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Published May 13th, 2014 by Unknown

[From Hunter's Frontier Times Magazine, January, 1938]

During the past few months I have had some very interesting correspondence with Mr. Fred W Croxen, Chief of the Navajo Indian Police Patrol, with headquarters at Window Rock, Navajo Agency, Arizona. Mr. Croxen very kindly sent me a picture, taken quite recently, of the organization of which he is chief, and which maintains order and administers justice on the great Navajo Reservation. In this connection he writes:

"A short history of the Navajos is as follows: They originally came from Northern Asia, working their way down the North American continent to their present location in Northeastern Arizona, Northwestern New Mexico, and Southeastern Utah. Many words of their language are identical to those used by present natives of Northern Asia (Mongolia). It is not known how long it took these people to make this migration, but probably many generations. They call themselves `Dinah,' meaning `people,' and claim that the other Indian tribes, such as the Apaches, are off-shoots from their tribe. Their habits, method of living, summer and winter hogans (houses,) are nearly the same as accounts we read and pictures we see of natives of the high, cold, desert parts of Northern Asia. They were, and are, a very independent and rather nomadic people, are growers of livestock, horses, cattle and sheep, but principally sheep. Also, they do some farming in the way of raising corn, pumpkins, melons, and some Their principal diet is mutton. corn-bread and coffee. in the beans. early days they preyed on surrounding tribes and the New Mexico Mexicans, stealing farm products from surrounding pueblo tribes and sheep from the New Mexicans. In the year 1863 Colonel Kit Carson, assisted by Colonel Chavez, led a body of New Mexico soldiers into the Navajo country, and after much fighting, nearly the entire tribe was captured and taken to Boska Redondo, Fort Sumner, New Mexico. There were approximately 8,000 captured, and after five years, during which time many died or were killed, they signed a treaty in which the less than 5,000 remaining promised to return to their former (present) location and war no more. This return was made during the year 1868. Since that, time they have increased to approximately 50,000, and their Reservation covers 17,000,000 acres in Northeastern Arizona, Northwestern New Mexico, and Southeastern Utah. The women and some of the men are great blanket weavers, and the men and some of the women follow silversmithing and are very proficient in these trades, being surpassed by none. They have their own government within themselves, their Tribal Council being headed by Chairman Henry Tallman, an educated Navajo, who has done his hitch in a regiment of United States Cavalry at Fort Bliss. They have their courts, presided over by full blooded Navajo Indian judges. Their police force is made up of their own people, and it is needless to state that these judges and police are all very proud of their positions and are conscientious in their work."

Mr. Croxen gives the names of his Indian patrol force and the Navajo Indian Judges in the Law and Order organization, which appear in the accompanying illustration, beginning at upper left hand corner, as follow:


Top Row, Navajo Policemen:



PETER WOODY, Chief of Navajo Police at Shiprock, New Mexico.


SALAGO NEZ, tall policeman.

JESS WILLARD, who lives up to his name when necessary.

JOE WALKER, Chief of Navajo Police at Fort Defiance, Arizona, a Carlisle School graduate, who has two wives and 1,400 sheep.

HOSKA THOMPSON, (meaning a warrior) also a Carlisle School graduate.


CLAIRE GEE, graduate of Phoenix, Arizona, Indian School.

CHARLEY FOSTER, an Indian medicine man, who never attended school, but speaks, reads and writes English.

JACK JOHNSON, whose father was a negro and mother a Navajo woman. Did not attend school, but speaks English and some Spanish. Is a policeman with over eleven years with the force. He is a first class investigator, and really an artist with the "billy" when needed. Jack is respected all over the Reservation. He has two wives and one son, who he is putting through school, and insists that he is going to have a better chance than his dad had.

Second Row down:

JOHN DAW, an old scout of Indian war days, who has been a policeman for forty years. He wears a Veteran of Indian Wars medal on the right side and when he will talk, which is seldom, he can tell of notches on his rifle for Indians, Mexicans and white outlaws. Note his six-shooter and handcuffs are very much in evidence, and they are always well cleaned and in first class condition.

YEA YAZZIE, so named because he was a great Yea Bi Chi dancer before he was grown. He is also a Navajo medicine man.

GERONIMO CASTILLO, a full blooded Navajo, and a real policeman. He was educated in school and speaks good English and Spanish, as well as Navajo.

DINAH NEZ, (meaning tall Indian) with black scarf around his neck, cannot speak English, but fearless to a fault, and is sending his children through the Indian schools.

REID JENSEN, Chief of Police at Leupp, Arizona, is well educated and is a prominent court interpreter in the State and Federal Courts.

HOSKA BURNSIDES, jailor at Fort Defiance and interpreter for the Indian court.

JAMES OLIVER, an educated Indian, who has done his hitch in the army.


FRANKLIN YAZZIE, with Sam Brown belt, an educated Indian with over twenty-one years as a policeman.

BILLY BECENTI, the fat Indian with heavy string of beads and earrings, is chief of Police at Crown Point, New Mexico, and a full brother of the old Indian Chief Becenti, now deceased.

JIM LARGO, an old policeman of long experience and a good one.

EARL BECENTI, brother of Billy Becenti, and a good policeman and investigator.

FRANK MOORE, with white shirt, a real husky, a fine policeman, who does not speak English, but is very proud of his position.

OSBORNE ANDERSON, a Choctaw boy, who is clerk of the court for the whole Reservation.

Lower Row:

FRED W. CROXEN, Chief of the Navajo Patrol, is a former Forest Ranger, and has had several years with the Border Patrol on the Mexican border.

TOM DODGE, son of Navajo Chief Chee Dodge, is legal adviser to the Navajo Indian Judges.

BILL SAWYER, Indian Judge at Tuba City. Arizona.

SAM JIM. Indian Judge at Crown Point. New Mexico, who says he went to school more to play baseball than to study. Note his turquoise necklace, two bracelets and four rings.

JUDGE JOHN CURLEY, a graduate of Phoenix Indian School and later took a three years post graduate course. He is a grandson of Navajo Chief Ganado Mucho.

JUDGE SCHOOL BOY. does not sneak English, is strong for advancement and is a medicine man.

JUDGE SLOWTALKER seldom says anything. but is a real orator in the Navajo language when he does talk

JUDGE JIM SHURLEY assistant to the Chief of Navajo Patrol cowpuncher, former customs officer on the Mexican border, and former deputy sheriff.

In the "Handbook of American Indians," Bulletin 30, published by the Bureau of Ethnology in 1910, we find this description of the Navajos:

"NAVAJO.—An important Athapascan tribe occupying a reservation of 9,503,763 acres in N. E. Arizona, N. W. New Mexico, and S. E. Utah. Here they are supposed to remain, but many isolated families live beyond the reservation boundaries in all directions. Their land has an elevation of abou6,000 feet above sea level. The highest point in it is Pastora peak in the Carrizo Mountains, 9,420 feet high. It is an arid region and not well adapted to agriculture but it affords fair pasturage. For this reason the Navajo have devoted attention less to agriculture than to stock raising. There were formerly few places on the reservation, away from the borders of the Rio San Juan, where the soil could be irrigated, but there were many spots, apparently desert, where water gathered close to the surface and where by deep planting crops of corn, beans, squashes and melon were raised. Within the last few years the government has built storage reservoirs on the reservation and increased the facilities for irrigation.

"It may be that under the loosely applied name Apache there is a record of the Navajo by Onate as early as 1598, but the first to mention them by name was Zarate-Salmeron, about 1629. They had Christian missionaries among them in the middle of the 18th century, but their teachings did not prevail against paganism. For many years previous to the occupancy of their country by the United State s they kept up an almost constant predatory war with the Pueblos and the white settlers of New Mexico, in which they were usually the victors. When the United States took possession of New Mexico in 1849 these depredations were at their height. The first military expedition, into their country was that of Colonel Alex W. Doniphan. the First Missouri Volunteers, in the fall of 1846. On behalf of the United States Doniphan made the first treaty of peace with the Navajo November 22, of that year, but the peace was not lasting. In 1849 another military force, under the command of Col. John N. Washington, penetrated the Navajo land as far as Chelly Canyon, and made another treaty of peace on September 9, but this treaty was also soon broken. To put a stop to their wars, Col. Kit Carson invaded their territory in 1863, killed so many of their sheep as to leave them without means of support, and took the greater part of the tribe prisoners to Ft. Sumner at the Bosque Redondo on the Rio Pecos, New Mexico. Here they were kept in captivity until 1867, when they were restored to their original country and given a new supply of sheep. Since that time they have remained at peace and greatly prospered.

"There is no doubt that the Navajo have increased in number since they first became known to the United States, and are still increasing. In 1867, while they were still prisoners and could be counted accurately, 7,300 of them were held in captivity at one time; but owing to the escapes and additional surrenders, the number varied. All were not captured by Carson. Perhaps the most accurate census was taken in 1869, when the government called them to receive a gift of 30,000 sheep and 2,000 goats. The Indians were put in a large corral and counted as they went in; only a few herders were absent. The result showed that there were somewhat fewer than 9,000, making due allowance for absentees. According to the census of 1890, which was taken on a faulty system, the tribe numbered 17,204. The census of 1900 places the population at more than 20,000, and in 1906 they were roughly estimated by the Indian Office to number 28,500.

"According to the best recorded version of their origin legend, the first or nuclear clan of the Navajo was created by the gods in Arizona or Utah about 500 years ago. People had lived on the earth before this, but most of them had been destroyed by giants or demons. When the myth says the gods created the first pair of this clan, it is equivalent to saying that they knew not wthence they came and had no antecedent tradition of themselves. It is thus with many other Navajo clans. The story gives impression that these Indians wandered into New Mexico and Arizona in small groups, probably in single families. In the course of time other groups joined them until, in the 17th century, they felt strong enough to go to war. Some of the accessions were evidently of Athapascan origin, as is most of the tribe, but others were derived from different stocks, including Keresan, Shoshonean Tanoan, Yuman, and Aryan ; consequently, the Navajo are a very composite people. A notable accession was made to their numbers, probably in the 16th century, when the Thkhapaha-Dinnay joined them. These were people of another linguistic stock—Hodge says `doubtless Tanoan'—for they wrought a change in the Navajo language. A later very numerous accession of several clans came from the Pacific coast; these were Athapascan. Some of the various clans joined the Navajo willingly, others are the descendants of captives. Hodge has shown that this Navajo origin legend, omitting a few obviously mythic elements, can be substantiated by recorded history, but he places the beginning at less than 500 years.

"The Navajo are classed as belonging to the widespread Athapascan linguistic family, and a vocabulary of their language shows that the majority of their words have counterparts in dialects of Alaska, British America and California. The grammatical structure is like that of Athapascan tongues in general, but many words have been inherited from other sources. The grammar is intricate and the vocabulary copious, abounding especially in local names.

"The appearance of the Navajo strengthens the traditional evidence of their very composite origin. It is impossible to describe a prevailing type; they vary in size from stalwart men of 6 feet or more to some who are diminutive in stature. In features they vary from strong faces with aquiline noses and prominent chins common with the Dakota and other northern tribes to the subdued features of the Pueblos. Their faces are a little more hirsute than those of Indians farther east. Many have occiputs so flattened that the skulls are brachycephalic or hyper-brachycephalic, a feature resulting from the hard cradle-board on which the head rests in infancy. According to Hrdlicka they approach the Pueblos physically much more closely than the Apache, notwithstanding their linguistic connection with the latter. In general their faces are intelligent and pleasing. Hughes (Doniphan's Expedition, 1846) says of them: `They are celebrated for intelligence and good order... the noblest of American aborigines.' There is nothing somber or stoic in their character. Among themselves they are merry and jovial, much given to jest and banter. They are very industrious, and the proudest among them scorn no remunerative labor. They do not bear pain with the fortitude displayed among the militant tribes of the North, nor do they inflict upon themselves equal tortures. They are on the whole a progressive people.

"The tribe is divided into a number of clans, 51 clan names having been recorded, but the number of existing clans may be somewhat more or less. Two of these are said to be extinct , and others nearly so. The clans are grouped in phratries Some authorities give 8 of these, others 11, with three independent clans; but the phratry does not seem to be a well defined group among the Navajo. Descent is in the female line; a man belongs to the clan of his mother, and when he marries must take a woman of some other clan. The social position of the woman is high and their influence great, They often possess property in their own right, which marriage does not alienate from them.

"The ordinary Navajo dwelling, or hogan, is a very simple structure, although erected with much ceremony. It is usually conical in form, built of sticks set on end, covered with branches, grass and earth, and often so low that a man of ordinary stature can not stand erect in it. One must stoop to enter the doorway, which is usually provided with a short passage or storm door. There is no chimney; a hole in the apex lets out the smoke. Some hogans are rude polygonal structures of logs laid horizontally; others are partly of stone. In summer, `lean-to' sheds and small inclosures of branches are often used for habitations. Sweat houses are small, conical hogans without the hole in the apex, for fires are not lighted in these: temperature is increased by means: stones heated in fires outside. Medicine lodges, when built in localities, where trees of sufficient size grow are conical structures like the ordinary hogans, but much larger. When built in regions of low-sized trees They have flat roofs. Of late substantial stone structures with doors; wiring and chimneys are replacing the rude hogans. One reason they built such houses was that custom or superstition constrained them to destroy or desert a house in which death had occurred. Such a place was called chindi-hogan, meaning `devil-house.' Those who now occupy good houses carry out the dying and let them expire outside, thus saving their dwellings, and indeed the same custom is sometimes practiced in connection with the hogan. No people have greater dread of ghosts and mortuary remains.

"The most important art of the Navajo is that of weaving. They are especially celebrated for their blankets, which are in high demand among the white people on account of their beauty and utility; but they also weave belts, garters, and saddle girl's —all with rude, simple looms. Their legends declare that in the early days they knew not the art of weaving by probably taught to them by the Pueblo women who were incorporated into the tribe. They dressed in skins and rude mats constructed by hand, of cedar bark and other vegetal fibres. The few basket makers among them are said to be Ute or Paiute girls or their descendants, and these do not do much work. What they make, though of excellent quality, is confined almost exclusively to two forms required for ceremonial purposes. The Navajo make very little pottery, and this of a very ordinary variety, being designed merely for cooking purposes; but they formerly made a fine red ware decorated in black with characteristic designs. They grind corn and other grain by hand on the metate. For ceremonial purposes they still bake food in the ground and in other aboriginal ways. For many years, they have had among them smiths who fabricate handsome ornaments with very rude appliances, and who undoubtedly learned their art from the Mexicans, adapting it to their own environment. Of late years many of those who have been taught in training schools have learned civilized trades and civilized methods of cooking."

It must be borne in mind that the above was published in the "Handbook of American Indians" almost thirty years ago, since which time the Navajo population has steadily increased from 28,500 to about 50,000, and the area of the reservation now takes in some 17,000,000 acres. To police and patrol this reservation must be some task, but from the account Mr. Croxen gives of the members of his force, it seems that the task is being well performed.

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