Henry Chee Dodge
(1857 - 1947)
Hastiin Adiits'a'ii -- Mr. (Sir) Interpreter
Ashkihih -- Boy Interpreter
Kiilchii - Red Boy
Ma'íí deeshgíízhiníí -- Coyote Pass People - Jemez Clan
Henry Chee Dodge was a U.S. official government Interpreter, the last official Head Chief of the Navajos, and first Tribal Chairman of the Navajo Tribe. He was born at Fort Defiance, Arizona, the son of a Navajo-Jemez mother - Bisnayanchi, and Mexican Silversmith - Juan Cocinas (Aneas, Anea, Anaya, Cosinisas, Goshinashu). Bisnayanchi died looking for food while leaving her son with relatives during the Navajo Tribe's trek to imprisonment to Fort Sumner. His father was killed by other Mexicans while trying to recover horses stolen from Navajos from these Mexicans. His name, Chee came from his Navajo name, Kiilchii, and Henry Dodge from the white Agent that his father had respected. When his mom did not return, Chee was passed on to different Navajo families, until being adopted by his new family, and old man and daughter. His curly hair and Spanish looks caused him to be chosen at a pre-teenage age to become Interpreter for white Agents governing the Navajos. This led to him becoming official Interpreter of the Tribe, and then official Navajo Chief, chosen by a white Indian Agent and approved by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and Commissioner of Indian Affairs. His leadership brought the tribe to an effective modern day organization. He also encouraged education and continuance in the traditional Navajo beliefs. His stern discipline at home caused his children to would become leaders in the Navajo political system: Tom Dodge - Navajo Tribal Chairman, Ben Dodge - Navajo Councilman, and- Navajo Councilwoman. The following is a story of the life of Henry Chee Dodge.
Kiilchii (Red Boy) pulled the blanket closer around himself, and tried to sleep. He was lying on a bed of dusty pine needles, under a tall tree, and could look far up through its branches to the evening sky. He lay very still, wishing the big gray squirrel chattering high in the next tree would come down near him. But the squirrel was upset at having so many people invade his quiet life along the rim of the Grand Canyon, and chattered noisily at a safe distance.
Kiilchii was not even four years old, but he knew he had traveled a long distance, and now his stomach would not let him sleep. He listened to the grown-ups talking in soft, worried voices nearby.
They, too, were worried about food, for they had little left. He remembered how they had left their little stone house at night, meeting more people along the trail. He had asked for food the next day, and his mother had given him only a small handful of dried corn.
As the days passed, the small band had hidden in rock shelters and arroyos along the way. Kiilchii was not allowed to run and play. He was supposed to rest all day, to be ready for the next night's journey. For many days they had traveled in the direction of the setting sun, moving steadily and resting little.
"The U.S. soldiers were coming to burn our homes and take us away, far away," his mother explained to him. "We are hiding from them. We will soon find a safe place to stay until the soldiers go away."
Now the little boy watched. His mother, part Jemez and part Navajo, a young woman of the Ma'ii'deeshgiizhnii Clan, was arguing with her sisters. "I am afraid to leave him'," his mother was saying.
"But he will be safe with us if anything should happen to you," one of her sisters answered. "Please leave him. I will take care of him like my own boy until you return."
Kiilchii sat up, worried about his mother. "Where are you going? I want to go with you," he cried.
"Now., my little son, lie down and sleep. I know you are tired," his mother said, brushing the curly black hair back from his forehead. "I am going to find some food, for we are all hungry. I will come back to you when I have food."
Tired and hungry, the little boy fell asleep. He waited all the next day and the next for his mother to return. But she did not come back. After many days of waiting, eating nuts, berries, and boiled plants, the small band prepared to leave.
His aunt came to him. "Walk with me, little one," she said. "I will need your help along the way, for we must keep our eyes open for a rabbit for our cooking pot. We will leave a good trail for your mother to find us when she returns."
His aunt knew she was not telling the truth, for they dared not leave any trail the soldiers might find it and capture them.
His mother had gone to the Hopi villages on the mesas to the north, to ask for food and perhaps shelter for her people. It was late summer, 1863, and many Navajos were running, trying to hide from Kit Carson's soldiers. Some did manage to hide, back among the deep, twisting canyon lands of the north.
But his people had not yet found a good supply of food to keep them through the winter. They must do this before they could hide away in the canyons. Homes were deserted, and the band found only burned fields. Even the peach trees were only charred stumps. Once in a while they met other families, all in the same desperate condition. The land was quiet, blackened, and frightening. Kiilchíí's aunts were worried about the little boy. They could manage with little to eat, but the boy was growing thinner by the day.
"He is too weak to keep moving with us," one aunt said. "Perhaps we can place him with another family, one which has more food."
His aunts talked back and forth about the matter, and finally decided to give him to another family camping nearby. "I promised to take good care of you, little one," said his favorite aunt. "This is the only way I can do it now." She put her head down, and Kiilchii could not see her face. She walked with him to the other family's camp, and after a long time full of talking and heavy silences, the family agreed to take him. She walked away quickly, and Kiilchii sat watching with solemn eyes.
For several months, he stayed with the family, sharing the food they had brought along. At times, several families met along the trails and at one of these meetings, he was given to another family. He trailed along after one family, then another, silently, solemnly, glad to have food when it was offered. Only when he was rolled up in his blanket, his face away from the other people, did Kiilchii allow the tears to swell and run down his face, wondering about his mother and his aunts. But they dried quickly, as the boy fell asleep exhausted from the long, hard day's journey.
One morning he awoke to find himself alone, his "family" gone, leaving no trace behind. He stood up, keeping the blanket tight about him, for it was cold, and the sky was sunless. Cold gray clouds moved quickly overhead, and Kiilchíí' felt a hard lump arise in his throat. He began walking, then running, hoping to catch up with the people he had been with the night before. He did not know they had moved off hours earlier, after talking another family into taking him. But the other family had not found him, as Kiilchíí' was sleeping behind a bush some distance away. Now, he was all alone. Running, he stumbled and fell over the root of an old juniper tree sticking out of the bank of the arroyo. He cried out in pain, and his cry gave way to all the tears he had held back for so long.
"Little one, little one, who are you?" a soft voice said near his ear. Kiilchíí' looked up into the face of a little girl, glad to see her, though he had no idea where she had come from.
He could find no words to speak to her, only more tears every time he tried to open his mouth. But he felt the lump in his throat go away.
"You are all alone. Come along with me, Grandfather and I are going to find the soldiers, and get some food and warm clothing. See, the snow is falling. We must hurry," said the girl.
The old man was walking slowly down the arroyo when the two caught up with him. "There you are," he said quietly. "I knew you would come along soon, for I move very slowly. What is this?" he asked, looking at Kiilchíí'.
"Kiilchíí'," mumbled the boy holding his eyes down. Would the old man turn him away? He was frightened.
"Chee," answered the girl, repeating what she had been able to hear. "He was alone, crying back there. I heard him." The old man nodded slightly, and the three began the long slow journey. A few days later the soldiers found them and took them the rest of the way to Fort Defiance. To young Chee, the soldiers did not seem unkind, for one took him upon his horse and let him ride all the way to the fort. But once he was down from the horse, the little boy held tightly to "Shádí," his "Big Sister," though she was only eight.
Four years later, Chee did not remember much of this. He knew only that all around him the people were happy, happier than he had ever seen them before. He called the old man Shichei ("Grandfather" in Navajo). Shádí and Grandfather had taken care of him all during the four years at Fort Sumner. Now they were going home, though Chee was not sure where home was anymore. He only hoped that home would have lots of good food, for he had felt hungry most of his life.
"Will my aunt be home?" he asked.
"I do not know, Chee," the girl answered him.
"I can't really remember her," he said. "But you and Grandfather are my family now. And I will be able to help you now that I have grown up." His adopted big sister laughed, "Yes, that's good."
Chee was eight and his "sister" twelve, that summer of 1868. Grandfather was very old. For the next several years, the three made their home north of Fort Defiance, moving from one place to another, wherever there was good grazing for their sheep. Each of them had been given several sheep as they arrived at Fort Defiance, and the flock increased rapidly in the care of Chee, Big Sister and Grandfather.
Chee was a lively boy who loved to run through the hills after rabbits, and walk along with the sheep through the high grass and wildflowers. He especially loved the times when they traveled south toward the fort, for all along the way many families were camped, each with its own brush shelter and small flock of sheep. Chee loved the warm, shady afternoons when he played with the other children along the stream. He enjoyed the warmth and fragrance of all the little cooking fires dotting the hillsides. A few families had horses, and once in a while there were races. Chee longed to have a horse for himself, but he was happy enough when he could use someone else's.
One afternoon, he was watering a horse at the stream. A woman was washing clothes nearby. He studied her for several minutes, until she felt his eyes and looked up.
"What clan are you?" he asked.
The woman smiled at the greeting coming from such a young one, then answered, "I am of the Ma'ii'deeshgiizhnii Clan, and you?"
Chee smiled when he heard her voice, for now he was certain this was his aunt. She walked closer to him as he answered, "Ma'ii'deeshgiizhnii, also."
Kiilchíí'," she smiled. "You are Kiilchíí', my sister's son . . . do you remember me?"
"Your voice comes back, Shimá Yázhí ("Little Mother" in Navajo)", he said happily. It was indeed his aunt, his "Little Mother."
The two stood and talked of the years past, glad that their ordeals were over. Chee's Aunt and her sisters had finally joined with another band and had hidden in the Gray Mountain area. The food supply had been meager, but the soldiers had never found them. They learned of the end of the imprisonment from families returning in 1868 to their homeland, and they moved back into their own part of the country when they were certain there was no danger. Now, his aunt had married a white man, an Issue Clerk at Fort Defiance.
"A white man?" said Chee, amazed.
"Yes, he's a good man. At least he provides well for me," she laughed. Chee laughed too, glad his Aunt was safe and well. "I will watch for you when you come to the fort," she told him. Chee rode back to Shádí and Grandfather, eager to tell them the news. They were happy for him, but a small cloud passed over Shádí's face. "We are still your family, Chee," she said. "I hope you will stay with us." The boy reassured her he did not want to leave.
"Who would be around to help you chase the sheep . . . and eat all the good food you prepare?" he grinned.
These were pleasant years for him, and for the first time in his life, Chee had enough to eat. At one spot, Shádí and Grandfather had a small farm, a shelter with little fields in front of it. They carefully planted and cared for the fields, and when the crops were ready, Chee helped harvest. He knew this was the source of the good meals Shádí cooked. He didn't know how poor the crops really were, for even these dry years produced more food than he had ever seen before.
He was independent, quite able to take care of himself in all kinds of weather, for Grandfather was old. The years at Fort Sumner had been hard on the old man, and now, as Chee was growing, he was worried about the boy's future.
He considered placing him with another family, where there were younger men to teach Chee all the things he would need to know in order to make his own way later in life. But Shádí argued strongly against that. Still, she knew Chee could not remain with her forever. He was nearly twelve now, a bright and good-looking boy.
On the family's next trip to the fort for the food and supplies which the government was giving to the Navajos to help them make a fresh start in their ruined homeland, Shádí found a way to help Chee.
The Presbyterian missionaries there took in some young children to teach them the English language and other basic school subjects. Shádí took Chee to the missionaries.
There, the boy spent two months learning quickly all the people had to teach and yearning for his old free life. He was not used to sitting still for so long, particularly while the trees outside rustled in the autumn breeze. Shádí and Grandfather came to visit him at school. They took him into the room at the fort where the commodity supplies were being distributed. When it was Shádí's turn, Chee spoke out for her, in English. Shádí was surprised, and suddenly Chee felt embarrassed. He put his head down, grinning.
"Say, young man, we could use you here. Do you want a job?"
Chee looked up. It was the Anglo Clerk, issuing the supplies, and he was looking at Chee very seriously. Did he mean it?
"I'm serious. I need someone to talk for me to these old Navajos," the clerk continued. "My wife can help sometimes, but often she is too busy."
This man was Perry Williams, his Aunt's husband. Chee considered it quickly - no more school! He could begin to earn a living for himself. But Shádí was already speaking, "No, no he cannot stay with you. He is just a boy. He belongs with us, his family!" She pushed Chee outside quickly, and Grandfather followed.
But not long after this, Grandfather shook Chee awake in the dark hours before the sun rose, and took him back to the fort. He knew Shádí would not really let Chee go willingly, yet he knew it would be best for the boy. He would learn quickly how to make a place for himself in this strange new world the white men were bringing to the Navajos.
Chee went to work when he was just twelve. He got along well, and learned all about the food and supplies the Clerk gave out. His English began to flow more easily, and the job seemed more like fun than work, except that after the store was clear, he had to help put the shelves back in order, and haul in the new shipments of food, tools, and clothing.
He enjoyed being with his Aunt again, and one day, asked her a question which had haunted him for a long time. Chee's mother had never returned from the Hopi country, and he knew that he probably would never see her again. But he wondered about his father.
"I do not even remember him," said Chee. His aunt told him what she knew.
Chee's father had been a Mexican, captured by the Navajos when he was ten. Juan Cocinas (sometimes called Juan Aneas) had become a fine silversmith, and had worked with the agent, Henry Dodge. He knew the Navajo language as well as he knew his native Spanish, and became an Army Interpreter. After marrying the Navajo-Jemez girl, he had built her a nice stone house and had helped take care of her sisters as well. He had been killed by Mexican raiders in 1861 when Chee was one year old. It had happened while he was trying to recover horses stolen by some Navajos so that the Americans could return them to the Mexican owners.
Chee's Aunt told him about the agent, Henry Dodge, too. "He was so well liked that your father gave you his name. You are Henry Dodge," she told him.
"Henry Chee Dodge," the boy corrected her.
"That's good, Henry Chee Dodge," she smiled.
Chee worked alongside the Issue Clerk for three years, earning five dollars a week, which he simply put away because he did not know what to spend it on.
One morning when he was fifteen, three medicine men walked in. "Interpret for us," one said sternly. "Be certain you give this white man our words exactly as we give them to you." All three men spoke in very fine Navajo, and Chee tried not to look nervous as he interpreted. But later that evening, he took out the big dictionary and searched for better words in English so he could do a more precise job of translating.
Before long, his employers saw other possibilities for the boy. A healthy, hard-working lad like Chee would be useful on the supply wagon train from Santa Fe to Fort Defiance, they thought. Henry Chee Dodge soon found himself "elevated" to the job of feeding the mules along the dusty wagon trail. On arrival in Santa Fe he worked with the men loading supplies into the wagons, as well as feeding the mules. His bosses were not as thoughtful of the boy as his friends in Fort Defiance had been. Chee often became so hungry that he looked forward to feeding the mules, just so he could pick up kernels of corn the mules overlooked, to fill out his day's rations.
During this same period his employers sent him to school in Albuquerque. But three months of confinement there was enough for the lively youth, and as soon as he could manage it, Chee Dodge was back at Fort Defiance.
He worked not only in the supply room, but became a favorite among families living at the fort. He was called on to help out with odd jobs in the officers' homes, and as his English improved the government agents found him valuable as an Interpreter. He soon became the most fluent Interpreter known, and missionaries also began asking his help in translating religious lessons into Navajo.
As Chee's circle of admirers grew, so did the traits that would characterize the rest of his life: hard work, thrift, skill in dealing with many kinds of people, and success in all his endeavors.
He was barely twenty when the United States Government made him official Interpreter for the Navajo people, and he remained in this position until he was nearly thirty. This job was not always a tame one, for as the railroad tracked through the territory the reservation border towns grew, and so did Navajo entanglements with non-Indian citizens. He was often sent along with the soldiers when they had to capture wrongdoers among the Navajos, to explain to the Navajos time and again the ways of American law and justice. As Interpreter for Agent Denis Riordan in 1883, Chee Dodge had to ride with the agent to find Klah, who was thought to have murdered Peter Tracy, a settler.
Klah had shot the settler in self-defense and then fled to safety among his own people. When Agent Riordan and Chee Dodge arrived at Klah's camp, they were surrounded by a band of suspicious and hostile Navajos. Klah's people were prepared to defend him, and they tried hard to persuade Chee to side with them against Riordan. Chee stood firm, trying to explain to Klah that he would not be punished unless he was proven guilty of murder, and that self-defense was not considered murder in American courts. Klah went peacefully with Chee and the Agent.
Later Riordan praised Chee highly and promised him a wagon and set of harnesses to use on his farm. The agent wrote, "His life and mind were more than once at stake on his coolness and good judgment, and tact. I relied on him implicitly."
Time after time, Chee found himself in dangerous situations, particularly when he had to stand between the Navajos and the white men. Usually he managed to calm both sides and eventually bring them together in reason.
In 1884, while Chee was still official Interpreter, he was also appointed "Head Chief" of the Navajos by Agent Riordan, and this position was approved by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. No Navajo knew English as well as twenty-four year old Henry Chee Dodge, and he was soon busy assisting Dr. Washington Matthews, Post Surgeon at Fort Defiance, in collecting Navajo legends and chants.
Later in the same year, Chee was entrusted with the care of three old medicine men on a journey to Washington, D.C., to meet President Chester A. Arthur. On this trip, he had to interpret not only the language but the social niceties as well. At a state dinner, he puzzled for some minutes over the strange behavior of the medicine man seated beside him, until he discovered that the old man was simply trying to sharpen his fork on the side of his leather boot! Chee was in the delicate position of politely having to reverse Navajo tradition to teach a much older man the "right" way of doing things. He took it in stride, and made a mental note to make more thorough explanations in private before such situations could arise in public. The rest of the trip went a little more smoothly.
Chee's salary had risen, from five dollars to ten and then to fifteen a month. He had not spent any of it and he had not even counted it in years. Now in his late twenties, he discovered he had saved thousands of dollars. Chee Dodge was a wealthy man. His friends among the white men at Fort Defiance had long been aware of the young man's potential, and now they advised him to leave government service and "get out and make something more of yourself." He followed their advice, and at age thirty became a partner with Stephen H. Aldrich at Round Rock Trading Post.
He married a vivacious girl named Asdzaan Tsinnijinnie, and built up his farmlands at Crystal. For a long time, he had loved this area. He had spent many hours sitting on horseback surveying the lush, rolling country and envisioning it as a prosperous farm. Now married, he began to make his dream come true by fencing off the fields from the grazing pastures, surprising many Navajos with successful results of fencing the land. It would become typical of Chee Dodge to try new ways with marked success, just as it was typical for him to engage in many activities at one time.
Intent on being a Stockman as well as a Farmer and Storekeeper, he bought large herds of horses, sheep, and cattle, riding to Cuba, New Mexico, to find the best stock available. The herds increased rapidly and Chee began to feel satisfied. But he had to ride back and forth constantly between his store at Round Rock and his ranching and farming enterprise.
"Always on a horse, always going somewhere," his friends joked with him, but Henry Chee Dodge seemed to have the energy to juggle all his activities with a flair. He was dashing, good-looking, well-to-do, and seemed to thrive on activity. Along with all his other work, he still assisted the United States Cavalry often, one time ousting a group of Anglo prospectors who were working the Carrizo Mountains without Navajo permission.
Though he gained respect and admiration by hiring many Navajos to work at his various enterprises, Chee discovered that having to be away from home also had its pitfalls. He became aware that his herds were slowly decreasing, and suspected that during his absence, someone was stealing his livestock. To remedy the problem, he began looking for a different place to graze his herd. The Klagetoh-Tanner Springs area was not within reservation boundaries, but the excellent grazing land there appealed to Chee's business sense. He bought 160 acres from the Anglo owner, and placed a close Navajo friend in charge of it. Soon, his herds were prospering again.
His new land holdings at Tanner Springs would give him a vital wedge later when he went to Washington, D.C., to argue the case for adding the Klagetoh area to the Navajo Reservation.
Even life as a Storekeeper had its dangers. A trouble making Navajo named Black Horse brought a new threat into Chee's life at Round Rock. In the fall of 1892, Dana Shipley was Agent for the Navajos. His main concern at the time was enrolling children in the boarding school at Fort Defiance. Parents of the Round Rock area had not yet sent any children down to the school, so Agent Shipley decided to recruit in that area.
He visited Chee and persuaded him to talk to parents with him and seven Navajo policemen. They started visiting in the Tsaile area, and by the time they reached Round Rock Trading Post, Agent Shipley had promises for thirty-four children from all the parents he and Chee had visited. But Black Horse, leader of a violently anti-Anglo band of Navajos, heard of Agent Shipley's plans for the children. He had also heard of the dreadful treatment some school children had received at Fort Defiance. Parents had told him that their children were handcuffed, bound in leg irons, locked up in the dark cellar or in the bell-tower, unfed for several days in a row, and beaten. One little boy escaped and found his way home, after losing an eye at the school. The Navajo Agency's Carpenter added his own eye-witness report of "vile and inhumane treatment" of the school children, later in a letter to Agent Shipley.
Chee knew that serious trouble was brewing when he saw Black Horse and his band arrive at the trading post. But he advised Agent Shipley to attempt a Council Meeting with the band. While the nervous Agent promised good care for the new school children, Black Horse demanded that the white men leave Navajo country for good. The Agent listened to one complaint after another.
But Agent Shipley was stubborn at the time, and Black Horse was too angry to wait for reasonable solutions. He grabbed Shipley and dragged him outside where he and his band began beating him. Chee led the policemen in a rush and managed to get the Agent back inside the store. Immediately, Chee directed the barricading of all the doors and windows. Outside the Navajos were shouting threats to "kill the Agent . . . don't leave a single one alive to tell the tale."
Chee knew that Black Horse and his band would burn the store to the ground if help didn't come soon to rescue the Agent. Quickly, Chee ordered a survey of ammunition and weapons. There was a small supply. Then he posted a policeman at the back entrance, so he would be ready to sneak out as soon as Black Horse's men were not looking for a moment. The moment came, and the policeman succeeded in making the run twenty-five miles south to Tsaile for Army help. Meanwhile, a thunderstorm drenched the trading post. Chee breathed a sigh of relief. At least they could not burn down the store right away. Now, if only the Army would hurry.
The Army, however, sent a messenger first, to see if the situation at Round Rock was really critical. After the messenger reported back what he had seen from a safe distance, the soldiers rode up to Round Rock.
Meanwhile, three harrowing days passed, with Black Horse and his band attacking the trading post. Inside, the ammunition was running low, and on the third day it was gone. The rain stopped at the same time, and tension mounted inside the trading post. The soldiers arrived just as Chee, the Agent, and the other policemen were sure they were doomed. Chee felt like he had lived an entire lifetime in those three days.
Black Horse continued to stir up trouble, even threatening Navajo parents who decided to send their children to school. Chee sent word back faithfully to Agent Shipley at every new sign of trouble. He didn't want matters to become so violent again. He far preferred a peaceful meeting, with a solution that benefited everyone. Chee Dodge had just started a campaign for better education for more Navajo children. He would lead this cause all his life, seeing education as the salvation of his people. Chee did not keep his partnership in the store much longer, for he thought that Aldrich was cheating him out of part of the money. Furthermore, another matter at home was coming to light.
During all Chee's rides back and forth between his work at Round Rock, his home at Crystal, and his grazing lands, a problem was arising. In his absence, his wife Asdzaan and one of his old Aunts became close friends. Chee would arrive home with bundles of supplies, material, packets of coffee, sugar, flour and many other goods. But all his contributions seemed to vanish much too quickly between his trips home, and the two women seemed to require much more than seemed necessary for such a small number of people. Eventually, he discovered that the two had developed a lively interest in gambling, holding frequent parties in his home while he was away. Everything, even the coffee and sugar, was gambled away.
Among the people who worked for him was Tlah Tsosie, a trustworthy friend, who filled Chee in on the details. Disgusted, Chee rode south to his grazing land, not certain what he would do about the matter.
Once out on horseback, his cares seemed to vanish. He delighted in the huge herds of sheep and cattle, and took particular pride in his fine horses. Many Navajos respected and liked him, and often came to him for advice. He was able to think out their problems and send his friends away with good solutions, and happy as well.
The sight of this dashing figure on horseback herding his livestock along, caught the eyes of four young girls in the Sawmill area. Many times he noticed them, too. They were all attractive and skilled at weaving, for their looms were set up out in the foothills. There, they could watch their sheep and weave at the same time. Chee began greeting them casually as he rode through, and finally one day he visited their home. The mother of the two youngest girls was none other than Shádí, his "big sister," whom he had not seen in many years. The other two girls were her sisters. Though her daughters smiled demurely when Chee greeted them from a distance, they were shy and stayed away while he visited Shádí. "Your daughters are beautiful," he told Shádí. "One of them would be a fine wife for a man like me to have."
But the old man in the hogan, Shádí's Great-Uncle, snorted in disagreement, "You already have a wife and many other people at your home. You have little room for one of these lovely young girls."
Shádí smiled. "You have not even decided which of them you like best, Chee, so I think we should all take our time and think this over."
Chee left agreeably, taking another look at the four beautiful girls as he rode back out to his herds. The old man, Bushy Hair, chuckled in amusement, relieved that Chee had left agreeably. Then he set about encouraging the marriage arrangement he had already planned. The second-to-youngest daughter, Nanabah (or Margaret), was to marry Jesus Arviso. "And he has already promised fine gifts to us," Bushy Hair reminded Shádí.
Chee and Arviso were old friends, though they were not close to each other. Chee had replaced Arviso as government Interpreter years ago. Chee rode back to his ranch, and again, found his home in a shambles, most of the groceries gone, and his wife and old Aunt gossiping. They had cleared out the gamblers just before his arrival, and Chee's anger boiled up. He loved to live abundantly, but this sheer waste was outrageous. He ordered Asdzaan out of the house, much to his old Aunt's distress. But this was final. Chee was no longer married. Cheerfully, he went about putting things back in order, joking and talking with his workers. He went into the fields with them, and for a number of days enjoyed the ranch he had worked so hard to build up.
Tlah Tsosie was gone, but Chee made no mention of it, knowing well where his friend and helper was.
A few days later, Tlah Tsosie came riding up in a great cloud of dust. "You must hurry, Chee," he told his employer. "Jesus has placed twelve Appaloosas in their corral, and has given the family a fine silver belt and necklace. They are preparing the wedding feast at this very moment. Nanabah will soon be the wife of Jesus Arviso."
Chee wasted no time in sending Tlah Tsosie back with his own proposal.
"Say whatever you must to stop the wedding," Chee ordered him. "I will come at the proper time, in five days for my wedding. Tell them I will bring finer gifts than Arviso has presented. Now go! Hurry!"
Tlah Tsosie knew the one thing he could say to stop the ceremony might bring brief shame upon the young bride, but only the words "Ma'ii Yázhí" ("Little Coyote" in Navajo) would be strong enough. Nothing more than friendly greetings had passed between Chee and the young girl, and everyone would know this cry was simply a necessity to stop the wedding.
He raced his horse southward, and arrived at the wedding scene just as the bride and groom were preparing to wash their hands before eating the ceremonial corn mush. In the last possible seconds before the wedding became final, he ran in and called "Ma'ii Yázhí."
Shocked and bursting into tears, young Nanabah ran out of the hogan. Shádí looked sternly at Tlah, then went to comfort her daughter.
Old Bushy Hair and the medicine man quieted the excited gathering of relatives and friends crowded inside, and Tlah presented Chee's proposal. Hearing of the fine gifts, and learning that Chee had sent his first wife packing, Bushy Hair thoughtfully reconsidered. He consented to the wedding of young Nanabah and Chee, and preparations began all over again.
The middle-aged Jesus Arviso was angry, but there was little he could do to change things. He was doubly insulted when Bushy Hair told him, "I never liked those bony Appaloosas very much anyway. This young girl is worth far more than a few pieces of silver and those skinny horses."
Chee arrived on time, driving along twelve beautiful horses' the finest of his herd, sleek and handsome. In addition he brought silver jewelry, and $200 in cash. This, old Bushy Hair found most agreeable. For Shádí, Chee brought out a fine, gentle little Pinto with four white stockings. "This is for you, my big sister," he said gently. "You gave me far more when I was lost and frightened than I can ever repay. I will give your young daughter the finest life I can," he promised.
Nanabah stayed with her mother for two years after she was married. "You are away so much, Chee," Shádí explained. "I can continue to teach her if she stays with me, for she is still very young. When you are ready for her to move home with you, she will come with many sheep and cattle."
Chee was in his mid-thirties, and had grand plans for a home for his bride and her younger sister. With his workers helping, he directed the quarrying of fine white sandstone near his homesite. He became friends with an Architect, a German who lived in Flagstaff. His friend began designing the house for Chee. Furnishings and lumber were hauled from Flagstaff, and Chee proudly watched his home grow.
He began building it high on the slope of a mountain, looking eastward across the valleys and hills to the glowing cliffs of the Chuska Mountains. South-east and beyond the cliffs, he could see other mountain peaks miles away, rising in the mist. Deep grass and wildflowers stretched far down the slopes beyond his fields and pastures. Piñons and junipers dotted the landscape. A tiny stream ran down on one side of his house, and Sonsela (Stars-Laid-Down) Butte rose behind it. The ponderosa forest surrounding his house was cleared back a bit to make room for more gardens.
Finally, he brought Nanabah and her younger sister to live with him, a busy life. Chee opened a little store for all his employees, operating it in one room of his house, where shelves stacked with groceries reached nearly to the high ceiling. The enterprising family lived in Chee's original house on the property, a red sandstone building called "the old kitchen," while waiting for the new house to be completed. In 1899, the thirty-nine year old Chee found himself the father of a son, Tom. In two years Nanabah's son Ben, followed Tom, her sister's son.
Meanwhile the elegant new home was taking shape down the slope. It was ready in 1903. Nanabah's second child, Mary, was born just before the new house was ready. Nanabah had her hands full keeping the tots out of the way while Chee's workers carried in one piece after another of large comfortable furniture. Huge easy chairs, rockers, bookshelves, and fine carpets soon filled the house. The modern kitchen at the back looked up toward the butte, and the wide front porch gave the Dodge children a fine view while they played.
The walls soon filled with family portraits and photographs, and the chairs were bedecked with Nanabah's fine weaving. Lacy curtains hung at the windows, spaced all around the house to let in plenty of sunshine and brightness. Books began to line the shelves, carefully protected behind glass. Education would have an honored place in Chee's home.
Nanabah soon was very busy, managing Chee's wealth carefully and watching over her own vast herds of cattle and sheep as well. In intelligence and business skill, she was a good match for Chee. But each became so busy with his own work that Nanabah and Chee saw less and less of each other. At first, Nanabah and her sister spent many hours cooking for Chee and all his friends who came to visit, for he was one of the most highly respected men of that time. He understood Navajo problems and he understood the white man's way of doing things. He had mastered both, and could discuss matters intelligently and wisely in both Navajo and English.
As time passed, Nanabah's business interests increased, and she spent less time with Chee. She herded her cattle back to her mother's home, often taking one or more of her children along.
As her absences grew longer, Chee's friends and relatives grew more and more concerned for his welfare. They knew he needed a wife, and determined to find one for him until Nanabah came back. An attractive young girl from the Sawmill area, K'eehabah, was presented to him.
Later, when Nanabah returned, Chee turned his attention to his children. When Tom and Ben were old enough he sent them to school in Salt Lake City. He was determined that his children would have the best education he could find for them.
When Mary was ten, Chee took the little girl and Nanabah on an eye opening train trip through California and then on to Salt Lake City to visit Tom and Ben. The following year Mary began school there with her brothers. Meanwhile, Nanabah had another little girl at home to care for. Chee brought home his daughter Annie from K'eehabah's home, and Nanabah lovingly raised.
In 1917, an epidemic of influenza began to sweep the southwest, hitting the Navajo Reservation particularly hard. Worried for his children's health, Chee hustled them home from school and watched over them for signs of illness. He allowed no one to enter his property beyond the lower gate, and of all the families in the area his was the only one to remain safe. Annie, who began school at Fort Defiance the following year, contracted the disease mildly but recovered quickly and was soon helping the school nurse with other stricken children.
Though Chee loved all his children, his hopes for them were so high that life around the great man was not always easy on them. Home from school, the youngsters tried to please him, but found him a stern taskmaster. He could add a long column of figures in his head while the children were still struggling with pencil and paper. "And I only went to school a few months," he would tease, suspecting they were not studying hard enough in school. Mary earned a little more tenderness. Often sick in bed, she delighted in the puppies Chee brought to her for companionship.
His wife and children took care not to let the thrifty Chee catch them wasting a shred of anything which might be useful whether a bit of thread or a piece of leftover fried bread. He had not made his fortune by ignoring such details, and he grew impatient with anyone who was less careful than himself.
For Mary, a frail child, her father's wishes for school were too much. Lonely and homesick, she came home after three years in Salt Lake City. Chee put her to work in the small store he operated in his home, determined she would be of some practical value to the family business. Young Annie, when she was home during school vacations, was also put to work, herding the sheep and goats all over the countryside. For Tom, his oldest son, Chee had a special assignment. "You're going to the university and become an Attorney," he directed. "You must be ready to take my place as a leader." While Tom went off to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Ben was groomed as a Chauffeur for his father. Chee Dodge had discovered the advantage of the automobile for his many pursuits, and Ben turned out to be an excellent driver.
Nanabah was a strong parent, too, and the children learned as much from her about hard work and thrift as they did from Chee. But Nanabah tempered her strictness with a large measure of loving concern for her four children. Knowing Mary was a shy girl, Nanabah set about choosing a husband for her and settled on Carl Peshlakai, one of Chee's employees. Mary accepted her mother's choice.
Annie's lively nature came under Chee's stern tutorship after she attended school at Fort Defiance and Albuquerque. Back home at age eighteen, she herded livestock nearly full time. She also began riding in the automobile with her father on his business trips, and in the process learned a great deal about his way of working with people. She chose her own husband, and soon she and George Wauneka were at Chee's Tanner Springs Ranch while Mary and Carl worked on land adjoining Chee's property on Sonsela Butte.
While Mary excelled in domestic skills, Tom, Ben, and Annie were all destined for public service to their people. Tom was to become Tribal Chairman in 1932, and Ben was to become a Councilman. Annie would become the first important woman in Navajo Tribal government, as a Councilwoman from Klagetoh.
Chee Dodge's personal life often gave way to his public life. In 1921, he was called on again to be the diplomatic problem solver for his people. He interpreted wisely when cattlemen attempted to evict Navajos living in the Leupp area near Flagstaff. He traveled often to Washington, D.C. to present the Navajos' case for more land to be added to the reservation. In 1922, he was requested to represent the Navajos on a Tribal Business Council, the predecessor of official Navajo self-government. The council had to deal with profits from oil and other mineral resources found on tribal lands.
In 1923, Chee Dodge became Chairman of the first Navajo Tribal Council, working as official leader of his people until 1928. He was sixty-six when he stepped down from this position, and in no way ready to slow down. Struggling young businessmen from Gallup came to him for loans, and some of the town's most successful businesses owe their start to him. Navajo leaders still came to him for advice, and Chee's close friend, Father Anselm Weber, often took part in the informal Navajo Council Meetings at St. Michael's Mission.
No Navajo man had been as honored and as valuable to his people, and Chee Dodge was not allowed many years of freedom from formal public responsibility.
In the mid-1930's there was word that Navajos were going to lose all their livestock. This was preposterous, the great old leader knew. Still, he began traveling again, back and forth between the Navajo Agency Superintendent, E. R. Fryer, and Navajo Councilmen. He met with John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and heard the news for himself. Erosion was becoming a serious problem. The livestock had increased so greatly that there was grave danger of the land becoming literally shorn off its fine grasslands. Government officials showed photographs of erosion, and news spread wildly across the reservation. But Chee was certain that a better solution could be thought out than to take away the sheep and cattle the Navajos had nurtured along so skillfully after 1868.
He interpreted at the Tribal Council meetings all over the reservation, and he talked with Superintendent Fryer and Commissioner Collier. There must be a better solution than this immediate, drastic stock reduction.
He arrived home late one afternoon, ready to settle into his big, black easy chair and relax. just as he stopped his car, the telephone rang inside the house. Chee sent Mary to answer the telephone. The call brought the same terrible news. The call for a drastic reduction in livestock across the reservation was official. Chee Dodge talked with Superintendent Fryer on the telephone. Grazing districts had been established, and a certain number of livestock would be allowed in each district.
The old leader sank into his chair, then rose and paced, finally stopping by the south window. He could look out and see a thousand of his cattle, fifteen hundred fat and woolly sheep, and hundreds of horses. His land fell into three districts. Altogether he would be permitted only about 700 animals.
Grief-stricken, Chee Dodge stayed in the living room, sitting in his armchair, talking to himself, then brooding in long silences, and refusing to eat any of the food Mary brought him. He thought of the days long since gone, the very earliest recollections he had of his people and his land after Fort Sumner. The Navajos had come back, thin and starving, many having lost their children and other relatives to death during imprisonment. With a handful of seeds and a few sheep, they had returned to their blackened homeland, insisting, "It is beautiful, this land, and we are free at last." He had been a small boy then, as poor as any Navajo, but as eager as any to make a good beginning. Now his sheep herd alone was so large that it took two months to shear the entire flock.
All this was being taken away. His advice had fallen on deaf ears, and there was no choice but to comply.
He called Mary's husband, Carl, who drove him around, consoling the people, but telling them it would be wise to comply with the order. It was the saddest time in his life, except, perhaps, when he awoke that cold morning in 1864 to find himself all alone.
Tom Dodge had become Tribal Chairman, and Chee was proud of his son's achievement. But little could restore his good spirits with his people's major source of income torn away, and his own fine herds reduced to such a small size.
Then, in 1939, Nanabah died, leaving Chee an even heavier burden of sorrow. Distraught, he called on a clan sister, a daughter of one of his aunts, to take care of his home at Sonsela Butte. Then he returned to business, for a great deal of work remained to be done in the service of the Navajo people, and Chee Dodge was still a most valuable man.
He went to work directing the Navajo Police Force, continuing even after he became ill. In 1942, he was elected Tribal Chairman again, by popular vote of the Navajo people. Through the war years he watched many young Navajo men enlist in the United States Army. It must have seemed strange by contrast, this new army with its airplanes and battleships gaining many willing volunteers among the Navajo people, to Chee, whose first remembrance was of running away from the soldiers. But this was a new world, quite a different one from the world he knew in the 1860's. Chee Dodge had managed to feel at home in both.
In 1945, Chairman Dodge received a cherished silver achievement medal from the Indian Council Fire, a national organization of Indians of many tribes. In accepting the honor he said:
The Indian should have something to say about who is Secretary of the Interior, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and the reservation superintendents . . . land must be more productive by means of irrigation and improved land use. The Government should teach us to be better Farmers and Stockmen. THE GREATEST OF ALL INDIAN NEEDS IS EDUCATION.
Henry Chee Dodge was elected again in 1946, this time to the Vice-Chairmanship under. The people would not allow their leader to rest. They needed men of his caliber too much, but Chee Dodge never took office.
He fell ill with pneumonia during the winter of 1946, and spent the rest of his days in the Presbyterian hospital at Ganado. His children sat with him day after day, cherishing every breath he was able to breathe. In his last words, he beseeched them to carry on the great tradition of leadership he had started. He had groomed his children as thoroughly as he knew how, and now his heritage was entrusted to them completely.
The ailing Chairman had seen eighty-seven years pass in his homeland, exciting years, times in which he had great influence, times when he had found great joy, and times of great sadness. He died on January 7, 1947.
The Requiem Mass was two days later, while quiet tears flowed down many faces. The procession of automobiles to the Fort Defiance cemetery after the church service was a mile long, carrying hundreds of his friends to say their last farewells. He had walked with his people from Fort Sumner into a future none had dreamed of, teaching them how to master their destiny. Now he became a legend to his Navajo people.
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