Marie Lee

Marie Lee


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I'm from Aneth, Utah. I was born July 20, 1939, is when I was born there. I went to school in Stewart, Nevada, for, let me see, how many years? (laughs) I only went to school for five years there. Then I never did go back. I went to work in Marysville for one year, and then I went back to Aneth, Utah, for about two years, and then I started workin' for Mr. Blair in the Aneth Trading Post. That was 1960.

Cole: And who were your parents?

Lee: My mom's name is Hazel Salis Lee [phonetic spelling]. My dad's name is Dinneh Yazzi Lee [phonetic spelling]. My mom is seventy-eight years old right now. My dad passed away in 1983. That happens.

Cole: What were your earliest memories of growing up?

Lee: My what?

Cole: Like, how did your family live, did you have livestock?

Lee: Yeah, my mom had sheep and goat[s]. When I was a young girl, about nine or ten years old, I herded the sheep with one of my aunts. Her name is Ruby Salizar [phonetic spelling]. So I did that until I was about thirteen years old, and then I went to school. Not much school.

Cole: So that was when you went to Stewart?

Lee: Yeah, Stewart, Nevada.

Cole: How did you end up going there?

Lee: Well, the BIA people around the house asked for the parents and I need to go to school, I need an education. That's what they did. I guess they signed up for me. My mom didn't want me to go to school. She said [I should] stay home and herd the sheep. That's what she told those BIA people. I decided I'd go, so I did. So I went to school.

Cole: If you could describe for us like when you herded sheep, what a day was like--when you'd start, what you'd do.

Lee: Like what? (laughs) I don't remember some of it, what I did when I was a little girl. Well, in the morning, we herded the sheep, me and my aunt. We herded sheep all day long, until in the evening. Then we just put 'em back in the corral. The next day, we do the same thing, for I don't know how many years. Some of it I don't remember. I was kind of a little girl. I was just herdin' sheep with my aunt--followed her around. Wherever she goes, I will follow her around, just herdin' sheep or somethin' like that.

Cole: Did you have horses?

Lee: Well, we had horses, but I didn't see the horse until when I was about sixteen years old. Then I ride horse all the time--chase the horses, botherin' people. (laughs)…. That's what I did.

Cole: Then you said you grew up near Aneth. Was there a trading post there when you were a small child?

Lee: Well, used to be a trading post. I remember my dad used to work there for the Tanners. He worked for Ralph Tanner for a long time, I think--just sackin' wool or fixin' things like that. I don't hardly remember that much, what he did.

Cole: Would you ever go to the trading post yourself?

Lee: I did, yeah. I think I did. I was a little girl. I remember a little bit of it.

Cole: What do you remember about that?

Lee: Well, used to be behind the counter, is what they have. Just ask for something, they gave you, and just write it down on a piece of paper. I remember that's the time that they did that.

Cole: Would you ever have stuff to trade yourself when you were [a youngster]?

Lee: No, I never traded with my dad. He used to trade on the wool. That's what he raised us on that wool, workin' a little bit. Then he used to plant corn and stuff like that. That's kind of what we raised on it. Fourteen of us. Yes.

Cole: Where do you fall in that? Youngest?

Lee: No, I am the second-oldest, and the second child. About eight sisters and five brothers. That's how many.




Cole: When did you meet Mr. Blair?

Lee: Mr. Blair? In 1960. I think he came to Aneth again. My dad was still working over there where he took over--took over the store. He bought the store from not Ralph Tanner--what was that guy's name, from Farmington? Oh, shoot. A guy named Russell somethin'.

Steiger: Jewel McGee?

Lee: McGee, yeah. Somebody. I don't remember…. He used to bring my dad home. Aneth Point, that's where we lived. That's where we used to live in Aneth. I used to go down there and fool around in the store, and then just talkin' to him, all the stuff [like that]. And then he asked me for.... I guess he asked my dad--he needs help to work. And then one time my dad came home, he says, "That trader wants you to work for him." I didn't know him at that time. I tried to decide [if] I'm gonna work for him or not. So he came over here one time. We lived in a small hogan, living there. And then he says... And then there he was comin'. So I hided and then I went under the bed. (laughs) I just slid under the bed. My dad was sitting on the bed, so I lay in there. I told him, "Tell him I'm not here. I'm just gone to herd sheep down the river. Tell him." I guess my dad said, "She's not here. She went to herd sheep down the river." That's what he told him. And then he said, "Is there a road down there? I'm gonna go down there and ask her." My dad said, "No, there's no road down there." And then he said, "Tell her tomorrow go down to Aneth if she wants to work." I guess he said, "Okay." The next day I was tryin' to decide to work or not. Took me all day just to sit on Aneth Point for half a day, 'til around three o'clock, and I went down there and then I talked to one of the guys that Joe __________ worked for Mr. Blair. So I did, I asked him--he talked to me, that guy. That's when I started workin', April 6, I think, 1960, I started working for him.

Cole: And what did they have you do to begin with?

Lee: I just was a clerk, cleaned the store, dusting everything when I started. That's it. Well, after I was on and workin' and workin', then I was workin' in the post office, there for quite a while. Sometimes used to give out the mail and fix the mail, and the mail used to come in about noon, and then I just fixed it. The mailman picked up the mail _______.

Cole: What were your first impressions of Lige?

Lee: Well, he was.... What do you mean by that?

Cole: Just sort of like what was he like when you first met him? You didn't know him very well.

Lee: He was okay. He looks ________, I mean. To me, he was a nice person. He was treatin' the Navajo good, and he helps the Navajo when he has somethin'. Well, there was somethin' always comes up with the Navajo. He's always tryin' to help them to _______. Oh, how do you say that, like? (pause) Well, yes I have that wash in Aneth, and there's one from.... What's the name of it? Makenya [phonetic spelling] Canyon? There's one water that comes some, and from San Juan, see. It was goin' like this, and then there's the tradin' post right there. I guess when it rains it gets lots of water, so he used to go out and help the people make it across and stuff like that. He goes places, and then he helped a lot of people. That's what I think, he was a nice trader. He never beat nobody. That's what he did.

Cole: Were there some traders that weren't well thought-of?

Lee: Well, I think they do, a lot of them on that. They just.... Well, like this [other trader], he was kind of like that--used to hide the railroad checks. He used to make people trade on their check until it's gone. He just kept it under somewhere, I don't know. That's what he did. I don't think he was honest, or somethin'.

Cole: So he'd keep it (Lee: Uh-huh.) rather than turning it over, and then....

Lee: Until everybody traded over their checks, and then he's tryin' to give it to them. That's what he did.

Cole: And then how long did you work at Aneth?

Lee: Me?

Cole: Yeah.

Lee: Five years.

Steiger: Was that a common thing? You said that [other trader] would hold onto the checks. So he'd just keep the check and you had to buy all that?

Lee: Yeah, he'd make these people trade on the checks, until the checks are over what the check's on.

Steiger: Was that something that a lot of traders did? Is that a common thing?

Lee: I think so. I talked to a lot of these people, Navajo--they always say that he is like that. I'm not sure that's what they said to me, or that's what they taught to me. They always said, "How about that guy? He does the same thing?" "No, it's not that way."

Cole: Would the Navajo come and ask you questions then about how the trading post worked before they traded there?

Lee: Trade what?

Cole: It sounds like they were asking you if Elijah kept the checks or whatever. Would Navajo come and talk to you about [that]?

Lee: Yeah, but I said, "No, he doesn't do that." Well, sometimes they cuss us out for no reason. But they're doing something for themselves _________. Like we had an accountant at Dinnebito, and Mr. Blair used to set a limit how much they're gonna trade. But sometimes they went over the limit. That's the time they get mad at us and start cussin' me out, or cussin' Mr. Blair. They used to say to him--they always run to Mr. Blair, "She don't let me trade on my account!" or somethin' like that. That's what they used to say.

Cole: Did you move to Dinnebito right away, after you finished….?

Lee: No, I was at Aneth for a while, until he came and.... He came one time and said, "You're gonna take care of Dinnebito for...." I think it was two weeks. They said they were goin' back to Kentucky. So they went back, and then I was there for two weeks. I'm still there! (laughs) That's what they were sayin'. …. I guess his family went back to Kentucky and then 1965 I moved over there, start workin' Dinnebito. That's what I did.

Cole: And was that much different from Aneth?

Lee: No, not much. Well, it's different, yeah. It's different. The people are nicer than Aneth. I like the place, Dinnebito. My second home, to me, was over there. You can do anything over there. It's not as hot as Aneth or here. I like it up there. You can ride a horse. That's what we used to do every evening-closing time-we used to ride horse all the time.

Cole: Who would you ride with?

Lee: Mr. Blair and Jim Blair, and this guy named Bill Black, too. Used to go out horse[back] every evening.

Steiger: What would you do when you were ridin'? Were you workin', were you checkin' on stuff?

Lee: No, just ridin'.

Steiger: Seein' the country?

Lee: Yeah, see the country. That's the place--I like it over there. That's some nice places.




Cole: Do you have any humorous stories that you remember from your time in trading posts?

Lee: Like what? What do you mean?

Cole: Any funny things that happened or that stand out in your mind?

Lee: They used to pick on-- these young kids--got drunk and pick on us. I fight 'em back. Yeah, I did. They used to tryin' to fight me, or throw stuff at me. I did the same thing, throw back at them.

Cole: Would they leave you alone then?

Lee: Yeah. You know, they're not scare me. (laughs) That's what I did, yeah.... there's a guy, what was his name? Dee-no-nez [phonetic spelling]? One time he came in the store, and then he bought ribs-mutton. And then he went straight out with that thing, went outside with that mutton. He didn't pay for it. He says, "I don't have to pay for it," and then he went outside. That Tip was pumping gas, and then I was inside, and then-"those girls are scared of the drunk, those checkers".… So I cut out a big rope about that big (laughs), about that long. I cut that thing and I went out there, and he was tryin' to fight this guy, that Tip. So I hit him with this over his head like this, and then he just.... (laughs) And then he took off across the road. Then I got hold of his belt and I turned around and... but I mean I just knock her on the ground. I tie him up with the rope on the back. And then this girl, Bernice Shorty, she helped me to tie that guy up. And then we took [him] in the hay barn. He was in there! And then there was another guy came along. I guess he untied that one, and then he took off with the rope on his back, still draggin' the rope across that wash. And then he went home. (laughs) And then his brother came in the next day. He laughed at me when he came in. He said, "You didn't tie your horse real good, huh? He took off on you!" (laughter) He was laughin' at me. And then he brought the rope back. "Here's your rope." He gave it back to me. So that's what I did.... There's a lot of them, I just, I hit him with something. Punch him in the nose. That's what I did.

Cole: How long were you at Dinnebito?

Lee: '65 to '92. Twenty... How many years? Twenty-seven years, somethin' like that.




Steiger: So you didn't go to school at all until you were thirteen. What was that like, goin' away for the first time? Or was that really the first time you went off to town?

Lee: Didn't bother me.

Steiger: No big deal?

Lee: No big deal to me--just tryin' to learn. (laughs)

Cole: Did you have to start at a grade with your same age group?

Lee: Yes, I started with the first class or somethin'. I started out with, and then I went back about three years, and then my fourth year, and then I just.... I went back about four times, and then I didn't go back the fifth time.

Steiger: Before you went, did you speak English pretty good?

Lee: A little bit. I was living with my aunt in Farmington for a while.

Steiger: Oh, I see. So it wasn't like....

Lee: Oh, I didn't know much, though.

Steiger: Mostly Navajo?

Lee: Yeah. She talked mostly Navajo to me when I was living with them. Her name is Ruth Sand [phonetic spelling].

Steiger: Sounds like you kind of lucked out. Betty Rodgers was just telling us that in her day they drug all the kids off and they made 'em just speak English, and did all these bad things to 'em.

Lee: I think she went to placement. That's what they all-they go about that small. There's a lot of 'em, the kids who went to placement in Dinnebito. A lot of them. When they come back, they don't even talk Navajo.

Cole: Have you seen a change in Navajo culture over the....

Lee: Yeah, a lot of them. There's a lot of changes. They don't even talk Navajo. They don't know what to do in Navajo ways and traditional ways anymore. There's a lot of them.

Cole: And what do you think the long-term effect of that will be? Do you know?

Lee: (chuckles, followed by long pause)




Cole: When you worked at trading posts, were you invited to dances and things like that?

Lee: You mean squaw dance?

Cole: Yeah.

Lee: No, I just go over there. I haven't gone to squaw dance much. Oh, they have it _____________ nothin' to see. They say it was a long time was a different squaw dance. Used to have young girls and dance with the mans. Used to do that--not anymore. Now all the women dance with each other. (chuckles) That's goin' on now.

Steiger: I've got one. When there was all this stuff with the DNA, when they came in and changed the rules….

Lee: All of 'em, it changed.

Steiger: …did you think that was a good thing?

Lee: No, I don't think so. A lot of people have a hard time in Dinnebito.

Steiger: After that?

Lee: Yeah, after they changed everything. They told.... Peterson Zah was a DNA, told everybody quit takin', stop takin' pawn. This is what happened. But they have a hard time, a long time, no gas to go to the hospital, and it's midnight, _____________, knockin' on my door, say, "Give us some gas on my account. Gotta go to the hospital," at night. A lot of them _____. It was been goin' on since they cut out the pawn.

Cole: Did your customers feel that same way, that it was not a.... Did they understand why the changes occurred with the pawn?

Lee: Well, some of them, they're okay. They know, some of them, they need it. The one that's like AIM people--this is the one that's tryin' to change everything for the Navajo. But now, everybody has a hard time over there. They make it worse for them.

Cole: Were there a lot of AIM people?

Lee: Yes, a lot of AIM people. A lot of them come to the store. Now, they're havin' a sun dance over there right now. That's what they're doing now…. But I don't really understand that one, just I was talkin' to one of the girls the other day here. She says, "We're havin' a sun dance over there for one of the girls at Benali [phonetic spelling]. That's for her." She said, "This is the last sun dance." I don't know what they want to do after that.

Steiger: With the DNA, when they did all that, why do you suppose they did that? Why did they get so up in arms about that?

Lee: Because they don't like the trader.

Steiger: Why don't they like the trader?

Lee: They think they're cheatin'. That's why.

Steiger: And I guess some of 'em did.

Lee: Some of them did, I guess. Mr. Blair, I never see do things like that. Never, never seen him. He'd always be honest with the customers. I'm on his side! (laughs) I'm not just _______ talkin' ____ person. (laughs) I'm not sayin' he's a good person, I just said I've seen him, what he does. He never cheated nobody. And he'll tell 'em right then, "This is gonna pay you this much." And weavin', ____________ you just tell 'em, "You need to do this and that," and the next time they bring the rug back in, he'll give 'em a good price. That's why. They both are like that, Jim Blair is. They're good. That's why I stayed with them, to work with them.

Cole: Did Mr. Blair ever have any kind of benefit package for employees?

Lee: Yes, he did.

Cole: Is that unusual?

Lee: Yeah. I had some profit-sharin' plan--that's what they called [it], where he put some money for us when he was making more money. The store makes money, that's what he did at Dinnebito.

Cole: Do you know if other traders did that same kind of thing?

Lee: I don't think so. I don't know. I never heard of that thing....




Cole: So why did you stay working in the trading business for thirty-nine years?

Lee: I like it. I like to do it. I like to learn how to do what they're doing, and how that they operate in the store.

Cole: Is there any aspect of it that you like better than....

Lee: Unt-uh. Like what? You mean....

Cole: Is there one part of the work that you like better than other parts?

Lee: I like it, yeah. I think I got used to the store. I'm attached. (laughter) That's what's wrong with me. Yeah, I like.... I'll come in at 8:15 here, in the morning, and I'll put out all the stuff, set out the computer, and then go in there and take all the cash out and count it….

Cole: So do you have any good stories about Jim? You said you'd have hours....

Lee: I don't have no stories! (laughter) …. Did a lot of crazy things, but I won't say nothin'! (laughter) I'd better not say it. Make me feel bad. (laughs)

Cole: What do you think is the future of the trading business?

Lee: I don't know.

Cole: Do you think trading posts will ever make a comeback on the reservation?

Lee: I don't think so, no. They have a Thriftway now. Everybody has a Thriftway.