit.  So they named me ‘Ashkii naaki yáál.

Then when I went to Teec Nos Pos, I let my whiskers grow out there, 'cause I thought that was the thing to do, and then they named me "Red Whiskers," Déghaa’ ªich out there.  So I had that.

But I guess my family name, if I had a family name, it'd be ‘Ashkii biwoo’ bitsilí biye’, "the son of the brother of the man with the big teeth."  See, I told you that Jim Foutz was "the man who had big front teeth."  He was named ‘Ashkii biwoo’.  And my dad was his brother, and I am the son of ‘Ashkii biwoo’ bitsilí.

So by one of the three names, they all know me, one place on the reservation.


When we started out, we was buying these Navajo rugs by the pound.  I would set them out and put them in the different stacks.  I think, as I remember, they went from about 75¢ to $4.50 a pound.  And then they would weigh them out, and there would be a few special rugs that would be bought by the piece.  I would get one of the--either Dad or one of 'em--to help put a price on one of those... So the rugs in those days run from a dollar a pound saddle blanket up to--a real high-priced rug, if it went to be a hundred dollars, it was right special.


The Indians have always raced horses.  They raced at their squaw dances and whatever they did--one day or one afternoon they would lead out a horse.  They would put a shawl or a blanket out there, and one would lead out their horse, and one would lead out the other horse, and they would start betting and putting their money on this blanket.  They would bet, and they've always had a place to run horses.  When we were kids there at Kirtland or Fruitland, we used to swim our horses across the river and race with the Indians.  They had a track smoothed out there.  Then we'd race against 'em, and they did the same way.  We'd put what we had to bet on the blanket, they would put what they had [on the blanket]... money, or watch, or whatever we had, what we would bet with them.

We did pretty well.  I didn't have anything really that fast.  I didn't do so well, but some of the others did pretty well.  They had some mares out of a Remount stud, and they did pretty well.  My little buckskin mare didn't do all that good.


Grandma Martin, we used to put her beads out on display, her red beads.

When the government give Fort Lewis to the school... they made it [that] any Navajo had free tuition to go to Fort Lewis.  And there's a very well-known woman we call Grandma Martin.  She only died about four or five years ago, I guess.  She was one of the first Indians to go to college, and she went to that Fort Lewis School there.  And we was talkin' about her famous red beads.  She had probably the biggest strand of red beads that there was--had two strands--she always wore around her neck, under her clothes.  And I was always kiddin' her about when she died, about I was gettin' her red beads.  Her kids drank quite a bit.  And she said, "Yes, you're gonna get a strand of my beads, but my kids are not gonna get it--you're the one that's gonna get a strand of beads."

So one day she came in there, and she motioned for me to come in the back room.  She sat down, and she had her red beads out.  She said, "I'm going to give you these.  I promised you a string of my beads.  These beads have been on the Long Walk."  You know, whenever that....  "They were my grandmother's beads, they've been on the Long Walk, and I want you to have a strand of them."  And here she was in the back room, telling me she's dying this weekend.

I said, "You're not dying this weekend," with her little hands trying' to get this string of red beads off.  She gave 'em to me, and she said, "No."  I said, "Grandma, as long as you're that--I want to furnish the bracelets they're going to bury you with."  "Okay, let's pick 'em out."  And I said, "Grandma, this is a payday week, we're busy out there.  You don't have to die this weekend, you can die some other time."

She said, "Oh, Mr. Foutz, you say the most terrible things!"  I said, "Put it off 'til Monday.  Come back in and get your [bracelets]."  "Okay, I'll try."  So the following Monday, she come in to get her bracelets to be buried with.  She'd put it off.

She lived another five years!  (laughter)

...I've still got the string of beads just in my desk drawer up there.  And I don't know who got the rest of those.  She said those kids wasn't gonna get 'em, so I don't know whether they did or not.


Cole:  What other influences have you had on arts and crafts that you can remember?

Well, after the war... I come across a--I had a beautiful Germantown rug that I exhibited at the Gallup Ceremonial, and somebody bought.  And some woman come up to me and she says, "I know who wove that rug," and she named the man that had wove it.  I always admired his rug.  And these Germantown rugs, they were in demand and they brought lots of money.  So I went to [Chimayo sp?] and I saw these Chimayo people weaving these rugs out in Chimayo.  So I got the address of these people that was where they got their four-ply yarn from.  And I ordered the four-ply yarn and brought it, stocked it, to Teec Nos Pos.  And I had some rugs wove out of it.  Then I even had one of the weavers split it, this German[town yarn], and weave it into one-ply.  The one-ply that they-- I couldn't tell the difference, and so I didn't think the experts could tell the difference.  So I had one of the better weavers weave one of the rugs out of the commercial one-ply, and put it in the Gallup Ceremonial.  And I just put it in the Gallup Ceremonial--"I don't know what category this rug should go in.  You can put it whatever category that it goes in."

So they put it in the category of the hand-spun Navajo weavings and give it the blue prize of hand-ply weaves...  And not only that, it got the Indian Traders Association prize.  I said, "[Judge], it was bad enough that you put a blue ribbon as homespun on a factory-made rug, but it was even worse when you gave the Traders Association prize money on it."  ...I had a lot of fun out of it.  So I thought, "Well, if the judges can't even tell the difference in these rugs, and these old rugs are worth a lot of money, why wouldn't the new rugs be worth just as much money as the old ones whether they were commercial or not?"  So whether it was a good thing or a bad thing, but it's the only thing, ...I introduced the commercial four-ply wool on the reservation that all the rugs are made out of now, except maybe one percent maybe.


...Yeah, we did give rug contests, and then we would have the tribal authorities judge these rugs every year.  There at the early days of Teec Nos Pos, they would just string over the sheep fence all the way around.  We would give to these weavers--I would give the real good jewelry for different prizes.  It turned out to be in those days it was good jewelry--it was jewelry that could be passed down, so that a lot of the good jewelry was given up there.  So that was a big influence on helping them to weave good patterns and encourage their weaving.

And then there was one real talented boy.  Most of the Teec Nos Pos weavers, they all have their own designs. If one family uses it, the other family's not supposed to.  But there was one [man] that he always drew on a piece of wrapping paper the design for his wife's rug, and they followed that.  I thought, well, the man can do that, too.  So then there was one of the good weaver's sons, on a tablet he was doing that.  So we'd get him to draw rug designs.  He'd draw 'em on a paper.... a real talented boy by the name of--his name at first was Harry.  His mother was one of the better weavers out there, and he was always drawing the patterns for these rugs.  And so he would draw them on sheets of paper.  He'd put 'em in our candy case and we'd let him sell 'em for 50¢ a piece.  Some of the real good patterns from Teec Nos Pos... was probably a pattern that this young boy designed. 


Cole:  What do you feel the Navajo learned from you?

(long pause)  Oh, we have helped a lot of them, in helping them with some of the designs, and what types of arts and crafts would sell.  We have found a market for the things that they made.  But they haven't learned as much from me as they have passed on to us, I think.  We've learned from them:  their history, their culture, and the things that they still respect and feel very meaningful to 'em.  Their respect for their older people and their family ties.  You can learn a lot from the Indian culture.  You can learn their medicine, their care of their people.  It's a lot that you get from their culture--more than we have to give--they have more to give to us than we give back.