Betty Rodgers

Betty Rodgers

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I was born at Lukachukai…. I just turned eighty-three just this last June 15, and I had a heck of a time tryin' to figure out when I was born, what year, and all that stuff…. We were on the eastern part of Arizona. It's kind of in New Mexico and Arizona both, the mountain range. And then from there, my Navajo family then, after I was a few years old, came to Kayenta, where the Wetherills established their home. They were the first traders there, and they built a nice little trading post there for the Navajos to trade and stuff, you know.

And then I was taken from my Navajo people. Then, the government just went out and just took kids to put 'em in school and so on. I don't know why they picked me. I was just a baby. But I was placed at Tuba City is where we were all placed at that time. They had a matron for the girls and one for the boys. I was there 'til I was about four--goin' on four, I imagine. They were very mean to us. When we'd run away, or even speak a word of Navajo, they'd just more or less beat us. But anyway, I never did like it there. They just treated us like prisoners or something.

My [foster]mother [Louisa Wade Wetherill] then came to visit the Navajo kids, because she thought the world of the Navajo people, just like they were her own, and so on--or she was just a Navajo herself, really. She came over there and found that they were treating the Navajo children real bad--the boys, too--and they were just beatin' us and such as that. So she thought, "Well, this is gonna stop!" So she went to Washington and told the president what was goin' on among the Navajos, and so she put a stop to all that….

She went on the train…. She says, "They're not treating my Navajo people right on the reservation at Kayenta where I'm established. And I want it stopped, now." So it was stopped. Everybody got fired, kicked out--everything.

Steiger: And after that it was better, as far as school goes?

Rodgers: Oh, yes! They started treatin' the Indians like human beings. We got treated better, we got better food. [Before] they gave us rotten old apples and stuff like that to eat. The food was absolutely rotten, and they made us eat it or get beat to death. Yes!

That's the way they treated us. Yeah, when Mother Wetherill came to visit, she went over to the boys' dormitory and one boy was gettin' beat. He was just bein' horse whipped. He was tied to the bannister, and he was being beat. Mother went in there and she said, "What is the meaning of this?! Stop it right now!" she said to them. "Right now I want it stopped!" And they looked at her like, "who in the heck are you?" you know. She said, "Is this what goes on all the time around here?" "Yes, this boy ran away, and he had no business doin' that. And he won't try to learn anything." And oh, this man just raved on. "Won't try to learn anything." "Well, this isn't the way to treat him, just because he did all that." And said, "Just seemed like that's the only way," the guy said to Mother. Man! she just plowed right into him. I never can think of his name. Tried to tell somebody about that the other day, and I just couldn't think of his name to save me.

 

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When I was goin' on that summer, then, a lot of the Navajo kids.... I don't know then, really, how they did. They didn't just send 'em home like they should, like go to school and then you'd go home in the summers. But they didn't do that with us, they just kept us there at Tuba and just treated us real mean and fed us slop and all kinds of stuff. So Mother put an end to all that, 'cause she just knew that they were really being very abusive to all the children. So finally everything....

Her daughter then--we called her Sister Wetherill--she became matron to the Navajo girls, all us Navajo kids. She took care of us, 'cause she spoke the Navajo language pretty well herself. She lived among the Navajos for so many years, 'til she learned our language. So she would come there and took care of us and all that. So when summer came, my foster mother then, Mrs. Wetherill, said, "I think I'll just take this little girl home." And that was me. I thought. "Oh!" Of course I was kind of shy and scared, you know, of the white people then. She asked me if I wanted to go home with her, and of course I didn't just right off say yes or nothing. She just said, "Well, you can just go home with us any time."

So after a few weeks or so, one day she had sent for me, and there was her nephews, sons-in-law, and different ones were driving trucks, you know, going through--carrying mail and carrying supplies and different things through the reservation then. So she told these guys to pick me up. So I just.... One day one of 'em--Kilcrease [phonetic spelling] was their name--and Dallas was the young man that came. He said, "I'm takin' this little Navajo girl home. I'm taking her to Mrs. Wetherill at Kayenta." So (chuckles) I thought, "Well, I guess it's all right," so I just went with him.

And so it took us, oh, just a few days to get there, because of the muddy roads, you know. Then, the roads were just dirt roads. Oh, we'd get stuck and get in a terrible rainstorm and get in the mud and get stuck. Oh, gee, we had a heck of a time gettin' there, but we finally made it. And that's when I started living with the Wetherills then. That was way back when I was four years old. (chuckles) That's how I started living with the Wetherills.

Well, they raised me then, and took care of me, and treated me just like one of their own. She didn't have no children of her own, young, just a kid like me. Her kids was already grown men and women. She had the boy and a son. So I stayed there and she had another Navajo girl. Her name is Frances and she lives in Show Low now. So it was her and I that were raised by Mrs. Wetherill. She tried to raise other Navajo kids, but they either died or didn't want to live with them or something. But anyway, we were very fortunate, me and her. And I lived with the Wetherills until I learned new.... All kinds of great people. There were all kinds of artists, writers, painters, and movie stars. So many people like that, that I had met from the time I was growing up there, and it was really something, being with those people, because my foster father then used to take 'em on trips to the Rainbow Bridge, and he'd make a ten-day trip out of it, of course. It took that long, going to the Rainbow Bridge, and, oh, just different parts of the reservation that was interesting, like Monument Valley and Betatakin, Keet Seel ruins. Oh, they used to just marvel over that country, and go to all those places, you know, and seein' things. Of course, all on horseback.

When we got of age to go to high school.... We went to grade school right there at Kayenta, we had a teacher there that taught. We could bunch up a bunch of little Navajo or white kids or white or Indian or whatever--about ten, always took about nine or ten of us to make a school, you know. So they hired a teacher there. Well, in fact, a woman that was a teacher--she and her husband moved to Kayenta--and he worked for the government there. We had it made then. We had this wonderful person that came there and taught us all of our grade years, 'til we finished the eighth grade. Then we took correspondence for our first year of high school, which was right there at Kayenta, 'til we finished that, my sister and I. I called her my sister, being she and I were raised together.

So then we had to go to somewhere to go to high school then, and we went down by--my foster sister was living in Mesa, and so she volunteered and wanted to take my sister and I there, so we went to Mesa High then, and started our regular high school years. My sister, of course she graduated from high school. And me, I met my husband, and that was the end of my high school year. (laughs) So I didn't finish school. But anyway, they were such wonderful people.

Then from there, I met my husband, and we decided to build a trading post on the reservation. So that's when we went to Cameron. My husband found this spot, and he thought that was a good place to have a trading post. There were a lot of Navajos there all the time. Of course the trader at Cameron, he didn't like it at all for us to have a post there, you know…. But we went ahead and built anyway, and had a lot of Navajos trading with us and so on, all those years. And then I raised all five of my children there, and they just ran all over the country there. That's where they grew up, rather. And that was in 1945, when we first started our trading post there. Now, the dates, I might have 'em wrong, but somewhere around there, anyway. We had the trading posts and we ran them all those years. Our children were in the same situation that I was when I was a child. We taught 'em until they were grade school age. So we went to Flagstaff then, and put 'em in school there. But anyway, the Buck Rodgers Trading Post kept a-goin' all the time. That's the way my life was.

Cole: How did you meet Buck?

Rodgers: Oh, he was at Kayenta. He was haulin' freight and carrying mail and all that stuff for Kayenta Trading Post and different places around there. And he hauled freight, and that's how I met him, and that was in 1934 or 1935. No, let's see.... Now, see, my dates are.... I can't even think how that goes now. Well, for goodness sakes! Yeah, late thirties, it was, when I met Buck.

 

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Cole: Did you ever work in Wetherill's trading post at all?

Rodgers: Oh, yes!

Cole: What kind of things?

Rodgers: Just taking care of the dudes. We took care of people, waited tables, and cleaned their rooms and all that kind of stuff. There was really nothing to.... A lot of work, I mean, but it wasn't--they just had rooms. The house was built with a long hallway, and there was rooms, about three on one side, and then there was another long extension built, and there was three rooms there. And we met Zane Grey. That's how I got my name, "Zane."

Cole: Oh, really?

Rodgers: Yes. I knew Zane Grey, his daughter, and his wife, his son. They came up there and he went on trips to Rainbow Bridge with my dad. And he wrote a lot of his books about my foster father, John Wetherill. Oh, I just knew all kinds of great people like that, you know, and it was really fun to be around 'em, know 'em like I did. I don't think I learned anything in school--I just learned my education by bein' around great people.

Cole: Do you remember any of the others?

Rodgers: Oh, yeah! There was Harold Bell Wright. He was a great writer. Knew Jimmie Swinnerton, who was a "Krazy Kat".... No! that's Little Jimmy, a cartoonist. Then I knew George Harriman [phonetic spelling], who was a "Krazy Kat" cartoonist, and "Skeezix"--he wrote "Skeezix." And oh! I just knew so many people: movie stars like John Wayne and all those people were around then--Henry Fonda. Of course that's later years. When I was a young girl, they weren't even thought of then. Or they might have been, or just startin' out or something. But I didn't know them like I did--just in the last twenty years, or maybe, yeah, thirty--twenty or thirty years, I guess--later I learned, I knew about them. I'm eighty-three! (chuckles)

Cole: You're doin' real well.

Rodgers: Yeah, gettin' old. That's why my memory isn't so good anymore.

Cole: Did you ever get to go along on the trips?

Rodgers: Oh, no. No, Dad would take off on his pack trips and stuff and be gone for about thirty days, and come home and get ready for another long trek. So that's all he did, run back and forth. For about thirty years he did that.

Cole: And that was John?

Rodgers: John Wetherill, uh-huh.

Cole: Describe him for us.

Rodgers: Well, he's an old-timer. He came from Pennsylvania as a young man. Then he came to Mancos. My foster mother, she traveled from Nevada.... Oh, heck, I used to know the little town where she was born and raised. She came through in a covered wagon with her parents, through the reservation, went down through Tsegi Canyon, and went right up that canyon and went on over to where she established….

As she went through the reservation, she thought to herself, "I'm comin' back here one of these days and build me a trading post, and this is where I'm gonna stay." She did that, all right.

So she came back from Mancos--she and her kids and her husband--and they came across the San Juan, came into Oljato, and built 'em a little trading post there. And they traded with the Navajos there 'til 1908. She came in 1902 to Oljato. Then her husband went to Gallup. They had to get their freight and supplies and everything from Gallup. So they had to freight from there, go over there with a team and bring back their supplies and everything. So one day they stopped where Kayenta is now, up on kind of the side of a hill. And there was lots of water runnin' out of a spring, just runnin' down the little side of the hill. So when he went back over home, over to Oljato, he told Mother, "Oh, I found the best place in the world. You and I could have really a wonderful trading post." And he said, "There's lots of water there." See, they didn't have any water over at Oljato. They found a little place right close to a wash where they kind of cleaned out to get water, just enough to drink and that's about it. And he said, "This is where we're gonna go, is over to this new place at Kayenta. I want you to go get everything all packed up, and we'll go."

So they did, they packed up all their stuff and went over there to where they built their trading post. Do you know where the Wetherill Inn set up on the hill? That's just the hill. Underneath it, they go around the road, and there's a trading post there now. And right back of it was Mother's old place of business, home and everything…. That's where they first established their home.

The Navajos then--old Hoskinini was the last chief of the Navajos, and he just fell in love with my foster mother. He thought she was just the greatest person in the world. So when she was over there at Oljato, I have pictures of when they first met the Navajos. They were just comin' in, in droves, and they thought that they were gonna come to kill 'em and stuff, you know--like they did over to Oljato. That's where she met Hoskinini. And she walked out there, when she saw them all gathering out there, and Mother didn't have no more fear of those Navajo people than nothing. And so she said some Navajo words to 'em and walked out there, and God, they about fell (laughter), they just about passed out, because a white woman, you know, speaking their language, they just couldn't figure it out.

So she started talkin' with 'em, and tellin' 'em where she was from and why she was there, and all that. As soon as Daddy come back with all the supplies and everything--that's the flour and the sugar and the coffee and all that good stuff, and canned goods and different things that they had for the trading post--why, they just thought.... Mother then said she was gonna have a big meal for 'em, or powwow for 'em. And so she got several different Navajo women to make the bread, and they butchered a beef--or bought a beef from a Navajo. And they made a great big ol' pot of stew and all that good stuff. And so these Navajo women made fry bread and all that, and they just had a big ol' feast out there. And that's how she got acquainted with all the Navajo people so well.

She just walked around among 'em and talked Navajo to 'em and stuff, and they just thought that was so great. And she did the same at Kayenta. When she got over there, why, she had to meet all those Navajo Indians, you know, 'cause she didn't know none of 'em from Adam then. She got acquainted with all of 'em, and they just fell in love with her and they thought she was the greatest person. She became their lawyer, their priest, and their counselor--oh, just everything. They just thought she was the greatest person.... And she just lived among 'em for fifty years, just doin' that kind of stuff.

Cole: Did they move over to Kayenta like in 1910?

Rodgers: Well, 1908 is when they went to Kayenta then, and established there. And that's where they've been for fifty years, with the Navajo people, Mother had.

Cole: And originally they just built a trading post?

Rodgers: They had a trading post there, and they just got bigger. Trading post as well as a dude ranch.

 

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My husband and I kept runnin' our place of business, even during the war, when there wasn't hardly anything to buy, you know. So we went over to.... Well, my husband owned a little farm ranch, a ranch home--took care of that place for some people. And we just couldn't make any money with our trading post then, so we just left some people to take care of it for us there at the Buck Rodgers--take care of that for us, and we just went over around Flagstaff, the other side of Flagstaff, and took care of an old ranch home for a man, and took care of his stock, and oh, whatever else he had around there: chickens and I don't know what-all. So we did that for part of the forty--well, during the war.

Cole: Describe your trading post in Cameron. What was it like?

Rodgers: Oh, nice. It was nice. We had a trading post, and then later years we decided to have a café in there. So we had a little café. And my husband decided he was gonna have some cabins, so he built some cabins. So we took care of the tourists as they came through, and had a little place where they could eat. That went on for about, oh, until we sold it.

And then we had another place of business up here at Vermilion Cliffs. He decided he wanted another place, so we bought the Vermilion Cliffs. Then we had eighty acres there of deeded land. So as time went on, we just took care of the trading post. Then we had some of our kids run the other trading post, the Buck Rodgers. Oh, my husband was somethin' else! He decided he wanted another place of business, so he goes to that place, Antelope Hills, just this side of Flagstaff, down the bottom of the hill this side of Flag. So he built that place. Darn him. I don't know about him. (laughs) But he liked just to have a lot of businesses, I guess. So that's what we did. And he passed away in 1975, and I've been alone here ever since. It's my life.

Cole: What was he like?

Rodgers: Oh, he was an old cowboy from Texas--wonderful guy.

Steiger: Was it your idea to start a trading post?

Rodgers: No, it was his. And my foster father, John Wetherill, he kept encouraging Buck. Well, then, having a place of business on the reservation, a white person--then, it was very touchy, because if the Navajos liked you, why, it was fine. If they didn't like you, they'd tell you about it. Well, the Navajos really didn't know my husband, and me, being a full-blood Navajo myself, why, they just didn't know about it. They just didn't know whether they wanted that white man in there or not. Well, I guess they didn't. They gave us heck all the time we were there. But I'd just go tell 'em off when I felt like it. Yeah! I said, "I'm just a Navajo, and I'm just as good as you are, a full-blood, and I have a right on the reservation." So that was the end of that! They didn't bother us anymore….

Cole: Did you folks have to get a lease from the tribe?

Rodgers: Oh, yeah. Yeah, you had to get a lease, so many years. When that expired, you had to go get another lease--renew it, if you wanted to stay there. But me bein' a Navajo, I could stay there forever. But they didn't have that much sense to know. They really gave me a hard time, I'll tell ya'. But I stayed there as long as I knew it was right.

Cole: Was most of your business there from tourists coming through, or from the Navajo?

Rodgers: Well, both. Mostly--in the summer, of course, the ones that were goin' through in the summer, they were always stoppin' there. They ate there. We always had a lot of nice, good business. Then we started Antelope Hills, which is way another--I guess it's twenty-five, thirty miles back, just down below the hill there. You've noticed it as you came through.

Cole: Yeah.

Rodgers: Yeah, that used to be ours. But we just had cabins and the big café there, and later on, a bar. We ran that for about four or five years, and we got tired of that, so we sold it, and then went to Vermilion Cliffs where we had already bought that place and ran that place. We had a bar there, and a café. And then I thought it was about time we were retiring from all these darned cafés and stuff, so my husband and I then decided to get over to the deeded land, eighty acres. So we decided we'd start sellin' that land, so that's what we did: sold two, three acres to different people. Now it's just that place just the other side of Vermilion Cliffs where you see all the trailers and everything. And all those guys now, they are river--a lot of 'em are working with those river companies there, that go down the river. And the others are--oh, they just wanted a home there, so we just sold 'em by the acres to those different people. So that was the end of that. My husband died, and so here I am.

Cole: Do you remember what year, about, you bought Vermilion Cliffs?

Rodgers: I didn't tell you no years, did I? Oh, yeah, it was in.... Well, my husband, when he was freightin' through the country, then, he met these people--Maggie and Reilly Baker [phonetic spellings] were their names--that ran Vermilion Cliffs. And that place was just built out of cardboard and old raggedy material, like old lumber and all that kind of stuff, you know. But that lady, she made the most wonderful pies and all that. She always got the truck drivers all interested, they stopped there all the time. They ate for fifty cents! They spent the night there for fifty cents, and that's all she charged 'em. So one day when my husband went by their place, my husband said, "Reilly and Maggie said, 'Oh, we'll be so glad when somebody comes along here and wants to buy this place. We're gettin' so tired of it, you know.'" As if it was such a big thing! Anyway, for nothing, why, she said, "Why don't you buy it, Buck?" And he said, "Oh, now, I just might do that." (laughter) Like a dummy, he sure did.

So he bought that place from Maggie. He said, "Besides this place of business, there's eighty acres here of deeded land that you can have," she told him. And oh, gosh, he thought that was a big thing, you know. So we bought that place. And then we just done the same there as we do all of our other places. We had a motel there, and of course my husband and dad [did] a lot of fixin' and all that. Had a Navajo over there that done the rock work--came down. So they did the rock work, stoned the walls. Buck put, of course, decent material in there, like plyboard and good lumber. It's still standin' there today, just the same as it was when we had it. I don't see anything that's different about it, those guys that run it now. Just as long as the food was good. My husband always fed everybody family-style. We had a long table. Tourists or anybody, just come in, "Oh, why don't you sit down? We've got food here." So they'd just sit down and eat like they were one of the family. They just thought that was the greatest thing in the world, you know, the tourists. So that's what we did. That was in the forties, fifties, sixties, and up to the seventies, and then we decided to get away from all of it, so we started buildin' our home on the deeded land. That's where my husband and I were when he passed away.

So, that was the end of my life--end of my business life, I mean! (chuckles)