Before the Roads Were Paved: Living with the Navajos at Canyon de Chelly, 1950-1952
It was on Columbus Day, October 12, 1950, that my husband and I joined the United States Indian Service and went to live with the Navajos in northern Arizona at Chinle, near the entrance to the famous Canyon de Chelly. We were just out of the University of Arizona, my husband with a degree in Range Ecology and I with a degree in Anthropology. And like Columbus, we sailed forth on uncharted seas to a new frontier and we arrived just in time because, although we didn't realize it, an era was dying. The last real American frontier, the frontier of cowboys and Indians, was passing, but we didn't stop to think about it as we were too busy living it. Every day was an adventure and life was good.
Yah te hey as the Navajos say, it was good.
In 1950 there were no paved roads on the twenty-four thousand square mile reservation. There were no motels, no restaurants, no movie theaters, and no supermarkets. In short, there were none of the so-called necessities of our civilization. But there were 24,000 square miles of open country of stark, rugged beauty, and here and there a hogan, a flock of sheep and goats, and once in a while, a trading post. Wagons and horses were the common method of transportation. It was three or four months sometimes before we got into a town and then we went only out of necessity. I didn't want to leave the reservation for too long as I was afraid that I might miss something while I was gone. We purchased our daily supplies at the local trading post and hoped we would not get sick as it was 40 miles to a mission doctor, if the road was open.
Now all that has changed. We left the reservation in 1962, after having spent ten years in three agencies with the Navajos and two years with the Hopis, whose reservation is surrounded by the larger Navajo reservation.
This book is dedicated to the Indians and to the personnel of the United States Indian Service, and it is told with the spirit of sharing - sharing an adventure with others who were not so fortunate as to have been there with us at the time.