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Will Evans's writings should find a special niche in the small but significant body of literature from and about traders to the Navajos. Evans was the proprietor of the Shiprock Trading Company. Probably more than most of his fellow traders, he had a strong interest in Navajo culture. The effort he made to record and share what he learned certainly was unusual. He published in the Farmington and New Mexico newspapers and other periodicals, compiling many of his pieces into a book manuscript. His subjects were Navajos he knew and traded with, their stories of historic events such as the Long Walk, and descriptions of their culture as he, an outsider without academic training, understood it. Evans's writings were colored by his fondness for, uncommon access to, and friendships with Navajos, and by who he was: a trader, folk artist, and Mormon. He accurately portrayed the operations of a trading post and knew both the material and artistic value of Navajo crafts. His art was mainly inspired by Navajo sandpainting. He appropriated and, no doubt, sometimes misappropriated that sacred art to paint surfaces and objects of all kinds. As a Mormon, he had particular views of who the Navajos were and what they believed and was representative of a large class of often-overlooked traders. Much of the Navajo trade in the Four Corners region and farther west was operated by Mormons. They had a significant historical role as intermediaries, or brokers, between Native and European American peoples in this part of the West. Well connected at the center of that world, Evans was a good spokesperson.
Oshley's narrative is woven with vivid portraits of Navajo culture: clan relationships, marriages and children, the importance of livestock, relations with the natural world, ceremonies, trading, and hand trembling.
The only surviving complete journal of the famous naturalist's American scientific explorations offers details on the plants, animals, and geology of the region, along with observations of the resident Native American tribes and the beginnings of white settlement.
McPherson argues that, instead of being a downtrodden group of prisoners, defeated militarily in the 1860s and dependent on the U.S. government for protection and guidance in the 1870s and 80s, the Navajo nation was vigorously involved in defending and expanding the borders of their homelands. This was accomplished not through war nor as a concerted effort, but by an aggressive defensive policy built on individual action that varied with changing circumstances. Many Navajos never made the Long Walk to Bosque Redondo. Instead they eluded capture in northern and western hinterlands and thereby pushed out their frontier. This book focuses on the events and activities in one part of the Navajo borderlands-the northern frontier-where between 1860 and 1900 the Navajos were able to secure a large portion of land that is still part of the reservation. This expansion was achieved during a period when most Native Americans were losing their lands.
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Originally published: Tsaile, Ariz.: Navajo Community College Press, 1989.
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