THE WINDS ERASE YOUR FOOTPRINTS
A book by Shiyowin Miller
[Nyerges is the author of several books, and he conducts field trips in ethnobotany. He can be contacted at www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]
One of the books that came out of my family was “The Winds Erase Your Footprints,” written by my (deceased) wife Dolores’ mother, Shiyowin Miller. Shiyowin, who was part Osage, was immersed in Native American culture. I remember visiting her home in Temple City, which seemed like an Indian museum with a full library, drums, pots, and artifacts from all over the country. Shiyowin had been a music and dance teacher, and was a professional dancer. She knew Iron Eyes Cody, and worked with Luther Standing Bear, a Lakota Sioux who wrote “My People the Sioux” and other books. Luther Standing Bear adopted Shiyowin, and let Shiyowin act as his agent for his various books and other legal matters. It brought the past alive to me when I was able to see and feel the pipes, sandals, robe, and other materials that Standing Bear had given to Shiyowin. (There is a special exhibit of Standing Bear’s robe and other items at the Crazy Horse Museum in South Dakota.)
Shiyowin also had many friends from the Navajo lands. In the 1930’s, Shiyowin’s best friend, Juanita, fell in love with a Navajo man, Luciano, who’d been working as an extra in Hollywood. Juanita and Luciano got married, and moved back to Luciano’s Navajo lands in New Mexico.
Shiyowin kept in touch with Juanita, and wrote about the experiences that Luciano and Juanita underwent on the reservation, during the Depression when there was so little work.
Shiyowin edited and revised and rewrote her book many times over the next 30 years, and she died in 1983 before it was ever published. I married Shiyowin’s daughter Dolores in 1986, and when I saw the box with hundreds of pages of manuscript, I asked Dolores if I could read it. In fact, Shiyowin had hired Dolores to type many of the revisions over the years, and so Dolores was familiar with the content.
Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. I was amazed at the quality and depth of the story, and could barely believe that it had never been published. Shiyowin had actually received an offer from a publisher some 20 years earlier, but since she kept rewriting and revising, it never got published. To me, it was like reading a Tony Hillerman novel, except it was true!
Everyone said that the book accurately depicted life on the Rez during that time, mixed in with some accounts of Navajo witchcraft. With some editing, Dolores and I got the book published in 2002 by Naturegraph Press, which features many Native American titles. 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 story was descriptive, compelling, and you feel as if you are re-experiencing the harsh winds, the life in the Hogan making coffee, the search for work, and all the ceremonies and gatherings that were a part of the Navajo way of life. The books, which was 335 pages when published, also contained hints and clues in the backdrop about Navajo witchcraft, and the ma-itso, the wolf clan which was feared by most.
The freak death of Luciano was generally attributed to the work of the ma-itso, and Shiyowin gives the clues in bits and pieces, in the way that Tony Hillerman so masterfully slowly revealed his mysteries.
The line drawings for the book were drawn by Navajo artist Chester Kahn. Shiyowin’s daughter Dolores stated that the drawings seemed the ideal artistic representation of Shiyowin’s work, capturing the feeling and quality of the historical account.
The books is available from Amazon, or from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.
The following excerpts from THE WINDS ERASE YOUR FOOTPRINTS are Copyright and may not be re-printed without permission of the publisher.
Fom chapter 7: The Sing
"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.
Fom 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 ...