Child Hoods End
Enter the Forest
Roots of Halloween
Shiyowin Miller's THE WINDS ERASE YOUR FOOTPRINTS.
Shiyowin Miller is Dolores L. Nyerges' mother, who passed away
in 1983. This is the true story of life in the Navajo lands during
the 1930s. It's a wonderfully-told story. If you do an internet search
with the book's title, you'll see some of the reviews that have been
published about this book.
THE WINDS ERASE YOUR FOOTPRINTS is available from the School of
Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, for $17 plus postage
($3.95 for priority shipping).
The following excerpts from THE WINDS ERASE YOUR FOOTPRINTS are Copyright Dolores
Lynn Nyerges 2002, and may not be re-printed without permission of the publisher.
from chapter 3: Pentz's Trading Post
Juanita stood, head forward, her hair long and black in the sunlight; she shook
it, the drops of water flying. She ran her fingers through it, the pale, yellow
shreds of fiber falling lightly to the ground. Luciano was washing his head
now, in water that his mother had prepared. Juanita began to comb her hair
carefully, the comb snagging and tangling in the still-wet strands. She stopped
and disentangled the combings, rolling them into a little ball. The wind caught
it and tumbled it over and over across the ground.
"Ah-yeeee!" Shimah exclaimed and went running after the ball of combings.
She brought it back and placed it carefully in the fire, watching as the flames
consumed it, talking rapidly to her son. I am guilty of some small breach of
custom, Juanita thought, and then was surprised at the gravity of her husbands'
face. He sat back on his heels, his hair dripping unheeded.
"You must always burn your combings," he told her seriously.
"My mother says never to let any of your hair escape like that."
"I'm sorry, Lu," she began. "It was a bit untidy. But out here
in the open I thought the wind would carry it away."
"That's it: the wind might . . ." He stopped abruptly.
Juanita was puzzled. It was such a little thing for him to get upset about,
and she had said she was sorry. "Is there some tabu connected with hair-combings?" she
asked gently, trying to smooth the troubled look from his face. "If I
knew it I'd observe it--you know I would." Shimah stood by gauging the
conversation by their voice tones. Luciano was still disturbed. "It isn't
exactly a tabu, but just don't be careless." It wasn't like her husband
to speak so. He'd always been patient about explaining even small things. She
turned away to hide the hurt.
Shimah plucked at her sleeve, speaking gently, soothingly, as though to erase
the hurt, the alarm. "Tell my daughter-in-law to give me her jewelry so
that I can put it into the soaproot suds. That will be good for the silver
and the turquoise."
Juanita resolved not to mention the incident of the hair-combing again. Lu
was moody, preoccupied with looking for a job. It wasn't anything important,
only puzzling, and it wasn't worth a misunderstanding if she never found out.
There was so much she didn't know, it would take forever to explain in detail
everything she asked.
from chapter 4: Luciano's Grandfather
As Luciano pushed his cup forward for more coffee he addressed his grandfather. "It's
been a long time since I've heard the story of the long walk. Will you tell
The old man was pleased. He liked to tell that story. He settled himself more
comfortably, sipped long from his coffee cup, and began. Luciano turned a little
toward Juanita and when the old man paused to remember more clearly or stopped
to sip his coffee, he interpreted the story.
And Juanita could see the old grandfather as a round-eyed, fat-cheeked boy
but little larger than Phillip or Wudy. His mother left the other children
with a friendly Laguna family; they would be safer there; the soldiers were
not after the Lagunas, it was the Navajos they wanted. Hiding far back among
the mesas, crouching in caves, was not for such a little boy, and yet he was
too young to be separated from his mother. But the Navajos could not hide forever.
Their sheep and horses were rounded up by the soldiers. Few men dared to venture
out and plant a cornfield. The people lived on roots and seeds and what wild
game they could kill. And then other Navajo men came far back among the mesas--men
in good shirts, riding good horses. "If you come in now there will be
food and blankets for all. 'The Roper' has said so. If you stay, the soldiers
will hunt you out and destroy you."
And so most of them went to meet the soldiers and a few stayed in hiding. The
round-eyed, fat-cheeked boy went with his family. His people were going where
there would be food for all. He rode most of the way in a wagon with other
children and the old people. His family walked along behind the wagon, and
when at last the wagon was too full of the old and sick, he was lifted out
to walk with them. It was such a long walk and he was bewildered and frightened--frightened
mostly by the white soldiers who rode along the line to keep the people moving.
And there was no one to comfort him. His mother and father were frightened
At last they came to the place of all the soldiers, the fort; and the people
began to build shelters along the river. Families who were related camped together.
Before the camp was settled he became separated from his mother. And he was
afraid to call out, afraid even to cry, so he wandered around in the dark,
looking for her. He would never forget that feeling of trying to hold back
the tears until it seemed he would burst. A strange Navajo man found him and
took him by the hand and went to all the camps until they met his mother, searching
for him. How good it was to be lifted into her arms, even though he was too
big for that--not a baby any longer.
They camped at the fort a long time and it was a long time of death and horror.
Their old enemies, the Apaches, raided them. Sickness swept the camps until
there were fewer and fewer people. There was never enough wood to keep warm,
to cook with. Some of the food the soldiers gave them they ate raw and it was
The people seemed to lose their spirit. And then one day the soldiers said
they were to be taken even farther away, to a place called Indian Territory.
The women cried out against this, and the men too. They crowded about the tent
to talk to the Chief Soldier who had come to sign the paper which would send
them away. Finally it was decided the Navajos could go back to their own country.
The little boy helped his mother pack their few possessions. As they were leaving,
one of the soldiers, of whom he had been so afraid, unfastened his sword and
gave it to the little boy who was trying so hard to be big. The long walk home
was easier; going home was different. When the family of Lu's grandfather saw
the mesa Des Jin in the distance, they turned toward it, they and all their
relatives. "We're going this way. This is our home."
The main body of Navajos continued to travel westward to the land which the
government had signed to them as reservation, while the little boy and his
relatives turned into the broken country which had been their home and their
fathers' home before them and their fathers' fathers' before that.
"That sword," Lu's grandfather said, "I still have it." He
lifted it from the trunk and unwrapped it carefully. The scabbard was black and
curved. When the grandfather drew the sword the blade gleamed in the firelight.
Juanita sat quietly. The sword was somehow the symbol of how the Navajos had
been made homeless, broken, subdued. She had read of Bosque Redondo--the long
walk of the Navajos--but it had seemed like something which had happened long
ago to a strange people. It hadn't been long ago. It had been in this old man's
lifetime. And it had happened to children like Wudy and Phillip and Bijo, to
mothers like Il-tha-bah and Lu's own mother, to frail old women like the grandmother.
Hadn't these people seemed like human beings to the government?
She asked that question of her husband. "Probably not. We were a tribe
of savages which barred the way of trade and new settlements. We fought with
and stole from the Pueblos and Mexicans. It didn't matter that the Pueblos
and Mexicans stole women and children from our camps and killed our men. It
didn't matter that some of the new settlements were on land we'd held for centuries.
And when the wise old Headmen counseled peace and the keeping of the treaties,
the young men would not listen and kept on raiding and killing."
from Chapter 5: Wild Duck Dinner
Wounded Head greeted them with warm words, but his face remained impassive--cold.
His son extended his hand for a limp handclasp. Juanita and Luciano were
given a comfortable place to sit at the back of the hoghan, but Juanita wasn't
comfortable. She was conscious of her hair being disheveled from the race
up the canyon; she tried to smooth it, putting one hand to her head unobtrusively.
She wished that she had worn a skirt instead of Levis. Somehow she could
feel Wounded Head's disapproval without seeing his face.
Luciano was talking to the two men. No, he hadn't as yet gone to work in Albuquerque.
Wounded Head placed his fingertips together with elaborate care. Was it true
that in that Western place, where Luciano had been, there was great opportunity
for ambitious young Navajo men?
Luciano misunderstood. Was his son planning to go there?
A thin ghost-like smile passed over Wounded Head's face and was gone. He shook
The stew was ladled into bowls and passed to them. Juanita cooled one of the
pieces of meat on her spoon. That didn't look like mutton. She bit into it.
Beef! Wounded Head and his family did eat well. Her husband had placed his
hat on the bedroll behind him, and now his dark head was bent over the bowl
of stew attentively. He looked up long enough to direct a sidelong glance at
her when their host got up, took a can of peaches from the cupboard, and opened
it with his knife.
The meal finished, they sat back looking into the fire, the men talking leisurely
of unimportant things. Wounded Head's wife asked a few questions of Juanita,
through Luciano: did she like it here . . . did she miss her own people?
It was a foolish thing, her imagination was overactive, Juanita told herself,
but she wanted to get away. The fire was bright, warming; Wounded Head's wife
was pleasant; Wounded Head himself seemed almost friendly as he drew Lu into
conversation; but it was a strong feeling that Juanita had--as strong as a
cold wind--as dark as a dark shadow. She was relieved when Luciano finally
arose to go. He thanked them for the good meal and then the blanket over the
doorway dropped behind them. She was first in the saddle and started toward
the edge of the mesa.
"Not that way," Luciano called. "There's no trail--only rocks."
Juanita turned and followed Luciano as he picked his way down the other side
of the mesa. Halfway down the narrow trail, Luciano took off his hat. Holding
it at arm's length from him, he shook it carefully. Puffs of yellow dust scattered
on the wind.
from chapter 7: The Sing
And then Shimah was telling him about the yellow pollen. Juanita could almost
follow the story by her mother-in-law's excited gestures. Shimah's face was
strong and tense, no room for gentleness, and her voice carried a new undertone--like
fear. Only her hands seemed natural, although excited, as she gestured. Strange
that Shimah should tell about the yellow pollen, rather than ask the rider
about himself, about news which he was surely carrying. Of what interest
could the yellow pollen be to him?
But he was interested. He leaned forward as though better to hear her words;
his eyes narrowed and his face looked very grave. He asked many questions.
Shimah answered and sometimes Yee-ke-nes-bah. Through their conversation one
word seemed to repeat itself until it began to echo and re-echo in Juanita's
mind: ma-itso . . . ma-itso.
...And then Lorencito began to talk seriously to Luciano; Juanita heard the
work ma-itso repeated again and again. Shimah sat nodding her head as her oldest
son talked, occasionally adding a word to what he was saying. Luciano turned
to Juanita; his face was marked with gravity as was his older brother's. "Lorencito
says that it is not safe to keep this from you any longer; I should tell you
Juanita waited. Her mouth and throat felt suddenly dry. She could not have
spoken. Her thoughts raced: this is in some way connected, ma-itso and yellow
pollen. Perhaps it's all connected, all of the puzzling and unexplained things
that have happened. And somehow, the looks on their faces, Shimah's and Lu's,
Yee-ke-nes-bah's and Lorencito's, are a little bit frightening.
"Before we came here," her husband began, "when I tried to tell
you about everything which might seem strange to you, I didn't tell you about
ma-itso--the wolf clan. One reason, it no longer seemed as believable to me as
it once had; perhaps all the years in school did that; anyhow, in Hollywood I
seldom thought of it. When we came here, my mother told me the wolf clan was
still strong in Cañoncito. I didn't tell you then because I could see
no reason why they would try to harm us. But to be sure you were safe, my mother
and sisters watched you every minute.
"There were times when I almost told you, those times when you were upset
about things you didn't understand. And yet I hated to frighten you needlessly.
Already there was so much for you to worry about. It seemed better to wait until
I had a job, until we were living in town and then tell you. "But now two
things have happened which make me sure the ma-itso is for some reason after
us. I found yellow pollen in an X mark on my hat brim, and today my mother found
pollen on our clothes. That is their warning. Lorencito thinks you will be safer
if you know about this evil thing.
A hundred questions sprang to Juanita's lips, but her husband went on talking,
interrupted now and then by Lorencito or his mother.
"The wolf clan is as old as the Navajo tribe. From the beginning some men
turned certain powers, which should have been used for good, toward evil things.
Corn pollen, used for blessing, is used by the ma-itso as a warning to a person
marked for death. And death does not come in a usual manner; it comes in a round-about
way which cannot be easily traced. The victim sickens suddenly; sometimes his
mind leaves him. No Medicine Man can cure him. Sometimes the victim meets with
a mysterious and fatal accident.
from chapter 11: A Hard Winter
As Juanita folded the clean diapers and put them away, Mrs. Skinner told her
the story as her husband had heard it:
A group of Navajo men from the hoghans near the Agency had brought a young
man in whom they accused of practicing witchcraft. Some of the men discovered
this young man at a Sing with an effigy of the patient, strands of hair attached
to it. These men wanted to kill the young man immediately, for surely he was
one of the ma-itso. Older men, some of whom had worked at the Agency, persuaded
their friends not to be so hasty. They were too near the Agency, someone would
hear of it, and then they'd all be arrested for murder. Why not take him in
and let the Agent punish him?
Since they arrived so late in the evening, Mr. Stacher said he would keep their
prisoner overnight and deal with him the next day. The young man had not broken
any laws from the government's viewpoint, witchcraft not being officially recognized,
so Mr. Stacher hesitated to put him in jail. Instead he sent him to the powerhouse
to sleep, knowing that he would consider himself safer there than attempting
to escape in foot in the snow. But evidently the young man did not feel so
safe in the powerhouse, for when the men went after him they didn't find him
there. Instead he showed up at the Agency walking from the direction of the
"Sounds suspiciously like our visitor. Wait until I tell Lu, and I was the
one who insisted that he stay with us."
from chapter 13: Wolf Tracks
Juanita had hung up two diapers when she became suddenly aware of something
across the arroyo. When she looked carefully nothing seemed unusual; in the
dim light she could see the sharp banks of the arroyo, the clumps of juniper
in dark patches on the other side. Then gradually, two of the dark juniper
patches began to take on the indistinct forms of dogs sitting on their haunches.
That was what imagination would do for you. She even thought now that she could
see the large pointed ears. Juanita smiled to herself. This must be what Lu
had seen, the queer-shaped juniper bushes. They looked surprisingly like coyotes,
only larger. The likeness had even startled her for a moment and her mind had
certainly not been on wolves or wolf tracks. She pulled her eyes away and began
resolutely to hang up more diapers.
A sudden movement, one dark figure detaching itself from the other and moving
farther down the arroyo, a third form appearing almost directly across from
her on the opposite bank. Juanita stood absolutely still. There was no sound
except the flapping of the clothes on the line.
When Juanita reached the kitchen door, she called to her husband to bring the
shotgun. "Those figures that you saw are out there again." This couldn't
be her voice, tight and choked.
Two of the dark forms were loping off down the arroyo when Luciano reached
the bank, but the third sat directly across from him like a very large coyote
on its haunches. Luciano raised his gun and fired directly at it. The animal
seemed to gather itself into a ball and plunge down the bank of the arroyo--across
the wide, sandy bed.
"Lu! Watch out! It's coming for you."
He raised the gun to fire again ...
from chapter 18: A Birth and a Marriage
Juanita was conscious of the hoghan full of the married couple's relatives.
Her mind was in a turmoil. What to say that would be helpful to George and
his new wife? And how would it sound to these wise old men sitting at the
back of the hoghan who had all made many marriage talks?
George looked up, grinning at her. The old grandfather sat nodding his head,
smiling placidly as he waited. What to say, except the things which had often
guided her and Lu? She spoke in English to George and Rose; Luciano could interpret
for the older people.
"There'll be misunderstandings when you're married because no two people
think alike about everything. But if you'll talk things over, both listen to
the other's side, disagreements will straighten out. Both of you may have to
give in halfway, or one of you all the way; but that's better than to keep on
Rose smiled shyly to herself as though quarreling might be for other people
but not for them.
"And always discuss things with each other, because whatever
one of you does will affect both of you." The day came back
vividly--the day she received the money order from Nadine. Nothing
had been worth the look on Lu's face when she told him that she'd
borrowed the money.
"When your parents need your help, try to help them." She was thinking
of Shimah now. "But if other relatives ask too much of you," she was
thinking of their relatives in Crown Point, "remember that your own family--your
children--should come before them."
"If someone tries to separate you, your relatives or another man or woman,
remember that if you love each other and share things, your plans and your thoughts,
nothing can ever come between you."
When she gestured that she had said all she wanted to say, the women began
to bring in the food: plates of roast mutton, plates of fried bread, bowls
of tomatoes and peaches and plums, and coffee. George and Rose smiled and thanked
Juanita. Luciano was still interpreting for the older ones. When he had finished,
the old men at the back of the hoghan looked at her, nodding their approval. "Yah
t'eh," they said over and over, "yah t'eh."
from chapter 20: The Wolf Hunt
"What do you know about this wolf hunt?" Juanita finally asked.
"Something has been stealing lambs this spring; the dogs bark but when the
men get out to the sheep corral there's nothing around." Alice paused to
Now that she thought of it, Ginger and Bob had been restless for a few nights.
The dogs had awakened them once, howling, and Luciano had gone outside to look
"There's nothing out there," he had said upon returning. "Bob
must have started baying at the moon and now Ginger's doing it."
Alice began to cut potatoes into chunks; they fell plop, plop, plop into the
pan. "Richard Platero heard something around his corral last night and
took his rifle with him when he left the hoghan. He saw what he thought at
first was a shadow. When it moved he fired at it. It got away. He couldn't
trail it last night so he started out early this morning. The tracks were wolf
tracks. When he met Pah-des-bah's husband, they talked about it and decided
to get some of the other men to go with them."
Juanita cut the stew meat into small pieces and dropped them into the boiling
water of the stew kettle. Coyotes ran near Cañoncito. Early mornings
she had heard the weird yelping cries of coyotes from the direction of Apache
Wash. They could have been stealing lambs. ...
Alice listened for a moment. "They've been following the wolf tracks,
and the trail doubled back several times but always went ahead again. Then
they lost it on a ledge of rock on one of the mesas." She pointed north
with her lips. "One of the men found a spot of blood below the ledge."
Alice paused to listen again, and then the women began to talk in low voices
and move away from the doorway as the men separated and went back to their
"The men said the nearest hoghan was Wounded Head's on that same mesa. They
rode up there to ask him if he had seen anything or anyone that morning."
Juanita started back to the washing machine, a frown puckering her forehead.
"Wounded Head's wife met them at the door of the hoghan; her son stood beside
her. The men could not see past them. She would not let them in. She said her
husband was very sick. A horse had kicked him."
Excitement spread through the whole community. Some of the men began to carry
guns--rifles across their saddles or old revolvers in their belts. The women
who gathered in the day school kitchen or sat outside around the back door
talked together in low voices. But no one rode again to Wounded Head's place
on the mesa