Jewell, Leona, & Lavoy McGee

Jewell, Leona, & Lavoy McGee

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Listen to Jewell, Leona, & Lavoy McGee

Cole:  First off, I'm going to ask Leona when and where were you born?

Leona:  I was born in Sanford, Colorado, on July 22, 1918.

Cole:  And when did you become involved in Indian trading?

Leona:  (laughs)  Well, I didn't get involved in it until I met my husband, and was married, and went out there to live.

Cole:  When were you married?

Leona:  That was September 19, 1937.

Cole:  Did you ever imagine growing up as a young child, that you'd end up working on a Navajo Reservation?

Leona:  No!  (laughs)  Didn't enter my head.

Cole:  Do you have some fond memories of that?

Leona:  Oh yes, we loved it out there.  You know, the place we lived in and all, this old trading post that was....  What was it, 'dobies?

Jewel:  Mud.

Leona:  Built adobes, mud.

Jewel:  Wooden forms, like cement.

Leona:  And the roof with poles and then dirt on top of that.  And of course that was real exciting in the house, with all this dirt up there.  We'd be just fine until it rained, and then here would come little mud puddles down the walls.  Oh, it wasn't a real elaborate, fancy place, but it was very comfortable, and we had a big living room and a post in the middle of the room to hold the roof up, and a fireplace.  When we first went out there, we didn't have a bathroom, any convenience like that.  It was going you-know-where.  (laughs)

Jewel:  The outhouse.

Leona:  But anyway, why, afterwards we added on a little bit and had a new kitchen and all, and then made the old kitchen into a spare bedroom.  And then we had a bathroom then, too.  Of course when I first went out there, it looked kinda--here's these men been batchin' there, you know, and things weren't too (laughs) nice, but when I went in the bedroom, the bed had all four legs sitting in a tin can.  And I believe it was kerosene inside.

Jewel:  Kerosene, yeah.

Leona:  Kerosene in the bottom of the can.  And I said, "Jewel, what in the world is that?!"  Well, he said he did that to keep the bugs from crawlin' into bed with him.  And one night he could feel something and kicked the covers off, and there was a great big centipede crawlin' on his leg.  And of course you know what that did to me...

But we enjoyed it, and our children enjoyed it out there.  Lavoy, when he was a baby, and I had him in the bedroom in a crib, I went in to check on him, he was asleep, and what should I find in there but along the baseboard was the biggest bull snake you ever laid eyes on.  What was it, four or five feet long?

Jewel:  Yeah, a big one.

Leona:  Oh, I just nearly died!  So we had our fun times. (laughs)  I ran in the store, I told Jewel, "Come quick!"  But they would come in the house, hunting birds.  They'd get through, if there was a little hole, why, here they'd come on down in the house.

Anyway, for the most part, we enjoyed it.  We didn't have a TV, but the evenings were wonderful.  You could, oh, before it got dark, you could hear an Indian singing away, riding on a horse, going somewhere, and just singing to the top of his voice.  You could hear the coyotes, and it was really quite nice.  We enjoyed the peace and tranquility that was there.


Cole:  Did you have a nickname?

Lavoy:  I knew you was gonna ask that question.  I've been tryin' to think.  I've been called a couple of things, but mostly they called me by my name.  Even a lot of the old-time people that couldn't speak any English, they'd murder my first name Lavoy--they'd say that lots of ways.  Some of 'em called me Nah-jay-yazi [phonetic spelling] (Navajo: na’azheeh ’ayaazh).That was because years and years ago, Dad was out at Red Mesa, and he was known for huntin'.

Jewel:  I trapped coyotes all the time.

Lavoy:  Yeah.  The name for "hunter" is na’azheeh.  And ’ayaazh is for "his boy [son].”  So I was Na’azheeh ’ayaazh.  But mostly they called me by my name.

Jewel:  I was Nah-jay-isan [phonetic spelling] (Navajo: na’azheeeh sa), and he was Na’azheeh ’ayaazh--the "old trapper" and the "young."

Cole:  I've gotta switch and ask Jewel a question about trapping coyotes.  How many would you trap in a year?  Maybe just tell something about how that worked.

Jewel:  Oh, I didn't catch very many--they're hard to catch!  (laughs)  I'd catch, oh, probably two or three a week when I was out trappin' all the time in the winter.

Cole:  Was there a pretty good market for their pelts?

Jewel:  It don't seem like much, but the $2.50 was quite a bit at that time, $3.00, for a pelt.

Cole:  What other kinds of things would you hunt?

Jewel:  Oh, there's bobcats--I used to catch a few bobcats.  Skunks--but I never did like the skunk deal.  (laughter)

Cole:  Was there any bigger game out there that you'd hunt?

Jewel:  No.  That was all--coyotes was about the biggest.


Cole: Jewel, the last interview we had, we were talkin' about the medicine man, Mol-yon.  You told us about the incident with the weights, and, wondered if you had any other experiences with that person.

Jewel:  Tell 'em about the little kid that got lost.

Leona:  You tell 'em.

Jewel:  Some little girl in Aztec got lost--or kidnapped.

Leona:  No, a little boy.

Jewel:  And they called Bill Evans and got me to tell the old man out there, Mol-yon, if he could find her.  And he sent back, he sent word, yeah, if you'd just get him a piece of her clothing, why, he could do it.

Leona:  It was a little two-year-old boy.

Jewel:  And he did.  And he said, "He's down where the Mexicans are--big hats."  He didn't know just where, but he said, "He's all right, he'll be back."  Sure enough, he was.  That's where he was at.  They'd picked him up and took him.

Cole:  How'd they get him back?

Jewel:  Well, they were hunting him, I guess.  Somebody must have told about it.  Authorities went and got him, of course.

Leona:  Well, he doesn't tell it quite all.  (chuckles)  This little boy was playing in Aztec there, along by the road, and this couple went by.  He was working there in the oil business or shops--mechanic or whatever.  Anyway, they'd see this little child out there, and they had just lost a little child, and they were so grieved over it.  Well, they were leaving, and they went by this day--they got friendly with the little boy, and he went willingly with them, and they took him.

And then when Mol-yon....  They decided to, they'd heard--the officers and all--had heard that he could solve problems, you know, and help you find things, like he did for us.  So they thought, well, they'd just ask him.  And of course when they gave him the little shirt--they brought a shirt in, of the child's--Mol-yon asked for that--and he held it and would close his eyes and bow his head and do sort of a little chant.  He said that the child was down where the big hats are, but he was all right, he was still alive, he was well.

So the authorities then....  Well, they had a neighbor that had become a little suspicious of them, because they knew they had lost this baby--or I don't know how big the child was--and then all of a sudden here was this child.  And they had read in the paper or heard about this one missing in Aztec.  So they turned it in to the authorities, and they found him and returned him, and all was well.  And the people who he was stole from, they apologized to them and all, and the people didn't press charges or anything, just let it go, because they were so thankful to get their little boy back, and he was well and strong and everything.

Steiger: Well, now, with Mol-yon--are there contemporary medicine men who have that same ability?  Or was he just kind of special, like a psychic or something?

Jewel:  He's the only one I know of, out in that country.  You ever have anybody like that down in Red Mesa?

Lavoy:  No.

Leona:  Sometimes you run into people that are sort of psychic, I think.  He was.

Cole:  Was he a regular customer, Jewel?

Jewel: Yes, oh yes, he was raised there.  The Indians all knew he could do those things, and he was used quite a bit.

Cole:  Do you have any idea about how old he was at that time?

Jewel:  Well, he was old when I went out there.  He was probably in his seventies when I knew him first.


Jewel:  We had some good weavers out there, some families that put out real good rugs.  The fact is, there's one behind me on the wall that was made by the Katy [phonetic spelling] family, and they're famous for the Red Mesa rugs that were made with the natural colors.  You see the natural vegetable colors in that rug behind me.  So they put out that kind of distinctive rug.  Had some others that put out the reds and oranges that we call "the Red Mesas."  Had another family that learned how to do the Two Grey Hills design--put out some real good Two Grey Hills.  So we had some real quality weavers out there.

Cole:  Was there one particular kind of rug that Red Mesa was known for then?

Jewel:  Red Mesa Outline.

Lavoy:  The Red Mesa Outline, that rug was named after us.

Jewel:  This one, like this one.

Lavoy:  It's kinda like the one over here to my left.

Cole:  Boy, that's beautiful.

Leona:  I like the outline, it's pretty.


Cole:  What would you say you were most proud of as a trader?

Lavoy:  I think probably havin' my family out there, and raisin' a good strong, solid, close family; and for the friendships I developed out there.  We still have, as I mentioned, families that come see us and say hello to us.  And we were active out there in our church, and we've conducted funerals for people, and gave people blessings, and had people call on us for those kind of things.  Those are just satisfying things to be honored with.

Cole:  Did your church have a ward house out there when you first moved there?

Lavoy:  We had a branch at Teec Nos Pos, yes.  And shortly before we left, they'd built a nice little chapel there, so they had a nice little facility.  When I was involved out there, we met Sundays in the chapter house.

Cole:  How about you, Jewel, when you were at Red Rock, was there church out there? or did you have to come to town?

Jewel:  We always come to town, yeah.  They had missionaries who were around out there among 'em.  But I wasn't a good preacher like Lavoy is.  (laughter)

Cole:  Would you come in regularly, or just on occasion, for a church service every week?

Jewel:  Oh, I tried to, yeah.  I tried to come in, we generally kept a hired man, you know, out to the store.  Of course there was weeks that we'd have to let him off a weekend, and I'd stay.  Otherwise, I was in town weekends.


Jewel:  We used to be out there at the store, and the ol’ bull pen would be full, and all at once we'd get a horseshoe game started out in the front yard.  Everybody was out there sittin' in the shade, watchin' that game.  (chuckles)

Cole:  Did the Navajo gamble on games at all like that?

Jewel:  They did, yeah, sure.  Shoe game is about all I ever heard of that--I guess put somethin' in a shoe and then guess who got it or something.

Leona:  Oh, when they won?

Jewel:  Yeah, when they won, they found it.

Cole:  Well, Lavoy, thinking back on your life as a trader, is there anything you'd change, if you could do it over again?

Lavoy:  I don't think so.  You know, I didn't bring much off the Reservation with me in the way of artifacts and jewelry and rugs.  I maybe should have had a little better collection with me when I left.  I didn't bring those with me, and I regret that some.  Otherwise, I don't have any regrets.

Jewel:  That's our only regrets, that we didn't save more when we had chances to.  Wasn't interested in 'em, I guess.

Leona:  Oh, well, we were interested, but we just took enough just to use, and not go into a lot of artifacts and stuff.

Lavoy:  You know, it was a good life.  When my kids get together now, they still talk about those "good ol' days out at the tradin' post."  They did things and had experiences that nobody will ever have again.  People would bring their mohair and their wool in, and we'd store it in the barn and we'd have our big racks that suspended the big bags that we'd bag it in, and get in there and stomp that, and the kids were out there in the middle of it. 

When we'd have a rain, it used to come in and fill the corrals with rain water.  Then we had some old wooden feeding troughs out there.  Those little troughs would float.  The kids would get out there in those old troughs and paddle 'em around like rowboats, up and down the roads in their bare feet, and the old slimy, red mud.  They just did some things that nobody will do....  Out at Red Mesa, we did have some horses out there.  We had some nice little horses, and the kids would ride and have lots of fun, and gotta break a few of 'em, so they had some unique experiences out there.  And they still have their little Indian friends that will still call on 'em and check on 'em and see how they're doin'.  My one little daughter is named Shelly--they call her "Shelly Yellow Hair."  There were some people by that name out there, so they had some neat, fun experiences.  They went to school out there for a few years, as I mentioned, and it was unique, bein' some white kids in an Indian school.  They had a few struggles, but made a lot of friends, too.  Good years.