Navajo sweathouse and three men. NAU.PH.92.14.93  unidentified  ca. 1970.

Medicine Men

Jewel McGee:

We had an old medicine man out there, and one day I'd lost a--we used to set our scales out in the hay barn, you know, and we'd buy hay from the Indians. And I lost my little fifty-pound weight. And so, we hunted and we hunted, and we couldn't find it. So they said, "Well, go get this old medicine man, Mol-yon, to come find it for you." So I did, and he went out there in the hay barn. The leaves was about a foot deep. He done his little chant, and pretty quick he looked up, and he grinned. He points two ways. So they went over there and dug, and they did, they found a weight in each way. Now, you can laugh at that, but I saw it happen! (chuckles)



Sally Wagner:


Underhill: How involved were you in community kinds of activities--ceremonies and those kind of things?

Wagner: We took a good deal of part in those. Of course, from our anthropological background, we were interested in that. And yes, we went to a great many ceremonies, and we had ceremonies performed over us.

Underhill: What kind of ceremonies did you have performed for you? Were these healing ceremonies?

Wagner: Well, I had a healing ceremony for hay fever. I had hay fever terribly. It was so debilitating. Finally a medicine man undertook to cure me. And of course he painted my face and he chanted over me. But then he held his hand under my nose, and his hand was filled with very finely pulverized greenery. And I had to inhale that. Well, it nearly killed me, it nearly blew the top of my head off! But it cured me, it really did.

Underhill: Did you ever find out what it was that he had?

Wagner: No. (pause) Actually, I did send some of it to the ethnobotanical laboratory at the University of Michigan, but it was a conglomeration of things, and it was so finely pulverized that they didn't do anything with it.

Underhill: What kinds of things did you see in terms of ceremonies and impact like that? Did you observe any other healing ceremonies while you were out there?

Wagner: Oh yes, many. Sand paintings, of course. That was the principal thing. And then the Yé'ii bicheii, the night chant, and the mountain chant. Sure.



Grace Herring:

Oh, in the early days, you really saw some beautiful things. Now, the fire dances, they used to have 'em, you just can't understand what they are. They are not the same now. I remember one fire dance we went to, that I never saw such magnificent performances. They had every hour on the hour, the dancers would change, and they would always--always when you went to a ceremony, you didn't go empty- handed. You either took a sack of flour or sugar or lard or something to give them. But they would give us a seat right up close so that we could see. I remember this particular fire dance went on for I don't know how many days they had it--ten or eleven, wasn't it? It was a long time that it took to finish 'em.

Elijah Blair: Nine days, Grace.

Herring: This particular lady who had the fire dance for, actually got better afterwards. Mother said they do have a prayer channel up there some way, 'cause she got better. But that was fun. I remember taking Charles' mother to a ceremony one night, and they'll give us a seat right up at the front. Another time I went with Charles to a ceremony up above the trading post, and they gave us a seat right down in front where the medicine men were working. And I swear I don't know how they did it, Lij, but I watched this as closely as I could, and they actually made the feathers dance. You could see 'em out here on the basket, dancing. Now, I don't know how they did it. Charles said he thought they had strings attached to 'em, maybe they did, I don't know.

Elijah Blair: I saw the identical thing. They put the feather in the basket, the basket is on the floor, and the feathers are (Herring: On the top of the basket.) and the feathers actually seem--the feathers stand up, and there's no strings.

Herring: They actually dance on the basket. Well, I've always told Charles there was no strings, 'cause I looked real close.

Elijah Blair: No strings.

Herring: Now, Dad tells of going up on top of the mountain one time, and going to a ceremony, and he said that they planted the corn in the ground and he said they actually saw the corn grow and get ears on it before it quit. I don't know how they did it. I don't know how. They have a knowledge that we don't know of a lot of things. They know things we don't know. And as far as their medicine is concerned, I wish we had all the knowledge that those old medicine men have. I wish they'd give it to us, because they help a lot of their people. I don't know why they won't let go of it. And the old medicine men are getting (phone rings, tape turned off and on, discussion regarding copying of documents) Now then, what else can I tell you that'll help you?



Edith Kennedy:

Those days were great days.  The dances, you'd go to the yé’ii bicheii and you'd really enjoy it.  And the squaw dances and the sings they had.  They were fun times.  We went to many in those early days... and the medicine men.  Of course the medicine men are dying off, too-the real good medicine men are dying, and the young are not learning it like they should.  The medicine men played a great part, I think.  They were like psychologists, and then they did have herbs and pollen.  I had great respect for the medicine men, I really did.

We had some great ones out there.  They really helped the people…. Allan George, he was a great one.  Tsetah Begay was great.  That's Vera Begay's husband.  I have a picture of her.  He was really a smart medicine man.  Allan George was one of the best.  He would go into Shiprock and perform the yé’ii bicheii lots of times.  And of course we had Mol-yon.  He was called a witch doctor, but he was in a way a medicine man, too.  And, oh, we had several good ones out there.  But I can't think of any that's living now.  They're all gone.  There's a few young ones, but they don't learn the sings, all of the chants and things.  Maybe they'll learn yé’ii bicheii and the squaw dance, the sing.  But long years ago, there were many, many chants that the medicine man knew and practiced and learned from others... handed down through generations…

Well, a medicine man was mostly...he was just like any person.  But they would come by when a young girl would come into her young womanhood, they always had a celebration.  And they would come by on a horse, and they'd be riding a horse and they'd be carrying a banner of a thing, and they'd be running by, going from their house over to where their hogan, their house, was, where they would have their sing.  And the medicine man would perform the rites for her to come into young womanhood.

And then they would oftentimes come by when they were having their chant of some kind, a night-way  or yé’ii bicheii and ask for donations.  And most all traders would donate flour and sugar and potatoes and things because they cooked and served everybody at those ceremonials.  They were quite often.  They had weddings with the wedding basket that was passed around containing cornmeal mush called a cake, for everybody to taste, and it was a big event.  The medicine man performed the wedding.  It was just a big part of the community with the medicine man.  They'd go to him for several things.  Just like I say, Jewel went to Mol-yon, you know, and you live out there long enough, you get to belieivin' everything (laughs) that the Navajos do….

[Mol-yon] was a great guy.  He was so honest.  He could have any amount of credit he wanted in that store.  He was tall and thin and happy and everybody respected Mol-yon.  He was a stalwart of the community.  We just believed in him.  (laughs)  I really think he did have some power.  And I'm sure Jewel thought so too, when he told you, that he couldn't believe that he told us where to find those things that were missing.  He was missed very much when he passed away.  He was really missed.  Allan George was, too.  Those medicine man families were really good families.  All of the children in every one, they came from good families.  It was kind of like the minister or something almost.

….It took years to learn the chants.  They had to learn the songs.  They were called chants, and they were long.  And then they had to also gather their paraphernalia.  They had rattles, they had different kind of [wands?].  Some wore mink collars around.  They had different kinds of costumes they put on- pieces of clothing.  They had to gather their paints, because they painted a patient's face.  And they had to get their whole complete set of costumes that they wore, and paints, which were mostly ground up plants and things that they would get to paint their faces and their bodies.  And it took many years to get to be a medicine man.  No, they couldn't just say, "I'm going to be a medicine man,"... because you spend years gathering all this.  It's unbelievable, everything that you have to have.  It's in some of the books, shows all of the things that the medicine men had with their medicine man kit.

In the later days, when we were pawning, some of the medicine men got down to where they would even bring in some of their articles and pawn to us because they'd need money.  We would have a wand and a rattle and different things.... arrowheads and different things that they used.  Little pouches-they'd get little leather buckskin pouches with a drawstring, and they'd put their herbs in there, and corn pollen, and things like that that they used in their ceremonies.  They had many different herbs in their little pouches.  It took a long time to get your medicine man kit.  It was just like being a doctor, it takes a long time to be a doctor, it takes a long time to be a medicine man.


Stella  McGeeTanner:

Well, I've seen Indians when they were just dying, and they'd have these sings for 'em, and prayin' over 'em, and feedin' 'em the herbs.  And my grandmother, Grandmother Hunt, she was a firm believer in all those herbs, because way back there, the doctors weren't around much.  She was a midwife, my mother's mother.  But going back to the medicine men, one time out there at Montezuma Creek, I know, this lady was dying, they said, and they had a big sing for her.  It went through all the rhythm of the whole thing, and they fed her.... Let's see, what's the name of this?  Brigham tea is one of 'em.  There's another one.  What's the name of that brush?  Oh, chaparral--chaparral tea.  This lady had sores all over, too.  They made poultices out of the tea.  They'd boil the tea and then just take the--it's like a sagebrush, you know, that chaparral.  And they put that all over her, and she got completely well, and I saw that.

Like I say, there's a lot of people who don't believe in medicine men, but way back there, they were different maybe.  When my kids would get sick, we couldn't pick 'em up and bring 'em into Farmington or anything, because we didn't have the time or the money to do it.  They'd tell us what kind of teas to give 'em, and they'd get well.


Jewel & Leona McGee

Cole:  Well, 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.

Steiger:  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.


Stella  McGeeTanner:

Goin' back to Montezuma Creek, and goin' back to J. B.:  He was premature, born at seven months.  My neighbor gave me a great big bottle of castor oil that I felt like I needed.  She gave me the whole eight ounces, and that's what brought everything.  But anyway, he never seen a well day.  We had to feed him with an eye dropper for the first two weeks when he was born, because he couldn't nurse or anything, and when he'd cry, he sounded just like a little mouse.  Anyway, when we went down to Montezuma Creek, he was very ill all the time.

Chunk was telling this medicine man about his little sick baby.  And so one morning after he'd told him that, we heard a loud noise out in front of the store and the blatting of--I knew it wasn't a lamb, because it sounded different, and it was a goat.  Chunk went and opened the door for him, and it was this old medicine man stood there.

He had this milk goat, and he said to him, "Now, you give your baby this milk from this goat, and he'll get well," because he had diarrhea so bad he couldn't hold anything down.  And from that day on, then he started to gettin' better.  So I've always thought an awful lot of the medicine man, because I feel like he saved my oldest son's life with that.


Clarence Wheeler:

Well, I like their concept of yé’ii.  I also happen to know one thing:  I had a sing for me in my store.  I was threatened by a Navajo, and he told me in Navajo--he got very angry at me over something, I don't know.  And he come in and he'd been drinking, and he was a big, tall man.  In Navajo he says, "I'm gonna kill you."  And I told him, "Well, go ahead, help yourself."  And he was mad at me, and things kept goin' kinda haywire.  I had a flat tire on my truck, and this and that.

The boy I showed you that worked for me for thirty years there, he said, "I think they put the chiinde [phonetic spelling] on you and hexed you."  "Well, maybe you're right."  So we had a guy come in and do a sing right in the store.  My family was there, and we sat around in this ceremony.  His name was Tacheeney Manelly [phonetic spelling] from Tsaile.  And he come in and you had to pay him first.  It ain't like the doctor, you pay after-- you pay up front.  I had to buy a blanket, and I think I paid him $125.

He come in and done this sing.  He had some crystals.  Now, you can laugh and call me a damned liar if you like, but they had crystals this tall.  He had three or four of 'em, and they were clear.  This Navajo boy, Johnson James, I raised him as a foster son, he always called me "Daddy," and he was, I guided him all the time.  He was there, and he held these crystals up.  And this is before the ceremony started.

Then he started his sing and chant, and I was unable to do it, but I done the best I could--Johnson told me I had to do one sing with him, and I done it, but I done it very poorly.  But Johnson nodded his head and he said, "Well, that's acceptable.  It's good enough that we can accept it."  Anyway, when he got done singing, he held this crystal up.  You've seen 'em, I don't know where they are, but it's a Navajo crystal, about that size.  Held it up, and there was a horse and a man on a horse, and a man leading a horse.  And I couldn't hardly tell, and he told me who it was--Perry Ness. He said, "Can you see it?"  He held it around and I looked, and then I recognized him.  And he said, "That's the one that's giving you the problem."  After we had that sing, I had no more problem with that family or that group of people.  Now, you can laugh if you want to, say, "That's a fairy tale!" but my family saw it, I saw it, and I swear to God it was on there--a guy leading a horse, and a man on the horse….the same man [that had threatened me].

It took me a while to recognize him, but I finally got to where I could see it good enough to do it.  If somebody else had told me that, I'd say, "You're a damned liar."  But it happened, and my family were the ones that were there--my wife, and my daughter.  There was just three of us there, and my foster Navajo son, which worked for me….

And I'll tell you something else, they can tell when you're cheatin' 'em, too.  The medicine man can tell you with that crystal.  You do it right, or you get caught.  So it taught me a lesson.  You square deal with 'em.  But them old medicine men are very strong.


Loyd Foutz:

They'd come in, and you'd see that they were so sick that they shouldn't have been in the store, they should have been in the hospital to start with. They'd come in and get me off to the side there and tell me, "I've just gotta have one more little sing.  I'm going to the doc."  They knew I was gonna tell ‘em, "You'd better get to the doctor!"  But they'd come in, they'd say, "I gotta have one more sing tonight.  Tomorrow we'll go to the doctor.  Gotta have this medicine basket and a little cloth."  You know, the things that the medicine man used.  They make them buy that, to have the ceremony, and then that belongs--the basket and the buckskin or whatever they use, the cloth--that all goes to the medicine man, and then he'd bring it back to the store.  I'd buy it back from him, and the next day or two, I'd sell it back to somebody else.  So it kind of was a vicious circle.

This basket may heal half a dozen people in a year's time.  But I kept 'em there all the time, and I'd buy 'em right back.  Of course in those days, they only cost $8 to $15, and now they cost $50 to $150.

Underhill:  Who made the baskets?

Foutz: They used to call 'em Ute medicine baskets, so the Utes made quite a few of 'em....  But the Navajos made quite a few of 'em too.  They learned how. Then the buckskins, they tanned themselves.  They had to have the ears and the horns and the tail and everything, and the less holes it had in it, the better the medicine.  If it didn't have a bullet hole in it, that had a lot stronger medicine than one that had several holes in it.  They liked the ones that didn't have holes--stronger medicine.  They got healed quicker, I guess.

But they believed it.  I mean, I believe it too, because I really saw it work on a lot of people.  I felt like at times some of 'em were too sick to wait that long to have....  I thought they were gonna die before they got there, because they were that sick, and I could tell they were that sick.  But they needed to have that medicine man's approval, and do that first, and then they could go.  It worked on a lot of 'em, it really did.

The hospitals got to where they even told them after they treated 'em with medicine, "You go ahead and go back home and have this ceremony.  Go ahead and have it, it won't hurt a thing, you go do it."  And they did, a lot of 'em still do, even to this day.  They still go home and have a ceremony after they've been to the doctor.  They say, "That doctor didn't do me no good."  But the medicine man did all the good.  So I'll agree with it.  But the doctors didn't heal 'em, it was the medicine man.  That's all right too, that's good.


Bill Malone:

I remember another instance of one of our daughters getting sick--our oldest daughter--and my wife took her to the hospital, and she was gone and back.  I didn't put a time on it, but I knew it was awful quick to go to Keams Canyon and come back.  About two days later the daughter cleared up and was real well.

I stuck my foot in my mouth, "See what the white man doctor can do for you?"  And she said, "Well, I hate to tell you, but I took her to a medicine woman."  So the Indian healers do have knowledge of how to heal a lot of sickness out here, and can really do some neat things with people.  I suppose most of 'em, after they have a ceremony or something, will tell you, "After my ceremony is done, why don't you go see the white man doctor now, and see if you can get a second opinion," so to speak.  But I was really surprised, my daughter was deathly sick, and she cleared up that quick.  And it was just some herbs that a lady knew what to use for.  And they worked real fine.

It's things like that, that people out here wouldn't expect that to happen.  They might associate a medicine man with a witch doctor or something like that, but not true.  They have fantastic healing capabilities--for certain things.  Some things might be beyond their realm, but for a lot of things they can handle things like that.


Jack Manning:

I respect their traditions….my dad told me this story.  He said there was a little boy, he was probably eight.  He had impetigo all over his face, all over his hands.  And impetigo can just be a running sore.  It used to be very prevalent on the reservation.  And they had him into the PHS hospital, and Dad said this little kid, it was just pitiful to see him.  And so the family went out to the mountain behind Red Rock, they had a three-day sing.  He said when the kid come back, his skin's like mine.  He said there wasn't a blemish on it.  And he said from then on....  It wasn't particularly for him, but anytime they come in and said, "We need money for a sing," he said, "If at all possible, we made sure they had it."  That I didn't see, but my dad did.  So I guess it comes back to faith and what you believe.  But the doctors, they couldn't touch it.  Whatever they did--he didn't know, I don't know--but the little boy didn't have a sore on him anywhere.