Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: University of Washington Press
Foreword: Sheep Are Good to Think With
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In 1962, the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss introduced the notion that all manner of plants, animals, objects, and things are “bonnes à penser” (good to think with). This phrase has since become among the most suggestive and celebrated ideas in modern social science. Its core insight is that human beings interact with the world around them, ...
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For a time, I used to travel each year from my home near Phoenix to the San Juan River in southern Utah, a journey that took me through the western part of the Navajo Reservation. Framed by my car window, windswept moonscapes layered in pink, salmon, and gray, volcanic pinnacles, and sandstone spires broke the monotony of the vermillion ...
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Historians often maintain a fiction that their work is a solitary endeavor, but truth be told, almost all histories are collaborative to some degree. This one is perhaps more of a group effort than most. It began life as a doctoral dissertation, and I remain deeply indebted to those who guided me in that work and set a high standard by their own ...
Prologue: A View from Sheep Springs
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In the summer of 1996, I drove my rusty Isuzu Trooper from Wisconsin to the Navajo Reservation, an arid yet awesome landscape of luminous red rock mesas and canyons, dried-up sagebrush and snakeweed, and vast expanses of naked sand.1 Enclosing some 25,000 square miles of the Colorado Plateau, the reservation lies mainly in northeastern Arizona ...
Part 1. Fault Lines
1. Counting Sheep
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It was a terrible sight where the slaughtering took place. . . . Near what is now the Trading Post was a ditch where sheep intestines were dumped, and these were scattered all over. The womenfolks were crying, mourning over such a tragic scene.” Nearly four decades had passed since the 1930s, but still Howard Gorman could not erase the mental images of the ...
2. Range Wars
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The talk about grazing conditions was not true,” asserted Béésh Biwoo’í, Frank Goldtooth, a Diné hataałii or healer, now quite elderly and largely confined to his bed in Tuba City. “There was plenty of vegetation and water. The ranges and valleys were covered with tall grass and beautiful flowers.”1 In the early 1970s, Goldtooth shared with ...
Part 2. Bedrock
3. With Our Sheep We Were Created
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In the early 1950s, Hastiin Tó Łtsoii, Mr. Yellow Water, a respected ceremonial singer—a hataałii—living on Black Mesa, tried to explain to a visitor why the Diné cared so much about their sheep. Mr. Yellow Water had lost more than three-fourths of his substantial flock to stock reduction. He had even gone to jail for opposing the program. Now he wanted to make clear ...
4. A Woman’s Place
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Kaibah looked out over the sagebrush flats near Sheep Springs on the eastern flank of the Chuska Mountains, feeling rich as she watched her herd of sheep spread across the valley. Although she was only a girl of about eleven, for some time her mother had entrusted her with the care of the family flock. In this, her mother, Mary Chischillie, ...
Part 3. Terra Firma
5. Herding Sheep
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In my very early days, we never lived in one spot for any length of time; we just roamed about from place to place, and from time to time.” Tall Woman, the respected weaver and midwife from Chinle, had spent nearly ninety years herding sheep and goats. “See that Black Mountain range over there?” she asked her visitor, pointing to Black Mesa. “We had ...
6. Hoofed Locusts
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It was a hot, dusty July afternoon in 1904 when Professor E. O. Wooton set off from Las Cruces, New Mexico, on a fifty-five-day, 1,200-mile expedition through the western and central parts of the territory. In the fourteen years since he had joined the faculty of the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, he had established his reputation ...
Part 4. Erosion
7. Mourning Livestock
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A sense of urgency filled the air one February morning in 1931 as some seventeen men crowded into a conference room at a Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Albuquerque to discuss the rapidly deteriorating condition of the Navajo range. Herbert Hagerman—the aristocratic scion of a millionaire land speculator and railroad developer, the former ...
8. Drawing Lines on a Map
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In the fall of 1934, just as federal agents prepared to seize Navajo goats, the conservationist Robert Marshall cautioned Collier against using force to implement erosion control on the Navajo Reservation. Persuasion, not compulsion, he advised, would be far more effective in the long run. He encouraged Collier, moreover, to study “the thought patterns,...
9. Making Memories
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In the late spring of 1936, as rumors of grazing districts and renewed stock reduction swirled across Diné Bikéyah, newspapers in border towns claimed that Navajo women were threatening revolt. Trouble was brewing on the reservation, the Gallup Independent claimed, in the racist language of yellow journalism, “due to the dissatisfaction of the ...
Epilogue: A View from the Defiance Plateau
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In the summer of 1997, I returned to the luminous red rock mesas and canyons of the Navajo Nation. As I headed toward Window Rock in the dead of night, flashes of lightning streaked across the sky, and a torrential downpour, níłtsą´ biką’, made for a nerve-wracking drive. That summer received gloriously plentiful rainfall—the most on record, the local ...
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Publication Year: 2011