`I want to tell you this
story because I don't want it to get lost.'
She recited the story that had been told to her many times." Not
all of us walked the long walk. Some of us only knew families that did.
I experienced many things as a young woman. I was home alone taking
care of the camp when they came…"
I was standing at
the balcony window of my apartment holding two sheet of paper, a letter
from long ago. I've had the letter for the past seventeen years and
the writing was now becoming barely legible.
My Aunt Betty had written this letter. She would help my grandmother
Nellie and I keep in touch. Nellie did not speak English - much less
read or write it. Nellie would speak and Betty would transcribe the
oration the best way she could. Much of the letter was written matter
of factly and was very descriptive. I didn't know what affect it had
on me until recently.
As a young man I
rarely made it to the reservation. My parents relocated to the city
to make a better life for themselves. They were busy trying to make
in the "white mans world" that they forgot what the reservation
offered. They had suffered the effects of the BIA boarding school systems
that taught more value in progress in the non-native society.
with Nellie was the only ties I had with Native life. Nellie regularly
told me pleasant life stories and the happenings in Navajo Land. However,
this particular letter was different. Nellie's words were filled with
a flared passion that she rarely showed. I knew something was wrong.
I felt the end of something beautiful was coming but I was too young
to understand. Weeks later Nellie passed on. I was heart broken. I lost
a person I loved. I lost what may be my only connection to my people.
I lost my grandma.
This is the last
letter Nellie sent:
"My great-grandmother Hazbaa was a strong woman. She killed two
cavalrymen with their own guns. She was only sixteen when Kit Carson
and his troops were ordered to round up the Dine' people and forced
them to march to Bosque Redondo. Carson went on a killing spree through
out our lands. Many people died on the way. Many families were torn
apart. But Hazbaa was able to keep her family safe from the torturous
walk. This is how she told me and so this is how I'll tell you:
`I want to tell
you this story because I don't want it to get lost.
Not all of us walked the long walk. Some of us only knew families that
did. I experienced many things as a young woman. It was a very hard
time. The Dine' people were being invaded by the white man. Our sheep
herds were not a big as they us to be. Many children did not live more
then a couple weeks after birth.
I was home alone
taking care of the camp when they came…I saw a dust storm coming
from the east. I thought it I had better bring in the meat that was
hanging to dry before it got covered with dirt. As the cloud got closer
I realized that it was dirt from the trotting of cavalry horses. Scared
I ran off to hide. I knew what they did; they killed that was their
job. Our cousins in the east tell stories so horrifying that it's hard
to imagine people so cruel. Deathly afraid but still I turned and watched
as the Calvary approached closer. Obviously, they were looking for something.
They arrived at the camp and about 45 minutes went by before they left
to the next camp. While they were at my camp they set fire to our home
and supplies. They shoot our lambs that stayed behind for they were
too young to graze. They stole our food and water. I watched as our
livelihood was destroyed without a second thought. I seen these men
act more savage then any Indian I ever met. I stood and watched in shock
and anger. I had so many emotions that I didn't know how to react.
I hid in the bush
and saw two soldiers had remained behind drinking and joking. I don't
know what came over me but I crept closer and as the wind shifted I
smelt there the alcohol from them. One soldier turned away from where
he laid his bayonet-rifle. I sneaked up while he faced the opposite
direction. I saw an opportunity for revenge. It must have been no more
than five seconds that I realized what I was doing and what I had to
do. My thoughts were running wild like when horses fight from being
broken. My sorrow weight, heavy. The future seemed hopeless. What were
we going to do for food or a home? If they do not find us now will they
be back to do more damage. Well my family ever be safe again.
I crept up and in
my anger I drew his bayonet and in a split second I stabbed him. The
other soldier was facing the opposite direction and
I did the same to him when he turned to face the commotion behind him.
After I had killed the two men I went in search to look for my family.
I found them near by and I told them what had happened. I use to wonder
why I did it. It was only the lives of two soldiers. What difference
well that make. They still came back and hurt more of my people. I know
if I didn't fight to protect my family even for that day that I might
as well have let the soldiers find me. It was winter so we hid in at
the summer camp in the mountains till we felt it was safe to return
home. We rebuilt and lived."
Nellie ended her
letter. She said, "Do not forget we are warriors. You well face
many new enemies in the years to come. Always be ready to fight no matter
how small the battle. Do not forget where you come from. Tell your parents
I miss them too and I'll be seeing you soon.