Jack, Evelyn, & Snick Lee

Jack, Evelyn, & Snick Lee

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Jack: My great-grandfather, John Lee, had the first trading post at Tuba City….. And his son and family lived at Tuba City.  My father and my Uncle Joe Lee left Tuba City in 1904, and went to the San Juan River.  That was when the government bought and made a reservation from all those farmers and Mormons that was at Tuba City.  My dad was the last one, they locked him in.  They locked his fence and they said, "You either get out, or we're gonna lock the fence."  So he danged near starved to death, and finally he left over there in, I think it was 1906.

Evelyn:  But Jack's father and Joe Lee, his father's brother, did start several trading posts in that area.

Jack:  You probably have the record of Joe Lee at The Gap Trading Post.

Cole:  No, we really haven't heard much about that.

Evelyn:  Well, he built the first trading post there.

Jack:  At The Gap.

Snick:  And he built Shonto.

Evelyn:  And he built Tonalea, Red Lake, that Babbitts have now.

Snick:  When the government bought out the farms in the Tuba City area, that was the third drawing, re-drawing, of the Navajo Reservation.  See, they redid it three times.  The Navajos just kept movin'.  The first drawing was about at the Lukachukai Mountains.  And the second took in Ganado and toward Keams Canyon.  And the third drawing was when they removed the farmers at Tuba City and made that more of the Navajo Reservation.

Evelyn:  But his great-grandfather started Lee's Ferry.  And from prison he still ordered his grown and married sons to do what he wanted them to do, and he told Jack's grandfather, Joseph Hyrum, "Go run the ferry."  So he did, until it was sold.  And then he started a home in Tuba City.

Cole:  So were there many family stories about John D. Lee?

Evelyn:  He supplied the Powell expedition, he furnished their food.

Jack:  And the federal government chased him for forty years before they caught him, 'cause he killed all those people, they claimed, at Mountain Meadow Massacre.

Evelyn:  But he started a trading post at Moenave, which is near Tuba City.

Snick:  And built the first crossing of the Colorado River at Lees Ferry, and constructed the road down into the canyon with Hopi and Paiute workers.  See, that's a little known turmoil, when they redrew that Navajo Reservation in that area.  Most of those springs and where there was water, with the exception of Moenkopi, were Paiute.  And the Paiutes were completely displaced and have never been compensated.

Jack:  [Troy Washburn and I] were talking one day, and he said, "You know, there's some Navajos up there in those springs.  They're funny people, they don't speak Navajo and they don't speak--I don't know what they're speakin', but they're funny.  They're Indians, they're not Navajos, but they look like Navajos.

Evelyn:  But it was Paiutes.

Jack:  Paiutes.  They'd lived up there for years and years and years, I guess, and nobody knew what the hell was goin' on until here recently.  They got money for their land.  When they divided it, they divided their part like the Navajos did.  Supposedly they thought they were Navajos--I guess the government.  And they got quite a bit of money here just recently.  But like Troy said, "Funny people.  I don't know their language."  (laughter)  But he said, "They trade with me and they speak a little bit of Navajo and some other kind of language."  I never paid a lot of attention.  They live back under where there's those hangovers where there's springs, like Moenave and different places over there where there's big springs under that rim.  That's where they lived.


Snick:  You've probably seen in putting this together that a lot of the traders were trained by an older brother, or got started in a store by an older relative.  It just was a progression like that.

Jack:  When my mother died, my brother Al was runnin' Salina, and he took me with his boy and the family, to Salina.  So I stayed at Salina for three or four years with him.  It was just like that.  Then I'd go to another brother's and have him feed me (chuckles) a while.  Then other places.  I was at Steamboat for years, off and on.

Cole:  How old were you when you first....

Jack:  Eight years old when my mother died.  But I went to the reservation when I was six.

Cole:  And you speak Navajo?

Jack:  Oh, yeah, I learned to speak Navajo before I did English, because in those days there wasn't no whites around in the trading posts--there was all Navajo kids to play with--so I learned how to speak Navajo before I did English.

Cole:  And when you said you had Navajo playmates, what kinds of things would you do?

Jack:  Just get in damned mischief!  (laughter)  We caught a bear one time…. Roped a bear, this kid and I.  We was out horseback ridin' [up on] Black Mountain.  We had a big idea, big shot, you know.  At that time there was a lot of wild cows up on Black Mountain, where Piñon is now, back on that mountain.  A lot of wild cattle up there.  And this kid and I, we was ridin' around up there, lookin' for those.  I told him, "If we caught some of those, we could take 'em to the railroad and sell 'em and get money!"  (chuckles)  We talked about it and after a bit I went down to my brother Lester and I said, "If we brought some wild cows off the mountain up there, would you take 'em?  Would you help us and sell 'em for us?"  "Yeah, yeah."  He passed it off like we were a bunch of dummies.  Well, anyway, we went up there and caught twenty-five head of those and brought 'em down there and took 'em to Chambers down here on the railroad, and we sold 'em, Lester sold 'em.

Evelyn:  In that same deal of roping the cows, they roped a bear.

Jack:  Yeah, and this old Tapanez [phonetic spelling], this kid's daddy, he come out there just as we were tryin' to get rid of that damned bear.  (laughs)  We couldn't get loose of him!  We had three ropes on him and we couldn't get the damned ropes loose.  Our horses were wild and crazy.  We were in a hell of a fix.  Finally the old man Tapanez, he got a rope on one leg of the bear and one of the rest of us got a rope around his neck and we stretched him out and got rid of the ropes.  The old man Tapanez just beat the snot out of all of us for catchin' that bear, 'cause that's against--very taboo, you know.

Evelyn:  Bears are sacred to Navajos.

Jack:  Whew!  Singin' and everything.  We just got the hell kicked out of us for catchin' that damned bear, and why we done it, I don't know.  We were just gettin' into mischief, I guess.  (laughs)

Snick:  It's surprising that kid stuff is pretty much universal.  Had nothing to do with cultural barriers or anything.

Jack:  (laughs)  No.  We just caught a bear.  We were good ropers.  We could catch calves pretty good, so we decided, hell, we'd catch that damned bear….  He ran from us, and then we tightened up on those ropes and this other boy, he got another rope on him, and we was tryin' to stretch him out.  And then when he went mad, he would jump up in the air, and he'd chase me, and then he'd chase him, and then he'd chase....  Gollee!  And then we got scared.  The tradition got the best of us.  I went to those damned things, too, just like the other boys when they had their sings and stuff.  I knew that that was bad, we were gonna die or somethin', if we didn't get rid of that damned bear and not tell anybody.

We were gonna get rid of the bear and not say anything, but the old man came in and saw us, and knew we was in trouble.  So he helps us (chuckles) get rid of the bear, and we had singin' and everything…. We got into it.  When we caught those--rounded those cows up, there was about a half-grown man that went with us.  He got bucked off and broke his leg and we had to carry him off the mountain, take him down there.  His folks got mad at us.  We thought we was gonna hafta go to jail at first, for a while, 'cause we sold those cows and paid off and got out of mischief, payin' off.  That was the last roundup we had, the last go-around.  No more wild cows!

Cole:  When you're sayin' "paying off," what do you mean by that?

Jack:  Well, you have to pay off to get out from under the traditions.

Evelyn:  You mean catchin' the bear--you had to pay the medicine man.

Jack:  Yeah, we had to pay __________.

Cole:  Did you have a ceremony?

Jack:  A ceremony to get the ch’__dii out of us.

Evelyn:  A sing is one Navajo ceremony.

Cole:  What kind of ceremony did they perform for that?

Jack:  Oh, they burned cedar smoke and they sang and drank some old crazy stuff that was nasty.

Snick:  For purification.

Jack:  Then they string their feathers at you.  You sit there.

Snick:  It's serious.

Jack:  Uh-huh, scary.  "What they gonna do to us next time?!"  (laughs)


Jack:  [Evelyn] had a Hopi lady [who brought] prairie dogs in and cooked 'em.  God! they're stinkin' things!  Whew!

Evelyn:  Well, they don't take the innards out first.  They roast 'em with the insides.  And I went in the house from the store and I couldn't stay in my own house.  Hopi woman cookin' prairie dogs.

Cole:  Was that pretty common?

Evelyn:  Uh-huh.

Jack:  The Navajos really liked 'em, and I guess prairie dogs was good to the Hopi lady too.

Evelyn:  It was their stand-by when food was scarce.

Jack:  But like this old Hopi man said, "Don't kill those prairie dogs, just shoot at 'em if you're hopin' to kill 'em, 'cause we eat 'em when we're poor."  (laughter)

Snick:  I don't think America realizes the extent of the poverty.

Jack:  You know, my brother Lester was a whiz at talkin' to these people, his customers, to help themselves.  He spent lots and lots of money on blooded sheep.  He would give 'em to the sheepherders--I mean, the ones that had sheep herds, he'd give those bucks to 'em, one or two, and say, "Now, when your sheep have lambs from these bucks, you have to give me eight lambs for this buck.  But wait 'til your sheep has...."  He wouldn't take cash.  "You pay me back in lambs."

Evelyn:  That was your brother Lester at Steamboat.

Jack:  Yes.  And he had a bunch of those black-faced sheep that come out of Texas.

Evelyn:  He really built up the sheep herds.

Jack:  He built the hell out of their herds, and then turned around--and talkin' about cheaters--the old man, ______, was the type of man that, like she says, they come out to exploit the Indians and get a bunch of money and then take off….

Evelyn:  See, it was all credit.  And some of the traders would take their last sheep to clear their accounts in the fall, even if it wiped 'em out.

Cole:  What were the economic and living conditions for the Navajo?

Jack:  It was just dog-eat-dog.

Evelyn:  Just terrible.

Jack:  Just terrible.  They had their sheep, and that was about it.  And they had wool.

Evelyn:  They had wool in the spring and lambs in the fall.  And in between there was no welfare, no money.  You really had a hard time.  They'd come in with a single saddle blanket, and at that time they were from three to four dollars, and it was just hard to get flour, coffee, shortening, and potatoes, for four dollars.

Jack:  One old lady would come in about every two weeks and she'd have a saddle blanket.  She couldn't weave for sour apples, and I'd just take the damned thing and throw it over.  Go on and get some bakin' powder, some salt, and some flour, some coffee, put it on the counter (Evelyn:  Well, you knew she was gonna buy anyway.) put it on the counter and "thank you," and she just (claps hands), (in Navajo) "Háshinee’...," She would say, "My little..." and just pat me around.  I kept her alive.  And then we'd just pile the damned rugs and take any kind of damned thing to get some money to pay the wholesaler for some more merchandise.

Evelyn:  Tryin' to get rid of the rugs.

Jack:  But I never said a word to her.  I just took the rug and gave her a sack of flour and some coffee and baking powder and stuff and kept her alive.

Evelyn:  Before the days of some help, you can't imagine the poverty that the Navajos were in.  It was unbelievable.

Jack:  One winter it was a real bad winter at Steamboat, and my brother Lester got a bunch of the leaders together and said, "Now, you guys get out there and cut some logs and get your horses up here.  I'm gonna put a great big pot of beans on the fire, and we're gonna have something to eat.  But in the first place, what you're gonna do is, take those logs and go all along that ridge over there."  It was about five miles long, that ridge.  "You're gonna go with those horses and drag those logs up and down that thing and get that damned snow knocked off."

Evelyn:  So the sheep could graze.

Jack:  "Then when you get through over there, you come over here and we're gonna give you a big feast:  pinto beans and stuff."  He had a great big pot, one of those old wash pots, a great big old steel wash pot.  It was full of beans.  And those poor guys, they just ate and ate and brought their kids in, their little ones, and just hogged up.  But the snow melted off and they had some grass for the sheep!  (laughter)  He got 'em to do that for somethin' to eat.  He helped 'em that way.


Cole:  Did you have a Navajo nickname?

Evelyn:  Uh-huh, but we hate to tell it to you.  (laughter)  They called him "Mr. Goddamned."

Cole:  (laughs)  And why is that?

Evelyn:  'Cause he swore all the time.

Jack:  I took up that from my brother, and every other word was "God damn" with him, and I just started usin' it.

Snick:  Well, let me give you a little lead-in.  Dealing with the Navajos, this oftentimes....  With Navajo lifestyle--and not so much today, but back then--it was constant strife.  It was always an emergency or some happening--lots of accidents.  It would frustrate you, 'cause it was just this on-going thing.  [Jack] used to do most of the business out in the hay barn, and they would go out there to him, or go into the office or the vault at the door....

Jack:  ... tell me their troubles, and I'd say, "Well, I'll be goddamned!" or "I'll be darned!"

Snick:  And he'd say, "Well, goddamn it!" and then go ahead and work out whatever deal needed to be worked out to get 'em out of that bind.  So when I was learnin' from the folks in the store, the Navajo elders would come in and ask me in Navajo, "Where's God Damn?"  They wanted to talk to him.

Evelyn:  Now, you cut that out of this transcript!  (tape turned off and on)

Jack:  I’d have to think about it.  ________ "Well, I'll be goddamned!"

Evelyn:  It can't be cut out, huh?
(all talking at once)

Jack:  There's a doctor in Memphis, Tennessee.  He come out there to Keams.  Had a brother that was a pharmacist for Public Health, and he'd come out there and teach these young doctors how to set bones and stuff.  This doctor from ________.

Evelyn:  He wrote the textbooks on orthopedic surgeries.

Jack:  He stayed with us, he and his brothers would stay with us at the store.  When he left to go back to his practice, he had a Clinic in Tennessee--Memphis, Tennessee.  And he said, "If you come to Tennessee, you come to the clinic, and when you get to the office, you just say, 'I'm Mr. Goddamn,' and I'll be right down from upstairs."  (laughter)  "You just tell that gal at the office that you're Mr. Goddamned, and I'll be down in a minute."

Evelyn:  We used to have open house at the trading post at Keams.  We had a guest house.

Cole:  How often would you have guests?  (Evelyn laughs)

Jack:  Every day.  (laughter)

Snick:  Every day.  Always, when growin' up, I thought you always had somebody doin' a book or an anthropologist or a doctor or somebody.  I thought everybody grew up like that, 'cause we always had people (Evelyn:  Always.) that were stayin' there in the guest house.

Evelyn:  We had a couple of men that stayed for a year, were doing a book on infant behavior from the University of Chicago, and they were our guests for a year.

Cole:  Do you remember who they were?

Evelyn:  Dan Friedman and Pat Callahan.

Snick:  They were doin' a genetic study, world-wide, on newborn infants to establish gene pool quality.  And the last of their study was doing Navajo and Hopi newborns.  They thought they'd be up here like three weeks, and they ended up bein' better than a year.

Jack:  We let 'em have one of our apartments--they lived in it.  Callahan is in Santa Fe now.  He's head of what? (Evelyn:  I don't know.) for the State of New Mexico.

Evelyn: Something in the state.

Snick:  Just an interesting lifestyle, that you had these folks.

Cole:  Who were some of the other memorable folks?

Evelyn:  Oh, a lot of anthropologists:  Tom Barty [phonetic spelling] out of Tucson, Clay Lockett from Flagstaff.  You've heard his name.  (Cole:  Yeah.)  I just can't remember.

Jack:  That big ol' guy that leaned in the damned window and helped us one day.  What the hell was his name?

Evelyn:  D. W. Griffiths' nephew.

Snick:  He's a professor at the U of A now.

Evelyn:  Yeah, on folklore.

Cole:  Was that James Griffith, maybe?

Evelyn:  Jim.  Yeah, James Griffith.

Cole:  Great big fellow?

Evelyn:  Yeah.

Jack:  About nineteen feet tall.

Evelyn:  He was a guest often.  In fact, when we left the reservation, I just missed the anthropologists terribly.


Evelyn:  It's too bad that you can't talk to Bill McGee.  He's the older brother who first owned Keams Canyon Store.

Snick:  He lives in Scottsdale.

Evelyn:  He knows a lot about Sunrise Trading Post, 'cause he worked there for ____________.

Jack:  He and I worked at Sunrise for a good many months.

Cole:  That's Stella's....

Evelyn:  Well, he only has daughters, and I don't know 'em.

Cole:  Isn't that Stella Tanner's brother?

Evelyn:  Yeah, they're brothers to Stella Tanner.

Cole:  Yeah, 'cause we interviewed Stella, and she had mentioned Bill down in Mesa.

Evelyn:  Did you interview her for the trading post over by Chaco Canyon?

Cole:  Well, yeah, she was over there, and then she was with her sons--you know, J. B.--quite a bit, and sort of followed him around.

Jack:  Well, she took care of Buddy and ____________.

Evelyn:  She's a fine lady, really fine lady.  But those Tanner kids were reared at the farthermost trading post that's known out of Farmington, very near Chaco Canyon.  And Stella taught 'em at home.  They speak beautiful, beautiful Navajo, because that's what they came up with.

Jack:  Buddy Tanner and I was clerkin' at Keams Canyon together one time, and we just had a good time.  (laughs)

Snick:  That's J. B.

Cole:  What was Buddy like?

Jack:  Oh, he's a hell of a guy.

Evelyn:  Lots of fun.

Jack:  One day he's a millionaire, the next day he owes five million….

Evelyn:  He's a very good trader, but he's like Jack.  He had such rapport with the Navajos that if they said they're hungry, Jack instantly believed 'em, and so they'd butt in, laid it out for free.  We had a constant battle at our house over everything he gave away.

Snick:  You know, you can learn to talk Navajo too well.

Evelyn:  Uh-huh.

Jack:  Really, Buddy and me, we knew too damned much Navajo.

Snick:  Well, when the grandmas come in with a plight, you feel their pain.  I mean, you're there.  And these old traders would just hand it out to 'em.

Evelyn:  Oh, we've had many a fight at our house over that.  I was tryin' to make a livin', and he was givin' it away.

Cole:  Did you have a nickname, Sammie?

Evelyn:  Unt-uh.  I don't know what the Navajos called me--probably "s.o.b.."

Jack:  No, she was "sweet potato."

Snick:  Oh, the younger generation of traders, a really good trader that has his same problem with the Navajo grandmas, is Bruce Burnham.

Evelyn:  Yeah, he does.

Snick:  I mean, he is just there.

Jack:  Well, you feel for 'em, you're close with 'em, and it hurts you….


Jack:  And then another time at Two Grey Hills I was there alone, and at that time they were building that irrigation ditch from down the river, on the San Juan River down to Shiprock, and they went through an old ruin.  They quarantined the whole valley 'cause it had spinal meningitis germs started.  I was goin' to school over there, and workin' at Two Grey Hills.

This gal died at Two Grey Hills, and the BIA doctor at Shiprock….  I called him and I said, "Doc, what am I gonna do?  That woman died from that disease in the spine."  She was bent over like that.  The muscles, I guess, tie up on 'em, I don't know.  But she was an awful-lookin' thing.  I said, "Doc, I think she has that damned disease that was quarantined."

He said, "Oh, my God, I don't know what to do.  It's so contagious!  I'll tell you what, get some cotton gloves"--we got some.  I had some of those old brown gloves.  And I got a pair of those.  He said, "You go out there.  Put something over your face, a towel or something over your face, and don't breath much.  Don't get any closer than you have to, but you go ahead and bury her.  And then when you get back to the store, get that damned wash tub out...."  That's what we bathed in, and old galvanized tub.  He said, "Fill that about half full of water.  You got any Lysol?"  I said, "Yeah, I got a bottle of Lysol, quart size."  He said, "Pour half of that in."

I guess it was only about maybe three or four gallons of water in that damned tub.  I poured that whole works in there.... 

Stirred it around, stirred it around.  And he said, "Now, get in there, take all your clothes off and get in that tub and take a wash rag and just soak yourself with that water, all over--your head and everything, face."  In about five minutes I decided I would rather die!

I was burnin' like hell, that old Lysol was eatin' me up!  (laughter)  Ooo! I was burnin'!  Finally I got out, I dried myself off and the phone rang again--one of those old crankin' phones.  It was the doctor.  He said, "Did you get it all done?  Did you get all that Lysol?"  I said, "You son of a bitch! you wanna kill me?!"  And he just died laughin'.  He said, "You're burnin', aren't you?"

I said, "You're goddamned right I'm a-burnin'!"  And he said, "Well, maybe it'll kill those germs, I hope."  But I never did catch it, so I guess it did.  Ooo, man! I was scared.