Evelyn Jensen

Evelyn Jensen

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Listen to Evelyn Jensen

I was born on Black Mesa, south of Kayenta--Black Mesa, Arizona, in 1954.  I was born there.  Actually, my mother was going to pick up wood, so I was actually born at a wood pile, I wasn't born in the hospital.

 I was Bit’ahnii Clan.  Most of the people here at Oljato are the of the Bit’ahnii Clan, so even though I wasn't born and raised here, I came back to my Bit’ahnii upbringing, I guess, so to speak.  And I was born for To’ahani, and my maternal grandfather is Ashee-he [phonetic spelling] and my paternal grandfather is _______. 

When my mother met my father, they moved to Black Mesa and they made a home there.  They mostly raised cattle, sheep, and horses.  And my mother was a rug weaver, and she also took care of the livestock.  When my father went to a lot of the jobs into other states, like working on the railroads, or even to Barstow, California, working with the ammunitions, my mother did a lot of the upbringing of the kids and sending us to school.  A lot of times she didn't have any money to buy groceries for us, so she would weave a small rug, hitchhike to Kayenta or one of the nearest trading posts, and therefore get some groceries for us that way...

My mother tried to make a weaver out of me, but I was kind of more of an outdoorsy person.  I love horses, so any excuse to get out and ride horses or go on a cattle roundup, that's what I would do.  So I didn't really learn how to weave rugs all that well.  My mother told me that my first rug was just a small rug, it didn't have any very fancy designs, it was just stripes.  And I took it to [Tsaya?] Trading Post, and I got ten dollars for it!  And I think I bought some groceries, a pair of shoes, and I had some change left, and my mother said I saved that money forever.  She asked me why I didn't spend the money, and I said, "Well, I'm just saving it for a rainy day."  (laughter)  And that's the only rug that I remember ever making...

I think the designs that she made, she more or less learned from my grandmother.  They had maybe four or five different patterns that they used, and they stuck to that particular design.  I mean, once she sat down, she knew which design she was gonna make, and she stuck with that.  I do remember that she made me card a lot of the wool and spin a lot of the wool, too, and that wasn't a really good job for me either.  (laughter)  Like I said, I would rather be off riding horses or on some adventure...


I remember going to, I think my first trip ever to a trading post was [Tsaya?] Trading Post.  Pretty much it was set up like the old trading post style with the bull pen.  I remember looking at all the candy and everything.  Everything looked so good and so delicious.  (laughs)  And then there was a trading post in Kayenta--I believe it was called the Kayenta Trading Post.  I went there a lot, because when I started going to boarding school, we would have our weekend trip to the trading post to buy goodies...

My favorite one was the "Look" candy bar.  (laughter)  And what amazes me now is even if you had only a quarter, you could buy a whole bunch of stuff.  You could buy stuff for a penny, for two pennies.  And you take a quarter and you just felt like you did a whole week's worth of shopping.  Now, a quarter won't even buy you a bubble gum, maybe.


I... remember going to the trading post after my father had a vehicle.  Of course we would go in the vehicle.  But before we had the vehicle, I just remember my mother taking off on a horse.  I guess she would ride as far as the highway, and then she would either leave the horse there and catch a ride and go to the trading post, and then she would ride back on the horse.


I think in the old days the trader was expected to be everything to the community.  They could be a doctor, or they could be a lawyer, or they could correspond for people.  Of course, you know, a lot of people didn't know how to read or write, so if they had students off somewhere else, you know, they would read the letters for them.  A lot of the traditional people don't like to have anything to do with someone that is deceased, so a lot of the traders did burials, I think.  And then a lot of the traders at that time were like loan officers--they were there to provide loans to people.


Underhill:  How did you come to be here at Oljato as the owner of the Oljato Trading Post?

(chuckling)  Hm, I keep asking myself that!  (laughter)  I should be so lucky!  No, I worked for the bank.  I was manager of the bank in Kayenta for several years, and for some reason I always kind of--maybe it had something to do with my upbringing and going to a trading post, and how romantic I thought it was, you know, to have a trading post in some remote area, with a potbelly stove, and with a blue coffee pot, and just having people come in and visiting and having a cup of coffee.  I always kind of--that was my dream.  And so back in 1991, November of '91, Winona [phonetic spelling], who is the daughter of Virginia and Ed Smith, contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in operating Oljato Trading Post.  And before I really thought about it, I said, "Sure!" you know.  (laughter)  "That sounds like I'd be interested."  So within a week, they had a chapter meeting here at the Oljato Chapter House, and I had to go before the chapter and do my spiel on how I want to be a trader and all that.  Before I realized it, I had a trading post to operate, because they didn't want the trading post to close down.  I actually didn't have the lease yet, but they didn't want the trading post to close down, so lo and behold (laughs) I was here.


The role of the old trader I think is long gone.  And aside from being here as a trader--I mean, I have to do something else other than the trading post.  Otherwise, I'd probably be starving to death.  No--(laughs)  I do horseback rides, wagon rides, to supplement the trading post business.  Oljato, I guess, has always been on the map, but not too many people know where it is, because it's at the end of the road, this is it.  So we've had signs put out on the highway to mark where Oljato Trading Post is, and we've been trying to promote it.  So we're gettin' a little bit more of the tourist traffic, and basically, I think that's what it's gonna take to keep this goin', is tourist money, not local--not local money.

Underhill:  Are you still buying rugs?

Yes, I am.

Underhill:  Are you selling those wholesale to other dealers, too?  Some in the store?

No, mainly retail to the tourists.  And I try to buy everything that's locally made, like the pottery and the baskets.  I don't go to Gallup to trade for any of their goods there.  I try to buy everything local, because someone has to buy the local stuff.

...Another thing is just that the grandmothers and the grandfathers, the grassroots people, this is the last of 'em, unless I go and put on traditional attire and be like the grandmas, this is the last of 'em.  I think that's why I consider myself lucky to be amongst them, because once they're gone, that's it.  And it's so sad, maybe to see a grandmother out there that maybe their grandkids are being not very nice to them, or being rude to them.  It makes you want to cry.  And sometimes you have some older men--this is in their seventies, you know, their late seventies--they come in the trading post and they exchange jokes.  You know how they grab each other.  I just feel like crying, because you don't see that anymore.  (laughs)

I think I learned to value that, that these people are the last of it and you won't see any more.  And I think this is the only place here, too, that you will see Grandpa or Grandma riding a horse and hitching their horse outside, or maybe chasing their sheep across there.  You don't see that very much anywhere else.  It's an era that is fast going, and I'm just glad to be a part of it, I guess--a very small part of it.


I'm at an age....  I think I've gone through with "keeping up with the Joneses" and looking for materialistic things and working for that.  But now I think maybe by being out here where it's so remote and the life is just very easy, slow, and I think it has made me realize the traditions and the people, and I'm trying to learn more about that.  If I had a busy life schedule, I wouldn't have the time to do it.  And just to enjoy the scenery and the land that we have.  I'm more settled now, and I don't have to prove myself to anyone.  I guess that's it, so I wouldn't change, I don't think so, I'm happy.  I don't have much, but I'm happy.  (laughs)


Underhill:  What are you most proud of in your life?

Being a horsewoman, I guess.  I love my horses, and just the adventures that I go on.  I have my fun rides at the end of each season, and we've ridden horses from here to Navajo Mountain.  A lot of other outfitters have talked about riding to Navajo Mountain, and I was the only lady, and I did it first!  (laughs)  And just my horsemanship, I guess.  I love horses, and so....  That, and a lot of the people that do horseback rides in Monument Valley didn't really care for their animals.  You know, they would abuse them, and they would have saddle sores and stuff.  I would try to teach them or talk to them and say, "Okay, if you take care of your horse, they'll take care of you."  And that's what I was taught by my grandparents.  Even if you have a skinny little sheep, you take care of it, and in return, it'll take care of you, because it'll give you more little babies that you're gonna have for food or something.  So you have to take care of these animals, they have feelings, they're like humans, too... those were my father's teachings, and I think it pays off.