Growing up, the men in the Navajo society, it seems like they're
separate from what the women do. The women have their own
thing to do, and the men have their own thing to do. So they're
pretty much doing their own thing throughout the day....
We were expected, as young boys, we were automatically tabbed as
the sheepherders, the caretakers of the sheep. You take care
of the sheep. We were taught by our grandfathers and our fathers.
If we had an older brother, he will have had experience herding
sheep, so he carries his knowledge down to us--where we should take
the sheep. It is not proper to take the sheep in the same
area for three or four days at a time. You must always alternate
your grazing area. You have your winter camps and you have
your summer camps. This is so that the grass and the food
supply for the sheep and the horses and the cattle will always be
there. These are things that were taught to you by your elders
or your older brother when you were growing up....
Springtime is a very busy time.... All the other
times, as soon as you're done with everything--your eating, your
prayers in the morning, using the ground corn to pray with--that
begins your day, and you take your herd out. But in the springtime,
that would be time for shearing the sheep, taking the wool off.
The women there will be helping the men. Very seldom will
you see men and women working together, but this is the time when
the whole family will be working together. So a lot of shearing
is done, bagging them, getting them ready for the trading posts.
A lot of the wool will be set aside, and they will save those for
their own rug-making. They will go through the washing process,
the preparations, the dying, the carding, the spinning, and all
through what will become a rug, which will eventually be sold to
the trading post. But other fleeces in bags, will be taken
like that to the trading post. Back in my younger days, when
I was a small child, I remember we only had wagons with a team of
horses, and being that we lived about twenty-five, thirty miles
west of the nearest trading post, Dinnebito Trading Post, it took
at least a whole day to travel there and back. You had to
make your purchase, I guess, pretty quick, so that you can beat
the sun. But many times I remember the sun had set and they
would come back, our families would come back. But wool would
be sacked, and they would put it on the wagons and they would take
it. And there the wool was sold. Back in those days,
a couple bags of wool will buy you a lot of stuff. That was
the way it was....
When a sheep is butchered, the skin is saved. It is stretched and pinned down on the ground to dry. After it dries, it's all rolled up so at times you might have nine, ten, eleven sheepskins all rolled up. These were even taken to the trading posts to be sold. And a couple of these sheepskins, that was my spending money for me, because I did a lot of herding sheep. And many times when a sheep is butchered, I would save it and put it up there on top of the arbor shade, save it for the next trip to the trading post. And if I have two or three of 'em there with me, that would give me a ticket to go to the trading post also. It was something to look forward to. All the other times, if I didn't have a sheepskin up there, my job is to go out there and herd the sheep. But when I had a couple of those sheepskins, I knew that I could take it to the store, take it to the trading post, Mom and Dad will sell it, or my grandfather would sell it for me, and I would get the money. And I don't quite remember, I think it was always like kid stuff, something sweet that you wanted to buy, or something that will last a long time, that you kept in your pocket. So, a couple dollars went a long ways back then.
In those days[1900-1929], all the sheep from that area was brought
to Farmington and shipped out on a narrow gauge railroad track.
And there must have been, they'd probably been close to 100,000
head of sheep that would come through there and be shipped out from
Farmington. And they would go to Alamosa, Colorado, and then
they'd be unloaded and transferred onto a broad gauge.
My mother had like over 1,000 head of sheep, and more than 300 goats. But goats is what we didn't like, because they ran. They would take off. My mother had the sheep trained pretty good, I guess. From the time she was little, she started raising some of those lambs, and she would talk to them, and she could recognize almost every sheep that she had by different markings. She knew exactly which lamb belonged to what sheep. And I couldn't-sheep were sheep to me, they're all the same. If we lost one, she would always know. She'd say, "Now, that one that was like this is gone." But what we did was we had a corral and every morning, the first thing we'd do is, if we had small lambs, we'd catch all the lambs that were the smallest, and put 'em in a pen, and then the rest we let out. And then somebody-usually myself or my cousin and another one of my sisters-would have to go after the sheep. We'd just take them, because there's a lot of coyotes out there, we had to watch them constantly.
And then there was other people that had sheep, like my grandmother
and my aunts and uncles. We all watered our sheep in the same
area. There was a watering hole there. So in order to
keep them from getting mixed up, we have to keep our sheep back
until my grandmother has her sheep headed back her direction.
And then we'd take ours in. And then we have to stay there
with them and make sure that all our sheep, when they're leaving,
that they're all together, so someone else can bring their sheep
in to water. And then for the cattle, we had to make sure
that they had plenty of water. And if there were small calves,
we always marked them.... and let my mother know which cow had a
calf. Each one of those was the same-she knew each one,
the markings on them, and she knew which calf belonged to which
one, and so we had to tell her when there was a new calf that came.
So just a big responsibility. My mother was raised that way,
so she, at a young age, even when I was six or seven, a lot of that
became my responsibility because I was the oldest.
Sheep was our ticket. This was like dollar signs, if we had
about fifty head of sheep there, we were secure, we knew that we
can make things work. So fifty head of sheep was a good herd,
back in those days. But I remember many other people having
a lot bigger herd than fifty head. And we looked at people
and you sort of determined in your mind, "They're a lot richer than
I am, because they have about a hundred head more than we do."
Yeah, sheep was very important to us, it was our ticket to the store.
About the fifth year that we were out to Tsaya, the drought came, you know, and the ewes would disown their lambs, 'cause they didn't have any milk for 'em. And this was the year that my son Don was born, in 1932. We had a big barn out at the back, and Chunk had hay stacked around to make little rooms for the ewes that wouldn't claim their lambs, and they'd try to force 'em to let the lambs nurse. Some of 'em wouldn't let 'em, so he'd bring 'em in the house. We had lambs all over the kitchen floor and the oven door open to keep 'em warm. We'd feed 'em with the bottles. And I was nursing Donny, I called him, one morning when he brought two lambs in. He said, "Toots, I want you to do something for me. I want you to feed these lambs." I said, "Well, get me a bottle." He said, "No, I want you to let 'em nurse." And I said, "Well, that's where I draw the line. I done lost everything, but I'm not...." (laughter) But we sure had a time that year with the sheep not claiming their lambs.
When I was about the last year in high school, there was a man from Armour Packing Company come to New Mexico--wanted to buy Navajo lambs. They had heard that they was real thrifty and progressive, so they was signed up with Ilfeld Company, and Kelly there was agreeing, and they would feel free to buy for anybody else. But they said that I knew most of the traders and that I would be willing to help them. That was my first experience in the sheep business. I think we bought close to 50,000 head of sheep that year for Armour Packing Company. I think I received a commission of 10¢ a head for buying them, so that was a lot of money in those days.
The Lee’s- Jack, Evelyn, Snick:
Jack: He just come out there and he just shot 'em.
Evelyn: Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
Jack: And then the government, to offset the furor of the people—they were up in arms, they were ready to go to war…. The government told the traders, "Buy those goat skins, give 'em a dime apiece, and we'll pay for it." …. Or sheep skins. A dime apiece. The Navajos today, if you mention John Collier, they're up in arms, even today.
Evelyn: It was a terrible thing.
Jack: It was a terrible thing.
Snick: What brought it about?
Jack: Overgrazing, I think, to start with.
Evelyn: Yeah, I think it was overgrazing, and they did the same thing in my country, down in Arkansas. We had no stock laws, and they killed the cows and everything else.
Cole: At the same time?
Evelyn: At the same time, during Roosevelt's administration.
Cole: So it was sort of a Depression-era policy almost.
Evelyn: During the big Depression.
Jack: At that time a ton truck was a big truck, and they'd have flat beds on 'em, and sides. And then sometimes it'd be two or three of those things stacked—we'd bale 'em—with sheep hides and goat hides. And John Collier and his group would come out there and if this guy had 250 head of sheep and a permit for 50, right then and there, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, they were all dead. Right there in front of the people!
Evelyn: It was a terrible thing.
Jack: It was terrible! "What are we gonna do
with the meat?!" "I don't give a damn what you do with it,
let it rot!"
The Indians really hated that, but these sheep could get big worms
in their head. We lost so many of ours. He'd split their
heads open, and they'd just be full of great big worms. Then
there was no feed for 'em to eat, either. So the government
told 'em that's what had to be done, they had to cut down on their
stock, which they did. They made 'em do it. They'd just
drive these herds into the gulleys and slaughter 'em.... the government
had it done. It was an awful year that year. A terrible
thing. I know Chunk one time, Willard Stolworthy when he was
in partners with, you know, I told you about it. They came
out one day, Willard and his wife and two other couples, just come
out to visit, all dressed in their Sunday best clothes, you know.
And Chunk was out there, he was really workin' with all the sheep,
and they come drivin' up. He had sheep all around the store
there that day, and they drove up laughin' and cuttin' up, and Chunk
said, "You just turn right around and go back, unless you want to
change those Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes and come help me take
care of these sheep!" He was really mad at 'em, comin' out
there all dressed up, when he was havin' so much trouble.
That was a bad year.
... the Indians had got together and they was gonna lynch the range
rider--or the district superintendent he was, I guess. Rudy Swivel.
And they took he and his wife, and they was tied up in a hogan....
they weren't hurt, but they kept 'em for several days there.
They said that a Navajo by the name of Earl Saltwater come by and
told Ken Washburn that he'd better send his wife and kids to town,
and that he had to cut the telephone lines. So Ken sent his
wife and kids to town, and Earl cut the telephone lines. So
they had no way of getting word to the police at Shiprock or anything
that this riot was going on. It had gone on for about a day
or a day-and-a-half, when they got somebody sent to a nearby trading
post, Beclabito, where they could get word to Shiprock to send the
police out to settle it up. And some of the--I know the people
that went to jail--they were some of the finest Indians we have.
But they believed that they was having their liberty taken away
from them, and they had to protect it.
Wool season was.... During the livestock reduction program, why, they forced them to reduce their herd you know, and all that. So a good wool and mohair season, we'd probably buy thirty bags of mohair and probably anywhere from sixty to a hundred bags of wool. That was probably as good as anybody at that time. Maybe further out around Kaibito and out in that area, they might have bought more wool. But at that time, we were buying more wool and mohair there than any store in this part of the country--and more lambs than any store in the country. We'd rebag all [the wool] and haul it to town and store it. If we were lucky, we'd find a buyer for it--if we weren't, we'd just keep it in storage 'til somebody would come along and buy it.
But now lambs were a different story. There's a market for them every.... I mean, when you went out and bought and trailed--herded--them to Farmington and put 'em in that railroad stockyards to load 'em on the railroad cars, why, there were buyers there to buy 'em.
Underhill: And how many lambs would you typically have when you were herding them?
Foutz: I was going to say just on average, 2,500 head. And Beclabito on average, was about 100 maybe 150. But we kept 'em separate until we started to town. And then when we started to town, we took 'em all at once.
Took just a week to get from Teec Nos Pos to the top of the river there, on the south side of the river. Then that night, we'd move in on the river. We would let 'em water, and then we'd feed 'em good. And then late that evening we'd start across that bridge with 'em. We'd stop all the traffic and we'd herd 'em across the bridge and up the lane and into the railroad stockyards. Because after you got 'em in the stockyards, you couldn't do nothing with 'em. I mean, they had to have an overnight drink, and then we'd weigh 'em at daylight the next morning and load 'em on the cars. But that was a fun time. I mean, because everybody was involved, and everybody liked it, you know.
Now, wool season, it was work. I mean, it was hard work. Nobody really cared (laughter) too much for wool season. But lamb season was work, too, until you got 'em all put together, 'cause you had to weigh 'em one at a time. You'd put an old number two tub on the scales. I think the tub weighed three pounds, or whatever, so you knew how much the tub weighed. And then you'd turn the lamb upside down in it, and weigh it, and then you'd kick it out and brand it and turn it loose. It took forever to weigh lambs, you know, because every time you turned one upside down in that tub, why, there were always two people making sure that you got the scales just right. And that's the way we wanted it, you know. So it involved lots of work....
Underhill: How many days did it take to weigh 2,500 lambs?
Foutz: Well, it took about thirty days. We bought
lambs for about thirty days, and then we were all through.
We started in right after the fair in September. We always
started the first day after the fair in Shiprock. And then
we ran from then 'til we completed. The fair was generally
the latter part of September. Then we'd buy up 'til the last
week in October. And then we'd trail 'em out.
By [fall], the young lambs that were born in the springtime had grown.
When we began to experience the education system come fall--time, when
we had to go back to school in August, this is the time to sell the lambs....
And so four or five lambs would be put into the wagon, and away they would
go. And the kids that were going back to school, would be riding
on these wagons, and they would make their trip to the trading post, the
lambs will be sold, and what money that we have, we'll buy a set of clothes,
shoes for the coming year. It was always an exciting time, also.
Even though the thought lingers in the back of the mind, (regretfully)
"Oh, it's schooltime again. I don't want to be away from my family
again for nine months out of the year." Because of the boarding
school system, that's the way it operated back in those days. Nine
months out of a year, from August to May, you were away from your family.
If you were lucky, and your family, your parents had transportation, you
might get a couple visits. But it was a very seldom thing for parents
to come and visit the child. So you're basically away from your
parents nine months out of a year.
They were just ordinary horses. They'd raise them mostly themselves. There was a lot of wild horses around on the reservation-I think there still is. And the stallions were just-they weren't the thoroughbreds that we see in the race horse business, but there were some pretty good horses. Everything was horse-drawn in those days, of course, in 1945 and 1946. Out at Red Rock, when we first went there, there were horse-pulled covered wagons which brought them to the store, until in the times when they started getting the uranium. Then they would have money to buy pickups, and that's when they started getting pickups, in the 1950s, when they started getting good salaries.
We'd have to buy hay to put in our barn to have for the sheep and horses and the few cows they had in the early days. Now there's many cows on the reservation.
We had lots of sheep. I suppose Jewel told you how we would
herd them into Farmington to get on the little narrow gauge train
to ship them, 'cause we didn't have trucks or anybody to come out
to get them, so we'd gather up all the 2,000-3,000 sheep and hire
herders, and they'd have the chuck wagons. When we had bought
all sheep at the end of October, November, they'd start them toward
Farmington. And a lot of times Lukachukai would come over
the mountains, and they would keep 'em in our corrals sometimes
at night, waiting to gather the next day to go on their way.
The traders would all meet in Farmington. When the train came
in to ship them out, they would really have a big party-all
the traders, the men. That was the end of their season, when
they sold all those lambs. All of the trading posts nearly
had a lot of lambs in those days. It was good business.
Cole: What were [Troy Kennedy and Jewel McGee] like to work for?
Bruce Burnham: Salt and pepper! Just totally different guys. Troy was more excited about rugs. And Jewel was kinda the old livestock guy. I think they really had opposing philosophies of trading: Jewel's really centered around livestock, and Troy's centered in developing rug weavers.... Jewel, as far as being an old-time trader, Jewel was probably right up with the best of 'em. He was tight as the bark on a tree, knew where every nickel was every hour of the day, and was just totally in focus all the time as far as trading goes.
Primarily what he did was he encouraged the people that had cattle
to use better bulls. Every year he would bring out new blood.
He'd say, "A little injection of new blood never hurt a herd of
sheep." He'd bring out good rams from somewhere to sell, and
a better-bred--to his notion--better-bred livestock, better Hereford
bulls to mix in with the livestock that was already there.
So he was into improving the grade of livestock in an area.
There wasn't much any trader could do about the value of the wool.
The wool was just gonna sell for "X" number of cents per pound,
no matter what, because of the amount of dirt in the wool.
It never was deemed as being a very good-quality wool produced on
the reservation, and basically that was because of the fact that
the sheep didn't graze in the high mountain meadows where there
was deep grass and little sand--they were in the same terrain the
year round, and that was a sandy, high-mountain desert. So
there wasn't much you could do to improve the price of the wool,
but you could improve the lambs by bringing in a breed of sheep
that would either make the lambs bigger or healthier or thicker--basically,
a heavier, better-built lamb. And white wool was always worth
more than colored wool in the open market. So you wanted to
eliminate the breeds of sheep that generated a lot of black sheep.
There were a lot of things that he did to improve the livestock.
Cole: Take 1965, 1966. Describe for us the role of the trader at Shiprock Trading Company with the wool and mohair--maybe the wool season, how that all came about, how much you'd buy and sell.
Ed Foutz: I think this was one of the great responsibilities, if you will, of the trader, or anybody doing business. If you're going to be a successful business person out here, you need to render a service to the people that you're trying to do business with. And I think that service to them is to find a market or to be a competitive market in handling what they need to market--in this case that we're talking about, wool and mohair. In the early days, we pretty well used to buy wool and mohair here at the store and market it through two or three people that would traditionally market Reservation wool and mohair.... And after one of our wool seasons, we counted over 10,000 gunny sacks we got out there that we'd emptied, to show you the volume that you do in it. We had 10,000 gunny sacks back there. And this was--we drove this to where a lot of the wool and mohair was coming in from this whole region. They'd come, because I feel like we were competitive, and then a lot of the other traders had quit buying wool and mohair. And some of the other trading posts had actually started to be just a convenience store, or had transformed into a convenience store with Thriftway taking them over....
Interesting too…. there is accepted gamesmanship that goes on in
the buying and selling of some of the things out here. And
I call it gamesmanship, because I feel that's what it is.
In the way of buying livestock, you would find that a lot of times
you'd never buy livestock until late in the afternoon, on most days.
We'd see very little livestock come into the store for sale till
about three o'clock in the afternoon. I think a lot of time
the livestock, specifically the lambs, were left off of water for
some period of time, and then they were put on water…just before
they'd come in to bring 'em to market, they would put 'em on water.
And of course a young lamb can hold from six to eight pounds of
water a lot of times. Well, you've got to understand and know
that if you're buying a lot of lambs, or you've got a lot of extra
water that you've bought, and when you go to market it, that you
don't have that water there to market, and you've lost a lot of
I think one of the funniest stories I heard, there was a trader out at Inscription House, and when I first knew him, he was an elderly man, and he'd been on the reservation all of his life--Stokes Carson--you've probably heard of him. He told me one time, a long time before I knew him, that this person brought in a sack of wool, and of course a trader, you can look and see a sack of wool, and you know approximately what it should weigh. If a sack of wool should weigh 250 pounds, and they threw it on the scales and it weighed 350, they knew they were buying something they didn't want. So he said they took the wool, and they always took it in the back and dumped it to see what it was, and then they would adjust the bill accordingly. And they dumped out the wool, and there was a differential for a Model "T" Ford in that sack of wool. (laughter) So he said he just settled up with the old man, and he just left that part of the car there in the back room. He said the next spring that guy come in and he wanted to buy a sack of seed corn. So he just went back in the back room and he dumped out half of the seed corn and put that rear end back in it and filled it back up with corn. And he sold it to the guy and he said the guy would always come in and just laugh and laugh and laugh because they'd gotten even with each other and nobody was angry! (laughter)
The Navajos have really quite a sense of humor, and you have to
really get up early in the morning to get ahead of 'em.
You know the trading era kind of evolved from all trade, the cash trade, and then slowly the convenience store kind of come in. And your local came in, your big stores at Kayenta and Tuba City and Chinle--City Market and Basha's came out here. And so slowly the convenience store took over where the trading post once was.
The sheep have decreased for two purposes, I think. First of all, they've lost their sheepherders. Years ago, during the forties when I came out, and during the thirties, I think most families would kind of hold back one of the children or one of the kids and basically say that he was not going away to school, but he was going to stay home and become the herder, or the one that looked after the flocks or the sheep. So they basically had the sheepherders built in. Well, the way that the Indians take care of their sheep, you've got to have a sheepherder, they've got to go out every day and go out to a different part of their [grazing] permit to keep the feed coming along.
They relied on their wool, they relied on several things that came
away from the sheep, the lambs for increase and of course the meat
of the sheep, mutton, to eat. But as the new era came in,
so to speak, and as we said that all their kids needed to go away
to school.... parents had to supplement the sheepherding, and
now, they really have a hard time finding herders to stay with their
flocks, and so they either have one of two alternatives: and
that is to either take one of the older ones out, or put flocks
together, or keep the flock in the corral sometimes, feeding them
hay. At the price of hay today, you find that even though
they love their herds so much, it's a very expensive thing.
And consequently, you've seen more of your Indian people go to cattle,
and that on their grazing permits they don't have to herd the cows
every day, or look after 'em. They check on 'em maybe once
every two or three days or once a week, and keep track of 'em.
Then that doesn't take near the time that it does to look after
a herd of sheep. And so you've seen a great decrease recently
in the herds of sheep out here, and the size of herds of the sheep
and goats, brought on primarily by that. And then also, just
recently, they lost their government subsidy or incentive
on wool and mohair. The government subsidized wool at a certain
price. And that certainly meant a lot...to the Indian that
sold their wool for 32¢ and if the incentive was at 65¢,
they got the difference between 65¢ and 32¢ from the government.
And so that made it very economically feasible, or much more feasible
to raise sheep for that purpose. And that subsidy now is gone,
and consequently it's hard, economically, to keep a herd going with
the price of hay today, that they have to supplement their feed
on the Reservation; and a lack of really, basically, herders, it's
hard to really have a herd. People are turning from
that kind of economy, and livestock-oriented background, more to
a job and training and that type of background. It's interesting.
It keeps getting less and less in that climatic conditions have changed. There's not the range that there was, there's not the grass. Another thing is, they can make so much more money by getting 'em a job with the bureau, or with the tribe, with APS, with New Mexico Public Service, with the oil company, that just brings in so much more money than the livestock business. And so then when you do that, you can't take care of 500 head of sheep. You can take care of twenty, but you can't take care of the big flocks that they used to have…. probably from the middle sixties on, it gradually was a downward trend. Each year they'd buy less bags of wool and less lambs. And it's almost, oh gracious, I think as far as the livestock business, it's almost extinct on the reservation as far as involved in their livelihood. It's more or less just extra income. And sheep take a lot more work than cattle. Those that are still in it, most of 'em have cattle. They have a few sheep, but that's just so they will have fresh mutton to eat. There isn't near the wool or the lambs. In Shiprock I don't know where anybody'd even hardly--other than Shiprock Trade was buying lambs--Barnard's quit. Down at Bond and Bond, which is now Chuck Foutz, he doesn't buy.... They do go to the livestock auctions: there's one in Cortez, there's one in Aztec, there's one in Breen, and they take their livestock there and sell it.
Here at Hubbell's we don't buy any animals. They would like you to, but economics don't work on wool and sheep anymore, because what the trader on the reservation can get for the product is not what they can get in Gallup. Gallup will always be a nickel more a pound, or ten cents a pound more, and you can't pay it out here, because you gotta sell it to the guys in Gallup, so you can't compete with 'em. I just don't want to be the bad guy for shortchangin' somebody on their animals.
Now, when we had the drought two years ago, I saw people comin'
in and cashin' checks for sheep, goats, five bucks a head.
And you know, that's ridiculous. But they really had no choice,
they were gonna die on 'em anyway. Hay got up to ten bucks
a bale out here, so you couldn't afford to keep buyin' hay to keep
'em alive. So it was tough on the people that had animals--it
was real tough. And the ones that did buy all that hay and
what not, is for the love of the land or love of the animal, more
so than economics, because economics didn't even fit into it.
They were losing all the way on it.
Cole: I'm sort of interested, with your mom, has the mobility of the Navajo people affected her as much, say, as it has you, with transportation and stuff? Does she come into Gallup much?
Yazzie: The more traditional people, they don't seem to really want to go out as much. They would rather be around their traditional people. They'll spend more time going to maybe ceremonies, where they feel comfortable. I've heard some ladies say when they do go into places like a larger town, they feel uncomfortable. They do take care of the business that they need to, but then they would rather be home. My mother would rather be home. She'll occasionally like to go out and just have a different dinner than what she normally has at home, and maybe that's only a couple of times a month, but she would rather be home.
She can't leave home for long, because of her sheep, too. She loves her sheep. She'll go somewhere and she'll worry about her sheep at the end of the day. She can't spend the night anywhere else.
Cole: Does she do her own herding still then, or does she have anybody to help her?
Yazzie: She's sixty-six years old now, so when she's going somewhere, she'll put hay out in the corral for the sheep. When it's real cold, she'll put hay out for the sheep. When it's warm enough for her to go out and watch the sheep, she'll dress for the weather and go out and stay close to her sheep. And the sheep do pretty well on their own, too. They go out and graze, and she'll just watch them, and when it's time for them to come back in, they automatically just come back to the house, to the corral, and all she has to do is just get 'em in and close the gate.