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Events

Will Evans Utah State University Press ePub

Will Evans’s life as a trader spanned some of the monumental events in Navajo history. For more than fifty years, he shared an insider’s perspective with the Navajo people as these events unfolded. He also recorded the reminiscences of elders whose experience hearkened back to the early to mid-1800s. Up-front and personal, these stories, even though filtered through Evans’s eyes, are an invaluable source to the Navajo past.

Take, for instance, the events leading to, comprising, and following the Long Walk period. This episode is one of the most traumatic and important mileposts for the People. It has been heavily studied by scholars and almost mythologized by the Navajos. The further one is removed from the time and events, the easier it is to generalize and offer facile explanations. Evans provides eyewitness accounts by men who were there. They point out that raiding by the Navajos was, at least in part, a reason for the devastating “Fearing Time,” when surrounding tribes and the United States military wreaked havoc on them. The mistreatment of those who went to Fort Sumner is also addressed.

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People

Will Evans Utah State University Press ePub

People were important to Will Evans. He often wrote in personal correspondence of the necessity of talking to interesting and significant characters who represented, in his mind, an era, lifestyle, event, position, or quality. As a result of these interviews and encounters, the reader is introduced to a variety of individuals who provide a slice of Navajo personality that spanned a hundred-year period. For the descendants of these individuals, what is recorded here is even more of a treasure.

Each of the following biographical sketches gives insight into important human qualities, as well as historic times and incidents. Take, for example, the great faith of Ugly Man, who called rain from the heavens, or Many Goats, who through ceremony and prayer, located a boy lost in the mountains. What about the polygamous couple who, rather than face separation, chose death together in a lonely hogan or Dan Pete, with his infectious laugh and gift for storytelling that taught of special events during the period of Creation. His explanations of why things exist in their present form provide understanding of Navajo customs and culture. Then there were the kindness and service shown by Slim Policeman, who felt that his efforts had gone unnoticed and unrewarded. His disagreements with some of the more powerful leaders caused him anguish.

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Culture

Will Evans Utah State University Press ePub

Culture and customs hold a fascination for someone living outside of that society. Evans readily admits to this fact by expressing his love of and interest in various aspects of Navajo culture. There is no missing his all-encompassing passion for sandpaintings and products of the loom. This appeal served as a springboard for his inquiry into the how and why of many daily activities and cultural practices. The answers he received give an interesting glimpse into Navajo thought.

One strength of the following section is in Evans’s descriptive power based on observation. While he does not use an analytical approach in an anthropological sense, he was a keen recorder of what he saw. His description of the conditions under which he viewed his first sandpainting is one that has been reproduced on a number of occasions. In it, he captures his feelings, a turning point that he recognized in his own life. Another time, one can sense the warmth of the woman who invited him into her hogan during a rainstorm, then fed and cared for him until he was able to leave. Gratitude resulted. Also evident is his reflective excitement—two words not usually juxtaposed—when he attended a “Fire Dance” (Mountainway Ceremony) and watched the performers with fascination. The feeling and sensing of these events is as compelling as the actual description.

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Postscript: The Death of a Man, the End of an Era

Will Evans Utah State University Press ePub

As Evans prepared to celebrate his seventy-seventh Christmas, he passed from this life. On December 6, 1954, the white community of Farmington and the Navajo community surrounding Shiprock became aware of his death. His obituary announced that he had died quietly after several months of failing health. But it was a peaceful farewell, as his wife, Sarah, three sons—Ralph, Richard, and David—and daughter, Gwen, paid their last respects.

To the Navajo community, Missing Tooth [Awóshk’al’ádin] had “gone away.” In Window Rock as the Navajo Tribal Council held session, Chairman Sam Akeah brought the news to many of the tribal advisors who had known and worked with Will. He had often noted in his “Navajo Trails” column, which he wrote right up to his death, the passing of another elderly Navajo with a piece of the tribe’s history. He also mentioned that, sometime, the two would meet again. That time had come.

The white community again recognized Will for his accomplishments—his authoritative study of the Beautiful Mountain uprising, his knowledge of Navajo lore, his stint in the state legislature (1928), his service as police judge, and his presiding as justice of the peace, before retiring from public life. His artistic creations were another tangible means by which he was remembered. Indeed, on August 30, 2002, an open house at the Farmington Museum featured an exhibit entitled “Painting with a Passion: Will Evans and the Navajo.” There the public encountered his close-to obsession in using Navajo symbols to beautify his home, on everything from lampshades and tables to vases and wall hangings. His art has now become a collector’s item.

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