FAQ's About The Navajo Reservation
& Life Among the Navajo People
Section 3

Most recent revision Thursday June 13,2002

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Questions 152 -216 +
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  1. What are the "slot canyons?" Can one visit them?
  2. <
    Slot Canyons are drainages cut into sedimentary rock that are very narrow with a depth of many times their width. They can be less than six feet wide, and sixty or more feet in depth. They occasionally form in the arid southwest. They can be cut into homogeneous sandstones and limestones. Some of the best known are the Narrows of the Virgin River in Utah, before it enters Zion National Park and Antelope and Slot canyons in Navajo land near Page, Az. The canyons evolve where a constant flow of water cuts downward through the strata, but insufficient water exists to widen the canyon. If the strata through which the canyon is created is uniform and lacks softer slope forming members, the canyon remains about the width of the down cutting stream, although having great relative depth. As the stream seeks the weakest rock to remove as it cuts downward, the canyon walls are rarely vertical and more commonly convoluted.

    Slot Canyons can be places of extraordinary beauty and danger. Even at mid-day the bottoms can be a maze of shadows accented infrequently by a shaft of sunlight that is able to penetrate all the way to the bottom. Often an explorer can touch both walls of the canyons with hands on outstretched arms.

    The fast changing weather of the West provides the greatest danger to explorers of the places. Since it is not normally possible to see the sky from the bottoms of the canyons, thunderstorms that deliver a great amount of rain in a short time must be considered. Even rains miles away can fill up the narrow slots with raging water when there is no hint of rain in the immediate area. Hikers who choose to ignore these cautions routinely are noted in news articles in local papers announcing another victim.

    To help avoid further fatalities (bad for business) the Navajo tribe now regulates access to Antelope and Slot canyons. It assesses a charge on visitors to dissipate the administrative costs.

  3. What is the significance of the number "4" in Navajo culture?
  4. To the Dineh', four is almost a "magic" number. A person can make a request four times - no "third time's a charm." There are four worlds, four cardinal directions, four sacred mountains, four events in a woman's life, and four parts of a person. A four day period of quarantine is usually observed after ceremonies before a person returns to normal activities, or a dedicated building is placed into use. A burial must be done within four days of a death.

  5. You mentioned ceremonies. Who are Medicine Men?
  6. "Medicine Men/Man" is not a Navajo term. The Medicine Men practice their medicine at the hospitals. Traditional Navajo healers include diagnosticians, chanters, singers and herbalists. These individuals have been trained in healing methods that are centered in Navajo culture. They make use of the mind's capacity for healing itself and the use of herbs and plants. Patients go to traditional healers either because they feel they have a need to be addressed, or because they have been diagnosed by Crystal-gazers and Hand-tremblers as needing treatment. These individuals prescribe what ceremony needs to be performed. Hospitals in and surrounding Navajoland have recognized the importance of healing the soul as well as the body and often have facilities where sings can be held on, or adjacent to the premises.

  7. What is the function of Sand Painting? How are they used during ceremonies? Where can I find some of the designs used, so my fourth grade students can make some?
  8. You need to understand some background to fully appreciate the answer. For the traditional Navajo individual, the consciousness of who he/she is and how they fit into the world never leaves them. The Holy Ones who made the world are very much a part of everyday life. There is the constant reminder of the lessons of life in what one does every minute of every hour of every day. The Holy Ones take care of us, It is a fact of life. No questions.

    During a healing ceremony, the sand-painting is used by the healer to tell a story of the Holy Ones and invoke certain "tools" that have been given to us to assist in healing infirmities. The sand paintings are only a small part of a process. They serve the same purpose as an overhead projector used to enhance the presentation. The human mind is a very powerful force. There are many infirmities that must have more conventional treatment, but getting the mind to believe treatments can work can be a decisive force in the total healing process. Unless the patient has the conviction that what is being done can help, is supposed to have efficacious results and will help, the actions alone are of little consequence.

    To take one of the parts of the whole and try and make sense of the actions alone, can defy reason. In the movie "Gandhi", a Hindu asks an Englishman if it is true Christians practice cannibalism. The questioner's literal understanding of the sacrament common in most Christian churches is equivalent to most non-Navajo's lack of comprehension of Navajo ceremonies and the framework surrounding one's life. Reproducing sand paintings to emulate their original use holds as much meaning as lighting the candles on a Menorah without knowing that story.

    Back to the reason for your question. Skip the healing. Explain that painting with sand has also become a very marketable art form. With practice, very fine features can be drawn by sand released between the thumb and the index finger from fine, multi-colored sands held in the cupped fingers. Non-religious portrayals of Father Sky and Mother Earth, (Chinle schools main page- chinleusd.k12.az.us) other stories and name placards for desks have become popular. If you don't have access to naturally colored sands, commercial artists do use aniline dyes on quartz sand. Quarter inch thick particle board painted with white glue and covered with sand is an inexpensive backing when the surplus sand is shaken free.. Once the design with colored sand is completed, spraying the design with a wet coat of acrylic spray fixes the design in time. Ben Hunt many years ago produced a book on "Indian Arts and Crafts." It is still in print and has some motifs your students could use.

  9. There is a web site called Navajo Medicine Woman. Are there Navajo Medicine Women?
  10. Joanie Teller and her husband Norman Little of Chinle put up that page. Everyone has their own realities from the gypsies of Europe to the fans of Stephen King. I have known Joanie since we arrived in Chinle fifteen years ago. She is an assistant manager of a local supermarket by day. Her husband delivers propane when not writing. For those who wonder if this is indeed a Navajo endeavor and not some "New Age" hoax by non-indians, the 256 page paperback book is of Navajo authorship. The book covers topics of witchcraft not usually even alluded to in the open, in "polite" Navajo society.

    Like the Star Wars movies, there is a bright and a dark side to everything. This web site and her book are about a dark side that few choose to travel. Local reaction spans a range from "some people will do anything for money!" to "if there are those who will buy it and she can sell it, why not?" As to the question of whether there are Navajo Medicine Women: Joanie thinks the is at least one, but it was her brother-in-law who provided the answer to the previous question before Joanie and her husband went public with their book.

  11. Is traditional Navajo medicine becoming a "lost art"? Is anyone learning the craft to continue the profession?
  12. It is a major concern of the tribe that many of these men are taking their knowledge to their graves. Studies by the University of Arizona indicate that a far narrower assortment of ceremonies are being done now than were done even thirty years ago. Some ceremonies common during their first survey are very uncommon, if not unknown, now. Lost also is the wealth of knowledge of herbal medicine and concoctions for therapeutic value.

    The Tribe is attempting to reverse this trend. Fellowships for individuals wishing to learn the skills are being offered. The trade requires dedication and extensive study and training. Several years of an apprenticeship are required. While there is no certification program, there is an association of healers who are united throughout the region. Health insurance policies from local employers support the use of Native Healers and pays for their services on the same scale as conventional health care providers.

  13. Why is corn pollen sacred?
  14. Corn has been with us since the beginning of man's existence on earth. Man and woman came from corn. Pollen is seen as a source of life and has the ability to give life (pollinate) either white or yellow corn. It is a continuing symbol of rebirth.
    Some do not know why they regard the pollen as holy. The question evokes an expression of lack of comprehension as to why the question would even be asked. Why pollen is sacred is unimportant. To these individuals, it is enough that it is, was, and always has been. Others strongly believe there is no simple answer. If you don't understand everything else relating to the ceremonies, then you can't understand corn pollen's role.

  15. Apparently I missed something. If the Navajo People migrated into the Southwest, it doesn't seem logical that they would hold a substance requiring a non-migratory farming existence to grow, as sacred. Did they learn this from the Pueblo peoples?
  16. Originally, I answered that the Dineh gained their name of "Navajo" from a reference made by a pueblo people referring to the Dineh as the Apache who farmed the lands to the West. This would indicate that the Navajo had learned and incorporated agriculture into their lives before the arrival of the Spanish. There followed ample opportunities for cross cultural assimilation. The revolt of all tribe s against the Spanish is one example. The Navajos hiding some of the Jemez people from the Spanish is another. Along this same examination of cross cultural incidences, several authors report that sheep were a gift to the Navajo People from the Holy Ones, in order to make the life of the Dineh easier. This twist leads to other conjectures when one considers it was the Spanish who brought the sheep from Europe to New Mexico. Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to learn every story in depth, which is why I prefer not to "reveal" the mysteries of Navajo culture, but let those who are more qualified do so.

  17. My name is Harriette Yazzie-Whitcomb, a full Navajo originally from Window Rock, AZ. I am employed by Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire. I would like to improve on my presentations on Navajo culture. Where did the peach trees come from that were destroyed by Kit Carson's troops during the Navajo round-up? (4/99)
  18. Sometimes a seemingly innocent question about a seemingly trivial detail can reveal details that lead to far reaching implications. "Where did the Peaches come from?", was one of those questions. When I researched the origin of the peach, several books noted that they came to Europe from China, by way of Persia, hence the name it is sometimes known by, of "Persian Apple".

    Peach (Definition from Excite Reference)

    Fruit tree (Prunus persica) of the family Rosaceae (rose family) having decorative pink blossoms and a juicy, sweet drupe fruit. The peach appears to have originated in China, where it was mentioned in literature several centuries before Christ. It was introduced into Persia before Christian times and was spread by the Romans throughout Europe. Several of its horticultural varieties were brought by the Spanish to North America, where it became naturalized as far north as Pennsylvania by the late 17th cent. Peaches are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Rosaceae.
    By this logic, the Navajo could only have received peaches from the Spanish, or another group like the Mormons, in order to plant the orchards in the Canyon and have them develop into bearing orchards that the Dineh relied upon for food, prior to Carson's raids. It was unlikely that established orchards would develop in the few years after the Mormon's moved West, so only the Spanish were left as a source......until it was noted by a Park Service employee earning her degree in cultural anthropology on the Navajo, that to her knowledge, the peaches were present in the region and cultivated by the local tribes, of hundreds of years before.

    The significance of this took only milliseconds to sink in. If peaches did originate in China, but had been in the southwest for hundreds, if not thousands of years, they still had to be transported here with man's help. Not only did someone other than the Spanish have to bring them, but the same someones had to have a knowledge of how to transport seeds or cuttings to survive a journey across salt water, as well as the knowledge to plant them in orchards. In other words, the people who brought these peaches to America probably had a good foundation in agriculture before they left Asia, the foresight to pack and care for them on the journey and knowledge about how to plant them in America. This gives a lot more credence to a planned migration from Asia. If there was not an intent to settle in the new world, then why would the cuttings or seeds have been cared for in such a way as to ensure their survival? This also tends to negate the concept of the Dine' migrating across the Bering Strait during the last Ice Age. In a time of massive glaciers, which imply heavy snows and cold weather, I think it less likely for cuttings to survive if the nomads who would make such a journey would even have them to begin with! The presence of the peach, if not from the Spanish, tells a much greater story. It will be some time before I can confirm or deny the who, but if it turns out not to be the Spanish a much greater story will be confirmed.

    There are also some who be lieve that the Emergence story is not as figurative as it might seem, but an allegorical tale of a passage through different climatic changes. The first world being a description of where the Dineh originated, the water world being the ocean voyage, the World of Grasshoppers the initial landing in the summer on the Alaskan coast, where the insects are legendary both in size and number.......and the Fourth world where we all live today with the Pueblo people and the Four Mountains.... We can only wonder....

    Other observations made at this same time included the interchange between Pueblo People and the Dineh, where the Dineh provided Peaches and the Pueblo folk provided corn.

  19. What significance is lightning to Navajo people?
  20. Lightning is a tool of the Holy Ones. As there are often many paths from one town to another, there are also many different ways to accomplish the same thing in Navajo culture, - although they may be of diversely different nature. Two of the best known paths are the Beauty Way and the Evil Way. Lightning has different roles in each. In the Beauty Way, lightning offers similar protection as the Rainbow. In the Evil Way, it is a dangerous weapon that can be used against one. In a way, it is just like modern medicine and the atom and x-rays.

    I caution against trying to understand anything about Navajo teachings based on a peek here and a peek there. Everything is tied together like a spider's web. It interacts and interlinks. I am reminded of the old story about the elephant and the six blind men. Each perceived its nature as different depending on what he touched. None was "wrong", but none was right either.

  21. What are sand paintings?"
  22. Originally these were designs created by a healer during a ceremony to benefit the subject. Different colored, naturally occurring sands were sifted onto the dirt floor of a hogan using the thumb and forefinger to create the design. They often depict the "holy ones" and tools they gave to the Dineh to help combat evil spirits and restore harmony. At the end of the ceremony, the design is destroyed. Ever since a method was discovered to preserve these pictures on a board, sand painting has become a commercial art form unto its own. The technology is used to create gifts from nameplates to awards that are unique to the region. Other sand paintings depict stories from Navajo folklore. If you purchase one of these, it is often helpful to have the creator write the story on the board's back side. Sacred images are not done in this medium.

  23. Where can I get some yucca root for shampoo, or yucca seeds, so I can grow my own?
  24. Seeds can be retrieved from open seed pods on wild yucca. These can be collected from some plants that grow along highway right-of-ways (between the highway and the fence that parallels the road). The seeds resemble large poppy seeds. They are small, spherical and black. Take only what you can use, as others may want some and the some need to propagate naturally.

    Collecting yucca root is prohibited. It kills the plant.

  25. What kind of soil is best for yucca and how long does it take yucca to mature?
  26. Yucca grows best in a sandy, well-drained soil that is loose-enough to permit good root growth. A hole or pot eighteen to twenty-four inches deep and across, filled with sand, is suitable. Yucca also propagates by sending out tubers, which is why you commonly see groups of the plants together.

    In the wild, with little water, yucca can take five to seven years to mature to a harvestable size plant. It is unknown how long it will take to mature, if it gets water on a regular basis. Saguaro cacti common in southern Arizona deserts, show very accelerated growth when they get additional water.

  27. How is yucca used as a shampoo?
  28. Once you grow your own plants, it is a simple matter to dig one up. The roots go deep. Once out of the ground, sever the root at the bottom of the plant. Cut it in 1" to 2" sections and peel off the brown, outside "bark" only just before you are ready to use it. Either shred the remaining white root with a kitchen grater, or pound it with a hammer to break up the fibers and release the soapy agent. Add the shavings or pounded root ball to a tub of warm water and agitate the water to create a head of suds. Use this soapy water as a shampoo, then rinse.

    Keep the unused root refrigerated or frozen. As organic material without preservatives, it can be subject to mold, if stored at room temperature.

    NOTE 3/25/2000 : I have started seeing some yucca root in larger supermarkets with diverse produce departments. I understand it should work as well as the local varieties.

  29. What happened to all of the farms that once gave the community of Many Farms its name? What was the cause of their demise?
  30. According to Ray Sisneros with the Dept of Agriculture office for this district, it has been a combination of factors. They include:
  31. Declining interest in farming as a profession by young men and women.
  32. Lack of land by those wanting to farm.
  33. While land does exist that could be farmed, many times those who have it won't farm and those who want to farm can't get the land.
  34. Declining snow and rainfall resulting in low reservoirs.
  35. Inefficient water use. Some is caused by the high clay content of the soil which blocks the water from sinking in, to the use of flood irrigation which has high losses from evaporation and waste.
  36. An unwillingness to gamble a certain check against what nature may provide.
  37. Ernie Zamudio, the Vocational Agriculture teacher for Chinle High School confirmed these impressions.

  38. What kind of corn do Navajo's plant in their fields? Where can I get some?
  39. Both sweet (yellow) and white corn are grown. Each variety has been present for a long time. In Navajo story, man and woman were first created from ears of white and sweet corn. Major seed sellers have displays in most garden stores. Other than traditional multi-colored maize and blue corn, most who do farm, use hybrids for the increased yield.

  40. Are Most Navajo people religious?
  41. That depends on your interpretation of "religious." It certainly appears so to me, although not always by the sometimes superficial yardstick that the Western world often judges. Others have also described the Navajo as "devoutly religious". Traditional Navajo people in many ways could serve as an example to many others. Many Dineh live their beliefs as an integral part of their lives. Following the precepts of their teachings is something that is done every second of every minute of every day. It is called "Walking in Beauty"; to be at Peace and Harmony with all around you. Respect for the Creators and all that they have provided is not something that is done only one day a week in a special building where "God" is and nowhere else - like taking one's car in to be washed. The Holy Ones made this world for the Dine'. Being at peace with the world and everything in it is respect for the Holy Ones. Many younger Navajos who lack the use of their language have embraced western religions. Others are caught between worlds and try to live with both. Walking in Beauty makes them better church members regardless of the denomination they affiliate with.

    As anywhere else, there are exceptions, but the core of the culture should not be judged by the exceptions. If one encounters alcoholics and panhandlers who have discovered tourists as easy prey, do not believe they represent in anyway, the bulk of the Dineh. They are considered individuals who lacked grandparents to teach them how to behave. Give these individuals your permission to be as they choose and continue your visit free of prejudice.

  42. Do traditional Navajo people believe in an afterlife?
  43. There is much debate about this among scholars. You may draw your own conclusion: At some funerals, if the individual who passed on was a horseman, it is not unusual that his steed will be put down and left on top of the grave, so the man will have a means of transportation to get where-ever he must journey. I don't recall ever coming across this custom in conventional religious writings. Both burials were after services in a Catholic church.

    Another common practice is to ensure that the dead have at least one small piece of turquoise with them. Some who would not have normally worn jewelry while alive, may only have a small tie-tack of the stone on their collar. Others, who may have owned and worn many pieces while living, may wear it to the grave.


  44. I have heard that Navajo do not approve or autopsies or embalming their dead. Why is this so?
  45. Our bodies are provided by the Holy Ones to house our spirits in this world. The body is sacred. It is remarkable and only by a miracle that the pennies worth of raw materials that make it up function as a growing, self-repairing home of upmost diversity. When a person dies, the body is still theirs and should be treated with respect. It should not be butchered, or savaged like an animals. To do so is barbarism. For this reason defiling the body in anyway is not acceptable. Since both autopsies and embalming are invasive activities, both are avoided were at all possible. Secondarily, the thought of filling a body with a poison (formaldehyde) before interning it does not fit in with respect for Mother Earth.


  46. What major religions are represented in Navajoland?
  47. Most major religions are represented on the Navajo Nation. The Catholic Church, Presbyterians, Lutherans,Episcopals, Adventists, the Native American Church(NAC),Jehovah's Witnesses, Nazarenes, Baptists and the Mormons seem the most active. Mennonites, Ba'hai, Congregationalists, and other Christian churches are represented. I know of no synagogues or mosques.
    Catholics came with the Spanish to save souls. The Episcopals have a large center in St. Micheals and did the first authoritative work on the Navajo Language. The Presbyterians came west in the late 1800's and were given over 60 acres of land in Ganado where they built a hospital and opened a college. The hospital is still in operation. The Mennonites have several missions staffed with couples and young people coming down from Canada. Adventists have established medical centers and schools as well as churches. Clinics are staffed trained at Loma Linda University in San Bernadino, California. Latter-day Saints have been in the area since they came west.


  48. Which is the Church that uses Peyote? Isn't it illegal?
  49. The NAC uses peyote buttons, the dried fruit of a small cactus, in its ceremonies. According to a 1997 Tribal publication, Peyote was outlawed by the Navajo Tribal Council in 1940. In 1959, the NAC brought suite against the Tribal Council claiming that the ban was an infringement First Amendment Rights. The court supported the Tribe with a ruling that the Bill of Rights did not extend to Indian Nations. The buttons contain an hallucinogenic drug. They are still illegal, but seem to be tolerated in the possession of NAC road men. The buttons are traded from Texas and northern Mexico and the size of the individual buttons have been getting smaller each year because of the demand.


  50. How well do the different Churches accommodate existing Navajo beliefs and culture>?
  51. Not surprisingly, the answer is "in varying degrees". Some, such as the Presbyterians and Catholics are most respectful, recognizing that God is found in many forms. Others, preach they want to accept Dineh members, but then expect converts to abandon who and what they are, as far as tradition and culture, to live the lifestyle of what their church defines as "a good Christian".
    One Church claims an historical tie to the Navajo people from their unrighteous ancestors and preaches that one of them shall rise to greatness to help save the world, but still asks them to abandon all traditional ways and teachings and embrace theirs. Support systems the people have depended upon their entire lives are now declared "Un-Godly", but no new systems to replace this support exist. Eventually, many will return to their roots. The request of some Churches that Navajos call each other "Brother" and "sister" is also resented by some who see this as destroying the Navajo clan ship relationships, whereby another may be "grandfather", "uncle", "father", "son", "nephew", or "brother", and normally addressed as such!
    The strict patriarchal structure of some western religions is in direct conflict with the matriarchal Navajo family structure. In some cases, youth must decide whether they will embrace the new religion and abandon their culture, or find a more accommodating version of the Anglo God. I knew of one family who had anticipate giving their daughter a coming of age ceremony, only to be told that since it was not an ordinance, of their church's ruling priesthood, that it could not be important, nor have validity and should not be done.
    It may boil down to which church has the best local administrators. Some churches have a very narrow scope of the culture and prohibit their missionaries from attending any cultural event. Other churches have clergy that has invested the time to learn about the people and only draw lines where they see is appropriate. Perhaps it is as simple as which churches want to serve, versus be served. Churches that accommodate women in leadership roles seem to be very well accepted.


  52. We are familiar with most of those churches, but who are the Mormons?
    Note: This question frequently comes from the same individuals who expect teepees, or ask about the indian "attacks". Mormons to them conjures up polygamists dressed in monochrome. The correct answer to the question required much research in the Church's own records and is more detailed than one might expect warranted. The difference between what the LDS Church presents itself to be and what history records may account for the high rate of inactivity among the Navajo community.
  53. All followers of the doctrines taught by Joseph Smith are frequently called "Mormons" because of a book, "The Book of Mormon" which surfaced early in the first half of the 19th century in western New York state. Originally printed as authored by Joseph Smith, the book contains innumerable passages directly from the Bible and many of the ideas expressed in two other works of that era. All followers of Joseph Smith, of which there are many factions, regard the book as scripture. Smith originally began his Church in Ohio, ending up in Nauvoo,Illinois but upon his death after a gun battle in a nearby jail, in which he took an active role, his followers split up. Some remained (The Original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), others fled west with Brigham Young to Utah, still others moved to nearby states forming smaller splinter groups.

    The origins of the "Book of Mormon" remain in question. This has not been denied by the Salt Lake Church. Brigham Roberts, an 20th century General Authority, wrote that he believed Joseph Smith may have borrowed the underlying concept of the Book of Mormon from Ethan Smith's (no relation) "View of the Hebrews" which was published in the early 19th century.

    Presented as an historical as well as ecumenical document, the volume tells of a family that fled Jerusalem, then built a boat and sailed east across the Indian and Pacific Oceans to Central America, where their descendants formed a large civilization. The Book of Mormon also "documents" the visit of Christ in the Americas. Eventually, the people split into two factions. One group was white and pure, symbolizing their goodness, while the other group was given dark skin because of their wickedness so others might know them. The people with white skin were eventually eradicated, the victors, it was long taught as fact, becoming the source of America's Indian peoples.

    It is this connection with the past that missionaries used to gain acceptance by today's Navajo people. Times may be changing.

    Recent DNA studies of American Indians by several universities show no patterns relating any American Indians to Mid-Eastern peoples, but instead confirms a primarily Asiatic ancestry. No archeological evidence supports the claim either. While there are ruins in Meso-America, they come from a far different time period than is outlined in the document. The lack of evidence for archeological evidence for the Book of Mormon prompted no less an entity than the Smithsonian Institution to compose a letter stating this.

    (In December 2000, in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, the Church revealed that it was moving away from this concept that ALL Native Americans were remnants of people of the Book of Mormon.)

    The story of the Book of Mormon's appearance is remarkable. It first appeared in western New York state, where Smith claimed he dug it from a stone vault, with divine direction.Originally claimed to be composed of engraved gold-colored plates, embossed in "reformed" Egyptian characters, "translation" to English was not done on a line for line basis, but was dictated by Smith to a scribe, while his face was buried in the crown of a hat. Supposedly a condensation of many previous accounts by an ancient prophet named Mormon, the book is commonly known as the "Book of Mormon. In the front of the Book of Mormon are testimonies of "witnesses" who claim to have seen the gold plate from whence they came. Close reading of documents in the Church's history reveals however, that the Gold Plates were only seen in a "Spiritual Sense."

    Originally, members of other churches did not take kindly to these new and often clannish, pious congregations who often expanded to form whole communities. As a result of hostility from others, the members were forced out of several states Finally, after developing swamp land along the Mississippi river to a city larger than Chicago and the leader's subsequent death, while in jail for ordering the destruction of a newspaper that was planning on printing an expose' showing him to be a polygamist, the Church fragmented. One faction, commanded by Brigham Young, its self-appointed leader, traveled west to Salt Lake City. George Strang, who had a paper stating he was Smith's choice as a successor, led his fold to an island in Lake Michigan. Another group, led by his Smith's wife and son was the largest of many fragments claiming Nauvoo origins. In the end, it was the "Brighamites" that became the Church the world knows best today. There increase has been meteoric, growing from a population of one hundred and fifty thousand in 1950 to a membership of over ten million fifty years later.

    The migration of the Mormons westward has been identified as the largest single movement of people in America's history. After establishing the center of their theocratic government in Salt Lake city, Utah, members were sent to establish hundreds of communities in Canada, Mexico, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming. Universities were founded in Utah, Idaho, New Zealand and Hawaii. People to man this expansion were obtained by sending missionaries to northern European countries where the promise of spiritual and physical opportunities in America brought, emigrants by the boatload, across the Atlantic. A "Perpetual Emigration Fund" was established to assist the new converts with expenses. Once in America, early pioneers traveled to the Mountain West by wagon train. Those too poor to afford teams and wagons, walked and pulled handcarts. Eventually, wagons departed eastward from Utah each Spring to pick up that year's bounty from foreign missionary efforts, returning before the first snows in the Fall. When the transcontinental railroad was completed, its cars carried even more Saints westward. It is a fascinating story.

    Part of the LDS theology is the teaching of marriage for "time and eternity," rather than "until death do us part." This "Temple Marriage" must be sanctified in a "Temple". This was the reason so many Saints in Arizona and Mexico made the trek north on the "Honeymoon Trail" across Navajo Land to the closest of the Church's temples in south-east Utah at St. George, until the Mesa, Arizona Temple was constructed in a cotton field after the First World War.

    The Mormons actively courted the Indians from the moment of their arrival in the region. A monument to Jacob Hamblin, who did much work with the tribes in the Four Corner States is located in St. Micheals, Arizona on State Route 264, just east of the Two-story Trading Post by the new Navajoland Day's Inn hotel. Because of the Churches opposition to the Federal government's campaign to eliminate their practice of polygamy, often the Church perceived their American Indian neighbors more as allies, than as enemies. The Church made concerted efforts to develop Navajoland. They tried to bring in industry. The walls of a large wool processing factory and mill still stand without a roof in Tuba City. John D. Lee, who fled Utah with his wives to the northwest part of Navajoland has left many Dineh bearing his name. He was later returned to Utah and executed for taking part in the murder of over 120 men, women and children of the California bound Francher wagon train while it was in the highlands of south central Utah at Mountain Meadows. (Mormon men from a nearby community came to the "rescue" of this group of immigrants from Missouri, a State where early Mormons had suffered severe persecution. The Mormon men paired up with the survivors on a one on one basis and on command, murdered all but the youngest children. Lee, once regarded as a son of Brigham Young the church's leader is regarded as having been a scape goat.)

    Persistent missionary efforts with the Indians since the end of the 1800's has resulted in a pool of more baptized members than any other faith on the Navajo Nation. Unfortunately, baptism does not equate to activity. There are also the greatest number of inactive Mormons than any other Church membership, according to a doctoral thesis completed by Dr. Steve Pavlik at Northern Arizona University. Until the late 1980's, the reservation was still considered to be a mission, without enough active families to be autonomous. Various regions were affiliated with LDS communities in border towns. Eventually, the entire area was made one jurisdiction, or Stake, centered in Chinle. Since then, it has been divided into two, the other centered in Tuba City.
    Charismatic young men and women within the Mormon Church commit two years of their lives, at age nineteen (21 for women) , to spread the gospel here. Older couples, in the early years of retirement, also often commit time from their life and family to come and support the teaching, or come in roles of social workers. The missionary effort continues in strength. In spite of a very low proportion of activity to baptisms. Because of a very effective welfare program to assist its members in need, Dr. Pavlik conjectured as to whether membership in the Mormon Church was considered unconsciously, by some of the Navajo people to be insurance against hard times.

    There are many elements similar between the concepts of Mormonism and the traditional teachings of the Navajo People. With the presentation that there is both a Father and Mother in Heaven, this relates strongly to the Mother Earth/Father Sky pairing and teachings that Holy Ones prepared this world for the Dineh. It is certainly an easier transition for some than to the monotheistic omnipotence of "God" that is marketed elsewhere.Rather than insisting that the Bible is the absolute "word of God", Latter-day Saints profess only to accept it as is "translated correctly".

    Ultimately the question of whether the LDS gospel is the best choice available is made on an individual basis through personal "conversion". The familiarity of many teachings with the emphasis on family, is easily related to as a start. Eventually however, the demands that one completely abandon their heritage makes adhering to the requirements difficult at best. Easing this loss is the belief among Mormons that they are God's Chosen Ones, and have something all others lack, which is a Prophet who communicates directly with the Lord and the only hope at salvation.


  54. Aren't the Mormons the ones who have multiple wives?
    (Again another common question from those expecting stage coaches.)
  55. Current Mormon Church President, Gordon B. Hinkley, re-affirmed polygamy was banned for its members both on the Larry King Show in August 1998 and at the Fall 1998 Church Conference. For almost 100 years, polygamy was an important part of the Utah Mormon's culture. All Church Presidents through 1945 had more than one wife.

    Gordon B. Hinkley, recently stated on national television that there are, as far as he is concerned, no such thing as "Mormon Fundamentalists" (Kingdom of Zion, for example.) In deference to his statement, most of the 100,000 practicing polygamists in Utah and the Mountain West, claim themselves to be adhering to the Church's original tenets - after the Salt Lake Mormons" abandoned them. Even though the Salt Lake Mormons are the dominating force in Utah, enforcement of anti-polygamy laws is rarely done, except in very visible cases, such as Tom Greene, who with his five wives appeared on national television and touted the Governor about Utah's supposed hypocrisy.

    In the United States during the mid-1800's polygamy and slavery were seen as "the twin relic's of barbarism". Lincoln signed the Anti-Bigamy Act of !862 into law to deal with the "Mormon Problem". It was tested in court in 1878 and found to be "good law" with statements that polygamy was incompatible with the American system of government because, polygamy as then practiced led to paternalism. The penalty was five years at hard labor and a five hundred dollar fine. This was a small fortune at the time. This law and others passed that encumbered church properties soon sent church leaders into hiding.

    It is unknown what percentage of the Church members embraced polygamy. (Estimates are in the neighborhood of 5%, however, since "living the law" was necessary to rise in Church leadership positions, this was a very visible 5%!)

    In General Church Conference in 1888, the Church affirmed that polygamy was central and essential to its practice. By 1891, in response to increased pressure from Federal Marshals who were hunting down and jailing Church leaders, as well as seizing church assets, Church President Wilfred Woodruff, who himself had been hiding in the mountains of southern Utah, posing as a woman dressed in a mother-hubbard to avoid federal agents, announced that the practice was to be discontinued. Shortly thereafter, Utah was granted the long sought after statehood. Some contend that this announcement was done more for appearance sake than an actual change in practiced doctrine, since records indicate that polygamous marriages still continued, although not openly, into the next century.

    In 1906 Church president Smith pleaded guilty to the practice on federal charges and another "Manefesto" was issued. After the 1891 Manefesto, an independent Salt Lake City newspaper of the era, the Tribune, confirmed the "Saints" printed that the saints had no intend of abandoning the program, but that the "Manifesto"bannin