Atsidi Sani (Old Smith)
Delgadito (Little Thin)
Herrero Delgado (Thin Smith)
Beshiltheeni (Metal Worker, Knife Maker)
(1830 - 1870)
Dibe lízhíní - Black Sheep People Clan

Atsidi Sani was an Artist, Medicine Man, Spritual Leader, Ceremonial Singer, and Navajo Chief, generally given credit for the introduction of silversmithing among the Navajos (although there were probably other Navajos who were also silversmiths at that time). He was also a participant in the Navajo Wars from 1863 to 1866. His Navajo name is from atsidi, or "smith". He also was sometimes called Herrero Delgado, "Thin Smith", or Beshiltheeni meaning "Metal Worker" or "Knife Maker". Although he was born about 1830 near present-day Wheatfields, Arizona, little is know of his parentage other than that he was of the Dibe lízhíní (Black Sheep People Clan).

Delgadito resisted U.S. Army efforts to relocate the Navajos to Bosque Redondo (Fort Sumner), New Mexico, after the Civil War. Beginning in 1863, Delgadito and his brother Barboncito led over five hundred Navajos in the Navajo Wars of 1863 - 1866. When Kit Carson started his scorched earth offensive against the Navajos by destroying livestock and grain supplies in 1863, Delgadito and Barboncito sent a third brother, El Sordo, and another man to Fort Wingate, New Mexico, under a flag of truce to surrender. General James Carleton told Delgadito that he and his family could return to their homeland if they could persuade other Navajos to go to Fort Sumner.

By January 1864, Delgadito had persuaded 680 Navajos to surrender. Still other Navajos remained at Canyon de Chelly with Barboncito until a march by soldiers on that Navajo stronghold in 1864. Although he was among the first Navajos to be taken to Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico in early 1864, Delgadito, Barboncito, and Manuelito later signed the treaty of June 1, 1868, allowing the Navajos to return to their ancestral lands as Carleton had promised.

By the 1850s, he became friendly with Nakai Tsosi (the "Thin Mexican") who taught him the basic techniques of the silversmithing craft. In 1853, Captain Henry Linn Dodge (Indian agent to the Navajos) also brought a blacksmith, George Carter, to Fort Defiance, Arizona, to teach ironwork to the Navajos. Dodge's interpreter, Juan Anaya, was a skilled silversmith, also.

Although the exact date for the first Navajo silver pieces is debatable, there is general agreement that Atsidi Sani fashioned his first silver pieces (conchas, bracelets, and various other jewelry items) in 1853. Hence, the Navajos took some knowledge of silversmithing with them when they were taken to Fort Sumner. At Bosque Redondo, Atsidi Sani enhanced his knowledge through contacts with Mexican ironworkers. At first, he made bridle ornaments and other decorative items, but he also began to use silver coins in his work, improvising with whatever tools he could find. Other Navajos became interested in his craft, and he taught them what he knew. He apprenticed four of his sons to ironworking. One of them, Red Smith, became a prominent silversmith in the late nineteenth century. From his humble beginning, Navajo silversmithing developed a legacy of simple but fine designs that remains prevalent today.

Atsidi Sani was a minor headman who became a prominent chief at Fort Defiance by 1858. After 1858, he was a major force in Navajo affairs as a political leader and silversmith. Known as Herrero Delgado, he was the sixth chief to sign the 1868 treaty that returned the Navajos to their ancestral lands. He was also a ceremonial singer who performed the various chants he knew with fidelity and great detail. It is said he had an excellent memory and was widely sought after for curing chants. His silversmithing was a matter of great concern to him, and he maintained high standards for his workmanship. He died near Chinle, Arizona, in 1870, a respected elder honored by his people.

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Updated: 04/28/2010
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