It is an odd trick of fate that the Navajos, who of all Indians have developed the keenest commercial sense, should be the least affected by the white man's ways. They roam the great open spaces south of Grand Canyon and live like Bedouins, following their flocks of sheep and goats across the desert just as their forebears did.

The Navajos are first cousins of the Apaches. A Navajo and Apache can understand each other if both speak slowly. But where the Apaches were warriors, the Navajos became artisans and traders, skilled as rug weavers, silversmiths, and at barter.

Although the Navajos and the Apaches spring from the same racial stock, it was the custom of the former to make raids upon the surrounding tribes, notably the Hopi, the Shoshones, the Zuni, and the Pueblos, and to carry off their women. Thus the Navajos assimilated the blood of several Indian nations, and there is consequently no true type among them. Some are short and stout like the Pueblos. Others have the tall and slender build of the Plains Indians. These American Bedouins do not call themselves Navajos, which is a Spanish term, but "Dene" which means "the people." The Navajos feel quite superior to the surrounding Indian tribes. They conduct themselves with lofty independence, and when the occasion demands it a Navajo can look straight through another Indian or white man without seeing him, as if the latter were too inferior to be noticed.

Original image from book
E. A. Burbank Timeline Image - Hubbell Store

Figure 14 Hubbell Store Barn Sheep Corral and Residence

To me no picture of a Navajo scene is complete without that of J. L. Hubbell, the generous, hearty Indian trader who operated the trading post at Ganado, Arizona; the man whom the Navajos called "the old Mexican," and who - as Stewart Edward White said in a description in one of his books - "is afraid of neither God, man, nor the devil."

I first heard of Mr. Hubbell when I arrived at Gallup, New Mexico, looking for Navajos to paint. Clint Cotton, the old Santa Fe telegraph operator who ran the trading post in Gallup, took me in hand. "Go down to Ganado and see Hubbell," he said. "When you get there, give this to him and tell him to shave himself." He handed me a safety razor. Arriving at Ganado, I found Hubbell looking like a wild man with a beard hanging to his belt. He welcomed me heartily and invited me to occupy a room in his house. But he refused to shave.

"How much is it going to cost to live here?" I asked. "It will not cost you anything," he replied. "Then I won't stay," I said. "I will have to find quarters where I can pay for them." The old Indian trader looked genuinely hurt. "I have been here for thirty years," he said, "and I have never yet charged anybody anything for either food or lodging. Are you going to make me break my rule now?" I stayed, but eased my conscience by presenting him with pictures, and by copying rug designs for him.

Mr. Hubbell was a friend of every Indian in the Navajo nation. He was born and reared in the Navajo country. His mother was a Spanish woman. His father an American. He used to be sheriff of Apache County. Once when he was arresting a horse thief, the bad man turned and drew a bead on him. Many-Horses, chief of the Navajos, took the situation in at a glance and shot the thief, saving Hubbell's life. That was the beginning of one of the finest friendships I ever encountered between a white man and an Indian.

Mr. Hubbell turned over his office to me for a studio. Because of his influence upon the Indians, I had no trouble in getting the Navajos to pose for me. My first sitter was his good friend Many-Horses. He posed wearing his colorful Navajo costume of head chief. The old Indian liked the portrait so much that he asked if he might pose for another picture. I told him to come back on the following day.

Imagine my consternation when Many-Horses appeared again in his Navajo costume, but in addition he was wearing a tall stovepipe hat which had been presented to him by a tourist. I urged him to take the hat off, explaining that no one would want a picture of an Indian in such a garb. Many-Horses was terribly disappointed. He left the studio completely crushed. In a short time he was back. This time he had the plug hat decorated with eagle feathers. I decided that such perseverance should be rewarded. So I painted him, plug hat and all. Much to my surprise, Mr. Hubbell was delighted with the portrait, and bought it. He had a cut made of the picture and used it on his stationery.

Many-Horses and Mr. Hubbell used to joke with each other about the Happy Hunting Ground. "If you die before I do," the trader told the old chief, "I will put a rope around your neck and drag you to the top of the hill. I will put the largest stone I can find on top of you so that you can never go to the Happy Hunting Ground." Many-Horses would laugh. "You die first, and I do that to you," he would say.

While I was at the trading post Many-Horses did die. I helped Mr. Hubbell bury him on top of the hill. True to his promise, the Indian trader put the largest stone he could find at the head of the Indian's grave, crying like a baby while he was doing so. Later on, both he and Mrs. Hubbell were buried beside Many-Horses.

The Hubbell trading post was not only the general store, but it was likewise the bank and everything else for the Navajos. Mr. Hubbell ran a pawn shop where the Indians would bring their valuables and pawn them when they needed money. Sometimes articles were left for years. When the Indians returned with the money, Mr. Hubbell would return the articles deposited. He never charged interest. The tags in the pawn shop were records of each Navajo's financial state over a long period of years.

The trader made money, but he seldom received it from the Indians. They almost always paid for food or clothing in baskets, blankets, and jewelry. Many times I have seen Navajo women come in and say that they needed flour, sugar, and coffee, but had no money. "Give this woman what she wants," Mr. Hubbell invariably called to a clerk.

Several times Mr. Hubbell said to me, "I am going to quit being so softhearted." But he never did. One day a party of men came on horseback. Each man was armed with a six-shooter. "What will you charge us for meals and lodging and food for our horses?" the leader asked. "Nothing," said Hubbell. "Put your horses in the stable." The men came in. "You'll have to take those guns off," said Mr. Hubbell. "Put them on the table. What do you think this is, the wild and woolly West?" They did as he told them. Next morning before they left they picked up the guns from the table. The party continued to Gallup, New Mexico, where they robbed a gambling house, staging one of the biggest holdups in that part of the country!

All who came were welcome to the Indian trader's hospitality. One day a boy showed up and asked if he could stay overnight, explaining that he had no money. "Sure you can stay," said Mr. Hubbell. "Where are you going?" The boy was going to Chin-Lee, thirty-five miles away, where he had been promised a job. He was going to walk across the desert. "You are not going to do anything of the kind," said the Indian trader. He provided not only a horse, but an Indian to accompany the boy to Chin-Lee.

One of the Indian trader's good friends was Man-u-let-o, a head chief of the Navajos. He once was a powerful man among the Navajos. While Man-u-let-o was in Gallup, New Mexico, the noted sculptor, Herman McNeil, made a life-size statue of him. Clint Cotton, who ran the Gallup trading post, bought the statue and placed it above the main entrance to his store.

Shortly thereafter a road show came to town. One of the attractions was a ventriloquist. He came into the trading post and asked Cotton to teach him a few Navajo words. Then, taking a position near the door, he threw his voice so that the words seemed to come from the mouth of the statue. The Indians gathered there were so alarmed that they fell all over each other getting out of the trading post. They refused to come near the store, even though Cotton explained to them over and over again that it was just a trick. He lost, that group of cus-tomers for good.

Once while he was in Gallup, Man-u-let-o attended a rousing revival meeting. He became so interested in temperance that he took the pledge to abstain from liquor. He returned to Ganado wearing his blue ribbon and vowing he would never touch a drop of whiskey again. This was the old chief's one weak-ness, and Mr. Hubbell encouraged him in his good intentions. A few days later Man-u-let-o invited Mr. Hubbell to come to a temperance meeting the Navajos would hold. They were going to combine it with a cere-monial dance. Man-u-let-o said he was going to give a lecture on temperance. The old chief gave an eloquent talk on the evils of drink to the group of Indians gathered in a corral. There was one Indian in the crowd who was already under the influence of liquor. Acting on drunken impulse, this Indian made his way up to the speaker and produced a bottle of whiskey. He invited Man-u-let-o to have a drink. The old chief resisted for a while, but eventually the fumes were too much for him. He accepted the bottle and took a long drink, continuing his lecture with the half empty bottle in hand. As he waxed more eloquent, he would pause occa-sionally to refresh himself. Finally the words became all mixed up and Man-u-let-o wandered over to the side of the corral where he went sound asleep. The rest of the Indians went on with the dance with-out paying any attention to him. The fallen temperance lecturer lay there on the ground all night, con-tracting a chill which turned to pneumonia. Shortly Man-u-let-o died.

Never have I seen a man more understanding of Indian psychology than Mr. Hubbell. No problem of any Indian was too large or too small to merit his wholehearted, sympathetic attention. Once, while I was staying with him, his branch trading post at Cornfields, Arizona, was struck by lightning. No Navajo will subscribe to the theory that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. They refused to trade at the store struck by lightning and would not touch the goods that had been in it. Mr. Hubbell solved their boycott by loading his stock in a big wagon one evening and hauling it off before the Indians' eyes. Driving out into the desert, he rearranged the load under cover of darkness, and drove back next day with his "new stock." The Navajos were satisfied and business was carried on as usual.

One day a Navajo boy herding a flock of sheep unintentionally let them stray on a white man's land. The man angrily. ordered the boy to get them off quickly. The young shepherd was doing so as fast as he could, but the man impatiently drew a gun and shot one of the sheep. With a show of spirit characteristic of his race, the Indian boy shot one of the white man's cows. The man shot another sheep, and the boy shot another cow. After which the white man fired at the boy, barely missing him. The youngster then took aim at the man and killed him with a single shot. This young Navajo was tried for murder and sentenced to Yuma Prison for life. Believing that the boy had received a raw deal, Mr. Hubbell turned heaven and earth in his behalf and finally succeeded in having him pardoned.

The Navajos raise some corn for food, but their wealth is principally in their flocks of sheep, goats, and ponies. They are among the wealthiest Indian tribes in the country.

Chief Dodge, a very wealthy Navajo who made his money dealing in sheep, is typical. Because his name was Dodge, he purchased a Dodge car, and had a white man drive it for him. He lived in a fine residence on the Navajo reservation, and sent his chil-dren to an eastern college to be educated.

Wherever the Navajo builds his campfire is home. Usually he builds two campfires one for the animals to gather around, and the other for his family. The Navajo's house is a round log hut with one door in it always facing east. This is known as a hogan. It resembles a huge beehive. In the center of the roof is a hole a yard or so across, opening to the stars above. Below this hole he builds his fire so that the heat will warm all parts of the hogan, but the smoke will escape through the hole. In the summertime while he is on the move, the hogan is usually made of brush plastered with mud. While they are on the move these nomads of the Painted Desert build their campfires in the shelter of a ravine or a cliff.

According to legends passed on by word of mouth from one generation to another, the Navajos first secured sheep and goats from the early Spanish settlers in Mexico, probably in the sixteenth century. Prior to that time the tribes lived by hunting and by raiding their agricultural neighbors, the Pueblos.

Among the Navajos there is a curious division of property. The hogan, the sheep, and the goats belong to the women. The horse saddles and jewelry belong to the men. If a Navajo woman tires of her husband, she can divorce him by merely placing his saddle out-side the door of the hogan. This, I might add, is seldom done. The Navajo family ties are close. They are particularly devoted to their children, who learn to ride ponies before they can walk, so that they can follow the flocks along with their elders. The children help their parents in herding sheep, and sometimes they do all the work themselves. They are good herders.

The little girls dress exactly like their mothers, and comb their hair the same way. I have seen them weaving blankets, and have seen the little Indian girl in the hogan cooking meals for her younger brothers and sisters when their parents were away.

The Navajo children, especially the little girls, are more superstitious about posing for their portraits than the children of other tribes. One little girl, for instance, refused to sit for me because she had had a bad dream about posing for me. The boys are shy of strangers.

At one time a Navajo chief had the right to as many wives as he could purchase and support. But this custom has disappeared, although wives are still obtained by purchase, the transaction being carried on entirely between the prospective groom and his I chosen mother-in-law. The girl has nothing to say I about it. After he is married, a Navajo will not look at his mother-in-law for fear of going blind. I have seen a Navajo start into a store, then beat a hasty retreat because his mother-in-law was doing some shopping.

One old Navajo chief living in a remote part of the extensive reservation was discovered with several wives. The Indian agent told him to pick out the one he wanted to keep and send the others back to their mothers. The old Indian listened to the instructions carefully. After some thought he spoke for the first time. "You tell 'em", he said.

The Navajos have a dance which they call the Ya-be-chey. It lasts all night and is an interesting ceremony. Unlike most Indians, the Navajos sing and dance at the same time. They are quite willing to hold their dances in public and visitors are almost always invited. Usually these dances are held in a corral.

The Navajos are particularly devoted to their medicine men who give no medicine whatsoever. It is strange that a people so intelligent in other ways should believe so devoutly in the power of incanta-tions to cure their illnesses. The medicine men place all of the patients in a tribe in a single hogan. The "doctor" who undertakes the cure sings and yells at the top of his voice, dances and jumps about, and waves his hands to-ward the hole in the top of the hut. The Navajo idea is that illness is caused by the presence of devils in the body. The "Doctor" is supposed to drive the devils out of the body and up through the hole in the top of the hut.

So great is the influence of the Navajo "doctors" that they are frequently called in by the surrounding Indian tribes. The Hopi women especially have great faith in Navajo medicine men for their children. I have seen as many as twelve Hopi mothers sitting on the floor each holding a sick child while a huge Navajo shouted, yelled, and waved for the devils to leave the children and go out through the hole in the roof.

Original image from book
E. A. Burbank Timeline Image - Navajo Mother and Child

Figure 15 Navajo Mother and Child

One day I was painting a Navajo woman and her child. This mother had been to school and was fairly well educated. I noticed that the little girl's body was covered with sores. Earlier that morning I had also observed that she had called in a Navajo "doctor" to hold. his incantations, trying to heal the child. My sympathies for the youngster overcame me and I could not resist speaking to the mother. "You are an educated woman," I said. "You know that Navajo medicine men cannot cure your child. Why don't you take her to the government doctor?" My words were all that she needed to swing the balance between her superstitions and her better judgment. She took my advice and the youngster was soon cured.

Often these "sings," as the Navajo medicine men's ceremony is called, are abetted by sand pictures as a medium of curing illness. The relatives of the sick person gather around while the medicine man, using different colored sands, makes a picture on the floor. These sand pictures are supposed to have a mysterious power for good. If for any reason the sand pictures and the "sing" fail to free the Navajos of the microbes, and the ill person dies, his body and his effects are burned With the hogan, and no healthy Navajo would think of entering a house in which anyone had died.

Another strong superstition among the Navajos is that having to do with the coyote. They will not kill the coyote, though they know it kills their sheep. For they believe the coyote takes their soul to the next world.

A surprising custom among the Navajos is that of having the women do all of the butchering. They are very skillful butchers, as was demonstrated one day when a Navajo woman whose picture I had painted came to me on a rainy day and asked if she might butcher a sheep in my studio. This seemed an unusual request, but inasmuch as she promised not to do any damage, I consented. She performed the operation without getting a single drop of blood on the floor.

The Navajos are excellent cooks. Their favorite way of cooking meat is to broil it on sticks held over an open fire. They also cook a sheep's head without removing the brains from the skull. After the cooking they break open the skull and eat out the brains.

The Navajos are most devoted shepherds for the thousands of sheep which they herd across the desert with the aid of sheep dogs, in search of grass. The Navajo boys are trained to do this work as soon as they can ride. Every boy has an empty bag tied to his saddle. Any stray lambs which are deserted by their mothers are carried to the hogan in this bag, to be raised by hand.

All Navajos are industrious and as soon as they pause in their never-ending trek across the desert, the women resume work on their rugs and the men take up their silver work. The Navajo jewelry is artistic and is made entirely by the men from Mexican dollars which they melt down and pour into moulds. From this they make buttons for their clothes, bracelets, and hammered silver belts.

However accomplished the Navajo men might be as silversmiths, it is the Navajo women who have made the nation famed the world over with their blankets and rugs.

Prior to the coming of the white man these blankets were made in only three colors: white, gray, and black. The designs were worked out by mixing the wool of white and black sheep. When the American traders arrived in the Navajo country they brought with them yarns which gave the Navajos a wider range of colors. Reds and greens blended well in the Navajo designs.

The first red that the Navajos used came from a finely woven cloth traded to the Indians by a party of English travelers and traders. This was known as Bietta cloth. The Navajos patiently unraveled this cloth and added these yarns to their blankets. These blankets are now very rare and even a small one will bring a good price.

Later the traders who bought the rugs insisted upon the use of purple and yellow which brought about a clash of colors. Then the commercial spirit of the Navajos worked to the disadvantage of their artistry and soon the rugs and blankets lost much of their original beauty of design. I have often seen the traders instructing squaws how to make blankets, telling them to work in more colors, to use pinks and purples and to leave less "bare space."

The beauty of a genuine Navajo blanket is its simplicity of design and harmony of color. Like most children, the Indians are close copyists and their eagerness to give the traders what they want accounts for the loss of artistry in weaving as well as color blending. The finest Navajo blanket I ever saw was one at Mr. Hubbell's, measuring twenty-five feet square. It was an inch thick and had been sold to a New York club for several hundred dollars.

The Navajos are supposed to have learned the art of weaving from the neighboring Hopis. Tradition I has it that the Hopis taught the Navajos to weave in exchange for assurance that the Navajos would cease their raids on the Hopi villages. Curiously, among the Hopis the men are the weavers, whereas among the Navajos the women do all the rug making.

In olden times the Navajos and Hopis were bitter enemies and waged constant warfare. The Navajos were the aggressors. The Hopis, being a peace loving people, lived largely by peaceful pursuits. Many and bitter were the wars between these two peoples.

The Navajos and the Hopis are still whole-hearted rivals in a more peaceful way. They are keen traders, but the Navajos invariably have the advantage. Whenever groups from the two nations get together they indulge in horse racing and other sports, with many side bets on the results. The Navajos invariably win the horse racing because they Breed and raise better horses. However, the Hopis make it up in foot races, since they are able to outrun any Navajo or any other Indian.

One of the outstanding memories of my happy days among the Navajos was the Christmas I was invited by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bierkemper, missionaries at Ganado, to help them in a feast they were giving for the Navajos at their little church. They had a Christmas tree laden with presents for the Indians, and after a fine address by the missionary, I was appointed Santa Claus to help pass out the food and presents among the Indians.

The guests had not been limited in the number of dogs they could bring. Consequently each family had from one to a dozen dogs there. After all the! men, women, and children had been fed, I told them that Santa Claus Many-Brushes was going to see that all the dogs had a Christmas dinner. I fed the dogs with the remains of the feast. This pleased the Navajos so much that they burst out in a cry of "Yachte, yachte." This means "good," and established my standing permanently among these American Bedouins.

E. A. Burbank Timeline image